Saturday, February 27, 2010

For 'Black' read 'White'.

My last post highlighted what seemed to me to be a very misleading headline in today's Western Mail. And here's another one. On page 5 we find the headline 'Economy in better shape than we thought'. The article begins "The economy grew more strongly than expected at the end of 2009, official figures showed yesterday". And the Western Mail are not alone in this lapse of judgement. I heard the BBC reporting the same sort of stuff yesterday. Don't they read these reports before they write about them.

The base on which this article has been constructed is that the Office of National Statistics has informed us that the UK economy grew by 0.3% between October and December 2009, rather than the 0.1% than was estimated at the time. Seems straight forward - but its not as it seems. Nothing like as it seems. What actually happened was that growth in the period before October has been down graded, so that the October-December started from a lower base. In fact, economic output in the period was £133 million less than estimated - the opposite of what was reported today. It was actually very bleak news indeed.

The truth of the revised figures may have escaped the media, but not the financial markets. Sterling fell and concerns about a drift back into recession increased. The ONS revised figures were not good news at all. They were dire figures - much worse than anyone had been expecting. Oh dear. You really cannot always believe what you read in the newspapers.

UPDATE - As so often happens, its the Internet that gives us the truth.

Words that speak for themselves.

Bought the Western Mail today. Not many do in Montgomeryshire, but I like to find out what's happening in Welsh politics. Well, the front page headline was a bit discouraging. "A vote for the Tories will leave Wales out in the cold, warns PM". Now I reckon that this is a 24 carrot stupid comment, but I decided to read on and discover just what had prompted such warped use of language.

Most of the article was about the importance of 'the Union', and seemed to be aimed at challenging Plaid Cymru, rather than the 'Tories'. But it did go on to discuss the Barnett Formula (the formula which is used to calculate how much public money comes to Wales) and a comment from the Prime Minister. It referred to his acceptance that all parts of the UK should be funded according to need, and he is reported to have said; "how you implement that depends on you coming forward with proposals to do so, and we're always ready to look at any proposals that come forward". This from the man who ran the Treasury from both 11 and 10 Downing Street for the last 13 years, and did nothing about it. And there are already such proposals (from Gerry Holtham) on his desk, and have been there for months !!"

Eventually, I reached page 30 of the same edition, where George Osborne, the Conservative Shadow Chancellor is quoted as saying "My initial look at the Formula suggests that Wales might well be missing out under the Barnett arrangements. I think it is in Wales' interest that we have that needs-based assessment, which is independently done". That sounds like a promise to me. And this from the man still widely expected to occupy 11 Downing Street in 10 weeks time, (despite the closing opinion polls) and who has been scrupulously careful not to commit to promises that cannot be kept. Now that, I would have thought, was a story that did justify a front page headline. But then, I'm not a journalist.

Sometimes there is no need to express judgement about the veracity of a headline. Words just speak for themselves.

Onwards into battle.


Friday, February 26, 2010

So so close.

Results in international sporting contests are decided by fractions of an inch. The ball hits the crossbar with the goalie beaten. The umpire lifts his finger when the ball was flying a millimetre over the off stump - or doesn't when it wasn't. It was like that in the Millennium Stadium tonight.

Let's ignore the wayward Hook pass that was intercepted - and the more unlucky offload by Shane Williams that gifted another try to the French - and the penalty that never was. Despite all that, Wales could still have won. Should still have won. Two crucial penalty kicks to touch from the otherwise excellent Lee Byrne that missed their mark. If only Charteris had caught Hook's floated pass. If only Jamie Roberts had passed to Hook. We had our chances to win tonight.

But no good moan. For most of the game the French looked solid, even if nonthreatening. They are a powerful and efficient and sometimes uninspiring team - that wins. Its the way England used to be. Disappointed to lose, but we went down with our heads held high. And we had that wonderful bit of magic from Shane Williams to finish off. Being a Wales fan this year is an exhausting business.

Nigel Farage.

Watching Question Time. One of the guests is former UKIP leader, Nigel Farage. Always thought he was an OK bloke - a bit of a wide boy, but I've always had a bit of time for him. But no more. His speech in the European Parliament yesterday was a disgrace. The remarks he directed at EU President, Herman van Rompuy were just appallingly rude and offensive. I'm all for a bit of robust debate, but Mr Farage was not clever, or funny, or in any way attractive. Probably generated a bit of support for the new EU President. He showed himself to be a verbal bully. I'm even tempted to give up a day to head down to Buckingham to campaign for John Bercow, to make sure that this extremely offensive man does not enter our Parliament.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Good ole Gordon

I don't suppose readers of this blog would expect to encounter a post expressing support for an article written by Gordon Brown. But that is what this post is. I agree with this article that our Prime Minister wrote for today's Daily Telegraph. Which I suppose means that I'm almost certainly out of touch with the British people!! Actually, I could just as easily write that I'm pleased that Gordon Brown agrees with me, since I've posted about my opposition to legalising assisted suicide before. Most of my conversations about this issue lead to failure on my part to persuade. Anyway, here are two quotes from the article;

"But when these complex and distressing cases are considered in detail, a solution that at first might seem sensible - the right to die in a manner and at a time of one's own choosing - swiftly becomes less straightforward and more worrying"

"The risk of pressures - however subtle - on the frail and the vulnerable, who may feel their existences burdensome to others, cannot ever be entirely excluded".

