Sunday, October 29, 2017

Letters Campaign for Proportional Representation.

Receiving a few emails at present asking me to support proportional representation. On balance, I don’t agree with this - for House of Commons elections anyway. But since I was elected as a member of the National Assembly for 8 yrs via an ‘Additional Member’ system of proportional representation, you’ll not be surprised that I’m not a ‘frothing at the mouth’ opponent. It’s just that I’m reluctant to make changes to our constitution Without an overwhelming reason.
I think the main reason to oppose Proportional representation (in my opinion) is that the elected government will never have to stand by the manifesto it was elected on. Rather than strengthen democracy, it may well weaken it. In a UK Parliamentary election, no political parties secure 50% of the vote. The largest party (though not always) would have to come to an agreement with another political party (or parties) to agree a ‘programme for government’. The alternative is another election. This disconnection, (inherent in inter-party dealings) between what a government promises and what a government does would happen after every general election. Political parties would feel able put forward manifesto commitments they could not deliver on.
Of course our current ‘first past the post’ system of government sometimes delivers the same situation. It did so in 2010, when the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrat’s agreed a programme which differed from manifestos. The example most quoted (thoug( there were others) was the Lib Dem’s decision to support a significant increase in tuition fees, after promising to scrap them during the election campaign.
And it’s not unusual to see an impasse lasting a very long time after an election in a pr system, as we are currently witnessing in Germany. Mostly, the ‘first past the post’ system of election delivers a government with a manifesto to which it can be held to account. It’s the greatest strength of our system. There are also issues around the status of individual candidates. In our current system of election to the House of Commons, citizens vote for individuals, not parties. Though of course the party label is hugely important. I am an MP because the people of Montgomeryshire voted for me. I was an AM, because the people of Mid and West Wales voted Welsh Conservative.
Maybe the next step on the road to proportional representation should be in local government, (though I should add that I dont favour it).

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Don’t let the B*****s get you down.

Met a ferociously angry constituent yesterday, outraged about BBC bias in opposition to Brexit. Even though I have sympathy for his opinion, I sought to calm him down. Tried to persuade him it does not matter if the BBC is biased against Brexit. I could understand his anger, even if not sharing it. After all, we are all forced to pay for the BBC through the licence fee. It’s role should be to inform and entertain (which it does very well indeed) not lobby for its favoured causes. But I am totally relaxed because it makes no difference. The bias is so obvious that viewers factor it in. I go further. It usually helps the other side! I argued on 24th June 2016 that it was the ‘BBC wot done it’ for the Leave side. No-one I met believed any of the fear tactics used by the Remain side either. No-one believed the promises of disaster. They were ridiculous. In my view it was BBC bias and Remain side fear tactics that led to the Leave majority. My constituent was a firm Leave supporter. I promised to pass his concerns on to Secretary of State Karen Bradley, but I told him he should be grateful to the BBC.
Same goes for all the gnashing of teeth over anti Brexit bias at our universities. Most people know most lecturers see themselves as ‘left’ and what they think of as ‘progressive’. Our students are not daft. They know this and factor it in. Students are also a bit rebellious. Instead of rebelling against their parent’s opinions, religion, the Government etc, a fair few will rebel against the new orthodoxy that has taken over our universities - probably threatening ‘free speech’. Will add in passing that we have not been very smart in engaging with students over recent years. Just that I don’t think lecturer’s bias makes a blind bit of difference.
And I’m not at all sure Conservative MPs should become too excited about the internet campaigns being run against us. Over last year or two I’ve had lots of it. In my experience, it doesn’t make any difference. Before last election there was much defacing of our field posters and lots of other posters were stuck everywhere, all done under cover of darkness. I told my Office to leave them up, including those defaced with the C*** word. Constituents were outraged. Prob put 1000 on my vote! And one of my public meetings was so nasty, I felt it necessary to check under my car before driving home. The story of this circulated, and that area cast more votes for us than ever before!
The point I make is that none of the negativity makes any difference. Except in one important way. Lots of talented people, who would make very good public representatives walk away - not prepared to be abused, undermined, lied about and shouted at. My message is always “Public service is a privilege, an honour and a pleasure. Go for it. Don’t let the b*****s get you down”.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Constitutional Rumpus in Spain.

