Sunday, May 31, 2009

Garden after the Azaleas.

We're away for a golf break today and tomorrow - at Carden Park, near Nantwich. 18 holes on the Nicklaus Course this afternoon, and 18 on the Cheshire Course tomorrow morning. Back campaigning tomorrow night. Just sharing three photographs from the garden. There was a lot of choice. First up is the first red hot poker of the year. I've still not seen anyone else growing Kniphofia northiae. It may be grotesque (with a flower spike approaching 12" long) but its very early (before Royal Standard) and inexplicably unusual. We grow lots of them, and they always excite the WI and Merched y Wawr groups that visit the garden.

We grow many sorts of allium, which are about as easy to grow as you can get, though some sorts die out and have to be replaced from time to time. Some varieties seed themselves. Its always a good idea to have them growing through other foliage, because their own leaves are dying back as they flower, and spoil the look. No good going to a party with lovely hair and dirty shoes. The bottom tier of the Cornus controversa variagata forms the backdrop.

Last photograph is another of the Vibernum marisii (I think). We grow lots of Vibernums, but this is the easiest and best of them all. There's a popularly used name referring to Xmas which I'm not sure of. Could be the 'Christmas Cake Tree'. Comment if you know.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Out Canvassing

Been out canvassing around Welshpool today with Emma Greenow, one of our four Conservative Euro-candidates. We took coffee at the Church House, where the Powys Eisteddfod Committee were holding a coffee morning. Lots of people there. Emma's mother, Sarah was along as well. I genuinely felt that we were very welcome. This was only in part because Emma and her mum are very charming people. I also thought that no-one felt any negativity whatsoever towards us, despite the public loathing of politicians that I see reported on in the media. After coffee, we delivered leaflets around housing estates in the town. We didn't knock on doors, but met a few people who were out and about. Again not one word of anti. We spoke to one resident at length who is just about to emigrate to Australia. His name is John Howard, so he won't have much trouble striking up conversations in his new home.

I already thought the criticism we've seen about three of the Conservative candidates living outside of Wales as parochial b*******. Today emphasised the point. I already knew that our top candidate, Kay Swinbourn is a first language Welsh speaker from Llandyssil, who currently lives in Ledbury, and our second candidate, Evan Price, has a property in Crickhowell and has very strong links with Wales. I was walking down Berriew Street with Emma and her mum, when Sarah pointed towards one of the shops (Aqua Sulis), and told me that she was born there. She used to live above Jones, a draper's shop in the town. No wonder Emma has such a love for Wales, and is keen to represent a Welsh constituency.

Another reason that people were pleased to meet Emma was that she was the first Euro-candidate who has been out canvassing in Welshpool (that I know of anyway). The reason that there is going to be such a low turnout on Thursday is that no-one knows the candidates. Wales is such a big constituency that there is no way that candidates can be widely known. That's proportional representation for you. I very much hope that the Conservatives defeat the Liberal Democrats in Montgomeryshire. If I'm going to create the momentum I need to win the General Election, we need the victory on Thursday. In theory, I was out supporting Emma today, but I felt as if Emma was supporting me. This is good. Mutual support is what friendships are made of.


If I manage to become a Member of Parliament, there will be no question of me needing to employ a gardener. Little Ffion is a natural. She noticed Mrs D stripping old bark off the white stemmed Betulus utilis, (you can also enhance the whiteness by washing them) and as you can see is taking her duties very seriously indeed. Its a skill she inherited from her father, who used to use exactly the same technique to strip wallpaper from his bedroom wall. I just love the concentration.

The Challenge facing David Cameron

Mr Frazer Nelson is a very talented journalist. He's going to be up there with Charles Moore, William Rees-Mogg and Boris. This week he wrote an article for the Telegraph that imprinted itself on my consciousness, and which chimed with the general theme of discussion at Thursday's meeting of the Welsh Advisory Board of the European Care Group (which I've chaired for the last two years). We all see this great threatening darkness welling up on the horizon, and thundering towards us, loaded with pain and suffering. David Cameron is going to find that Gordon Brown has emptied the cupboard. The Labour Goverenment has spent all the money - and left massive IOUs behind. Its like waiting for next month's Barclaycard bill, after going on a crazed spending splurge this month.

Frazer Nelson outlines the terrible mission that awaits David Cameron when he accepts Her Majesty's invitation to repair our national finances when the most spendthrift Prime Minister ever to hold power in Britain is finally prised from office. We have become used to the natural cheerfulness and self belief that he carries so casually. Yet, the mission which will be thrust upon him will require other qualities - implacable resolution and ruthlessness. People sometimes ask me what sort of Prime Minister I think David Cameron would be. I've taken to donning a solemn expression, and announcing slowly and precisely that I think he has the personal strength, ruthless will and bravery to cope with the storm to come.

But back to our European Care board meeting. Our business is caring for people in need - of all ages, but particularly those needing residential and nursing care. Most of our 'service users' are elderly, suffering various degrees of frailty and dementia. We know that there is going to be increasing demand for the services we provide. We also know that the capacity of the care sector will decrease as the regulatory authorities remove poor performers and impose new standards (like ending dual occupancy of rooms). Nothing new here. What's new is that the capacity of our nation to pay for this is going to fall - perhaps by 10%, or 20%, or ? I recall the moment when it really hit me. I was listening to Alistair Darling reading out Gordon Brown's budget in April, when he informed us that he planned to still be borrowing £100 billion in five year's time - and that based on unbelievable growth targets. This was fantasy. There are terrifying bills in the post, and the spending splurge is still in full flow. I fear for the elderly, the demented, the disadvantaged children with long term problem who will always need care. These are people with quiet voices. We must all pray that David Cameron has the steel to share the burden and ensure that these quiet voices do not pass unheard. I believe he has.

Friday, May 29, 2009

There is nothing funny about the 'Expenses Scandal.'

I read my Montgomeryshire County Times this afternoon. Even though I've enjoyed a nice dinner at the Talkhouse, at Pontolgoch I'm still seething at 11.30. The only way I can assuage my anger is to blog about it. Now' I try to avoid criticising our local MP. I'm his Conservative opponent at the next General Election, and I know any negative opinion from my keyboard will be seen as politically motivated. So I eschew the usual political knocking. Only real criticism I've made is of his continuing role as a political columnist for the Daily Sport. He should be ashamed of the rubbish he writes for this pornographic publication. Irritates me because it reflects badly on Montgomeryshire.

But I felt incensed when my eyes fell upon today's front page. I have not been an elected politician for over two years, but I still consider myself to be a politician - and I'm ashamed of what I have been reading in the Daily Telegraph over the last month. It has brought justified public contempt and disgust down upon the heads of politicians - all of them/us - teh fraudulent, the greedy, the foolish, the naive, and the completely innocent. We have read about what seems to me to be straight forward fraud, serious misjudgements as well as some genuine errors. And hundreds of MPs have done nothing wrong at all. But all of us are in the firing line. There is nothing whatsoever funny whatsoever about any of this. Much of it is utterly shameful.

Now, I'm not making any comment about any claim that Lembit Opik has made. But what the b***** h*** is he doing making a public exhibition of himself, posing for a photograph for our local newspaper, treating the whole thing as a joke. And its not as if the County Times photographer was behind it. I was at the Carnival last Monday, and I was told that he was planning this photograph as I went onto the field. I was told that he had gone off in search of the photographer and had promised to return for a posed 'stunt' making light of the 'expenses scandal'. I was told he was planning to do it before he reached the Carnival field. Now, perhaps I'm overreacting, but while our democracy is falling apart around our heads, I really do not want to see Montgomeryshire's MP treating this scandal as some huge joke. That's better. Got it off my chest.

Moral Questions over Dinner

Enjoyed dinner with Kidney Wales Foundation in Cardiff last night. Lots of talk about the introduction of the principle of 'opting out' from organ donation, rather than 'opting in'. Felt as though I was the only one in the room who disagreed until Assembly Member, Jonathan Morgan, who had been making a few ripples of his own yesterday, told me that he'd chaired the Assembly Committee which had considered this issue in depth, and had taken the same view as me. Anyway, my opinion is of little consequence because the Assembly Health Minister, Edwina Hart backs the change to 'opting out'. Edwina has many strong points, but listening is not one of them.

Coincidentally, there was a relevant and provocative piece in yesterday's Telegraph (on page 22 - after all the stuff about floating duck palaces and MP's 'opting out' of facing the voters at the next election). How's this for a question? Should transplants be given to people who are so unhappy with life that they wish to commit suicide? Yes is the easy answer,while there are plenty of livers, kidneys etc. available for donation to satisfy demand. But there's not. At present many people, desperate to live and with much to live for, die waiting for a replacement organ to become available. These are people who would be forever grateful for an organ which has been given to someone who doesn't want to live anyway! This debate usually centres around whether organs are given to people who need one only because they have so abused their bodies - and may well continue with the same lifestyle.

