Friday, July 31, 2009

Candidates World Tour - Fourth Leg

All morning searched without success for 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' who sometimes writes to the Editor of the Telegraph. But found nothing whatsoever to be disgusted about. The Brew House turned out to be utterly splendid. It's what's called a 'boutique' hotel, recently restored and steeped in imaginative design. Superb unpretentious service. Will never stay anywhere else on future visits to the town - of which there may well be none. Took pleasure mid morning taking a cappuccino outside a cafe in the 'Pantiles', a historic colonnaded walkway immediately adjacent to the hotel which seemed full of the 'Delighted'. This is the spa part of the town that Richard (Beau) Nash conned million into visiting to 'take the waters'. Sid Vicious and David Gower are from Tunbridge Wells.

Late morning, went to France. Drove down to the Eurotunnel at Folkstone. Amazing experience for a livestock farmer from the Welsh hills. But felt quite at home driving into what looked like a cattle truck. Ten minutes later was wondering how long we would have to wait for lift-off, when I noticed that we were already on our way. Unbelievably smooth. Leaned back in my seat, and before I could have smoked a cigar (which I never do) we had emerged in France. Ventured nervously out onto the A26, and within minutes felt completely at home breezing along on the wrong side of the road. Another 20 minutes and we were at the Chateau Tilques, near St Omer. A glass of wine and stretched out in the sun amongst the peacocks for the afternoon, in the grand Chateau gardens. Later on checked out the St Omer Golf Course for future reference. Luckily there had been a wedding reception at the Chateau during the day, while included a very impressive fireworks display after dinner. Decided that I rather like the French, and resolved to return soon.

Watched the news and caught up on politics back home - Gordon Brown telling us that the Norwich by-election result was a terribly disappointing result for the Conservatives. Its the way he tells them. Better than Tommy Cooper, when he puts his mind to it. Bit like Ricky Ponting being really 'disappointed' if Australia wallop England in the Third Test, but score fewer runs than they did in the Second. New MP, Chloe Smith is so young - younger than daughter Sally. She comes over well though. Didn't see a single Frenchman on a bicycle selling onions. First time that I've gone to sleep in France.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bring back the WDA?

In today's Western Mail, David Williamson has raised an issue that I've always thought will undermine the memory of Rhodri Morgan's tenure as First Minister in the Welsh Assembly - the abolition of the Welsh Development Agency and the Wales Tourist Board in 2003. Today's report is based on comments made by Welsh economist, Brian Morgan. The decision, taken by a very small group, led by Rhodri Morgan, to abolish the WDA and WTB was politics at it worst - decision making making in secret, without research and discussion, and based on small minded prejudice.

I recall being in the old Debating Chamber when Rhodri Morgan dropped his bombshell - on the last day before the summer recess. I was genuinely shaken, both by the decision, and by how it had been done. I was even more shaken when all the other party leaders lined up to welcome the decision! It was left to Alun Cairns to stand up, with great bravery, and tell the First Minister how wrong he was. That was probably the day that I decided that Alun has the potential to become one of Wales' great politicians. The Presiding Officer also allowed me the opportunity to contribute. I accepted that the creation of a National Assembly, with 60 new politicians did mean that a review of how Wales promoted economic development and tourism was needed, but that to just announce that the WDA and WTB were being abolished, without any debate or discussion was not a sensible way to do things. Only later did we learn that not even Assembly Ministers or the leaders of the bodies themselves had been given any warning whatsoever. Rightly the Chief Executive of the WDA, Graham Hawker walked out next day. I still don't know why other leading figures did not do the same. But I suppose, the then chairman, Roger Jones had Rhodri Morgan over a barrel after Graham walked, and no-one knows how to negotiate with a man over a barrel better than the Roger. The now Sir Roger Jones stayed on - and to this day, I still wonder what the price was.

But the biggest price has been, and will continue to be paid by the people of Wales. I can see that there will be no meaningful debate of any sort until Rhodri Morgan has gone. OK, I know he's popular down at the Dog and Duck, and he has a fantastic memory for detail, and he tells a good gag - but some of us will remember him for much more than this. The most important challenge facing the National assembly when it was set up was to strengthen the Welsh economy, and Rhodri Morgan messed up - big-time. He will be remembered as the man who put his personal little prejudices before the economic interests of Wales. That's why I believe he will leave office as a failure.

Candidate's World Tour - Third Leg

Left Basingstoke quite early on the third day of the Candidate's break - but did not leave England. Left golf also and set off to visit two of the great gardens of England. First up was Great Dixter, associated with the world renowned gardener, Christopher Lloyd, who died in 2006, having lived there throughout his 84 years. The garden is now run by a charitable trust, and is much as I expected it to be from having seen Christopher Lloyd being filmed at work in it on television. First impression is that its an untidy garden - but that's probably me. I'm not keen on plants being packed in or flopping all over the place (as they so often do in nature). But after an hour's exploration, the overall effect is satisfying. Its an odd mixture, a garden without rules, which is exactly what's intended. A general appearance of chaos, with clashing colours and plants left to grow where birds deposit their droppings. Great Dixter is a garden without inhibitions. We did not have time to do the house, which had been designed by Edwin Lutyans.

And then it was on to nearby Sissinghurst Castle Garden, managed by the National Trust. Spent some time in the exhibition, learning about its history. A settlement was recorded on this site in the 12th century, and a very grand manor house was built in the middle ages - surrounded by a moat (which is perhaps why it came to be thought a suitable home for a Conservative MP in the 20th century). The manor house was used as a prison during the Seven Years War, and became known as a 'Castle', because the French inmates thought it looked like a 'chateau'. In 1928, the dilapidated property was purchased by the writer, Vita Sackville West and her husband, the Conservative MP and diarist, Harold Nicholson. Together they created the Sissinghurst which attracts so many visitors that numbers have to be controlled. A really lovely garden, though the famous White Garden was nothing to write home about. Grandson and writer, Adam Nicholson, still lives at Sissinghurst with his wife, Sarah Raven, who writes for the Telegraph (amongst so much else).

Our visit was accompanied by a thunderstorm. The heavy sky added atmosphere to the view of the garden from the top of a folly tower, which was reached by a circular staircase of around 100 steps. Sissinghurst warrants several hours to fully appreciate, but we had just two. And then we were away to find 'Disgusted' who reportedly lives at Tunbridge Wells.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wonderful Rugby World Cup News.

Lots of enthusing about the decision of the International Rugby Board to award the 2015 Rugby World Cup to England (and the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff). Its good news for British rugby fans - even if the British taxpayer is reported to have chipped in £25 million to help bring off the deal. But not that much excitement because most of us thought it was always much the most likely decision. The really fantastic bit of news is the announcement now that the 2019 Rugby World Cup has been awarded to Japan. It should have been Japan in 2011, but the old guard scratched each other's backs and plumped for short sightedness and give it to New Zealand. Now lets hope this decision will lead to Japan becoming a genuinely competitive rugby playing nation. Personally, I'd like to see the 2023 Rugby World Cup going to Italy or Argentina - but I suspect that this is too much to hope for.

Candidate's World Tour - Second Leg.

Following a sumptuous breakfast on day two of the candidate's break, we played the Montgomerie Course at Celtic Manor Resort. Rather less forgiving than the 2010 Course. I do like to finish a round with more balls than I started, but no-one does that on the Montgomerie. I preferred the 2010, but Mrs D had them down as on a par (so to speak). Lunch in the fabulous 2010 clubhouse. And then we drove off to England, the second country on the Candidate's World Tour. As rejoining the M4, we wondered wistfully whether we would again ever play these fabulous courses. Because it was a gift, I don't know the cost. I fancy it was a lot. But I don't begrudge contributing to the millions that the enterprise must have cost Terry Mathews. A man who started up in Newport and made a fortune. Never forgot where he started - so he gave a fortune back. Next year, thanks to this great man, Wales will be on the map of the world like never before. Then we drove to Basingstoke.

