Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Patrols in Studland.

Studland Bay is a beach near Swanage in Dorset, which is officially designated as a location where naturists can sunbathe without a stitch on. It seems there's been some trouble down there. A police spokesman is reported as saying "There will be a point of contact in incidents that may occur on beaches such as littering, unauthorised fires and barbecues, dog fouling, illegal parking, sexual misconduct or incidents which threaten to bring naturism into disrepute". Sounds like a roughish area to me.

Anyway, the Dorset Police has teamed up with the National Trust, which owns the beach, to train three community wardens to control the foreshore and sand dunes at Studland Beach. The only thing we're told that they will be wearing are bright yellow T-shirts. The patrols will take place throughout July and August. Emma Wright, the visitor and services manager with the National Trust said "We welcome having more eyes and ears on the ground". Not a bad summer job for three lads waiting to go to uni in the autumn.

Waste of Beachreading Time

David Cameron seems to be raising the temperature of his language when commenting on the Prime Minister and his policies. Today's Telegraph front page has him accusing Mr Gordon Brown of "deceit, dishonesty and deception". He's also reported as warning that Britain faces "riots in the streets" if Gordon Brown's dishonesty over public spending enables Labour to win the next General Election. Personally, I see Gordon Brown as looking more unbelievable by the day - and today I reckon the Prime Minister lost it completely. Irvin Stelzer covers it well in tomorrow's edition.

Lets look at where we are. Our Government has spent so much more money than it has available, and our national debt has grown so large that the Governor of the Bank of England and respected bodies like the OECD are informing the Prime Minister publicly that we must have a plan for reducing debt if the UK is to remain solvent - something we have never heard before. The national debt is heading towards levels last seen immediately after the Second World War. Our economy is heading for meltdown - and our Prime Minister announces billions more public spending.

There are some consolations. Firstly, now that the headline spending figures have been reported (the objective), Government spokespersons are changing the story and telling us that its just moving current spending commitments around. Secondly, in the interviews I've seen these spokespersons have that look in their eyes which tell us that they do not themselves believe what they are saying. They look as if they are lying, and know they are lying. And thirdly Government Ministers are in too much of a state of confusion to do anything significant anyway. For example, yesterday Lord Mandelson said that the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review will not take place before next summer, while this morning Liam Byrne denied it, telling us that the Chancellor will inform us about this in due course. And on Newsnight tonight, a Government Minister said that the Conservatives can have access to information that George Osborne has been demanding. Bet you its not true, and will be denied tomorrow. And fourthly, if Gordon Brown carries on with this incredible fantasy, there will be no chance of him and his team being re-elected to continue destroying Britain. Just a few months more to go, but my heart bleeds for my country.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

De Villiers is a disgrace to sport.

I make no comment about Schalk Burger's attack on Luke Fitzgerald during the first minute of Saturday's test match between the Lions and the Springboks. I was not in a position to see it. But the linesman reckoned that Burger was guilty of 'gouging' the eyes of a defenceless fellow rugby player, and the referee sent him to the bin for 10 minutes. If he was indeed guilty of such a crime (and I use the word 'crime' deliberately) he should have been sent off and should be banned for six months minimum.

I know these things happen in the heat of the moment. I was far from an angel in my playing days, though I never 'gouged' anyone. But what was a shocking and unforgivable offence was for the South Africa coach to justify this spiteful and cowardly attack as "a part of sport". Its clear that De Villiers is not a fit person to be part of any sport. He should either apologise for his stupidity or be sacked.

Michael Griffith CBE 1934 - 2009

While I was presiding at the Annual General Meeting of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales on Saturday afternoon, my distinguished predecessor in the position of President, Mr Michael Griffith CBE collapsed and died as walking on a hillside in Snowdonia. This sad occurrence is reported on the BBC here. Michael was 75 years old and as far as I knew in good health. He served on a wide range of public bodies, and was a wise man with good judgement. My strongest memory of him is a discussion he and I shared at a Royal Welsh Showin the early 1990s, about some of his ideas for promoting agri-environment schemes in Wales. At the time he was Chairman of the Countryside Council for Wales, and I was Chairman of the Development Board for Rural Wales. I was excited about his ideas, which eventually became reality in the form of a successful grant scheme named Tir Gofal.

He was content to describe himself as a 'crusty old Tory'. He was also a friend of mine, and a very good friend of Wales. Everyone involved with the CRRW are very sad to learn of his death at too young an age, but I can think of no more apt way for this great countryman of Wales to go than walking on a hillside in Snowdonia.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Being 'Right on Devolution'.

Just browsing the net to catch up with today's news. A report that David Cameron has told the BBC that "The Tories were wrong on devolution" caught my attention. Although the Conservative leader is reported as referring to Scotland when making this comment, it gives me encouragement to hope that my opinion will win Cameron's support. I reckon that the Conservative Party should not just allow a referendum on moving to Part Four of the Government of Wales Act (grant full law making powers to the National Assembly for Wales) but should actually promote it. No need to point out that some of my Conservative colleagues will not be falling over themselves to agree with me! Not yet anyway! What the comments that David Cameron is reported to have said certainly do is tell me is that he's willing to be open minded about this issue. I'd like ten minutes on my own with him to make the case.

Regular readers will know that I think there's a real risk that any referendum on law making powers will be lost (despite what the polls say) - which is why I've long thought that Ieuan Wyn Jones will announce that the report of the Sir Emyr Jones Parry is not positive enough to go for it (no matter what the report actually says). But what about if a new Conservative Government decided to hold a referendum without being asked by the Assembly to do so. Not sure whether this can happen - but don't see why not. Anyway, lets imagine it can. On the one hand, the people of Wales might say yes, especially if I win Montgomeryshire and set about organising a strong 'Conservatives Say Yes' campaign. And if it were to lose, the other parties couldn't keep on sniping at us for not holding a referendum - which they will do ad nauseum if they thought there would be any reluctance on the part of David Cameron to agree to it. Seems to me there could be a fox to be shot here. Just speculating. But today's BBC report does make the future look a tad interesting.


Summer arrives in our garden when the alstoemerias burst into flower. They are my favourite border plant, flowering from now until the frost, on and off. And the only work you have to do it take hold of the stems after the petals have dropped, and yank it out of the ground. New stems emerge very quickly, producing successive flushes. Some alstroemerias can grow a bit 'lanky' and topple over. We don't grow these (except a few for cutting). Its not possible to know final heights in the first year, because young plants tend to be quite sturdy, but much taller thereafter. Trial and error is recommended - and be ruthless. Just throw out the varieties that don't suit.

The above yellow and this red are the best alstroemerias we grow. The red is no more than 18 inches high and guaranteed to flower year after year, month after month. Because its so easy to grow and spread by transplanting a spadeful, there are clumps all over the place. Alstroemerias come in all sorts of colours, and the most colourful of all are the various shades of orange. I expect them to feature from time to time through the rest of the year, as I look to dazzle you with colour.

I added this photograph to emphasise the range of colours. We have grown a white named Apollo, but its a bit too 'floppy'. I'm hopeful that this one will become a replacement. Lovely throats.

Mrs D amongst the Trophies

While I was away on 'Presidential' duties with the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales today, Mrs D was down at the Lakeside Golf Club winning all the prizes. It was Ladies Captain's Day and she won the main competition. Short game is deadly. Here we have the Elaine Willets Trophy. And to cap it all, she won the 'Nearest the Pin' Trophy as well. Mr and Mrs Toby look on, suitably impressed. If this carries on, we will have to acquire a trophy cabinet.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Cleaning up Westminster properly.

I've never trusted legislation made in haste, especially when the rush is being driven for political ends. Which is why I've been uneasy about MPs rushing through legislation designed to end abuse of Parliamentary expenses and allowances. Personally, I'm not even supportive of the idea that regulation of expenses should be handed over to an 'independent' body - but I can see that I'm on a loser with this one. Regulation should be handed over to the voters, and the way to do that is through total transparency. Beyond increasing transparency, I feel MPs should await the Christopher Kelly Report. Anyway, the Clerk to the House of Commons, Dr Malcolm Jack is being reported by tomorrow's Telegraph as dropping a grenade onto Gordon Brown's proposals to 'clean up' Parliament in a rush. Because of the devastation that the expenses row has inflicted on our democratic system, it is vital that proper thought and care is put into reform. Let it be done properly - and if that takes a bit more time, so be it.

