Sunday, January 31, 2010

Iraq - the hardest question remains.

The dominating issue of the last few days has been the appearance of Witness 69 before the Chilcot Inquiry. A lot of hoohah over nothing much at all in my view. It told us nothing that we didn't know already. We knew that Tony Blair is a highly skilled operator, accomplished in the art of verbal gymnastics. He used every conceivable form of rhetorical flourish, deflecting any ball threatening his stumps down the leg side with Gavaskar like precision. The former Prime Minister wiped the floor with them - as anyone who's watched Blair in action over the years would have expected.

So what do we know now (at least as I see it). We know that Tony Blair decided to join George Bush in an invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power. We know that the concept of 'cabinet government' had been much weakened under the Blair Government, and most of them were not told the truthful reasons for going to war. Instead, the Cabinet, all other MPs and the people of Britain were told that Saddam Hussein had access to weapons of mass destruction, which could be activated against Britain within 45 minutes. It was on that basis that our Parliament supported Tony Blair's decision to launch the invasion. Many people (including me) are angry that we were mislead. I still find it difficult to believe that a British Prime Minister would deliberately mislead the British people in order to secure support for war. We know that Tony Blair was convinced it was the right action to take, still believes it was, and has told us that if he could 'rewind the clock' he would do it again.

Though my opinion was of no consequence, at the time I supported the decision to go to war. Later on, I was much angered that this support had been secured on the basis of untruths. But sitting in my office as I type these words, I cannot write that I would not have supported the war if the Prime Minister had told us the truth about why he considered it vital to British interests - if he had said that he wanted Britain to stand beside the US, and invade Iraq to achieve regime change. In the climate after the attack on the Twin Towers, I may well have supported Blair. I'm sure many other British people who supported the war, and are angry about being mislead, would share my uncertainty if they were to ask themselves the same question.

The issue that has most confused the position is the way 'International Law' is being spoken of as inviolable. Personally, I've always thought 'International Law' as riven with uncertainty and contradiction. In the end, its often a question of who carries the biggest stick. The evidence given to Chilcot so far, leaves most of us believing that the war was 'illegal' - but it seems to me that as long as the Attorney General said it was 'legal' (even if his arm was up behind his back at the time) it was legal. And the final question must be whether, in hindsight, it was the right decision. I usually say "its too early to say". Its clear that the post-war strategy failed. But no-one can say what the situation in the Middle East would be today, if Saddam Hussein was still in power. All Chilcot does (and will do) is raise more questions, and I'll be surprised if it delivers any certainty in its answers.

Our Garden in Winter

The witch hazels are just coming into their pomp at the moment - though photographs never do justice to them. They always feature in my opening garden blog of the year. These are about ten feet tall - and you can note the spidery flowers which appear in close-up on the next photograph. We grow several different types of Hamamelis, including some of those with orange flowers. But the best is the old favourite, Hamamelis mollis. I think this one is named 'Pallida'.

The most striking feature of our garden at the moment is the white stemmed birches. They are at their best as dusk. Some of these are getting on for ten years old. We have planted a few new Betula utilis or jacquemontii during the winter as part of a redesign of one of the borders. When I was ill a few years ago, we planted 'hundreds of shrubs and small trees - which are now forcing out the herbaceous plants. There will be much less work, but less colour. Choosing trees with attractive trunks was our compromise.

And this is the best stemmed tree of all - the Acer griseum. Its a truly spectacular small tree, with 'peeling' bark all the year through. Its called the 'paper bark maple'. Its a tree with everything, including really strong leaf colour in the autumn. When this tree reached ten feet, I trimmed off lots of the lower 'leafed' branches, to maximise stem exposure. Acer griseums are not cheap, but they are a must have.

Another great tree for stem colour is the Prunus serrula. Perhaps they're a touch too strong for the small garden, but the trunks are just so shiny and colourful that we've planted a few of them. Behind is a little clump of river birches. Not sure of the botanical name of these, because we've planted several betulas that were labelled 'river birch' over the years - and they have turned out to be different. Makes no difference, because they are all attractive.

In Praise of David Davies MP

This candidate business takes a lot of time. Even with my access to Wi-Fi, via my new Netbook, this blog must feel neglected. She may even be upset that I've started a relationship with Facebook. Anyway, we're back together for tonight - and I've been reading the newspapers today. Let's begin with Mr David Davies, MP for Monmouth. Over the last few months, he's been the subject of much disparaging comment. In particular, there has been a huge hoohah following some comments he made about a rape case recently. Personally, I do not think all this frothing at the mouth is justified.

I've disagreed with David about several issues. Have done since I first met him about 12 years ago. Didn't agree with what he said last week about the rape case. Most significantly, we don't share the same approach towards devolution. But what I do like about him is that he has opinions, which he believes, and he's not afraid to express them. He's about as far from the political establishment as its possible to be, while remaining an MP. He and I have the same attitude to the 'standard' press release and 'approved' comments. How unusual and astute of Matt Withers to write a major article in today's Wales on Sunday, extolling David Davies' 'virtues'. Perhaps strengths and positives are better words. He describes him as a 'Politically incorrect firebrand' - and 'scourge of the political elite'. I also know him to be always polite and courteous and genuinely funny - much more so than some others who are portrayed as being 'nice', when I know them to be deceitful and unpleasant.

I do not know whether David will read Matt Withers' article, or whether he would take his advice if he read it. The David I know is not that good at taking advice!! Daresay I'll carry on disagreeing with him on some issues, but I still believe he could become a free thinking and innovative Minister if he puts his mind to it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wheels of life roll on

Been on Ynys Mon today. For the last three years, I've chaired the National Advisory Board for Wales of the European Care Group, an expanding, international care provider. It was a regular Board Meeting. Time flies past so quickly. Today, I handed over my responsibilities to my deputy, Eurig Wyn - at least for the next three months. I'm going to be otherwise occupied. Drove home feeling quite dejected about it - but I have to give the General Election a real crack. Too many people have climbed aboard the team bus whom I cannot let down. During my stint with European Care, I've developed a deep and lasting interest in how we care for the elderly, particularly those who suffer from dementia. I've posted before that were I to be elected an MP on May 6th, this issue would become a dominating interest.

Discussion at today's meeting drifted into how care for the elderly is going to be paid for in the future. We are facing a terrifying prospect. We invest so much national resource into extending life, and so little into ensuring that this extension is a worthwhile existence. The fees that local authority commissioners provide barely cover the cost of good provision. Even then, it depends on an occupancy rate of over 90%, and cross subsidy from self-funding residents. And people are living longer, resulting in ever more dementia sufferers. Must admit to pessimism about this issue. Cannot see how the demand for extra resource is going to be met. An increasing number of the elderly are going to be just left to cope (or not) on their own.

Back up to Bangor tomorrow morning for a RESEC (Research into Specialist Elderly Care)Conference. I'm chairing the second half. Ieuan Wyn Jones is coming along to open the event, and there's a good field of speakers. Ieuan's been good to us in that he opened our last conference as well. Depressingly, tomorrow will be my last involvement with RESEC for at least three months as well. Ah well. The wheel of life rolls on.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Local democracy in action.