Audley's Wood, near Basingstoke was mentioned in the Doomsday Book, where it was referred to as Oddele. The present mansion was built in the 1880s by Sir George Bradshaw, who acquired his fame and fortune from the Railway Guide that carries his name. In 1889 a famous local brewer named Simmonds bought it from George Bradshaw, and it remained in the Simmonds family until 1950. During the Second World War the Simmonds family moved out to allow Lord Camrose, the editor and proprietor of the Daily Telegraph to move in. The latter had given up his home to be a Canadian military hospital during the war - and all the great statesmen visited on a regular basis. Eventually Lord Camrose bought it. In 1989 Audley House was converted into a quite splendid hotel. In recognition of its interesting history, there are piles of free Daily Telegraphs left all around the hotel to this day - which represented a saving of 90p for us. Very nice place. Not a single Guardian to be seen.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

'Uncharted Waters' in Powys.

Powys County Councillors are embarking on an uncertain journey which will have huge impact on the delivery of public services in Powys. Today, there was a meeting of the Council's Executive Board, which discussed a proposal that there should be a merger of the Powys County Council and the Powys Local Health Board. The proposal put forward by a joint project team reads 'a merger to form a single organisation should be pursued, with a target date of April 2012'. Wow - this is big stuff. Its never been done before - anywhere. And its moving forward with quite stunning speed. This is a first stab at giving this outsider's view on what it all means.

Its being sold as a merger of equals - but it looks to me like a takeover by the Council. Under discussion is the placement of healthcare delivery in Powys under the control of local councillors for the first time since the NHS was established in the 1940s. 'Innovative' seems an inadequate word to describe what's being proposed. Its impossible for anyone outwith the discussions that have been taking place to judge whether this is a good idea or not. Instinctively, I feel supportive, but would need a lot of assurances about money from the Assembly Government. The Local Health Board has been running a massive annual budget deficit, and I'd want to know what's going to happen to it.

Biggest concern for me is the future of our local hospitals. For years, I've heard noises coming from the Local Health Board that our hospitals are financially and clinically unviable. We know that a report has already has informed us that they are not clinically safe - which is a shocking state of affairs. Today, an 'insider' tells me that all but two or three Powys hospitals could be closed. It's not a reason to reject the merger, but Councillors need to enter the new arrangements with their eyes wide open about the difficult decisions that lie ahead.

In general, I'm deeply concerned about our local services. I've long predicted that Powys County Council is intent on closing dozens of our small primary schools, and now I can see most of our local hospitals closing as well. And this is as much a recognition of reality as disagreement with policy. Rural services are under threat as never before. Anyone who cares about rural services must be deeply worried about the uncertainties and challenges that face those of us who depend on them today.

Welsh Wizard - or Dirty Old Man?

Letter from today's Telegraph, from John Holland of Mellor, Cheshire.

Dear Sir,
My grandmother, Maggie Rees, who died in 1981 aged 103 was born in Caernarvon. Her first job was as an assistant to a photographer, where she worked behind the counter, and escorted clients up the narrow stairs to the studio.

A regular customer was David Lloyd George, then MP for Caernarvon, who had his portraits taken. On her first encounter with him, Maggie found him to be a most charming, civil and talkative man, polite in the extreme.

When the photographer summoned Maggie to bring up his client, she opened the narrow door and indicated to the future Prime Minister to lead the way. "No, no, my dear," he said, "after you". She thanked him and proceeded to mount the stairs, whereupon the Honourable Member for Caernarvon assisted her from behind.

On subsequent visits, Maggie always insisted that he went first.

This will not have come as any surprise to those who have read Ffion Hague's splendid book about the women in Lloyd George's life, The Pain and The Privilege.

Candidate's World Tour - First Leg.

Occasionally, I join those crazy masochists who inflict upon themselves the painful pleasure derived from playing the game of golf. Under normal circumstances its resticted to holiday activity - which is my excuse for the difficulty I encounter propelling the ball in its intended direction. My ambition, as yet unachieved, is to complete 18 holes in less than 100 strokes.

So day one of the 'Candidate's World Tour', which coincided with a big birthday of the candidate's wife, was spent playing the 2010 Ryder Cup course at Celtic Manor Resort, near Newport. It's seriously long and spacious - a 'stadium' course with plenty of space for spectators. Rather fortuitously, my normal strategy of playing a 7-iron off the tee worked out well. All the traps set to catch the first stroke of proper golfers, were comfortably within range of my second. There's a fair bit of water around, but easy to avoid by anyone playing with my lack of ambition. Managed to par one hole though, and I'm looking forward to watching Tiger bogeying it next year.

The 2010 Clubhouse is something else. Would like to have dined there, but we were booked into the Crown Restaurant in the main hotel. Very posh indeed. No doubt George Galloway (who said as much on Question Time last week) would have snarled contemptuously through curled lip that such costly activity was typical of how only Tories can live. Truth is that this special day was a birthday surprise for Mrs D from our four children, and I just happen to be her spouse and driver.

Was very tired (from the first 18 holes) and quite emotional (from the 19th) when Radio Wales rang me about a possible interview for GMW about how dangerous cows can be to people out walking their dogs. This followed the tragic death of a lady the previous day, when it was reported that she was 'attacked' by a herd of cows. Don't know, but I suspect the cows were attacking the dog. I know quite a bit about this subject, having been attacked by cows myself, though never in danger of being killed. They can be very dangerous creatures - particularly some of the continental breeds. My father was once very lucky to survive a savage goring by a bull. He was saved by two of us who ran a big risk by attacked the enraged bull with wooden poles. There is an important difference between the sexes. Cows are driven to attack by a maternal instinct, while bulls are usually driven by a sexual instinct. What was very interesting that the BBC needed to know where I lived, my ethnicity and whether I had any disability. Seems this is now standard procedure. Quotas to fill I suppose. Anyway, other more significant stories led to me being dropped, which allowed a welcome lie in next morning - and needed preparation for the next leg of the Candidate's World Tour.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Candidate's Diary.

This blog will henceforth change its style. Because I'm a Parliamentary Candidate in Montgomeryshire for the forthcoming General Election, I owe it to the people who have given me support, to set aside my love of the ridiculous in order to concentrate on issues that matter to the people of Montgomeryshire. OK, so I'll continue to scan the pages of the blogosphere, the Western Mail, the Shropshire Star, Cambrian News, BBC Online, and the Telegraph for linkage to the world beyond the constituency boundaries. But from now on dear readers you will have to put up with me wittering on about what I'm doing in my effort to become a Member of Parliament. Or of course you might not!

I begin by reporting on activities of the weekend just gone. Friday night was a cracker. An old friend, Arthur Williams had invited me to be guest speaker at a banquet in Llanidloes. There were 300 to 400 'Down The Line' shooters, family and friends in attendance. I spoke for less than five minutes. Over the years, I've learned to recognise an audience that has absolutely no interest in what I have to say. Anyway, there were around 50 awards to present to winners of the UK International Championships after the eating was done. The event had been held at Arthur's Mid Wales Shooting Centre during the day. There had been five teams of 40 - representing Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland and N. Ireland. England had won. Wales were second. The following day, the British Open DTL Championship was taking place at the same venue. Liked my place label - which read GLYN DAVIES MP. Second time this has happened. Kept both as lucky charms.

Saturday afternoon, visited the Welshpool Air Show. Actually, there was nothing political about this at all. It was Mrs D's idea to take Ffion down for a visit. Terrific event. The RAF Falcons put on a fabulous show. Didn't realise parachutists had quite so much control. And the triple fly past by a Lancaster Bomber was something else. The tannoy and the audience fell into silence so that we could hear the drone. Eyes shut and it could have been the soundtrack from The Dambusters.