Big Day for the Lions

Been out to the excellent Waggon and Horses in Newtown tonight for supper with two of our sons, and discussion turned to tomorrow's British and Irish Lions team to face the Springboks at Pretoria. Not unreasonably I think, I entered something of a 'told you so' mood. My team for the first test included both Adam Jones and Luke Fitzgerald. Better late than never I suppose. No argument with Mathew Rees being in for Lee Mears, which I didn't have in my team. With two Welsh props, it might as well be a whole Welsh front row. I hope Mathew's eye is in at the lines out. And no real argument with Simon Shaw either. The first test demonstrated the need for more power and bulk in the early exchanges. Alun Wyn Jnes and Martyn Williams can come on for the last thirty minutes to inject a bit of extra pace. I fancy our chances tomorrow.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

More on the Pool Quay 'argae'

Last week, I posted on the Inspector's Report in respect of two appeals concerning the raising of a flood embankment at Pool Quay, near Welshpool in Montgomeryshire. Reason was that I thought it a very important judgement on a complex and long drawn out dispute. The Report allowed the more important appeal, and awarded full costs to the appellant. It also criticised the Environment Agency in a unusually strong way. There are several aspects of this Report which I reckon are especially important, and merit further action. But first a bit of preamble.

The saga began when the owner of a listed property raised the level of a flood embankment (argae) without seeking any sort of formal permission. At the time, I assumed that permissions were required, and thought that just raising the embankment regardless was not in order. Around 30 property owners in the Pool Quay area protested because they believed that the raised argae would increase the risk of their properties being flooded. The 30 property owners sought the help of the local MP and AM, and I was kept fully informed by two of the 'protesters' who are good friends of mine. I was briefed by the 'other side' as well, but declined to become involved in helping them because of my aforementioned friendships. Though not actively involved, I maintained a close interest, because of what I saw as the importance of the issue. Following much ado, a planning application was submitted and refused. Eventually it ended up in court, where the owner of the listed building and his representative lost the case. Mr Till was even convicted of a criminal offence. I thought it was all over. But Mr Till appealed - much to my surprise. The costs must have been huge, and I did not expect his appeal to succeed. But succeed it did.

Now to the issues that make this an important judgement by the Inspector. Firstly, the Inspector concluded that the Environment Agency had acted unlawfully and unreasonably - and awarded full costs to the appellant, several hundreds of thousands of pounds. He was brutal in his judgement - though one of my friends wrote to Hilary Benn, commending the EA. Another reader of the report told me that he thought that the EA had been harshly treated. Well, maybe. Personally, I cannot see how I can possibly be in a position to challenge the Inspector's opinion of the EA's case and presentation. And secondly, and more significantly, the Inspector placed the importance of protecting an important listed building ahead of restricting flood risk for several other properties. I accept that the degree of impact will have come into his judgement, but I was very surprised indeed by this.

I do not know if this saga is over, but there are several outstanding questions. Does the raising of the argae still require planning permission? If the Planning Authority were to approve an application which it had previously refused, would there be a case for referral to the Ombudsman? How does this judgement fit into the Assembly Government's flood risk policies? What changes will be made to systems within the Environment Agency to ensure that such failures (at least in my assessment) do not happen again? If I was still an Assembly Member I would have tabled an 'Urgent Question' immediately the Report was published, and several Written Questions of the Minister. If I was an MP, I would have written immediately to the appropriate Minister and Chair of the Environment Agency, as well as asking written questions. Perhaps Messrs Opik and Bates have done just this. Making some intervention (in an unrelated debate) would not be anything like good enough. Regrettably, I do not expect much media coverage, but in my opinion, this is an issue of national importance. It cannot be allowed to lie where it is.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

King attacks Prime Minister.

The focus of British politics reverted back to the economy today. We have gorged ourselves on the 'expenses' scandal for long enough. Its not gone away, and will be a significant feature of the next general election campaign. All candidates will have to make clear what they will and will not do and claim. And the most important commitment will be to be transparent - promising to ignore the cloak of secrecy that they will be pressed to drape over their 'expenses'. Lucky I've never been willing to do what I'm told! A good start would be to abolish the word 'redacted'.

But today, Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England reminded us of the bigger picture. He told the Treasury Select Committee that Gordon Brown's plans to reduce public borrowing are 'a load of cobblers'. OK, so he didn't say exactly that, but its what he meant when he said the plans were not "clear enough" or the rate of reduction in the deficit was not "quick enough". He described the deficit as "truly extraordinary" and said he was "more uncertain than ever" about the timetable for economic recovery. He asked for a credible statement about the path to reduce the Government's budget deficit - implying that he thinks the Chancellor's current plans are not credible. And that's because they are not.

This might not have the entertainment value of a 'duck house island' or 'the mother of all wigs' but its incendiary stuff, which blows apart the Prime Minister's dishonest election strategy. Will make good reading in tomorrow's papers.

Exposing Dishonesty

I don't do 'The Line to Take' very often on this blog - but I will reproduce what I think is entertaining and accurate. This video clip is one such occasion. I cannot believe that our Prime Minister will get away with a blatant attempt to deceive the people of Britain. I just want to do my bit to ensure that he doesn't.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pistols at Dawn.

I'd been looking for ideas to create more interest in politics amongst the young people of Montgomeryshire. Something along the lines of the TV debates that invigorate the US Presidential Election. Mark Johannson and his wife Shirley, who are working to re-establish a village show at Four Crosses next month did ask me if I would be willing to enter a contest with Lembit Opik next month involving a 'Bucking Bull' - at least that's what I thought he said. Not for me I thought, though believe this or not, but I have actually ridden a bucking bull - the rather gentle Hereford with big horns which used to 'run' with our dairy herd when I was a young lad on the family farm.

Anyway, Charles Moore has come up with the obvious answer in his column in today's Telegraph. Why not an old fashioned dual. Charles was reviewing 'Pistols at Dawn' by John Campbell, a story based on the eight most famous duals in history. The last time a political dispute was settled by actual resort to pistols was 200 years ago, during the Napoleonic wars. The British Foreign Secretary, George Canning had sought to dump the all the blame for a failed mission on Lord Castlereagh. The latter was not having it and wrote to Canning demanding an apology and 'satisfaction' - which in those days meant a dual. The challenge was accepted. The two men met on Putney Heath, and incredibly, both of them missed. Castlereagh insisted on another go, and at the second time of asking, 'winged' Canning by shooting him in the thigh. Didn't do him any long term harm though because he later became Prime Minister.

One problem is that I don't own a gun. I suppose I could borrow that Bren Gun that the Royal British Legion in Welshpool are always bringing out on display. I could let Lembit have 'the full nine yards' (which is where this saying comes from). Another problem is that I don't trust the Lib Dems not to resort to dirty tricks. For example, I might swing my Bren Gun around and see him standing there wearing 'The Mother of all Wigs'. I'd have a bullet in my thigh or worse before I could stop laughing enough to take aim. On second thoughts, maybe I should ring Mark and ask him what the 'Bucking Bull' contest involves.

An extra 2 inches.

New evidence has recently been published advising us that a woman's voice can stimulate an extra two inches of growth in tomato plants. The research on which this evidence is based was carried out by the Royal Horticultural Society. Last April, the experiments began with auditions for members of the public to record extracts from John Wyndham's 'The Day of the Triffids', Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's dream' and a passage from Charles Darwin's 'Origin of the Species'. Ten voices were chosen and connected to ten tomato plants through headphones connected to their pots. The results showed that plants soothed by the voice of a woman grew an extra two inches.