There is no doubt that Catalunya could be a successful state if independent from Spain. 16% of Spanish people live in Catalunya. It represents 19% of GDP, 25.6% of exports and 20.7% of foreign investment. It’s the wealthiest part of Spain. And the best football team in the world. But none of this means that it should become independent. On balance, I don’t think so.
The Catalunya regional government has declared that Catalunya is now an independent country, following an illegal referendum, which turned violent and was widely ignored by those who disapproved of it. Huge crowds are out on the streets as I type, hailing the birth of their sparkling new state. It would be easy to be influenced by the joyous celebrations and think independence is a de facto reality and inevitable. But of course it is no such thing.
The Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy has instigated a constitutional Exocet today, and declared direct rule, abolishing the Catalonian regional Govt, sacking Catalonian Prime Minister Charles Puigdemont and calling new elections for Dec 21st. The head of Catalonian Police Chief has also been sacked.  This is new territory, not only for modern Spain but for the European Union. The EU and EU countries are backing the Spanish Government, as they were bound to. The Spanish Senate is backing Prime Minister Rajoy, as it has to.
We can have no idea where all this is going. Spain in not like Britain. It doesn’t have our stable history. It’s less than 70 years since Franco took power by brute force, and held it for many decades. Millions died. I cannot see any option for the UK Govt other than to back Spain. Same applies to other EU countries and the EU itself. Looks an unbeatable coalition. But who can be certain. Just hope it doesn’t turn violent. All we can do is hope. But my confidence is nothing like as buoyant as my hopes. Next few days are going to be very interesting.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Afternoon in front of a screen.

Watched an interesting film this afternoon. It was of a journey, armed with a camera into very dark recesses of a rarely seen underworld. Felt bit like those crazy people who wander off into an underground labyrinth of tunnels deep in the earth. Potholers they call these odd people. Except today it was ‘live’ reporting - from inside my own body. What you might call an ‘Inside Broadcast’.
My trusted oncologist, Mr Hunt inserted his ‘scope’ into the part of my colon he left me with 15 years ago. It’s a long flexible dynarod thing with a hollow down the middle and a bright searchlight on the end. It usually goes up the ‘bottom’ but the very same Mr Hunt took away this particular orifice 15yrs ago - along with other bits and pieces. And off he went, on the lookout for anything unusual or nasty. Most people prefer sedation while this procedure takes place, and miss out on all the ‘entertainment’. But I wanted to drive myself home, so skipped the sedation which would have ruled out driving. Don’t like to make a fuss. Not too much of one at least.
Anyway, Mr Hunt went into intense focus, occasionally chuntering to himself as he studied intently what looked to me like an orgy of uncooked chlorinated chicken legs and breast in a jumbled order.
After ten minutes he spotted one. Just like David Attenborough espying some rare creature in the ocean depths. He demanded a ‘snare’ which was ‘fed’ down the tube and used to trap the offending polyp and he then cut it off. Just like that. Never felt a thing. Incredible. Then he spotted another and out came the ‘snare’ again. Mr Hunt was in a trance. He was on a Polyp hunt. Trust is a wonderful thing. What will I do if he’s retired when the next colonoscopy is due.
For the pros. In the distal descending colon there was a 1x3mm sessile adenomatous Polyp which was  removed by cold snare and ‘retrieved’ into a glass container. And in the distal ascending colon there was another 1x3mm sessile adenomatous Polyp again removed by cold snare and ‘retrieved’. All sounds a bit worrying to the layman, but seems it’s next thing to a ‘clean bill of health’. Had to pay a fair bit to watch this particular movie though.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Let’s accept the people’s vote and get Brexit done

Really sorry to blog about Brexit again. But have just had a conversation with someone who thinks the Prime Minister should simply say “Brexit is too difficult, and I’m going to inform Juncker and Barnier that it’s off, and want to end our negotiations to leave”. Ok, the wording wasn’t exactly this and of course, it’s not going to happen, but I was well taken aback because it was a normally sensible person who suggested it. I think in all seriousness.
I just asked if this proposal had been thought through. Well over 500 MPs had voted to hold a referendum. 17.4 million voters had backed Leave, the biggest vote for anything in British history. Another massive majority had voted in favour of invoking Article 50. What would public reaction be if this was all ignored by our Government. I’m not sure I’m capable of imagining just how awful it would be.
I told my friend that he would be of more value to society if he rambled naked around Britain whistling in the wind. Its not going to happen. The UK will be leaving the European Union. But how we Leave is another matter. There could be anything up to 17.4 million variations on this. It could be amicable, working out what is best for both sides. Or it could be No Deal, when both sides would have to pursue their own material interests. I prefer the first option. I also told my friend that his approach was the only reason we might end up with the second. As usual with this issue, he resorted to high dudgeon and flounced off!
I read so much utter tosh on this subject. The 24 hours news agenda has a lot to answer for. So much space to fill. I don’t really take that much notice though. We pay whatever we owe as a divorce settlement. We inform EU migrants, legally present in the UK, that they are valued permanent members of our society. We strive for a trade deal that suits both sides. We commit to security, climate change and other agreements that matter to both sides. As long as we are not subject to rulings of the ECJ, I’m fairly relaxed. I know there will be many who won’t be, but my guess is they will be a minority. And I’m not sure they have anywhere to go, without losing Brexit completely. And no doubt it will all look different tomorrow!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Death of Democracy in Venezuela