I cannot answer this question - largely because its impossible to know where to draw lines, and make the choices. But the fact that I am asking myself the question tells me that there is a case for saying No, even if it impossible to compile a set of guidelines to make it possible. And I thought the question of whether 'opting out' was difficult!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Like Old Times.

Sorry, but unlikely to be time for blogging again today. Its 5.00 in the morning and I've just off to Cardiff for a meeting of the European Care Group in the Park Hotel. I chair the Welsh Advisory Board of this growing care company, and its my last meeting of the two year 'contract' I was given. I've learned a lot about the way we, as a society, look after old people - and a lot about the expanding problem of dementia. Even though I took the decision this week to put my campaign to be elected MP for Montgomeryshire as top priority, I may well retain my specific interest in this sector. No doubt it would become one of my priorities if I were to succeed. And I shall stay down in Cardiff for a dinner tonight, associated with Kidney Wales Foundation, another of the interests I'm likely to stick with. Been involved in the campaign for a renal dialysis unit at Welshpool Hospital for too long to leave it now - particularly since it really does look as if its going to come to pass. When it does, I will lead the chorus of "There's only one Edwina Hart". This rushing about, putting strain on the physical capacity of my body is just like it was when I was an Assembly Member.

Should have been down in Cardiff last night as well - for the first meeting of a discussion group about health services in Wales, with a focus on dementia, which is being promoted by the European Care Group (along the lines of something similar I attend at Oxford Uni) was held at the Park. But as a result of my new policy of giving top priority to my election campaign, I instead attended the Mayor of Welshpool's very grand dinner to celebrate her installation in this historic office for another year. Anne Holloway has always been a doughty fighter for her town. Pleased I went. Bis event. Main talking point was MP's expenses of course. Didn't meet anyone who did not think there should be a General Election this year. If Gordon Brown does not call it in 2009, I reckon he will go down to a massive defeat in 2010.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Power to the People.

David Cameron delivered a very important speech today. What makes it important is that if the opinion polls are correct, he will become our next Prime Minister. It was a signal about what sort of Government we can expect under the Conservatives. And because I cannot believe that the current discredited Parliament can survive beyond October, this could all be starting to happen before the end of the year. I never take that much notice of promises made by politicians that are unlikely to ever be acted on. Today's speech was different.

Lets consider some of these proposals. The most eye catching is the idea of fixed term parliaments. Personally, I agree with this change. But it is such a huge diminution of a Prime Minister's power that I can see a lot of debate in front of us. A four year fixed term would remove much of the uncertainty from our politics, and reduce the temptation to opportunism by future Prime Ministers. A genuine and welcome reform in my book.

The second change, which is already becoming reality, is the online publication of various spending, including expenses, party spending, lobbying costs and everything else you can think of. I've long reckoned that this is the key to a prudent approach. If the public is going to know about it, there will long and careful thought before incurring expenditure that might be considered excessive. Another good and deliverable reform.

There was also a lot about returning power to local control. Instinctively, I favour this approach, but there's is a lot of work transferring the principle into reality. There will need to be some hard promises in our manifesto to satisfy voters that this is deliverable. No reason why not.

Another huge promise is the curbing of the power of the Whips, and the granting of more free votes - a policy area which I've previously visited on this blog. I don't think its workable for a casual approach to three line whips. But if we are serious about returning power back to 'Parliament' from 'Government' there must be far less three line whipping. Since I became involved in national politics, I've 'enjoyed' a reputation for independent thought - and often been described as a 'maverick'. Suddenly, this characterisation sounds complimentary rather than critical. I don't know how this approach can be incorporated in a manifesto, but without it, the disconnection between our politicians and the people they represent cannot be repaired.

Its an exciting time in British politics. Out of the shambles into which our politics has collapsed over the last two weeks, there is real promise of a new, more interesting politics rising up in its place.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Boris at his best, and some of the other.

You should never be surprised by what Boris Johnson writes in his weekly Telegraph column. Today's was a mixture of brilliance and daftness. The first few paragraphs in which he portrayed our 'terrified MPs' as loaded on a Russian sled, being towed by knackered ponies through a moonlit forest, with a pack of ravening wolves in hot pursuit, tossing sacrificial offerings over the back, is Boris at his irresistible best. And his judgement that this Parliament is finished, and that Gordon Brown's Government has lost the moral authority to govern our country is spot on. "Its over. They must go to the country" he trumpets (if its possible to trumpet in writing) This is clear to all except the governing party, and its refusal to see will reap its own reward, when it is finally forced to allow the people their say.

But then he loses the plot by advocating a 'Parliament of Rebels'. I go part of the way with the great man. We do need MPs with a greater willingness to take principled stands. We do need many more 'Free Votes'. We must move away from the 'lines to take' mentality, which so disfigures our politics. There is nothing more damaging to politicians as a collective than what is called 'a good political answer' - which usually means sidestepping the question put. But its not possible to run a political system without some commitment to the team. I'm sometimes told that I have a reputation as a 'maverick', a charge I've always tried to resist. I will resist no more. Rather like some of the clothes I wore in my youth, I seem to have come into fashion. But No Boris, we cannot have a 'Parliament of Rebels'. It would become a 'Parliament of Chaos'. This time, I cannot travel all the way with you.

Let there be a little sympathy for them.

Judged the floats at Welshpool Carnival today - along with Lembit Opik MP. An unlikely team you might think. In fact, I've always got along quite well with him. Our discussion turned to the impact of the Telegraph coverage of MP's expenses on the mental state of the politicians themselves. It was an issue that Matt Withers covered in yesterday's Wales on Sunday as well. The headline 'Spare us the Sob Stories' informs us that Matt was not very sympathetic. For once, Matt and I do not think as one.

I recognise the inevitability that all those MPs who have acted 'improperly' (deliberate choice of woolly word) should step down as MPs, and anyone guilty of fraud should be prosecuted. But at the same time, I do have sympathy with many MPs in the present situation. Many years ago I found myself in a similar place, when I resigned as a Quango Chairman. I feel that I know the desperation that some of these people might be going through. Its the sense of injustice (whether justified or not) that weighs so heavily. To be 'tried' and judged in a national newspaper, with no effective means of defence, while holding a genuine certainty in one's own integrity and 'innocence' generates a mental turmoil that is very difficult to control. Its not really anger, or outrage, or sadness, but a sort of illogical 'blackness' that overwhelms rational thought. My own reaction was to search out solitude and silence. I'm told now that it caused much concern to the family at the time. I like to think that none of our friends noticed, but the reality was that I lost a few months of my life. Only fully recovered when I signed up for a course at Aberystwyth University and became consumed in academic study. Occasionally, I still get worked up about the injustice of it - but I always keep it bottled up.

Now this is not any sort of defence of MPs who fail the test of 'reasonableness'. Its not even disagreement with Matt's instruction to spare us the sob stories. Its just that I want to own up to being perhaps the only non-MP in Britain who feels sympathy. The only sensible response is to put up with it, and say nothing. If it is "unbearable for any human being to deal with" as Nadine Dorries tells us, its time to vacate the kitchen. Any attempt to justify or challenge will only make matters worse. No-one wants to hear, or believe anything that our MPs are saying at present - and won't until the people have had their say in a General Election.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


I've promised to put up some more photographs of our Azaleas.
We grow around 50 of them, and they give us a terrific show of colour through the second half of May. This variety is called Gibraltar, and is my favourite because of its strength of colour.
Don't know what this one is called but its a real beauty. First year we've grown it, and I can see it becoming a favourite. One to look after and treat with a peaty compost, to show our appreciation.

This one is tucked in under a Maple on the side of the drive. Always attracts a lot of comment, and looks nice set off against the Vibernum which always flowers at the same time.

This Azalea is a great sight. Its about 10 feet tall, and is set back, so that you don't really see it until you are upon it. And because its in a shady spot, the flowers last a lot longer.

And here's a little group of three new Azaleas we planted last year. The colour is richer than it seems in the photograph. We planted another three close by. Should look quite a sight in a few years - one of the keen gardener's most often used phrases.