I would like to add my own limited research to the work of the RHS. For the last two months I have placed a radio, blaring out human voices and music, in the middle of my garden - and left it on every night from around midnight until around eight-o-clock in the morning. The reason has been to discourage deer from entering and inflicting their gratuitous damage. Not only has this unusual strategy worked, but I never recall my plants putting on such growth. You might not consider this to be irrefutable empirical evidence - but I reckon its at least as sound as that of the RHS.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Give the new Speaker a Chance.

If I had a vote, I would have voted for the bicycling baronet, Sir George Young. And that was before he made what was widely regarded as the best speech of the ten candidates. I would have voted for Sir George nine years ago as well. Although it was a secret ballot, there seems to be an assumption that most Conservatives shared my opinion. But this evening, John Bercow was elected the new Speaker. Sir George had to be satisfied with the runner-up spot again. I expect commentators to describe this result as a victory for Labour. I do not expect many of tomorrow's newspapers to write approvingly of this result.

If the contest had been held after the next General Election, Sir George Young may well have won. But it wasn't. MPs effectively forced the previous speaker to step down - and we are where we are. Politics has always been laced with irony. Whatever, there is nothing to be done now but to line up behind John Bercow and wish him all the best. But it doesn't change my opinion that the public will have no faith or confidence in our Parliament until they have had their say in a general election.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hawl i Holi Yfory

Been down to Efail Isaf today. Its a small village near Pontypridd. Purpose of my trip was to appear as a panellist on an 'Any Questions' type of programme called 'Hawl i Holi', which is going out tomorrow on Radio Cymru at 6.00. It was an 'up and down' experience for me. I was completely stuffed by a question about the Conservative Assembly Group's decision to go big on its call for prescription charges to be reintroduced in Wales, which I had no real option but to enthusiastically support. There must have been over fifty in the audience, and just one of them backed me - and I think he might just have been sorry for me! Its not so much the principle of prescription charges for those who can afford them (which I'm comfortable with) - but the point of making an issue of it now. Its a good job I derive so much enjoyment appearing as a Welsh Language panellist. It would have been a long way to go to get beaten up, even if I wasn't expecting much joy on this particular question.

Another questioner was concerned about the threat that the election of a Conservative Government might bring to the future of the National Assembly. I was going along OK, until Ieuan Wyn Jones, who was also a panellist, started pressing me on what David Cameron's response would be to a request from the National Assembly for a referendum on the transfer of law making powers. Now I tend to stay fairly cool in Welsh, because my linguistic skills are a bit restricting - but eventually, the monkey stirred. I decided to fight back. Basically, I asked him how the devil I'm supposed to know exactly what David Cameron would do, and why should I answer anyway, when he won't even give us a guarantee that the Coalition Government will ever ask the question. And he wouldn't. His references to David Cameron are just a diversionary tactic, to appease his own supporters. You can tell that I still feel a bit up for it. Every time he answered me, he began with the condition that it depended on what Sir Emyr Jones Parry's Convention advises in the autumn. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I think I rattled Ieuan on this - which on its own made my long journey worthwhile.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Importance of keeping promises.

One way of restoring respect to our Parliament would be for our Government to keep the promises it makes to us. Today, I've espied three news reports that relate to promises, one of which has been broken and two of which will be kept.

First up is the announcement by the Irish Prime Minister that in October the people of Ireland are going to be given another go at coming up with the 'right result' on the Lisbon Treaty. This is the same treaty that was rejected by Irish voters in a referendum last year. Its also a similar treaty to that which all mainstream parties in the UK promised would not be signed up to by Britain without approval in a referendum, a promise that only the Conservatives have stood by - though I should point out that the apologists for this dishonourable act claim that the Lisbon Treaty is sufficiently different from the 'constitutional' treaty it replaced to provide cover for reneging. What it looks as if we are witnessing is a stitch-up between the Irish and British Governments (plus the European Union) to ensure that the Lisbon Treaty becomes law before a General Election is held - because it sure wouldn't be without a referendum if David Cameron became Prime Minister first. This broken promise has caused great harm to our democracy. Its no wonder that Ukip did so well in the recent Euro elections - or that British people are so disillusioned with politicians.

The second promise relates to the ban on hunting with dogs. William Hague has given an assurance that a Conservative Government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote in Government time. This is a controversial issue - but its a longstanding promise made by David Cameron. Personally, I believe the ban to be intolerant and very bad law. But more importantly it was a promise, and it should be kept.

And the third promise in the news today relates to the threshold at which Inheritance Tax becomes payable. In a very significant speech at the Conservative Party Conference in 2007, widely thought to have frightened Gordon Brown from holding a General Election, the Shadow Chancellor promised that a Conservative Government would raise the threshold to £1,000,000. Because of the changed state of public finances, many voices are calling for this promise to be dropped. But George Osborne has today reaffirmed his promise. Personally, I agree with this tax change. But again and more importantly it was a promise, and it should be honoured.

Eric Joyce MP - in all his awfulness.

You really have to watch this video which I saw featured on Iain Dale's blog. I recall once telling a Labour Assembly Member, who intervened during one of my speeches to make some mindblowingly boring and irrelevant party point that he was the 'Eric Joyce of Welsh politics'. Not everyone in the debating chamber understood how deliberately offensive I was being. Watch this clip and you'll realise that its not possible to be more rude. The Presiding Officer really should have ruled such an insult out of order.

Dr Brian Gibbons

This last week, I attended the official opening of Powys' new substance abuse centre, located at the Armoury Leisure Centre, in Welshpool. Its next door to the gymnasium where I hone my body. The honours were performed by Dr Brian Gibbons, Assembly Government Minister for Social Justice and Local Government. After his 'launch' speech, I was invited to contribute a few words to the occasion. I took the opportunity to speak well of Dr Gibbons. During my eight years as an Assembly Member, he was a political opponent whom I found it difficult to regard as such because of his easy manner and ready sense of fun. And of course he's Irish.

When he was appointed a Minister, I reckoned it was great news for the Conservatives. He seemed competent and personable - but had an accent so pronounced that voters wouldn't understand what he was saying! But we all became used to it. He will always be best remembered for pressing the wrong voting button in the debating chamber, and delivering a great defeat upon the Assembly Government of which he was a member. The debate had been based on an opposition demand for an inquiry into the Wales Ambulance Service. Brian, then Health Minister had presented the Government's case against it. The Government were expecting to win by one vote - but Brian's finger went awol, found the wrong voting button and an inquiry there was. I'm a bit miffed he didn't tell me he was standing down when we met this week. I'd like to have broken the news on this blog.

Mick Bates last week. Brian Gibbons this week. Who next?

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Wig

Montgomeryshire is in the news again today. All over the front page of the Daily Mail, and in many other places. And the reason. Our MP purchased a 'Mother of all Wigs' from Hamley's, (along with another wig), and charged them both to the taxpayer. They were to be used at a charity event. Lots of people have asked me what a 'Mother of all Wigs' looks like. Well, here it is. I think we should be told what's happened to it, but our MP seems to have gone to ground.

I notice that that this 'Mother of all Wigs', is available on the Internet, costs only £11.31 - while Hamley's charged £19.99 for their version. I also notice its now out of stock. Probably been an almighty rush as a result of today's publicity. It would look really good on a Segway rider.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Environment Agency wastes hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Normally, there is little public interest in the report of a planning inspector. But today, we had sight of the report of Clive Neild, BSc, CEng., MICE, MCIWEM following a public inquiry into two appeals by Mr Thomas Till in respect of land at Trewern Hall, near Welshpool. One appeal, against a decision of Powys County Council has been dismissed - a side issue. Forget it for now, but it may well come back to bite the Council in a few weeks time. A separate post. But the appeal against the Environment Agency! Wow! This is big - big enough to go national. It involves a costs award against the EA which will amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds - of our money.

I'll try to keep it simple. At issue is the height of an 'argau', (a flooding embankment) which serves as a defence against the flooding of the outstanding property, Trewern Hall, in Montgomeryshire. The owner of this property wished to raise the level of the argau. Another 30 property owners in the area believed that this development would increase the risk of the flooding of their homes. The dispute has rumbled on through all sorts of legal procedures over several years - resulting in huge legal costs, and a conviction against the name of a local land agent, the aforementioned Mr Thomas Till.