There we have my reservations in a nutshell. Another quote in the front page article, based on the Brown piece on p24 comes from the right-to-die campaigner, Debbie Purdy. She 's such an amazing and inspirational person that I imagine it's almost impossible to win an argument with her - guaranteed defeat in debate. She is quoted as saying;

"To have a Prime Minister who says 'actually, I don't care if 95% of the population think we should find a law....I think it shows a lack of respect for the British people".

I just don't agree with her. If 95% of the population take a view, it would be irresistible, no matter what Gordon Brown thought. The reality is that a majority may agree with Debbie Purdy, until they are asked to vote for change after a detailed debate about a proposal to bring it into effect. Seems to be that Gordon Brown has, for once, put his weather vane down and found his moral compass. But I can see the way the wind is blowing on this. The power of short term popular appeal over careful study of long term consequences is leading, bit by bit to the legalising of assisted suicide. As Guido Fawkes might say "If 'Jonah' Brown is backing you, you're doomed". Its a mistake though.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Need for renal dialysis certainty in Welshpool.

Spent this afternoon at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. Two missions. Firstly, a 'Goodbye Meeting' with Tom Taylor, Chief Exec. of the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospitals Trust, who will be leaving his post in the near future. In my opinion, Tom has done a terrific job, and has had to put up with some serious c*** from the upper echelons of the NHS. I'm not sure that the Royal Shrewsbury would be there today but for him. He's off to work for DEFRA. Made me laugh when he started talking about pigs and potatoes. But longest chat was about the provision of a renal dialysis service at Welshpool - one of my highest hobby-horses.

Next stop was the RSH's Renal Dialysis Centre. Despite campaigning for a satellite unit at Welshpool Hospital for many years, I'd never actually seen a dialysis station. So I met Nonny, a super efficient nurse who runs the 26 station centre, and she showed me around. It was the quietness that struck me. Some dialysers were sleeping. Some were reading. Four hours is a long time to sit in the same place. And of course there were people there that I knew. I left in deep thought, realising that these people would not be alive for long without this service.

But I left the Royal Shrewsbury with anger in my heart - anger at the total idiocy that is constructing walls between the NHS in Wales and the NHS in England. Almost all of the people in Montgomeryshire travel to Shrewsbury for dialysis. Their consultants are based at Shrewsbury. For years we assumed that Welshpool would be a satellite unit of Shrewsbury - but no. We now have devolution - and the walls are being built. The Welshpool unit must now be linked to a Welsh hospital. No good moan about it. I learned years ago that politics is not always consistent with common sense.

I've two emotions about the Assembly Government's actions in respect of this issue. Firstly, appreciation for the commitment by Minister, Edwina Hart to increasing the provision of renal dialysis in Wales. But secondly, anger that the interpretation of devolution as the development of separate NHS's in England and Wales has caused so much delay. But it does seem that at long last, things are moving. After a deeply frustrating reluctance to keep people informed about what's happening, delivering uncertainty, the 'Project Board' has calle a meeting of 'stakeholders' on March 19th in Welshpool. I will attend on behalf of the Kidney Wales Foundation - Powys Branch, which I helped set up a few years ago. I fully expect us to be given the date of 'late summer' as the start date for the temporary unit, and 2112 as the delivery of the permanent unit - with either six or eight stations. After today's visit, its a formal announcement I'll enjoy hearing. Will plan for a celebration that night.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Good Day for Newtown

This lady's name is Anne Lewis. She's the face of the Wales Air Ambulance in Montgomeryshire. Today she was busy 'cutting the ribbon' at the official opening of the new Tesco supermarket in Newtown. I haven't used the full photograph because it was stuffed full of Liberal Democrats! Nice cheque from Tesco though.

I arrived too late for the official tape-cutting, because of a mighty traffic hold-up - caused in my opinion by the utterly ridiculous traffic lights that have been erected in place of a roundabout nearby - a condition of the planning application. What was really funny was that one of the journalists was so snarled up in the jam that he parked in Morrison's Supermarket, and walked to Tesco's. If Morrison's had known, he'd have been clamped. Mrs D came along with me, and while I was hob-knobbing, she checked out the store. And daughter-in-law, Adrienne checked it out later. Big thumbs up. So its 'Shopper's delight, Motorist's nightmare'.