Fun in Rural Wales

A good way to make a few bob is to buy a clapped out old farm tractor, give it a like of paint and call it 'vintage'. Over the years, I've sent plenty of them to the scrapyard. But suddenly they are worth money. Vintage tractor clubs have become very popular. This morning, I joined an old friend, Chris Rowlands to 'cut the ribbon' thus sending 100 vintage tractors away on an 8 hour drive around the minor roads of Montgomeryshire. It was a huge event, beginning with an open air service. The Vicar of Welshpool, Bill Rowell came along and said a prayer for the event and then blessed one of the tractors. There was a mobile organ on the farmyard in the middle of Castle Caereinion. Mrs Roberts, the organist is the only living person (apart from my mother) who has changed my nappy. In case you think this is some form of politician's perversion, I should explain that I was only two years old at the time. The Mayor of Welshpool was, resplendent in her chain of office. We all sang 'We plough the fields and scatter...' Don't know why. We usually sing this at harvest time. Anyway there were hundreds of spectators, and several tractors pulled trailers loaded up with passengers out for a ride. All monies raised went to the local Air Ambulance Service.

Like humans, these old tractors find too long a journey to be a bit of a strain. They don't all make it. I went up to the Cefn Coch Inn to welcome the convoy home, and this poor old girl didn't make it. She had to be loaded up onto the tractor 'ambulance'. For those lacking much knowledge about vintage tractors, this is usually called a 'little grey Fergie'. It was great fun being involved with 100 individuals who are very clearly completely mad. So much fun that I've asked a tractor 'restorer' to give me an estimate of what it would cost me to do up a 40 year old Massey Ferguson that I still have in my ownership. I'm hoping she and I may make our debut at Llanfair Caereinion Show in September, where's there's always a good display of vintage tractors. I've always found it impossible to see 100s of people doing something daft without wanting to join in. I suppose that's why I'm standing for Parliament.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Changing Role of MPs.

Can't escape from the expenses storm swirling about our heads. Two more MPs announced their retirement today, Andrew Mackay and Ian McCartney, the latter citing ill health. David Cameron is baring the teeth of a leader who will do that which has to be done. And several people telling me that they have no intention of voting next week. Doesn't help that hardly anyone I talk to has any idea who the candidates are. That's Proportional Representation for you. And I was asked if I wanted a receipt by the 'Mr Whippy' ice cream seller at today's YFC County Rally.

And now I've just relaxed with today's Telegraph, skipped the first few pages to avoid the subject, and I find the Charles Moore is at it as well. But from a rather more interesting standpoint. Over the last two weeks. I've heard the quote "In the name of God, go" a few times. Charles reminds us that when the MPs went, Oliver Cromwell established a dictatorship. Gordon Brown could be planning to 'Do a Cromwell' as we speak. Certainly, all of his ideas lead in this direction - a new Government Quango to decide on MP's pay and conditions; a discouragement of outside earnings; a payment for simply turning up; These changes will lead to more taxpayer's money for politicians, greater dependence by MPs on the taxpayer, and less scope for independent thought and accountability to constituents first.

I agree with Charles that with change in the offing, we need to restore the authority of the individual Member of Parliament as a power in his or her own right, defending the interests of constituents, exercising independent judgement - not just a peg which can simply be told which hole to slot into. I suppose I'm lucky in that I'm of independent means (made it myself before you ask) and would not be dependent on the taxpayer. I also really do think that representing Montgomeryshire is a higher calling than any movement up the greasy pole of ministerial ambition. This doesn't sound quite so unusual as it did a month ago. Maybe, some good will come out of this expenses chaos.

When men were men, and women watched

Montgomeryshire YFC Rally today, held in Llanbrynmair. I always enjoy this annual festival of competition and fun. Takes me back to my youth. Our Berriew YFC team used to practise regularly, honing our attack by attaching the rope to a vehicle with its brakes on, and honing our defence by attaching the rope to the trunk of a tree with a bit of give in it. The tug of war is a very serious competition. This photograph was of an early round. Around 500 watched the semis and final. What is new today is that the ladies take it as a serious competition as well. In my day, we men stove to impose our dominance on the other teams, while the ladies were simply required to appear demure, shout encouragement and admire our virile physicality. This appreciative audience inspired much strutting and muscle rippling. It wasn't a place for showing off your mind. Today the girls are sweating and striving alongside the blokes. Call me old fashioned but it doesn't seem quite right to me. They'll be playing rugby next. For the record, Dolfor YFC won the Men's Championship, while Llanfair Caereinion won the Ladies. I arrived in some style. An open top Four Wheel ATV happened to be leaving the car park for the Rally field when I arrived, and the two lads upfront offered me a lift. I stood up in the back, for all the world as if it was a Pope-mobile. When I asked whether my exposed position complied with health and safety, the driver said "F*** health and safety", and opened the throttle. I was tempted to perform the 'Royal Wave' but thought it would be seen as a touch ostentatious. I also enjoyed watching Emyr, drawing heavily on a fag as he commentated on the tug of war. The YFC movement is still in very good heart.

Danish Blue

Yesterday, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales joined me for an hour in Welshpool. Here she is turning her hand to a craft known as sand art, watched by Texas-based expert, Andy Hancock and pupils of Hafren School, Newtown. She is creating a castle, and very definitely not a floating duck palace. Location was the Montgomeryshire Canal Museum in Welshpool, which is run by the effervescent Eva Bredsdorff. Eva in a Danish import of long standing, and I was very impressed to hear her and Cheryl conversing in Danish. Bet that's something David Cameron doesn't know about one of his Shadow Cabinet members.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Declaring war on Bambi.

Llanerfyl Merched Y Wawr (Ladies of the Dawn) visited our garden tonight. You may laugh, but I really enjoy my occasional job as a garden guide. It what I may do when I finally draw stumps on my political career. I also fancy working on a supermarket check out, but I fear that I would talk so much that my throughput figures would be inadequate. Anyway, the most discussed innovation in our garden tonight was the subject of this photograph. You may well ask, what on earth a radio, tuned into Radio Cymru is doing wired up, protected from the rain some 100 yds from the house. The answer dear friends is deer. I know there will be lots of you who cried when you were kiddies watching Jungle Book. And Bambi may be one of your most cherished memories. But when the b******* visit my garden and chomp on my favourite plants, my childhood love evaporates more quickly than the unrequited love I expended on my first five year old girlfriend did. I switch this radio on before retiring to my bed every night, and leave it on until morning. Its works a treat - until this week. It was around 3.00 in the afternoon, and Bambi was grazing contentedly on my Hostas right in front of our sitting room window. I thought I was seeing things. If only. I've read about how easily love can turn to hatred. Well its true. I could have popped an air gun pellet into her backside, but I was so stunned that all I did was say "Boo, go away". All I've shot in the last 40 years is one Grey Squirrel, and that upset me - but I could well be applying for a licence to hold a rifle. In the meantime, nothing for it but more noise pollution at Cil Farm.

A period of silence.

I'm going to take Iain Dale's advice - and not post a word about this expenses issue for the next week. I know it might carry on dominating our politics, and I might end up talking to myself, but when the atmosphere is so febrile, its very easy to cause unintended offence - which I've done without realising it. I do not want to do that - unless somebody's trodden on my toe too hard. Life's too short. So onwards to something different.

What might she find?

We don't often have 'royalty' visiting Montgomeryshire - so we try to make something of it when anyone with even a tenuous royal connection calls in. And last night, such a person was spotted in the Royal Oak in Welshpool - the BBC's Jenny Bond was in town, so I'm told. She presents a television programme which is based on searching through the attics of celebrities, looking to find items of interest. I'm not absolutely certain of my facts here, but I'm told she was in Montgomeryshire to sprot through the attic of our local MP. Visitors to this blog are invited to suggest what interesting items she might find!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Well Said" Jonathon

Really interesting discussion by the panel on Dragon's Eye tonight. The Conservative (Jonathon Evans), the Lib Dem (Roger Williams) and the Plaid rep (Hywel Williams)) were all in favour of an immediate General Election. The Labour panellist (Paul Flynn) made a spirited case against, and I concede that he made good points. But I'm afraid his logic was trumped by Jonathon. There are some huge problems facing our Parliament - not least that the UK's triple A credit rating is under threat. The brutal truth is that the people have no confidence in the current Parliament to deal with these issues on their behalf. Our politics is completely fossilised and devoid of authority - and will remain so until the people have their say in a General Election. For anyone who cares about Parliamentary democracy, the next few months if there is no Election will be a period of despair.

My Favourite Plant

While the political chaos in which our MPs are embroiled continues unabated, tomorrow afternoon I'll be retreating into our garden - preparing for my first garden visit of the year. Llanerfyl Merched Y Wawr are coming for a walk around Cil Farm garden. I will be the guide. I'm hoping that its a nice day, so that I can at least run the mulcher over the lawns. Although the garden is bedecked with a fine display of weeds (because I've been so otherwise occupied over the last three months), the Azaleas are out in all of their glory. I'm often asked which is my favourite plant in the garden. There are lots of contenders, but the winner over a twelve month period is Cornus contoversa variagata. Its looks really good this time of year. Its a bit pricey, but worth it. Its size can be assessed by relating it to the suitably sited fork.