Monday was Royal Welsh Show. Bad start. Took 75 minutes from parking my car until entering the showfield. Decided there and then to cancel my plans to go again today. Spent the day accompanying Shadow Secretary of State, Cheryl Gillan around various stops. Realised that I've lost touch with some of the developments in agriculture politics. Lots of follow up meetings needed. First chance to have a chat with our new MEP, Kat Swinbourne. She is sooooo impressive. I reckon that she will be leading the Conservatives in the European Parliament before many years have passed.

For the next few days I may not be posting at all. Off on a celebratory break tomorrow morning. Its a big birthday for Mrs D on the 22nd, and its our ruby wedding anniversary on the 26th. May post if there's a computer handy, when Mrs D is relaxing after a round of golf, and supping champagne as taking a bath. Or maybe not. At best the Candidate will be spluttering only for the next few days.

Bring on the Gerontocracy.

I reckon it was the incredible performance of Tom Watson in the British Open wot done it. Suddenly the obsession with pimply youth is in retreat. Maturity and experience are back in vogue. David Cameron is going to turn to a few 'old heads' to fill ministerial roles if he becomes Prime Minister - according to today's Daily Telegraph. And about time too. I've got an interest here of course, not being in the first flush of youth myself. Bring on the gerontocracy I say. Put the kids back in their box until they've learned something about life.

Fellow blogger, Iain Dale has written negatively about Stephen Dorrell. Well, I don't agree with him. Stephen is a decent and engaging man. He was a good and effective Minister, who suffered because he was given the terrible task of informing the people of Britain that the most likely cause of a new form of Creutzfeldt Jakob Jacob's Disease was Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy - probably the most devastating public health announcement of my lifetime. Must admit that I'm biased because Stephen has visited us in Montgomeryshire twice over recent years, and made some very kind comments about me. And John Gummer's name is up there as well - another terrific politician who has been held back by something of a baby face. He's the most impressive environmentalist in the House of Commons. Department with responsibility for climate change perhaps. And I'm all for a return for Peter Lilley - as long as he promises never to sing. No-one who heard his musical efforts at party conference will ever forget what an awful experience listening was. And then there's gentleman George Young, who by all reasonable judgement should have been elected speaker rather that Mr Bercow. The final name mentioned is James Arbuthnott, who looked a more impressive performer than Gordon Brown during questioning in committee last week. I keep on reading this stuff about the inadequacy of the talent available to Prime Minister Cameron when he sits down to choose his first cabinet. It looks more like embarrassment of riches to me.

Monday, July 20, 2009

New Housing at Welshpool

This is a post of local interest to the town of Welshpool in Montgomeryshire. Tonight, I called in at a public meeting of residents living near to the site of a proposed large housing development. Reason I'm posting is that the proposals are cloaked in controversy, and are being considered against a backdrop of much complexity. My aim is not to express opinion on the proposals, but to spread a little understanding.

Lets begin by explaining that all but two of Welshpool's Town Councillors have a dual role. Not only are they elected to represent the interests of Welshpool people, but by dint of their position, serve as trustees on the Burgess Lands Trust. The other two were at tonight's meeting. In this latter capacity, the Trustees decided to sell an area of land to a local housebuilder in order to realise a sum of money for investment in the Town's facilities - and have submitted a planning application to Powys County Council. Normally, the application, which was submitted in April and was for 112 houses, would have been processed by planning officers based at Llandrindod Wells accustomed to dealing with major applications - but as a result of a deluge of proposals for wind farms, the application was 'delegated' to officers at the Welshpool office. They were not at all happy with the proposals, and arranged a 'design review' by the Design Commission, based in Cardiff - who I'm told were extremely critical of the proposals. In response to the Design Commission comments, an amendment has been proposed, changing the design and reducing the number of houses to 90. Not for me to report on tonight's meeting but I feel safe to say that the residents continue to have serious concerns.

There are many complex side issues, which confuse things, and divert attention from the main point - which seems to be quite simple. The Town Clerk, in his capacity as the servant of the Burgess Lands Trustees has submitted a planning application of major importance to Welshpool. The Powys Planning Authority must satisfy itself that the proposals are acceptable for the site, taking all planning considerations into account. If the Authority is satisfied, the application should be granted - and if not satisfied, the application should be refused. Any attempt to stop this site being developed is likely to fail. But concerned residents are surely right to form an organised group, primed to ensure that the planners are supported in their insistence on the best possible design. Comment and opinion is welcomed. This is a space to be watched.

Deeply offensive comment.

Since I began blogging I've tried to eliminate anything that might be read as offensive to even the most sensitive souls. But as Stanley Baldwin said of German bombers in the 1930's, one or two will always slip through. David Cornock and the WoS Spin Doctor are always on the lookout. But even at my most 'libertarian', I would never have said what Montgomeryshire MP, Lembit Opik is reported to have said about Plaid Cymru MP, Adam Price. In an interview with yesterday's Observer, it was reported that he said "I could be banging Adam Price and it wouldn't affect my ability to do my job". I agree, but actually saying something as stupid as that to a national newspaper does affect what people in Montgomeryshire think of him.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Positive Discrimination

Most interesting opinion I can find in my daily reads this Sunday is this report by ConservativeHome on suggestions made by the leader of the Conservatives in the National Assembly for Wales, Nick Bourne. He wants to introduce an element of positive discrimination into the candidate selection process for the next Welsh Assembly elections, to ensure there are more Conservative Assembly Members who are either women or from ethnic minorities.

Must admit that I would be disappointed if this were to happen. Compulsion would be an admission of failure - or of insufficient effort. I agree with Nick that we should be tackling the problem of why so few women and individuals from ethnic minorities want to become Conservative candidates. But I don't like the idea of forcing candidates on local associations, who after all work on a voluntary basis. I accept that compulsion can sometimes be turned to as a last resort, when all else has failed. But as far as I can see, not much else has been tried. For example, the Welsh conferences and policy forums I've been to usually have the same few faces making the main speeches - and they're nearly always white males. No effort to enhance name recognition or to create opportunities to impress. And Shadow Welsh Secretary, Cheryl Gillan doesn't count. We're talking Welsh representation here. If we are genuinely serious about changing the balance, lets give a few of the best speaking slots to women and ethnic minority candidates.

And if we are going to introduce positive discrimination, it should be done through the regional vote, which is a compensatory system in any case - though I do accept that if we win more seats 'first-past-the-post' there may not be any regional Conservative AMs elected! Imposing candidates on local associations causes offence and disillusionment, which would not be the case with regional list candidates - at least not to the same extent. Nick Bourne is raising an important issue - but we need to be careful how we dael with it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fighting to win.

I'm not one to start a fight - at least not since I retired from playing rugby. Well, not a serious fight anyway. But if I were to find myself in a fight, its a case of whatever it takes to win. My view is that Queensbury rules are for losers. This attitude sums up my approach to Britain's involvement in wars as well. I wasn't at all enthusiastic about the Iraq war until I believed that our Prime Minister had decided to team up with President Bush and invade. All questions were then cast aside, and our soldiers received my total support. Half measures are no use. Hit the enemy with all it takes - plus a bit more to be sure. Which brings me to the current activity of British forces in Afghanistan. I was doubtful about the wisdom of going into Afghanistan, because history has shown it to be a difficult land to control. But now we are in, we are in to win.

Lots of people ask "to win what". The aim was, and remains to eliminate a source of terrorist threat to the UK. It's to prevent the Taliban from taking control of large tracts of Afghanistan, developing a power base sufficiently strong to engulf Pakistan, and to then threaten the world with nuclear weapons. The strategy must be to create space for alternative power bases to strengthen in Afghanistan, which means winning the support of the peoples of that faraway land. It will take great courage, commitment and sacrifice over many years to deliver our aims. The Taliban's aim is to break our will by raising the 'price' of our intervention higher than we are willing to accept.