Mr Till appealed against the refusal by the Environment Agency to allow the raising of the argau. The inspector found in favour of Mr Till, deciding that the EA had acted unreasonably. Big decision. Big victory for Mr Till. He decided that the danger to the other 30 properties would be no more than 'slight', but that the benefit to Trewern Hall would be crucial to the protection of this important building. This becomes a major public issue because of the costs incurred by Mr Till and the property's owner, Mr Chapman. This is what the Inspector decided;

It is clear that the Environment Agency acted unlawfully and unreasonably in its determination of the application for the following reasons;

- The EA abjectly failed to have regard to all material considerations, the essence of a reasonable decision;
- The EA failed to comply with its statutory duty to consider the effect on the historic building, and even at the appeal has presented no evidence of this;
- The EA claims to have considered only the information contained in the application. despite the fact that it already had detailed knowledge of the proposal....;
- The EA misdirected itself as to the effect of Government and EA policy;
- The EA took no account of flood modelling that showed that the Applicant's land and property would be seriously adversely affected by ( other works) even though it was aware of these effects;
- The only written record of the decision makes no reference to how the various issues were balanced;
- The key issues were neither identified or balanced.

And on and on it goes, rubbishing a Government sponsored, taxpayer funded body in as condemnatory a manner as I have ever read or heard of. The Inspector finishes up by finding that the Environment Agency has acted unreasonably and concludes that a full award of costs is justified. That means that hundreds of thousands, (perhaps half a million) of the taxpayer's money that is ploughed into the Environment Agency has been 'blown' on legal fees and agent's fees etc.. And this does not include what the whole fiasco cost the Agency itself. In the private sector, heads would roll.

UPDATE - Now look here folks. This is not a judgemental post. Unusually on this blog, I decided to forgo opinion. Though I've listened to all sides over the years, I found the issue so complex (as well as involving good friends) that I've not taken a public view on it. I've tried to avoid any word which may indicate an opinion (and edited one word out!). But what I do think, after reading the inspector's report, is that the Environment Agency made a pig's ear of their case, let a lot of people down, and blew a huge sum of taxpayer's money. And there may be a follow up when my solicitor friend has been through it.

They still don't get it.

Today, the controversial decision by the Daily Telegraph to publish a copy of the claims made by MPs on the taxpayers for allowances and expenses became totally justified. The official publication of MP's expenses and allowances has shown that there has been zilch commitment to openness and transparency. Today, the poor regard in which our MPs are held, and the disrespect which the current Parliament is held was made a whole lot worse. People who care about our democracy, weep in despair. Please, please, bring forward a general election to bring some blessed relief to the pain and devastation that is being inflicted on our democracy.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Be careful what you wish for.

You've really got to give the prize to Peter Hain. His ability to generate publicity is unmatched. Since Gordon Brown brought him back into Government he's been all over the place. Yesterday's edition of the Western Mail had three full pages on his thoughts, brought to us courtesy of Tomos Livingstone. Some of what Peter is reported to have said is utter tripe - as when he repeats the Gordon Brown line about 'Tory cuts' in public spending. Peter, the only figures about 'cuts' we've seen so far came straight out of the Chancellor's red box. I'm afraid they are Labour cuts. A bit of tinkering about where they might fall does not make them 'Tory cuts'.

But I think he is talking sense when he says of the proposed referendum on full law making powers for the National Assembly "This is not the right time, and I don't see the right time for the next few months or couple of years". Peter is telling the Plaid/Labour Coalition Government in the National Assembly that its promise to hold such a referendum before 2011 should be broken. He also seems to suggest that 'very senior members' Plaid Cymru agree. Perhaps the 'less senior members' should ask him who they are. Or was this a little porkie?

For over a year, this blog has discounted a referendum being held before 2011. As soon as they started piddling around with a 'convention', I stopped believing them. I've also described this Sir Emyr Jones-Parry Convention as 'a mechanism for delay' and a convenient peg which will allow the leader of Plaid Cymru, Ieuan Wyn Jones to slither out of the promise which he used to persuade his party to sign up to a coalition with Labour in the first place. What is interesting to me, is that I'm increasingly hearing the suggestion from devo-sceptics in my own party that a referendum should be held without waiting for the requisite 40 Assembly Members to ask for it. "Lets get it over with" is what I hear (from admittedly a small number as yet). Like Peter Hain, they think a referendum would be lost - and I fear they might be right be wary. I just ask those who disagree with the newly re-appointed Secretary of State to be careful, very careful indeed about what they wish for.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bringing back prescription charges in Wales.

Hello. Been away for a two days and just catching up. Biggest surprise was to learn that the Conservative Group in the Assembly are going to fight the next Assembly election on a manifesto commitment to reintroduce prescription charges. This is a big and 'brave' call. I wonder how it will be received by the Welsh people.

I was opposed to the abolition of prescription charges, and saw it as one of those election 'freebies' that has been so central to Rhodri Morgan's political philosophy - though I was impressed by the argument put forward by Dr Dai Lloyd, then Plaid Cymru's health spokesman, that the cost could be recouped by a huge reduction in the list of drugs which could be prescribed. Don't know the cost of free prescriptions, but I believe its over £30 million per annum - money which has to be topsliced from other Assembly budget heads.

But opposing the abolition of prescription charges is one thing. Re-introducing them is another thing altogether. It will be interesting to learn at what level this charge will be introduced - or how much below £5.00 per prescription it will be. We're told that it will still be different from the charge in England (lower). It will also be interesting to see how much wider will be the list of exemptions (Less than 10% paid for prescriptions when they were abolished). If this proposal makes it into the Assembly election manifesto, I can envisage some interesting discussions twixt the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru if they find themselves in coalition discussions! This issue is definitely one to watch.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Much ado about little.

I sometimes find it difficult to understand why the most innocent remarks by some politicians can be reported by the media as carrying some great significance. Today's comments by Kenneth Clarke about the UK's relationship with the European Union are an example. Seemed to me he was just stating the obvious. Yet we have other party's spokesmen working themselves up into a fine pseudo-lather, claiming that he has let some 'cat out of the bag'. But hearing David Miliband accusing the Conservatives of 'flip flopping' led me to assume it was his attempt at self deprecating humour!

Over the period leading up to last week's election to the European Parliament, one of the main issues was David Cameron's commitment to hold a referendum on whether the UK should agree to sign the Lisbon Treaty. Straightforward enough. We promised that a referendum would be arranged before signing up to the new constitutional treaty before the last general election, as did Labour and the Liberal Democrats. We stand by our promise, which they don't. But what happens if Gordon Brown does not hold a General Election until after the Lisbon treaty has been signed by all 27 EU countries, and it has become a part of EU law? What would a Conservative Government do then? Never see the sense in answering these 'what if' questions. What I've understood though is that a Conservative Government would 'not let matters rest there'. What this means precisely would form part of our manifesto - if we have not had the election that the nation wants. Kenneth Clarke was reflecting on what this might be.

There are demands from several quarters that Cameron/Hague should promise now that a referendum would be held even if the Lisbon Treaty had been signed. I imagine there would be some significant issues of legality involved in the UK withdrawing from a treaty which we had just signed up to - and anyway, it would be a bit dumb to weaken the pressure on Gordon Brown to call that election now. What every Euro-sceptic in the UK should be demanding is a general election before the Irish vote in their referendum. That's the best way to secure the vote that we want.

Contact the Elderly

Its very easy for elderly people to become very lonely. As we grow old, our circle of friends contracts, and can eventually amount to no more than one or two people - who then die. Its wise for older people to stay in touch with several friends, and try to get out to coffee mornings, etc. while its possible. This afternoon a small group of elderly people visited our garden on an organised trip. Some could not walk very far, and brought along their own flasks of tea and cakes. There were one-to-one able bodied along as well to help. The visit was arranged by an organisation called 'Contact the Elderly'. Have to admit that I don't know much about how this body is funded, or whether its wholly or partly voluntary - but it seems a great idea. Must find out more.