One benefit of being a backbench MP is that it allows opportunity to take an interest in a wide range of issues across the world. For me, the politics of South America is just such an issue. Knew almost nothing at all about it until a lovely Colombian girl caught the eye of our No 2 son. Two Welsh x Colombian grandchildren called Leo and Lulu later, I’m much involved in promoting in the UK knowledge of and interest in all things Colombian.
Venezuela is next door to Colombia, and here politics has reduced what was a successful, wealthy country to a basket case in a truly shocking way. And amazingly, there are British politicians who are apologists for the Maduro regime that is systematically destroying democracy in what I’m told is a very beautiful country. Today, a delegation of three elected members of the Venezuelan National Assembly were in Westminster so I went along to spend an hour with them. They spoke despairingly of how democracy is being undermined. All I need to do is share some of the economic data.
Best guess of inflation is 800% - next year predicted to be 1200%%. GDP last year fell 12.5% 70% of business infrastructure has closed down. Hunger, malnutrition and poverty are increasing alarmingly. The President is refusing to release any official figures and allowing no money for the National Assembly to operate. The constitution and human rights have been violated. And a whole lot else. Over 2 million people have left Venezuela. It’s a tragic story, with no end in sight yet.
And yet, astonishingly, there are still apologists for the Maduro regime in leading positions in British politics - even now - apologists for where Marxist economics always ends up. They were lauding Hugo Chavez as a great Venezuelan leader when he was destroying the successful economy, successful country and genuine democracy he inherited. It’s always the people, especially the poorest people who pay the price of this tragic story of foolishness.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Let’s talk Brexit with Labour

No matter how hard I scratch my head, I can’t work out what our Official Opposition want when it comes to implementing the UK’s departure from the European Union. I don’t like to be in this position. It’s such a major issue, that the Govt should reach out to the Official Opposition to explore where we can agree. After all, it can be argued that it was Labour voters who delivered the Leave decision on June 23rd 2016.
Anyway, I’ve been reading what Labour Brexit Spokesman, Kier Starmer has been saying. He usually talks sense. Seems there are 6 ‘red lines’ that need to be addressed before Labour can support the EU Withdrawal Bill. Let me consider them briefly to see where agreement could be possible - at least in part. 
1) Probably the key demand is that Parliament should be given a vote (a final say) on the negotiated ‘deal’. I’m personally not  opposed to this in principle, but it’s a problem in practice. Those negotiating on behalf of the EU do not want the UK to leave, so they will have a direct interest in a ‘bad deal’. But my view is that we are reaching the stage when Brexit is unstoppable, which makes possibility of some agreement about a vote on the final deal possible.
2) Labour (well, Starmer at least) want a transition period to be included in any EU Withdrawal Act. I’m not sure how this works. Looking forward to hearing how it works in practice. There is a wide acceptance that a transition/implementation period will be needed to manage the change. Since almost everyone agrees on the need for the transition period, there must be a possibility of some agreement on this ‘red line’.
3) Restrictions on Henry VII powers to ensure they are only included where absolutely necessary, and only for as long as necessary. I rather agree with that, and see scope for an agreement on this issue if approached with positive goodwill by both sides.
4) Guarentee that various rights, such as workers rights, human rights and environmental responsibilities are not watered down. Not easy to know what this ‘red line’ means in practice, but I really don’t think this should be an insurmountable problem. Most of us see freedom for the UK Parliament to have control over such rights as being to strengthen them! 
5) Again it’s conflict between the pragmatic and principle when it comes to managing the return of powers reserved to the EU in devolved responsibilities. At issue is protecting the UK Single Market, even more important than the EU Single Market. The challenge for the UK Govt is to offer sufficient reassurance to devolved parliaments that the purpose is to manage the change rather than a ‘Power grab’. I’m very much in support of being as reassuring as possible. Securing support for a Legislative Consent Order is a more significant issue than anything the Official Opposition will say or do. They would look utterly daft to oppose the Bill if an LCO had been passed. 
6) The final ‘red line’ might be a real problem though. Need to think about this more, because I’m not sure of status of EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. I support acceptance of rulings of the European Convention on Human Rights, but not the European Court of Justice. Taking back control of our own laws is a fundamental principle of Brexit. This may be a ‘red line’ too far.
I will add that it’s possible that debate will lead to me amending some of this. I look on this blog post as a first draft - definitely a work in progress.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Brexit moving forward largely as expected.

I’m writing this blog post as my fortnightly article for next week’s Oswestry and Borders Chronicle. Has to be done for first thing, Monday morning. So it’s style is rather more ‘article’ than ‘blog post’. Here goes.