Speaking of Liberal Democrats, I learned today who the short listed candidates from which lamb buyer, Wyn Williams was chosen as their Assembly Candidate were. One was Gavin Cox, who is of a Welshpool family, and an experienced Lib Dem activist. He used to work for Mick in the Assembly. No surprise there. But Alison Davies was a bit of a surprise to me. For the last few years she has been very active in opposing wind farms in upland Wales. Now wouldn't that have been so very Lib Dem - replacing the most pro onshore wind farm person in Wales that I know, with the most anti onshore wind farm person I know. You just never know with the Lib Dems.

Other bit of good news for Newtown today was that Shops Direct, the Call Centre business based at the Pryce Jones Building has postponed its closure (and the loss of 180 jobs) from end of June to December - more chance to find a buyer. I had the news from the Mayor, Cllr. Joy Jones, who has been active in pressing the company to be sympathetic. And they listened. Now I well understand why. I always listen to Joy as well. Whatever, its got to be good news for Newtown.

Duck Palace - as promised.

Until fairly recently, I had no idea that such a thing as a specific 'duck residence' existed. But then we had all that publicity about a Duck Palace in the Daily Telegraph. Perhaps I'm indulging in a bit of estate agent exaggeration to describe this structure as a 'Palace' but on the grounds that its the only one in Montgomeryshire (that I know of) I think its fair enough to big up the particulars. It can be viewed at the outstanding Derwen Garden Centre, near Guilsfield, and can be yours for a mere £399. I should add that its not appropriate to submit a claim for it on expenses.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Does Gordon Brown's violence matter?

Today's media is dominated by revelations in a book by Andrew Rawnsley, claiming that Gordon Brown has inflicted violence on civil servants working for him. These 'revelations' are very important, and cannot be dismissed in the light hearted way that underpinned Labour's rebuttal strategy today. The vehemence of Labour's spin operation today demonstrates just how seriously they take this. Their problem is that Rawnsley is a much respected journalist who convincingly says "I haven't won awards for journalism by making things up". And after all the dismissive assurances from Lord Mandelson (who claims to have taken his punishment like a man) and others, we now have Christine Pratt, head of an anti-bullying charity going public that several members of Gordon Brown's staff have been using the charity's Help Line. Another problem here is that all those people who are inclined to believe Andrew Rawnsley and Christine Pratt will logically be disbelieving Lord Mandelson.

But my question is "Does it matter that our Prime Minister could be a bullying thug"? Do the people of Britain care? Do they care if our politicians get so plastered that they are thrown out of nightclubs and fall down the stairs, and then assault the paramedic who comes to administer medical help? Does it matter if MPs sneak away on Mediterranean cruises while letting their constituents think they are working in the House of Commons? Does it matter that large donations are not properly declared? Does it matter if MPs earn a bit extra by writing salacious material for what many would think a pornographic newspaper? Have we reached the stage where public expectation of politicians is so low, that behaviour that would lead to condemnation, even dismissal in many occupations is tolerated in politicians? Actually I think it does matter. Politicians who have done these things have brought politics into disrepute, and have turned many people (especially young people) away from voting altogether. Its time for a fight back. Not some great moral crusade - just an expectation of reasonable behaviour.

I reckon that if voters knew the truth, the perpetrators would never be elected. As with MP's expenses, transparency is key. We depend on the media to keep us informed. Media that does not report this sort of behaviour becomes an extension of the deception. I sense that 'Expensesgate' has led much of the media to re-assess its policy of conspiring to deceive through silence. We have a General Election coming up. For the sake of our democracy, let the people know.

Scum sucking Pigs

I must admit that I was a bit offended when Telford's Labour MP, David Wright described me (along with all Conservatives) as a 'Scum sucking Pig' earlier this week. I've met him a couple of times, and he's never shown me this unpleasant side. But I'm told that the German for 'Scum-sucking pig' is 'Dreck fressendes Schwein'. Now this sounds nothing like so offensive. Perhaps someone can tell us what it is in Welsh. Moch sgwm Sugno' perhaps. I quite like this as well.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Lorryload of Reality Pudding.

I've never received an invite to a Plaid Cymru conference. Never thought I'd have wanted one - but I missed a damn good session today, according to Tom Bodden of the Daily Post. The subject under discussion was the Barnett Formula - that's the mechanism by which the block of money that passes from the Treasury to the National Assembly for Wales is calculated. The interesting stuff came from Mr Gerry Holtham, who we can all agree is a seriously big noise. He's currently reviewing how the Barnett Formula works, from a Welsh perspective.

Lets begin with the figures, and compare what the Treasury doles out to the nations that make up the United Kingdom, compared with what Mr Holtham thinks is 'fair'. For every £100 that the Treasury spends in England, it should spend £114 in Wales, £121 in Northern Ireland, and £105 in Scotland to be 'fair'. What it actually spends is £112 in Wales, £125 in Northern Ireland and £120 in Scotland. So Scotland is massively over subsidised, Northern Ireland is moderately over subsidised, and Wales is slightly underfunded. Mr Holtham's view is that the Treasury will consider this 2% to be 'within the margin of error', and dependent on how the figures are calculated. I can imagine the sputtering in the Conference Hall as this basinful of reality pudding was poured over the audience. But worse was to came - according to Tom's blog.

