Saturday, May 31, 2008

Consensus, what consensus.

Its all a matter of opinion - a bit like tonight's final of 'Britain's Got Talent'. I thought Signature was the best act by miles. And then there was the 'Audience with Neil Diamond'. I think he's the best after Springstein, while the rest of the family think he's just second rate botox. Even I felt a bit ill when someone in the audience asked him what it had been like to dance with Princess Diana - and the great man said "It was like dancing with a feather and moving to the music of the gods". Honestly, that's what he said. Rehearsed or what.

Anyway I'm talking the report in today's Telegraph that 31,000 scientists have signed up to a petition that humans are not the cause of global warming. Its often said that there is a consensus amongst the scientific community that the opposite is true. Doesn't sound much of a consensus to me. Lord Lawson will be pleased. He thought he was on his own, and now he finds he's got 31,000 scientists in his corner.

I never get very excited about this argument, and it crops up regularly. Mainly because it doesn't make much difference whether global warming is caused by humans or if its just a natural cycle - or a mixture of both. Whatever, the only sensible policy for the people and governments of the world is to both try and slow it down and adapt to it. The dislocation and destruction is the same whether its mad made or not. Personally, I would prefer to see all these scientists focusing their attention on developing policies and ways of slowing down global warming, rather than arguing about who or whats responsible.

Just boringly 'Mainstream'.

Generally speaking, its not wise for a politician to admit to irritation. It only encourages the irritants. And anyway, this blog is committed to politeness, whatever the provocation. This post is an exception - sort of anyway.

It started when a well disposed colleague (as far as I know anyway) described me as a 'stand alone' Conservative - whatever that means. I felt my hackles stir. They stirred some more when other colleagues seemed to agree. And then I've had a couple of commenters on this blog telling me that I'm not a proper Conservative. Well, that's not true, and I don't like it. And I'm not going to publish them.

But whats behind all this, I ask myself. It can't be general philosophy, in that I'm very traditional in my economic outlook, Forsythian even - that's Baron Forsyth of Drumlean rather than Frederick. Perhaps a touch too libertarian for some, an example being that I was totally opposed to Identity Cards from the start. And maybe a bit soft on criminals in that I'm keen on gearing the criminal justice system towards preventing re offending rather than just punishment. Actually, I don't think its any of these things. I think its my public support for a National Assembly of Wales with law making powers that's at the root of it. This is the issue that gets me branded as a 'stand alone' Tory - and its not my opinion so much as my willingness to openly advocate it.

Well, its worth looking at the facts here. The only two options that are outwith Conservative policy are 'Independence' and 'Abolition' - of the Assembly that is. The latter option was removed as an option sometime after the last General Election, and I won't pretend that I didn't have some concern about this change - but above my pay grade as they say. Now since last May, we have a constitutional settlement which allows for law making by a complex system of Legislative Competence Orders, which I regard as constitutionally unstable. The range of possible opinions, within party policy, centre on whether this system is adequate, or whether a referendum should be held to seek the people's opinion on moving to a general law making capacity in all the subject areas devolved - and when such a referendum might take place. Its actually rather a narrow range of options, and I'm smack in line with it. Not only that, but I'm told that all the Conservative Assembly Members agree with me, and according to an academic report published this week, it seems that 40% of Welsh Conservative supporters do as well. Doesn't sound much like a 'stand alone' opinion to me. More boringly mainstream I'd say.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Green Report.

Trying to spend some time in the garden at the moment. First group of visitors arrive a week on Thursday - from Llanfair Caereinion Flower Club. I'm also preparing for this year's 'big event', which is the reception on the lawn, following the wedding of No 3 son, Tim and Adrienne in July. So the garden is going to intrude into this blog quite a bit during the next few months. Look on this as a sort of weekly report.
Dusk is now settling on the azaleas, allowing the eye to notice some of their rather less showy comrades. But there's nothing subtle about the first of the red hot pokers to perform, Kniphofia 'Northiae' - No 4 photo. It is both impressive and eye-wateringly, grotesquely phallic. I've chosen to highlight the alliums today - No 2 and No 3 photos. They're very striking, in both whites and allium blue. Perhaps the most dominant shrub at the moment, since the rhodos have passed, is the white Vibernam maresii - Top photo. We have lots of them, because they are easy to divide, take up a lot of space and it was one of the first shrubs we bought when we started gardening.
Most of the work at the moment is putting the finishing touches to last year's major re-vamp - moving the mount, creating the marquee site, building the new rockery, and re-routing the roads and paths. Have to get it all finished by 26th July - so I'm hoping for decent weather over the weekend.

P is for 'Pricey'.

This is one of those 'Too much information posts'. So if you're one of those who prefer to pretend that certain bodily functions do not actually occur, move on to someone else's blog now. Regular readers of this blog will know of my brush with a surgeon's knife five years ago, when he performed what's called a 'lower bowel re-section' to remove a colorectal tumour. A residual little problem is that occasionally, when I need a p**, I need one pretty much immediately. So I know a bit about that sinking feeling that comes with being further away from the nearest urinal than is required. Generally, its not a problem for someone who spent the first few years of working life on the family farm. But of course some are of more delicate temperament.

So I had much sympathy with the astronauts who live on the International Space Station, when their one and only urinal broke down this week, and they had nowhere to boldly go. As a short term measure they used the Soyus escape craft which is attached to the International Space Station, but the limited capacity of this tank was soon used up. The Telegraph reports that the astronauts have rigged up a 'urine by-pass' back up system. My imagination is running wild. Perhaps anyone who is still with me can make suggestions how such a thing could work. Anyway, there are some repair parts being flown in by the shuttle Discovery, and a new Russian built toilet system is to be provided costing £10 million. And you thought all this space travel stuff was glamorous!

Aureus Place

An advantage of being a Parliamentary candidate is that I get to see all sorts of developments that I otherwise wouldn't. A conducted tour of Aureus Place in Welshpool this week was a good example.

Aureus Place is a brand new care home which will provide for 8 young adults in need of neuro-behavioural care and support. It is located adjacent to the well known Rallt Care Home and has been built by Swanton Care and Community Ltd. The new manager is Carolyn Farmer, who bubbles with enthusiasm about the challenge facing her. The Home is superbly constructed, and will be receiving its first 'service users' (this seems to be the accepted word currently) over the next few weeks. It sets a very high standard in bricks and mortar. And there is no reason not to expect the same very high stardard of care.

Regular readers will know of my developing interest in the provision of specialist care for the various groups who need it. In my opinion this is the biggest challenge facing our Government over the next few years. Yes, I did say biggest. The more time I spend learning about the scale of the challenge facing us, the more I realise that successive governments have simply not grasped the scale of this issue. Anyway, welcome Aureus. And best of luck Carolyn. Look forward to meeting you again soon.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Its not a coincidence.

Most people think mathematics is boring. I don't, but neither do I recall ever being as fascinated by mathematics as I was this morning, listening to a Melvyn Bragg discussion on probability as I drove home from Cardiff. One bit of the discussion I remember was to do with how many people need to be in a room for it to be probable that two will share the same birthday. Answer is 23.

It is mathematically provable that there is a probability that two of the participants on the field of play in a football match will share a birthday (that's if the ref is included). Or an international rugby team with its 7 replacements (and the ref again). It seems that 23 is the number of people needed, on average, to pass the 50% probability level. This is a much lower figure than I'd have expected.

But to reach a 50% probability that another person will share the birthday of a specific person in a room, it needs over 250 people. This is rather higher than I would have expected. So there is 'probably' no-one in the entire Gordon Brown fan club who share's the Prime Minister's birthday. Completely useless bit of information I know - but it interested me.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

So 39% of Conservatives are 'on board'.

Since the decision by Welsh voters to support the establishment of a National Assembly for Wales, I have favoured it being granted law making powers in those subject areas currently devolved. I have argued this position consistently, and continue to do so despite being chosen as a Parliamentary candidate. A few people expected me to change my mind when my interest shifted from Cardiff Bay to Westminster. I have also argued that because this view is underpinned by logic and concern about constitutional instability, I expected that the Conservative Party would eventually come to the same conclusion, and that we would become the champions of transforming the National Assembly into a worthwhile institution of Government. So it follows that I enjoyed reading this report by Tomos Livingstone in today's Western Mail. It seems that 39% of Conservative supporters are now in favour of law making powers being granted, 26% want to leave it as it is, and 27% want to scrap it. I don't know what all the excitement's about because its just about what I would have expected.

I was particularly interested to read the comments attributed to Stephen Crabb, Conservative MP for Presceli Pembrokeshire. And I agree with much of what he is reported to have said. Conservatives are instinctively concerned about any perceived threat to the'Union'. Fundamental to my support for a law making Parliament is that I consider the constitutional position that has existed since 1999 to be a long term threat to the 'Union'. The 2006 Act increased the threat of constitutional instability, in my opinion. At present, its a constitutional crisis waiting to happen.

But I'm still not convinced that there will be, or should be a referendum on this issue until after the next General Election. I disagree with Tomos Livingstone's judgement that there is a split between Labour AMs and Plaid AMs on this. Activists, yes- but AMs, no. Plaid will deny it of course. Anyway, I don't trust opinion polls, and the Assembly's coalition Government has been so lacking in any urgency to prepare the ground for a referendum, that I just do not think that they are serious about wanting to do it. If Plaid do make a big issue of this, I reckon it will be tactical rather than from the heart. And in any case, I still think the danger of defeat is too great, despite the polls. Today's report is both interesting and hugely encouraging to Conservatives who take the same view as I do. I need to visit the Politics Department at Aberystwyth again to discuss the trends and predictions with the authors.