So much is being written about the process by which the UK is leaving the European Union, that it’s difficult to know what’s actually happening. Or to “see the wood for the trees”. Or to “separate the wheat from the chaff”. Choose your own phrase. But for me, the process of withdrawal is proceeding much as I would have expected it to - in a most unsatisfactory way.
Let us look back. The decision of the British people to leave the EU on 23rd June 2016 came as a surprise to most, including me. In particular, it came as a huge shock to the Prime Minister of the time, David Cameron who resigned the following morning.
After much heart searching, I had voted Leave in the referendum, but I always realised that leaving would lead to years of disruption and uncertainty. I’ve not changed my assessment of what we face. We don’t know, but suspect that little or no preparation work had been done in preparation for a Leave vote. Quite rightly, new Prime Minister, Theresa May has taken the process forward with caution and care - refusing to be rushed. Fortunately a cautious approach is her personal style of government. Mine too.
The main reason why the process of leaving is so difficult for the Prime Minister and David Davis, her Brexit Secretary of State is that the EU is making it as difficult as possible for the UK to carry our it’s instruction from the 17.4 million voters of the UK to leave. Those involved in negotiating on behalf of the EU are behaving like haughty bullies. We saw the same attitude towards Greece over recent years, and we see it towards Catalonia at present. The British people will not be so easily bullied. The response of many of my constituents when we discuss this issue is to be more determined to Leave. The sheer arrogance, haughtiness and intrangigence has given much more impetus to a ‘No Deal’ option.
The UK wants a sensible ‘deal’ which benefits the EU and the UK. I suspect the EU puppet masters are becoming aware that the UK people's attitude is hardening. The UK Govt wants a mutually beneficial deal, but more work is now being done on ‘No Deal’. It should be. We should not continue with the childish game of posturing that is a feature of negotiations so far for much longer. The world outside of  the EU is a big place, where there is a lot of potential for trade deals. It’s reaching time for constructive negotiation or leaving the table. I’ve always been one to turn my back on bullies.

Friday, October 20, 2017

All I can say on Powys Children’s Services Report.

Not often I refuse to do Media interviews, but I did so today when invited to comment on the report from the Children’s and Social Care Inspectorate in Wales about Children’s Services at Powys County Council. When the Report was published recently, I did agree to interviews. On balance I think it was an unwise decision. I said that I was not surprised by the critical content of the Report. I also said that I had known there was a problem for at least two years, but was not in a position to comment on any of the issues raised with me by constituents. Had a team meeting in my office this morning, and decided ‘No Interviews’. Also decided to write this blog making public all that I consider appropriate. Crucial that constituents have confidence that what they say to me remains confidential.
Here’s all I’m prepared to say. I was first approached by a constituent over three years ago (not two). Other contacts followed. Despite Children’s Services being a devolved issue, with responsibility vested in the County Council, I decided my case worker should follow up in response. At that stage I had no idea that it would snowball. Over the next 18 months, I wrote 15 letters to a variety of Council officers and councillors. During late 2016, I became increasingly concerned and escalated my concern by arranging a more formal meeting in my office with the Cabinet Member responsible for Children’s Services, outlining some details on a confidential basis. I and my case worker were becoming seriously concerned. The police had been involved, as had an English authority, which we contacted. My impression was that my intervention and the Cabinet Member’s Positive response had “shaken things up”. But after some time, it became clear that the issues had not been resolved. My office remains in contact and more letters have followed, and I continue to have serious concerns about delays. Bearing all this in mind, I don’t think it unreasonable to say that I am not surprised by the content of the CSSIW Report.
While I am not prepared to say any more about the cases I’m involved with, my team have agreed that we would be prepared to allow the head of any inquiry to have sight of my case worker’s file, which has a comprehensive record of every meeting and written contact with the Council. I would also be prepared to share sight of the case notes with the new Chair of Powys County Council, who has handled the response to the Report very well. For the first time in years, I have confidence that the Council’s Leader and Cabinet are taking the concerns that I (and perhaps others) have had for a long time.
And that’s about it. That’s all I’m making public. I don’t know what instigated the CSSIW investigation. It may that my agitation may have had some influence. I would be pleased if it had. I just hope, for the sake of children at risk, that steps are put in place to carry out Children’s Services properly.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Failure in Powys Children’s Services.

About two years ago a constituent called my office, concerned about the safety of a child, and dissatisfaction with the response of Powys Council’s Children’s Servics Department. I cannot communicate any information about the case. It’s a fundamental principle that any constituent (or non constituent) can be assured of total confidentiality when they speak to me. That’s one reason why I often ignore questions of Facebook. At the time, I asked one of my caseworkers to take a close look at the case. I was disturbed by what I was told, and raised the issue with Powys County Council, at both an officer and political level.
The Council response was very disappointing. Actually it was worse than that. I thought there was an almost total lack of recognition of the seriousness of the case. I try never to let my work get to me. I see so much awfulness in the world. Every MP does. I’d never sleep. But that single case caused me real worry and sleeplessness. I felt the safety of a very young child was at serious risk. I made contact with another English Council which had an involvement. And escalated my contact with the Council to the highest level I reasonably could. I was not prepared to make anything public, and I’m still not naming names - in public anyway. The confidentiality factor is too important to my work. But I needed to be certain I had done what I could, explaining to the Council that I could not let this matter be brushed under the carpet. I knew about it, was not prepared to be complicit, and was not prepared to let it go.
I do not know whether my involvement has had an impact on the report into the failings of Powys Council’s Children’s Services Department. I would be very pleased if it had. I had hoped for a briefing on the report last Friday, before it was published. But it was cancelled. Bearing in mind all the above, I was not one bit surprised by the Report’s findings. As always, I suspect my experience is only the merest tip of what has been happening. The truth will out.
We have seen only the first chapter of this scandal. And scandal it is. We’re told the police are now involved due to falsification of documents. I would be surprised if a whole lot more does not emerge. I will have to share my experiences with anyone appointed to look in detail at what has happened. But there is one spark of optimism within this dark place. I have been encouraged by the response of the new Council Leader, Rosemarie Harris. For the first time in two years I have some confidence that the Council acknowledges the horrific scale of what has happened. That is an important first step on the road to putting things right. I’m not interested in a witch hunt, even though there may be some holding to account. I just want a proper service put in place. It’s going to take a long time, and need a lot of work before we can feel confident that Powys County Council is able to deliver acceptable Children’s Services for the county of Powys.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Constituency Boundaries and Rural Democracy.