My Fifteen to take on the Springboks

The Starting Fifteen - Lee Byrne, Tommy Bowe, Jamie Roberts, Brian O'Driscoll, Luke Fitzgerald, Stephen Jones, Mike Phillips, Gethin Jenkins, Lee Mears, Adam Jones, Paul O'Connell, Alun-Wyn Jones, Tom Croft, Jamie Heaslip, Martyn Williams.

The Bench - James Hook, Ugo Monya, Harry Ellis, Andrew Sheridan, Ross Ford, David Wallace, Nathan Hines.

The Lions will have to be quick - which is why I choose Fitsgerald, Gethin Jenkins, Martyn Williams and Alun-Wyn Jones. Unluckiest man is Ronan O'Gara, but Hook gets in because he can cover all back line positions - and the bench will need forwards. Its going to be a war up front.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Peonies, Poppies and Pokers

We have never grown many peonies, but this may change. This new variety, that Mrs D found somewhere is excellent. It stands upright, and still looks good after rain. Do not know what its called, but I'd buy more if I saw some at a garden centre. They can be divided, but take a while to recover, and I've become less patient. I could do with a dozen of them - and I could do with them now.

Oriental poppies are really good value at this time of year, in the gap between Azaleas and most summer herbaceous colour. They can look a bit untidy, but they are much more reliable than I used to think. They come in a range of colours and are worth looking after.

A peony that we've grown for years, and has become very common is Bowl of Beauty. They stand up fairly well, but are best if planted amongst other plants which help keep them upright. This variety is always covered in colour, and both long lived and dependable.

Since I'm featuring mid June flower heads today, I thought I should include the most commonly grown Kniphofia of all. Although I've become a bit picky with pokers, and grow dozens of different sorts, there's none more reliable or easy as this one. I do have a very nice small yellow out at the moment, but its nothing like as showy as this.

The Tanatside Puppy Show

Today I lost my puppy show virginity. It happened at The Kennels near Guilsfield, near Welshpool, and was quite an occasion. Its a tradition with its roots way back in the history of Britain. Its very presumptuous of me, as someone so newly 'broken in' to outline what is involved, but let me try.

Foxhounds live a tough life and survive around 7/8 years at best - so have to be replaced regularly. There's a lot of work caring for the whelps while they are with their mothers, but when they are a few months old and fully weaned, they are placed with 'walkers' - volunteers who look after them for a few months. This all costs quite a bit - and in time. Anyway, as a thank you to all the walkers, and because its always been done, a 'Puppy Show' is organised in early summer, where lots of hunt supporters turn up to watch invited judges decide which of last year's puppies is the best. The ladies wear posh summery frocks and some of the men wear bowler hats. The hounds become very boisterous and excited and some jump over the fence and pee on supporter's legs. If you feel your leg warming up for no reason, you know what's happened.

All this is part of the foxhunting tradition, which has grown hugely in popularity since the Labour Government, in a frenzy of spite against the countryside banned hunting with dogs. There were about eighty people there today, all feeling optimistic that the obnoxious ban will be soon overturned. One guest there today was Mr Jim Meads, probably the world's leading hunting photographer, who lives locally - when he's not in the US. He's written several books on hunting, and his last and final book, 'Going Home' has a foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales. Several cups were awarded. The weather was good, and we all had a lovely time. And in 2109, I feel sure that a successful Tanatside Puppy Show will be held.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A 'too clever by half' Prime Minister exposed.

Been trying to decide whether yesterday's battle of words about spending cuts was positive or negative from a Conservative perspective. Immediately after I heard what Andrew Lansley had said on the Today programme, I feared that it might be negative. But by evening, when I saw the always competent Phillip Hammond demolish a jibbering John Denham on Newsnight, I had not the slightest doubt that Lansley had done the Conservative Party a huge service.

Along with David Cameron and almost everyone except Labour, this blog has been calling for an early General Election - mainly because British politics is in a state of limbo until the voters have their say, and replace the current flawed and discredited parliament. But the major downside for Conservatives if this were to happen would be the danger of taking over as the Government before the people fully appreciated the scale of the cuts in services that are to come. Our honeymoon could have been short. Yesterday's argument, which wasn't actually much of an argument at all, has drawn back the blinds, and exposed the harshness of the climate of austerity that is advancing to envelop us.

Now Gordon Brown thought that his dreams had come true yesterday morning - and what petty deceitful little dreams they were. Because Andrew Lansley had put a hard figure on what he thought the reductions might be, our Prime Minister thought he could nail the Tories as public service cutters - until it was pointed out by independent assessment Lansley's figures were the same as those promised by the Chancellor in the recent budget. The only significant difference is that the Conservatives are committed to maintaining real terms increases in health care expenditure, while Labour is promising that their 7% real terms cut over the three years from 2011 will apply to all budgets. Because the health budget is so significant, continuing to increase it as the Conservatives promise, means that Labour's 7% 'across the board' becomes a 10% cut for issues other than health. Its also the case that a Conservative Chancellor, following an early General Election would begin straightening out our public finances in 2010, rather than 2011.

Now, to why this is positive news for the Conservative Party. Firstly the commentators dismissed the Prime Minister's blustering and blathering for the dissembling garbage that it was. Secondly the British people are now much more aware of what is needed to sort out the disastrous mess that Labour is going to leave behind. And thirdly, the British people now know that the current Government is planning the same sort of cuts in public spending as a Conservative Government - just hoping to keep it hidden until after the General Election is out of the way. Yesterday, the ground was prepared for the election of a Government which is more truthful, and open, and committed to repairing the damage to our public finances.

William Hague's Brilliance.

I've already watched this speech by William Hague twice. It is absolutely brilliant, and anyone who appreciates the use of the English Language to entertain (using the word in its broadest sense) should take out ten minutes to watch it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Is Mick Bates retiring?

Was at a meeting in Welshpool tonight when I bumped into Edna Mopbucket, who does a bit of cleaning and tidying around the municipal offices of Wales. Edna works quietly and unobstusively - and often sees and hears snippets that she passes on to me. I could see she was bursting to share some gossip with me last night. And I could also see that it was a snippet about which she wasn't too happy. Anyway, in the end I wheedled it out of her. She reckons that the long standing Assembly Member for Montgomeryshire, Mick Bates has decided not to stand at the next Assembly Election, and will make an announcement shortly. Now even though Mick has always been my opponent in Montgomeryshire, and Edna is my best friend, I know that she carries a bit of a torch for him. I think its because Mick is a big powerful man, and Edna likes them that way. She's always had a touch of the 'hots' for Councillor Bob Mills in Powys, and Labour Assembly Member, Carl Sargeant as well - and both of them are powerful men. I told her I was a bit doubtful about the veracity of this bit of gossip, and that she ought to check up with Mick before going around telling people like me - because I'm just no good at keeping it to myself. I'm bound to let it slip somewhere.

Declaration for Welsh Democracy

Today, Cymru Yfory/Tomorrow's Wales launched its 'Declaration for Welsh Democracy'. Assembly Member, Bethan Jenkins has written a post on the issue which includes a copy of the Declaration. Though I totally agree with the content of the Declaration, I did not accept an invitation to sign it. This caused me much angst. "Why", you might ask. I'll explain and hope that my reasoning is not too convoluted.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I support the granting to the National Assembly for Wales of full law making powers in the policy areas which have already been devolved. They will also know that I have taken an unambiguous and public stance on this, and hope to persuade my party that this is the right and best policy for the Conservative Party to adopt. I accept that many party members do not agree with me about this. I have taken the view that I can more effectively engage with the more sceptical elements of the Welsh electorate and of my own political party if I am not in any way connected formally with a Yes campaign. Now, I reckon that the logic which has driven me to support moving the devolution 'process' on to adopting Part four of the Government of Wales act is irresistible. Its easy enough to make the argument for law making powers before an academic or an anorak audience. Making the case to a sceptical audience in Monmouth is an entirely different kettle of fish. That's the role I see or myself if AMs ever get around to asking Westminster to approve the holding of a referendum.