Another public meeting tonight about the reorganisation of secondary education in Powys. This time at Llanfair Caereinion, where my own old school is under threat. 150 people turned up, including our MP, who is becoming a regular at my meetings. He's very welcome. Great speeches from the floor. I hope that the Councillors perform as well when it comes to their turn.

But one speaker (a councillor) was seriously agitated that what I've called a 'draft document for consultation' had been 'leaked' - for what she said was 'political purposes'. I didn't know what this meant. I had already explained what happened - but to be fair the agitated individual had turned up late and had not heard what I'd said. I had informed people that a copy of the document had been given to me, not marked in any way as confidential, by someone with no connection whatsoever with the Council. It was several hours until I had known that it had been 'leaked'. Seemed I was being berated for making public something hugely controversial. If I hadn't, someone else would have, and I'd have been crucified by just sitting on the information. Win some, lose some I suppose.

Anyway, lets get to the point of this post. Some councillors do seem to be agitated about the public having a say on an issue of huge public importance - before everything has been 'approved' for the public's eyes, having gone through all the Council's procedures. Discussion must be restricted within boundaries set by the Council itself. Its almost as if the public cannot be trusted with 'undoctored' information. I do not agree with this approach. Tonight, maybe 30 speakers outlined their opinions, in front of Councillors, including the Councillor responsible for education. They were influencing the Council debate that will eventually take place. I thought it was exhilarating. Genuine democracy in action. Young people in the audience, and participating. Did more for the democratic process than anything I've been involved in. I did take a bit of stick. But I can take it. Small price to pay.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

£1,000 per plate!!

Blimey. I've eaten at some expensive restaurants in my time, but nothing remotely like this. £1,000 per plate. Wow. I suppose the Labour Party in Wales are now the "toffs with the cash to splash". Peter Hain and Carwyn Jones' new campaign slogan should be 'Labour Deserves Better' or 'Labour Deserves Wagyu'. It wouldn't be so bad if Peter Hain and his Cabinet colleagues hadn't been flooding the airwaves for months talking about 'Tory toffs'. Don't suppose we'll hear much about that particular line for a day or two!! I wonder whether all these 'modern day champagne socialists' will be wearing any special dress for the occasion. Or will they be donning Welsh rugby kit. I hope that the BBC and Martin Shipman get hold of the guest list. If anyone has a copy, please 'leak' it to me. Maybe Edna Mopbucket will manage to get her fingers on it. In the interests of transparency we should be given the names of these gastro-gods.

Bit sorry to see the Welsh Rugby Union being politicised though. A few years ago, I remember Peter Hain and Rhodri Morgan persuading Mike Ruddock to walk onto a Labour Platform at election time. At the time, I thought it was tragic to see a great rugby coach being treated like a performing chicken. I still like Mike Ruddock, and always keep on eye on how Worcester are doing. And David Pickering is a good guy as well. In fairness to David, he recognised very quickly that he'd made a mistake and apologised. Lets forget it was my instictive response as well. But Oh No - not Welsh Labour. They multiply David Pickering's embarrassment by publicly justifying the use of WRU facilities for Labour's promotional activities. Some people are just devoid of judgement. I suggest 'Pig's Ear' and 'Humble Pie' on the menu. Anyone got any better suggestions.

Llanfyllin High School must not be closed.

First of my public meetings about Powys County Council's reorganisation of secondary education tonight - in Llanfyllin, where closure of the High School is an option/model under consideration. My public meetings don't usually attract a big crowd, which is putting it mildly. But around 100 turned up - including Councillor David Jones, the Education Portfolio Holder on Powys County Council, the Mayor of Llanfyllin, Lembit Opik, Montgomeryshire's current MP, Suzy Davies, and Councillors Aled Davies and Peter Lewis.

Decided to take a very 'quiet' approach to running things. There's a lot of worry and emotion around, but I was hoping for a reasoned debate. That's what we had. Sure, the emotion was there, but it was 'simmering' rather than 'boiling over'. I took a very unopinionated approach (unusual for me), and took ten minutes to lay out the background at the start. What we wanted was to hear the views of the people of Llanfyllin. Aled and Peter left us in no doubt what they thought. Big thumbs down to all the proposals/options/models. Cllr. David Jones chipped in as well, and was listened to with extreme politeness. I was pleased about that. I'm hoping David will turn up at my other meetings in Llanfair Caereinion, Welshpool and Llanidloes. His presence adds a lot.

I had two objectives tonight. Firstly, I wanted everyone to be in no doubt that the Council is facing a real problem in sustaining the incredibly high quality secondary education that we have become accustomed to in Montgomeryshire. And secondly, I hoped the audience would unanimously decide that none of the current options/models are acceptable. They did. The message was "Go away and think again". Every single person present was passionately opposed to the closure of Llanfyllin High School, or to taking away its sixth form. County Councillors will have to be stark staring bonkers to even think about such an idea - when they finally get to talk about it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Wind Turbines through Montgomery

Haven't done much on wind turbines in Mid Wales for a while. This long post compensates. I'd like it to stimulate a debate, though the moment may well have passed. Last Monday evening, I joined around a hundred others at Montgomery Town Hall to hear a presentation by RES Ltd of its proposals to transport turbines for its Garreg Llwyd site through the town's narrow streets. In general, it was a good discussion. RES project manager, Simon Peltenburg, remained cool and calm, under heavy questioning, for the best part of two hours. I felt that the audience was almost wholly opposed - but there was some confusion about what it was precisely opposed to.

The purpose of the meeting was to consider the impact of very long lorries passing through the streets of Montgomery. And it was taking place just before a Town Council meeting where the proposals were to be considered. There were questions relating to threats to buildings and disturbance to traffic movement in Montgomery. Simon was able to deal with these reasonably enough - though not entirely to everyone's satisfaction. There were questions about disturbance to country roads elsewhere along the proposed route, particularly between Kerry and Dolfor. Simon conceded that this disruption would take place, but that he thought it not sufficient to stop the proposals going ahead. However he did agree to attend another meeting in Kerry. There were several contributions challenging the whole principle of building onshore wind farms in Mid Wales at all. I went only to listen, but if I had participated, this is the category into which I would have fallen.

While I was away on a three night holiday this week, Montgomery Town Council met and voted to support the RES proposal. This came as a great surprise to me. Also surprising was that no member of the public attended the Council Meeting to listen to the deliberations. Of course, the Town Council is no more than a consultee on the RES planning application, but the vote may well have an influence on those who do decide it. There are a couple of points worth making. Firstly, the idea raised by several at the meeting that a condition could be attached to the permission, ensuring that no other turbines are transported along the same path is not really a goer - except as part of some overall transport plan. Each planning application has to be decided on its own merits. And secondly, there is no reason why the agreed meeting at Kerry should not go ahead. There is probably more disturbance in the Kerry/Dolfor area than in Montgomery.