The next issue was the completely 'bonkers' plan to raise the higher rates of tax in Wales to pay for extra services. Anyone with any knowledge of economics would know this idea does not stand up to a minute's serious scrutiny. Mr Holtham informed the assembled Plaid Cymru members that any rise in the higher rate of income tax would simply drive taxpayers over the border, and any significant rise would lead to a serious drop in revenue. The only way to raise revenue would be by increasing tax on standard rate payers. Now that doesn't sound much of a vote winner to me. I wonder what effect this information (coming from someone that Plaid are in thrall to) had on conference goers. A wheelbarrow load of reality pudding I'd say.

And then there's the old chestnut. Lets charge the English for our water. "They'll knock it off the block grant" said Mr Holtham. By now there must have been a lorryload of reality pudding being tipped up outside the Hall entrance. By all accounts, Mr Gerry Holtham is a personable fellow, but I'd bet Plaid Cymru are sorry they invited him along to lay waste their dreams. Or at least sorry they let sharp media types like Tom Bodden inside to listen.

Celts for Cameron. Brilliant.

If I had to live anywhere except Montgomeryshire, I'd probably choose to live in Ireland, probably County Clare. Not only did we spend a great family holiday there when the children were young, and encounter a level of hospitality that has never been matched anywhere in the world, No 1 son lives and works in Cork, and No 3 son's wife in from Macroom. The Irish link is very strong. So this will definitely be one of my campaign songs. Its brilliant. If you've a scintilla of Celtic blood running through your veins, you will enjoy.

Managing Devolution

Shadow Secretary of State, Cheryl Gillan was in Montgomeryshire today. We were meeting representatives of several local town and community councils to discuss wind farms - specifically the implications for transport in the area. This is an issue in which I've taken an interest over many years. Its easy to assume that others share the interest, and knowledge about where responsibility for decisions lie. Truth is that very few people do understand where decisions are taken. Its why I've said consistently that liaising between Westminster and Cardiff Bay would be my main role as an MP. were I to be elected. There's so much liaising to do.

Another issue where devolution has been badly misunderstood, is the current public furore about secondary schools reorganisation in Powys. Now we run the Conservative Office as a 'team' of councillors and prospective candidates at all levels - so when the infamous 'leaked report' was discussed, it was a consensus decision that I would go public with it (after giving the Council three days notice)- in part because I knew the issue so well. The 'team' then decided to arrange local discussion meetings for me, while I was away on a three day break - and I was utterly astonished that so many people came along. After a huge public meeting (of 400 people) in Llanidloes, I began telling everyone concerned that they should be concentrating their attention and efforts on Councillors and Assembly Members - because MPs and wannabe MPs have no influence whatsoever, except through other tiers of Government. I. myself went to Cardiff last week to discuss the issue with Conservative AM, Nick Bourne, and asked him to table a Statement of Opinion in the National Assembly to raise awareness of the issue - where it mattered. And it was Conservative Councillors, uninfluenced by me who have taken the issue forwards within the Council since. All of which brings me to something both odd and ridiculous.

Montgomeryshire's MP tabled an Early Day Motion on the issue at Westminster. No problem - even if the issue has nothing whatsoever to do with Westminster. But the content was interesting. It was exactly the same as the motion put forward by the Conservatives at the recent Emergency Meeting of Powys Council - which every single Lib Dem Councillor opposed!! Not only opposed, but were openly hostile to - and as far as I know remain openly hostile to. So the MP is trying to persuade other MPs, who have absolutely no say on the matter, while doing nothing to persuade Lib Dem councillors in his own constituency, who do, to back him. You can choose your own word to describe this weird behaviour.

And by the way, the Lib Dems in Montgomeryshire have chosen Mr Wyn Williams as their next Assembly election candidate. I know Wyn rather well, and unfortunately cannot think of a single negative thing to say against him. Like me, he's a man of Welsh hill farming stock, and with roots planted into the same wonderful part of Montgomeryshire. He's employed or was (or owns? or did) a meat company called Dunbia in Llanybydder, and for the last few years bought most of the fat lambs that my farm produced. How about that for coincidence. Daresay I'll find something critical to say about Wyn by the time the Assembly election comes around in 2011!!