Don’t suppose I’m in Govt’s ‘good books’ today, after my response to the latest proposals to review constituency boundaries. My view is only on what is proposed for Wales. BBC Wales are reporting my view that I consider the proposals for Wales to be “crackers”and damaging to democracy in Rural Wales in particular. While today’s revised proposals are the handiwork of the Boundary Commission, I do not criticise the commissioners. They have no choice but recommend within the constraints of Govt legislation and the Welsh National boundary.  which afford little room for rational consideration or freedom to take history, culture and geography into account.
Now I do accept that there is a case for some equalisation of constituency sizes. In fact, a review is long overdue. I just don’t think it’s sensible or rational to review on the basis of 600 constituencies rather that the current 650.  Especially at a time when numbers in the House of Lords continue to rise into the 800s! Also, I concede that I cannot reasonably argue that the number of Welsh MPs should remain at 40 when the same constituency size as currently exists in England would result in 33 Welsh MPs. There should be two changes to the legislation. Firstly, the reduction should be from 40 to 33 (not 29) to reflect average size of constituencies across the UK. And the ‘tolerance’ between number of electors per constituency should be more than 5%. (8% perhaps). If we’re asking Boundary Commissioners to agree new boundaries, let’s give them the power to make recommendations as sensible and sensitive as possible.
Dare say some might suggest I’m being difficult or unreasonable. Well, let’s look at things from where I’m standing - which is in the ancient constituency of Montgomeryshire. Montgomeryshire has existed as a constitutional entity for around 500 yrs. I’ve been involved in public life for over 40 yrs, and have always represented Montgomeryshire (Council, Welsh Assembly and Parliament). Have fought elections as “The Montgomeryshire Man”. I still use Montgomeryshire as my address, despite it officially being Powys. The current proposals consign historic Montgomeryshire to the dustbin of history, carving it up into three to make up the numbers in surrounding constituencies. What am I supposed to think.
Of course Bethan asked me if I intended to vote against the proposals when they come forward at the end of 2018. I declined to answer. I want to argue my corner over this with Government. If I say now that I’m voting against, I lose all influence on the debate. It’s what happens. Ok, it would win some favourable publicity, ensuring I make headlines rather than maybe make a difference. But what I have said is that if these proposals are adopted, I will not stand for Parliament again. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Follow up on Brexit radio chat this morning.

It’s difficult to know what to expect when entering into the Lion’s Den that is the Sunday Supplement studio with Vaughan Roderick. Especially when the subject under debate is Brexit. I realised The inevitability of being asked which way I’d vote if the EU Referendum was held again. But there are so many other strands blowing in the winds of uncertainty.

The two strands that Nia Griffiths, Labour Shadow Defence Minister and I talked with Vaughan about   this morning were the transition/implementation period after March 2019 and our approach during it to the leaving of the Single Market and the Customs Union. We will be formally leaving all of them in March 19. There are some who refer to this as “The hardest of Brexits”, which I do think is utter nonsense. My hope is that the UK will agree that our relationship with the EU during the transition/implementation period will match as closely as possible current arrangements - where this benefits both sides. Must admit I’m not personally that bothered about the two year limit, as long as it’s not just a tactical delaying tactic.

Vaughan quite rightly brought up impact on Welsh sheep farming. We knew before Referendum day that the tariff on lamb could theoretically be a massive 40% if we have no agreed deal and have to fall back on WTO rules. That is a ‘worst case scenario’ and of course it inevitably means some uncertainty. It would also require some highly stupid and perverse decision (or non decision) making. I’m a lot more optimistic. But I do accept the possibility of perverse stupidity, so am keen to promote diversification. A good long term strategy whatever happens. It’s already happening.