I did learn something at the meeting though. I had assumed that just two new wind farms could be built in Montgomeryshire before 2016 - the re-powering at Llandinam by Celtpower, and the Tir Gwynt Wind Farm near Carno by 18 local farmers. This is because there is no more capacity to carry power out of the area until a 400kv line is built. But I'd not realised that a wind farm in Radnorshire, exporting its power southwards would want to bring turbines through Montgomeryshire. I'll need to check whether any more fall into the same category. Tell me if you know.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ongoing Pyrotechnics in Powys

The manufacturer's advice when handling fireworks is to light the blue touch paper and retreat to a safe distance. That's just what I did last Monday afternoon, though not by design. I made public a hugely incendiary 'document for consultation' supposedly concerning the 'modernisation' of secondary education in Powys. It had been prepared within the Council, without the knowledge of the councillors. I then took myself and Mrs D off on a planned break to Tenerife for four days. Just my luck. Biggest story to hit the streets of Montgomeryshire for decades, and when the media were gagging for interviews, I was playing golf in 25 degrees off the coast of North Africa.

Anyway, we're back today. Let's recap and reflect on what's happened. I was given the document (by two people, seperately) last Friday. Grasped its explosiveness over the weekend. After some angst, decided to release it on Monday - so that the people (and the councillors) know what's going on. I also wrote to headteachers and to Town and Community Councils. Finally, I asked my office to arrange public meetings in the towns where it was envisaged that the High Schools could close. These meetings have been arranged for Monday 25th in Llanfyllin, Wednesday 27th in Llanfair Caereinion, and Wednesday 3rd of Feb. in Llanidloes. Another meeting has been held in Newtown, which was nothing to do with me.

I'm told that when the first reports were published on Tuesday, I was being accused of being 'sensationalist' - apparently there's "nothing to worry about". The person who said that either hadn't read the document or is clueless about what concerns Montgomeryshire people. But as far as I know, only one individual took this line. Now I'm told that Powys Councillor Les Davies is demanding that there be a witch hunt to uncover the 'leaker'. Honestly. Its on BBC Online. Mind you, Powys Councillors have some form here. A few years ago the Council spent several thousand trying to uncover another whistle blower who did the public a service by informing us of a scandalous failure to make vital CRB checks. Some suspected I was involved then.

Two other points worth making. Late Monday night, Chief Executive, Jeremy Patterson decided to make the document public (for which he should be applauded). We will now have a proper public debate about this mighty issue - before the whole thing has been stitched up behind closed doors, and we are presented with a fait accompli. The Councillors might even be given a say!! And secondly, an amazing debate has emerged on facebook, where over two thousand people have joined in. Its absolutely phenomenal. Convinced me that facebook really matters. Joanne Morgan administers it all in an independent and engaging way. For what it's worth, I think there should be a fifth 'model' added to the document, which involved abolition of the Local Education Authority, and transfer of management directly to schools. Radical I know. But no more so than just shutting down three genuine centres of educational excellence. And I've only been home a few hours. Even though the golf was fantastic, this issue has made the break seem an age ago already.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A really 'shocking' story in Powys.

It takes a bit to shock me - but the story I've been involved in today is one of the most shocking I've known in my 30 years of public life. Its bigger than the proposal to close our community hospitals a few years ago. Its bigger than the plans to cover our landscapes with wind turbines. What it does is threaten the entire social infrastructure of Montgomeryshire (and Brecon and Radnorshire as well).

The story was leaked to me last Friday. I was thinking of blogging it as a Mrs Mopbucket 'leak' story, but decided it would be wrong to lace it with humour. It involves a 'document for consultation' prepared within the Powys County Council, outlining options for the reorganisation (or modernisation in 'councilspeak') of secondary education in Powys. Initially I didn't realise it was in any way confidential, so forwarded to several others for comment, before posting on the issue. It was only when I read it again in detail, and discussed it with others that I realised just how incendiary it was. After much discussion over the weekend and today, we decided that so many people now knew about the proposals that I should issue a press release. Unfortunately, I'll not be available for any interviews myself tomorrow - because at 9.40 am, Mrs D and I are heading South for three nights, leaving our house in the capable hands of little Darragh and his parents.

Despite considering options in the document as totally unacceptable, I have no criticism of the County Council. Powys has been forced into an impossible situation. The Council is faced with falling rolls at secondary level, and Assembly Government educational requirements that cannot be met within the current budget, and without dramatic change. But what we are faced with is shocking. There will now be a heated public debate about this - I'm told that the document that was given to me last week is being made available to all tomorrow. We are about to embark on a debate the like of which Powys has never seen before.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Myleene Klass

This story has been around for a while, but Roya Nikkhah has written an article of clarity in today's Sunday Telegraph. Its about the reaction of a woman finding herself faced with a threat to her home and her two year old daughter. Lets recap. Myleene Klass was at home with her daughter when two males (about 18 years old) tried to break into her house. She lost it, and grabbed a kitchen knife and went for them. They bolted and she went after them. She didn't catch them, and as is usual in this sort of case, they escaped. She reported the matter to the police who informed her that she may have committed an offence. I'm sure the police filled out several long and complex forms.

Now, what is one to think of this. Is it reasonable that the law of our land makes someone who protects their own home, and others for whom they are responsible, vulnerable to being charged with an offence. As Miss Klass said "Who on earth put such a ridiculous law in place and how on earth have we got to a point where this law was considered reasonable". A very good question. She then tells us "The bottom line is they have no right to be there. You have every right as a homeowner to protect your own house and family and the law should be on your side". This woman would do a great job as our Justice Secretary.

Its always been my opinion that if someone enters our house uninvited, and on finding them, I judge them to be a threat to me or any member of my family, they would be attacked by me, brandishing whatever weapon I could lay my hands on. There would be no questions asked until I was absolutely certain that all capacity to threaten had been extinguished. And you can interpret that however you like. It may not be wise, but its how I'd react. I am filled with admiration for Myleene Klass. Its just a pity she failed to make some mark on the two intruders - so that they would think twice before trying to rob someone else.

Oh yes. I almost forgot. Here's another story from today's Telegraph about a Mr Keith Redpath who also had intruders. They stole his television and murdered him.

Darragh Glyn Davies

Politicians are often concerned about 'legacy'. Personally, it's never bothered me - or I thought it hadn't. When you're gone, you're gone. Cannot understand why anyone should want to be talked about after they've disappeared through the 'Exit' door - both from public life or when they've shuffled off this mortal coil.
But when it comes down to it, I find that I'm no different. I saw a copy of little Darragh's Birth Certificate today - and discovered for the first time that this little package of joy which arrived in our lives three weeks ago has a middle name - and the middle name is 'Glyn'. Lump in throat time. Can anyone else spot the same likeness between us as I can.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Just how low can an MP sink?

I really do not like tribal politics, which is why I try not to personalise things about my opponents - but there's a limit. It beggars belief how anyone can vote for someone who could have written this stuff - even if its for the Daily Sport. And its from a Lib Dem blog!! Like Lembit I couldn't care less what the Northern Irish politicians, Peter and Iris Robinson do with their private lives - but its accusations of corruption and a cavalier approach to standards that in public life that has landed the Robinson's in trouble - not Mrs Robinson's exotic private life. This is not a laughing matter - especially after what some MPs have been caught doing with their expenses over recent months.

Head to Head in Montgomeryshire.