I see that Conservative Assembly Member, David Melding has signed the Declaration, and well done him. I do not know why other Conservative Assembly Members, who have also supported its aims publicly, have not signed it as well. Perhaps they intend to join me in campaigning in the least 'devolutionary' parts of Wales! Just seems a pity that more Conservatives have not signed up - but I suppose that I'm not in much of a position to talk! Daresay, I might have some stick for this post - especially from a commenter named Doris. Whatever, I'm comfortable with my decision about this. Doesn't stop me feeling a bit left out of things though.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Diversionary Stunts.

Its so irritating when blatant political stunts succeed. Today we had some really idiotic demonstrators throwing eggs at Nick Griffin, providing the BNP leader with the publicity he was seeking. Watching Newsnight tonight was enough to induce despair in the calmest soul. There was newly elected Nick Griffin given a wonderful platform to appear statesmanlike, (honestly that's how he came across) while the case against fascism was handed to a man who publicly disavowed democracy and free speech, and piled up even more votes for the BNP at the same time. Poor old Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem MP was manfully trying to introduce some truth and common sense into the debate, but it was no good. Our media ensured that the stunt had worked like a dream.

But it didn't work as well as the other stunt featured on Newsnight tonight. How can any serious political commentator give any credibility whatsoever to the leak of Gordon Brown's proposals for electoral reform. How can anyone not see that this is an outrageous diversionary stunt. The current problem with our constitution is that some MPs have been abusing the expenses system, and ripping off the taxpayer. The only reason our Prime Minister is talking about electoral reform and democratising the House of Lords is to try to persuade us to think about something else. Its really depressing that those who decide what is news, have taken a decision that such an obvious diversionary stunt should be presented as news. Thank goodness for Derek Simpson of the Unite trade union (never expected to say that) who was on the panel, saying what almost everyone who was watching such trumped up garbage was thinking. Its enough to make me join the calls to question the continuation of the licence fee. Consolation is that the public will not believe a word of it. And someone else on the programme said that he thought Alistair Darling's forecasts for economic growth were likely to be correct. Just pass me the revolver. Perhaps tonight's edition was meant to double as a comedy programme.

Rugby Justice.

Ryan Jones has been called up to join the Lions tour of South Africa. Personally, I thought he should have been included in the first place. Its terrific news for Welsh fans that our captain is where he should be. I will sleep better tonight. Justice is a great inducer of contentment. Its a pity that it took an injury to Stephen Ferris to create the opening though. He's been a revelation on the tour, and I fancied his chances of making the team for the first test. Don't think Ryan is pencilled in for the test team yet. The back row will be Williams, Heaslip and Croft, with Wallace on the bench. But our man will feature at some stage in the test team.

Help the people who care.

All the excitement surrounding the Euro elections meant that I didn't read Rowan Williams' article in yesterday's Telegraph until tonight. He was writing about 'our neglected carers'. He is so so right when he writes "Part of what makes us human is our willingness to look out for, and look after each other". I sense that our 'willingness' is considerably less than it used to be, at least in part because the state has set out to claim the role of provider of care, a policy driven by compassion, but dangerous in its potential to 'nationalise' what historically was seen as a family responsibility. In reality, the sheer scale of demand is such that the state cannot possibly afford to carry out this task alone. Since I became involved with a company providing care, across all ages, I've become much more aware of what happens in our society. Many do not receive the care they need. And I foresee a significant reduction in what the state will be able to do over the next few years. I foresee more and more people being left without care. As always, when the Governments of the world make a complete b*** up of our economy, its the most vulnerable who will lose out. This is the area of public policy where I expect to see most empty rhetoric and unfunded promises.

I know a lady who has an adult epileptic son, who requires full time attention. We sometimes talk about the need for respite care, Whenever I meet her, I leave in awe of her commitment. And I cannot imagine the pain and dedication needed by parents who have children with severe 'learning difficulties' - or people who try to care for elderly people suffering from advanced dementia. And there are so many other examples. A century ago, when extended families lived together it was a burden that was frequently shared, but today it so often falls on one individual, whose life is completely taken over by the responsibility.

In his article, the Archbishop of Canterbury is using Carer's Week to ask that the state makes a bigger commitment to helping carers. I agree with him, but know that its not going to happen. Because the Government of our country has run out of money, and taken on incredible debts, our public services are in effect facing managed decline. I hope those who set the budgets that support carers will not be tempted to cut services for carers, people who do not have a strong collective voice. I suppose it helps to have Rowan Williams onside.

Monday, June 08, 2009

How to Stop the BNP.

The UK electorate have voted two BNP representatives to serve in the European Parliament over the next five years. This is a big and disappointing development. One of them, Nick Griffin lives close to where I do, in the heart of rural Montgomeryshire. I have a tenuous link with his home. When it was a farm owned by Mr Evan Howells, I often bought his yearling ewes at Llanfair Caereinion sheep sale. They were invariably good doers. The political establishment has responded to this electoral success by the BNP in a very negative way. I was a guest of Radio Wales on a phone-in today when the issue of BNP success came up. My fellow guest, a Labour politician was utterly scathing about the two new MEPs. I took, as I usually do, a rather different line. "Why" you may well ask.

I focus on outcomes. Winning arguments is more important than just making them. I also do not want the BNP to achieve success, which I believe is rooted in the presentation of the BNP by itself as a 'victim' - and that its electoral strategy depends on being attacked by the political establishment. Recently I heard Nick Griffin being interviewed by Peter Allen on Drive, when the BNP leader was trying to put forward the outrageous proposition that it is not possible for a black person to be British. What struck me as I listened was that Peter totally destroyed every argument presented by the Leader of the BNP, but added thousands of votes to his electoral support. It was so one-sided that Nick Griffin sounded as if he was being bullied!

My general approach is to ignore the BNP, as far as possible. I recall a huge hoohah a few years ago when the party proposed to hold a rally at Mr Griffin's home in Montgomeryshire and the anti-Nazi League decided to hold a counter rally in Welshpool - much against my advice. The BNP rally was not much more than a cake stall and a bouncy castle, but it tied up what seemed like hundreds of police, and achieved publicity that would have cost millions. Rather shockingly, I suspect that some of my friends sympathise with the BNP - mainly because they are concerned about excessive immigration, and believe that the BNP is the only political party which shares this concern. They do not believe, probably correctly, that the Government has effective control over immigration policy. They do not believe that mainstream parties are prepared to address the issue in a serious way - partly in fear of accusations of racism. We need to change this belief. Whenever I've heard a BNP spokesman engaged in civilised discussion about the party's policy, and allowed to explain the rationale behind it, I see a politician floundering like a duck in an oil slick. Without anyone to shout it down, the BNP would not have won positions as MEPS . In my opinion anyway.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Wales turns Blue!

I've just listened to the declaration for the Euro - election in Wales from Haverfordwest. Stunning. Absolutely stunning. The Conservatives have beaten Labour into second place in Wales. This has not happened since Labour became a significant political party early in the last century. The dominating fact of this election is that Labour's share of the vote fell from 33% to 20%.

Congratulations to UKIP on winning a seat in the European Parliament for the first time. I had hoped that if we succeeded in overtaking Labour, we would have won a second seat in Wales - but this hope has been dashed by the huge surge in support for UKIP.

The number of votes cast were;

Conservatives - 145,193
Labour - 138,193
Plaid Cymru - 126,702
UKIP - 87,585
Liberal Democrats - 73, 082

Elected were Dr Kay Swinburne (Conservative), Derek Vaughan (Labour), Jill Evans (Plaid Cymru), John Bufton (UKIP).

Euro Election in Montgomeryshire

Been considering the number of votes cast in the Euro election in Montgomeryshire. Terrific result for us. We came home first with 4247 votes, with UKIP in second place. Now this is a surprise. Montgomeryshire is looked on as a Liberal Democrat stronghold - and they have been pushed down into 3rd place! We received 1500 more votes than they did. I shouldn't think that the Conservatives have ever beaten the Liberals/Liberal Democrats in Montgomeryshire by such a handsome margin. All looks a bit promising for the General Election.