As so often happens, the invasion was launched by our Government without the British people being informed what this 'price' might be. In one of the most ridiculous statements ever made by a British Foreign Secretary, (John Reid I think) we were told that perhaps not a single shot would be fired. This was dishonesty on an epic scale. During the eight years we have been in Afghanistan, almost 200 young people have been killed, a number that could well rise significantly. The general tone of what I see on the BBC, read in the newspapers, and hear an increasing number of our politicians saying is that this war is 'unwinnable' and that we should withdraw because our men and women are being killed - delivering exactly the message that the Taliban have hoped and planned for. For my part, I stand four square behind Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and our armed forces as they strive to counter international terrorism. I want every soldier to know that they have my full support. I want every parent who has lost a son or daughter to feel that they died in a noble cause. We are in a very serious fight, up against a ruthless and very dangerous opponent. I want my side to be given every support to win, included my full backing.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Survived gale force winds.

Was a speaker at the British Wind Energy Association Conference in Cardiff this morning. Good turnout. A well informed audience. Fellow Panellists were Rhodri Glyn Thomas for Plaid Cymru, Alun Davies for Labour and Mick Bates for the Lib Dems. Notionally, I was speaking for the Conservatives, but I felt more a representative for the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. Here's some of the issues raised.

In my five minute opening slot, I launched into the TAN 8 document, published by the Assembly Government in 2005 - describing it as an assault on local democracy, as counter productive in that it antagonises local planning authorities, as enshrining the principle of 'cumulative impact' in the planning process, as being far to focused on a single form of renewable energy, and being totally unachievable in Mid Wales because there will be no capacity to transfer the power generated to the National Grid until 2016. To me its clear that TAN 8 has been a disaster, and needs to be redrafted. Must admit I was expecting some stick, but I didn't get any - and over coffee I was surprised to hear quite a lot of support.

Rhodri Glyn must have been living on another planet for the last year or so. He seemed to think the choice facing us is nuclear power or onshore wind farms. Such idealism is entirely appropriate for a man of the cloth who believes that faith and prayer can deliver the impossible. Mick Bates took the same line. Alun Davies agreed with my view that the issue has already been decided, and the UK Government is now totally committed to building more nuclear power generation. Interestingly, Ieuan Wyn Jones, leader of Rhodri's party agrees with Alun and me on this. Didn't seem to bother Rhodri at all when this was pointed out.

Mick made one of those arm waving speeches of his that I find a bit difficult to follow. He was boasting about how proud he is of the stance Liberal Democrats take in support of wind farms (in response to a question about off shore wind). Couldn't help it. Had to point out that in Montgomeryshire, the MP he shares an office with publicly disagrees with almost every word he said today. Someone else pointed out that his Assembly colleague, Peter Black vehemently opposed the off shore proposal near Porthcawl some years ago as well. I won't embarrass Mick by repeating what he said - except to report that it was not very complimentary about either of his supposed colleagues. De-mob happy I reckon. But fair play to Mick. On this issue he's been consistent for a while now.

It looked a good professional conference. Would like to have stayed longer, but wanted to be back in Newtown by 2.00 for a Montg. Wildlife Trust meeting.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Into the Lion's Den

Off to Cardiff early tomorrow morning. I'm speaking at a conference arranged by the British Wind Energy Association. Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm sceptical about whether on shore wind farms justify the damage that they inflict on the landscape. I do not expect that anyone else in the entire room, and I'm told to expect 250, will agree with me about this. So what am I doing there you might ask.

I'm going because no-one else was going to fly the Conservative banner. Everyone else was otherwise committed. I can see that it might be outside what might be considered the 'comfort zone' but it seems to me that this conference is exactly the sort of forum we should be engaging with. I suspect it will be the first time that the President of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales will have entered this particular Lion's Den though. I'll report back on how it went tomorrow night - assuming nothing untoward happens to me. Perhaps I should wear a sticker stating that 'My name's Daniel'

Should Swine Flu lead to panic.

I still believe that Avian Influenza H5N1 is a much more worrying virus than the swine flu that is currently causing such a media frenzy - and consternation verging on panic in the population. First, the bird flu. We know that its a killer, particularly of young people. Half of those who are affected die of it. But we also know its not a great problem because the virus does not transfer from birds to humans easily, and will not become a problem unless it mutates, probably on contact with another flu virus that spreads easily from birds to humans, and amongst humans. We know that a bird flu pandemic is unlikely, but potentially devastating beyond imagination if it were to come to pass.

Swine flu is completely different. It spreads easily, and seems not to be any worse than traditional forms of flu. It makes those unfortunate to go down with it feel lousy for a few days, just like any other flu virus. And then it passes. We're told that its likely to lead to more deaths from flu next winter than we might normally expect. No-one can put a precise figure on this, but the last serious flu outbreak (was it 2000?) lead to around 20,000 deaths of people in the UK suffering from flu over the winter compared with a more normal figure of fewer than 10,000 deaths. People already frail or sick are particularly vulnerable. And a few otherwise healthy people may die as well.

Despite the above, the Government is right to take the threat of swine flu seriously. But I have found it difficult to make much sense of what our Government has been saying about it. To begin with Ministers talked about trying to prevent the virus entering the UK, without actually doing anything to implement such a policy. And when the virus entered the UK, Ministers talked about controlling its spread - without actually doing anything to implement this policy either. And when it did spread, Ministers talked about the drugs it was making available to fight this terrible threat to our lives. Now its clear that the disease is spreading without Ministers having any idea or capacity to control it - or even have much real knowledge of how many people have been affected. The new message seems to be not to worry about it too much - and not even visit the doctor. Unless of course the person going down with the virus is elderly, or vulnerable for some other reason.

But the nation seems to be in full panic mode. The tragic death of an otherwise healthy little girl yesterday is being interpreted by some commentators as evidence that the virus may be mutating and becoming more dangerous. It seems to me far too early to make this conclusion. In fact, I can see no reason at all to panic about swine flu - yet.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Too Many Politicians.

Today there's been much coverage of information released after a FoI request about the number of politicians which are paid within the structure of British democracy. It seems that the political payroll is now over 29,000, up from 3,000 just 30 years ago. The main reasons for this are devolution and the decision to pay councillors. unsurprisingly, the cost of our democracy has gone through the roof as well. Question is what's to be done about it, and if anything should be done. Let's look at the possibilities, within the range of what seems achievable.

I don't think there will be much change at the European Parliament level. However, I do think there will be a reduction in the number of MPs - probably by around 10%. Personally, I think it should be reduced further. Its difficult to be precise about how many members of the National Assembly for Wales there should be. Daresay some think we should scrap the lot, but I don't think that's on the table at all. When it was established in 1999, the current number of 60 AMs was probably about right. But 60 would not be enough if full law making powers were to be devolved, as envisaged in Part Four of the 2006 Government of Wales Act. 80 AMs would probably be needed. Since power is being devolved bit by bit via the ridiculously complex process of Legislative Competence Orders, its not at all clear when the number of AMs should be reviewed. And finally, there is an irresistible case for reducing the number of councillors. When they were not being paid, it didn't matter what how many there were. But now, we should have no more than are needed to do the job. In Powys, where I live, I expect the current 73 councillors to be reduced to below 60 - and soon. There will be howls of rage, but this is difficult to argue against.

Tell me what you think. I'm sure there is plenty of contrary opinion out there.

'Parent's Choice' in Powys.