Sorry but I will not be able to moderate until tomorrow lunchtime.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I drive a BMW 3 Series diesel tourer. I bought it second-hand a year ago. It was my first diesel since I switched from the old Landrover I used to drive when I was farming full-time. Main reason I bought a diesel was to cut down on the my motoring costs. For much of the last 15 years, the taxpayer had been paying for most of my fuel - but for the last year, I've been paying for it myself. This focuses the mind. Last week I filled up and it cost me £71. I couldn't believe it. It seems only a few weeks since I crossed the £60 barrier. So I'm on the side of the truckers. This post is my declaration of interest.

As always, its a matter of degree. In general, I'm in favour of what we might call a 'Green Tax Switch'. I've always accepted that the cost of motoring would rise - at a sustainable rate. What's happening at the moment is not sustainable. And if its a 'switch' where are the compensating tax reductions. And its no good just blaming the price of crude oil, or OPEC for restricting supply (which is untrue anyway) or speculators (which may have some truth). By far the biggest part of the increase is going straight to the Treasury in tax. So don't lets have any of this stuff about the Government not having the ability to cushion the increases.

A potentially bigger problem for the Government is its proposed changes to excise duty. This deadly little explosive is growing like a cancerous tumour, just waiting for the time when its true horror breaks out into the open. Again, if it was a 'Green Tax Switch', the Government could get away with it. But its not. As moving the excise duty burden from high polluting cars to less polluting cards, the Chancellor took the opportunity to hugely increase the total tax take - so its a 'tax take' not a 'tax switch'. And Government Minister, Phil Woolas is telling Kirsty Wark (with an insufferable arrogant tone) as I write this that the excise duty changes will definitely go ahead - but the Chancellor still has an 'open mind'. Kirsty looked a bit gobsmacked by the sheer brazenness of the doublespeak. Perhaps he was mimicking Rory Bremner.

Truth is that our Labour Government has got a very big problem. The taxpayers of this country have finally sussed them out. Suddenly, we've realised that Gordon Brown is a destructively high tax grabber. And he can't stop, because he's already spent it. Finding £71 every time I fill up my car is a bit of a headache for me. Gordon Brown is suffering from something much more serious and it could be terminal.

Wheels coming off

Here's a few quotes from the major article in today's Telegraph which describes the way we are being governed in Britain.

"...the insatiable greed of the state in all its manifestations to take the people's money for its own, often incompetent and counter-productive ends"

or this one "But when the state hoovers up nearly two thirds of a trillion pounds from national income, describing such economics as neo-liberal is to mock language"

or this one which is even better "I do not know of a single minister who privately does not despair at the waste of money on pointless projects, publications or legions of press officers that add no value"

and to sum up "Today's Prime Minister should seek to lead a more modest state. He might care to call it a prudent state which leaves more money with the citizen, so that social justice is not confused with state aggrandisement"

Which member of the growing coalition of dissatisfaction with Gordon Brown would have written such a hard-hitting article - which challenges the whole ethos of the way Gordon Brown has led the nation in both his role as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and as Prime Minister. But whats this? Its one of Gordon Brown's own team saying all this. Its the Rt. Hon. Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham. The article may be all sensible stuff, but from a member of the party which has created the bloated state, and which is led by a man who believes in the capacity of the state to deliver solutions to all problems. All it tells me is that the Labour Government is collapsing from within.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Reasons for voting - Update

Recently, I published a post informing you that a friend had voted in the recent local government election because the granny of the candidate had made exceedingly good cakes. Well there's more to this than I thought. In today's Telegraph we learn that baking cakes is regarded as great family bonding time by 59% of Britons. According to a survey of 1803 people carried out by Dr Oetker, the baking company, 27% of respondents say their fondest childhood memory is baking with their parents or grandparents. At long last, we may have found the secret to reversing the trend amongst young people to not vote.

Disgusted of Montgomeryshire

One of my favourite blogs is that of Valley's Mam. But I must admit to being shocked to the very core of my being by her most recent post. Can you just imagine the stick I'd have had if I'd dared publish such a post on this blog. That's the trouble with the Blogosphere. You just click in, and you find this sort of thing.

UPDATE - VM has removed the post. I just hope that it was nothing to do with my comment on it. I wasn't being entirely serious - in fact, not serious at all. OK, so the post was a touch rude, but they were all genuine, and very funny 'blips'. I hope VM will tell me that she removed the post for other reasons, because I'm on a bad run, where my blog is being read in a different light from the way its written. For a few days, I'll now be knocked back into straight political blogging - just to avoid causing offence. And by the way, Valley's Mam writes one of the best Welsh blogs.

Lib-Con Coalition in Montgomeryshire.

This is a photograph of Amy Reynolds, Newtown's Carnival Queen and her entourage. This 'royal' party won the 'Visiting Queen' competition at Welshpool Carnival this afternoon. The judges were Montgomeryshire MP, Lembit Opik and his Conservative opponent, yours truly. In a rare moment of total synchronisation of minds, we agreed that Amy and co should triumph.
Mind you, it was not an easy decision. Much head scratching was undertaken before the decision was made. This team was much younger than that representing Rhayader - so it was a bit like judging apples and pears. And then there was the issue of what relative 'weighting' should be given to the Queen, the entourage, and the lorry. It could have gone either way, but in the end the two judges reached that magical stage where perfect harmony broke out. Congratulation Amy.
After the judging, Lembit and I accompanied the Carnival Procession through the streets of Welshpool, equipped with collection buckets. I hadn't done this before, and wasn't sure of the form. So I just asked everyone if they wanted to donate to the Carnival's charities - and many of them did. I said it so often that I started asking for donations to the Charnival's carities. I did suggest to Lembit that next year, all the political parties should enter a float in the procession, and ask the spectators to choose the winner. I suppose it would mean dressing up in drag to enable us to enter the 'Visiting Queen' competition. After very little consideration, we both decided it could be a bit too dangerous. But it would certainly have given the WoS's 'Spin Doctor' something to write about.

Filling the Pews

We live in the Parish of Berriew, in the heart of old Montgomeryshire. Only those of you who have visited the village will know just how lovely it is. The dominant architectural feature of the village is the magnificent St Beuno's Church. This weekend the pews have been filled with the sound of people, as they appreciated over 106 paintings by local artists.

I'm not sure who to congratulate on the excellent idea to hold the 'Art in the Pews' exhibition. Top of the list must surely be the Venerable John Thelwell, the Archdeacon, who recently featured on this blog when our little granddaughter tugged his beard when she was being christened. And also Michael D Allen, a Berriew artist whom I forgive constantly for his enthusiastic support of Plaid Cymru. And there are dozens of others who sell programmes, make teas, etc.. Over the last few months we've been to several events which are introducing inventive ways to re-connect Churches with communities. Earlier this month, I was listening to Penybontfawr Male Voice in Llansan(t)ffraid Church with a glass of wine on the hymn book shelf. This weekend the Parish of Berriew hosted one of the best I've seen.

Spent a fair time wondering what to buy. I always leave this to Mrs D now. My confidence has never returned since the time she rang me from an auction and asked my advice about paying between £3000/£4000 for a Kyffin Williams oil - when I advised that we couldn't afford it. Advice doesn't come much worse than that. Almost as bad as Gordon Brown's decision to sell all of our gold at a rock bottom price. There were some quality stuff on display and I really liked the work of Llewelyn Cummings from Meifod, some screen printing by Richard Oke from Llanfair Caereinion and the local landscapes of Dorothy R Scrivener. Mrs D was tempted by one of Michael Allen 'constructions' using hand made paper and Himalayan leaves, and a local Berriew scene by Andrew Logan, perhaps Berriew's most famous resident. After much deliberation we went for the Andrew Logan, because we liked it and because it may have some investment potential. If the Church is going to be entrepreneurial, why should we not follow its teaching.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Refecting on Crewe and Nantwich.

Weather's miserable. So time to read the Sunday newspapers - time to read the interpretations of the Crewe and Nantwich by-election result. Because this blog is usually written late in the evening rather than at dawn, it tends towards considered reflection on events, rather than the first reaction, which makes many other bloggers compulsive reading. My posts are often influenced by the early reaction of others.

The by-election result should not be looked at in isolation. It follows Labour's disastrous council election results, victory for Boris Johnson in London, and consistently poor opinion polls. The result was undoubtedly made worse by the ridiculous 'class war' campaign fought by Labour, a tactic which regrettably has caused great damage to the reputation of their candidate, Tamsin Dunwoody. Even if she is retained for the General Election, her crass tribal campaign has transformed her into badly damaged goods. So its not a one-off. It was part of a trend. Question now is whether the Labour 'movement' is just going to carry on driving down what looks like a downward spiral to defeat, or is there going to be some attempt to take control of the steering wheel. In particular, will there be a change of driver.

