Friday, December 31, 2010

Referendum misinformation.

I am a Conservative Member of the House of Commons representing the Welsh seat of Montgomeryshire - to which I was elected in May 2010 with a swing of 13.2% against the supposedly 'resurgent' Liberal Democrats. There was one larger swing somewhere else in the UK, but against demoralised Labour. It was a spectacular result. Many commentators, searching for an explanation blame Lembit Opik, the Liberal Democrat incumbent who has a high profile as a 'celebrity' - despite this having been Lembit's style ever since his first election victory in 1997. Against a very good Conservative in 2005, he had won approx. 16,000 votes against 9,000. I have not minded one bit that so many believe that the Conservative victory was little to do with the particular style of 'Conservatitism' that underpinned our campaign in Montgomeryshire. Usual response has been "Look at the score on the door". But it is beginning to grate a bit on me, though not for the self-serving reason that I've no doubt has come to your mind, dear reader.

I think I can reasonably claim to have been a significant part of the face of Conservatism in Montgomeryshire for 15 years, along with Simon Baynes, Dan Munford and David Jones. My 'pitch' has always been based on my 'Welshness' - hugely proud of having learned the Welsh Language, a lover of Welsh culture, and totally committed to a successful future for Wales and the National Assembly. I've been publicly very supportive of granting law-making power to the Assembly - until I was recently appointed a PPS, which requires that I be neutral. The point I'm making is that reasonable extrapolation suggests that the Conservative Party in Montgomeryshire is comfortable with what I stand for. And I pont out to those who have only a Z- knowledge of geography, Montgomeryshire lies adjacent to English England, with a huge number of English immigrants.

So why am I having to read and listen to so much garbage about the Conservatives not caring about Wales - and a Coalition Government at Westminster instinctively wanting to ignore Wales and treat her as if she didn't exist. Prominent Yes campaigners are popping up in the Western Mail on almost a daily basis to claim that a No vote would put devolution into reverse. What on earth are they on about? No it wouldn't. There is no justification for any of this misinformation. Rhodri Morgan puts forward a much more balanced argument to this week's Montgomertshire County Times - "Same destination but one path longer than the other". No stupid talk about reverse. For some reason, commentators in Wales dismiss Conservative MPs from Wales as not representing Welsh interests. Its complete baloney - just because the Welsh media cannot be bothered to get off it's **** and find out what's happening the other end of the M4. I read reams of similar utter tosh about S4C a few weeks back. Lets get it straight. Whether there's a Yes vote or a No vote, there will be Welsh Conservative (and all the other parties as well) every bit as committed to Wales and Welsh interests as members of the Welsh Assembly will be. And Conservative voters in Montgomeryshire would not have it any other way.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lib Dem of the year

I see that Conservative Home has posted on who some noted commentators adjudge to be the 'Lib Dem of the Year'. Now, I was tempted to go for Lembit Opik, in recognition of the part he played in elevating me to the House of Commons last May. And I also thought about David Laws, who in a few days after the General Election, demonstrated what a talented politician he is. But in the end I plump for Danny Alexander, who has been a revelation - in my opinion. Before the General Election, he was Danny Who, and he would probably have still been Danny Who if he had not been catapulted into the position of Chief Secretary to the Treasury, one of the key jobs in Government. But what a performance he's put in since then. My admiration has reached the stage that when I'm interviewed on any story involving a reduction in public spending, I aspire to "doing a Danny Alexander" - which involves pointing out, calmly and quietly that the last lot spent all the money, and that we cannot carry on as they did without bankrupting our country.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Conservatives in Wales a-changin.

I lost my seat in the National Assembly for Wales at the last election (in 1997) because the Conservative Party did better than expected. The unexpected result which did for me was Angela Burns' magnificent victory in West Carmarthen and South Pembs (by 98 votes). But the person who can more accurately be said to have replaced me as representative for Mid and West Wales was Plaid Cymru AM, Nerys Evans. Please don't ask me to explain. Life's too short.

Anyway, Nerys has decided to forego the comfort (electoral desert more like) of the regional vote to stand against Angela next May. With the experienced Christine Gwyther standing for Labour, this is going to be the seat to watch on election night. The Western Mail has given Nerys a big leg-up today by running a prominent two page article about her, complete with photograph. Because I'm interested in young Welsh political talent, of whichever party, I read it. And I have to say there's a thread running through it that I question - and which has inspired this blog post.

Nerys is reported to have said "The Conservatives are now branding themselves as Welsh Conservatives.....down to Plaid Cymru's existence". This is most certainly not the case. I was very much part of the Conservative Party in Wales, which recognised in the late 1990's that we needed to rediscover what I'll refer to as the 'Wyn Roberts factor', and reconnect with the Welsh people. It was nothing whatsoever to do with Plaid Cymru. Personally, I very much approved of our new approach - which more accurately is a rediscovery of a previous approach. The credit for this lies with those who have shaped the Conservative Party then and since then - from within, with courage and vision. I hope this is how the Welsh Conservative presence at Westminster will also be regarded.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Supporting Online Petitions Debates

There's been much discussion about the proposal that Internet users can petition the Cabinet Office, and that the most popular could be approved for debate on the floor of the House of Commons. This would be quite dramatic stuff, which has the potential to seriously embarrass the Government of the day. Despite this, I'm in favour - in principle anyway.

I accept this proposal will be dismissed by those who hate the idea of 'populist' ideas being taken seriously. And it will be right of centre ideas that win the support. Remember that its the Sun and Daily Mail that outsell every other newspaper in the land, and between them, they could easily organise a 100,000 petition on something like 'bringing back hanging' or 'leaving the EU'. My view is "so be it". If MPs disagree with the proposals put before them, all they have to do is vote them down - in public. This is what has happened whenever there has been a vote on the return of hanging in the past.

What I do believe is that we parliamentarians have to make a serious attempt to engage with the voters, especially young voters. We do not have to do what they demand, but we do have to take what they demand seriously. For democracy to be an effective form of government, most of the people must be engaged. Otherwise, well organised minorities are able to change the law in a way the (disengaged) majority disapprove of. This is the basis of Thomas Jefferson's concerns about the 'tyranny of the majority'. Apathy has a positive impact on results. Even more so as we move to a system based on referendums - which seems to be where we are going at present. In Wales we have a referendum on Mar 3rd., another on May 5th (alongside the Welsh General Election) and at least one other set for 2012 to elect police commissioners. There might even be the odd election for Mayor as well.

Now I'm not suggesting that 'Parliament' should not retain unto itself 'safeguards' to protect the integrity of the process. For example a proposal could not be illegal (human rights), or a means to extend a recent contentious debate (tuition fees). Also, any online proposal would have to be converted into a 'bill' by parliamentary draftsmen before it could be debated. A petition would also need an MP to serve as 'parliamentary champion' - though I cannot see this being a stumbling block. In fact, I can see a whole lot of problems that would need to be overcome - but I still like the idea, and will try to play a part in bringing it to pass. I do hope the Whip's Office' like the idea as well!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Weather and Prejudice will not stop us.

Today's Tanatside Hunt Boxing Day meet at the Royal Oak in Welshpool was cancelled because of weather conditions. But the Hunt considered it important to proclaim that the great hunting tradition of our countryside is in rude health. So a few horses and the hounds turned up to entertain and reassure supporters. As has been my practice since Parliament passed the utterly spiteful Hunting with Dogs Act, I joined them as a declaration of my support. There were around 500 people lining the street, most filled with a quiet contempt for prejudiced legislators.
And let them not think that time will shrink the determination of country people to stand up and be counted. Never was an Act of Parliament passed which fermented discord between town and country more ingrained in the soul of the land. And there will always be new generations to carry forward the anger and resentment into future generations.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Conservative/Liberal Democrat Election Pact?

Talk of some sort of 2015 election pact between the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat parties rumble on. I had thought it completely fanciful, but the last few days nonsense following the Telegraph's deceitful sting on Lib Dem MPs has forced me to reconsider. Firstly, the comments made by Lib Dems were surprisingly mild - unless you live in some parallel universe where honey and sweetness abound. Even then the miscreants were genuinely embarrassed, Nick Clegg was genuinely cross, and almost every Conservative laughed it off as inconsequential. Its clear to me that this Coalition is here to stay, and that the boat-rockers are going to be left rocking boats in vain.

All this lovey-dovey stuff with the Lib Dems comes quite naturally to me by now. For over three years I've discouraged gratuitous attacks on Lib Dems in Montgomeryshire - not because I suffered some great conversion which involved loving one's enemies, but because it seemed to me to be the road to victory. It also the way I like to do politics. This strategy, more than anything else, led to us winning Montgomeryshire last May. And its also the strategy that has delivered to the British people a government with the numbers to restore order to the public finances. Despite my almost four years of love-bombing the Liberal Democrats, I have not heard one single expression of concern from a Conservative Party member in Montgomeryshire. We prefer quiet delivery to noisy headline chasing.

Now I'm not suggesting that a Coalition candidate should be adopted for Montgomeryshire at the next General Election. The fact that the seat has been held by the Lib-Dems for 126 of the last 130 years makes it an unreasonable expectation that they should stand aside - and we're hardly going to stand aside because we hold the seat. In addition, we have no idea what will constitute the boundaries of Montgomeryshire in 2015, if the legislation currently winding its way through the Lords takes its place on the statute book. But I can see that it could well make sense in a lot of constituencies. John Major, Peter Lilley, Nick Boles, and a senior Conservative very close to Cameron supposedly think so. So do I - but I must add that this is an entirely personal observation, which may or may not be shared by anyone else.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Tale of Two Speeches.

