Friday, January 29, 2016

Impact of Lobbying Groups

Sometimes I start to write about what's niggling at back of my mind, knowing full well that it's not a popular viewpoint with my constituents. But sometimes it has to be done. This is one of those sometimes.
Today my inbox has been inundated with emails inspired by a lobbying group called 38 Degrees. Two campaigns and over 200 emails. Now let us set aside the fact that my experience of this lobbying group is that it operates in a deceitful and underhand way. And let us set aside my view that the involvement of this group actually damages the causes to which it's name is attached. Let's just consider the two issues involved, and the impact this sort of campaigning has.

The first mass of emails asks me to support a strong independent BBC. No bothering to ask me what my view is. Just assuming that a strong independent BBC is something that wouldn't have crossed my mind. Most of these emails are polite. But some are not. Several references to my "Tory mates at Sky etc.". Reality is that I am an enthusiastic member of the BBC APPG and it would be difficult to find a greater supporter of a strong independent BBC than I am. Yet the emails keep pouring in.

The second campaign has been about pressing me to attend a debate at Westminster tomorrow to discuss mis-shape vegetables and out of date fruit - re-appearance of the bent cucumber debate. Now, I totally agree with the aims of this bill before the House of Commons. But it's a Private Members Bill which may not even be reached and with no chance of reaching the statute book unless the Govt decides to run with it as a Govt Bill. So ok. But let's just consider the consequences if I were to respond by going to London. Firstly, I would have to cancel my entire day in Montgomeryshire to spend 8/9 hrs on the road or train. 

At 10.00am tomorrow morning, I am at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital meeting the NHS Hospitals Trust to discuss the future of NHS care for Montgomeryshire constituents, plus patient concerns that have been raised with me. I then have to move sharpish to reach Llanidloes High School by 12.15 for a session with the very active and opinionated Sixth Form. I think engaging with young people to be important work. Then it's a TV interview for Byd ar Bedwar about access to broadband in Montgomeryshire. Hoping to make it to my Welshpool office to sign off some letters and hopefully make it to a Sports Awards Ceremony at Theatre Hafren. Every single one of the 100 plus emails asked (mostly but not all politely) to cancel all of my programme to travel to London. 

Like all MPs, I like to receive letters/emails from constituents sharing their concerns, asking me to help where I can. Some are long and detailed, outlining often serious problems. Only point I make is than when I have 200 emails a day, inspired by a lobbying group, I either have to give up doing everything else or employ someone to do it - which rather defeats the objective.
No idea how this photo of Dan Biggar found it's way into this blog pits, but he's such a fantastic No 10 that I decided to leave it. Even if nothing whatsoever to do with the post.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Searching for "Best of both worlds" in Europe.

22 Conservative MPs have written a letter to the Telegraph, published today, which has left me scratching my head a bit. Not sure as to it's purpose and 'message'. The heading above it is "Conservative MPs focus on the risks to economic success of leaving the EU." At first reading, I think it's meant to be seen as in support of the UK remaining in the EU. What causes the head scratching of this 'instinctive Eurosceptic' is that I agree with it's entire content!! So perhaps it's not. 

The letter wants the Prime Minister's negotiation to succeed. Good.  The letter sees the advantage of a market without tarrif barriers, but has concerns about loss of sovereignty, the drive towards a European super-state, over-regulation and immigration. Very good. The letter supports a strong Britain in a reformed EU as having the best of both worlds; outside the Euro, and protected from deeper integration, but able to access the single market; in the world's greatest trading block of 500 million people, but still outside the schengen area, able to maintain our borders. Excellent.

The letter's signatories are proud of the achievements of this Conservative Govt. Rightly so.

The letter concludes with a warning that there remains much for this Govt to do, and that we Conservatives should weigh up the benefits as well as the costs of EU membership, and focus on the real risks which leaving the EU could have for our economic success. Therein lies the question.

I cannot disagree with any of this. I also want my family and friends to stay healthy, and everyone I come into contact with to be nice to me. Come to think of it, just being nice to everyone and not red face ranting, and not responding in kind to the angry aggression of UKIP could be enough to win. Personally, I think it will be.