Which brings us to what is a sensible approach to the ‘No Deal’ question. And here I do think the opposition position is bizarre. I watched Labour’s main spokesman on this issue, Kier Starmer on the Sunday Politics today. Sounded like a man who has never done any sort of deal in his life. Only a fool enters a negotiation, informing everyone that whatever deal is reached, it will be/must be accepted. Like me in a former life, walking into the John Deere sale room, waving my chequebook around and informing the salesman I’m buying no matter what the price. It’s an attitude quarenteed to deliver a very bad deal. We all want a good deal for the UK and a good deal for the EU. Thank goodness Mr Starmer isn’t sitting at the negotiating table.

Anyway, that was about it. I was expecting this morning to be about how we manage powers reserved to the EU in devolved subject areas, and the wide use of Henry VIII powers. Now that would have been much more difficult for me to cope with!!

Friday, October 13, 2017

More chat about Brexit.

It may not be a wise decision but I’ve agreed to appear on Sunday Supplement this week to discuss Brexit. In current climate, my ambition will be not to commit a ‘gaffe’. And that will not be easy because even the slightest grammatical error is treated as a ‘gaffe’ when the subject of Brexit is under discussion. And Vaughan Roderick is a crafty interviewer.
First question is bound to be ‘Which way would you vote if the referendum were to be re-run today.? The obvious answer should be the one the Prime Minister gave. It’s not going to be re-run and we are leaving the EU in March 2019, so don’t ask such a pointless hypothetical question. But when I’ve been asked over recent days, I’ve replied “I’d vote same as June 2016”. I’d vote Leave, with the same degree of uncertainty as I did last time. I find the question no easier to answer today, even though the blood curdling nonsense churned out by the Treasury before the EU referendum has been shown up as the ludicrous scare stories without foundation that we thought it was. But reality is we still face uncertainty, and will continue to do so for a good while yet.
I might be asked if I support a ‘Hard Brexit’ or a ‘Soft Brexit’. I really do not know what these terms mean. They are bandied about by people as if they are clearly defined terms. They are not. They are just some sort of code, which I don’t fully grasp.  I am in favour of the UK leaving the EU, including the Single Market and the Customs Union. Anything else is not Brexit. Call that response what you will. I see leaving the EU simply as ‘Brexit’.
And then we have the issue of whether the UK Government should prepare for ‘no deal’. Of course we should. I’ve never gone into any negotiation without retaining the option of ‘no deal’. And I fully expect the EU to be preparing for ‘no deal’ as well.  Not having that option on or near the negotiating table almost guarantees a bad deal. Most people want a good deal for the UK, and a good deal for the EU. But it’s seemed to me all along that the conditions imposed on the negotiations by the EU at the start almost guarantee ‘no deal’. That is a dreadful pity - both damaging and unwise. But if that’s the way it is, so be it. And I’m not sure we should waste much more time dancing to an unacceptable Juncker/Barnier tune on this. The one individual whose behaviour promotes ‘no deal’ above all others is Juncker. I hope there are no gaffes in that!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Paying for Domiciliary Care

On Monday morning this week, I ‘launched’ a social care conference, arranged by TLC, a local service delivery company, at Llanidloes.  I think it was rather grandly described as a ‘Keynote Speech’. I refer to this only because my main message was much the same as that heading up today’s front page in the Telegraph. My contention was that Domiciliary Care ‘service users’, (those who can afford to that is) must pay more for their care. It’s what the Social Care Minister, Jackie Doyle-Price is reported to have said at a fringe meeting at the recent Conservative Party Conference. Hope I’m supporting the Minister’s and the Government’s emerging policy on this issue. I’ll summarise the thrust of my speech.

I began by acknowledging that paying for social care is both a complex and controversial issue. It’s arguable that a Conservative attempt to tackle the issue in June’s manifesto contributed to a more disappointing election result than I hoped for. The description of the policy as a ‘Dementia Tax’ was an utter disgrace - repeated in today’s Telegraph. The Telegraph, and every other media outlet that does the same should be ashamed of themselves. It’s a policy area that is in desperate need of reform. It is deeply unfair is several ways. The people who pay for this failure to tackle a very thorny issue are the frail elderly, whose voice is not heard as much as it should be in today’s society.

Firstly, let’s consider the difference between how residential care and domicilliary care are treated. Those who need care pay for residential care, until the value of their assets fall to a certain level. Those who are deemed to qualify for domiciliary care don’t. Not only is this unfair, but it distorts decision making amongst families. And we know that assets are sometimes transferred in cases where the need for care can by anticipated.

Secondly, in the absence of magic money trees, domiciliary care is paid for by taxpayers, often much less wealthy. It simply seems wrong to me that young families, struggling financially to bring up children have to support people far wealthier receive care.
I agreed with the Conservative manifesto proposal (after it was amended to include a ‘cap’ on the total paid. It was payable by ‘service users’ who were worth more than £100,000. In my view the ‘cap’ on total payments should be less than £100,000. And payment should be deferred until after the used dies.
I know this is not likely to be a popular viewpoint. But as I’ve grown older, I think it’s more important to be right, responsible and fair that it is to be ‘popular’. The second key message of my speech on Monday was that as new policy is developed (which it will have to be) it should developed in partnership with representatives of those who use the services and those who deliver the care. This is not an issue that can be left, simply because it’s difficult. And there are commentators who will do their utmost to make it an impossible to tackle it.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Public Consultation on Shropshire NHS Reform.