Three more go down today.

Another two MPs have announced that they are standing down today, Ben Chapman and Ian Gibson. I'm also told that a Welsh Labour MP is announcing tomorrow that he is standing down. That will make six in three days. (I've just seen Ian Gibson, who was a very good midfield footballer, suggest that he 'might' retire) Why not have a little competition. How many MPs will announce their retirement during the next month? I'll start the book by going for 50. Any advance on this. In passing, can I say that I'm really pleased that Bill Wiggin is OK. He's a good friend of mine, and of Montgomeryshire and I did not believe he would have done anything as dishonest as the Telegraph suggested. Bet he'll be very careful whenever he's filling in forms in future though!!

UPDATE - My friends are looking after me - telephoning to tell me that my blog gives a wrong impression, and it does. The Welsh MP that I anticipated was going to announce that he's stepping down is John Smith. I knew that John was retiring mainly because of health problems, but by treating that as a private matter I inadvertently might have given the impression that he's involved in all this 'expenses' row. Feel bad about that, and I'm sorry for not being more careful with my language.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Three Down, ? to go - Carnage.

Blogs are reporting tonight that a third Conservative MP is to stand down from the House of Commons at the next election. This time its Sir Peter Viggers, and its reportedly at the direct request of David Cameron. Its being reported that Sir Peter claimed lots of money for his garden, including for a 'floating duck island'. And there are other big stories, including reports that Geoff Hoon and James Parnell have not paid CGT, (which is not liable on a second home if its 'flipped' into a main home). Entirely legal, but Gordon Brown described this practice as 'totally unacceptable' when referring to Hazel Blears having done it. The tax authorities saying that there was no tax to pay is completely irrelevant. And my good friend, Bill Wiggin is reported to have queries to answer. All this on top of yesterday's removal of the Speaker. Its carnage out there.

There was an interesting discussion on Newsnight tonight about whether a General Election could be held to give the people a say. It was clear that the Labour spokesman did not want an early election. He kept maintaining that all these allegation had to be cleared up first. He seemed to believe that the present Parliament should clear up the mess before the people are consulted. Personally, I think this would be madness. The problem is that they still don't get it. They still don't realise just how mad the people are. They want their say - now. What needs to happen is that all receipts should be made public tomorrow. Why on earth not. What difference would it make? The Telegraph can keep this going for days - picking two or three off each day. Once receipts are published, constituency associations would need a week to decide whether to reselect, or deselect. Another two weeks would be needed to select another candidate - if needed. And a General Election the last week in June. No-one is pretending that this is anything but desperately rushed stuff. But we cannot let things drift on until October. Our democracy is at stake.

Psychosexual Support

This is another post which might embarrass our four children. You know what its like. Kids never think of there parents 'doing things'. Today Ms Cath Lindley, General Manager of Macmillan Cancer Services in Wales has been starring on the television - talking about sex. She's a handsome woman and she looked straight into the camera and told me, the viewer, that I have been deprived of the psychosexual support that I needed six years ago. It seems that this deprivation could well have left me with my confidence shattered, my body image low, and psychologically and physically unable to have sex. Made me feel as if my life was over. According to Cath, when I underwent a lower bowel re-section to remove a significant and cancerous part of my body (my rectum, anus and associated muscles) six years ago, I should have been given this psychosexual support. After all these bits had been removed and disposed of, my new colostomy and I were just sent out into the big wide world, naked of psychsexual analysis, and unprepared to deal with our sexual inadequacies. Perhaps its because I hadn't heard about this problem that I hadn't noticed that much difference from before. I'm sure if some counsellor had started wittering on about my low body image and the psychological problems I was going to face, I would have resolved to park my tractor in the garage for ever, there and then. But yet again, ignorance has turned out to be bliss. I particularly liked Cath's comment - "There's good practice taking place in parts of Wales". For those of you who are also cancer survivors, there's more advice in an amusing video clip on Guido's blog.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wake up Jeremy

Just been watching Jeremy Paxman looking stunned when Douglas Carswell started talking about 'open primaries' on Newsnight. He seemed to think this would be some revolutionary way of choosing candidates in Britain. He seemed to think 'open primaries' are something confined to the US. Well, Jeremy, plenty of the current Conservative candidates were selected by just such a system. I was. When Montgomeryshire set out to select her Parliamentary candidate two years ago, invitations went out to everyone who had a vote in Montgomeryshire to attend - and vote. Two meetings were held, one in the East and one in the West of the large constituency. There were members of other political parties present. Probably the biggest selection audience that Montgomeryshire has ever seen. Hard to understand why Douglas didn't inform Jeremy of how radical the Conservative Party has been.

There must be a General Election.

I've never known anything like it. Its politics in the United Kingdom, but not as we know it. Two weeks away from a hugely important election, and no-one is talking about it. Seems to me that most people don't even know its happening. The media is going through the motions (to a minor extent) but the only election people are thinking about is the next General Election. Now that David Cameron has launched a petition, calling for one, the Euro election will slip even further out of mind. So much is happening. Today, and for the first time since 1695, Mr Speaker bowed to overwhelming pressure from MPs and announced that he was vacating 'the chair' - before he was chucked out. And a Conservative MP in a safe seat has announced his departure from the House of Commons today, and I suspect he will be the first of many MPs to stand down. Its total chaos out there - a bit like the Sennybridge Show when heavy winds blew the main marquee down. Or that game against Macclesfield when I crashed down the left wing and broke three collarbones in the same run for the line.

What next? Gordon Brown announced today that anyone who has "defied the rules" will be deselected. Now, I realise that this is a typical Brown device, seeking to give an impression of action that he does not intend to deliver on - since almost all of the revelations that have outraged the people have been "agreed with the Fees Office". Its meaningless. But it will not work. The people will not wear it. They will demand that there be a test of reasonableness, rather than a test of legality. If Douglas Hogg's claims are to be the benchmark, a lot of MPs will be marching down the same road. And those who have broken the law will have to resign - creating by-elections. Now this produces a real problem for Gordon Brown. The reality is that if our Prime Minister delivered on what people think he said today, there would be such carnage that he might as well hold a General Election. No, the resignation of Mr Speaker is not going to calm things down. Its going to put the scent of blood in the nostrils of the public. They must have their say. The only way is to hold a General Election.

Its not funny.

There's nothing remotely funny about what has been happening in British politics over the last two weeks. Sure, I can see plenty of scope for ridicule and humour, but not by anyone directly involved in seeking election to the House of Commons. The people of Britain are rightly very cross indeed, and only a politician totally insensitive and completely out of touch would write something like this;

"Its also a shame that the actions of the Telegraph are not being properly scrutinised. I suggest you stick to the Sport. You know what you're getting, and, unlike the Telegraph's info, none of the boobs are remotely dodgy"

Who on earth would treat the voters with such casual contempt? Treat yourself to a banana if you guess correctly. Answers on Vaughan Roderick's blog here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Beware the Montgomeryshire Connection Mr Speaker

I stopped trying to persuade the people of Newtown to 'Vote for Change' at 3.30 this afternoon, in order to listen to the Speaker of the House of Commons make his Statement. I anticipated an historic event. However the Statement itself informed us of nothing much at all. Mr Martin is sorry for the part he has played in destroying the authority of our Parliament (I'm told that the Australians are laughing at us for goodness sake) and that he intends to hold a meeting to discuss the problem. Big deal. But then it became more interesting. For the first time in my life I listened to MPs (of all sides) treat Mr Speaker with open contempt. It almost turned to farce when he clearly did not know the proper procedure when asked questions about whether there would be a debate on Douglas Carswell's motion. Even I would have anticipated this question. I'd say things are looking bleak for Speaker Martin.

Its reasonable that you would suppose that the opinion of a Parliamentary candidate from Montgomeryshire on this issue would be of little consequence. Friends, you would be mistaken. My opinion carries an (admittedly tenuous) historical relevance. Let me inform you of the circumstances surrounding the events of 1695. Sir John Trefor was elected Mr Speaker in 1685. He was a native of Denbighshire (next door to Montgomeryshire in those days) who had been educated at Ruthin school. Sir John lost the Speakership on the accession of James 111 in 1687. In 1690 he returned as Speaker, but in 1695 he was turfed out after being found guilty of taking a bribe. The real reason was that he had lost the confidence of the House.