I wasn't there to hear the Archbishop of Wales sermon today, but I'm finding it difficult to understand what on earth he's talking - about from the BBC's report of it. I really would have thought that David Cameron's ideas about measuring 'well-being' was an 'anti-materialistic' approach to how we live. Rather than looking at the traditional measures of success, which usually relate to economic performance, we should focus more on what brings satisfaction to our lives - what makes us feel good. For me this is linked to our Prime Minister's ideas about 'Big Society', where we think more about those who share 'society' with us.

There are plenty of people who have no truck with this sort of talk from our Prime Minister. I'm not one of them. I accept that I speak from a position of relative comfort, (and attitude does change after serious illness - to self or one very close). Throughout my life, most enjoyment has not come from work, (though I enjoy work as much as the next man) - too much Mrs D often thinks. Even setting aside family stuff, I've always taken greatest satisfaction in life from YFC, rugby, squash, public life, gardening, etc.. These have been the things I've dreamt about. The thought processes of Dr. Barry Morgan may be a complete mystery to me, but HRH, Queen Elizabeth was spot on today about the way sport can bring so much joy and understanding (and well-being) to our world. Yet again this wonderful woman has found a way to inspire.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Accidental vulgarity.

Even by the dubious standards set by the Daily Mail, I thought this was crossing the line. On opened today's copy , tracking down the sudoku page, this is what faced me on p38. This will surely lead to complaints about decency thought I. To what depths has British journalism sunk. But when I removed the competitions supplement, so that p38 and p42 were shown together, everything was explained as entirely innocent. Lesson for our newspapers is to be careful where they place their inserts.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

So much 'Hype and Froth' over Lib Dem comments.

Its accepted that Vince Cable made a mistake in commenting publicly on the bid by News International to buy the 61% of BSkyB that it does not already own. David Cameron and Nick Clegg quickly disassociated themselves from the comments, and Dr Cable has been relieved of any responsibility for the decision which must be taken on this sensitive 'competition' matter. This has not been a good for Dr Cable of course, and I'm sure he is very disappointed as well as embarrassed. But it would have been a real loss of talent to the Coalition Government if Dr Cable had resigned from the Cabinet. And as far as I'm concerned that's it. The rest is 'hype and froth'.

When I read the original story in the Telegraph, I was completely relaxed about it - though surprised that a key Cabinet minister had spoken so freely to 'constituents' that he did not know. Even I, of lowly status, would be careful about that. But the coverage of this was still 'hype and froth'. Next reaction was irritation, when I realised that the Daily Telegraph, my newspaper of choice, had dressed journalists up as 'constituents' in a 'sting' operation, intended to draw unwise comment - but was not too bothered, because that's the sort of newspaper that the Telegraph has become. And I like this sort of 'gossip' as much as the next man. It was only later that I knew of the News International comments (courtesy of the BBC) which could not be ignored. Action, which I reckon is right and proportionate, was taken immediately. Today's Telegraph stuff about other Lib Dem ministers is nothing but 'hype and froth'. There has never been a Government in history where there were not significant disagreements between Cabinet members. Just read Andrew Rawnsley's excellent book on New Labour to understand the sheer enmity that festered at the heart of one of the most electorally successful UK Governments in history.

And I'm not too bothered by the Telegraph's behaviour either. Elected politicians should accept that what they say will become public. If you don't want people to know what you say, talk to yourself using a funny voice. To suggest that this affair has caused some lasting damage to the relationship between MPs and their constituents is also daft. Perhaps a little sensible caution until after Christmas is advisable though. The Telegraph will have to come up with something better than the 'hype and froth' of today if they want to keep this story going.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

World's Ugliest Cat

I reckon that the BBC are being very unfair here - unacceptably 'baldist' in my opinion. Personally, I reckon this supposedly 'World's Ugliest Cat' is quite attractive. Or is it that standards drop with age? Clearly the cat has a nice temperament. Only issue is that its bald. I suppose I'm a bit sensitive about this because I've just had about 20 square inches of body hair shaved from my chest and back, in order to place the 'pads' via which an electric shock was administered during the cardio-version procedure which put my heart back into sinus rhythm last week. Whatever, I'd be happy to own such a cat - and allow it indoors in this unseasonably cold weather.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Thoughts of Dr Cable.

When people ask me how much I'm enjoying being a Member of Parliament, I tell them that its an enormous privilege to be in the House of Commons when there is so much going on. David Cameron and Nick Clegg have 'hit the ground' running like cheetahs. I tell them that I can never be sure what I'm going to read in tomorrow's newspapers. I'm on a roller-coaster ride, which is going to transform Britain. Today we've had the announcement of High Speed Two (HS2) - which is a mega deal for the UK - and deeply controversial. And in tomorrow's Telegraph, we're going to read this report of an unusually candid interview given from Dr Vince Cable. Its worth the undiscounted cover price of the Telegraph on its own. Since the Coalition Government was formed last May, I've become increasingly impressed by Dr Cable's resilience , and resolution under fire. Must admit I rather like it when senior politicians tell us what they really think. Makes politics so much more interesting.

UPDATE - The BBC are reporting that it was an undercover sting by the Telegraph. Another blow against free speech by one of our broadsheets. What a pity.

The strange story of Mr High

Today a report was published in the Telegraph which opened my eyes about some of the things that human beings do for pleasure. I'm having a bit of trouble believing it. It seems that Mr Gary High, a former teacher from Guildford, has been fined £200 at South West Surrey Magistrates Court for parading naked in a lay-by. This is not strictly true because he was wearing a hard hat, a high visibility jacket, a leather harness and boots - rather more than would have been necessary to appear in the Strictly Come Dancing final. Mr High is clearly a bit of an odd ball. In my opinion a suitable penalty would have been to force him to perform an encore this morning, when the temperature was down to -15. He'd very soon have put his pants on.

But what is breath-taking is who brought this admittedly strange behaviour to the attention of the police in the first place. It was the regular users of this lay-by who indulge in a most unusual and rather unsavoury activity, popularly referred to as 'dogging'. Must admit this was a new word (and new activity) to me, but I'm told it does actually happen. Apparently these 'doggers' (if that is the appropriate noun) were outraged and disgusted because Mr High's performance was more likely to be seen by innocents. Well, personally, I'd have been much more offended if, in all innocence, I'd knocked on the car door to ask direction!! Surely such behaviour cannot be legal. I feel a touch of sympathy for the hapless Mr high, and hope the police arrested the 'doggers' as well.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

No way to conduct a campaign.

Watched the Blues playing Northampton on TV today. It needed a good referee to keep control. A pity the Blues lost to a dubious try - but it was the mindless and dangerous stupidity of Xavier Rush's high tackle that ensured defeat. The red card was fully deserved. Looks as if the two opposing sides in the Assembly Powers referendum campaign are going to need a similar sort of referee to keep the peace. Already, Lib Dem AM, Peter Black has called Labour Minister, Leighton Andrews a 'cretin' - and they are supposed to be on the same side!!

The main problem with referendums is that the issue at stake is largely ignored in the campaign leading up to the vote. It will be no different this time. Seems that the first leaflet put out by the Roger Lewis led 'Yes' campaign has implied that Wales will have more money from the Treasury if we vote Yes - £300million per annum more. Well, its the first I've heard about it. That's because its not true. This is a strategic mistake by the Yes campaign - the equivalent of a Xavier Rush moment. Once you acquire a reputation for being economical with the truth, everything you say is dismissed as equally economical. Just ask the climate change scientists at the University of East Anglia. The Coalition Government has made clear that there will be no consideration of the formula by which Wales is funded until our annual deficit is back under control. Also, I do not think the position of Wales' funding can be considered without acceptance that Scotland must lose a good chunk of block grant as part of the same deal. This could prove problematical to say the least.

Peter Black makes a wider point as well. The Yes campaign would be making another Xavier Rush-like mistake if it poisoned the Yes campaign with anti-UK Coalition Government rhetoric. I'm just waiting for the first utterance from an Assembly Minister that the Coalition Government is holding up some Assembly Government request for power - and we must have a Yes vote to put a stop to 'interference'. Such a tactic would end the cross-party consensus that exists amongst most politicians in Wales. The views of the people we will discover on March 3rd. I hope the politicians of Wales, and both the Yes and No campaigns can run honest and polite campaigns over the next few weeks. It might even help to persuade people to vote.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Double Standards?

Now just imagine that a Westminster based Conservative Minister, Jeremy Hunt or Ed Vaisey has said this. "I don't see any point protecting the name or the brand of S4C." and "The idea that our priority should be to save a television channel appears to me to be bizarre because what we want to be looking for is as much Welsh language content, with sufficient choice, across as many platforms as possible" - and a whole lot more in similar vein. Cymdeithas yr Iaith would be marching from Aberystwyh to London to smash up Government minister's offices. Angharad would be very very cross indeed - furious even. Posters of Conservative MP's would be plastered across the billboards of Wales, adorned with horns.

But wait. These words were spoken by Plaid Cymru's most respected (by me anyway) and admired (by me again) politicians ever to represent the Party - Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas, Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales. So we've not heard a peep of objection from the usual suspects. Where is the 'rally' to defend the Welsh Language? Where is the uprising of national outrage? Nowhere to be seen or heard - because its not a Conservative who uttered these words.