There's lots of discussion in today's papers about replacing Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, but at present, I just don't believe it. Of course, if things have not improved for Labour by October, it could well be a different story altogether. Today, most Labour MPs and activists still believe that the Party can recover in time to win a General Election. As time goes on, without improvement in Labour's prospects, this belief will gradually evaporate. The biggest impact of the by-election on Labour was that it accelerated the undermining of this belief in the prospect for recovery.

The result also had a big impact on my Party. It gave us confidence that we can win the next election. We've watched the opinion polls and the local elections over recent weeks, but this was a real Parliamentary by-election. Crewe and Nantwich was thought to be a rock solid Labour seat. And the Liberal Democrats, specialist by-election scavengers par excellence just sunk without trace. If Crewe and Nantwich is ready to vote for David Cameron as our Prime Minister, then most of Britain is. The result has created belief. Of course, there remains a huge amount of work and preparation ahead of us, but the by-election was an important milestone in belief-creation.

Now what does it mean for Wales? Devolution means that no longer can we accept 'For England, read Wales.' But there are important similarities. Rhodri Morgan's style is as tribal as Labour's by-election campaign. His whole demeanor in the National Assembly is similarly dismissive of opponents as that of Gordon Brown. And Labour is treating the First Minister role, as almost nothing to do with the voters. The First Minister is deciding on a retirement date that suits his own personal convenience, and his potential successors are just playing along with his personal wishes (except Huw Lewis that is). Voters didn't like the way Gordon Brown is orchastrating this, and they won't like the way Welsh Labour is treating the Welsh 'premiership' as their own fiefdom either. What we could really do with is a by-election in Wales to expose all this. All in all, its been a very good month for us, as long as we don't take anything for granted.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

An odd 'thought' from Oscar.

My IT advisor (OK, so I have to ask daughter Sally every little thing about my computer) has arranged for something called 'Google Alerts' to email me every day to report where my name has cropped up on other blogs. Well, there was a really odd one today. A blogger who posts under the name of Oscar, has published a post entitled 'Glyn wants to be elevated'. It seems that he's (if a he it is) has been ferreting through my old posts and has come up with the following comment.

"I am not at all sure about taking on Lembit. I'm a bit too committed to Wales to want to be an MP. Of course I would like the Lords if I could spend half my time in Wales. But so would a lot of others - but its not my call."

Now Oscar and I have history. He used to read my blog, but decided that it wasn't for him/her and informed me (none to politely) that he/she was off to read something more to his/her taste. And now, several months later, up he/she pops and writes this odd post. And I can't even make up my mind whether the intention is to inflict electoral damage upon myself, or perhaps its just a harmless attempt to take the p***.

Anyway, this comment must have been made during the few weeks immediately after I lost my position as an Assembly Member last May. I may well not have fully recovered from my disappointment. I also recall that several fellow bloggers were encouraging me to have a crack at Lembit Opik in the General Election - and there were others (OK, perhaps one) who were suggesting that I might be 'elevated'. Well I wasn't at all sure what I wanted to do at the time, except that I knew that I quite enjoyed my politics. And I spoke with several friends before satisfying myself that being an MP was right for me. In fact I was not certain about it until I submitted my application form to the Montgomeryshire Association, some weeks later. And then I was sure.

The comment is also revealing in another way - the reference to spending time in Wales. I've always said that the aspect of the MP role that would grab me most would be the relationship between the UK Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales. That hasn't changed. I would hope to spend quite a bit of time in Cardiff, and we decided to keep our flat in Century Wharf just in case. It remains my opinion that if devolution is to be a success, it needs MPs committed to it just as much as it needs AMs, probably more so. Devolution is from somewhere as well as to somewhere.

I'm amused about the reference to the House of Lords though. Never for one second thought I'd be elevated of course, but I wouldn't have minded at all. Its such a very civilised place, and I know quite a few of their Lordships. Me and about 10,000 others I should think. Big deal. But I still can't fathom why a blogger, who decided many months ago to not visit my site again should publish such a very odd post.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Claire House

Spent a couple of hours at Claire House on the Wirral today. Its a Children's Hospice. Chief Executive, Karen Wright, filled us in on the background to Claire House and to the Children's Hospice movement generally. I already knew that there is very limited and variable funding for hospices generally, but I was surprised to learn that there is no regular public funding at all for Children's Hospices. Just to maintain Claire House costs in excess of two million pounds every year. That is a serious amount of fund raising. A childen's hospice is a wonderful cause, and there are a few celebrities who help out. The room in which we met had been opened by Mr and Mrs Wayne Rooney, and celebrities don't come much bigger than that.

Although Claire House is on the Wirral, it provides services for North Wales, and a Welsh Advisory Board is currently being established, under the Chairmanship of former Clwyd West MP, Gareth Thomas. I've spent quite a bit of time with Gareth over the last year, and I reckon he's just the man for he job. Hope House provides children's hospice services for Mid Wales. I resolved to try to arrange a visit there next week.

A Labour MP, Joe Benton, who represents Bootle was also there, and what a truly decent man he seemed. I must admit I could be a touch influenced by knowledge that he voted in favour of reducing the legal limit for abortions from 24 weeks earlier this week. Clearly a Labour MP with some real backbone.

The real reason I posted on this was that I wanted to publish a photograph of a wonderful work of art in the form of a metallic tree - a sort of 'Tree of Life' which inspires those who see it to value the lives of those who die young. But I took the photograph when my camera was in 'video' mode, and cannot transfer it onto my post.

Brmm, Brmm

I really have to stop this. But I do want to share my new homepage with you. And if you feel I'm overdoing the family snaps, just be grateful there's only one Ffion

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Campaigning in Residential Homes

This post raises a very difficult and sensitive issue, and I raise it only in the form of a question, rather than an opinion about what we might do. But its an issue that's been troubling me since an election about a few years ago. But today, I've received an approach from a former constituent about the issue, which I've advised warrants a letter to the Returning Officer. I've also said that I'd like to join the meeting. The approach to me follows rumours and much local concern that all the residents in a particular residential home had all completed postal votes in favour of the same candidate, and this was being widely discussed on the street several days before the election. The implications of what's being said are fairly clear.

When I first stood in a national election in 1997, I visited several residential homes and enjoyed good discussions with potential voters. It was not much different from campaigning in a 'sheltered' complex. But I spend quite a lot of time in residential homes now, and find the environment very different. Many are more as I used to think of nursing homes, where people are much more frail, and where it just didn't seem right to campaign. In fact, I've never campaigned in a nursing home. And I've extended this personal policy to residential homes, where today, I don't find many residents at all engaged with the electoral process.

The implication behind the suggestion made to me today is that someone is improperly 'helping' all the residents in a residential home to fill in their postal vote forms in support of a favoured candidate. Now I've no idea if this is true, but I do know that it is widely rumoured, and is undermining confidence in the electoral process. It needs to be thought about seriously. I accept that it may not be practically possible to entirely remove the possibility for unscrupulousness behaviour, but I do think its worth discussing it with the Returning Officer.

Reasons to vote

Over the years I've heard voters give many different reasons for favouring an individual candidate, many of them not entirely logical. We've heard some fairly bizarre reasons to support the Labour candidate in Crewe and Nantwich. But today a friend of mine informed me, with an entirely straight face, that he had cast his vote because the candidate's granny used to make outstandingly good cakes. This is known as the 'Mr Kipling' argument. I have heard it argued that when the Conservative Party was in its pomp, the capacity of the Party's activists to produce tea and cakes to order, and in great quantities, was one of our secret weapons. So Frank's position is entirely logical. `

Three Lords a-dining.

Last night, I dined out at 67 St James St., London, an address better known as The Carlton Club. Didn't make it home til four in the morning, so passed on blogging. Eight of us settled down in the 'Cabinet Room', at what's often been referred to as the 'spiritual home' of the Conservative Party. The dinner was hosted by Lord (Peter) Walker of Worcester, in honour of Lord (Wyn) Roberts of Conwy. We were joined by Lord (Nicholas) Crickhowell, and there were five of we lesser beings there. The 'Cabinet Room' is steeped in history, which last night was overlaid with genuine affection and appreciation of all that Wyn has done for Wales and the Conservative Party during his long and distinguished career. It was a long way to go for supper, but an occasion not to be missed. Such history, such friendship.

Until last night I was a Carlton Club virgin. And I will always be able to say that I did not eat there until the Club fully embraced ladies by granted them full membership status. The momentous decision had been taken the night before. Ninety years after women were granted the vote, and after 176 years of just men being able to be accorded full membership (except for Lady Thatcher) ,the necessary two thirds majority was achieved to allow the ladies in. And about time to.

Yesterday's trip was memorable for another reason. There was a Red Kite hovering over the M40/A404 junction at High Wycombe. It was low and steady, and seemed to be looking me in the eye as I waited at the lights (I drive to Maidenhead and then train it in to Paddington). I remember well when I would sit for hours on the mountain above Cwmystwyth, just hoping to catch a glimpse of this most graceful of birds. In the 1970s, the few Kites left in Britain were struggling to survive in the Cambrian Mountains. And now they hover over High Wycombe, watching men from rural Wales travelling to London. I'm taking it as an omen for the Conservative Party. After a period dominating Britain, it went through a period where its very survival was threatened - and now its back big-time. I wonder whether there are Red Kites in Crewe and Nantwich.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Charity Cheek

I was deeply traumatised when I turned onto page 10 in today's Telegraph. There was a photograph of 4 topless ladies on horseback. (There are 6 of them featuring on the on-line page). It seems there were 50 of them in all. In fact the rider nearest to the camera did not seem to be wearing anything at all - just sitting there in her stirrups. Until I read the story, I thought they were on their way to the Carlton Club to argue the case for women to be allowed to join as members, an issue that is being decided tonight. If they hadn't been raising money for a cancer charity, I would consider making a formal complaint. If I'd known that this stunt was to take place in Hyde Park yesterday, I'd have considered going down to London to express my disapproval in person.