Now Mr Vaughan Roderick of the BBC, a man of encyclopedic knowledge of Wales, informs me that much of his difficulty arose from his enmity of the Herbert family, one of whom serves as the Earl of Powis, stationed at Powis Castle, just four miles down the road from Cil Farm. George Herbert, the last Earl and his wife Katie were very good friends of Mrs D's late parents. Vaughan also informs me that the Marquess of Montgomery suffered much at John Trefor's hands. I would not be surprised if the campaign to remove the Speaker in 1995 was orchestrated by a group of disaffected citizens from my part of Montgomeryshire.

So Mr Michael Martin better take note of the opinions expressed on this blog. Its worth adding that Sir John Trefor was severely cross-eyed. So much so that MPs of the day became very confused about who had 'caught the Speaker's eye'. I'm not sure whether this is at all relevant but I have read in comments on Iain Dale's blog that the current Mr Speaker can sometimes be seriously one-eyed. All in all, Mr Speaker had best remember that the British constitution is based on precedent.

Vote for Change.

Took a huge risk today. We parked the Party's Euro Launch 'Advan' on the cross in Newtown, and young Ben Breeze from Sarn and I put ourselves at the mercy of passing motorists. And we made a bit of an impact. Amazingly, not one derogatory comment did I hear from a passing car or pedestrian - and there were lots of them. It was about 5 o'clock. An 'extra' strolled over from the Angel and asked if he could join our group photograph. Well, why not? Must admit its a bit confusing to the public, because neither Ben nor I are candidates in next month's elections to the European Parliament. But needs must. Our candidates were too busy elsewhere, signing pledges about how open and transparent they are going to be if they are elected. But anyway, this Euro election is going to be dominated by UK Parliament issues. A good photo-opportunity for me though. I asked Ian 'Splash' who does our photography for a frame of just me and the message. It will be useful for my General Election campaign. My first day out with leaflets today, and I feel much more optimistic than I did after reading yet more headlines in today's Telegraph about the misdemeanors of MPs.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

It still wouldn't be enough.

Being a Parliamentary candidate changes the way I look at issues. Sometimes I ask myself what attitude I would take if I were an MP. More angles have to be considered before settling on a conclusion. For instance - what would I do if given a free vote on a motion of no confidence in the Speaker. This week, just such a motion may be put before MPs. Douglas Carswell's motion reads;

"That this House has no confidence in Mr Speaker, and calls on him to step down; notes that Mr Speaker has failed to provide leadership in matters relating to hon. members expenses; believes that a new Speaker urgently needs to be elected by secret ballot, free from manipulation by party whips, under Standing Order No 1B; and believes that a new Speaker should proceed to reform the House in such a way as to make it an effective legislature once more"

It wouldn't be an easy decision to take. On one hand, I have never been enthusiastic about the current Speaker, but I'm such a traditionalist that I do not like the idea of breaking the convention about criticising Mr Speaker. Certainly, I'd want to feel not inspired by partisanship. In the end, I believe my deep concern about the desperate need for a fundamental change in the way the House operates would guide me to back the Carswell motion. If it is put (which is another issue), I sense that it will seriously weaken the authority of Mr Speaker, even if the motion is defeated.

But I do not think removing Mr Speaker will mollify the public's anger about the way the allowances regime has been handled. It would take much, much, more than that. I believe that the British public will continue to look upon this Parliament as a flawed Parliament until there's a General Election. The people must have their say. Two weeks ago, I was beginning to believe that maybe the General Election was going to be delayed until May 2010. Now, I cannot believe that this Parliament can last beyond the autumn.

Remembering Laura Ashley.

At last. I've read a story in the Daily Telegraph which uplifts my spirit, and brings me unalloyed pleasure. The National Trust is in discussions with the family of the great fashion designer, Laura Ashley about restoring her family home for the pleasure of future generations, and to promote an understanding of what gave her inspiration. The Victorian property, Rhydoldog House in Rhayadr was where Laura and Bernard Ashley moved to, when they left their flat in Pimlico for Mid Wales in the 1960s. By the mid-1980s, the Laura Ashley business empire was dominating the fashion capitals of the world, when in 1985 Laura died as a result of a tragic accident. Sir Bernard died earlier this year. They are both buried in the Montgomeryshire village of Carno.

Laura and Bernard Ashley made a great contribution to the economy and the international awareness of my part of Mid Wales. Those of us involved in public affairs through the amazing Laura Ashley story understand the impact that she had. Its a major part of any historical appreciation of twentieth century Wales. I want future generations to share in this understanding. It would be wonderful news for Wales, and for Mid Wales in particular, if her home could be restored as a public monument to what inspired a whole generation of fashion, and to the impact it all had on a despairing economy. I hope that a deal is done and my little granddaughter, Ffion, whose maternal grandparents have strong family connections with the Ashley 'empire', will one day be able to walk around Rhydoldog House. Perhaps she will be able to sense the inspiration that once made rural Mid Wales the centre of world fashion.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Looking back over the 'expenses' scandal.

Another week gone, and the Parliamentary expenses row is still a raging conflagration. If anything, its getting worse. I know the old adages. A week is a long time...... Events, dear boy, events.....In the world of politics, things do happen. And then things move on. But not this time. This last ten days, something hugely significant happened in British politics. The people lost confidence in those who have been elected to represent them. It makes no difference that many of them are honest and hard-working. They/we are all grouped together, MPs, MEPs, AMs and candidates. I find it hard to believe that some politicians are so disconnected that they do not grasp the scale of what has taken place.

The British public was stunned when the Speaker, launched an attack on Labour MP, Kate Hoey, when she suggested that the 'whistle blower' was the wrong target for the search party. They were stunned to hear MPs defending claims for £2500 TVs, repairs to a moat, and gardening costs as reasonable. They were genuinely shocked to learn that claims for mortgage interest had been submitted, after the mortgage had been paid off. They know the appropriate words to describe this. And they were not impressed at all by the commonly used defence that "It was approved by the Fees Office".

David Cameron made an excellent start this week when he demanded repayments of anything which does not pass his 'reasonableness' test, full transparency, and set up a scrutiny system to judge every single Conservative MP's claims record. Its good that the Prime Minister has finally moved on this as well. But I do not think this will be enough for the public. Their ire has reached too high a level. In my opinion, respect for our Parliamentary system will not return until a General Election is held. The people want their say - and we live in a Parliamentary democracy. We know that the people want a General Election - and if Gordon Brown denies them, the people will react. Perhaps it will be in what seems to me an illogical way - by voting for non-mainstream parties. I understand why they might do it. The people want a General Election, and if the one man in a position to give them what they want refuses to concede, it is entirely logical that they try to bring him down. And if the Labour Party decide to stick with this man, its entirely logical that they seek to destroy it. British politics is in a mess. I will be out campaigning this coming week and I really do not know what to expect.

Friday, May 15, 2009

And then there were three.

This is a photograph of our No 3 son, Tim and his wife Adrienne. Tonight they arrived at Cil Farm for a birthday weekend. No 1 son, Edward's birthday is on the 13th, and Sally's birthday is on the 9th. When we opened the wine (just any old dry white from the cellar) Tim casually announced that Adrienne was was not able to drink, and wouldn't be able to for several months. Mrs D turned misty-eyed. I immediately left the room and locked myself in the bathroom to perform my exercise routine. (I'm of an age when men do not show emotion in public). I was still recovering from my first viewing of the BBC Cbeebees channel (is this correct?). I'd been watching 'In The Night Garden' with little Ffion. Its the most wonderful news that there is going to be another one. At this moment the antics of some of our elected representatives seem a very long way distant.

New Life.

Since I returned from Fuerteventura last Saturday, I've been feeling very down about my political activities. Monmouth MP, David Davies has been feeling much the same. Have been busying myself with the various other activities I'm involved in - which I suppose do have some electoral spin-off. Even though we are in the midst of an election campaign, and I've been out of things for over two years, I simply have not been able to face knocking on people's doors. I just do not think the people of Montgomeryshire would want a politician on their doorsteps. But today the green shoots of enthusiasm are rushing upwards. There are three reasons for this.

Firstly, I have this week received financial support from three individuals who agreed to contribute to my 'Election Campaign Fund'. This is not something that has happened in Montgomeryshire before. It puts a responsibility on me to really commit myself to the cause. Secondly, I was walking around Newtown this morning, and three people I did not know approached me and wished my good luck in my ambitions to become an MP. And tonight No 3 son and his spouse, announced that we are to be a Taid for a second time. This will be the subject of a separate post over the weekend. I have reached my keyboard after several glasses of celebratory champagne. The clouds of gloom are lifting.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The 'Yes Team' changes up a gear.

