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.