What I'd really like would be a head-to-head with Lembit Opik before the General Election - somewhere like Theatre Hafren, with a neutral Chairman, and no idea what the questions are beforehand. Two podiums, facing each other, eyeball-to-eyeball, two sword lengths apart. But I can see it wouldn't be fair to two of the other candidates, David Rowlands for UKIP, and Heledd Fychan for Plaid Cymru. I'm not including the Labour candidate, Nick Colbourne, because he seems to be taking no interest whatsoever in the General Election - in Montgomeryshire anyway. Personally, I'm not a fan of the proposed 'Leader's TV Debates'. They'll make the General Election too 'presidential'. I'd prefer the Montgomeryshire election to be about the Montgomeryshire candidates. But I do like the idea of a local debate.

This comes to mind tonight, because I've just returned home after appearing as part of a 'candidate's panel' in Llansantffraid, discussing onshore wind farms with the Montgomeryshire branch of One Voice Wales. Bit early for the General - but the date was not of my choosing. It turned out a lot better than I expected. Heledd came over well, and David's wide knowledge is always so impressive. It wasn't a large meeting - perhaps 20 ish. Well informed audience though. Must admit I find these panels frustrating, particularly on this subject. I don't want to share. I could speak for half an hour on every question myself.

We were all against covering the hills of Montgomeryshire in wind farms, though I thought that I was the most straightforwardly anti. I'm not counting Mick Bates, AM who was also there, and talked about everything else except wind farms. Lot of talk about nuclear power as well. The MP seemed the most keen, but David and I accept that new nuclear generating capacity is inevitable. Heledd was dead against. I thought it courteous not to mention the support of Ieuan Wyn Jones and Lord Elis Thomas for a new power station at Wylfa - but the MP couldn't help but resort to a 'cheap' reference to it. No wonder Zac Goldsmith hates politicians. Also a bit of discussion about the 400 kv cable that needs to be built from Shropshire to West Montgomeryshire, to carry the power to the National Grid. This is really going to cause a row - could be a General Election issue. A Grid representative had telephoned me this afternoon to say the announcement of just where the line is to go has been delayed until April.

But back to the idea of a 'candidate's debate' at Theatre Hafren, sponsored by the County Times perhaps, chaired by local councillor. What about Bob Mills (he's still independent). I reckon it would work. Will suggest it to the CT, and to the others. Might even ask the Labour Candidate as well, unless he's just a myth who doesn't really exist.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Missed Opportunity

One of my regular email contacts has just sent me a report from a Scottish Newspaper. It reads thus;

Top this for a speeding ticket'.

Two British traffic control officers for North Berwick were involved in an unusual incident, while checking for speeding motorists on the A1 Great North Road. One of the officers, using a hand held radar device to check the speeds of vehicles approaching over the crest of a hill was surprised to see the speed recorded at 300 mph. The machine then stopped working and the officers were not able to reset it. The radar device had in fact locked onto a NATO Tornado fighter over the North Sea, which was engaged in a low flying exercise over the Borders district.
Back at Police HQ, the Chief Constable fired off a stiff complaint to the RAF Liaison Officer. Back came the reply "Thank you for your message, which enables us to complete the file on this incident. You may be interested to know that the tactical computer in the Tornado had automatically locked onto your 'hostile radio equipment' and sent a jamming signal back to it. Furthermore the Sidewinder air-to-ground missiles aboard the fully armed fighter aircraft had also locked onto the target. Fortunately the Dutch pilot responded to the missile status intelligently, and was able to override the automatic protection system before the missile was launched."

I suppose your reaction to this story might depend on your own speeding points status.

What sort of MP do I want to be.

Finding it difficult to do it all at the moment, which is why this blog has become a bit sporadic. My own fault of course. Trying to do too much. When I was selected to contest Montgomeryshire at the next General Election on behalf of the Conservatives, almost three years ago, I decided that my strategy was to act as if I were an MP already. Cheeky I know. Twin aims were to ensure I enjoyed the experience, and to do something useful for Montgomeryshire. But it all takes time. Have to do a lot of the spade-work myself. And at present, there's the added burden of preparations for the campaign itself. Am expecting the General Election on May 6th. Am switching into amber 'campaign mode' on 23rd January, and into go-go-green on March 8th.

Now I don't like going around claiming I'm going to win, but I do think I'm in with a chance. This makes a big difference. It means that Montgomeryshire voters have a right to know what sort of MP I would be - what would be my big issues. Just this morning, I was asked this very question. So I've thought about it, and this is what I thought.There would be three 'big issues';

1) - The relationship between Westminster and the National Assembly for Wales. It's not what it should be. I would anticipate spending one day every week in Cardiff Bay, working with officials and AMs, and not exclusively Conservative AMs. Devolution is here to stay, (whether you like it or not) and anyone who represents Welsh interests should want the process to be a success. In 2007, this was the main reason I applied for the job as candidate.

2) - The rural economy of Wales. Many years ago I was deeply involved in this issue, and I just cannot let it go. So many of the youngsters I attended Caereinion School with had to leave Montgomeryshire to find work. Twenty years ago, I really believed we were getting somewhere in changing things. By today, its as bad as ever. There is so much to do. But I still think that the Upper Severn Valley has huge potential to invigorate Mid Wales.

3) - Caring for the elderly. When I lost my position as an AM, an international care company asked me to help establish an Advisory Board for Wales. Don't ask me why, but they did. Since then, I've learned so much about the subject, including that there is so much to learn. It's going to become an increasingly important issue over the next few years. So many aspects to it - Quality of Care, Paying for Care, Dementia, Parkinson's Disease, Mental Illness, and a whole lot more.

Over the last four years, this blog has meandered like a firework. I don't suppose the future will be a straight line either. But basically, its going to become a 'Candidate's Diary'. I daresay I'll have to be a bit cautious, because of the Wales on Sunday's 'Spin Doctor', and political opponents looking for ammunition. But I hope I will be able to share successes and disappointments, the highs and lows - giving you some idea what its like to be a candidate.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

So its Feb 9th.

I've not blogged on matters devolutionary for months - mainly because nothing very significant has happened since May 2007. That was the date that Labour and Plaid Cymru agreed (as a key plank of their Coalition agreement) that a referendum would be held on the transfer to the National Assembly for Wales of all law making powers in currently devolved policy areas. This referendum would take place before the next Assembly Election. Now that was a big deal. But nothing much since then, except perhaps David Cameron's announcement that a Conservative Government would not veto the process. I suppose there was the Sir Emyr Jones Parry Commission, but it told us only what we knew already. And then there was today's announcement by Carwyn Jones, the new First Minister, that there is to be a vote on this issue in the National Assembly on Feb 9th. We knew that already as well, even if not the exact date.

Strangely, the First Minister did not make clear the purpose and significance of this vote - even though there can be but one reason for it. This blog has explained before why mid February is just about the last possible date that a so-called 'trigger vote' can be held, (setting the referendum wheels in motion) allowing sufficient time for a referendum to be held before 2011. Without a 'trigger vote' in February, the Assembly Coalition Government would fall. And we can't have that.