I’ve known for about 40 years that the populations of Shropshire and Mid Wales cannot sustain two large District General Hospitals in the long term. 40 yrs ago, an old ld squash friend of mine, Dr Paul Brown (who was also a top consultant in Shropshire) explained why very clearly. He was far seeing and absolutely right. Tragically Paul died young. Today there is a Paul Brown Department at the Princess Royal in Telford.
I’ve been closely involved in the discussion about structural reform of the major hospitals serving Shropshire and Mid Wales for about 20 years. While it would have been best to build a new hospital on a green field site to replace the two hospitals currently located at Telford and Shrewsbury, it has proved to be too costly - about £600 million. So the only way practical forward is to merge the Royal Shrewsbury and the Princess Royal, running them as one hospital, but on two sites. The two Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) serving Shropshire, who decide on future structure agreed this a few years ago and set up a body known as the ‘Future Fit Programme Board’ to consider the matter in detail and make a recommendation on the way forward. After investing more than 3yrs and £2million it finally agreed (after much angst) to recommend that ‘emergency care services’ should be located at Shrewsbury and ‘Planned Care’ should be located at Telford. In the end, following much argument, it was a unanimous recommendation by both CCGs. The public meeting where it was decided was noisy and angry. This ‘preferred option’ includes the transfer of the most serious cases of maternity trauma from Telford to Shrewsbury as well.
In order for this ‘preferred option’ to proceed, the UK Government (NHS England) has to agree the budget needed for the capital works - about £200 million. I expect this to be agreed. There also has to be a public consultation, the details of which we do not yet know. What I expect is that it will be of 14 weeks duration, beginning sometime in November. The statutory requirement is that it be of 12 weeks. Also, we don’t know how many options will be put before the public. It will probably be 2, but could be 3. But the key factor is that there will be a ‘preferred option’ - which is that Emergency Care should be located at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. This is very important to Mid Wales. It’s been a long and tough battle.
It would be easy to think that since there is now a ‘preferred option’ that the debate is all over. Such an attitude would be a serious mistake. It’s vital that the people of Mid Wales respond to the public consultation by making their opinions known. When we know the precise date when the consultation period begins, and the precise options before us also I hope thousands of Montgomeryshire residents will respond. It will be vital that we all write individual letters.
Reform of the secondary care system which serves Shropshire and much of Mid Wales, including most of Montgomeryshire, is perhaps the most dominating issue throughout my years as an Assembly Member and Member of Parliament. It has certainly been the most important issue for my constituents. Over the 12 or 14 weeks of the public consultation, I will be holding one or two meetings every week throughout the constituency, where there will 2/3 of us present to help with letter writing etc. The County Times has assured me that it will help publicise this campaign. We need to make sure that there is no complacency or distraction from our objective, which is to have our new ‘Emergency Care Centre’ built at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Presumed Consent. Triumph of Idealogy over Evidence.

As long as I can remember, I have been enthusiastic about organ donation. Carried a donor card, but much more importantly have told next of kin of my wishes. Been involved in campaigns, and met up with Specialist Nurses (SNODS) to discuss how we can increase donation levels. But I have always been an implacable opponent of presumed consent. I simply do not consider it right that the state should take the organs of the dead, without the expressed approval of the dead or a family member taking the decision on behalf of the dead. And it doesn’t deliver more organs for donation.

Unfortunately, whenever this issue is under discussion, I have to repeat that I support Organ Donation. I also have to repeat that my opposition is not based of faith or religion, but on efficacy. It does not work. I now refuse to do media interviews. What happens is that someone needing a transplant informs the listener that an organ is needed to save his or her life - and then I’m asked why I disagree. I politely make clear that I don’t disagree. The follow up question (totally ignoring what I’ve just said) is usually asking how I can support religion blocking the saving of a life. I politely point out that my views have nothing to do with religion, but are based on there being no evidence that presumed consent will improve donation levels, and may well lead to the opposite. My experience confirms that there are none so deaf as those who will not listen.

There are three ways in which we can increase organ donation. Firstly promote ‘opting in’. Donor cards are useful but most effective way by a country mile is to tell next of kin. Secondly, increase number of Specialist Nurses (SNODS) who are trained to talk with next of kin when they are coping with the pain of a loved one’s death. Evidence tells us the rate of donation increases dramatically when SNODS are involved. And thirdly, increase number of Intensive Care beds, which are needed to allow a transplant to take place.

Of course, we will all be able to ‘opt out’. But we know that most people will not ever think of this issue. The state will be taking organs from people who would have opted out if they had thought about it. This is anathema to those of us who remember the horror of Alder Hey. My view is that ‘opting out’ will in effect be reserved to the more educated, informed part of society.