Victory for the scientists

After all the agonising and hand wringing, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is being approved by MPs without amendment (except possibly for the legal limit for abortion). I've found this to have been the most difficult issue to come to a judgement on since I decided that I wanted to be a Member of Parliament. In the end, I would have voted with the scientists in favour of the creation of human-animal embryos, which are referred to as 'human admixed embryos'. But its a tough call. Its not so much concern about the moral implications (which are very significant), but a general distrust of science. I worry about the 'slippery slope' that the human race has ventured onto. But a judgement has to be made. And I'm with the scientists on the issue of 'saviour siblings' as well - with the same level of suspicion and concern.

At least there has been a proper level of debate in Parliament. One factor in the argument that has convinced me is the belief that somewhere, some scientists will do it anyway - and its better not to drive the research and experimentation underground. And perhaps I'm being unrealistic, but I hope that last night's votes will not be seen as a green light for 'carte blanche' - but I'm not hopeful. I just don't trust scientists. Their certainty frightens me.

I think that I wasn't impressed by the contribution to the debate of my MP. I saw a clip of him speaking on the BBC News, but have not been able to check the Hansard record yet. I think he said that those opposing the creation of 'human admixed embryos' were, in effect wanting to kill future sufferers from illnesses such as Parkinson's Disease and Motor Neurone Disease. I hope I misheard. But I'm going to check, because such a comment really would be a disgrace. This might be the subject of a future post.

There are two more big votes to come tonight. I'm not that exercised about the requirement for lesbian couples and single women to have a designated 'father' before being allowed fertility treatment. I accept that its a 'poor message' change in the law, but fathers just disappear in so many cases, that it will make almost no difference. But I would vote to reduce the legal time limit for abortions to 20 weeks from the current 24 weeks. In my opinion, every abortion is wrong, but I realise that its now part of how we organise society - so I would not support anything lower than 20 weeks. It is shocking and a scar on our society that we allow 2000,000 abortions per year in Britain, and reducing the limit to 20 weeks would send out a message that Government shares this horror.

UPDATE - The comment in this post about my MP caused offence toLembit Opik, which is something this blog would never want to do. I have checked the record in Hansard, and I don't think my reaction was unreasonable - but that is not the point. I didn't know of Lembit's personal and painful reasons for feeling so strongly about this issue. He raised it with me today (26th) , and I was horrified when he informed me of the background. I now wish I hadn't made the comment. I have apologised to him personally for inadvertantly causing him offence. We can both take the rough and tumble of politics, and subject each other to mockery, but I would never want to make a political point about an issue so personal and sensitive. We agreed to draw a line under the issue, but its been bothering me all night, and I wanted to apologise on the original post as well.

'Get Well Soon' my friends.

I ceased to be a Member of the National Assembly for Wales over twelve months ago, but I still feel a part of the place, even if the attachment is by an increasingly long cord. I still think of all the Assembly Members I served with between 1999 and 2007 as colleagues - even those who were not close friends. There's an elment of team loyalty involved. So there's much sympathy when any of them go down with illness. And there seems to be a particularly bad run of it at present. I'm told that last week, Mick Bates was admitted to the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital for a replacement hip. Last week, Andrew Davies was admitted to hospital as a result of a heart problem, and today we learn that Karen Sinclair is being treated for cancer of the bone marrow. This blog wishes all three well and hopes that they are back in full working order quickly.

Beauty and the Beast.

This one's for family and friends. I was clearing my inbox this morning, when I came upon this photograph of Ffion and her taid. I'd had a glass on champagne at the post Christening party, and it was a blisteringly hot day - so taid looks a bit flushed and bothered. But so what. Ffion looks cute in her Christening dress, and there does seem to be a touch of auburn in her hair. She's seven and a half, is crawling at pace, and will be visiting next weekend - so I'm sorry but we can't accept your invitation to go out.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Big Speech from Cameron today.

Just read through the speech that David Cameron delivered at Birmingham earlier today. Not often I blog in sycophantic praise of my leader, but I'm going to do it now. This speech was a defining watershed, and a very good read for anyone who believes that the 'State' is becoming over dominant in the UK. The speech was constructed on the basic premise that "We need to start living within our means." And it followed this up with observations such as "We have reached the limits of acceptable taxation and borrowing", and "Taxpayers can't take any more pain", and "Our economy can't take any more pain without losing jobs to lower tax competitors".

The Conservative Party Leader outlined three areas where a future Conservative Government would attack our bloated ' State'. Firstly, family breakdown, unemployment, drug and alcohol addiction. Secondly, 'unreformed' public services - by introducing more choice, competition and non-state collective provision. And thirdly, uncontrolled bureaucracy. Of course, all of this is just 'good housekeeping', but we have not enjoyed the service of a good housekeeper for a very long time. But over and above these issues, David Cameron has been talking about a cultural change in Government's attitude to public money. I know political opponents are going to start asking for detailed tax and spend changes - even though they saw our current Primer Minister spirit up £2.7 billion from nowhere a few days ago.

Now why is this speech so important. Its because of the desperate mess that Gordon Brown has steered our country into. The current budgetary figures are horrific. In March, the Chancellor revealed that he would have to borrow £43 billion this financial year, up 40% on his estimate one year before. Last week, he announced that he intended to borrow another £2.7 billion to extricate Gordon Brown out of his 10p tax rate hole. The UK has the biggest budget deficit of any advanced economy. And the state accounts for 45% of Gross Domestic Product, up from the 37% it was when Labour took office in 1997. The UK is in desperate need of a Government committed to ensuring that we live within our means. David Cameron is the man to lead it.

More Azaleas

Managed another afternoon in the garden today. Azaleas are still on fire. As its not so hot, they may last another fortnight yet. I've included two more photographs which put on display both their subtleness and their glory. I'll put up one more photograph, when our best yellow specimen is fully open, which is likely to be in two days time.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Rate for the job.

This blog hasn't been receiving offensive comments for a while now. Perhaps my posts have not been sufficiently irritating - or the irritated have moved on to more palatable fare. Anyway, I'm probably asking for it with this post. My question is "What's a politician worth?"

Reason I ask this question is that a non-Board member of Powys County Council has taken umbrage at my expressed opinion that the salary of £11,500-ish for a backbencher is on the generous side. This particular Councillor probably works several days per week, as do some others, representing the Council on various other bodies. I can see that on the basis of hours worked by some individual councillors, its possible to make out a case for an increased salary. But I don't think this is the point.

Serving as a Councillor, an Assembly Member, an MP, or an MEP is not as other jobs. There is an element of public service involved. There is no clearly defined job or performance measurement. If the salary is going to be looked on in the same way as other jobs, should not the discipline involved in other jobs also apply, particularly productivity and performance targets. The only performance assessment that is carried out is at elections, which is often based on many factors other than performance.

Example Questions.

How can it be that when a chunk of an MP's workload is transferred through devolution, there is no reduction in salary - or more realistically, no increase in the area represented? Can't imagine that happening in any other job.

How can it be that since County Councillors are now being paid a realistic salary, there is not a review on how many of them there should be? For example, does Powys really need over 70 Councillors, now that each of them is paid a decent and pensionable salary.

How can it be that any politicians who are paid on a full-time basis should be able to hold down another job? I support the concept of outside interests for politicians - but if the pay is full-time, should not the commitment be as well?

And that's before we get onto the super-sensitive issue of 'allowances'. Now its probably a bit too controversial for me to take a public position on this, but I can ask the questions. And before anyone casts the 'Crewe and Nantwich' stone in my direction, I accept that I own a few acres, which may influence the way I look at things (but no-one could ever call me a 'toff'). It would be interesting to hear what others think about all this.

The Non-Interview.

Just watched the Politics Show, which for logistical reasons, is not usually on my agenda. Adrian Masters was interviewing favourite to take over from Rhodri Morgan as First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales, Counsel-General, Carwyn Jones. I thought this might be interesting so switched off the electric carving knife to listen. Did I refer to it as an interview? Adrian asked him why Labour had performed so badly in last week's Council elections. Back came the answer. Nothing whatsoever to do with us in Wales. And anyway its not a problem because we did worse in 1976. Honestly, that's what he said. So it came as no surprise that when Adrian asked him what Welsh Labour might change in the future, all we had was 'We'll look at it and address any weaknesses we find'. Dull, dull, dull. Then Adrian moved on to 'The Succession'. The two of them just smiled at each other, employing language that did not convey any memorable meaning whatsoever. Have we really got to put up with another 18 months of this. Made me feel like writing to Sir Michael and asking for a bit of my licence fee back.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The YFC in action

Only country people know what a wonderful body is the Young Farmer's Clubs Movement. Between the ages of 16 and 22, it was the core of my social existence. Then rugby football and Mrs D took over. This afternoon, I joined several hundred members of local YFC clubs at their Annual Rally held at Forden. The photographs were taken at the same time in different parts of the fields and buildings.