Whatever, a vote to 'Remain' will not stop the irresistible progress to a two-speed EU where the Eurozone effectively become one country, dominated by Germany with Britain enjoying the freedom and sovereignty of the slow lane. I see that as best future for Britain. Just never needed a referendum to get there! 

Monday, January 18, 2016

The EU Referendum - Leave or Remain

The dominating political debate over the next six months will be about the approaching In-Out EU Referendum. There will probably be a few blogs before decision day. This one might be described as a bit of a 'loosener' on Test Match Special. I've written a 'Politically Speaking Column' for my local County Times along much the same lines. My opinion is not yet settled. Many of my constituents tell me they share my uncertainty. We know we will be faced with a very important decision, but feel unsure about it. Personally, I find it difficult to commit to either 'Leave' or 'Remain' at present. Hopefully, the fog will clear away, when we know what reform the Prime Minister has agreed with his EU partners, on what date the referendum will be held, and we've been able to listen to the arguments.

 I've always been Eurosceptic, in the general sense. My first venture into national politics was in 1975 when I campaigned for the UK to leave the European Economic Community (later renamed as the European Union). And I don't subscribe to the often expressed claim that we were misled into joining a 'political' union rather than just an 'economic' union. We were well aware of what joining the EEC meant. It meant "ever closer union". That was why many of us were so sceptical. It was always intended to be a political union. My antipathy was inspired by a belief that we were creating a massive undemocratic bureaucracy, to be run by faceless officials in Brussels. The UK would eventually cease to be a sovereign nation, with meaningful decisions being taken in Brussels on behalf of what would effectively be a European 'state'. It's turned out much as expected. This remains the case for voting to leave the EU.

 But it's nothing like that simple. I may not want to be part of a European 'superstate', but like many Eurosceptics I do think it sensible to trade and work in partnership with our European neighbours on many issues, where we are stronger working together. The UK can and does lead in many policy areas, particularly relating to the economy, trade and climate change. The issue is about how we move from where we are now to where I want us to be.

 Leaving the EU would be a very difficult negotiation. I read and hear opinions suggesting the UK could just "walk away" from the EU. No way could we do that. Everyone would lose out. If we were to vote to 'Leave' there would begin a process of negotiation. The weakness of the embryonic 'Leave' campaigns is there is no clear obvious process by which we could give effect to a vote to leave. And if we approach the referendum with the 'Leave' option being seen as a "leap into the unknown", the British people will not vote for it.

 David Cameron promised and will deliver this In-Out Referendum. I must admit I was no supporter of it, even if it was inevitable. I did and do support the idea of a public vote but would have preferred it to be linked to treaty change. And treaty change there will be, even if we vote to 'Remain'. Since the Eurozone block was created, it’s seems clear to me that there will eventually be a two-speed EU. The Eurozone countries will develop common monetary and fiscal policy - effectively becoming a single state. The recent experience of Greece demonstrates the de facto end of Greek democracy, as we understand it. Fairly soon, this will have to be agreed by treaty change. By default, the UK's relationship with the EU would be changed into one I'd be much more content with. 

 This will be much the biggest issue of this Parliament. I want to give constituents the chance to tell me what they think. When we have a referendum date confirmed. I will arrange 'community meetings' around Montgomeryshire where we can discuss opinions and ideas. Hopefully, this may help those who attend as well as me to decide whether we want the UK to remain part of the EU or leave.


Friday, January 08, 2016

Mid Wales Wind Farms

Today's Shropshire Star reports on my 'top-level talks' with Secretary of State at Dep't of Energy and Climate Change about two wind farms in Montgomeryshire. Sounds a bit 'grand' but I suppose it's correct. I did indeed meet the Minister this week, but the discussions were limited in scope - to what is proper from a judicial perspective. It is not proper to discuss anything relating to the merits of the applications. This post is an attempt to explain what it's all about. It's a complex and controversial issue. 