Just imagine if Jeremy Hunt or Ed Vaisey had described the performances of Rheon Tomos, Vice Chairman of S4C and Arwel Ellis Owen, acting Chief Executive before the Welsh Select Committee as "appalling" with "no understanding of governance". The carnage that would have been visited upon Westminster is fearful to contemplate. Welsh Language activists would have called down the wrath of the Gods on these 'English Tories'. The truth is that Westminster Conservatives have fought like dragons to save S4C, (I know. I was there) and Jeremy Hunt has ensured that the channel has a sustainable budget into the future, and when we have some sensible discussion, a deal with the BBC which ensures S4C's operational and editorial independence will be hammered out. And its worth mentioning in passing that his noble Lordship has always supported this sort of relationship between S4C and the BBC!!

Now I've had my concerns about some aspects of how S4C has been managed, but I've tried to be circumspect in what I've said in public. And unlike my great noble friend, the most glamorous tribune the daffodil party, I support retaining S4C as an independent Welsh Language channel. I believe it has a vital role to play if we are to retain and grow our beautiful national language. Thankfully, I'm not alone at Westminster in this opinion.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What constitutes a credible Yes vote on March 3rd?

Not sure whether I offered a 'hostage to fortune' on the Politics Show today. The subject under discussion was the referendum concerning law making powers for the National Assembly on March 3rd. What turnout is needed to accord credibility to the result. I suggested that I hope 50% of the Welsh electorate will vote - though I have to admit I do not think this will happen. I added that if the turnout was not more than 35% of the electorate, credibility would be an issue. What do you think?

Two points to note. Churchill is supposed to have said something like 'one is a majority' - implying that nothing else matters. And secondly, even if 50% vote, its unlikely in my opinion that 30% of the Welsh electorate will have voted Yes - challenging credibility in some eyes, who believe there should be a threshold of Welsh voters voting Yes of 40%.

I did note that none of the other guests risked putting a figure on it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Big and 'Not so big' Spenders

The details of how much all General Election candidates spent between January 1st and May 6th this year has just been released by the Electoral Commission. Because of the terrific local support we had in Montgomeryshire, I was expecting us to have spent more than Lembit Opik. But I was wrong. He managed to outspend me by almost £3,000. Only goes to prove that spending money is not the secret to winning elections.

What would be interesting about this is knowing where the money came from. During the campaign there were plenty of whispers and rumours that my campaign was being funded by Lord Ashcroft - which was untrue. I said nothing at the time - because I thought it just made my opponents look desperate. In fact, all but £2,500 was raised locally - and that single 'declared' donation was from an individual with whom I'd worked on 'care for the elderly' and who wanted to support me personally. Every penny of the rest was raised locally.

I've no doubt that I'll be the recipient of comments about my hill sheep farmer background - which instilled in me a caution about throwing money around. I've always reckoned that the long-term comfort of financial security outweighs any short-term pleasure derived from wasteful spending. Others claim, rather unkindly that this phrase is synonymous with 'tight-fistedness' - and no doubt they will claim that today's announcement confirms that as official.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lord Elis Thomas to make scandalous comment.

I usually have some sympathy with National Assembly Presiding Officer, Lord Elis Thomas - which makes it all the more painful to describe that something he's reported as going to say on Sunday's Politics Show is scandalous. I use this description because it seems to be the word LET has chosen to portray his opinion of the S4C Authority's performance to the programme.

Now I agree with much of what he intends to say - but in one comment he went 'beyond the line'. In support of his claim that the National Assembly Government would have handled what he describes as the 'appalling' and 'scandalous' performance of the S4C Authority over recent months with greater efficiency, he compares the performance of the Authority with the activities of the former Auditor General of the National Assembly, Jeremy Coleman. In my opinion, to make such a comment is far more scandalous than anything any member of the S4C Authority has done. Mr Coleman, was found guilty of downloading illegal sexual images of juveniles on his office computer - and would have been suspended immediately from any public sector job. Its best that I do not fully express my sheer horror at such a comment. It completely ruins the remainder of what he has to say. Perhaps it will not seem so bad when we hear it. Perhaps he might think better of this comment, and record another interview.

The Tuition Fees Debate.

Yesterday was a very significant day in British politics. A 'peacetime' coalition came through a giant wave that threatened to engulf it. I reckon this coalition is going 'on and on'. In the end (and its what happened in the end that matters) both partners, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats voted in favour of a new regime for tuition fees. These changes were based largely on the proposals of Lord Browne, who had been asked by the previous Labour Government to suggest a fair way forward. A minority of MPs from both parties felt that they should oppose the proposals presented by Vince Cable. However the majority in favour was more than Labour achieved for the introduction of Tuition fees - and was more than most commentators had expected. I voted with the Government. Like many, I had my reservations, but in the end, felt entirely comfortable voting Yes. In the end, it amounted to both parties in a Coalition Government voting for a Government proposal, and the opposition parties voting against it - just as you might expect.

The huge hoohah about how the Lib Dems would vote reminds me of the recovered 'compulsive gambler' who discovered that his hotel was attached to a casino, and that he had been given two free roulette tokens on arrival. He reassured his wife that he would not spend anything but the £2 value of the tokens. Within an hour, and after an amazing streak of good fortune, he was £500,000 up. He decided on 'one more bet', put the lot on, and lost half a million. When he returned to his room his wife asked how things had gone. He replied casually "Lost £2". Vince Cable may well have told his wife "They supported my proposals".

Monday, December 06, 2010

No way to address a Minister

Not even Cymdeithas yr Iaith would go this far - and I must warn that its unsuitable for anyone under the age of 18 unaccompanied by an adult. Definitely not what you would expect to hear on the Today Programme.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Sympathy for the Lib Dems

The Liberal Democrats have been my main political opponents for the whole of my political life. I'd always seen them as being an opportunistic 'protest' party, happy to stand on the touchline, shying away from meaningful action. Its easy just going whichever way the current of public opinion is flowing. But last May, Nick Clegg persuaded his party to do something different. He persuaded them to join the fray by forming a Coalition Government with the Conservatives. This was a really big deal for the Lib Dems and the Conservatives - taken for the good of the country. OK, so Nick Clegg hopes that it will enable him to go into the next election as an experienced 'Party of Government' - but it was an almighty risk to take.

The problem for the Lib Dems is that some of the policies advocated before the last election are just not sustainable in Government, and the reality has forced change. We inherited a UK economy which was in a desperate state. There is simply no money. The national wallet is empty. So first 'difficult' issue was the increase in VAT. Those Lib Dem election posters featuring a 20% VAT 'Bombshell' were excruciatingly embarrassing. But they bit the bullet. New nuclear power stations was another 'difficult' issue, particularly since Chris Hulne is the responsible Minister. Government cannot allow the lights to go out - so another bullet was bit. And now we have the tuition fees row, where the Lib Dems internal policy processes are causing problems for Clegg/Cable/Alexander. In the end, I'll be surprised if any of the Lib Dem cabinet members fail to support the Tuition Fees changes on Thursday night. But for now, we'll have to wait and see.

Reality is that being in Government is bl**** tough. It sometimes means having to face up to angry constituents and say No. I never thought that the Lib Dems would have the b**** - but so far they have in spades. The last Lib Dem leader to wield real power in Britain was David Lloyd George, and they just don't come any tougher or wily than him. Could it be that Nick Clegg has more in common with the charismatic Welsh wizard than the love of 30 women (or thereabouts!).

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Best wishes to Lembit Opik for a joyful future.

If Guido is to be believed, (and he usually is) it seems that congratulations are in order. I wouldn't recommend that you read the comments section of Guido's post though. Its not been a great year for Lembit, and I suppose I've played my part in that. But I rather like him and wish him well, both in life and love - so I was pleased to see this photograph.

Friday, December 03, 2010

My expenses claims.

The expenses that I claimed to carry out my Parliamentary responsibilities between May and August were reported in today's local newspaper, the Shropshire Star. I note that I claimed £5,136.90. I seem to be at the lower end of totals claimed, but at the higher end of number of claims made. I suppose its because Phill, who manages my office tries to keep things everything up to date.

Many MPs are very dissatisfied about how the allowances system works, but I've not joined in all the criticism of IPSA, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. However, I do think the new system is both unfair and ridiculous - costing the taxpayer far more than it should. Its not necessarily IPSA's fault. Some MPs in the previous Parliament so abused the system, that only an ostensibly tough regime will be acceptable to the public.

I'll illustrate the sort of daftness I mean by giving background to the only claim of mine that the newspaper thought worth reporting on. Its reports thus "Smallest Amount Claimed: £1.60 for using his own car on May 1st. He made two claims for the same amount that day". I suppose this is interesting because it suggests that I am so mean that I will claim such a p***ling amount. I can't recall the actual details, but I may well have left my home in Montgomeryshire to visit Montgomery, on to perhaps Welshpool, and then Newtown before returning to Montgomery before going home. When I was an Assembly Member, I would have submitted a claim for the 36 miles. But IPSA require me to submit 5 separate claims for 4 miles, 6 miles, 14 miles, 8 miles and 4 miles. Its entirely possible that I could have made 10/20 separate journeys in a day. The 4 miles journeys would amount be £1.60 each. The amount of record keeping needed is crackers. But no point in complaining. I just do it - or at least ask Phill to check all the distances on the Internet. Its just not practical to claim for the dozens of visits to individual properties while driving around, diversions etc..

Yesterday there was a uprising of MP anger in the House of Commons about the way IPSA operates. I didn't stay for it. In truth, it doesn't concern me because I'm at an 'established' stage of my life. The aspect that does instill anger in my soul is that my word is not acceptable - because we are all considered to be dishonourable members. Regrettable its a case of the sins of the fathers being visited upon their issue. Anyway, it seems that all the MPs in the circulation area of the Shropshire Star have been very reasonable in the claims they have made on the taxpayer's wallet. Which is a matter for cheer.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Prepare to exercise power, ye common man.