How the most vulnerable people in our society are cared for is a measure of how civilised we are. Today, the issue on my mind is the education of children with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties in Powys. And there's an important philosophical principle involved. Is it better to include these children in mainstream schools, or allow them to be educated together in the same school? I use the word 'allowed' deliberately because the parents of 109 children have chosen to send their children to Ysgol Cedewain in Newtown, Montgomeryshire. This morning, I talked through some of these issues with Mr Peter Tudor, the Headteacher.

Personally, I reckon that 'parent choice' should be a decisive issue - which brings us back to the 109 parents that choose Ysgol Cedewain. Don't know what is the official policy of the Powys Council, but there's a feeling that its 'inclusion', which seems to be the opposite of 'parent choice'. And then we have the issue of funding. Officials of Eduction Authorities can give 'encouragement' to the favoured option by skewing the funding, making budget balance difficult to achieve, and damaging public confidence in long term security. I'm sure that these same debates are taking place in every Council area in the UK. All I'm sure of is that I need a lot more information before I can express any opinion on the budget provision for Ysgol Cedewain, and that it seems to be a first class school which is hugely popular with parents.

Yorkshire comes to Montgomeryshire.

This afternoon I called by Milwyn, Jenkins and Jenkins, solicitors of Llanidloes, Montgomeryshire. I wanted this photograph for my blog. I accept that its not a story that's going to make the 'nationals', but its very significant for Llanidloes. First, some context. For 37 years, Milwyn, Jenkins and Jenkins have acted as an agency for the Nationwide Building Society. So it came as a mighty blow to the firm, and the town when Nationwide announced at the beginning of the year that it was pulling out. Bad news for the staff - and for the town which has been on a bit of a downer since the major employer (which I remember as BSK) shut up shop a few years ago. Another service gone in what looked like a cycle of decline. But Angela Davies-Jones (bottom right in the navy suit) and her team were not taking this blow lying down.

When Angela contacted me a while back, her file on this issue was already two inches thick. After making a few phone calls, I concluded that there wasn't much hope of changing the Nationwide decision. When I rang back to report bleak news, she was already in pursuit of other options, and two weeks ago a deal was struck with the third biggest Building Society in the UK, the Yorkshire. The plan is that the new office will open on August 24th. Now that's what I call a result.

My comment for the press release was "I am very pleased that Milwyn Jenkins and Jenkins have managed to secure such an outstandingly good mutual Building Society and to maintain what is such an important service for the local community". Its good news because it retains the jobs which were under threat and even creates one more. And it sends out the message that the Yorkshire Building Society thinks Llanidloes is a town which is open for business.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Day at the Races

This weekend, we went to the trotting races for the first time. The event was held at Red House, Caersws, and run under the auspices of the Mid Wales and Borders Racing Association. It was a great day out. There were several bookies in attendance to relieve us of our cash. We finished up only about a tenner down on the day, and if I hadn't cocked up laying bets on the last race, we would have broken even.

The whole event was filmed to go out on S4/C on 20th, with the unique Dai Llanilar presenting. I did a piece to camera, so might feature. So did Sian Lloyd, who lives only a short gallop from the trotting track. Money was being raised for the local Air Ambulance, which requires £5 million per annum to keep airbourne, and is funded entirely by public donation. It flies hundreds of rescue missions every year and has saved the lives of many people. I know two personally.

First time I've seen Micky Evans since he's taken on the reins at Caersws F C again. I told him that he must be mad to go back into managing a Welsh Premier team - at his age! He just laughed and I could see him thinking 'not as mad as you, standing for Parliament - at your age'! Unfortunately, I could see his point. He's Caersws to the core, and I hope he turns things around this coming season. Its a club with so much history. First time I met Micky Evans, he was this 13 year old wonderkid, playing for Caersws Youths. I was Berriew Youths 'enforcer' and deputed to rattle him up a bit. Never got anywhere near him. He was a star even then. Anyway, I can strongly recommend a day out at the trotting races.

Can 'Assisted Suicide' ever be right?

Were I to have been a member of the House of Lords, I would not have supported Lord Falconer's attempt to relax the law on assisted suicide last week. And that was before I read Baroness Campbell's powerful article in today's telegraph. Read it, and then decide. You might find that those problems that were getting you down are not quite as bad as you thought.

Its easy to agree with Lord Falconer that people who help others carry through their wishes to end life should not be guilty of breaking the law, and running the risk of a long stretch in jail. At least its easy if you relate the argument to an individual, like Debbie Purdy, an MS sufferer who campaigns for the right to assisted suicide. Why should she have to suffer a painful death if she doesn't want to, and if she needs assistance from people who love her to travel to an establishment that will end her life, why should they risk jail simply for helping her? The problem is that changing the law for Debbie, (and others in the same situation) would have immeasurably wider effects on society in general. Lets set aside the religeous aspect of this. Many elderly people already feel that they are a burden on their families, and know that by continueing to live, they will become an ever greater burden, and use up all that money they had dreamt of passing on to the next generations. No-one can calculate what extra pressure legalising assisted suicide would put upon these people. And its no point saying that safeguards would be incorporated into any new law. There was much talk of safeguards when abortion was legalised - and now over 200,000 babies are aborted in the UK every year.

That's the thing about being an MP that frightens me most. Its the issues about which there is no straight forward. But you should read what Baroness Campbell has to say before deciding. Her speech last week was thought to be very influential in persuading their Lordships not to change the law.

Second Home Allowances for MPs.

Interesting article in today's Mail on Sunday by Brendan Carlin. Headline reads 'Furious MPs vow: We will quit over new expenses blitz.' He reports that some MPs are 'seething with anger' that the head of the Parliamentary Fees Office has demanded confirmation in writing of the following before second home allowances will be paid;

a) The terms of the mortgage agreement.
b)That the payments are for interest only.
c)That the amount claimed is accurate.

What surprises me is that any payment can have been made in the past without these conditions being met. Not only is it right and proper that payments should end if these conditions are not met, but they should never have been made in the first place. I've always argued, without much support from anyone, that there is no difference between helping a politician meet the costs of providing secondary accommodation in London (or Cardiff) via reimbursing rent or mortgage interest. My argument collapses if the above basic conditions are not being enforced. The MoS report suggests that some MPs are contemplating resigning and forcing by-elections over the issue. I did just check it was not the April 1st edition. Sometimes I read stuff that is so preposterous that its just not believable.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Making a 'Noise' or a 'Difference'.

Was subject to forensic refection on what sort of an MP I would make last night - and directly to my face. It began kindly enough, in that it seems I performed my duties during my 8 years as an Assembly Member with an "open mind" and "spoke up for the people". Things went downhill from there. At Westminster, it seems that I will inevitably be subject to pressure from the whips, will do just what I'm instructed to, and will have no influence at all. I've read other similar dismissive comments on the blogosphere. The basis on which these comments are made is that I've said that I cannot envisage a situation in which I would refuse to obey a 3-line whip. Needless to write, I disagree with these assessments of effectiveness. The upshot is that I've been instigated to write this post about how an MP can most effectively represent constituents.

I often read and hear the opinion expressed that voting against the party whip is a demonstration of an independent mind - 'putting principle before party' etc. You know the sort of stuff. Its certainly an effective way of becoming noticed and securing headlines. But it rarely has impact of any significance on Government policy. All it usually does is greatly reduce any influence on policy that the 'rebel' may have had. The only interest it serves is that of the rebels themselves. Personally, I reckon a much more effective way of making a difference is to argue and debate issues within a governing party before policy becomes established - the aim being to secure a 'free vote' or some form of 'policy flexibility', perhaps by building up a body of like minded opinion.

The issue that usually instigates this discussion is my attitude towards devolution, and my opinion that the National Assembly for Wales should be granted law making powers in those policy areas that are devolved. I shout my opinion from the hilltops, hoping for effect. Now, I don't expect our manifesto writers to respond by including a commitment to provide exactly what I want - which would be a pledge to hold an immediate referendum on the transfer of all these law making powers. Might be wrong of course. But I do hope that it will be written in a way which accepts my right to hold and advocate this opinion. By engaging in this debate now, I hope I can make a difference to our policy, which is more than I would ever achieve by voting against a manifesto commitment sometime in the future.