Friday, February 19, 2010


Surprising how much pleasure can be derived from the use of a single word. I remember a phase of playing a rather silly (but harmless) game in the National Assembly about who could meld a selected, obscure word into a speech during a particular debate. I was quite good at it. Well, my latest little game (perhaps challenge is a better word) is to search through my Welsh dictionary before a media appearance, select a new word, and try to bring it into one of my contributions. Last night's personal 'word challenge' before appearing on Pawb a'i Farn on S4/C was 'Gwerinllywodraeth'. What a beautiful word it is. It means 'Republic'. Its almost as good a word as 'Hyrwyddo' which means 'Promote' or 'Arallgyfeirio' which means 'Diversify' - words that you can really wrap your tongue around.

Anyway, last night there was a question about the place of the Royal Family in the constitutional existence of Wales - so maneuvering a suitable context for using 'Gwerinllywodraeth' was a doddle. I was still quite pleased with myself though when I managed it. But its never certain til the fat lady's sung. Dewi Llwyd could have cut across me just as I about to spit the word out. And I reckon it will have brought a smile to the face of a couple from Ynys Mon who made conversation with me in the Little Chef in Dolgellau when I was scouring my Welsh dictionary deciding on 'my word for the night'. I told them what I'd chosen, and they said they would be looking out for it. The studio audience would really have liked the word Gwerinllywodraeth' as well, because the entire audience believed in it. I was just about the only person in the Canolfan Hamdden (Leisure Centre) in Harlech last night who saw any role whatsoever for the Royal Family in Wales.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Devolutionary Tortoise in charge of Welsh Powers Referendum.

The only conclusion drawable is that both Labour and Plaid Cymru are not as keen as they pretend on holding the promised referendum on law making powers for the National Assembly for Wales before the next Assembly Election in 2011. We've known for a while that most Labour MPs, including Peter Hain are against holding it. And I've long suspected the leadership of Plaid Cymru of being in cahoots (though I have no evidence for this). But I'll try and make my case. Its a case that's featured on this blog before.

Everything was going swimmingly while it was assumed that David Cameron would decide (if he became Prime Minister) that the crisis facing Britain is such that no referendums would be held during his first term of office. All they had to do was delay it until after the General Election - despite having had over two years to move on it. This is what I allege Rhodri Morgan and Ieuan Wyn Jones expected. When the Conservative Leader announced recently that he would not veto a referendum, it was a stunning game changer. I recall Ieuan Wyn Jones informing me last summer (on a Radio Cymru panel programme) that he would not commit to calling for the referendum unless I committed a future Conservative Government to a 'no veto' policy. I was a PPC. How on earth could I do that. Utterly ridiculous I know - but true. The upshot of the Cameron announcement was that last week's 'trigger vote' became unavoidable. To make matters worse, both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives backed down from their threat to abstain over the suggestion that the referendum could be held on Assembly Election day. Carwyn Jones' silly little ploy was 'stuffed' when every Conservative AM backed the trigger vote.

So what's the next ruse. Delay and delay of course. Now every one in the land knew weeks ago that the Feb. 9th vote was taking place, and knew it would be a 'trigger vote' - though Carwyn Jones played a silly little game with this as well. And they knew it would be approved, and that he would be asked to write a letter to Peter Hain to formally launch the process. Why on earth was it not written and ready. Its a hugely significant event in Welsh political history. Why was the letter not handed over, with a bit of ceremony, on the Senedd steps the next day. It seems that a week has gone by and nothing has happened. Its enough to make anyone wonder what's going on.

And what has been the response to all this by Peter Hain, the Secretary of State for Wales (a man with whom I find that I share a birthday). Zilch. We know that he has 120 days to respond to the formal letter (when the First Minister gets around to sending it) - but there's no rule that says he has to wait 120 days. It looks suspiciously as if he intends to drag his feet, so that Labour and Plaid Cymru can blame an incoming Conservative Secretary of State for any difficulty in meeting the timetable needed for an October referendum - which is the best date by miles.

Of course the referendum date could be put off until near Dydd Gwyl Dewi on March 1st (or even Assembly Election day in May). They may even think this would help the Yes vote. Well, I think they would be wrong. The No campaign would accuse them of 'gerrymandering'. I can just hear Rachel Banner's persuasive tone throughout the coming summer, demanding the referendum in October, before the vote can influence, or be influenced by the Assembly Election. And she would be right. The delayists are fools. They are asking for trouble. I believe that the Yes campaign would win in October/Novemeber, may just about scrape a win in March, but would lose in May. Come on Carwyn Jones, and you Plaid apologists. Get on with it.

Rugby Justice.

Excellent news today. An independent disciplinary panel has banned Irish hooker, Jerry Flannery for six weeks. Absolutely right. Justice has been done. His vicious attack on Frenchman, Alexis Pallison in last weekend's Six Nations game was totally unacceptable. I can just imagine all those mums and dads deciding rugby's not a game for their little boys, after the referee just carried on as if nothing much had happened. It was a clear cut, fully public attempt to break Pallison's legs, right under the ref's nose.