Had a 'personal invitation' from the Archbishop of Wales today. He's the Chair of Cymru Yfory - Tomorrow's Wales. This organisation was established in 2004 to press for the National Assembly for Wales to be given law making powers, which would transform it into a proper parliament. The idea is that the new constitutional arrangement should be stable, effective and efficient, comprehensive and transparent, likely to ensure maximum participation, and respects the autonomy of the National Assembly. The view of Cymru Yfory - Tomorrow's Wales is that the current constitution is seriously unsatisfactory.

The invitation was for me to be one of the signatories of a Declaration based on the above principles which will then be open to all to sign up to in the first week in June. Must admit I'm a touch ambivalent about this, even though I agree with the content of the Declaration. My view is that the lead should be taken by Assembly Members. The Labour/Plaid Coalition Government is supposedly committed to holding a referendum on moving from Part 3 to Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act (granting law making powers in all devolved policy areas) but has dithered and dallied and procrastinated. I'm not sure I want to be part of the advance guard of chicken politicians.

Must admit I'm not sure what response to make to this invitation. I have never been keen on joining lobby groups of any sort. Reason is that the publicly expressed opinions of all members of the group are inevitably attributed to each. I have a well developed and clearly thought through opinion on the way forward for how we govern Wales. I do not want the public perception of my opinions blurred. Its most kind that I should have received this invitation, but I'm not at all sure that I can accept it.

Bedtime Stories from a Polish Priest.

I've searched this week's Telegraphs for something remotely amusing or ridiculous - just for a change. Desperately looking for some blessed relief from the catalogues of exposure about the excesses of our elected representatives. And 'Blessed' is the word because all I can find is the report on page 19 of today's edition about a new book written by Father Ksawery Knotz, a celibate Polish priest. The book is titled 'Sex As You Don't Know It: For Married Couples Who Love God'. Its described as advising couples to explore a 'saucy and fantasy-packed' love life.

Father Knotz has written the 'Catholic Kama Sutra'. Could it be an attempt to draw attention away from Dan Brown's new book which is due out in September. Anyway he tells us that "Every act - a type of caress, a sexual position with the goal of arousal is permitted and pleases God". He goes on to say that "During sexual intercourse, couples can show their love in every way, and offer one another the most sought after caresses". And then he goes into the explicit detail. We are not told whether this unique approach has increased the size of his congregations

Father Knotz tells us that he compares sex with a football match. "There are rules, for example you can't kick the ball out". Ouch. I suppose he favours a high scoring style of play. Even though he has no personal experience to call on, he tells us that he's learnt all his tricks from listening to the stories that couples have related to him. Well, that's it. I suppose its back to wall-to-wall scandal and dodgy receipts tomorrow. Will it never end?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Money following mouths.

Its a pleasing change to blog about public representatives who are making a public demonstration of their recognition of the contempt in which elected politicians are currently held. The 9 Conservative Councillors on Powys County Council have decided not to accept any increase in their pay for next year. Some will arrange not to receive the money, and others will donate the money to local charities - an example of politicians putting their money alongside their mouths.

In general, I'm not in favour of this sort of action unless there is a special reason. Well this year there is a special reason. Consequent upon the destruction of the UK's public finances, there will inevitably follow a significant reduction in the block grant that passes from the Treasury to the National Assembly for Wales. In turn, there will inevitably be a significant reduction in the support grant that is given to local authorities. I accept that its possible to recoup some of this reduction from the Council Tax payer. But this would be immoral at a time when the capacity of residents of Powys to stump up is falling like a stone.

The reality is that there's going to be cuts in public services, a situation that's likely to continue for a few years. Employees will be losing their jobs and vulnerable people will have reduced access to services. Councillors must demonstrate that they understand the pain that vulnerable people are going through. There is no better way of creating an understanding between the governed and the governing than sharing the pain. Tonight, I'm proud of the 9 Conservative councillors who serve on Powys County Council.

The 'Sitting Member's Re-election Pot'.

Returning to one if this blog's hobby horses - for two reasons. Firstly because a commenter has accused me of avoiding debate on my hatred of the MP's Communications Allowance, and because David Cameron raised the issue at Prime Minister's Questions today. My long declared opposition on this obscene allowance is based on my opinion that it's the worst of the lot. I feel the red mist descend whenever a glossy leaflet promoting our local MP (whom I'm hoping to replace) arrives through my letter box, accompanied by a note informing me that my taxes have paid for it. Friends have realised that cheap entertainment is guaranteed whenever they present to me the glossy leaflets delivered to them. As bad as all the stuff which has been helping boost the Telegraph's circulation figures is, the Communication's Allowance is even worse - because it is a taxpayer funded warping of the democratic process, as well as being an improper use of power. I have made it clear that I would rather dirty my hands in human sewage, scooping out septic tanks, than have anything to do with this filthy allowance.

Now, I do not know what stance my party took when this allowance was introduced. I hope we opposed it, and would be grateful if someone will let me know in comments. I'm aware that most Conservative MPs use it. I believe that they shouldn't. Perhaps they will stop now that David Cameron has made clear that he believes it should be abolished. I'd rather my taxes were wasted on pantie liners for male MPs, or to pay fines for forgetful MPs, or to buy food for John Prescott, than see it used to pollute our democracy. I hope that's telling it clearly enough.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Despair lifts a little.

David Cameron has acted like a leader today. But our Prime Minister has acted like an insignificance, and is being laughed at and ignored. I saw a clip of him on Newsnight, and cannot remember what he said - and then we had Michael Crick telling us that what he said has not been agreed by the appropriate persons anyway. David Cameron has taken a first step on the long, long road to restoring public confidence in the British body politic. No messing about. Shadow Cabinet members have been writing cheques, returning money to the taxpayer. Its clear that the same thing is going to apply to every other Conservative MP. And if any MP does not accept the judgement of the 'Scrutiny Panel' they will cease to be Conservative MPs. That's the way to sort it.

In my opinion, the most important decision that David has taken is that every claim must be made public when it is submitted. This will pour disinfectant on the system. Its such an irony that if MPs had not fought so hard to prevent their expense claims being made public, there would not have been an opportunity for the Telegraph to wreak such havoc. There's no doubt that much of the humiliation has been self-inflicted.

There was an interesting discussion amongst the Newsnight panel about whether the Sir Christopher Kelly Report should be accepted in full - now. The Labour and Lib Dem spokesmen agreed it should. Theresa May looked uncomfortable when trying to avoid making the same commitment. Must admit that I'm with Theresa on this one. I do think its highly likely that Sir Christopher's report will be accepted as a whole, but its a big leap of faith to state unequivocally that it will. The Labour spokesman said that MPs have lost the right to have any say whatsoever on this issue. I think that is going too far. And I can think of several reasons why the report might not be acceptable to Conservatives. It may well be that Sir Christopher will recommend that a much wider range of second home expenses should be eligible than the much-curtailed list David Cameron announced today. The public would not want to see that. But lets cut the carping. David Cameron's decisiveness has made today a slightly better day for British politics.

In Praise of Kate Hoey, a Labour MP

I must be careful how I put this, but it must be said. Kate Hoey, Labour MP for Vauxhall is an admirable woman. She writes in tomorrow's Telegraph. Such a pity that she's not a Conservative. I always had a warm feeling towards her, because of our mutual love of sport - she being a former N. Ireland high jump champion. From the beginning of her political career, she seemed so 'sensible'. I seem to recall she shared my opposition to the knee jerk ban on legally held hand guns. Now they are all illegally held. She's not afraid to adopt a minority cause she believes in - and that was a truly minority cause. Really came to wider attention when she declared her opposition to the choice of London over Paris as the site for the next Olympic Games. There are plenty who agree with her now. That must have taken real guts. And then there was her antipathy to the illogical and prejudiced ban on hunting with dogs. She demonstrated that there is no roon for the politics of spite in 'Hoeyism'. I think Kate Hoey is the current Chair of the Countryside Alliance. Her standing with many Conservatives flew up into the stratosphere when she refused to betray her manifesto pledge to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty - despite the enormous pressure that must have been put on her to do so. And yesterday in Parliament, through common sense, clear thinking and a refusal to be bullied, Kate Hoey has ensured that our nation knows just what sort of person is the current Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin. OK, so she's a Labour MP, but in my book, she is a Parliamentary star. I'd still vote Conservative, and encourage others to do so, if I lived in Vauxhall though. Just covering my back.

Monday, May 11, 2009

British Democracy in Despair

Have been catching up on what's been in the news while we've been away in the Canaries. Its unspeakably awful. So treacherously awful and so comprehensively covered by the media, that as a Parliamentary candidate, there is little I can safely add. Anyone who supports the principle of Parliamentary democracy must be in despair. I'm not going to express an opinion on reports about individual claims. I recall making a comment, following a similar rumpus when National Assembly Member's receipts were published last December. I said that the claim I most disapproved of was by a Labour AM - for a Remembrance Day wreath. I later posted that I regretted making the observation. And wouldn't you know it. Its now being reported that two Conservative MPs have done the same thing - though this may not be true of course. But I reckon its reasonable to comment on where next.

