Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Power of Local Media

Perhaps the greatest pleasure I derive from reading my local weekly, the County Times, is that I can sit down with a coffee and rage at it. I still prefer this ritual to take place on a Saturday morning, as it did many decades ago, despite the paper now being published on a Thursday afternoon. This week's edition is a personal classic. If Mrs D's in the kitchen, and I'm reading in the Hall, she's learned to ignore my muttering and chuntering.

Front page of this week's edition carries a photograph of what the electricity substation at the end of a new 400kv cable into Mid Wales to serve wind farms will look like. A local Councillor has apparently "blasted it as a complete and utter nonsense". Absolutely right. We're expecting an announcement from National Grid next month about where this monstrosity is going to be built. They told me six months ago the location of the two short listed sites, in confidence, - so its still "No comment" from me. Of course this substation is going to be utterly horrible, surpassed only in its ugliness by the monstrous 400kv cable that is going to carried from it, on hideous steel lattice towers, all the way to Shropshire. "Its all very well to shout now" I muttered away to myself. "Why wouldn't they listen to me in 2005, when the National Assembly published its 'bonkers' TAN 8 document, which made the substation and the 400kv cable inevitable. When I attacked the then Government's proposals in the Assembly debating chamber, I stood alone, while the opposition condemned me. Montgomeryshire's AM, Mick Bates joined in with other Labour, Plaid Cymru and Lib Dem AMs as, one after another, they verbally assaulted me. That's when everyone should have been shouting - not when its too bl***y late. Or is it? I do have a little plan. Anyway, after a gulp of coffee, I turn the page. And its more of the same.

A full page under the heading "HANDS OFF OUR HOSPITAL SERVICES". Absolutely right. Over the last two weeks, 800 local people have attended three public meetings to listen to the Chief Executive of the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospitals Trust tell us that he wants to move some emergency services (consultant led maternity and paediatrics) from the Royal Shrewsbury to the Princess Royal in Telford. I've been trying to generate interest in this issue for five years. Ironically, the one time there was a fair amount of publicity (including a huge local petition) fifteen months ago, it was in response to a previous consultation process, which we knew at the time was going to be postponed for at least a year! Six months ago I wrote a 600 word article for the County Times which was published as its weekly 'Politically Speaking' column. I put a lot of thought into it, and reckoned that it merited a big 'splash' but it generated almost no comment at all. Whatever, I hope its not too late to force a re-think. The three meetings have been terrific - telling Mr Cairns exactly what I thought they would tell him. I've been working with Shrewsbury MP, Daniel Kawczcynski over this issue, and I have a little plan - which will be disclosed in due course.

That's where the real pleasure of reading my local papers comes in. They help me come up with little plans which might create more headlines for me to mutter about in the future. Like planting a plum tree. The pleasure just keeps on coming.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Coco Pops Kid.

Never again will I refer to Mr Leighton Andrews, Assembly Minister for Education as anything but 'The Coco Pops Kid' or the 'King of the Coco Pops' - you get the drift. Little badges of Leighton should be free in every packet of Coco Pops sold in Wales. Coco Pops should be available in the staff and AM canteen so that all can start each day with a bang. And the reason is Leighton's wonderfully inspiring interview with Aled ap Dafydd for this week's Politics Show. It went something like this.

Aled - "You're giving Coco Pops to kids for breakfast for free. That's something the parents might want, they might welcome that, but more importantly, I suppose, to parents will be the assessments when it comes to reading for example"

Leighton went off like a firecracker.

"I really object to your snooty middle class attack on our free breakfast scheme. That is a disgrace. A thousand schools in Wales are pursuing our free breakfast scheme and you talk about Coco Pops. You are a disgrace to the BBC".

Great stuff. Should secure a prosperous future for Aled ap Dafydd. If he can so get under the skin of a Government Minister that easily - no matter how sensitive that skin might be, he should be moved straight into Paxman's chair. As for Leighton, if he loses his position in the Cabinet, he might win an advertising contract with Kellogg's - "Start the day with Coco Pops - the breakfast cereal with the power to explode". David Taylor could set the jingle to music.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Welsh Labour Conference.

The Wales Labour Party has been holding its spring conference at Llandudno this weekend. We're holding ours in Cardiff in two weeks time. Labour remains the biggest party in Wales, so this has to be treated as a significant event. There are but two aspects of the proceedings that I want to comment on.