But one cheer for Jerry Flannery. He is reported as pleading guilty and acknowledging that the offence deserved a red card. So right and blindingly obvious, but I can just hear Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger informing us of how they had been looking away at the time. I thought he deserved ten weeks, but reduced to six for honesty. Justice done.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Its politics I'm afraid.

Regular visitors will know that 'Care for the Elderly' is one of my major interests. I was associated with a care home company for almost 3 years - until I stood aside to focus on the General Election. And I've been involved with a charity, RESEC (Research into Specialist Elderly Care) for the last two years. Last Sunday, I watched the Politics Show, where the health spokesmen of the three main parties fought like rutting stags about this issue. None of us was any the wiser when the rut was over. I watched despairingly. Anyway, lets reflect more calmly.

Over the last two years, there has been much government sponsored debate about how care is to be paid for, initiated from both Westminster and Cardiff. A few months ago, I attended an excellent discussion in the House of Commons, led by Lord Freeman. Personally I'd accepted that there would be little progress on this hugely important issue until after the General Election, and we find out the true state of the public finances - and the real cost of repairs. But in September, Gordon Brown made it a political football by kicking all the discussion into touch, and announcing that the Labour Government planned to pass legislation which provided free personal care for the 280,000 in most need. No intention of ever introducing such legislation of course. It was a gimmick, designed to portray the Conservatives as 'uncaring' when they reasonably asked how it was going to be paid for. Using the most vulnerable in a horribly cynical way.

Inter-party discussion was dead until after the General Election. Similar situation to the merger of trauma A&E in Shropshire. Last October, discussion on this issue was postponed. The problem hasn't gone away. But I reckoned no rational debate was possible. Luckily, the CEO of the Hospital Trust, Tom Taylor (who today so disappointingly announced he was leaving) agreed. Also today, the only Labour MP in Shropshire and Mid Wales, David Wright described Conservatives as 'scum sucking pigs'. Even Sunday's 'rutting stags' were nothing like that bad. Utterly disgraceful, but no good moan. Its just the way it is - and we've got eleven more weeks of this!

So where do we go from here. The Labour Minister is organising a conference on the issue. This looks like a stunt to me. Organise a conference by all means, but hold it on May 7th. This is an issue that's being considered years too late - eleven more weeks won't make much difference. Some elderly people are living in appalling conditions. We must change the balance of 'healthcare' investment from extending life to making that extension a worthwhile experience. We need to find a way of persuading people to see investment in their own end-of-life care as a personal responsibility. Personally, I don't support the idea of levying a flat rate additional 'Inheritance Tax'. That's not persuasion - that's just taxation. Best idea I've heard so far came from a man named Anoup Treon, owner of the care company I worked with. His idea is to allow people to invest in some sort of 'Care Account' which could be passed free of Inheritance Tax to the next generation if not used. Whatever, this issue will be a major challenge for the next Government, and I'd love to be involved in the debate.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Media Bias

I have never complained about media bias in my life - mainly because I believe people watching are not daft, and can usually see through it. And anyway, if you have a policy of never complaining, you win some and lose some. Personally, I've always done OK. I have watched a couple of examples recently of reporting which outrageously favoured my main opponent in Montgomeryshire - but I just grit my teeth and get on with it. Its a bit like the issue of a Lib Dem newspaper that is currently being delivered to every household in Montgomeryshire. It makes ludicrous claims about the MP and AM's achievements - but I just shrug my shoulders. People are not stupid. They just don't believe them.

But back to real media bias. Just watch this interview on Sky News featuring Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne. The interviewer is someone named Tim Marshall, whose shameful bias is such that he should never be allowed to interview anyone again. He's a disgrace. The interesting bit is about 3 minutes in. But the upshot of Marshall's biased behaviour, and the little tricks employed by Sky News to put the interviewee in a poor light, finished up helping George Osborne. While Tim Marshall was sniggering on the phone to Kevin Maguire (OK so I made that up) about his 'clever dick stitch-up', most viewers will have been deeply impressed by how George Osborne kept his cool, and poked him in the eye over Lord Ashcroft's tax status. And in truth, in respect of this issue, the BBC and others are no better than Marshall. Every Conservative seems to be asked about Lord Ashcroft, while Labour politicians are never asked about Lord Paul. And if Guido has his way, and he often does, this blatant bias is going to come back to bite their backsides before too long.

UPDATE - If you want to know more about how Lord Paul made his money, go read Guido's blog - especially if you have any concern for employee's rights.

How on earth did we lose to that lot?

There follows is a list of all the good aspects of England's performance against Italy today.

THE referendum

The dominant issue in Welsh politics over the next eight months will be the referendum on granting law making powers in all devolved areas to the National Assembly for Wales. I expect it to be held in October. It will be a major issue during the run-up to the May 6th General Election - despite many not wanting it to be so. Of course, repairing our broken economy, the war in Afghanistan, cleaning up our politics and controlling immigration will be key issues, but in Wales, how we are governed should also be an issue. It will certainly feature as part of my campaign - even though I do not think this will be electorally advantageous. Its just that its an issue I really care about.