The audience was in the shed where the entertainment competitions were held, and this was only about half of it. There were other crowds all over the place. The levels of audience appreciation is very high.

There was a sort of Notting Hill Carnival competition going on, which was tough on the girls, because it was freeeeeezing. There were several prominent performances.

There are always lots of competitions involving old skills now generally lost. When most of us want to erect one of these fashionable new wooden gates at the end of the drive, we simply go out and pay £100 for a factory made model. These lads can knock one up in half an hour.

Included this one because it was my old club, Berriew YFC performing. They were doing 'Making your mind up', the old Buck's Fizz European Song Contest entry. There was one hell of a cheer when the skirts were whipped off in true Buck's Fizz style. I was much taken with the terrific standard in this competition. Simon Cowell himself would have been impressed.

And there's the sheep shearing of course. Always makes me nostalgic. Its a skill that not enough people have these days, and we have become dependent on New Zealanders coming over for the summer months to help us manage the job. Its easy when you know how, but its a young man's game. I can still shear, and fairly quickly, but by the time I'd have shorn 10, my back would have retired me. I used to shear around 150 in a day, when I was doing a bit of contract shearing. So many young lads, strong and fit. One thing that wasn't around when I was a competitor was the van dishing out free condoms. It wasn't far from where these impressive torsos were displaying their dazzling techniques on the shearing podium. I was told that one young farmer had walked away from the van with his pockets stuffed full. He could have been heading for the carnival area.

Part of a Team

The memory that I carry with most fondness from my rugby career, was being part of a team. Lay a finger on one of my colleagues and the red mist came down. Original fault didn't come into it. My squash career, which followed, was much more focused on self. It was just me or him (or very occasionally her). My experience of politics is rather more akin to squash than rugby - until last night's Promise Auction that is. It was organised by the Montgomeryshire Conservatives, and held at Montgomery Town Hall. All six of our new Conservative Councillors were there, plus two of the candidates who lost out (this time). The atmosphere positively reeked of team spirit.

Our new Powys Council Board Member, Russell George paid £25 for a £20 voucher. Relieved to hear that he's not been given the 'Finance' portfolio. Clearly got a bit to learn before he's put in charge of Council Tax decisions. Mind you, I paid £200 for a 'Watercolour of the Mawddach Estuary' by Maddie Thornton, without having a clue what it was worth. Bought it because I liked it.

The 216 sausages donated by John Langford made £60. And I'd promised to take up to 20 people around our garden and ply them with a champagne tea - and that made £180. Worth strawberries and cream as well at that money. The second best news of the night is that we made between £2,000 and £3,000, to help us run our office. But the best news was (and is) that we have a strong team of political activists and councillors who see themselves as part of a team, a completely new base on which the Conservative Party in Montgomeryshire can fight the next General and Assembly Elections. For the first time, I really can see the try line in sight.

Advice from Valley's Mam

I often find nuggets of advice in the blogosphere - and found one today.

Whatever happened to Tamsin?

I thought I knew Tamsin Dunwoody quite well. We served together as members of the National Assembly for Wales until we both lost our positions last May. She'd always seemed a decent sort to me. So where on earth did this vile stuff come from. I wonder whether she's ashamed of her own Party. She should be and she deserves to lose - big time.

Friday, May 16, 2008

'Called to Order' and 'Time to Go'.

My favourite radio programme on which to appear is Radio Wales' 'Call to Order' - mainly because the ringmaster, Patrick Hanaan is so opinionated. And there's no getting away with the 'party line'. I've just returned from tonight's edition, where I appeared with the Lord Dafydd Wigley of the promised land.

The first issue was the future of Welsh Labour, following comments made by Peter Hain and wife and husband team, Huw Lewis and Lynne Neagle. Huw had been interviewed for the programme. There's not much doubt about what they think should happen as far as the leadership is concerned. They think Rhodri Morgan should go now, but they use rather oblique language to say it, hoping to avoid accusations of disloyalty. Huw cannot complete many sentences without a reference to the Labour Party "losing its way". Whenever I hear him saying this sort of stuff, I think, "Yes Huw, but tell us about what you would do so differently". The former Secretary of State and Lynne have been blunt in dismissing Rhodri's defence that Welsh Labour's unpopularity is as a result of British Labour's misgoverning - and they are spot on.

I said that if I was a member of the Wales Labour Party, I would want Rhodri Morgan to go now. I've no time at all for this modern practise of leaders announcing retirement dates without an accompanying replacement selection process. It just creates a lame duck. At a time when the Labour Party should have a hungry and ambition leader at the helm, desperate to make a mark, they are saddled with a one-legged duck in charge of the pond. Still, I suppose from a strictly partisan point of view, extending the period of inertia is politically advantageous. Pity is that leaves the business of inspiring and leading our devolved National Assembly in a dense fog without a compass.

Ear-bashed in Abermule

Rushed off to buy a copy of the Montgomeryshire County Times this morning. Desperately hoping that one of my previous posts hadn't appeared in the 'Blog of the Week' column. What a relief. The one I did which referred to the change in 'political' allegiance on Powys County Council of Councillor Wynne Jones of Abermule was not there. The Editor had chosen my post attacking Gordon Brown's cynical attempt to buy votes in Crewe and Nantwich with "£2.7 billion of our money instead. Whew. That might just keep the lawyers off my back. But it might not of course.

Met with the above mentioned Cllr. Jones this morning. He was not a happy bunny at all. He very kindly (in the circumstances) entertained me to coffee in his rather splendid sitting room, where I considered myself fortunate not to have been given the Heather MaCartney treatment. Anyway, to the issue that had fired up Wynne into such a frenzy. He described my assertion that he has "jumped ship" from one 'Independent' Group on Powys County Council to another as incorrect, using rather more forceful terminology (I know some children read my blog). This blog seeks to uphold a reputation for accuracy, so lets get this right. Whereas I'd posted that Cllr. Wynne Jones had left the Montgomeryshire Independent Group (MIGs) to join the Powys Independent Group (PIGs), he informs me that he actually left the MIGs to join a completely new Group, called the Powys Independent Alliance. Two other former MIGs have made the same decision, and one of the new Councillors in Montgomeryshire has also joined the PIAs. (In passing, I note that as much as like piggies, I never did think PIGs was a very elegant name for a political group). So its PIAs from now on - which has something of a European sound about it.

The second thistle in Wynne's trousers was my description of him as 'pressuriser', suggesting that he had been encouraging others to follow him into the PIAs. Well, he swears blind he's done no such thing. I'm reporting what he told me. Funny thing, I thought this would have been quite commendable, and that my blog was rather complimentary about him - especially the line I casually threw in that he might have changed groups to make a pitch for the Chairmanship of the Board. Wynne assured me that no such thought had ever crossed his mind, which disappoints me greatly. For me, politics is about ambition (as long as it doesn't interfere with public service) and trying to change things. I like to see ambition in our councillors and I also like to see competition for the top job. Wynne is a capable man, and I hope he doesn't hide his talent under a bush for ever.

A lot more 'bloggable' material emerged from our discussion this morning, but this blog will only stand so much 'local Council' news. I'll cover the most important issue over the weekend. I do hope I'm not going to have another ear bashing as a result of this post.

Azalea Time

Managed to squeeze in a few hours gardening over the last few days. It is something of a passion, and there's added pressure this year because we have a family wedding reception on a new, specially constructed marquee site, overlooking the pool on July 26th. Because of the effort we're making to dress up our garden in glory and order for the event, I've restricted visits by groups to the period, mid-June to mid-July, when things should be looking spic and span.

In order to bring a little colour to my blog, I'm going to include an occasional photograph from now on. It's Azalea time at the moment - so the garden is 'on fire'. We grow about 50 of them in colours both subtle and flaming. We bought another 10 last week from the Bridgemere Garden Centre, which happens to lie in the Crewe and Nantwich constituency. The photograph is of an Azalea planted about 5 years ago, which relaxes in the shade of a large Acer Palmatum, with another much smaller Acer, the beautiful Palmatum Dissectum Viridis and a Vibernum 'Maresii' forming the backdrop.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

More Powers ? - Fewer MPs ?

Just watched the Conservative's Assembly Group Leader on Dragon's Eye. Very polished performance. Nick Bourne was right to claim that we've just achieved a very good result in the local elections, and that this was an extension of a steady trend of improvement over the last 6/7 years. But the interview became much more interesting when Nick said he was in favour of Primary Powers for the National Assembly, in favour of more Assembly Members and fewer Members of Parliament. Now this is a strong and entirely logical position to take. And I think I heard him say that all of the current Conservative AMs agree with him.

I've been in favour of Primary Powers being granted to the National Assembly in those subject areas that are already devolved. And I've argued this case publicly for many years now. But I've never called for an increase in the number of Assembly Members to 80. The public will accept this increase only when it is clear to them that the current 60 are overworked - and I've heard very few people express this as their opinion yet. More work to be done on this one.

But it is the case that the only way in which the creation of another 20 Assembly Members would be acceptable would be if the number of Welsh MPs were reduced. At the last General Election, Conservative Party policy was that the number be reduced from 40 to 26 Welsh MPs, were law making powers to be granted. This was a dramatic and controversial proposal, but as far as I know was universally accepted within the Party.