Firstly, there's the overall theme. which is 'to protect Wales from the Coalition Government at Westminster', and to "send the Coalition Government a message". It seems awfully dismissive of the National Assembly for Wales to be treated as no more than a tool for influencing the UK Government. Its supposed to the Welsh General Election. I hope we don't replicate this approach at our Welsh Conference, even if we are holding our UK Spring Conference alongside it. We'll be just two months from the Assembly election and I hope we take the opportunity to showcase our Assembly candidates and our Assembly policies.

The second eye-catching aspect of the Conference was Peter Hain's call "To kick Nationalists out of government". Now its inevitable that Labour should want to form a Government on its own, but this is no way to talk about about your coalition partners. Two weeks ago, Matt Withers in the Wales on Sunday informed us that the vicious campaign to undermine Ieuan Wyn Jones was being orchestrated by someone close to Peter Hain and an ambitious AM who is not in the Cabinet. It does not take a Sherlock Holmes to work out the identity of the two individuals he meant. I really do hope we can maintain a more civilized approach to our Lib Dem partners before the next General Election.

Growing Up.

My gorgeous little granddaughter, Ffion can be very (how shall I put this without offending her) 'childish' when the mood takes her. As an example - she loves a 'smoothie'. But when I last offered one, she made it clear that not only did she want a 'smoothie' but that she only wanted it only if Mrs D give to her. Illogical I know, but its what three year olds do.

This little incident drifted into my mind when I read in today's Western Mail about the behaviour of Carwyn Jones, First Minister of the National Assembly. Let me explain why. This week Nick Clegg announced that the UK Government would offer to the National Assembly the chance to bring forward or delay the next Assembly election by a year - because the currently scheduled date of 7th May 2015 is the same as the date of the next General Election. Very good news I'd have thought. The freedom to choose given to the National Assembly. Almost as good as a 'smoothie'. But no, it may be good news, but Carwyn thinks that the UK General Election should be moved instead. He says this is because he had the date pencilled in first, but we all know is because the idea was suggested by Nick Clegg. What we call the 'respect agenda' prevents me saying exactly what I think of this. But Lib Dem AM, Peter Black is reported to have said "He would do Wales a great service if he stopped throwing his toys out of the pram and began to act as a First Minister". Little Ffion stopped doing that to her toys when she was one - moving on from 'babyish' to 'childish' - and soon she'll move on to adolescent, en route to 'grown up'. Oh that the same could be said about......

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Wonderful Stadco News

Every six months or so I like to call in on Stadco Powys of Llanfyllin, a specialist low volume producer of car parts. 18 months ago it was a very depressing visit. The company was announcing a workforce reduction to around 40, with the possibility of losing the Stadco presence in Llanfyllin altogether. Everyone involved was desperate not to see that happen. When I called the week after being elected as MP for Montgomeryshire, prospects were brighter and there were green shoots pushing through. Well today, Stadco Powys is booming. Well over 150 work at the plant and its buzzing. This is fantastic news for the whole of North Montgomeryshire. And its not the only good news story on the jobs front that I heard of today. But that will have to wait for now.

More on England's Forestry Estate

I'm not sure that the Labour Opposition properly understand today's announcement concerning the Forestry Commission Estate in England. Not surprising - since it was obvious that Labour had little understanding of what had previously been announced. Actually, I don't think Labour wanted to know. Anyway here's the BBC report of the announcement.

Now I greatly support this move. As regular readers will know I considered the Coalition Government's Consultation Document on divesting the Forestry Commission of its forests as a very good working document. I have encouraged the 200 plus who have contacted me to read it and respond to it. I have also sent them all a copy of the Defra Secretary of State's excellent speech introducing the Consultation Document to Parliament.

But there was another related issue which was being largely ignored. For years, the British Government has been selling parts of the forest to raise funds, and the current Government had announced six months ago that 15% of the FC forests in England were to be sold. This was completely separate from the current Consultation Document which referred to the 85% remaining. What happened today was that Caroline Spelman decided to bring this 15% within the ambit of her Consultation Document - which is great news to me. My firm opinion is that the current Coalition Government will bring greater access to England's forests, greater biodiversity, and a more transparent regulatory system - a triple whammy as the Sun might say.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Organ Donation - Presumed Consent or Not.

That was the best edition of Dragon's Eye that I have ever watched. No shouting down. Serious considered debate. The BBC has done some fantastic reseach. Up until now, I've thought the debate to be shallow and partial. Tonight the debate grew up. I suspect there are people who genuinely believed that presumed consent would produce more organs for donation are thinking again. And perhaps the converse.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lysistrata Re-visited.