Another way of making a 'difference' rather than a 'noise' is to be in Parliament for important votes, rather than in the constituency chasing the camera. I still recall the huge fuss the two Powys MPs made last year about Post Office closures - and then learning that they both missed the crucial vote in the House of Commons. Iain Dale has posted on another example of this sort of behavior today.

My experience of politics is that too many MPs are too concerned about issuing press releases 'condemning' and 'welcoming' - though we all do this to some extent. None of us can afford to ignore the importance of a media profile. But what really matters for constituents is what difference can be made to promote their interests, rather than how much 'noise' can be made to promote the politician's interest - a point I made rather forcefully last night.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Leave it to Sir Christopher Kelly.

Beb Brogan has written an interesting article in today's edition of the Telegraph, berating MPs for footdragging in response to the public row over expenses. I don't agree with him. He seems to want MPs to react in an unconsidered kneejerk way to the exposures made by the Telegraph over the last two months. I agree that there should be a reaction, but it should be on the basis of calm and careful consideration. It should not be simply a response designed to get a furious public off politician's backs. Sir Christopher Kelly has been charged with doing this, and bringing forward a report for MP's consideration - as soon as possible, which is likely to be the autumn. Everyone tells me he is a fair and meticulous man. Ben Brogan wants MPs to take instuctions from the Telegraph, and while many of these suggestions may be sensible, it should be left to Sir Christopher.

The National Assembly for Wales did try to do this in a sensible way, but it was overtaken by events that happened at Westminster when the Telegraph published details of individual expenses. Sir Roger Jones was asked to produce recommendations, in much the same way as Sir Christopher. It was delivered this week. But the report, in effect, ceased to be recommendations for AM's consideration, and became instructions not open to discussion. There was a 'show' of the Assembly Commission meeting to decide to accept the report, but the reality was that they were powerless to do anything but accept the whole package. Must admit I felt very uneasy about the way, 60 AMs who all had the 'ba**s' to stand for election, and won the support of the people were bull dosed by a group of people who have never faced the voters at all (except for Dafydd Wigley I suppose). Now I bet there's plenty of people who disagree with that line!!

Personally, I would be surprised if the same thing happens at Westminster. There was a bit of theatrical strutting about how the Assembly was leading the way, and that other Parliaments would automatically follow this lead. A touch of unwarrented self importance perhaps! The truth is that the Assembly's decisions made no impact outside Wales whatsoever. When Sir Christopher Kelly reports, no-one at Westminster will remember the Sir Roger Jones Report - that's if they ever knew about it in the first place.

Now this is what I'd really like to see. Sir Christopher's report being published at the same time as a General Election is called. Every single candidate would have to answer detailed questions from the voters about how they would behave, and what claims they would make. That really would be democracy in action. There would terrific public engagement, well attended public meetings, and a great turn out. A new Parliament elected in such an election would be far better placed to restore authority, respect and dignity to our house of Commons than anything that will be decided by the current discredited Parliament. And it might just happen. I'm sure Sir Christopher Kelly could arrange it.

New 'Ruling Group' on Powys Council.

My favourite 'snout' Edna Mopbucket hasn't been on for a while now. She cleans and dusts around civic offices in Wales, and lets me know about any tit-bits she discovers. She was on tonight, informing me that the Liberal Democrat Group on Powys County Council has decided to enter into a 'working arrangement' with the Powys Independent Alliance, creating a permanent majority to run the Council. If this is true, 9AND Edna's usually right) it would be a totally new situation for Powys C. C.. But it all sounds a bit odd to me.

I can see the logic of creating a 'ruling' majority group - and a coalition between the Lib Dems and the Powys Independents has the numbers to create that. The next logical step would be to change the constitution from the current 'Board' system, where all groups are represented on the Executive Board to a 'Cabinet' system where only the ruling group is represented in the Cabinet. But Edna tells me that there is no intention of making this constitutional change. Most odd. They seem to be creating a majority coalition to take public responsibility for all decision taking, while not changing the disbursement of power at all. On the surface, this looks a good deal for the Conservatives and the Shires Independent Group. Perhaps light will be shed on what's happening in comments.

Pool Quay Argae again.

I've blogged before on the rumpus surrounding the raising of the height of an argae (a flood defence embankment) at Pool Quay, near Welshpool in Montgomeryshire. Though the issue is too complex to make the news, in my opinion it is a story that warrents national attention. Local feelings are running very high. The current state of play is that the Assembly Minister (on the basis of an Inspector's Report) has decided that the argae can be raised to protect a listed building, Trewern Hall, even though it will increase (slightly!) the risk of flooding of perhaps 30 nearby properties. Understandably, these property owners are very upset. There's also the matter of full costs being awarded against the Environment Agency, which could land the taxpayer with a bill approaching a million pounds. I promised to keep you posted on developments.

I'm not expecting any final decisions, or action on the ground, until the three months within which the Environment Agency can appeal has passed. But there is the unfinished business of planning permission, which is still required. The Local Planning Authority, Powys County Council refused planning permission for what the Minister has now effectively approved, in 2005. I'm told that the appellant has today submitted another planning application, similar to that which was previously refused. I imagine that this may cause a bit of a problem for the planners. If an application, very similar to one previously refused were to be approved, there could well be a case for referral to the Ombudsman - with significant financial consequences. Perhaps there will be an effort made to refuse to register the application, unless sufficient changes are introduced to accommodate a claim that its a different application. I'll report on this next week. Just keeping you informed - and don't blame me for reporting this. That's like kicking the postman for delivering bad news!

UPDATE - I'm told by someone who knows this issue far better than I do that 'slight' is not the appropriate word. I was trying to remember what the Inspector said. George's comment is worth reading.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Then there were five.

The runners in the Montgomeryshire General Election Handicap are making themselves known. Last year's winner, Lembit Opik will again be representing the Lib Dem stable. I always dismiss rumours that it might be otherwise. This colourful, if erratic stayer should now settle to some serious training after a few wayward gallops, if reports are true that he has recently aquired another young, handsome, new stable mate. The Plaid stable will be represented by the only filly so far declared, Heledd Fychan - already making an impression in the warm-up area. For six months and more its been rumoured that a Mr Nick Colbourne has been entered from the Labour stable, but he's hardly been seen anywhere near the course so far. I will be carrying the Tory colours, and feel that all the preparation work is going well. And today, I met my good friend, D W L Rowlands on the street in Welshpool, and he told me that he has been entered from the Ukip stable.

David is a very old friend. He was my predecessor but one as Chairman of Montgomeryshire District Council in the early 80s, and when he stood for Parliament as an Independent in 1983, I agreed to sign his nomination papers, because he was a good man, as well as a good friend. So we have form and history between us. Over the last year or so David has not been well, but he looked full of beans today. He's just finished campaigning as the No 4 candidate on Ukip's slate in the recent Euro Election, and reckons he's ready to build on his party's terrific result in that election in Montgomeryshire - where Ukip pushed the Liberal Democrats down to a poor third. Its building up to be an enjoyable as well as an unpredictable race. There will be a fair few punters watching this one on race day.


In general, I don't like roses. Its not that I don't recognise that they are pretty. Its just that they are so damn vicious. But we do grow a few that have something special to offer. This 'Rambling Rector' growing up a cherry is stunning, and worth its place in any garden that has the room. You can work out its scale by comparison with Ffion's John Deere, parked underneath. I suppose its about 20' - both high and wide. Its due severe pruning after its finished flowering, because the lower branches take lumps out of the mulcher driver.