Following the Assembly vote on Feb. 9th, the Westminster Government will have 120 days to complete the arrangements for the referendum - and I'm told that most of this 120 days will be needed. It follows that enabling legislation cannot be approved before the General Election on May 6th. It also follows that there will be only about 60 days between the General Election and the following summer recess - so there will have to be a lot of work done before the General Election if this legal timetable is to be adhered to. So the preparation work will probably be done by two separate Secretaries of State - probably of different political parties. A lot of scope for mischief there, methinks! The reason that the enabling legislation has to be completed before the summer recess, is that there will not be enough time for a referendum, together with a campaign between Parliament reconvening in mid October and next winter. The only way out of this impasse would be for all tradition to be set aside, with Parliament reconvening in September.

The announcement of the actual date of the 'trigger vote' should have been a significant milestone in Welsh politics - but it has attracted almost no publicity at all. Perhaps the coalition partners leaving the 'trigger vote' until the last possible moment has removed any newsworthiness. Perhaps that's what Carwyn Jones wanted. After all, most Labour MPs are very unhappy about the whole process. Pity these milestones are unnoticed, because they are important.

Blog stars.

This blog is normally concerned with the politics of Montgomeryshire, Wales and increasingly Westminster. But other issues do occasionally make an appearance, sometimes providing Spin Doctor of the Wales on Sunday with material for his (or her) scurrilous column. Sometimes, other members of the family get a mention, and since its too late tonight for me to think of anything to post on, I thought I'd publish a photograph of the whole gang. The photograph was taken on Christmas Day. Ffion was 26 months old, and Darragh was just 4 days old, having only arrived from the maternity unit the day before.
Note - Don't know how to enlarge the photograph. I'll have to ask Darragh's mum if she can fix it tomorrow.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Bittern in Montgomeryshire.

Most of you will never have seen this handsome creature in the flesh. I certainly haven't. It's a Bittern, famed for it's 'boom'. This photograph was taken by Chris Townsend, Chair of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust, last week at the Coed-y-Dinas Nature Reserve, near Welshpool. If you are driving West along the A483, by-passing the town, the reserve is on your right just before the last roundabout. There's a picnic area, and a hide if you ever feel like breaking your journey. Ken Clarke visited Montgomeryshire last year, and I persuaded Clive Faulkener of the MWT to show him around. Ken was thoroughly impressed.
The Bittern is a type of heron, about 30 inches long (or high if you prefer), and this is the first reported sighting in Montgomeryshire for 10 years. This is its 'wary' pose, using its striped plumage as camouflage against the reeds. The Bittern is an incredibly secretive bird, which is the main reason why you've never seen it.
The Bittern lives in reed beds at the edge of large ponds, and that pointed beak is for spearing fish, frogs, voles etc.. Because so many reed beds have now been drained, the Bittern has become very rare, there being only a few breeding males left in Britain, mostly in the South-East. The male's main tactic to attract a partner in the spring is it's 'boom'. The distinctive 'Boom of the Bittern' sounds like a foghorn, and is reported to be audible for up to three miles. It's the Brian Blessed of the bird world, but even he doesn't have that degree of 'reach'. Whatever, Chris Townsend was a lucky man, and exceedingly quick with his camera.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Who was behind the Hoon/Hewitt plot?

Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales, Lord Elis Thomas is a wise and cunning man. I recall him telling me that if I wanted to know who was behind a 'leak' or a 'plot', I should look no further than those who would most benefit. I thought it sensible to accept the advice of a true expert in the field.

So who was behind the utterly bizarre letter sent to all Labour MPs on Wednesday, calling (in effect) for Gordon Brown to be dumped as Prime Minister. Let me firstly set aside some of the conclusions that have been reached. I do not believe that Geoff Hoon or Patricia Hewitt are sufficiently stupid to have written it without partner(s) in crime. But I do think they were content to accept the opprobrium of their fellow Labour MPs - on behalf of others who were not in a position to break cover. Neither do I think the purpose was necessarily to remove Gordon Brown from office. But I do think the purpose was to remove power and influence from Gordon Brown while allowing him to remain in office. Referring back to the wise words of Lord Elis Thomas, I suspect the architects of the Hoon/Hewitt plot were Lord Mandelson and Alistair Darling.

Several commentators in today's press have focused on the Chancellor's quite extraordinary interviews post the plot. He has contemptuously dismissed the strategy on which the Prime Minister intended to fight the General Election. His recently delivered PBR has been consigned to the shredder. No more of this unbelievable stuff about increases in public spending during the next Parliament. Suddenly, its cuts the like of which we have never seen before. Cutting the Government deficit is "non-negotiable". A Labour Minister talking sense at last. No more of this nonsense about class either. The Chancellor has started talking up his own comfortable upbringing and private education. And who else but the 'Dark Prince' should emerge as the cock of the playground. It no longer matters that Gordon Brown is Prime Minister. Its now Alistair Darling and Lord Mandelson who are calling the shots. And we are going to have a much more honest debate, based on policy, before the next General Election.

Reminds me of Kenneth Clarke in 1996/7. He could see that the John Major's Government, of which he was Chancellor, was likely to go down to a thumping defeat. Yet he refused to sacrifice the national finances to buy votes. I remember Ken being criticised for building up a strong economy, allowing the Blair/Brown double act to make attractive promises of investment in 'schoolsanhospitals'. The Major Government was duly hammered in the polls, but Clarke won massive respect, which has lasted to this day. Darling would like a slice of that. And as for Lord Mandelson, financial credibility will be crucial on his CV, when the boardrooms of BP and others beckon - if things should all go horribly wrong. While Hoon and Hewitt are cowering under a fusillade of snowballs, the real plotters are writing the script for what our hapless Prime Minister will be told to say tomorrow. And there's not one incriminating fingerprint. Lord Elis Thomas himself couldn't have planned it better.

'Tory Tornado' strikes again

For those of you who do not visit Conservativehome, I've taken a clip of this latest foray by David Davies, MP for Monmouth into the boxing ring . Its worth a watch. Not at all bad from the Monmouth Mauler. David has a big reach advantage, and he uses the left lead well to keep out on trouble, and lands the jab often enough to comfortably outscore his opponent. And he turned him on the ropes quite smartly a couple of times. I used to don the gloves myself when I was teenager, and I was quite impressed. David's biggest weakness is that he doesn't carry much venom in his punches. I thought the other man's corner were poor. They should have coached him to go in under David's lead with body shots. At distance he was very much second best, and in the last round, David was finishing the stronger. All things considered, our man did OK.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Offshore Wind Turbines.

Had calls from BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru this morning, inviting me on to discuss the Westminster Government's announcement of two massive new wind farm developments off the coast of Wales. They are part of a wider scheme, worth £100 billion to construct wind farms off the coast of Britain. It was assumed that I would be opposed to them. But I'm not - in principle anyway. Must admit that I'm not sure how this squares with my position as president of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. We can't be opposed to everything! I'm not a supporter of onshore turbines, mainly because of the damage they inflict on our very special landscapes, but I've never been opposed to offshore turbines. This is not a 'green light' opinion, because there is the matter of how dominant they are on the views from land, and what developments are needed to connect to the Grid. Anyway, I was immediately dropped as a guest from both programmes. Don't know who took my place to duel with Llewelyn Rhys.