We have not had a Prime Minister as radical as David Cameron in my memory - and I go back to Macmillan. At least on constitutional issues. He's committed to giving away power. He said he would before he was elected - and he's delivering big-time. Lets look at what's simmering away in the political 'bubble' this week.

First up is 'fixed term parliaments'. For ever, Britain's Prime Minister has had at his disposal the ability to call a General Election when it best suited his or her party. No more. There will be a General Election every 5 years, and the next one will be in May 2015. Personally, I reckon there's a fair case for a four year fixed term, but I'm happy to support five.

And then, there's the Calman proposals for Scotland. By the end of this current Parliament, the 'block grant' handed to Scotland every year will be cut by 35%, as will Income Tax in Scotland by 10p in the pound. Actually these figures may vary a bit, but its the principle that counts. The Scottish Government will then decide how much of the 10p to impose North of Hadrian's Wall - or more than 10p perhaps. The annual budget debate in the Scottish Parliament will be transformed into a genuine debate about a budget rather than just about a spending plan. And I fully expect the same principle to be extended to the Government of Wales - a la Gerry Holtham. Expect the standard of debate to rocket - because budget debates will make a real difference.

And today, the Home Secretary has announced her plans to give all of us a vote to decide who should be elected as chief of our Police Authorities. We are expecting the elections to be held in 2012. This is not exactly finding full favour with every police representative, or with the doomed Police Authorities. This is radical stuff. And I've not going in to what is happening in the NHS in England, because my constituency is in Wales. An interesting question is whether we are ready for all this democracy, and all these votes we are going to be casting.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Planning in Powys.

Housing is devolved to the National Assembly for Wales, so the new approach that Grant Shapps, Coalition Government Housing Minister has announced today only applies to England. But the issue is very much alive in Montgomeryshire. Developers and agents are so totally p****d off with the Powys County Planning Department that they are too angry to speak to me without becoming incoherent and frothing at the mouth. I will need to reinforce the walls of nmy new office in Newtown. They tell me that the Council has as its mission a desire to frustrate and refuse as many applications to develop as possible, and to load massive costs on those applications it does approve. They also tell me that the Planning Authority has an 'affordable housing' policy that does not deliver any affordable housing - as in no affordable housing at all. This anger and frustration is not new. I've raised it with the Council's Chief Executive before - but I'm told that nothing has changed. Developers remain incandescent with anger, fuelled they tell me by delay and unreasonableness.

Anyway back to Grant Shapps. He has announced that he's intending to scrap all sorts of new proposals which would have put thousands on the cost of building a house, and an overhaul of complicated building standards. He reckons this will reduce the cost of each housing unit by £8,000. The Housing Minister believes that much of the information demanded of developers is unnecessary 'gold plating' which serves no real purpose - except to make the development unviable. This would have quite an impact in England.

I wonder what this will impact in Wales. Already I have developers contacting me to say that some higher standards in Wales are leading them to limit their work to England. In Powys we have some agents who charge a higher fee in Wales because of the extra difficulties they have with the Planning Dep't. Last week, one couple who had bought their dream house in Montgomeryshire came to see me in despair. They wish they had never moved in, and they are telling their friends to steer well clear of Montgomeryshire - because of the Council's Planning Department. I daresay the first reaction of the Planners will be to ahve a 'go' at me - 'shoot the messenger'. But I am just saying it as my constituents say it to me, not how it looks from the planner's desk. I fully expect this issue to flare up big-time over the next year or so - as people without houses and builders without work become increasingly angry.

The Opinions of Kim Howells

I was very surprised to read reports of comments made by Dr Kim Howells , former Labour Minister today. It seems that he thinks that to hold a referendum on whether law making powers in already devolved policy areas should be granted to the National Assembly is 'daft'. Now he tells us - after Secretary of State, Cheryl Gillan has put such an effort into ensuring that the referendum is delivered in accordance with Assembly Member's wishes - on March 3rd. This referendum is being taken forward in accordance with the Government of Wales Act 2006, which Dr Howells was partly responsible for putting on the statute book when he was MP for Pontypridd. As another son of the town might have said, this opinion is unusual. Seems he's going to vote No. Don't know whether this announcement is a help or a hindrance to the Yes campaign.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Other Referendum

The most important referendum in Wales next year will be held on March 3rd - which will be about granting more power to the National Assembly for Wales. But another referendum will be held on May 5th, the same day as the Welsh General Election, (which is the proper way to describe the Assembly election). This will be about whether we replace our 'First Past The Post' system of election for the 'Alternative Vote' system at future General Elections. I thought it was wrong to have the two votes on the same day, and caused a bit of fuss be signing an EDM to that effect a few weeks ago. Too late now. Its fixed - unless something dramatic happens in their Lordship's house over the next three weeks.

Whatever, this post is about which way to vote in this referendum. I will be voting No. I remain a FPTP man. The AV system is not the fair system its supporters claim. It makes some voter's 4th or 5th vote of equal value to some voter's first vote. Lets look at what would have happened in Montgomeryshire last May. Around 41% voted for me, about 37% voted Lib Dem, and about 22% voted for the other 4 candidates. Its entirely possibly that the second preferences of all the other parties would not have given either Lembit or me the necessary 50% because they may well have voted for each other. Its possible that we would have reached 3rd, or even 4th preferences for either of us to reach the 50% mark. The winner would have been decided by some voter's 4th preference. Another disadvantage is that the count could take several days to complete. Australia is the only major country which uses this system, and it took 17 days to decide who had won earlier this summer. No wonder most Aussies want to switch back to FPTP. And of course all this counting would be another expense for taxpayers to meet.

I have accepted since the Coalition Government was formed that this referendum must be held. It was part of the deal struck between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats when the Coalition Government was formed. And a deal is a deal. But I really do think that the UK electorate will not be daft enough to do anything other than stick with First Past The Post. I will try to persuade them of this. And if there were to be a change, the Alternative Vote is absolutely not the best way to go.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Our important Deputy First Minister

Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones, Deputy First Minister at the National Assembly for Wales is a terribly busy man. He cannot find time to meet mere MPs such as me, even when its about an almighty cock-up which his department played a part in creating. Still, I'm not really complaining because its the response that I'd been expecting - but I felt that I had to ask. And its not the first time I've seen the great Sir Humphrey line - "Unfortunately, pressures on his diary are such that the Deputy First Minister is unable to meet with you". Oh Yeah.

The issue I wrote to Ieuan about was the traffic chaos at Newtown that is wreaking such havoc on the economy of Central Wales. The installation of multiple traffic lights in the town when the Tesco store was built looked like sheer madness to people with common sense when it was put in - and sheer madness its turned out to be. When I drove home from Newtown this afternoon, the queue was half way back to Abermule. Dozens more people vowing never to travel into Mid Wales again. Its no surprise that the DFM doesn't want to talk about it.

Actually, a meeting with senior officials is likely to be just as productive. I don't suppose the DFM would have met us without them backing him up anyway. I'm looking forward to hearing from the 'relevant officials' whom he's asked to meet with me on his behalf. On the other hand I might just raise the issue when I next bump into Mr and Mrs IWJ in the Newtown Morrison's when they stop for a break on their way home to Ynys Mon!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Radio Maldwyn



Notice has been given that an Extraordinary General Meeting of Radio Maldwyn Ltd will be held at the Regent Centre, Broad St., Newtown, Powys, SY16 2NA at 11.00 on 13th December 2010, for the purposes of considering, and if deemed expedient, passing as a Special Resolution and as an Ordinary Resolution the following Resolutions:

Special Resolution
"That is has been proved to the satisfaction of this meeting that the Company cannot, by reason of its liabilities, continue its business and that it is advisable to Wind Up the same"

Ordinary Resolution
"That Gerald Irwin of Irwin &Company, Station House, Midland Drive, Sutton Coalfield be, and is appointed Liquidator for the purpose of such Winding Up"

This letter, which awaited me when I returned home tonight was signed by Austin John Powell, Director.

Now I'm not at all clear about what's going on here, but I can see that its a deeply disappointing situation. Radio Maldwyn has a strong following in Montgomeryshire. I've supported this local radio station since it was set up in the 1980s, and at one stage (1995) almost became its Chairman. At the time, I knew very little about local radio, but was approached by a group of people involved. The role would have been to sort out problems that were then thought to threaten Radio Maldwyn's survival. Even though I was not keen, I did agree to give it a go, and turned up at the AGM where I anticipated an audience of the 10 or so who had contacted me. But there were 100 there, mostly made up of people brought in to vote against me. It was rather embarrassing, and thoroughly daft, because I would not have put my name forward if I'd known anyone else was interested. The name of the man who gave me my biggest ever electoral trouncing was Jim Wagstaffe, who lived in Telford. I'll not go into the ins and out s of what happened afterwards. Life is too short!

Whatever, I remain a great supporter of Radio Maldwyn, and I hope that whatever arrangement arises from these ashes, retains some local content, and continues to retain a local presence. I hope I can go to this meeting, because it could turn out to be a bit lively. There is one shareholder who holds 49% of the shares, and there are many small shareholders, (like myself) who own one or two shares. It could be that together these shares represent a majority, who care about local content. On the other hand, it could be that the whole thing is bust and it could make no difference how we vote. I suppose it could finish up as a fist fight. (And that's a joke before anyone quotes me). I'm afraid it looks a bit of a mess. We will have to wait and see what happens.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Crazy News day in Montgomeryshire.