We grow this rose because of its unusual colour. Its not quite the elusive 'blue' but getting that was when it first opens. Bluer than any other rose I've seen. As roses go, its well behaved and disease free. I like it. Which is more than you can say for some of the red ramblers we grow - bedecked with the brightest of lovely red blooms, and thorns like hooks that tear flesh to the bone. I'm not putting up photographs of these temptresses which would charge you such pain for the pleasure.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Sir Roger Jones Report

Today, Sir Roger Jones handed his report to the Assembly Commission. It concerns the allowances and expenses that his panel believes should be available to Assembly Members. In my opinion, most of the recommendations are sensible, a few less so but acceptable, with one or two which make no sense at all. But the necessity of restoring public faith in politics is so great, that I would vote in favour on the whole package, warts and all, if I were currently an AM myself. I've picked out what I see as the most significant recommendations;

1) AMs should have to produce receipt/documentary evidence to support every claim (Fundamentally important).

2) The salary link between MPs and AMs should be ended. (Sensible, and welcome in principle. But won't make much practical difference, because any body setting AM's salaries will have not much else to draw comparison with).

3) An external Independent Review Board should be established. (Cannot argue with this, bearing in mind how the public feels. But be little different from current Senior Salaries and Review Board).

4) Changes in pensions and payments to departing AMs are proposed. (Need more time to consider this).

5) From 2011, new members should only be allowed 'Resettlement' allowance if they are defeated - not if they retire. (This could well discourage sitting members in safe seats from standing down, and could lead to candidates standing who do not really want to win).

6) Claims for Mortgage Interest costs should be banned. (This is a kneejerk recommendation which will lead to increased costs if the Assembly takes on the role of landlord. It also challenges the family friendly principle - more a politician's base than a family home. But cannot be resisted. Don't agree with it though).

7) 35 AMs living closest to Cardiff should be able to claim for 20 overnights per annum, at £95 per night plus £20 for dinner. (Sensible - if they want to upgrade, they can pay the difference themselves).

8) The same 35 AMs should be able to claim £25 per night if staying with a friend instead. (Sensible).

9) The current £30.65 flat rate allowance for staying away from home should be abolished (Sensible).

10) The Assembly should provide 'suitable' accommodation, furnished to a 'modern' standard within 5 miles of the Senedd for the 25 AMs living furthest from Cardiff (This seems most unwise to me - and I expect it to prove very costly. But don't quite know what it means).

11) Lyn Neagle and Huw Lewis be considered as one person in respect of accommodation support (Sensible).

12 No claims for furniture or fittings (Sensible, since they are to be provided by the Assembly anyway!).

13 Assembly Members should be allowed to claim for utility bills, council tax, broadband, and TV licence to second homes. (Reasonable).

14) Any office rented from constituency parties, Trade Unions, etc. should be on the basis of a valuation agreed by an Assembly approved independent valuer (Sensible).

15) No family members to be employed (Regrettable, non family friendly measure - but sensible in the circumstances. Will lead to a poorer service from some AMs. Would have completely changed the way I worked, ending my effective 8.00 am - 11.00 pm office availability).

16) One week induction course. (Totally demeaning. Cannot think of anything worse. Enough to put me off altogether).

17) Training budget to be increased for AMs and staff. (Sensible)

I think I've picked out the most significant recommendations. Comments in italics are my initial reactions. Let me know what you think.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Reflections on the Lions tour.

Commentators have been dumping much of the blame for the 2-1 series defeat to the Springboks on the selection errors for the first test. OK, I know there's nothing more nauseating than an 'I told you so' - but I did. The criticism is justified. The management team seem to have done a brilliant job maintaining morale and motivation, so let the praise be lavished. But lets not pretend that it wasn't wrong selections for the first test that blew it.

My team was based on the twin prop power of Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones. When Adam came on as a replacement in the first test, the game had gone. When he went off in the second test the game looked very winnable. While the two Welsh boys were on together, the Springboks were on the back foot. Nothing against Phil Vickery, and I'm really pleased that he did well yesterday. I also had Martyn Williams in for David Wallace. Not sure this would have made much of a difference, but Williams showed his class yesterday. I also had Fitzgerald in for Monya, who despite his power and potential, failed to ground chances in the first test that Bowe and Williams would have succeeded with as well as Fitzgerald. Pleased for Monya, who looks a real star for the future, that he scored a cracker yesterday to redeem himself.

My 'hindsight' team for the first test would have just one change from the team I wanted - Simon Shaw for Alun Wyn Jones. Shaw was rightly brought on to provide more ballast, but no-one could have predicted his massive contribution. The team I recommended be picked was, Byrne, Bowe, Fitzgerald, Roberts, O'Driscoll, Jones, Phillips, Jenkins, Mears, Adam Jones, O'Connell, Alun Wyn Jones, Croft, Heaslip and Williams. If they had listened, the Lions would have won the series.

They would still have won but for an almost unbelievable stroke of bad luck - losing both props and both centres to injury in the middle of the second half. The Lions had perhaps six irreplaceable players, and four of them went off injured at almost the same time. But it might not have mattered if the correct team had been selected for the first test. And I don't like this whinging that we would have won if Burger had seen the red card he deserved. That would have been a 'Pyrrhic' victory. I thought the eye gouging incident spoiled a great tour. Lots of mummies and daddies will be sending their kiddies out to play with a round rather than an oval ball as a consequence of the moronic comments of the Springbok coach. If the South Africans care anything for the world game they should sack the coach, and up Buger's ban to six months.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Overwhelmed by deceit.

Been catching up on some of the week's newspapers tonight. I was in serious political mode. We are at the start of a long general election campaign, and inevitably this blog will become entangled in it's tentacles as it's writer strives to become MP for Montgomeryshire. I suppose its bound to become more partisan as well. Partisan is certainly how I feel as I begin this post.

The theme of political stories this week has been the telling of bare-faced untruths by Labour Ministers. I hope I'm not being unfair, but lets look at some of the evdence. The first untruth is the big one - Gordon Brown's campaign to portray the difference between the economic policies of his party and mine after the next election as "Labour Investment" versus "Tory Cuts". This is totally, unambiguously untrue, and nobody outside the small group of No 10 acolytes thinks otherwise. Mathew d'Ancona covers it well in tomorrow's Telegraph. The Chancellor's budget, delivered last April to approving nods and backslapping from Mr Brown informed us that all departmental spending would be cut by 7% between 2011 - 2014. If any services are to be protected this percentage will increase. I don't think Gordon Brown is a bad man. But he seems to have beome delusional, and will become a sad derided figure if he does not find a way of completely changing his line.

Then secondly we have the issue of rights and freedoms of gay people. Ben Bradshaw, Chris Bryant and Angela Eagle, three openly gay ministers are seeking to suggest that a future Conservative Government would reverse legislation that protects gay rights and freedoms. The suggestion is that some unnamed, unhuman creatures described as "Tory backbenchers" would force David Cameron into such a course of action. What disturbs me is that, just like Gordon Brown on public spending cuts, they know what they are saying is competely untrue. Fellow blogger, Iain Dale, who is also gay, has published two posts here and here which exposes the dishonesty better than I could ever do. There may well be individuals in my party who want to change legislation in this field, but I don't know them. And as for 'forcing' Prime Minister Cameron to take such a position! What planet are they on? Planet Disneyland.

And yesterday we read that Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, who had seemed a half decent minister at culture tells the world that Andrew Lansley has announced that a future Conservative Government is going to freeze pay for nurses and doctors. It seems that the Conservative health spokesman said something along the lines that the NHS could not afford 'inflationary' pay rises. Again, Mr Burnham, a UK Government Minister is setting out to deliberately deceive the public. He's left himself looking like just another dishonest politician.