The second reason that I'm opposed to onshore wind turbines is that they need shedfuls of taxpayer's money to make the things profitable. This consideration could apply to the offshore proposals announced today as well. And there's the cost of creating a National Grid capable of handling the highest levels of production. These wind farms may never come to pass. I remember the huge row over the Scarweather Sands proposal, just off the coast at Porthcawl a few years ago. The application was approved after a monster row, but were then scrapped because the cost of materials increased suddenly, and rendered the scheme uneconomic.

Problem with anything the Prime Minister says at present is that he cares nothing about value-for-money. All he seems to care about is how it looks to voters during the next 17 weeks. Comments are welcome - especially from anyone who happened to hear Post Cynta or the Radio Wales Phone-in today. Tell me what I missed.


My eyes are watering after reading this.

Being Prepared

Mr Peter Black has commented on my recent post 'Council's Revenge', making an unflattering comparison between my opinion and that of fellow Conservative, Jonathon Morgan AM, who represents Cardiff North. At issue is my criticism of the preparations made by Powys County Council to cope with wintry conditions on our roads.

My mild criticism was made before the recent heavy snow (which because of it's severity, has conveniently saved the Council embarrassment - in that all councils now have a problem). I had moved on, but Peter's comment, and sight of a letter to an Assembly Member from Transport Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones, written on December 23rd has stirred me to revisit the issue. You could say that I'm rising to the bait.

Let's rewind a few weeks - to late November. I was born to be a Welsh hill sheep farmer, We tend to caution and 'worrying about a rainy day'. Every November, when I see gritting lorries spreading salt all over the place at the merest whiff of frost, I'm prone to muttering 'There will be none left when they need it". I used to proclaim, but I've been proved wrong so many times, that I now just mutter to myself. This year was no exception.

But there was no need to worry. Just before Christmas, Powys County Council informed us that they had a 'plan' were would deal with all possible eventualities. And on 23rd December, Ieuan Wyn Jones informed Andrew Davies AM that "we have taken steps to ensure the 2009/10 winter period passes with the minimum of disruption, should there be a prolonged cold period of severe winter weather". The letter ended "....and we will all be better placed to deal with periods of severe winter weather should they occur". Just two weeks later, and before the recent snow fall, Powys and other county councils were reporting that salt stocks had almost disappeared. Seems to me that its entirely reasonable to ask questions about what happened to 'the plan'.

And the situation in Powys is rather different from Swansea and Cardiff North, which Peter and Jonathon represent. In Powys, the Council plan to salt just 15% of the highway network anyway. The reality is that farms, and people living in rural areas have just been abandoned. I can see that following the moderately heavy snow, the Council cannot do much about it now. I just do not think that fairly mild criticism of how this situation came about was unreasonable.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Cricket cheats?

Cricket fans are celebrating another amazingly successful rearguard action by the England cricket team in Cape Town tonight. And I can understand why. Its the second test match in three where England have been comprehensively outplayed, and yet avoided what looked like certain defeat. Two draws that felt like victories. Justification for celebrations. And yet, there is a nasty taste in the mouth, following a pretty clear attempt by two England players to cheat.

Listening to snatched commentary on the car radio, the actions of Stuart Broad and James Anderson in attempting to alter the ball improperly was not being taken very seriously. Geoff Boycott thought it not a particularly serious issue - and he's a knowledgeable fellow. But Michael Vaughan's article in today's Telegraph changes things. Vaughan is a much respected recent England captain who knows what's going on. Here are a few quotes;

"They were lucky to get away without an official reprimand - even a ban"

"Stuart Broad has been stopping the ball with his boot all the way through the series."

"If this had been a game involving Pakistan, and Shoaib Akhtar or Mohammad Asif had been....there would have been an uproar."

"As it is Anderson is a lucky man".

These are very serious charges. Its just not cricket. If it had been South Africa, can you just imagine what our sports pages would be proclaiming. Personally, I think all this takes 'the shine' off what would otherwise have been a great result.

No way to treat the elderly.

Because I was suffering from a cold between Christmas and the New Year, I was not able to visit care homes in Montgomeryshire - something I've done over the last 10 years. This is not for electoral purposes, because a few years ago, we decided that, in general, it's just not right to campaign in residential homes. Not always the case, and much sensitivity is needed. I recall visiting a home a few years ago, where I'd talked to several residents, but left without asking anyone to vote for us. As walking out I met a representative of another party going in with a fistful of postal vote forms. Hmmm. Anyway, I'm starting on my Christmas visits tomorrow.

The state of our care homes is becoming an increasingly high profile issue. And about time too. The recent BBC programmes based on research into care by Gerry Robinson were very powerful - and shocking. No-one who watched them could remain unmoved. And yesterday, there was much media coverage of a report from the Royal College of Physicians which claimed that thousands of elderly people are being forced to have feeding tubes inserted into their stomachs in order to be admitted to a home. If this is true, and I'm not sure how much hard evidence there is in the report, its a shameful disgrace. Its an issue I'll be discussing on my visits. This issue demands urgent government investigation.

Sea Eagles

Read a worrying article in Today's Telegraph under the headline 'Return of sea eagles is a PR stunt'. So I googled to see what else has been written about this issue. This is a good article by Libby Purves in the Times. It seems that the RSPB and Natural England are planning to introduce 60 pairs of sea eagles (white tailed eagles) to the Suffolk area. I use the term 'introduction' rather than 're-introduction', as the sponsors of this project would prefer. There is some dispute about whether there has ever been sea eagles in Suffolk.

I have never seen a sea eagle in the wild. It must be a wondrous experience. I can imagine how thrilled wildlife lovers in Scotland must have been when the first sea eagle returned after a few decades absence. Many years ago, I used to spend many happy hours sitting on a mountain in the Cwmystwyth area of Mid Wales, satisfied with just one sighting of a Red Kite, when this lovely bird was reduced to near extinction by the carelessness of man. Today, they are almost as common as sparrows. I'm also hugely supportive of the work being done to support the re-establishment of the osprey (sometimes called a sea eagle) in Mid Wales. But all the work to support kites and ospreys has been in support of what is a natural process - not some stunt created by man.

In general, I do not like the idea of introduction of alien species, though the sea eagle is not alien to Britain of course. I'm not that keen on re-introductions either. We have to be careful to understand all the unintended consequences. We had a similar discussion about the re-introduction of the European Beaver last year. The sea eagle is a huge bird, which is thought to kill lambs (and rumoured to take cats, dogs and babies as well). I think the people of Suffolk would be far more understanding of the odd misdemeanor committed by a sea eagle, if it was thought to be one of theirs. They are not going to be so considerate of some outsider coming in and causing trouble. The RSPB and Natural England had better think this proposal through very carefully indeed. It does not sound a good idea to me.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Time for the people to speak.