Just time to blog haphazardly on an unusually active day in Welsh politics. Yet again the main issue of the day/week/month is the direction (or should I say directions) being taken by S4C, the Welsh Language TV channel. Frankly, its difficult to know exactly what's happening. I can but imagine what sort of a post I could write if I was not mindful of the 'Ministerial Code' to which I'm subject. But I can say that these shenanigans have the potential to do harm to the Welsh Language. Whatever, there is nothing that I can safely commit to print - but it does not stop visitors commenting. So please do.

Then there are the orders which we approved today, which will allow the referendum on granting law making powers to the National Assembly for Wales to go ahead next March 3rd. All went smoothly - as anticipated. Cheryl Gillan, the Secretary of State for Wales has shown a strong determination to deliver this referendum, and she deserves real congratulation for what she's achieved. But I was surprised by one issue that cropped up at the end of the session - concerning something that I'd been aware of for weeks, but which seemed to be news to Owen Smith (Labour) and Elfyn Llwyd (Plaid Cymru). If no credible No campaign emerges, which is deemed by the Electoral Commission to be a suitable recipient of public money, there can be no public money for a Yes campaign. We could well reach the utterly bizarre position where a publicly-funded Yes campaign is dependent on True Wales putting together a credible No campaign. What an odd situation. Surely it will not work out like this.

And then we have some big issues in Mid Wales as well today. The announcement by Siemens Energy Service that its pulling out of Newtown is a real shock. It must be a huge worry to the 40 employees who, it seems, will have to relocate to Newcastle or Scotland if they are to retain employment with the company. Ever since one of ours was made redundant, I've reliased what a massive worry it is to people. Its also a blow to the economy of Newtown, which is suffering so much as a result of the appalling cock-up that's been visited upon the town by the installation of the traffic light's associated with the new Tesco development. But the national aspect (which the Cardiff based media does not seem to have grasped) is what it says about the National Assembly's TAN 8 renewable energy policy. Siemens moved in because the Assembly Government decided that the uplands of Mid Wales were to be covered with wind turbines - despite me and others warning them of the difficulties involved in transporting the power out to the National Grid. Well Siemens look to have waited for as long as they are going to - and they're off. I'm told that WAG have not been returning the media's calls on this. Surely this cannot be true either.

And then there's the demise of Radio Maldwyn - or at least its liquidation. I'm a shareholder (shares cost me £2 I think) so I must declare an interest. Its another blow for Newtown.. I daresay some arrangement will rise from the ashes. I just hope that it has a presence in the town and provides local content. That's enough for one day in the life of a Montgomeryshire MP, who loves the Welsh Language, and wants devolution to be a success..

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Unusual Visitors

They did visit us for a few days last winter. We thought they might nest. We had mixed feelings about this because ever since we built the pond, the same family of Canada Geese have joined us every spring, hatching a family in the shadow of the giant stone. I do not think swans would allow anyone else to nest closeby. Anyway, its rather nice to have two of Her Majesty's property visiting to celebrate the royal engagement with us. I hope they will be very happy and breed enthusiastically - the swans that is.
And I couldn't believe my eyes when these visitors turned up this morning. At the moment, I've no idea where they came from, but they must belong to someone local. I don't think we have turkey's living wild in the Berriew area. It could be a bit tempting if they pay us another visit just before Xmas. Perhaps we should cancel our order with Alan or Ricky now(not sure whose turn it is this year).

UPDATE - It seems we do have wild turkeys living in the area. They were escapees which have been roaming free for a year or so.

The Case for Dr Cable.

Dr Vince Cable is facing a really tough 'sell' persuading the people (or at least those who are prepared to even give him a hearing) that our coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats have not reneged on a pre-election promise over student fees. But I've listened to our great 'twinkletoes' business secretary make his case, and I reckon he makes a fair point. As my witness, I need to look at some of the things I said during the General Election campaign.

The only actual 'pledge' I signed related to Equitable Life, and I reckon that promise is just about being delivered. I accept that not everyone would agree. But I also said that no universal social benefits would be cut, and that I did not think there was any reason to raise taxes to deal with the deficit. Well, since then we've had changes to child benefit and VAT - though I did not rule our any tax increase, something a candidate shouldn't do. Whatever, I do not think I broke any promises, for much the same reason as Vince Cable didn't.

The Conservatives lost the General Election, as did the Liberal Democrats, and Labour. None of us won from the voters sufficient support to form a Government charged with implementing a manifesto. There was an imperative to negotiate a cross-party agreement of some sort - and the numbers meant that this responsibility fell to the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. The two parties had to discuss every policy area to agree a 'Programme for Government' - rather than the usual process of implementing a 'manifesto' as the 'programme for government'. The proposal to raise inheritance tax thresholds was dropped, CGT rules have been changed, a referendum on the voting system is taking place, etc. etc.. I didn't promise any of these things, and would have been deeply embarrassed if we had implemented them had we actually won the election.

That's the thing about PR, and why I'm not in favour of it. It's much more likely to lead to coalition government, which can only be formed when the parties to it compromise on what they told the voters before the election, and agree a programme for government which has not been put before the voters at all. Anyway, over the last few months, I've taken to Dr Vince Cable. Like Danny Alexander, and David Laws, he's a tough nut, who's prepared to stand his ground - just the sort of partner you need when the going gets tough. But he's still got a major persuasion battle on his hands.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Assembly Government Budget.

There's been a fair bit of public discussion about the Welsh Assembly Government budget which was presented this last week. Must admit that when I was an Assembly Member myself, I never saw the budget debate as being that significant - even when I was opposition spokesman on finance. Nothing like as significant as budget day in the House of Commons. And that's because it was no more than a debate about spending plans. Always thought that while the National Assembly has no power to raise money, the disagreements between parties could only be at the margin. But this year, there does seem to be a disagreement of rather more significance.

There are two 'background' issues. Firstly, because the Chancellor protected NHS and schools spending in England in his Comprehensive Spending Review, the block grant being made available to the Assembly Government is probably a bit more generous than was anticipated. (The 'block' is calculated as about 5% of whatever is spent by the Treasury on devolved policy areas - and both health and schools are devolved). And secondly, we're told that the % reduction is higher for Wales than for Scotland or N.Ireland - though I'm unsure how accurate this is. In any case, the differences are so marginal as to be almost irrelevant. And I suppose there is the third long standing background issue of the formula by which the annual block grant is calculated supposedly shortchanging Wales by up to about around £300million - which can only be 'corrected' if the Scottish block grant is significantly cut back. Maybe Ieuan Wyn Jones is discussing this with Alex Salmond as we speak - or not! This third issue is a 'red herring' as far as this post is concerned though.

Anyway, let's get to the significant difference I referred to. The Assembly Government has announced a reduction in the Health and Social Services spending, to the tune of around 7.6% over 3 years. This differs from the Coalition Government at Westminster which is committed to increasing health care spending by the rate of inflation for each of the next four years. The Conservatives in the Assembly have decided to match the UK Government's commitment - and to publish a fully costed budget before Christmas. I like the sound of this, but I can see that it's going to be difficult. Health and social services spending is a far higher proportion of total spending in Cardiff than it is at Westminster. Looking forwards to seeing how the figures work out for other services. I do think its rather a positive thing to have this genuine difference of approach. Good for debate. Probably the most significant difference in spending plans between 'government' and 'opposition' since the Assembly was created in 1999.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Reassuring words from the Director General.

Would like to have heard Mark Thompson's speech today. Over recent days, I've spoken with different BBC people, and all are committed to a strong 'Independent' Welsh Language channel. While there remain points to be resolved, the BBC Online report here gives us the flavour of what the Director General said about S4C. I very much approve. Of course its not going to be enough for some people, who seem to be rather keen on 'bashing' the Conservatives. The reference to a 'BBC - Tory pact' will cause some incredulity amongst both the Conservative Party and the BBC - I suppose there was an agreement between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness in the end. Anyway, I never take offence about this sort of thing. The objective is too important. I just keep on doing my best for the creation of a vibrant, successful, independent S4C.

Watching my Words.

This post might be a tad controversial. Hope not, but I must admit to a smidgen of sympathy for Lord Young. OK, he said something pretty insensitive to those people who are likely to suffer financial pain over the next few years. And inaccurate in that many people will not have "never had it so good". No doubt that its best that he went - just to close down the media frenzy. But the massive hoohah is yet another blow to the gaiety of the English Language in today's politics. In the interests of political balance, I think far too much has been made of the note left behind by Labour's outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liam Byrne after the General election when he said that there was "no money left". That was a daft thing to write, deeply insensitive, but it was meant as a joke. What both were guilty of was 'insensitivity'.

But it does make you think. A leading Labour blogger packed up last week. And my blog has been cleansed of anything resembling humour - or assertions designed to provoke reaction. Comments now are generally from trolls, intent on inflicting embarrassment, often by misinterpreting what I write. Or just stupidly abusive. I've taken to just deleting them. My blog used to be a way of engaging visitors in debate. Today, I write it because I quite enjoy doing so, and would not be in the least bit distressed if no-one visited at all. I've no doubt that one day soon, something will happen that knocks it on the head. When I heard Lord Young described as 'a non-paid advisor to the Government' I shivered a bit, because that sounds a bit like a description of a PPS! I really cannot understand why those who commentate on the everyday happenings of political folk in the village of Westminster are so intent on promoting anaesthetised correctness.

New Welsh Backsides on the Red Benches.

Wales can be proud of the three persons elevated to the ermine by Her Majesty today. Two of them, Jenny Randerson and Dafydd Wigley were colleagues during my period as an Assembly Member, and both were seriously impressive politicians - invariably worth listening to. I always thought that they were the two most able politicians to lead their respective National Assembly groups. All it needed was for the great Sue Essex to have been elevated as a Labour peer for my opposition 'gallery of stars' to be complete (not that I have anything but a high regard for Eluned Morgan as well.) Its just that I haven't worked with her, so cannot comment from close observation. In the past, we have seen individuals elevated for whom we have little respect, but this time the right people have been chosen (in my opinion of course.)