I'm a bit disinclined to take up a strong opinion on this at present, even though I've made public my submission to Lord Roberts review on what Conservative policy should be. This very important review for the Conservative Party in Wales may well not extend into the relative number of AMs and MPs - and I don't want to distract attention from the main point which is what our policy should be towards law making powers and the timing of a referendum. At present, not even the Jones-Parry review on Assembly powers is scheduled to look at the 'numbers' issue.

Post Office Consultation over.

Its not officially over until Monday, but its over for me - the consultation period on the proposed cutbacks that Post Office Ltd intend to make to our post office network. Last night, I joined most of the population of Castle Caereinion in a last ditch appeal to save their local Post Office. It will always be special for me, because it was the first shop I entered as a toddler, and for many years the only shop I entered. I used to pick up the (right wing) Daily Express every day for my parents (I attended the local primary school), and often blew my weekly spend on a Mars bar. The current Sub Post Master is Michael Rogers, an institution in the village. I remember his mum, Mrs Rogers (at whose funeral I offered the tribute a few years ago) who died aged 94. I also remember Mr Bert Rogers, Michael's dad who died many decades ago.

And tonight, I chaired a similar meeting in Berriew, where representatives of Post Office Ltd were outlining plans to close the local Sub Post Office to a full community hall. Fortunately, Mr and Mrs Paul Lombard, who run the local Spar, have declared their desire to enter into a 'partnership' with a larger nearby Post Office. So we finished up with a unanimous opinion. We want to retain a Sub Post Office in Berriew, but if Post Office Ltd are intent on closing our local Post Office, we prefer a 'partnership' arrangement to a mobile van or a 'hosted' site. It really was a terrific community meeting.

I've been to so many of these meetings over the last few weeks that I'm going to miss my regular contact with Pauline, Heulyn and Non from Post Office Ltd, Richard and Lowri from Post Watch, and the excellent Keith Richard from the Federation of Sub Post Masters. These people have been at the front line, taking the flak on behalf of a Government who see the Post Office as a business, and not in any way a 'social network'. I do hope that all the effort will not have been in vain.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I'm becoming involved in an organisation called RESEC - an almost acronym for Research into Specialise Elderly Care. RESEC is separate from, but sponsored by a private business, the European Care Group, which provides a range of services in the field of care for the elderly, mentally ill and those with learning and behavioral difficulties. It is intended that at some stage RESEC will become a charity. On Tuesday evening, a few of us met for dinner in Beaumaris, Ynys Mon. Our purpose was to discuss what aspects of elderly care, with an emphasis on people supporting neurological illness could be appropriately tackled at a Conference we are considering arranging early next year.

The more I become involved with care of the elderly, the more I realise that this policy area is one of the most urgent facing any future UK Government. The number of people who will need support is increasing at a frighteningly rapid rate. The issue is not being approached by Government with anything like enough urgency, and nothing like sufficient Government money. The usual phrase for this sort of thing is a 'Demographic Time bomb'. Well, this is a very big bomb indeed, and we're not equipped to deal with it.

The main reason that we were in Beaumaris, is that its close to Bangor, where the University is a leading research base into dementia and specialist elderly care. We hope to work closely with Professor Bob Woods of the University. I've also agreed to take part in two 'think tank' sessions at Green College, Oxford based on what should be the approach to tackling this emerging challenge to Government. Inevitably, the subject will be cropping up from time to time on this blog.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Its only £2.7 billion, Gordon.

Is the Crewe and Nantwich By-election the most expensive in history? Of course it could be that today's decision by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to borrow another £2,700,000,000 to give another £120 to 22 million people earning up to about £40,000 per annum was nothing to do with the by-election. But you have to admit that it does look a bit odd, a bit of a coincidence.

In general, I've always been supportive of raising the personal tax allowance as much as can be afforded - to take people out of the income tax system altogether. So today's shock decision to raise the allowance for all 22 million taxpayers by £600 does sound rather a good thing to me - if its part of a planned budget. But today's announcement does not seem tp have been planned at all. It was Her Majesty's Government rewriting its March budget as a panic measure, with no real idea where the money is to come from, simply in order to save the Prime Minister's political skin.

I do not think this will work. The British people have never been impressed by a Prime Minister who has lost control - and Gordon Brown now has about as much control of his own destiny as a cork adrift on an angry sea. Still I shouldn't complain. I'm £120 better off tonight than I expected t be this morning, as well as the extra that's to come on my winter fuel allowance (unless he's changed his mind about that). But there is a problem, and its the usual one that appears after going on a spending spree with the plastic - there will be bills to pay tomorrow.

Day in Llanystumdwy

Snowdonia in the sunshine is an exceedingly beautiful place - even if her most evocative mood is when she's glowering under low cloud, dark and menacing. We travelled from Beaumaris, down the Lleyn, across to Pwllelli, and stopped for most of the day at Llanystumdwy, to take in some David Lloyd George history.

It was very quiet in the Museum. We had it to ourselves. Even the cheerful waitress at the next door Dwyfor Cafe has never visited - despite being offered free entry! Odd I thought, because Lloyd George was, without doubt one of Britain's greatest Prime ministers. Its a remarkable story - a Criccieth solicitor going to Westminster, and through political fleetfootedness, courageous sticking to principle, and oratorical skill, became Prime Minister for 5 years. Remarkably, he was a Liberal who depended on Conservative support to maintain his premiership throughout, and lost office only when he lost the Conservatives - over the Irish question. The most impressive sliver of information I recall about Lloyd George was his opposition to rubbing the German's noses in it at Versailles. If only the French, Americans and Italians had listened to the little Welsh wizard from Llanystumdwy, and not insisted on punitive reparations, we might not have suffered the Second World War. Magnanimity in victory is a mark of a true statesman.

One of the most striking aspects of our visit was the vary small size of the man - only five foot and five inches - and slight with it. The most disconcerting aspect was watching the film of him chatting with Hitler in 1936. Mrs D asked me as we left whether I was was moved by my sense of pride in the achievements of a great Welshman, and whether it was diminished by his being a Liberal. I just said that we must remember that it was Lloyd George who brought down Asquith, and the Liberals have not threatened Downing Street ever since. I need to read a biography of Lloyd George.,

Good Luck Mick.

I'm told that Mick Bates, Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for Montgomeryshire is shortly to undergo hip replacement surgery at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital at Gobowen. Despite his being an opponent of longstanding, this blog wishes Mick a speedy and successful recovery. I hope that he is back in the Assembly to play a full part in promoting the leadership ambition of Kirsty Williams - that's if Mike German doesn't change his mind about stepping down from the leadership of the Assembly Group.

I also hope that he is not fitted out with one of these squeaking hips that have caused so much trouble is America. It seems that hundreds of people have opted for a new more durable form of ceramic replacement hips, only to find that they squeak at 'inappropriate' moments. Now I've heard about squeaking headboards and squeaking mattresses - but never before a squeaking hip.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Night Off.

Sorry but no blogging tonight. I'm off to Ynys Mon. To learn something about local Government (only joking). In fact, I'm going to a meeting of RESEC, which stands for Research into Specialist Elderly Care. Its a charity which intends to arrange a conference in association with Bangor University next year. Care of the elderly is a subject in the news today. Its going to be in the news a lot in the future. I'll probably post about it tomorrow.

There will be no speeding on Ynys Mon tonight. I was speaking to my old friend, Peter Rogers last night. Peter is currently the High Sheriff of Ynys Mon, which means he has responsibility for hanging miscreants. I know its a long time since anyone was hanged for speeding, but it being Ynys Mon and Peter Rogers, I'm not taking the risk. I'm meeting Peter at the Old Bull at 7.00, and looking forward to seeing him again.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Rockin all over the world.

Spin Doctor in today's Wales on Sunday tells us that William Graham, AM last week asked of the Deputy First Minister in the National Assembly a question of high importance. Would the planned half hourly train service between Cardiff and Merthyr be up and running in time for the Status Quo concert on July 26th. I did not realise that William was a Quo fan, but I want to send out a warning to him, and other AMs who might be thinking of attending - born of experience. I used to be a follower of Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt, and have much enjoyed their concerts. But I decided to fore-go this pleasure when I suffered a week's deafness after the last concert I went to.

Now, I realise that deafness can be a useful weapon in a politician's armoury, but it needs to be intermittent, partial and under the control of the politician concerned to be effective. Total deafness in no use to a politician at all. It leads to all sorts of trouble. Just look at what's happening to Gordon Brown. I've got a ticket for Bruce Springstein in Cardiff on June 15th though. See you there William.

Lib Dem Ferrets

Rang Edna this morning. Couldn't understand why she hasn't been in touch. Turns out she hasn't recovered from the trauma she suffered last week. It seems that she was cleaning outside the Lib Dem office when Mike German is reported to have informed his Assembly Colleagues that he was standing down next October. The BBC reported this as per the Lib Dem press release - which Edna reckons does not tell even half the story. She reckons that "German breaks promise and hangs on for another six months" should have been the headline. Sloppy journalism if you ask Edna.