It all started with Aristophanes in 411 BC, when his play, Lysistrata was first performed. This influential woman of Greece came up with a novel idea of persuading the men of Greece to end their love of war. She persuaded all of the wives and lovers of the nation's warmongering males to ban sexual relations until the warmongering stopped.

Then it was the womenfolk of Kenya who went on what they called a 'Nookie Strike' in 2009. The problem here was that President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga were in constant disagreement - like Blair and Brown used to be. Labour's women missed a trick. It seems that the problems in Kenya were sorted in a few days.

Anyway, now its the Belgians. I must admit this has come as a surprise to me. Greeks and Romans, Italians and French, Brazilians, Kenyans - all carry a certain credibility (in the nicest possible way). But surely not Belgians, and for a reason about which the ladies of Belgium will not give a damn. Its seems that the problem involves an inability of the politicians to form a Government. Perhaps the ladies of Wales will act to encourage interest in the law making powers for the National Assembly referendum. That could put a bit of a spark into the campaigning. Where will it all end?

'Touchy' Wyn Jones.

That's the thing about politics. You can be laying into a fellow (I find it more difficult if its a lady - old fashioned I know) and next minute sharing a convivial word over a glass of wine. I rather approve of this approach to politics. But it doesn't work if the person under fire is overly 'touchy'. Which is what I reckon the Assembly's Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones has been today. The BBC, and Western Mail have been giving top billing to Ieuan's distress at learning that Labour politicians have been seeking to portray him as a failure. Sorry Ieuan, 'but that's what they do'. On Dragon's Eye last week, Felicity Evans asked me to comment on Labour MP, Wayne David's attempts to portray Secretary of State, Cheryl Gillan in a poor light. I just scratched my head confusedly and said "But, that's what they do". I've heard it said that it's about all they can do.

He can be a bit 'touchy' though. I remember offending the Deputy First Minister (it was before he assumed such an elevated position) by calling him "Wobbly Wyn Jones" after some change of mind. I thought the phrase had a nice ring to it. Anyway, the phrase 'stuck' and Ieuan was so offended that I wished I hadn't said it. Life is too short to make enemies. But when I think of some of the things that have been said about me over the years.....

Monday, February 07, 2011

More on the English Forest Estate.

After receiving 200 emails and letters asking me to oppose the Coalition Government's plans to divest itself of it's English forestry estate, I've received 50 emails expressing disappointment that I did not agree. Which is all rather odd, in that I started off with some sympathy with the opposition. But I awaited confirmation of the actual proposals, and decided that I can hardly vote against a consultation process.

One aspect of the opposition that narks me is the implication that charitable and voluntary ownership and management is inferior to state ownership. Not in my book, its not. Until I was elected an MP, I was a trustee of Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust. We owned around 20 reserves in Montg. and had hundreds of volunteers helping out. I've also been a member of the National Trust for decades. We have millions of members. Several of my friends work as 'guides' at Powis Castle, an NT property 3 miles from my house. They volunteer because they love it. And I've been member of the RSPB for decades. The RSPB is one of the biggest landlords in the UK. The suggestion that voluntary and charitable bodies cannot own and manage land is as offensive as it is inaccurate.

And objection to the state selling its commercial forestry is not as straight forward as it seems either. On Saturday I was talking to the principal of a large local timber firm, who had wanted to buy lorry loads of felled Forestry Commission timber, only to be refused because he is not on a 'list' of preferred buyers. This timber will be allowed to deteriorate to a state where it is only fit for Kronospan chipboarding, at a fraction of the price. Can you imagine a private commercial business tolerating such stupidity.

I just hope that all these people who are emailing me and writing to me read the Consultation Document, and write to the Coalition Government outlining their thoughts - without 'guidance' from 38 Degrees. I want to see some changes, and look forward to seeing what changes are made.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Castle Caereinion Church School

Today was the first time I've ever been to church where the congregation prayed for the future of a school. At 11.00 this morning teachers, governors' parents, pupils and supporters, including one ex-pupil (me) attended an Education Sunday Service at St Garmon's Church, Castle Caereinion in Montgomeryshire. The Rev Bill Rowell led a celebration of the life of Castle Caereinion Church School, which Powys County Council, to general incredulity, has announced publicly is under threat of closure.

Pupils and ex-pupils put on a little theatrical performance. One of the characters was named William Arthur Gibbons (known as WAG). There was no Leanard Edward Andrews (LEA), or Peter Charles Collins (PCC). One line I remember hearing was "Father, forgive then for they know not what they are doing". You can say that again. No-one can understand what has motivated the Council to suggest closing this successful little school. Even by the Council's own criteria of needing at least 30 pupils, the school doesn't qualify. I suppose its a form of municipal vandalism. It also creates huge worry for everyone who cares about the community of Castle Caereinion.