I accept that in political knockabout there is always some finessing of words, and exaggeration to make a point. Its also common for an accusation to be made simply to try to force an answer. But what we are seeing now in planned, systemic dishonesty - even after flat denials to the 'charges' have been made . And the rottenness and putridness is worst and is fanned by the man at the top. The whole Government is becoming polluted. This is why I do not believe that Gordon Brown will lead Labour into the General Election. He has made himself an increasingly disrespected and unbelievable figure. There are too many decent people in the Labour Party who will not be prepared to allow this systemic dishonesty to eat away at the foundations of their party.

A flattering likeness?

Called in at Glansevern Hall, near my village of Berriew yesterday to take in this new ceramic sculpture of Laura Ashley, who had such strong associations with Mid Wales. I've never quite had it, when it comes to art appreciation, which is probably why I find this a rather unflattering likeness. What do you think - those who remember her that is. I really would like to talk it through with the sculptor, Katie Scarlett Howard, who has a studio near Mold, in North Wales. Anyway, it's fitting that Laura Ashley should feature in the series of six sculptures based on the theme 'Woman of Substance', being positioned across Wales. This statue is located in an excellent location, in the courtyard at Glansevern, which welcomes many thousands of visitors every year. The full story of this weekend's unveiling in on the BBC here.

The Severnside Painting Group

There are many talented amateur painters living in the hills of a Mid Wales. People who appreciate beauty are bound to find Montgomeryshire a special place. This weekend, members of the Severnside Painting Group put on a very good exhibition in the Old School in my village of Berriew. There were lots of village scenes, many of them the work of Ralph Thomas, who lives there. But Mrs D was particularly taken with these two, and I had the red spot stuck on them. First one is an oil or acrylic (I'm not sure) - 'The Flock' by Marjorie Williams. I liked it as well. It reminded me of the Christmas cards I used to receive from William Hague. It deserves a stronger frame though.

This is a water colour by Jane Sanders. Mrs D has something of an obsession with hares. We have wooden hares, concrete hares, metal hares, moongazing hares and paintings of hares. Must admit they are lovely creatures. Don't see many around today. When I was young they were almost as common as rabbits. Through my teens I shot dozens as they came over the horizon in moonlight. Hares were the reason I retired from shooting around forty years ago. I shot between two, which were playing joyfully under a beautiful lunar sky (hoping to save on a cartridge). Succeeded in wounding them both - and a wounded hare makes an awful screaming noise. Put me off shooting for life. Anyway, if you're free tomorrow, why not pop along to The Old School at Berriew. But you can't buy these two. They're gone.

Friday, July 03, 2009

US Woman jailed after being found with a dozen rabbits in her bedroom

Though rabbits inflict damage upon our garden, I can see that they are cute little creatures - and I do accept that if they did not chew all the time their teeth would grow to be 90 feet long. So they have a case and I quite like them. But not as much as an obsessed US woman who has just been sentenced to 90 days in jail after being found with more than a dozen rabbits in her hotel bedroom. It seems that the trouble started three years ago when police found 150 rabbits in her house (plus dozens more rabbit corpses in her freezer). She was put on probation for 5 years, and banned from making any contact with a rabbit. But I'm not at all sure this is fair. My Uncle Wat, who was a renowned penillion singer from Llanfihangel and to whom I bear a striking likeness, kept hundreds of rabbits in cages in a huge rabbit-shed. He gave the job up because the rabbits kept on killing their young as soon as they were born - and there's never been a farrowing crate for rabbits invented. He grew trout in a giant lake which he made as well. A beauty of our world is that it really does take all sorts.

Attempt to con voters in Norwich

Problem is that I reckon some of these tricks work. People are actually taken in. I hope all other parties will challenge these Lib Dem tactics by exposing them, and will not resort to copying. Politics is sufficiently devalued already.

Plague on all your houses.

If I have an hour or two to spare and fancy a walk, I visit an area of Montgomeryshire and deliver what I call my 'team' leaflet. It includes all of our newly elected councillors and its made of stiff cardboard which can be pushed through letter boxes without putting my fingers at risk. This is a more important than you might think. I never worry about the Alsatians and Rottweilers who make their intentions very clear as soon as you open the garden wicket. Its the terriers which wait in silence and pounce when the fingers are within biting range.

Anyway, the leaflet has a tear off return slip which invites recipients to tell us of issues which concern them. Had one back today which simply said "Politician? Get Lost! and it was signed by 'Disgusted' of Welshpool. Stops me getting too confident I suppose. The thing that hurts is that it was sent by FREEPOST. We actually paid for it.

All this rumpus about expenses brings contempt upon the heads of candidates, as well as the current elected members. And that's despite what it costs us personally. In Montgomery recently, I met a lady whom I had called to see about an issue when I was an AM. She launched into me about how much I was 'rippping her off'. When I told her that for the last two years I'd been a candidate who has to meet all of my own costs, amounting to several thousand pounds a year, she hesitated...for about 10 seconds, and then launched into me for wanting to get into a position where I could rip her off.

Back to today's return communication. Bad news is that 'Disgusted' is unlikely to vote for me. Good news is that he or she is unlikely to vote for anyone else.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Channelling taxpayer's money into party funds.

Story on BBC this morning and on Dragon's eye tonight involves the amount of money that Welsh MPs and AMs channel into party funds under the cloak of rents and repairs. Nothing wrong with paying rent for an office (in my opinion) - as long as its at a proper valuation. When I was an Assembly Member, I rented a room from the local Conservative Association. I asked an estate agent to advise what it should be. It was between £3k and £4k as I remember it. But I heard figures on Dragon's Eye that made my eyes water - at least what Lembit Opik pays the Liberal Democrat Association in Montgomeryshire. While total spending by the 10 Liberal Democrats in Wales was a total of £46k, over £30k of it was in Montgomeryshire. When this is added to the huge sums which LO spends on the Communications Allowance, which is in effect an MPs re-election pot, I'm surprised that there are not gold plated doorknobs on the Lib Dems office.

Blogging returns

Sorry for the break in blogging. Several reasons, including our little granddaughter of 20 months, Ffion, who has been staying with us all week, while the parents spent a few days playing golf at La Manga, in Spain. She's demanding - in a lovely way. I ask myself how on earth Mrs D managed with four of them - and she was just 20 when it started. Added problem this week was that Ffion learned how to climb out of her cot.

And I've gone sick as well. Since my internal system was redesigned six years ago following a lower bowel re-section to remove a cancerous tumour, I occasionally suffer an infection which knocks me flat. Started yesterday, and I made it worse, much worse, by driving to Cardiff and back to do CF99. I don't like crying off late, but yesterday I really should have done. Anyway today, I've been laid low, apart from a visit to see my GP. Wonder if my sickness was obvious on the screen. Only physical sign was profuse sweating. Fell apart when I reached my car. Made it home though, totally knackered - and Ffion was still awake!

CF99 is based on two guests discussing issues of the week with Vaughan Roderick and Bethan Rees Roberts. Yesterday my fellow-guest was Plaid Cymru Minister, Elin Jones. Just before we went on air she shared a presentation box of Pemberton's chocolates around. That's what I call softening up with style. We discussed the second anniversary of the establishment of the Labour/Plaid Coaltion, and whether Charles will be the last Prince of Wales. When asked my view about how the Coalition has done over the last two years, I responded by declaring survival to have been a success. Its going to be a lot more difficult over the next two years as the budget falls. Interesting that Elin gave no commitment to holding a referendum on transfer of law making powers to the Assembly, the key promise in the Coalition's programme.

Didn't agree with Elin about the Prince of Wales though. She reckons Charles will be the last, while I don't. When people ask me 'Why', I feel like saying 'Why not'. Inevitably Lord Elis Thomas was included in the package, and he wanted done with the Prince of Wales position. He thought the role should be taken on by Rhodri Morgan. God forbid. More likely, he fancies the job for himself.