Anyway back to the poor traumatised soul. She tells me that when Mike walked in (a bit late for effect), Peter Black asked him straight out about his promise to go after the Local Government elections. An awkward silence ensued. Jenny Randerson tried to inject some calm and change the subject - but Kirsty Williams started screaming hysterically. Eleanor Burnham rushed to the toilet and Mick Bates started pulling faces and humming a Bob Dylan song. Peter Black just started blogging in a quietly threatening way. And then the great pianist made his speech - complete with theatrical flourish.

"I believe we owe it to the great Liberal Democrat tradition, and in the wake of our glorious victory in the recent local council elections, (and every other election for that matter) that I, Michael German should remain as your leader. I am clearly the only one of us with the right balance of gravitas, intellectual authority, verbal dexterity and sheer animal magnetism to carry our great party to even greater electoral success and domination. I am king of the dispatch box, a master tactician, great pianist and probably a better performer in bed than either the 30 notches man, Nick Clegg, or the Monty Media Magnet, Opik".

Edna said it was a well prepared and delivered little speech, peppered with anecdotes, and was intended to end the silly nonsense of Mike German's retirement once and for all.

Edna tells me that all hell then broke loose. Quite upset her. The row reminded her of when her drunken father used to return from the pub after an argument with Aneurin Bevan. Kirsty started crying. Huge thunderous sobs - and whimpering "But you promised " in a high pitched screamy sort of broken voice. Eleanor disappeared to the Ladies again. Mick was still humming quietly to himself, and Peter Black was blogging furiously in the corner, looking like thunder. After a few minutes deafening silence, Jenny took Mike's hand, looked into his eyes, and broke the news to him. "Mikey, I think they all want you to resign". At first, a look of disbelief crossed his still youthful good looks. And then came the realisation, followed rapidly by the compromise. "Another six months. I can still be the leader all through the summer hols. And who knows. They might see sense if I give them long enough." The rest of the meeting was taken up discussing Eleanor's experiences on her two visits to the Assembly urinal.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Bob Davey, and others.

I know what its like to lose. Not just lose an election which could go either way. I know what its like to lose big time, when not expecting it. When my life has been turned upside down. I remember resigning (I had not much choice) from my position as Chair of the Development Board for Rural Wales. That almost destroyed me. And I remember losing my position on the National Assembly for Wales last May. I was knocked back by that too. So I think we can agree that I know a fair bit about what it feels like to lose.

So I felt for Bob Davey last Friday - despite my efforts to persuade voters to back his Conservative opponent. Bob couldn't have expected to lose. I went to the Wagon on Friday night to track him down, but just missed him. Anyway, I saw him yesterday and tried to share his pain. I also felt a bit of sympathy for Richard Noyce, the Lib Dem defeated by another Conservative that I'd been campaigned for. I'm told that he is feeling very low in defeat as well.

Bob's opinion is that Lembit Opik lost it for him, which bearing in mind that he was an 'Independent' takes a bit of working out. His theory is that there is so much antipathy to our MP at the moment, that huge numbers of voters are switching to the only party that can remove him, the Conservatives. If this is true, its rather promising news for yours truly, who will be standing against the Lib Dem MP at the next General Election. I'm told that Richard Noyce also feels that Lembit Opik cost him his seat. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Richard takes things further. Anyway, I'd advise all of last week's winners to spare a thought for the losers. It may be their turn some day.

Powys Council Update.

This may be boring to you but I want to spread the news about how things are shaping up at Powys County Council. Russell George (Newtown) and Gareth Ratcliffe (Hay on Wye) are joining the Management Board as nominees of the new Conservative Group. Both are young bright men who will soon get a grip on their portfolios, whatever they may be.

My guess is that there is a fair bit of tension amongst the PIGs (Powys Independent Group). Wynne Jones (Abermule), Dawn Bailey (Trewern) and Bobby Morgan (Llanbrynmair) have all defected to the PIGs from the MIGs (Montgomeryshire Independent Group), leaving the latter with just 13 members. Wynne Jones (who seemed to be leading the efforts to persuade MIGs to defect at last week's election count), Stephen Hayes (Montgomery), who I was told was helping Wynn in the defection promotion work, and Gwilym Vaughan (Glantwymyn), who I'm told may have influenced Bobby Morgan decision to defect, have all been elected as the PIG Board Members. Its been suggested to me that there could be an element of reward for services rendered here. Anyway, it means that Joy Shearer ( Tregynon), a long standing Board Member has been surprisingly dropped from the Board. The MIGs have not decided on their Board nominees yet, but it will probably be David Jones (Guilsfield), Graham Brown (Llandrinio) and Gwilym Evans (Trefeglwys) - unless there are shocks here as well.

Yesterday, I was talking to Bob Davey, who lost his seat to one of our Conservative members. We had quite a long chat about what had happened. Worth a separate post I think.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Transfer of Power.

He was the brilliant new kid on the the block, travelling across the land with a big jar of honey under his arm taunting the all powerful big clunking fists to a rumble. His name was Cassius Clay and the clunking fists he was hunting down were those of the 'big ugly bear', Sonny Liston. I was a young member of the 'clattering classes' and a great fan of Clay's, who would later change his name to Mohammed Ali. When Cassius Clay was first elevated to the position of chief challenger, the bookies had his chances at about 8-1. He was given less chance of beating Liston than David Cameron was given of beating Gordon Brown in the summer of 2007. But as time went on, and the precocious challenger lived up to all the predictions he made, some people started to believe. But the big ugly Brown bear hid himself away in a cave, and growled at everyone who dared challenge him, and most people thought he was invincible. But the day eventually came when the big clunking fists of Sonny Liston were forced to enter the ring to face up to the dazzling footwork and flashing cut and thrust of Cassius Clay.

The early rounds were even, with the champion Liston doing well. The clunking fists seemed to be biding their time, even if the challenger was doing better than expected, taking account of his inexperience. Victory for the big ugly Brown bear seemed only a matter of time. And then Clay started to find his range. Liston looked confused. This was not in the script. He had been promised some tasty morsels of Brown bear fodder, but found an opponent with rapier like jabs, moving like a butterfly, and stinging like a bee. Suddenly, the invincible big ugly bear was on the back foot. To begin with no-one believed this shift in dominance of the ring would last. The ugly Brown bear was only taking a rest - and his authority would surely return.

Round seven, and there was an excitement in the air. The crowd began to realise that the big ugly bear was too big, too ugly and too much like a bear to compete with the shiny new fleet footed athlete who was taunting him, flicking out jabs, uppercuts and then fading out of range of the ponderous clunking fists. Suddenly 26% more of the crowd thought Cassius Clay was going to whup the big ugly bear's backside, which was still sore from the mighty kick which Local Government electors had just given it. And at the start of Round 8, the big ugly Brown bear just stayed in his corner, big clunking fists dangling helplessly by his side, defeated, pathetic and abject, unable to go on. No-one who saw it will ever forget. It was all over. Cassius Cameron was Prime Minister. I really must stop allowing my imagination to run away with itself.

Caption Competition

A few days ago I informed you of my little granddaughter, Ffion's response to the Venerable John Thelwell's dousing of her in Baptismal Water. Perhaps you may be able to suggest what Ffion was thinking.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Prime Minister's Questions

Been to Cardiff today to guest on BBC Wales' programme AM/PM, which takes in Prime Minister's Questions. Its a great programme to do, and lasts from approx 11.30 until 1.00. Usually two guests. Today, I was on with Siobhan McLelland - again. I think that the BBC should consider giving us our own programme. We could be Wales answer to Portillo and Abbott.

What on earth was Gordon Brown talking about today. The Labour Party is in the most frightful mess about this demand for an early referendum on Scottish Independence by Wendy Alexander. The players are all contradicting each other. Last night, I saw Hazel Blears with my own eyes tell us on Newsnight that this issue had been discussed at a Cabinet meeting. Yesterday, we saw film of Ms Alexander herself saying that she had discussed her extraordinary statement with Gordon Brown. Today, when David Cameron asked him if he agreed with Wendy, our Prime Minister denied that Wendy Alexander had said what she said. It was totally bizarre to watch. I really thought Gordon Brown looked like a completely washed out Prime Minister today. He was so on another planet that David Cameron has to go easy to avoid making people feel sorry for him. And tonight, I've just watched David Miliband tell Jeremy Paxman that he had never heard the matter discussed at Cabinet, directly contradicting Hazel Blears. I've never seen anything like it. Labour is falling apart.

I then 'appeared' on Taro Post on Radio Cymru to discuss Darren Millar's outrage that some Welsh local authorities are buying Daffodil bulbs from Holland and England, rather than buying Welsh bulbs. Apparently there has already been a protest to the Conservative office from Cornwall, bitterly denying that it is part of England. Anyway, it was a phone-in and I decided to back Darren to the hilt, and was expecting a bit of stick for making a frivolous point. But I got 100% support from every contributor. Dylan Jones, who like s a bit of argument on his programme was dumbfounded. I finished by insisting that every true Welshman who buys a daffodil next St David'd Day should insist that the flower in the buttonhole came from a Welsh bulb. And I wasn't even mocked for that. When you're on a roll, even the daft things come off.

Vermin at the Cil.