The story began in 2005 when the Welsh Govt decided that mid Wales should become home to multiple wind farms. I thought at the time there was much deception in the Welsh Govt strategy, trying to hide the true impact of their plans from local people. To me, it was clear from 2005 that a new dedicated 400kv line into mid Wales from Shropshire would be needed, which would result in far more wind farms that the number being talked about. I reckoned another 500 turbines on top of what we already had, plus a major new 400kv line carried on massive steel pylons. I became an implacable opponent of the new line when it was eventually proposed by National Grid in 2009. So did many others, including Powys Councillors who refused planning applications by developers. There were local protests seeking to stop these proposals.
But these developers were very used to having their own way, cared nothing for local opinion, and appealed against refusals, spending £millions of their customers money to finance the legal actions they assumed would ride roughshod over local objections. Through much of 2013/14 there was a massive 'conjoined public inquiry' to hear 6 of the appeals (5 wind farms and one 132kv line to serve one of them). On Sept 7th 2015, the DECC Secretary of State approved one wind farm and refused everything else). Two developers, RES and RWE then decided to seek a judicial review of the two refusals at Carnedd Wen and Llanbrynmair (as is their right) on the last possible day they were able to do so. The others are now officially deceased.
Before Christmas, the Secretary of State consider the position, decided to conduct a thorough reconsideration of the two decisions and on Dec 16th agreed with the High Court that they should be 'quashed'. She will now reconsider them, ensuring that every detail of the process is followed scrupulously and announce her new decisions in due course. 
I do not yet know what is involved in this reconsideration process. In particular, I do not think it has been decided whether the public inquiry should reopened. Personally, I can see no sense in doing so, but I do know that the Secretary of State won't hesitate if she thinks it's necessary for a full and fair reconsideration of the two applications. Again personally, I would not be at all concerned if the public inquiry were to be re-opened. Surely cannot be in the interests of the developers, because Mr Poulter, the Inspector actually recommended approval. I'm sure protesters, including myself would be well up for a full blooded attempt to persuade a new inspector (Mr Poulter has retired) to refuse them. 
I'm supportive of what the Secretary of State has done. Notwithstanding my personal preferences, I do think it's crucial that such controversial decisions, where opinion is so divided at all levels, must be taken with total fairness and transparency. 
What of National Grid? You may well ask. After terrorising several off my constituents over several years and spending perhaps £20million of customers money, they have gone away (for now anyway). I'm told their area office (Shrewsbury I think) is no longer manned. I pray they never come back! 
We do not know how long we will await the Secretary of State's decision. There is no time limit. I cannot think of any reason why she should change her mind. But we will have to wait and see. The judgement is being made by the same person. The Inspector's Report stands. I hope, after due and full consideration, these two applications will be refused again and this threat, which has blighted our beautiful countryside in Montgomeryshire for such a long time, will finally be lifted.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Strangeness of Politics and next Prime Minister.

Politics becomes ever more strange. We are over four years away from the next General Election. Four years and four months. I fully expect David Cameron to serve as Prime Minister for most of that four years, though I'm a bit unsure at what precise stage a successor takes over if the current incumbent stands by his decision to stand down. Personally, would like David Cameron to change his mind. He is a remarkable man, who makes a very tidy fist of what seems to me to be an impossible job.

The point of this short post is to ask why on earth there is so much media coverage of Cabinet members supposedly "jockeying for position". Next election is in 2020! I'd like to see the EU Referendum taking place in 2017, after which we would be in a better position to assess the situation - a much more appropriate time to think about the next Prime Minister.

I have made known my guess who might succeed to a few friends, but don't want to ruin her/his chances by going public. I see our Scottish Leader, Ruth Davidson has gone very public in today's Telegraph though. She doesn't thing it will be George, Theresa of Boris. She thinks it will be an MP first elected in 2010. Don't think she has me in mind!! Ruth goes on to name Stephen Crabb - though he was elected in 2005! Well, I'm not going to argue with Ruth. I think she's wonderful, and could well be a candidate for leading the UK Conservatives at some stage herself.