Over the next few months the red benches are going to be intruding into our consciousness rather more than of late - and for two reasons. Firstly, the forensic examination and sheer bloody-mindedness associated with their Lordships will almost certainly come to the fore as they consider constitutional bills. And secondly, there's likely to be much debate about change to the constitution of the House of Lords itself - not a straight forward issue by any means. I've grown to accept the democratisation of their Lordship's House as inevitable (reluctantly) - but I don't believe that enough thought has yet been given to how the relative legitimacies of the two Houses are going to mesh. Jenny, Eluned and Dafydd have arrived next door at almost as interesting a time as when I pulled in at my new House last May.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Missing the vote.

House of Commons is a brutal place, where things run to the second. When the division bell rings, MPs have 8 minutes to make it into the voting lobbies from wherever they are, on or off the estate. If an MP arrives at the door one second late, it is slammed in his face, or hers. And that's just what happened to the fast-rising Welsh Labour MP, Owen Smith tonight. At 7 minutes 57 seconds he scorched into the chamber, espied the open door, and headed for it, beaming with with relief. He'd made it. But he needed four seconds to get through it. Wham. Almost took his nose off.

Reminded me of the bus driver who sees you coming and waits until you are touching distance away before moving off. Or the cricket umpire who shakes his head thoughtfully for several seconds - just long enough to inspire hope in the praying batsman, before lifting up his finger and delivering the 'sentence' as stifling a vicious smirk. My enormous pleasure at Owen's discomfort tonight was only tempered by the fear that it could be me next week. And my Chief Whip and his deputy are not men to tangle with.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Care and Repair

Spend a lot of time thinking about how we are going to look after the ever increasing number of elderly people. For sure there isn't, nor will there be enough public money to carry on as we are. We've known this for years, and nothing of any value was done during the last Parliament. And it will be a while before anything really significant happens under this one. Some more money has been earmarked for social care, but we'll have to await delivery of the Commission Report next July until new ideas are put on the table. But whatever, any future strategy must involve helping more people to stay in their own home for longer. Which brings me to an organisation called 'Care and Repair in Powys'.

Care and Repair operates across the UK, and is a fantastic organisation. This afternoon, I officially opened Care and Repair in Powys Community Information Day at the Monty Club in Newtown. I hadn't realised there are so many organisations committed to helping elderly people, and an event like today helps develop links between them. Care and Repair is a non-profit organisation, set up to help elderly on disabled people, home owners and private tenants, to repair or adapt their homes to make life easier.

Small improvements can make a real difference. Removing a step, or putting in a strategically placed hand rail can prevent that fall that puts the frail person in hospital, destroying confidence and independence. And preventing elderly people ending up in hospital means there are more beds for those who are waiting for treatment. And it costs the public purse a lot less if people say out of hospital, or out of residential or nursing homes for as long as possible. I can see a growing role for Care and Repair (and other similar bodies) over future years.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Rememering the fallen.

Normal practice for me over the last few years on Remembrance Sunday has been to march with the parade from Welshpool Town Hall to St Mary's Church. I've always tended to tag along near the back. This year, I decided that it was right to join the parade and service at a different Montgomeryshire town and accepted an invitation from the Royal British Legion at Newtown. Not sure where I'll go next year. The difference was that as Montgomeryshire's MP, I was expected to take a more prominent role - and hadn't briefed myself on the proper protocol. I did know that it was unacceptable to be chatting as marching, learning from the experiences of my predeccessor last year. Anyway I thought that there would be no problem. All I'd need to do was copy the Mayor, who was something of an 'old hand'. Worked well until we reached the Cenotaph, where she and I were directed to lay the first wreaths together. Problem was that we were one each side of the monument, and I couldn't see her. Decided to show respect as we do in the chamber of the House of Commons, and I'm told that I got it about right. Laying a wreath before so many people who have lost friends and family, or who have been at the front line is an emotion-charged action to carry out. You really want to do it right.

Also unexpected was an invitation to speak to the crowd outside the Monty Club when the return parade was over. But that was easy. Each Wed., at noon, I hear the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition pay tribute to the young men and women who have died in service to our country since the previous Wed. And words of appreciation to the asembled crowd in the Welsh Language were also appropriate. At Newtown today, the entire ceremony was bilingual, whcih made it all the more special for me.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Big Society in Llanfechain.

Really nice day. Was invited to cut the tape which officially opened the new Community Shop in Llanfechain, a lovely Montgomeryshire village near to the town of Llanfyllin. The Chairman asked me to perform the 'Big Snip'. Told him that the last time I accepted an invitation to a 'Big Snip' it was from Mrs D, after she had become pregnant for the 4th time, and we had finally found out what was causing it. Today, was much less painful.

For two years, extensive work has been carried out on Llanfechain's Village Hall, the most recent phase of which involved creating a 'community shop' in a redundant space at the end of the hall. The shop includes the existing Post Office, and is run entirely by volunteers. I'm told the whole venture has been a great success.

The new project is a wonderful example of community enterprise. I always ensure that I remain totally 'unpolitical' at events like today's, but I did say that such enterprise is going to become more important over the next few years if we are going to retain rural services - because the Government simply does not have enough money to do the job itself. I didn't say that I thought it was a great example of what constitutes part of the Big Society (even though I thought it) because these two words might be deemed by some to be 'Cameronian' - and thus political.

I have a special affection for Lanfechain, which none of today's attendees would have realised. Just over two years ago, No 3 son Tim and his Irish Catholic wife, Adrienne were married in the village church. Catholic services are allowed to be held there (or at least were allowed). I was told today that this may not be allowed in future. All in all, today was another great bonus of being elected MP for Montgomeryshire.

Another blow for S4C.

I watched the Wales - South Africa match from the comfort of our sitting room. Its what I usually do. But what a fantastic atmosphere there must have been as Wales pounded the line for the last few minutes demanding the submission that was so disobligingly withheld by the springboks. Its all about belief, and we're just not there yet. Defeat - yes, but an occasion that will be remembered by everyone there.

Just imagine how awful it would have been to have gone to the match and turned up without your ticket. I really cannot imagine how devastating such a blow would be. And yet, I'm told that's what happened to the 'acting' Chief Executive of S4C, Arwel Elis Owen today. I wonder what Arwel did. Perhaps he rang the BBC to see if they could help him out!! Auntie sometimes has a few spare tickets.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Meeting old friends at European Care

Caught up with a few of my old friends at European Care today. This is an expanding care services company which owns well over 100 care homes and delivers care services to all age groups. There was a meeting of the Wales Advisory Board that I used to chair at the Royal Oak in Welshpool. I was invited along to join them for lunch. The beef was roasted and I was grilled. First time I've been quizzed as if a representative of the Coalition Government. Some direct personal questions as well - and several about the shenanigans at S4C. I'll return to this issue after my next meeting with Jeremy Hunt and Ed Vaisey, when maybe there will be something new.

I'll always be grateful to European Care and the charity the group sponsored, RESEC (Research into Specialist Care) which stimulated my growing interest in social care (particularly for the elderly). I'm toying with the idea of seeking permission to bring forwards a full debate on the floor of the House of Commons about the provision of care for elderly. Its not straightforward because the Coalition Government has established a Commission to look at the issue. Its expected to report next July, and its a question of whether there's any point in a debate before we have the Government's response to the Commission report - probably towards the end of 2011. At the moment, this seems too far into the future to allow this subject to lie undebated. Discussion of this issue has not been very structured or dignified over the last two years. In the last Parliament, the then Labour Government took The Personal Care at Home Act 2010 through Parliament, ostensibly to deliver free care at home for the elderly in most need. In my opinion this was a shockingly opportunistic, irresponsible Act, for which the statutory instruments will never be laid - rightly. And the less said about the debate that took place on this during the election campaign, the better.

Paying for the care of the elderly is one of the biggest challenges facing the Coalition Government. Extra funding was earmarked during the Comprehensive Spending Review, but its nothing like enough to tackle the scale of the problem. I hope the commission comes up with some innovative thinking. Anyway it was a most enjoyable lunch for me. My replacement, Eurig Wyn turfed me out when lunch was over, and got back down to business with an efficiency I'd have been proud of. I was impressed.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

More Praise for St Thomas'

Just a quick blog in praise of St Thomas' Hospital. My London flat is near the Lambeth end of Westminster Bridge, opposite St Thomas'. I call in on my way to the House of Commons - and I'm becoming a regular visitor. Usually its to provide a blood sample to check coagulation levels - every Wed morning. I walk, tell the wonderful Enid, who runs the department that I'm there, and I'm out and on my way in 5 minutes. Just brilliant. Today I needed some colostomy equipment, as one of the consequences of the food poisoning that's laid me low over the last two days. Rang the Stoma Dep't, arranged to be in at 5.50, which I was - and I was on my way home at 5.55. When we moved into the flat, we feared that the Hospital, being so near would be a nuisance, with sirens blaring constantly. I was wrong. Its a very big plus. St. Thomas' is a brilliant hospital - in my experience of course.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Things Welsh

Been trying to get a handle on the rally organised in Cardiff last Saturday about S4C. Still not quite sure what it was about. As a statement of support for the continuation of S4C as a Welsh Language channel, it was fine, but as far as I know, no-one with influence has anything but committed support for the channel. Seems there were two secondary issues - a call for an assurance about the future 'independence' of S4C, and its long term funding. Again, all those with influence agree that these two issues have to be addressed, and its part of a continuing debate. It's what Welsh Coalition MPs are engaged in. Its a pity so much publicity was given to the non-payment of the licence fee though. This sort of talk makes the lives of political friends of S4C more challenging.