David Cameron made the right judgement by apologising last night for what's been going on. Gordon Brown was right to follow suit today. The next step should be for all receipts to be made public as soon as possible. The future of democracy is at stake, and there can be no more delays. Let everything be put on the table. Let us know the whole truth. It cannot be worse than what everyone is thinking. Its clear that many inappropriate claims have been made, and there should be apologies and repayments. But even this will no longer satisfy the public, and neither should it.

What's done is done. What matters now is the response. Its straight forward if there has been payments have been made on the basis of wilful untruth, though I've not seen reports of any such thing to date. Fraud is fraud, and should be treated appropriately. Its more difficult to know where the line of inappropriateness should be drawn, where payments have been approved by the Fees Office - though we should remember who sets the rules by which the Fees Office makes judgements. Whether claims have been in the proper 'spirit' will be a matter of judgement for party leaders. I've no doubt that the public will reward decisive action.

I do have sympathy for politicians who are falsely accused, or are guilty of no more than a small and innocent oversight. But because there has been such a determination by MPs to prevent publication, and a failure to recognise that the public have had more than enough, soon enough, has brought the ceiling down on everyone's head. Its an absolute disaster for politics, and only a decisive , and ruthless response will begin the process of restoring confidence in British politics. Its going to be a very long haul though.

Perhaps the aspect that I find most damaging is when politicians are not prepared to stand before an interviewer and justify claims they have made on the taxpayer. I've never agreed with this approach. During my 8 years as an Assembly Member, I used to find that whenever there was an issue of this sort, I was the only one who was prepared to be interviewed. There's a few simple rules. Every claim on the taxpayer should be made public. And every politician who makes a claim should be prepared to defend it in public. Before the next General Election, candidates will have to give cast iron assurances about how they are going to behave. And perhaps the voters will begin to make real judgements about the individuals who are standing, as well as voting for the party label.

This is Glyn Davies' Blog

This blog is about the random thoughts and opinions of Glyn Davies (me), Montgomeryshire politician (currently resting), countryman, farmer, lover of wildlife, sports fan, gardener, Welsh speaker, person with fingers in many pies and occasional public speaker. Subjects are whatever catches my eye, my ear and my sense of the ridiculous. It is not a blog about Lembit Opik, Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomeryshire, even though I will be his Conservative opponent at the next General Election. In general, all comments are welcome. I've been content to approve whatever comes within reason, whether they agree with me or not. The only comments I reject are those I think gratuitously offensive or which may be libellous. I have been content to approve comments about Lembit, but over the last few days, there have been a huge number of them, several very unkind, and several referring to matters about which I have no knowledge. To prevent this blog becoming unacceptably personal, I'm having to suspend temporarily approving comments which refer to the MP for Montgomeryshire. And I'm going to make an effort not to mention him myself, no matter how much I'm tempted. Sorry about this.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Powys Council Gossip.

Today's Royal British Legion Remembrance Service was stuffed full of civic dignitaries. There were councillors and chains all over the place. There was also a scattering of Lords and Ladies. I was sitting in the same row as my MP, Lembit Opik. I suspect that persons organising seating plans at this sort of occasion are doing this for the amusement of others. Today we had the redoubtable Deputy Mayor of Newtown, Mrs Joy Jones seated between us.

Seems that the plan to create a 'governing coalition' between the Powys Independent Alliance and the Liberal Democrats fell flat on its face on Friday. No idea why. They've got the numbers - with plenty to spare. They only needed 37 backers but managed to scrape only a measly 31. I was told that the Lib Dems didn't turn up! Well there's a surprise. Don't blame me if that's not true. Was talking to a 'leading light' of the newly named 'Shires Independent Group' (used to be called the Montgomeryshire Independents). Told me that the new name would appeal to Independents in Breconshire and Radnorshire. Well yes it might. But my advice was to develop a 'love bombing' strategy and show a real commitment to the 'shires' of Breconshire and Radnorshire. That's a lot more likely to work. One thing that does bother me is the genuine hostility that I'm told now exists between councillors of different groups. Didn't exist in my day. We used to scrap like ****** (politically incorrect) but remained friends. Today, I walked from the Church to the 'feast' with Lady Hooson. We used to scrap like terriers all the time when we were councillors - and we probably still would. But I look on her and Emlyn as really good friends. This hostility, if it exists, is a real shame - and rather childish if truth be told.

The 'interim' Chief Executive of Powys Council, Jeremy Patterson was there, on crutches. I wondered whether he'd hurt himself breaking up a fight between these warring councillors - but no. The poor fellow's undergone an operation on his knee, and won't be 100% recovered for best part of a year. First time I've had a chat with him. Tried him for a bit of inside gossip for my blog, but he was being very careful. Not sure if he was certain that I was joking. I suppose its always best to be cautious when operating in a war zone. Anyway, I told him to let me know if he ever thinks I publish something 'out of order'. I do hope his knee makes good progress. Powys Chief Executives need to be able to run.

A Soldier - Known to The Lord.

I don't remember appreciating the sacrifices that the young people who sign up for the armed forces make on our behalf when I was a young person myself. But I do now. So this afternoon, a few hours after arriving home from Fuerteventura, I left the lawns unmown and the 5 new Canada goslings unviewed so that I could attend the Royal British Legion Service of Remembrance which was held at Montgomery Church. I must also record that its the Brecon, Radnor and Montgomery County Branch of the Legion. The word Powys nowhere to be seen. I really like that. The bugler sounding The Last Post and The Last Reveille always raises the hairs on the back of my neck. Today I think it raised some of the burnt skin off as well. I think the difference is that I've been to a funeral of a young man who was killed in Iraq - and I know people who have children serving in the armed forces today. It brings home those things I thought happened a long way away. The Lord Lieutenant, The Hon. Mrs Shan Legge Bourke, (known to many as the Lady of Glenusk) took the salute.

The service was a touch more politically correct than I'd expected. The local Minister led a prayer 'for 'statespersons' rather than 'statesmen'. Personally, if she was going to change it, I'd have preferred to hear 'statesmen and women'. But I can see that this is not as 'correct'. We also had the word 'men' replaced by 'people'. I rather approve of this change. The line that stuck in my memory was when the 'invited minister' spoke about the Normandy Landings in his sermon - and the epitaph on the graves of unknown soldiers. 'A Soldier, known by The Lord' - simple but it spells out the sacrifice that those boys made. And they are still doing it today, in a far off country where they are unfamiliar with the climate and culture. And while I was away, Mrs D had cut most of the lawns.

A Return to Eden

Arrived home in the early hours, and struggled out to be greeted by a garden which had draped itself in clothes more glorious than the batik saris I remember seeing Malaysian women wearing. First up in one of the rhododendrons, an absolute beauty. Don't try and tell me you've seen a better looker than this. The fork is there to give you an idea of size.

And this is the Pieris forestii I promised you two weeks ago - a fraction past its best, but still in the Carla Bruni league, in my opinion. There's an Azalea back left, but they'll have to wait until next week. The main problem with this sensational plant is that a late frost ruins the bracts. The flowers, which have been and gone, are an unimpressive white - some of which can be seen at the top of the shrub. Just look how small the fork looks. This is one of the best shrubs that we grow - and again in my opinion far better than all the new varieties of Pieris that are flooding the garden centres.

I'm no photographer, but these Iris blooms are breathtaking, even when its my amateur efforts with our old digital. Just think what a serious photographer could do with them. I suppose a real expert would create a few raindrops

And this little beauty is a Rhododendron yak ashimanium. Its a big family, and if you google 'yaks', you will not see a better photograph on the various sales sites than this one. It has interest throughout the year, because the backs of the leaves are rust coloured, which can be seen as soon as the dead flower heads are removed - and essential job with this particular Rhodo.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Edna Calling Fuerteventura

My woman in the know, Edna Mopbucket is a bit of a gossip. I knew she wouldn´t let my week in the sun pass without giving me a call. She was sporting a very posh accent when she rang. I´d just finished reading ´A Question of Blood´ by Ian Rankin, and was thinking about setting off on another 18 holes here in Fuertaventura. Told her that such an accent made her sound silly, especially since she was cross at the same time. But she´s become totally besotted with Joanna Lumley. Edna has always reckoned that any Gurkha who´s been willing to die for Britain should be allowed to live in Britain. Her anger had been ignited by a Liberal Democrat MP who´s proclaiming (with attendent publicity) his support for this great cause, despite having missed the debate, and vote, which delivered the great Gurkhas victory in the House of Commons last week - particularly since it was a Lib Dem motion that did for Gordon Brown.