The votes cast in Montgomeryshire were;

Conservative - 4247
UKIP - 2993
Lib Dem - 2757
Plaid - 2016
Greens - 1362
Labour - 994
BNP - 884


Its always a risk to predict an election result before the votes are counted. I know that I will suffer unmerciful mockery if we fall short of what I hope for. Must warn you that I have a history of being unjustifiably optimistic. But risk can be fun - as long as its treated as a bit of fun. In Montgomeryshire I predict that tonight's results will be;

The Conservatives will win - perhaps by a 1,000 votes.
That the Lib Dems will hold off a real challenge from UKIP.
That Plaid Cymru will poll quite well.
That Labour will have a disaster.

Will post on what I think it all means for Montgomeryshire when we have the results in.

Praying for Politicians.

I joined in a prayer for Lembit Opik this morning. It was a prayer that extended to encompass Gordon Brown as well. Who would have thought it. The occasion was the Mayor of Welshpool's Civic Service at St Mary's Church in the town. The exact wording was;

'We remember Elizabeth our Queen, her Ministers and Government, Members of Parliament, and all those who are able to influence public opinion. We pray likewise for the Welsh Assembly, and Powys County Council and for those who represent us in these areas, remembering especially Lembit Opik MP, Mick Bates AM and ......"

And in his Address, the Rev. Roger Brown spoke of the honesty that we expect in our politicians, and the price they must pay if they do things below the expected standard. I enjoyed his reference to Horatio Bottomley, a Liberal MP (later independent) who became hugely famous during the early part of the 20th century. Eventually he was sent to Wormwood Scrubs for seven years upon being found guilty of fraud. The prison chaplain found him one day making mail sacks (they really did that) and said with a questioning tone "Bottomley, sewing?". "No, reaping" he replied.

For the second time this weekend I found myself belting out "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah" as we sang the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic' - one of the Mayor's favourites. First time was at yesterday's funeral in Newtown of Miss Jean Wort, a former Chairman and President of the Montgomeryshire Conservative Association, a lady for whom the word 'formidable' could have been especially commissioned. My contribution to today's service was the second reading - Chapter V from the gospel according to St Mathew, the Sermon on the Mount. So there I was, after reciting the beatitudes, proclaiming that those who have been insulted, unjustly persecuted and have had nasty things said about them will be blessed. It all seemed very appropriate.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Remembering D Day

When I was young, I was concerned with my work, my family, and my sport. I did not spend much time thinking about fellow citizens who had joined the armed forces and committed themselves to preserving the freedom which allowed me to concentrate on those concerns. But as I've grown older, I've appreciated more the sacrifice that so many of our young men and women made in defence of our freedom. If you have 15 minutes to spare, visit this link and listen to Ronald Reagan use his great gift for communication to express the free world's thanks to those who stood tall on D Day.

Glue Sniffing in Tory Office.

Several of you have warned in comments that the Liberal Democrats in Montgomeryshire could resort to dirty tricks as the General Election approaches - but surely this was going a bit far. Surely they wouldn't try to blow us up, or poison us all, as we sat at our desks. But what else was I to think as I approached the Conservative Office in Welshpool this afternoon. Outside there were two police cars, two fire engines, an ambulance and other flashing blue lights. Our office was cordoned off by warning tape, and fire officers kitted out with oxygen tanks and gas masks were entering it and neighbouring properties. Shades of the SAS attack on the Libyan Embassy in 1984. And this before the Euro-election votes have even been counted.

But No. It was nothing whatsoever to do with the Lib Dems. It was a 'leak'. Not the first time a political office has been threatened by 'leaks' you might think. But this one was a fumes leak. A company called Grisdale 2000, which specialises in repairing sewers, had relined a drain alongside our office, and had pumped in some resin to seal it. This had given rise to fumes, some of which had leaked into the cellars, and prompted our neighbours to call the emergency services. I hope the County Times doesn't report the incident under the headline "glue sniffing in the Tory office". Unfortunately I missed my Yeltsin/ Rudi Guiliani moment. I should have rushed in myself and emerged from the fumes, face blackened, carrying a vulnerable person over my shoulder, searching for a passing camera. Instead I dithered like Gordon Brown, and let Brenden and the professionals handle things. The two lads from Grisdale 2000 just carried on working with barely a flicker of interest. I reckon they had seen it all before.

Local Government Elections

Been chewing over the implications of Thursday's Council elections in England - and any messages there might be for us in Wales. As always it depends how you look at it. Our share of the vote was down to 38%, which seems a negative, but it doesn't feel like that to me. Before the count, we were reading that gaining 200 extra councillors would be a success. We gained 285. More important was where we gained them. At long last we are winning in the North of England, and in the South West. The latter is of particular interest to me because it tells us that we are taking votes from the Liberal Democrats in rural areas.

It was a very bad election for the Labour Party - even worse than expected. Losing seats to the Liberal Democrats in urban centres must be especially worrying. And it was not a great day for the Liberal Democrats either. Winning 28% of the vote was good news for them, but losing ground to us in the South West of England bodes ill for them in a General Election. They are finding it difficult to present themselves as an 'urban' party in the cities, and a 'rural' party everywhere else. Nick Clegg was right to describe performance as 'patchy'.

Now its on to the European Parliament election count tomorrow night. We're all expecting Ukip, the Greens and the BNP to do well - but how well is the question. I'm interested in what happens in Montgomeryshire. I very much hope we top the poll, and by a decent margin. It would give momentum to our campaign to win Montgomeryshire at the General Election. The turnout was only 33.7%, so there can be no firm projections. A lot depends on how much support moved from the mainstream parties to the minor parties just for the this election, and how much of it will move back. What would really make my day is if we topped the poll, and Ukip threatened the Liberal Democrats for second. Nothing against the Lib Dems, but I'm just thinking strategically here. Will be blogging on this after 9.00 tomorrow night.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Good Guys Going

As surveying the carnage that used to be Gordon Brown's cabinet, we learned today that Secretary of State for Defence, John Hutton, has announced that he is not standing at the next General Election. We also learned today that Paul Goodman, MP for Wycombe and a Shadow Minister is standing down as well. As far as I know the departure of these two men from the House of Commons has nothing to do with Telegraph exposures. They are just two very good politicians, one Labour and one Conservative who have had enough. They're going off to do something else. This should be of concern to all of us.

Most of us accept that there are people serving as Members of Parliament who should not be doing so. I daresay that some of these individuals will wriggle under the radar which has caught out others. It also seems to me that some are being vilified for supposed 'improper conduct' that does not justify being shown the door. None of us can comment on individual situations because we do not know the detail. We depend on the integrity of the scrutiny arrangements being carried out by the political parties. But there are many very good MPs, who have been committed to public service. These people will inevitably be asking themselves whether being an MP is now a job which brings them sufficient personal satisfaction. When I was ringing potential voters in Montgomeryshire yesterday, encouraging them to trek down to the polling booth, I spoke to some who think that no MPs are good people. They were wrong. There are good people, and two of them decided that they've had enough today.

Country before Party.

Done interviews tonight about the chaos that currently passes for 'government' in Westminster. Repeated the party line, (which has also been this blog's line since the first Telegraph expenses exposure) that the present Parliament is now so discredited that a General Election is the only acceptable way forward. Back came the predictable response that I was taking this line only because it destabilises Gordon Brown, and that it suits the Conservatives. Well, let's look a bit closer look at this 'accusation', firstly from the narrow interest of the Conservative Party - and then from Britain's national interest.

Gordon Brown is the most unpopular Prime Minister of modern times, with dozens of disaffected backbenchers who want to see the back of him - a recipe for continuing chaos, which will do long term damage to the Labour Party. If he were to be pushed aside, his likely replacement would be Alan Johnson, who seems an altogether more personable and engaging politician who would probably be much more popular. I cannot see how that can be said to be in my party's narrow interest.