All very strange. And the political world becomes ever stranger. Read today that my predesseccor as Montgomeryshire MP, Lembit Opik, whom I consider a good friend is having major surgery to his face, which will leave him looking like George Clooney! And also read today of another male politician's female partner selling her toenails for £10 a cut. And just watched first episode of BywCelwydd, on S4C. Incestuous or what!  Bit of a job to get into who is what and who! But did notice the Conservatives are cast as 'corrupt baddies' in relation to the building of a new hospital in Newtown. Usual anti-Tory bias I suppose, but nice to see mid Wales getting such attention in the 'fictional' Assembly. Also nice to see one of my extended family appearing - Elinor played by Sian James from Llanerfyl. Will tune in again next week.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Redrawing constituency boundaries.

Quite a bit of publicity today about the redrawing of UK Parliamentary constituency boundaries. Very few people know what it's all about. So here's my take. You may be able to deduce that I'm not a happy bunny.

 It all started because the voters did not like MPs. They rather approved of reducing their number. Probably still do. So before the 2010 General Election, David Cameron promised to try to do just what they seemed to want - cutting the 650 down to 600. After becoming Prime Minister in 2010 his new Lib Dem-Conservative Gov't introduced a bill to implement this change. An Act of Parliament was passed to give it effect. But the Act, after Royal Assent required a vote to approve the boundaries to the 600 new constituencies to enable implementation. These constituencies had to be closely aligned in size (population that is). The boundary commissions of England and Wales set to work and came forward with their proposals. It all seemed done and dusted. But their Lorships down the corridor decided to put a spoke in the wheel (quite outrageously) and introduced an amendment which delayed the vote on the new constituency boundaries for 5 yrs - until 2018. And that's where we are now. In two years time, many of our old historical constituencies are scheduled to disappear, laying down their lives at the altar of 'equalisation' (supposed) and 'fairness' (supposed).

The changes in Wales will be more radical that anywhere else. I'm not one bit happy about this, but it's difficult to argue against it. There has been a history of over-representation in Westminster from Wales. And much governing responsibility has been devolved to the Welsh Assembly. While the reduction in MPs in total is to be about 10%, the reduction of Welsh MPs is likely to be over 25% - from 40 to 29. And the Boundary Commission for Wales does not have nearer the same level of flexibility to create 'natural' constituencies. There will total devastation of our Parliamenary constituencies map. Just typing out these words brings a tear to my eye!!

The Conservative Party is generally keen on this change, even if I'm not. The existing boundaries give a totally unjustifiable advantage to Labour. In fact, I'd expect every non-Conservative MP to vote against adopting the new boundaries in 2018. It maybe that some Conservatives will also vote against. And there is only a very small majority. So we Conservative MPs are being told that "No Tory will be left behind". So far, no-one has told me what this means in practice. Wonder whether offering me a seat in Valleys Central if Montgomeryshire is abolished countsa
 as not being left behind!!! We shall see. And the observant amongst you will notice that I have not committed myself to voting for this change. Ok, so the 2010 General Election was fought on a manifesto commitment, the logical conclusion of which did not retain Montgomeryshire as a constituency,  the Lib Dem Coalition Govt agreed on it and the Conservative 2015 General Election was fought knowing the position. All I will add is that I'm not at all certain this change is going to go through. Wonder how many turkeys voted for the Christmas festivities we have all just enjoyed.

Friday, January 01, 2016

2016 - Some Predictions.

Today is the first day of the rest of my life. No idea how long that will be of course , so will just focus on next 366 days. Here's what I think will happen (influenced a smidgen by what I'd like to happen!).

1) It will be a good year for the Conservatives in Wales. We will increase our number of AMs. In Montgomeryshire, Russell George will be returned with a deserved 'thumping' majority. The Lib Dems will hang onto second place, edging out UKIP. Just. Nationally, Plaid will also do ok, and enter into a coalition deal of some sort with Labour. Pity. I'd like to see a non Labour coalition coming together to give them a feel for the opposition benches for the first time. But Leanne has been really childish about this, making it blindingly obvious she wants that deal with Labour. So it will be "Vote Plaid;Get Labour". Need an SNP scale revolution to produce different result with our 'Additional Member ' voting system. May happen I suppose.