Watched the Politics Show today, when Alun Cairns, my fellow MP, was in excellent form. Alun has been terrific on this issue, along with other Welsh Coalition MPs. Ieuan Wyn Jones, in the studio, and a speaker at the rally, was reduced to criticising Alun for something he didn't actually say. One thing that occurred to me as Ieuan was speaking was why doesn't the Assembly Government put in some money, if it believes the current agreement is not a sustainable budget. All party leaders in the Assembly seem to agree that S4C should be devolved. I suppose they might not be allowed to! And in passing, I was interested in David Williamson's Q & A piece in today's Wales on Sunday. When he was informing viewers about how Welsh politicians have responded to the new funding arrangements for S4C, he referred to the four party leaders in the Assembly (who do not have any direct responsibility for S4C) and completely ignored the Welsh MPs who have. I can inform readers of this site that without the determination and guile of Welsh Coalition MPs, the future would have looked rather more bleak. But this will have to await the memoirs.

Intending to visit the Assembly on Tuesday, just as a visitor to the public gallery, for the 'powers' referendum debates. This is one of the final pieces to be put in place to allow the referendum to go ahead on March 3rd. Hoping to hear some inspirational stuff to 'fire up' the Welsh nation. Hard to believe its only 4 months away - including Xmas and New Year. As time goes on, I increasingly fear a low turn-out.

Boys will be Boys.

I have something in common with Bjorn Hurrell, the newspaper vendor who delivers newspapers to MPs, and takes a pint in the Sports and Social Club in the House of Commons. We have both been attacked (allegedly) by Labour MP, Paul Farrelly. But in my case, I readily admit that I'd asked for it, and that Paul had shown admirable restraint before resorting to what he'd likely claim as self-defence.

It was the occasion of the first ever rugby match between the National Assembly for Wales XV and the Lords and Commons team. I was captain of our team, playing at blind side flanker, while Paul was scrum half for the Westminster team. The game was played near Twickenham, and was an h'orderve before the England - Wales game later in the day. Paul very quickly realised that my legendary pace was just that - legendary - and that he could run around the blind side with impunity. So I tripped him a few times, and then by way of variation, body checked him - in an 'accidental' sort of way, looking completely innocent. Fooled the ref, but Paul had had enough, and launched a ferocious attack on my person. Rest of his team joined in, as did ours. Full on battle, which scattered the crowd on the touchline. Mrs D had slipped behind a tree - because she'd seen me play before and knew what to expect. Fabulous photographs with my face covered in blood - which was nothing to do with Paul, whom I don't recall landed anything of substance. A major subject of debate in the House of Commons at the time was the use of ASBOs!

I know its as well to await final details of any incident before jumping to any conclusion, but there is a 'mutual support network' amongst Rugby players - and I reckon that Paul Farrelly is 'a good bloke'. When he sought to 'correct' my dubious tackling style, I'll concede it just about qualified as self-defence - which is what he claims after this latest altercation. When Paul was asked if he'd thumped Bjorn, he said "I made sure he was not in a position to attack me any more". Sounds sensible to me.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Evidence Needed

I need help here in gathering evidence. I'm told that my predecessor, Lembit Opik appeared on Sky News this morning (at around 10.25) and suggested that he had been subjected to the same sort of false allegations that were perpetrated by Phil Woolas. I do not know against whom his alleged comments were directed, and I am totally dependent on hearsay. Such allegations (if made at all, and if directed at his Conservative opponent) would not be true, and outrageously untruthful at that. If anyone heard this interview, I would be grateful if you can tell me what he said. You can email me on Our election campaign made almost no reference at all to my predecessor. In fact, I was much criticised by some of my supporters for refusing to engage with him. I wanted to focus on running a campaign on our terms, rather than being drawn into his approach to politics. I also conduct myself as an MP in a very different way to my predecessor. He did the job his way, and I do it my way - and the people choose. That's how democracy works.

Going Back to School

Spent a happy hour at Castle Caereinion Primary School this afternoon. Not quite on a par with Michael Portillo's trek back through the mysteries of inland Spain to discover his roots, but a trip in my own little time machine nonetheless.

First visit to Castle School (as we then called it) was in 1949, when I faced my 'first day', along with my little sister, Joan. I'd stopped off at Roger's the Shop to buy a Mars bar to give me courage, but I still needed my little sister to look after me - because I was such a painfully shy little boy. Mrs Roger's was a wonderful woman who was twice my size in 1949, and half my size when I last saw her before she died. Her son Michael, an 'Open all Hours' character, who still runs the shop asked me to pay tribute to her at the funeral. Mr Emberton, who ran the Red Lion, doubled up as the school transport, and Walter Pryce, the blacksmith was known for many miles around. He used to allow us all to keep warm by his bellows when we were waiting for the bus to Llanfair High School (now known as Caereinion High School. ElfandSafety would have had a fit.

I was struck by how confident and polite the pupils are at Ysgol Gynradd Castell Caereinion. A 'Question Time' had been arranged, when I was put in the hot seat. They asked me if I'd ever had the cane in school. They were amused when I said I'd 'had the slipper' a few times. This involved being hit on the back of the hand by some item of footwear - bl*****y painful as I remember. I still deeply resent once 'having the slipper' for breaking a window, which was nothing to do with me. Don't think I forgave Mr Richards for that. Admitted that I once put a drawing pin on his chair. Deserved that encounter with 'the slipper'. For 30 minutes I was bombarded with questions, challenging and polite - a credit to the teaching and an example to the BBC's version which is so 'shouty' and unenlightening that I no longer watch it.

I came home with a copy of the school photograph taken in 1953, when I was 9. I was struck by how cute a little boy I was. Looked a bit like Darragh, our only grandson. Being an MP is hard work, but exciting work, and brings lovely experiences. Today was one of them

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Road to Rhyl

Today's Telegraph brings us the extraordinary story of John Marsden, aged 86, who recently set off on the 70 mile journey from Bolton to Rhyl. After a while he realised he had taken a wrong turn and found himself lost. How often this has happened to all of us. Last time for me was at the Conservative Conference in Birmingham last month. If a taxi driver had not led me out, I'd still be there now. Anyway, John did the only sensible thing and stopped to ask the way to Rhyl - and was told "You go up the road 200 yds and then turn right", which is exactly what he did. Unfortunately, this was an Exit turn off the A55. For at least six and a half miles, he drove along merrily, not in the least bit concerned that all the traffic was going the other way. I remember doing something similar near Miami, when unused to driving in the States, and under pressure, I turned the hire car into a three lane highway - where I was faced by three of those giant American trucks, side by side, bearing down on our people-carrier. My ashen faced family discovered at that moment that their dad was cool in a crisis, because I just drove off the road, up quite a steep bank, around a tree, and back onto the highway in the right direction without a single word - just quietly peeled myself a toffee.

Can you believe that the Police took John Marsden on. He had to appear at the Llandudno Court, which is twice as far as Rhyl from Bolton - and that journey had taken him 14 hours. We can sleep safely in our beds knowing that dangerous men like John Marsden are being brought to justice. John has bought himself a lovely electric scooter now. My message to him is "Remember Andy Powell". If you can find trouble in a golf buggy, you can find trouble on a scooter.

Breakout of S4C agreement on Dragon's Eye.

Watched the S4C discussion on Dragon's Eye tonight. Still struggling to find any real disagreement. Lot of hot air and outrage about nothing much at all. We all seem to want the same thing. Except the bit of nagginess at the Assembly end because those MPs down the M4 have dared to sort things out.

There does not seem to be much opposition to where we are - except amongst a very small group. There is the issue of editorial independence that has yet to be confirmed - but I do feel quite confident about things now. I thought Alun Ffred Jones, the Assembly Heritage Minister showed himself to be the most sensible political voice on this issue in Wales. He has rediscovered his pragmatism and balance. He had no time for discussion about devolving S4C, and thinks this issue could be discussed sometime in the future, and in a wider context. I'm sure he didn't mean to but showed up his party boss, Ieuan Wyn Jones - who has been daft enough to agree to speak at a lobby group rally organised to call for withholding the TV licence fee. Alun Ffred dismissed this idea with that witheringly casual wave of the hand he reserves for daft ideas. The Deputy First Minister should withdraw in an effort to retain his dignity.

I've been greatly encouraged by the way the S4C discussions have gone over recent weeks. We have moved from a position where I, and others, were deeply worried to a position where we can be confident about its successful future. I fully expect a bit more turbulence over the next few weeks, but only what might be described as typically Welsh. Its the way we Celts do things.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The 'worst week ever' ! That's utter 'tosh' Nick.

Nick Robinson seems to think that this week has been David Cameron's 'worst week ever'. I've always thought Nick to be a decent journalist, but this is utter tosh. Perhaps he was just trying to be noticed. But lets look at the supposed catalogue of catastrophes that instigated this hyperbole.

Firstly, there have been aspects surrounding how the discovery of a bomb plot was handled which have attracted some comment. Just don't see this as damaging. It can reasonably be argued that the bomb plot has actually been valuable to the UK's security. Firstly it's reminded us all that the guard against 'terror' cannot be relegated down the Coalition's priorities. And secondly it's identified faults in the system, which can be corrected, without costing lives. OK, it might owe something to good fortune, but the whole issue has actually made us 'safer'.