And I also challenge the notion that an early General Election would be in our narrow party interest either. I do not believe the terrible impact that Gordon Brown's incompetence is going to have on our public services is yet fully understood. In a year's time, the full horror of the Labour legacy will be known. If David Cameron were to take over now, its possible we would cop some of the blame. In a year's time, all of the blame would be dumped on Labour - where it properly belongs. Taking over from Gordon Brown in 2010, would be a far better bet, if all we cared about was our own narrow interest.

But our first responsibility is to our country. Britain needs a General Election now, to elect a government with the authority and public confidence needed to function properly. Britain needs the removal from the office of Prime Minister a man of unique unpopularity. No, my calls for a General Election are not a response to what I think is good for my party. Its what I think is good for my country.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Must be the hot weather.

Been catching up on yesterday's Telegraph, and been shocked by the fall in standards of British politeness. First there was Anna Pascoe, the Lib Dem Council candidate seeking a place on Cornwall County Council who distributed leaflets describing her Cornish Nationalist opponent, Stuart Cullimore as a "greasy haired tw*t". Wouldn't last long in today's Tory Party with language like that. Since I know nothing of Mr Cullimore, and less about about what passes for normal debate in Cornwall, I cannot comment on what degree of justification there might have been - but it seems a bit strong to me.

And then on the next page, I read about Mr Clive Robinson of Spalding, who called his German neighbour a "schweinhund", which does not sound at all polite - especially since she's a lady named Christine Hurst. In his defence Mr Robinson claims he was shouting at one of his own dogs. Seems that 'schweinhund' translates as 'pig dog'. Lincoln Crown Court are going to have to decide this one.

On to the next page, and golfers are at it. Mr Barry Barnes and three friends were playing the 13th at Stockwood Park Golf Course, near Luton, when they noticed Mr Harold Stafford shouting at them from the 3rd. He was shouting so loudly that Mr Barnes missed his putt. Seems he was accusing Mr Barnes of playing his ball. Mr Stafford then drew his pitching wedge and began clubbing Mr Barnes over the head, and when he fell to the ground continued to club his head, and kick his body. Perhaps we should send the Labour Cabinet out for a round or two - as a sort of bonding session.

Why not fully merge Powys Council and Health Trust?

Roughly every quarter, I visit the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital for a coffee and chat about cross border health issues with Tom Taylor, Chief Executive of the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospitals Trust. Did so yesterday. Over recent years the main issue has always been funding of 'Welsh' patients in 'English' hospitals. From a Royal Shrewsbury perspective, there has not been enough money being paid by the Powys Local Health Board since the National Assembly was created in 1999. The 'underpayment' was usually put at about £2 million per annum. The position was resolved when a new 'Protocol' was signed on April 1st this year between the Assembly Government and the Department of Health. I would like to explain on this blog how this protocol is going to operate, but I gave it up as too complex - which is why a fantastic piece of news attracted almost no media comment.

A subject of great interest to both Tom Taylor and me is the discussion that is currently taking place between Powys County Council and the Powys Local Health Board about developing a closer relationship. These discussions are taking place behind closed doors, and the Council seems to be acting in a very secretive way at the moment. Its difficult to find out what's going on. We know that there is discussion taking place about the two organisations sharing a 'joint' Chief Executive - which seems a sensible idea to me. But why not go further? Why not a full on consummation of the relationship - creating a Powys Public Services Council, covering health, education and everything else that the Council does. This is radical stuff, and would be a first in Britain. Its so radical that it would have to be implemented in association with the Assembly Government. The more I've thought about this, the more sensible and obvious it seems. I bet that's what they are talking about at all these secret meetings.

Perhaps we'll find out on June 22nd. I'm told that the Council bosses are holding a seminar in Welshpool to discuss their ideas with Montgomeryshire Councillors. I wonder if I can wangle myself an invite. I'd rather hear it first hand than depend on someone passing the information to me second hand.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A Government falling apart at the seams.

One day soon, nothing worth blogging about will happen in British politics. But not today. Another amazing day. First off the blocks was Labour MP, David Chayter who is to stand down at the next General Election. Soon followed by former Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt - and then current Minister, Beverly Hughes, both of whom are calling it a day. Next bit of news was that Home Secretary, Jackie Smith is resigning office, for the sake of her family - closely followed by Labour Minister, Tom Watson, who was recently linked to the 'Smeargate' scandal. And finally (though its still only ten-o-clock) Labour MP, Dr Ian Gibson was banned from standing again. Makes you wonder where its going to end.

Perhaps it will end in a General Election. Next week, the House of Commons will debate a motion tabled by Plaid Cymru and the SNP, that this devalued Parliament should be dissolved. I anticipate that it will be supported by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. I wonder whether my Montgomeryshire MP will turn up to vote this time! Labour still have a majority over all other parties of 63, so Gordon Brown should win the vote. He will not win the debate though. Its not a vote of no confidence, but I would expect there to be no pairing and arm twisting of MPs to turn up to vote.

I learned of all these happenings on Drive on Radio Five, during which I listened to an appalling example of BBC pro-Labour bias. A BBC reporter was in Redditch, supposedly conducting a 'vox pop'. Now last week, the BBC did the same thing next door in Bromsgrove, where every interview was with someone who wanted my good friend, Julie Kirkbride out - and they had their way. Today, by some wonderful coincidence the BBC reporter could find only people full of praise for Jackie Smith. An elderly gentleman, who gave every impression of having been thoroughly checked out beforehand was dutifully telling us how good an MP she had been. It was so brazenly blatant that Peter Allen butted in and asked a couple of more relevant questions, which elicited the opinion that "she should go". Makes no difference though. The people of our country are no longer swallowing this rubbish. The Home Secretary is going, and could well be replaced as an MP by another friend of mine, Karen Lumley sometime during the next four months

Sign of the times.

Spotted a notice attached to the door of The County Goldsmiths in Welshpool today - "No MPs allowed entry unless accompanied by a responsible adult or a child".

Monday, June 01, 2009

June more 'flaming' than usual.

Been away for two days - and depressingly nothing seems to have changed. The only issue on the lips of the nation remains the expenses that MPs have been claiming. I've just watched Newsnight. A focus group gave exactly the sort of take on the issue that I reckon the public overwhelmingly takes. I try not to be partisan about this issue, but I did think Harriet Harmon was awful tonight, and would have reassured absolutely no-one. She only came on to answer questions that Jeremy didn't want to ask. All this 'diversionary' discussion about constitutional reform is passing people by. What they want is a say about who should be Members of Parliament. The people of Britain do not trust our MPs to sort anything out. The people want to sort it out themselves. This lack of trust and confidence will not go away until there is a General Election.

I really do not believe that Gordon Brown has any idea how people feel. As I was driving home today, I heard him on the car radio, adopting a Churchillian tone to announce that any Labour MP who had broken the rules, or broken the law would not be a candidate at the next election. I reckon he genuinely believes that this is a significant statement. Its totally meaningless. Almost every revelation made by the Telegraph over the last month has been 'within the rules', and has broken no rule or law.

The next 10 days are going to be an interesting period in British politics. Polls are putting Labour support as low as 18%. Hard to believe this can possibly be true. If it happens, what then. Alistair Darling period as Chancellor looks to be over. Gordon Brown would not give him support tonight. I would not be surprised if Mr Darling tells the Prime Minister where he can stuff any other job offered. Perhaps he might tell us about what Gordon Brown had done to his cricket bat, before he went out to open the innings on budget day. Wouldn't be the first apparently 'gentle' politician to do that. Hazel Blears must surely go as well, after the way the Prime Minister rubbished her two weeks ago. Geoff Hoon and James Purnell avoided paying CGT in much the same way. Problem is that when one MP is forced to pay the CGT that was not paid (or due) by designating their main home as different from the information given to the Fees Office, there are questions about others who have done the same thing. Mr Hoon looks to be in bother for other reasons as well. The problem in any re-shuffle is that very few members of the Cabinet have the confidence of the public, and anyone promoted is going to have their expenses history studied forensically all over again. I think we are entering new territory in British politics - and none of us can predict which way its going to go in the month of June. Still think we might have promise (or at least a clear indication) of a General Election in October.