2) I expect two changes in party leadership in Wales in 2016. Andrew RT will swagger on, cheerfully trampling all before him. Kirsty Williams will still lead her party of one (if she's on the list that is). But I predict Carwyn Jones will call it a day. Huw Irranca Davies is my hot favourite to take over. And foresee Leanne Wood stepping down, with Rhun ap Iorwerth defeating Adam Price in a bloodcurdling battle to take over - even if his Lordship will surely fancy his chances again.

3)Westminster politics will be dominated by the EU Referendum. I expect it to be in the summer, (prob June). I'd prefer 2017. One of the big beasts in the Conservative party will decide to join the Brexit campaign. No idea which! It looks very much to me that the UK and Wales will vote to stay in, but wouldn't bet my horse on it. I do think Wales and England will vote the same way. No intention of committing myself until nearer the vote. Let's get a feel for the options on the table. I'm a longstanding Eurosceptic, but withdrawing from the EU is a big deal. Whatever happens, I predict the whole bureaucratic monster will fall in on itself, blown apart by it's contradictions within 20 years - which is why I've never been flag-waving fan of a referendum at all. Don't really believe in them. 

4)The SNP will deliver another dominating result in Scotland, but Ruth Davidson will lead the Tories into a strong second. Labour/Lib Dems/UKIP will be nowhere. Difficult for me to understand. Whole 'independence' dream built on North Sea oil, the value of which has crashed. Independence would be an economic disaster. But maybe it's what the Scottish people want. My own ancestors would always put self respect and pride before being rich. I suppose I'm a bit like that myself.

5) The Labour Party will divide into two parties. Can't see how it can go on as it is. A bold prediction this. Labour has never shown itself as a party with the gonads needed for the deadly strike - more drift on hoping things will turn out ok. It's just a smell of inevitability about a split. 

6) The Wales Bill will pass into law, with a lot of us wandering why on earth the Govt bothered. Most people in Wales won't even smile as they chant "Not enough; Not enough". Still it will go through, including giving the landscape trashers in Cardiff Bay powers over energy. Still not certain I'm going to vote for it myself. 

7) Finally, finally, we will see the death of the Mid Wales Connection Project - just about the most horrendous attack on the landscapes of Wales since King Coal raped our fair country a century ago, a crime which has taken many decades to repair. This project involved National Grid, developers reaching out for the shed loads of customers money on offer, and misguided politicians in Cardiff and Westminster, working together as a 'dark force' to trash the wondrous landscapes of mid Wales. I predict it will not happen.

8) But fracking will. We will not know on what scale in 2016, but I predict we will have more idea of it's of viability this year. Never quite understood the uproar this has caused. Very few question the major role gas will have meeting our energy needs over next 20/30 yrs. it's the transition energy source. Far better we access it from below our feet than haul it halfway across the world from unstable regimes. I also predict the Swansea Bay Barrage will get the go ahead. Hope so. 

9) I predict that Daesh will be much diminished in 2016. Cannot see Middle East politics settling down much, but most parties now recognise the particular evil that is Daesh, and realise other battles will have to take second place to crushing it. Impossible to predict whether there might be terrorist attacks,  because we know it's a constant threat. Some things are not really predictable.

10) England will win the Six Nations. I like the look of their new coach. Not Gatland, but in same mould - and will get England running with the ball. Wales will give them a run for it though. Hope I'm wrong on this one. For 60 minutes in the World Cup, England had us stretched on the rack, but then blew it. Surely they can't do that again. Ireland not quite there this year and Scotland have flattered to deceive.
France and Italy both too far off the pace to threaten. I've enjoyed being wrong about England's chances before.

11) Arsenal will win the Premiership. Man City and Spurs in Champions Lg. Maybe Leicester holding off a late run from Chelsea for 4th place. Andy Murray will lose in the Wimbledon Final again if Djokovic is fit. If the brilliant Serbian is not fit, Andy wins.

12) Finally there will be Knighthoods awarded to David Beckham and Rod Stewart.