As an aside, how about this for a headline - "Tory MP admits sitting naked on Church organist's knee". Admittedly I was only one at the time and she babysat me. Lavena Roberts has been organist at St Garmon's since Macmillan was Prime Minister, and she was still there today - 87 years old, and not a note out of place. Anyway, I'm going to try to raise a debate on the threat to Castle Caereinion School in the House of Commons as a peg on which to hang a 'rural services' debate.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Russell George making his mark.

Each day, my admiration for Councillor Russell George grows. This is fortunate because he happens to be the Montgomeryshire Conservative candidate standing in May's National Assembly election. What a absolutely splendid AM he would make. Today I had sight of a little fire burning within the bowels of Powys County Council that Russell has started, simply pointed out a hypocrisy that has lain silent for too long.

The context is that Powys County Councillors have decided to change the structure of the Council to a Cabinet system. The Powys Independent Group (or Alliance?) and Liberal Democrats have forced through this change, ensuring that between them they can carve up for themselves all the Cabinet positions (including the salaries) and turf out Conservatives, Labour, Plaid Cymru and 'Shires' Independents to form the 'opposition'. I should add here that I, personally was rather in favour of this change.

But what we find is that the Lib Dems don't like the price they must pay for power. They do not like being held accountable for Council policy. They don't approve of Councillor Russell George publicly disagreeing with them. And even worse, informing the public how they have voted. Well boys (and girls) this is what 'accountability' means. No more will we have Lib Dem Assembly candidate, Wyn Wiilliams going around campaigning to save sixth forms and primary schools, without people asking him why his fellow Lib Dems on the Council are voting the other way. No longer can the Lib Dems vote for increasing Council charges, without Councillor Russell George pointing out what they are doing. I've just been reading emails which are a blatant attempt to get the Council's press office to send out political propaganda to counteract what Russell, entirely properly, has pointed out about increases in waste charges - which he opposes. I'll publish the emails if there is any attempt to deny. Two things worth saying. The Council is not allowed to dance to the Cabinet partners political tune - and better get used to it because this is what 'cabinet government' means.

Alun Cairns MP 'Sitting on the Fence'

OK, so it must be very confusing to a chap, serving as an Assembly Member and as a Member of Parliament. But Alun Cairns AM/MP reached a stage of confusion yesterday that may go down in the annuls of constitutional history. In the traditional six nations opener between the Welsh Assembly fifteen and Commons and Lords Parliamentary fifteen, Alun played one half for each side. That's what happens to a Conservative when you spend so much time with the Lib Dems!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Good game. Not so good result

Very good game of rugby at Cardiff tonight. But despite watching Wales play better than I expected, and the score being closer than I expected, its just not possible for me to enjoy watching England beat Wales. It would be like watching Ed Miliband getting the better of David Cameron at PMQs. Good job that never happens!

Problem was that we were just not quite strong enough, and despite threatening several times during the game, we never really looked like winning. Still cannot understand how the first try happened. Such a tight game, and Flood goes through a gap big enough for a bus. Not looking forward to the gloating press in tomorrow's papers - which will immediately install England as World Cup favorites. Will have recovered by tomorrow and will not be churlish at all.

Meandering Mind of Peter Hain

So Shadow Secretary of State, Peter Hain reckons that the only reason we are holding a referendum on extending the primary law making capacity of the National Assembly for Wales is because Plaid Cymru want it. I accept that Peter Hain might not have been in favour personally, but its utterly ridiculous to claim that Labour have not been in favour. Lets look back a bit. In May 2007, Labour and Plaid Cymru agreed that this referendum must be held on or before May 2011. Since she became Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan has driven the issue forward with great determination, and has delivered, on time, what every member of the National Assembly voted for twelve months ago. Peter Hain's claim carries no sense and no credibility. He's just made himself look very silly indeed. What on earth can Carwyn Jones think of such nonsense. I wager that not a word will you hear. You could say that he's showing no respect for the Assembly Government.

New Blogging Style

Finally, have to accept that I don't have sufficient time to blog on a regular basis. So will have to change its style. Over last year or so, have blogged for two reasons - for the sheer joy of writing, and to help me arrange thoughts in order. While I like reasoned comments, especially when in disagreement, I actually receive more pathetic rubbish that are deleted - and always from fingers that hide behind the screen of anonymity. I receive much more engaging comment on Facebook - so I'm switching to Facebook style.