She also wanted a chat about the fun and games that are going on at Powys County Council. She reckons that the Lib Dems on the Council are seriously considering forming a coalition with the Powys Independent Alliance - thus creating a majority which could form a ruling group. The interesting snippet she did pass on was that the second largest group on the Council is changing its name from the Montgomeryshire Indepedent Group to something like a ´Shire´s´ group. Edna reckons the idea is that so many of the ´independent´ councillors in Breconshire and Radnorshire would rather eat rat faeces that join up with the Lib Dems, but could only switch groups following a change of name. She tells me that the postpersons in Llandrindod Wells are asking for overtime because of all the ´Come and join us´ letters in circulation. All this positioning makes for a plot more compicated and devious than anything Ian Rankin could come up with.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Fueteventura - Day 4. Refections from Distance.

Don´t suppose relaxing in the Elba Palace Golf Resort is the most appropriate location to reflect on the 10th birthday of the National Assembly for Wales. But on the other hand, distance provides perspective. So, against a background of chattering Canarian Sparrows (honestly), I turn to one of my favoured subjects, how my nation is governed. Can devolution reasonably be described as a success?

I begin by casting my mind back to 19th September, 1997. Around 04.00 hrs, we had learned that about 25% of the people of Wales had supported the devolutionary arrangements thought fit for them by the newly elected Labour Governemnt. Turned out that 25% was enough. You decide whether my response was unprincipled or pragmatic, but I changed my position from opposition to what was proposed, to total support for what the people had voted for. And my thought processes took me further. I believed that the only way that the ´dog´s breakfast´we had decided to establish could succeed (without being a threat to the British constitution) would require the devolution of full law making powers in all devolved policy areas. And when 60 spanking new Assembly Members arrived in Cardiff Bay in May 1999, I was one of them, believing that we could ´make a difference´- for the better. A summary of my refections, ten years on, is disappointment combined with an acceptance that I probably expected too much.

Lets look at the positives. Even though just 25% of the Welsh people voted ´yes´ in 1997, the National Assembly has become an established part of the constitutional furniature. In 2006 a new Act of Parliament was approved by the Queen, which created the right for the Assembly Members elected in 2007 to pass new laws for the first time. (I´ll ignore the bizarre way in which this actually happens in this post). The reality is that at some stage in the future, full law making power will be vested in the National Assembly in all devolved policy areas - whether it is transferred ´bit-by-bit´or ´all in one go´. I´m not even any longer certain that a referendum will be held before this happens.

Now to delivery, which is where the disappointment comes in. Now I accept that my perspective is that of a man from Montgomeryshire, living in a sparingly populated part of Wales which has traditionally looked to Shropshire for many of its services. Devolution has not delivered for Montgomeryshire. Successive Assembly Governments have let Mid Wales down. In particular, our healthcare services have been disrupted by ´devolution disputes´, and spending commitments in Montgomeryshire have been indescribably woeful. A glaring example is the failure to deliver cross border road schemes - as a direct result of devolution.

But on to the future. The National Assembly is not going away, so we had best make a success of it. Personally, I want to see full law making powers in devolved policy areas transferred to Cardiff Bay as soon as possible - so that we can move to a settled constitutional relationship between the Welsh and UK Governments. I hope that Montgomeryshire voters will decide to allow me to play a part in this. And I remain optimistic about the future. A decade hence, I see a Conservative-led Assembly Government, working smoothly with a third term Conservative Government at Westminster, and boasting what the second decade of devolution which has delivered for the people of Wales. And now I´m off to smash the championship course that surrounds this fabulous hotel. Ah, what joy we humans derive from unjustified optimism.

PS - for the offspring. I let rip with my new ´boomer´ on the 18th yesterday, and found the ´Tiger spot´, and then pitched my 2nd to within 10 feet of the flag. Missed the birdie by a centimetre. Managed three pars though, and Mrs D said I was insufferably full of myself all evening.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Fuerteventura - Day 1

I´ve left the UK. Left the house, the garden and the cats in the capable hands of No 3 son, Tim and Adrienne. No, its not because I earn more than 150,000 pounds a year and have decided to join the emigating herds of high acheivers. Its not even because I can´t any longer stand living in a country run by Gordon Brown. Its just that we fancied a few days golf in the sun - so here I am blogging from the Canaries, between four hours reading/snoozing in the poolside sunshine and nine holes on what looks a very challenging course.

Mind you, if I did earn 150,000K, we would have found a more comfortable way of travelling here from Birmingham yesterday. We were in a Thomas Cook 747, packed to the gunnels. My seat was horribly cramped because the seat in front was broken, and fixed in the recline position and then some. There was sticky tape holding the armrest of the seat across the aisle together. The engines sounded OK though. And the plane was full of children, every single one of them absolutely georgous when at home, but variously upset, hungry, exploratory, bored and highly vocal. Had to just shut down for the four hours it took to reach Fuereventura, a skill I learned when having to sit through some of the debates in the National Assembly. After the week he´s just had, I think our Prime Minister would benefit from joining us - even if the Daily Mail is complimentary all over the hotel.

The Elba Palace is a paradise, an oasis of relaxation in the middle of a golf course of such excellence that the Spanish Open was recently contested here. When I stand on the first tee in a few minutes time, I will imagine Tiger or Sergio blasting off with their obscene graphite drivers. I think I´ll take a 7-iron. Don´t want to flirt with the nest of bunkers half way down the fairway. With the General Election coming up, I´m going to play to stay out of trouble.

Just finished a seriously far fetched book by Michael Crichton, √©ntitled ´Prey´. Its not exactly written in the style that I´d expect from Prince Charles, but it the same message - don´t mess with nature, especially with nanotechnology, genetic engineering and playing games with microdots. Might take a look at the Island tomorrow, but this little oasis of tranquility will be difficult to leave. Unless Gordon accepts my invitation and does join us that is!

Friday, May 01, 2009

Mrs Margaret Thatcher - 30 years on.

Was a guest on Patrick Hanann's 'Call to Order' today, alongside former Cardiff Council 'supremo' Russell Goodway. Under discussion was the incomparable Margaret Thatcher, who ascended to the position of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom thirty years ago. I've always had a lot more time for Russell than most, but I totally disagreed with his assessment of the great Lady.

In 1979 I was a newly elected 'Independent' councillor in Montgomeryshire (elected at a by-election which I won by one vote). I was genuinely 'independent' and had voted both Plaid Cymru and Conservative, and had huge respect for the Liberal MP, Emlyn Hooson, who is now a good friend. At the time, politics was peripheral to my life. Following my father's early death, I was striving to establish myself in business - and there was also the small matter of the three sprogs already born (with another to follow). My memory of the time was that Britain had been brought to her knees by a Labour Government unable to stand up to the likes of Jack Jones, Hugh Scanlon and Joe Gormley. And then along came this woman, Margaret Thatcher, backed up by her philosophical inspiration, Keith Joseph. She had snatched the leadership from the 'Heathites', and was promising to sort out the nation's industrial relations nightmare and shambolic economic policy. I do recall thinking that she would be measured by her success in wresting control of the British economy back from what we called 'the union barons'. After a nervous start she delivered big-time - though a lot of credit must go to Arthur Scargill, who did more than any other single person to destroy union influence.

But back to 'Call to Order'. Where Russell Goodway saw a woman who undermined the social, civil and industrial institutions of the time (even blamed her for the current economic problems delivered by irresponsible bankers), I saw a woman who transformed an economic basket case into a economic success story that became a major player on the world stage. And her legacy remained intact until last week's appalling budget, which has ensured that Gordon Brown enters his own historic niche - as Britain's worst ever Prime Minister. In the 1970's, the destruction wrought on the British economy by a Labour Government created the stage onto which Mrs Margaret Thatcher strode and commanded with such panache. Thirty years later another Labour Government has wrought destruction on the British economy and has created another stage which awaits a new star. David Cameron, 'Come on Down'.

The worst MP's allowance of all.

During all this discussion of politician's expenses and allowances, there's been almost no reference to the anti-democratic, obscene, reprehensible, contemptible, hateful Communications Allowances, which provides no purpose whatsoever, except to help sitting MPs retain their seats, and secure a publicly funded advantage over anyone else who dares to challenge their 'seat for life' plans. Here's another example of how its used. Tell me how this can possibly be justified as an expense on the taxpayer.

Reason its in my mind today is that this weekend the Montgomeryshire Conservatives took out a half page advert in our local County Times in an effort to counteract the use of the Communications Allowance in Montgomeryshire. Difference is that not one penny of the cost of this fell on the taxpayer.