Six-o-clock this morning. One hell of a rumpus in the garden, about 20 feet from the bedroom window. All the Canada Geese (about 10 adults at pesent) suddenly broke into a full throated alarm call. Mrs D was first to the window, and there were all of our Canadas fronting up to a dog fox, who fancied one of our four new goslings for breakfast. For some reason, they were a long way from the safety of their large pool, and highly vulnerable. We have a small fish pond near the house, and the family had in desperation dived in and escaped into the middle, with the parents circling them like Wild West Indian wagons. The fox was no more than 6 feet from that which his stomoch desired. I've never seen this sort of stand off before, and was fascinated watching the fox just strolling around our lawns as if he owned the place. There is something wonderfully evocative about watching a wild fox on the prowl. Anyway, our gosling family remain intact - but I fear that Reynard will be back.

Perhaps it was the blatancy of this prince of vermin's visit that has fired up Mrs D's venom towards vermin in general. She went shopping for weapons while I was in Cardiff today, to deal with a plague of mice that have invaded the house. No way will I dare walk around the house tonight without my shoes on. There are a range of Little Nippers stationed at various strategic locations. She tells me she was contemplating buying some sort of noise gun, which will destroy the eardrums of Grey Squirrels, driving them off our bird feeders - and the eardrums of cats as well. Personally I think the squirrels deserve proper guns. It seems there is also some sort of machine that stops the neighbours dogs barking, without your neighbour knowing who did it. Apparently all of these new armaments are available at Charlies Stores in Welshpool. I wonder whether there's anything available to deal with Lib Dems.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Simon Baynes, Group Leader.

With apologies to my non Powys readers, I anticipate posting quite often on Powys Council issues over the next few weeks. Since last Thursday, we have a strong foundation on which to build our bid to win the next General Election in Montgomeryshire, and I want to tell you about how its developing. So here goes. Been talking to the new Group Leader of the Conservative Group on Powys County Council today. I couldn't be more pleased. Simon Baynes is perfect for the job. And to strike a nice balance between North and South, Mike Hodges from Llandrindod Wells is Deputy Chair of the Group. Another super decision is that Peter Harris will be the 'whip' for the Group. Our aim is that we should be the most organised, professional, respected and disciplined group on the Council, and today has obviously been a great start.

Its a bit early for us to establish protocols between the Group and myself, as Parliamentary candidate for Montgomeryshire - and Suzy Davies in B and R. I've told Simon that I want to be subject to the same disciplines (daresay he thought that was a bit of a first) as our councillors. I also hope to attend some of their meetings. Our strength will be greater if we all work as a team in the public interest. It is very exciting for us, in that the Conservative Party in Montgomeryshire has never been in this position before.

I hear rumours that the two 'Independent' groups are considering the idea of joining up. Personally, I think this could give more structure to the Council, and would reduce personality-based disagreements. It would also give us a clearer identity as well. As Tony Blair might have said, we are going to focus on three issues, 'Public Service, Public Service and Public Service'.

What's Wendy playing at.

Leader of the Labour Party in the Scottish Parliament, Wendy Alexander, has today called on the Scottish Government to hold an early referendum on Scottish Independence. Now, it turns out that this is not some dramatic conversion to the cause of 'Independence', but a blatant tactic to disrupt the intended timetable of Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, who intends to hold such a referendum in 2010. Generally speaking, its not a sensible idea to play political games with constitutional issues. It makes a politician look shallow and irresponsible. Today's statement by Wendy Alexander is clearly a stunt, which may well backfire. I would be surprised if any of the other opposition parties in Scotland will support this call. I suspect that the SNP leader and Prime Minister, who is one of the craftiest operators in British politics, will find a way of turning this to his benefit.

An interesting aspect of this is whether Gordon Brown knew about the announcement before he heard in on the News. I suspect he did not, which would be the most graphic illustration of his waning influence in the Labour Party. This announcement, which looks a bit like a 'back of the fag packet' idea could really do some damage to Labour in Scotland, where the local council elections were not as bad as they could have been.

I really don't believe this. As writing this post I've put Newsnight on, and Hazel Blears has just told Jeremy Paxman that Gordon Brown's cabinet, not having known about this announcement before it was made, now agrees with Wendy Alexander that there should be an immediate referendum on the break-up of the United Kingdom. Words fail me. The Labour Party is falling apart.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Jockeying for Position.

We didn't set out to put more profit in BT's bank account, but that seems to be what we've done. Since the Conservative Party dropped its bombshell on Powys County Council last Thursday by winning 9 seats from nowhere, the telephones haven't stopped ringing. Not our telephones you understand. But the telephones of the new 'Independent' members, as the leading lights in the two 'Independent' groups try to pressurise them into joining either the MIGs or the PIGs. (Montgomeryshire Independent Group or the Powys Independent Group). Strangely enough I'm told that the leading pressuriser on behalf of the PIGs is Councillor Wynn Jones, who until last Thursday, was a leading light in the MIGs. I fancy he's been struck off some people's Xmas card list. I might speculate why in a post sometime. Apropos nothing, I'll mention that the Board Chairman is drawn from the largest group, which at present happens to be the PIGs.

Its a bit of a job trying to work out what this is all about. It doesn't seem to be anything about policy as far as I can see. Personally, I don't think its anything about snouts in better plenished troughs either, although Board Members are paid a few thousand more. (My own view is that 'backbench' councillors are well paid, but Board Members earn every penny). Its seems to be about power, or at least the right to appoint members to the Board and to various Committees. I'll try to explain it.

Powys County Council is run by a Board of 15 councillors, who are chosen is proportion to the number of seats won by the groups. So the new Board will probably comprise 1 Labour, 2 Lib Dems, 2 Conservatives, 3 MIGs and 7 PIGs. Now if the PIGs can peel off one or two of the MIGs, the latter's total might drop to 2. The only one who has jumped ship so far in Wynn Jones, Councillor for Abermule, but I'm hearing rumours about one or two others as well. I'm told the Stephen Hayes, Councillor for Montgomery is also ringing around lobbying. Again personally, because of my life long commitment to Montgomeryshire, I would join the MIGs if I were an 'Independent'. I understand that there have been letters circulating as well, concerning this threat from the Conservatives. I'll publish a copy if Edna Mopbucket can find one when she's cleaning the Council Offices next week.

None of this jockeying will have the slightest effect on us of course. All we intend to do is get our heads down, work as hard as we can for our constituents, and prove our commitment to public service. The Montgomeryshire electorate have given us a huge vote of confidence, and we're not going to let them down. The power games - that's for the 'Independents' to play.

NOTE - Russ has corrected me. The Lib Dems have 15 seats, and will qualify for 3 Board members - so I suppose there will be one less PIG.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Ffion's Baptism

Today, in the village of Berriew's wonderful Church, we were invited to accept that, by water and spirit, Ffion Eluned Davies be reborn as one of God's children, be made a follower of Christ, a member of his body, the Church and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. There were about 20 of us there and we all agreed. The occasion was our first little granddaughter, Ffion's Baptism.

Ffion, who is 7 months old, and the most beautiful creature imaginable was in sparkling form. She wanted to join in the Service to such an extent that she was awarded a public dummy to encourage a slightly reduced level of participation. She wore the same lovely white christening gown that her father, Edward and our other three children had been wearing when they were baptised. Mrs D rather cleverly made it, by recycling her wedding dress, 38 years ago. And then we came to the 'Heather McCartney' moment. The Venerable John Thelwell, was extremely liberal with the Baptismal Water. Ffion ignored it completely, was fascinated by the innards of the font and grabbed the Archdeacon's beard. I think that either Adrienne or Verity has the moment on camera. It will be published. The rest of today has been an extended celebration of our good fortune.


Tamsin Dunwoody-Kneafsey (as she was then known) was elected to the National Assembly for Wales in 2003 to represent Presceli Pembrokeshire. At last May's election, she was resoundingly defeated by Conservative, Paul Davies, who is making a name for himself speaking on cultural issues. In passing, I should record that if she had retained her seat, I would have retained my regional 'top-up' position as an Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales. Today, she has been selected as the Labour candidate to contest the forthcoming by-election in the Crewe and Nantwich constituency, though under her current name of Tamsin Dunwoody.

Tamsin's mother Gwyneth Dunwoody was a much respected, long serving MP, with a majority of 7,078. There are several reasons why this may not be enough to ensure Tamsin's victory. Firstly, there is the unseemly haste by Labour to hold this by-election, Gwyneth Dunwoody having died on 17th April. I don't know why, but it could be that Labour feels the great respect for the mother will be reflected in support for the daughter. But some Labour MPs are openly expressing their distaste for this tactic - and rightly so. Mrs Dunwoody had not been buried before the Party was openly discussing her replacement. It could backfire very badly indeed. It certainly deserves to. Or of course, Labour could have already written off the seat, and want to get all the bad news out of the way quickly - to clear the ground for a reshuffle based re-launch of the Prime Minister.

Tamsin was a member of the Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee which I chaired during the last Assembly. She was appointed a Deputy Minister by Rhodri Morgan, and given a special responsibility to develop a strategy to tackle Bovine Tb by the Minister with this same responsibility, Carwyn Jones. She did have an independent streak, but nothing like as pronounced as her mother, and I was disappointed by the lack of urgency in bringing forward a Bovine Tb strategy - in stark contrast to her successor, Elin Jones. Perhaps she would have been more decisive had she been the Minister. The By-election is to be held on 22nd May. The Conservative Candidate is Edward Timpson.