But the main reason I’m opposed to presumed consent is that it transforms the principle of donated ‘gift’ into a statutory ‘duty’. The State decides and then ‘the state’ acts. We as individuals no longer need to. ‘The State’ will have no interest in asking us. Over recent years we’ve see huge increases in live donors, often donating altruistically. This will fall, (they already are) in the same way care of elderly family members has fallen over time as the state took over the responsibility.

I was very disappointed to learn that my government intends to proceed with presumed consent. There is no evidence to support such a policy. I will not oppose it if it’s a whipped vote, but it should be a ‘free vote’. I will continue to publically oppose it, as I’m doing now, and challenge it on the floor of the House of Commons. It’s putting ideology before evidence. And worst of all, It will not increase number of donors - may even decrease them.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Prime Minister’s Conference Speech.

Listened to the Prime Minister’s speech on the radio this morning. In the past, my voice has embarrassed me by ‘cracking up’, but never as spectacularly as Theresa May’s voice cracked up today. It was a big achievement on her part to fight her way through to the end. Luckily, I was not concerned about style, presentation or any such things. BBC Wales had invited me on at 5.00pm to discuss the speech on Good Morning Wales. I wanted to know what she actually said!  

I thought it a very good speech. In my opinion, it was an unusually radical, progressive speech. It was very much a Theresa May speech, quite prepared to lead a Government intervening where she sees market failure. And it was good that she apologised to party members for the disappointing General Election results. She had, properly, refused to respond to the self important media demands that she apologise before today. She did it in the right and proper place.

The commitment to more housing was very welcome. In particular she made special mention of Councils being given a role in delivering housing. Personally I would like to have heard more about ensuring planning authorities start helping the private sector deliver new housing instead of making it more difficult. But I do sense today’s speech is going to give a green light where previously it’s been red for No.

We also had an announcement of a review of the Mental Health Act. Probably about 20 yrs overdue. And very significantly, the Prime Minister made it clear she’s had enough of energy companies ‘ripping off’ customers. For long enough, they have had warnings that Govt would act if they didn’t set their house in order. They refused, driven by greed, and Theresa May has acted. We will see the Government Bill next week.

It wasn’t all about state intervention though. The Prime Minister spoke at length of a commitment to the role of the private sector, and to the capitalism which has risen living standards of many millions of people across the world. Mrs Theresa May is a true Conservative, one that knows the value of an economy based on capitalist principles, but willing to step in to correct market failures.

One last word of congratulation to Good Evening Wales. My interview did not include anything about the obnoxious publicity seeker which others (like Radio 5 which I listened) seemed more interested in helping gain the publicity he wanted. It was a proper interview about serious subjects.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Reaching out to the younger generation.

Its very fashionable amongst Conservative commentators to speak of reaching out to younger voters. About time too. If I chip in my tuppenyworth before any of the speeches, I can't be accused of being divisive! Much of today's pre conference discussion focuses on tuition fees and housing. The Prime Minister has been setting the scene. It's still a few weeks before the budget, but seems to me today's discussion has committed to Chancellor to spend/invest quite a few billions under these budget heads.

Let's take tuition fees first. Much of the coverage has been about cancelling proposed increases in fees. I agree with this, but it will deliver a reduction in university's  income. They will not be happy about this, not happy at all, but its not earth shattering. And won't be much public sympathy for universities either, after the publicity a few days ago about what uni bosses are paying themselves. But it seems to me that increasing the income level that a graduate must reach before having to repay any loan from £21K to £25K is rather more significant. It's going to cost the Chancellor many billions. So much that in the long run, I think this could be so expensive that it could lead to fewer places at university.  I hope it's not too controversial a comment for me to make that this would not be an unwelcome development.

And so on to housing, thought to be a 'touchstone' issue for young people. This really is a key issue. We need young people to have a personal stake in capitalism - through ownership. No better way than through home ownership. I've been saying for a while that we need a dramatic commitment that takes the headlines. "A million new houses by 2022" or something similar. Today's discussion has been about Gov't commitment to 'Help to Buy'. Asking myself if this will work, or will it just feed into higher prices. And it's a lot of public money.  Only real way to tackle the housing issue is through allowing more freedom to build. Increase supply. Seems obvious to me. And we need to end hoysebuilders stockpiling land. We need more permissive planning systems. Let the people build, not just let housing associations and councils build. It's the planning system that killing development through limiting supply.

Difficult for me as a past president of CPRW to advocate greater freedom to build - and limiting the ability of planning systems to frustrate development. I recall my astonishment when I was asked to take on presidency of CPRW. I had been Chair of a planning authority for many years, and was in favour of more development. Yes I thought it should be of quality, and sensitively located, but new houses, new factories and new transport infrastructure there has to be. Not sure there's a need for Govt to throw billions at this - just set the private sector free to deliver. Hope these are the messages coming out of Manchester this week.