Today's politics show featured the eccentric Presiding Officer of the Assembly, Lord Elis Thomas. He's a class act - sometimes outrageous, sometimes forensically logical. Today, he was reason personified. I agreed with all that he said, including his acceptance that referendums are going to become a common occurrence in Britain. Our politics has become such a mess that I'm game to try new ways of engaging people. Only negative aspect of the interview was that it didn't add anything to what we already knew.

Matt Withers also went big on the 'Assembly Powers' referendum in today's Wales on Sunday. He was addressing the tricky question of 'The Question'. We know that this is not an easy issue to resolve. Personally, I'm favouring the idea of having two questions, a 'formal' question on the ballot form, and an informal question as the basis for public debate. The former would be something like "Do you support moving from Part 3 to Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act" - while the latter would be something like "Do you support granting law making powers to the National Assembly for Wales in all currently devolved policy areas." Actually, I could live with the second of these questions being on the ballot paper, but suspect it will not satisfy constitutional lawyers. I can see no reason whatsoever why this question cannot be decided on now.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Human Rights Abuse

Alfons Mensdorff-Poully is an Austrian count. He's very wealthy and owns Dalnaglar Castle and property in Sloane Square and Luising in East Austria. He was investigated over allegations that he was an agent for illegal payments made in return for contracts to deliver fighter jets produced by BAE Systems - and incarcerated in one of Her Majesty's jails for 7 days. The eventual outcome was that a deal was done and BAE Systems paid £287 million to the authorities.

Nothing particularly blogworthy about this, except that Mr (or is it Herr) Mensdorf-Poilly is claiming that his human rights have been abused by the Prison Service - because the prison issue underpants he was given for those seven days were too small. Why didn't he just abandon himself to the joy, freedom and adventure of dispensing with his underpants altogether. Many years ago, on the mountain farms of Britain, profitability was so poor that they were regarded as luxuries. Commandos and Scotsmen are said to dress similarly - through choice.

He also claimed he had not been given a comb, despite the photograph of him in today's Telegraph suggesting that he was as bald as a coot. And the razor he was given had remnants of another man's stubble in it. Oh how terribly, awfully disgusting! Quite rightly he demanded a Hepatitis B injection. Pity I wasn't asked to administer it. Had decades of experience injecting sheep - and with a six inch needle. Definitely an injection for the buttocks. He'd wish his underpants were even tighter by the time I'd have finished with him.

Wow - What a finish.

Was speaking at the Annual General Meeting of the Montgomeryshire Conservative Association this afternoon. Tried speaking with more 'gravitas' and 'authority' than I usually do. Was put out when Eileen told me that I came over as 'fierce'! Ah well. Back to the drawing board. Anyway, I missed most of the Wales-Scotland game. Arrived home in time to catch the last 15 minutes. And what a 15 minutes it was. Wales were ten points behind. Just six of them left when the Scottish prop, Scott Lawson lost control of his brain. Ref had just dished out a warning (long overdue according to the radio commentary) and the idiot commits a full-on blatant foul, right under the ref's nose, in no-danger land. Straight forward - into the bin. Wales went rampant, and scored under the posts. Game on.

And then the whole Scottish team lost control of their brain. I don't really blame Phil Godman, who cynically tripped Lee Byrne, who was on his way to the line for a winning touch down, earning himself a one way ticket to the bin to join his mate. It was a 'match saving' foul. Instead of seven points, Wales settled for the draw that three points gave them. Then we had a bit of controversy. The Scots were required by the ref to kick off, despite the eighty minutes being up. I thought that this was the ref's revenge for the sheer blatancy of the trip, which would otherwise have passed completely unpunished. But why, oh why didn't the Scots kick it straight into touch for a draw? But they didn't - and Wales won. An unbelievable finish. A Scottish nightmare.

Watched the whole France-Ireland game. Great game, even if a few too many Irish errors. The French were very impressive. Powerful and organised. They'll take some beating. Must admit I thought the first Irish yellow card was just about deserved. It would have been something of a talking point until Flannery decided to resort to GBH on the rugby field. What was the ref thinking about. He should have been sent for an early bath. Looks like the England-France game is going to be the decider. Won't be many prisoners taken in that game. Despite the much better rugby, it will not last in the memory as long as the extraordinary finish at the Millennium Stadium.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Emergency Debate.

Can't understand why some Powys Councillors have been so naggy. When I was a Councillor, nothing I liked more than a bit of tension in the chamber. And there was a bit of real spice in Llandrindod Wells today. I suppose they're not used to the public taking a really close interest in what they're doing - and giving voice before an official invitation to do so. Today's 'Emergency Debate' happened only because 11 County Councillors had written in to demand it. The motion before Councillors proposed the scrapping of the four options for reorganising secondary education which are contained in a 'leaked' report, which had been prepared by an officer working group. The options include proposals to close three high schools in Montgomeryshire and establish a sixth form college. The chamber was full of interested observers, including me.