Secondly, there was the EU budget deal. The fact that the Eurosceptic press, some of his backbenchers and Lord Tebbit have not been supportive of the deal was no surprise at all. Personally, I'd have been shocked if anything else had happened - unless our Prime Minister came home and announced that he intended to withdraw from the EU altogether. I sat through the entire statement in the HoC, and thought David Cameron did very well. Nick Robinson's words give me the impression that he hadn't watched, and that he'd written his words before the statement.

Thirdly, there's allowing prisoners the right to vote. OK no-one likes this. Prime Minister said in PMQ'a today that the thought makes him physically sick. But all that happened this week was that the Government decided to act on what has been an inevitability for the last six years. And the fourth issue that is supposed to have contributed to this 'worst week ever' is the putting of a photographer on to the Government's payroll. Despite the media's best efforts, there is no credibility behind either of these issues, which will give neither any traction.

What we have is a media desperate to create an image of 'the worst week ever'. The issue is never the problems that confront a Prime Minister, but the way he or she manages them. And if Nick had beenwatching, David Cameron managed all of these issues with a comfortable confidence. I for one would be absolutely amazed if this week (so far anyway) is remembered as a bad week by the weekend.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Interesting S4C development - and a touch unexpected.

Interesting development about the future of S4C today. The BBC are reporting that all four main party leaders in the National Assembly for Wales have written to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport calling for a comprehensive independent review of S4C (not sure what's exactly is to be reviewed), and for the term of office of the S4C Board to be ended. Interesting that Nick Bourne and Kirsty Williams have signed up to this. Personally I see nothing wrong with DCMS conducting a review, as long as we are all clear about its purpose.

It does seem from the BBC report that the four party leaders have been very critical of the S4C Board in their letter. The line talking about "the political stewardship of S4C has been insufficiently vigilant" suggests that the letter will make interesting reading. I'm looking forwards to reading my copy, which is surely in the post to all coalition MPs from Wales, many of whom have been working very hard to ensure that a vibrant independent Welsh Language TV channel continues into the long term. Not sure how DCMS will respond to this letter, but I do hope the voice of Welsh MPs, which in my opinion have done a terrific job on this issue so far continues to heard.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

March 3rd is almost upon us.

Like Matt Withers in today's Wales on Sunday, I'm surprised by the absence of any urgency or build up to the referendum on Assembly powers. The people of Wales will be going to the polls on March 3rd, just 8 weeks after we resurface following Christmas and the New Year. There remains a bit of formality with the orders, but the legalities will be wrapped up by the Privy Council before Christmas.

Long-standing visitors to this blog will know that I was very firmly in the Yes camp. Now I haven't changed my opinion, but my status as a member of the Wales Office ministerial team mean that I am now officially 'neutral'. And I'm quite comfortable with this, because much the biggest job will be persuading people to take a bit of interest in it, and turn out to vote. Wonder whether I'll receive any invitations to speak during the build up, or whether I'll be sidelined because of this 'neutrality'. At the least I will arrange a series of public meetings in Montgomeryshire. Public meetings organisers do so like to create a confrontation atmosphere, which demands that there be argument, even if much of it may not be relevant to the question on the ballot paper. The TV studio usually sheds more heat than light.

The big question is 'Which way will it go?'. If there's a low turn out, the result could be a close call. As Matt rather unkindly suggested, the four party leaders in the National Assembly holding hands in front of the Sennedd, calling for a Yes vote, might have the opposite effect. Remember the first Lisbon Treaty referendum in Ireland. I can honestly say that not a single Montgomeryshire voter has raised this issue with me over the last two or three years.

Ffion and Darragh

Little Ffion and Baby Darragh quite often worm their way into this blog, and here are the two of them in their Halloween outfits. I should inform the rare visitor to this site that they are our (only) two grandchildren. Ffi lives in Cork, but is moving back to Montgomeryshire when she reaches school age. She comes to stay with us every month, and I still think of Ed, Karen and her as being from Montgomeryshire.
And here's Dracula, preparing his teeth before supper. He was just so funny tearing around the house on all fours, cloak billowing out behind.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Noises off, as Cameron fights the UK corner.

Was walking up Broad Street in Weslhpool this morning when I met an old friend, who immediately began berating David Cameron in terms that Simon Heffer would be proud of. Mind you, he was my Ukip opponent at the last election! I didn't enter into a debate there and then - it could have turned a bit heated. He really is a good friend, and I managed to move the conversation on to the sale of the Lake Vyrnwy Estate, about which he also has strong views. But it did cause me to take a coffee at Coco's and contemplate the EU budget issue.

I wanted a freeze. Everyone I've talked to wanted a freeze. Absolutely no-one seems willing to argue for an increase, 2.9%. 6.0% or 0.1%. David Cameron wanted a freeze. So why do I reckon that our Prime Minister got a good deal? I'll tell you why, in grown up language. I'm a fairly typical businessman. Throughout my business life as a livestock farmer, I have been negotiating deals - buying rams, breeding ewes, heifers, stores, bulls, machinery, feedingstuffs etc. I've been selling fat lambs, finished cattle, yearling speckled faced, etc.. I don't think I've ever bought or sold anything at the opening bid. By the measures adopted by the Prime Minister's critics, every deal I've ever done has been a failure'. If I ever return to run my business, remind me never to ask Heffer to negotiate for me. I'd be 'bust' in short order. Or buy a watch in Hong Kong. Better off ask one of my own heifers to negotiate.

Lets consider what some of these critics really want. They want the UK to withdraw from the EU. They want our Prime Minister to behave in a way that makes the EU unworkable. They want to bring down the Liberal Democrat-Conservative Coalition. All of these are perfectly honourable objectives, but they are neither Conservative policy nor my policy. I state again that I would have liked an EU budget freeze, but such a deal was not on the table. David Cameron probably got the best deal there was (No way I can know that - and neither can anyone else) and he secured a lot of agreement on some fairly sceptical rhetoric. Let my fellow Conservatives turn their fire on the Labour Party, which reneged on its promise to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, and now stand on the touchlines, doing policy somersaults, watching people who should know better making some damn stupid comments.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Getting our Priorities Wrong.

Been an MP for almost six months. The most contentious issue by a country mile has been the proposal to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600 - combined with equalisation in the number of electors in each constituency (to within a 5% tolerance). And nowhere in the UK has the anger been more fierce than in Wales where extrapolation of the the maths leads to a decrease from 40 to 30 Welsh MPs. I'm not going into the 'ins and outs' of the Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill, but there are some interesting little bonfires burning alongside the main conflagration.

Firstly, there has been the incredible waste of Parliamentary time during the Committee stage of consideration of the Bill, which lasted for 5 days. Seemed to me that Labour wanted to be able to say there was no time to consider Welsh clauses, so they filibustered for hours on end to ensure this absence of time became a reality. Welsh Labour MP, Chris Bryant must have spoken for over 3 hours. Some might think this very 'clever'. I think it is very childish indeed, and makes a fool of our democratic processes. Be interesting to know how much this silly exercise has cost.

Secondly there has been an ongoing campaign by Labour MPs demanding a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee to consider the Bill's impact on Wales. It's the Secretary of State's call, and she has said No - because there has been plenty of time for debate during Committee stage, which Labour, led by the afore-mentioned impressively garrulous Welsh Labour MP rendered large parts of as pointless. Latest chapter in this ongoing saga is that a Labour MP has secured a 90 minute debate in Westminster Hall on Tuesday, where the same arguments are going to be recycled - like a bottle of cheap wine at a coffee morning raffle. I will be there, but because I'm a PPS will not be able to speak. Don't like this at all. Its a convention that makes no sense to me. It will not be a debate for anyone seeking innovative thinking.

And thirdly there's the rebirth of some moribund long-forgotten body called the Welsh Parliamentary Party. It seems that Labour MPs have not taken well to opposition. So they are going to recreate something where they can play out being the Government again. I'm told there's a meeting of this body on Wednesday - the first since way back in the last century. I'm toying with the idea of going - but maybe not. Will have heard it all in Westminster Hall on Tuesday. I suppose I shouldn't be mean spirited about it, and hope that have a jolly nice evening.

I wonder if all the people we represent in Parliament are as exercised as MPs are about there being 50 less of us after the next election. Somehow I think I know the answer to that.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Where's the beef in the S4C dispute

The National Assembly Government's Heritage Minister, Alun Ffred Jones is a reasonable man. Always thought so. So I'm interested in what he's been saying about the new funding deal for S4C. And I don't mean the ritual Tory-knocking stuff that is required of every Plaid Cymru spokesperson. Need to look behind that.

Most outrage seems to be aimed at the lack of consultation with the S4C Board about the role of BBC funding of the Welsh Language channel. Its a fair point to make, but I'd like to make two what I'll refer to as 'observations'. Firstly, according to people 'in the know' like Tomos Livingstone of the Western Mail, the decision came 'out of the blue' , and at the last minute. I certainly didn't know - and why should I have known? Suggests that there might not have been time for consultation before the CSR was signed off. And secondly, there would inevitably have been concern about confidentiality - since previous discussions at private meetings between the Culture Secretary and Plaid Cymru seemed to have become public within minutes. Alun Ffred thinks it was wrong to conclude the funding agreement in what he describes as 'a couple of days'. Perhaps he should spare a thought for the alternative, which is what I and others had been working at for days. Some, who do not have a political axe to grind, take a more circumspect view of things.

Alun Fred seems to have one major concern - the editorial independence of S4C. Well I agree with him. I don't want to see the BBC being in a position to dominate S4C either. No-one does. (Which is why I had some concerns about the joint arrangements that the two channels were already developing.) I hope we can satisfy this concern through legislation. Seems to me that if you strip out the politics, there is not much difference of opinion between us. Not sure which of us should be the most worried about this.