I joined the Conservative Party at a time which we now look back on as being a period when we were in some disarray. John Major was Prime Minister, and Ken Clarke was the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Before then, I'd been 'Independent' - and I don't need any quips like "What's changed". What I could see at the time (and you may well want to express a view about my eyesight) was a Government doing a good job, restoring the British economy after it's release from the crippling chains of the Exchange Rate Mechanism. Unfortunately I could also see some Conservative MPs acting in a mindlessly self-destructive way, making the business of governing Britain next to impossible. I couldn't understand what it was that led often experienced politicians to so undermine their own team. It was an impressive exercise in self destruction. Whatever, I decided to become "a rat that joined the sinking ship". Thankfully it remained afloat (just) and then rose once again to sail higher on the seas (eventually).

Today, the Labour Party looks to be in the same state of self destruction. What on earth can have possessed Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt to write to all Labour MPs this morning, proposing a referendum on whether Gordon Brown's should remain leader of the Labour Party (and the country). It made no sense at all. Labour MPs do not have the right to choose their leader anyway. That rests with a much broader 'college'. And they did not have the support of anyone with the weight to make their letter count. If they'd written it the day after James Purnell resigned, it might have been a different matter. It might even have been enough to put some steel into David Miliband's rubbery backbone. Speaking of the Foreign Secretary, his obligatory 'statement of support' is worth reading.

"I am working closely with the Prime Minister on foreign policy issues and support the re-election campaign for a Labour Government that he is leading."

Don't try to tell me that this is a supporting statement. It just adds fuel to a flame that for some reason he wants to see carry on burning - but not enough to create a real fire. We have a Government in disarray, a party at war with itself. And all the time, our public debt is ballooning and our soldiers are being killed and injured in Afghanistan. Suddenly, May 6th seems a very, very long way off.

Council's Revenge.

Yesterday, I issued two press releases 'criticising' Powys County Council. Actually, I saw them as more 'holding to account' than 'criticism'. Since early December, the Council has morphed into a very strange creature. It is now being run by an alliance of Powys Independents and Liberal Democrats, who meet privately before official meetings to agree a position, which is then 'whipped' through. Personally, I have no problem with this, except that there is a charade taking place, where other Councillors are supposedly involved in the decision taking. I suppose they are - as obsevers. Today, the Management Executive Board just rubber stamped the Powys Lib Dem Alliance proposal that the Council Tax be raised by 4.25% next year. I consider this to be excessive. My other press release was 'criticising' the failure to properly manage its salt supplies, leaving all side roads completely untreated. Again, all decisions on this issue are being taken by a Powys Lib Dem Councillor. In general, I believe 'oppositions' should 'oppose', thus stimulating debate, engaging the public, and examining performance.

Well tonight the Councillors of Powys took their revenge. At around 20.00 hrs, Mrs D and I decided to pop down to the village for supper. When we emerged from the Talbot at 22.00 hrs, a good three inches of snow had fallen. We were in Mrs D's car (which has wide tyres) and she would not move - the car that is. We had to walk home - uphill, in driving snow, and no coats. As we struggled along the home straight, cold, tired and wet, I swear I heard the gently mocking voice of Finance Portfolio Holder, Cllr. Gwilym Fychan floating down from the dark snow laden skies informing us that the Council had today decided to withdraw all salting from the Cil Road - because the Council Tax is too low to allow for the purchase of any more salt - all delivered in perfect Welsh of course.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Peter Ainsworth.

Could it possibly be that I'd be the 'greenest' Conservative Member of Parliament if I were to be elected at the General Election - expected in 117 days time? Two of the current claimants to that title have announced that they are calling it a day. John Gummer made his announcement last week. and Peter Ainsworth made his today. I'm really sorry that these two Conservative MPs, who have been such champions of the environment are going. I suppose we still have Tim Yeo hanging on in there, and Zac Goldsmith would be the greenest by miles if he were to be elected. And there must be other environmental enthusiasts that I'm not aware of as well.

Mind you, many in the 'green' movement do not reckon I'm 'green' at all - mainly because I oppose the desecration of our landscapes by on shore wind turbines. They are just not worthwhile - from both landscape and value-for-money perspectives. When I made this comment at home, after first reading of Peter Ainsworth's retirement, it was met by snorts of derision - overseas holidays, poor home insulation, high mileage etc.. In my defence, I cited my 33 years farming, where I used no fertilizer, no sprays, minimal bought in feed, and turned a high input, fairly intensive business into a low input business, eventually breeding all my own replacement stock. Only reason I mention this is to point out that there are more ways to be 'green' than the obvious. Being 'green' and appearing to be 'green' are just not the same thing.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Getting Serious.

I remember Rhodri Morgan entering the Debating Chamber on the day he was to be confirmed as First Secretary of the National Assembly for Wales. He clearly didn't regard this title as sufficiently 'grand' for himself, and later changed it to First Minister. Anyway, what I remember most was that he'd been to Ken Picton's (or similar) for a hair styling. The ex-leader of the National Assembly is not normally associated with sartorial elegance, but on that occasion, he really looked the business. Which brings me to this morning's Montgomeryshire Conservative Campaign meeting.

I fear that I, too have a tendency to look a touch unkempt - which has not gone unnoticed by one of the snappier dressed attendees at this morning's committee. At the close of the meeting, he rushed downtown (if Welshpool can be said to have a 'downtown'), returning with a can of Boots 'Cool Blue' 24 hour anti-perspirant. Couldn't believe it. I take a shower every night, and twice a day in hot weather. But regular readers will recall that I've had trouble with sweaty armpits before. Pam reminded him that I'd developed my own strategy to deal with this problem - which is to wear white shirts. Problem is that I reckon sprays and lotions are not manly - and I have no wish to be seen as effeminate.

But I've just been watching a bad tempered debate on Newsnight about 'profiling' at our airports to protect security. One protagonist suggested that anyone sweating should be regarded as 'suspect'. What with Mrs D's prosthetic knee going 'ping' and me being hauled in for whole body searches, I can see us abandoning travelling abroad altogether. Perhaps I'll have to resort to the butane based anti sweat aerosol after all. Whatever, I did immediately sneak 'downtown' myself for a hair trim and styling. No stone can be allowed to remain unturned in our campaign to win.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

What's a 'reasonable' Council Tax increase.

At their meeting tomorrow, the Executive Management Board of Powys County Council are considering recommending a Council Tax increase of 4.25%. In my opinion, this is unreasonable and unaffordable, and I've suggested to the Conservative Group on the Council that they should vote against such an increase. This unreasonable and unaffordable increase is being proposed by councillors who make up the Powys Lib Dem Alliance, which now agrees a position beforehand, and then 'whips' it through the full Council.

I accept that the below-inflation increase in financial support from the Assembly Government makes it very challenging for the County Council to keep the Council Tax increase to the level of inflation, which is what I would consider 'reasonable'. Every private sector organisation across Britain has had to find efficiencies and savings since the financial crisis enveloped us. Had there not been a General Election on the immediate horizon, the Westminster Government would have had to do the same. In any event, there will be a budget next May/June irrespective of the result, which will make spending reductions.

Tomorrow, the Powys Lib Dem Alliance should reconsider its proposal to pile all the pain on Powys Council Tax payers, and resolve to re-work the Council's budget, searching for cost reductions which result in a Council Tax increase no more than the level of inflation. A 4.25% is too much. The people of Powys cannot afford it.

Did you believe him?

Not quite sure how to put this, but I simply did not believe him. I thought that our Prime Minister was telling a bare-faced 'porkie'. A few weeks ago, Gordon Brown made a comment at PMQs about Conservative policy being developed on "the playing fields of Eton". At the time, I thought it was shameful, calculated and premeditated. I thought it was part of the deeply unpleasant campaign being orchestrated by the current Labour Government to bring 'class' into the General Election campaign. The first time we saw this nauseating strategy was in the Crewe and Nantwich By-election - where it failed miserably. You would think they'd learn. Its seems obvious to me that Labour's strategy over the last few months has been based on portraying the Conservatives as 'posh' and not concerned about the poorest people in society. It's made them look very nasty people. At first the 'Eton' jibe was thought to have been successful. To some extent, it worked in the House of Commons 'bear pit' - probably because it genuinely reflects Gordon Brown's approach to politics. But it hasn't worked amongst swing voters, who are not overly concerned about where politicians 'have been educated. And anyway, Labour just look incredible and spiteful, whenever William Hague, Ken Clarke and Eric Pickles are leading for us. The strategy is back firing.

But this post is about truthfulness, and credibility, rather than political strategy. Today, the Prime Minister informed us that the 'Eton' comment was just a 'joke'. Now I'm not sure whether I can be charged with any crime against the state for this, but I just do not believe him. It was not a 'joke'. It was deliberate. He meant what he said. He (or at least his advisers) now realises it was a crass comment to make - and some of his own Ministers have turned on him over it. And today he was trying to get out of it. Watch it, and tell me you believe him. Go on, try to change my mind.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

General Election Campaign starts today.

It looks as if we're off. David Cameron has been talking today about there being just 153 days left until the General Election, and outlining some of his campaigning strategy. Its probably 123 days. Personally, I think of it as being 17 weeks on Thursday. Some think it may be sooner. Anyway, I thought it might be an idea to do a 'walk-about' around the biggest town in the Montgomershire constituency this morning, Newtown. Just to get a feel of what it would be like to be an MP. First stop was a coffee morning in the United Reform Church. Blimey. I didn't make it to the tables. Was scragged by the coffee makers, outraged by what they see as threats to Newtown Hospital. On into town, and accosted by several others outraged by Council inefficiencies, and concerns about Tesco's imminent arrival. And that was all before I made to Evan's Cafe, where Nigel and Desley's informal 'Government of Newtown' sits at 11.00 every day.

Seems as though the Cameron Plan is to dominate the agenda over the next few weeks by publishing our manifesto - one chapter at a time. First chapter's due on Monday. One of my 2010 resolutions is to read our manifesto, something I've never really done before. Should be able to handle one chapter before glazing over. I didn't hear today's Cameron speech, so I'm depending on the media's take on it, which you can read here.

I like the principle of decentralising power, and would like it to be one of my personal campaign themes. But I need to spend some time translating the principle into a 'meaningful narrative' - at least that's what someone said to me in Newtown today. First thing I'll have to do is understand just what this new fashionable word 'narrative' actually means. I can certainly understand the manifesto commitments to cut Corporation Tax, to increase number of apprentices and invest in a high speed rail link - but I'll only feel comfortable linking these with cuts in spending elsewhere. Today's eye catching idea is the National Security Council. I really like this proposal. We are at war in Afghanistan, and though the most dominating issue 124 days from now will be how on earth we restore life to our finances, the earth that Gordon Brown will have scorched, handling the war will remain a very important issue. Now we're off, it all feels rather exciting.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Predictions and Aspirations.

What we think will happen is inevitably influenced by what we want to happen. So its not possible to completely separate my 'predictions' for 2010 from 'aspiration'. But I'll do my best. Here I go with the 10 that occur to me as I post. Tell me how many you think I've got right.

1) - A General Election will be held on May 6th. Following a deeply unpleasant campaign by Labour, David Cameron will enter 10 Downing Street, with an overall majority of 25. This result will confound the opinion polls of May 5th which predict a 'hung' Parliament. Ed Miliband will be elected as new leader of the Labour Party, and Vince Cable will have to strongly resist demands to challenge for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats.

2) - A referendum on moving to Part 4 of the Government of Wales 2006 Act will take place in October. After a nail biting count, the Yes side will emerge victorious by 53% to 47%. Lord Elis Thomas will arrange a 'leak' of his opinion that it was his personal intervention during the run up to the referendum that swung it.

3) - In a 'shock' General Election result in Wales, the Conservatives will snatch the constituency of Montgomeryshire from the Liberal Democrats for only the second time in over 100 years. The Plaid Cymru and Ukip candidates will increase their share of the vote. The Labour Party candidate will lose his deposit.

4) - France will win the 6 Nations, and Dan Biggar will take over the No 10 jersey for Wales at some stage during the tournament

5) - Brazil will beat England 2-1 in the final of the World Cup in South Africa. All of the British press will blame the referee for unfairly favouring Brazil.

6) - Andrew Murray will win the Wimbledon Men's Singles Title, defeating Del Potro in a tense final.

7) - Lewis Hamilton will win the Formula One World Championship in the last race of the season, while Jenson Button will not win a single GP.

8) - A new satellite renal dialysis unit will open in Welshpool, to much rejoicing.

9) - A massive public row will follow an announcement by National Grid that it intends to erect a 400 kw power line, on massive steel towers from Ironbridge in Shropshire, along the Severn Valley, terminating in a 'hub' located east of Newtown. (There is no shred of 'aspiration' in this, or the next 'prediction'.)

10) - The governments of the world will take no meaningful action to respond to 2010 being designated by the UN as The International Year of Biodiversity, despite the holding of several international conferences. This failure will rightly be described by naturalists as a great threat to the future of our world. Very few people will notice.

Good News Post

New Year. New start. New perspective. Been looking for 'a good news story' to begin the year, and found it on BBC Online. It's a day or so old, but it was today that I caught up with it. The stars of this story are John and Sue Day, both of whom suffer from Parkinson's Disease. They are stalwarts of the Montgomeryshire Branch of the Parkinson's Disease Society, working with the its very special Chair, Anne Smedley. They have been campaigning for years for a specialist nurse to help sufferers cope with the shock of diagnosis and problems with ongoing care. I'm into my third year as President of the Montgomeryshire PDS. I'm not in any way an authority on the disease, and only became involved when Anne invited me to. My biggest contribution so far was when a contact I developed through this blog made a significant contribution to the Society. The real workers are people like John, Sue, Anne and others who give their time to help fellow sufferers.

The good news is that a specialist nurse, Deborah Evans has just been appointed, and has already taken up her post, based in Newtown. Met her briefly at our Xmas drinks do, and am arranging a longer meeting in January. There should always have been access to a specialist nurse in Montgomeryshire, but in support of my New Year 'aspiration' to blog in a rather more cheerful way, I will end with the positive quote from me that the BBC's Carl Yapp included in his copy.

"A diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease brings with it a sense of shock, isolation, and uncertainty, which a specialist nurse can help deal with. For years we've campaigned for a specialist nurse to be appointed, and its wonderful news for the Montgomeryshire Parkinson's Disease Society that, finally, we have someone close at hand to give help and advice to people affected by this awful disease."