The session began with what seemed some bizarre legal advice (from he who gives it) about what constitutes an interest. Sounded more like advice to say nothing of any interest to anyone. And then it was Jeremy Patterson, Chief Executive, with what seemed to me a none too subtle pitch to reject the motion. What followed was a very good debate, with good contributions from all sides, except for one rather offensive contribution from a Powys Independent - which prompted a poke in the eye from an outraged Russell George. Fully deserved in my opinion.

Debate was good - but odd. Almost everyone's speech was in full agreement with the arguments put forward by Conservative Councillor, Aled Davies. Almost all of the Conservative Councillors spoke up well. And then Councillor David Jones put froward his amendment which was effectively to go back to square one, establishing a new working group (to include councillors) to come forward with a new report, containing a variety of options. Difference between Aled and David was that the latter did not want to rule out anything until the costs were all known. Aled wanted to rule out closures and the end of sixth forms now. I'd have preferred Aled's motion - but David's amendment was not unreasonable. Must admit that the outcome was along the lines I'd expected.

For the last few days I've been trying to manage expectation amongst the concerned public, leading up to today's debate. For the next few days, it will be managing disappointment. I want to reassure people that today was a good result - as good as could have been expected. None of the Councillors can now be in any doubt about how we, the people of Montgomeryshire feel about suggestions that they should take away our secondary schools, or their sixth forms. We know that most of those who spoke today agree with us. And we are rid of the officer-dominated Steering Group which came up with the 'bonkers' report in the first place. All we have to do is make sure that the fire is kept on smoulder until its time to turn the bellows on again- and consume any proposals to wreck our education system in a mighty conflagration. I was really proud of the Conservative Group. They fight for their people, and they're just not willing to be pushed around by anyone.

Revisiting Old haunts.

Been away since yesterday morning, down in the Welsh Capital. Needed to meet up with Nick Bourne to discuss approach to opposing school closures in Powys. Its seems to be forgotten in Powys that this is a devolved matter. Nick is onside with us, and tabled a Statement of Opinion yesterday, defending our high schools and their sixth forms. MPs and Westminster candidates can shout however much they like (and we are doing) - but its AMs and Councillors who make the relevant decisions.

Went to Jamie's Italian for supper. Very 'city' and very nice. A Jamie 'clone served us. I recommend the Fish in a Bag (Sea Bass). Could have only a smidgen of wine because I was appearing on TV later on in the evening. Before heading back down to the Bay, we walked along Caroline Street to see Charleston's Brasserie, which has been so much in the Montgomeryshire news this week. I know you can't tell a book by its cover, but Mrs D and I were not tempted to explore beyond the front door. Couldn't see any blood on the floor.

Then it was down to the Bay for the Welsh Language political programme, CF99. Vaughan and Bethan in charge. Fellow guests were Angharad Mair, Iestyn Davies and Paul Flynn. The issues under discussion were the value of party conferences, the 'powers' referendum, and Proportional Representation. I said I preferred FPTP, especially over the Alternative Vote system. Vaughan told me I was living in the past (or something similar) - unlike the other three 'modern' thinkers. I hadn't moved on. Made no sense to me. I reckon AV is less proportional than FPTP, and is more prone to tactical voting. Must admit that I'm more taken with the Additional Member System used to elect Assembly Members, without the iniquitous ban on dual candidacy.

Back down to the Bay this morning for a gossip with Daran Hill, rapidly emerging as Wales top political guru. He's a real old gossip as well, and that's two of us. And then it was back to Llandrindod Wells for a Powys Council debate - which is subject of my next post. Nice city is Cardiff. Really enjoyed my eight years as a mid-week resident. Mrs D misses the flat (which is let). I miss it as well.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Devolution Milestone.

I am Welsh - in every respect, and proudly so. I'm also a Conservative. I want my nation to be well governed, and will support a constitutional settlement that is stable, and incorporates the devolutionary principle that the people of Wales voted for on 18th September, 1999. Today, 53 Assembly Members voted unanimously in favour of holding a referendum to establish whether the people want to move forward as the 1998 Act envisaged. Its always a bit boring when everyone agrees on an important issue, but today was a very significant milestone.

The First Minister now has 14 days to write to the Secretary of Wales conveying to him a request from Assembly Members to hold a referendum. He has 120 days to respond to this request, setting out the legal process under which this referendum will be held - or telling us why its being refused. This responsibility could well fall to a Conservative Secretary of State, because as a result of the Assembly's Coalition Government's procrastination, 120 days takes us beyond the General Election. David Cameron has stated publicly that he will not veto this referendum - the single most important statement on this issue during the last three years.

There remains discussion about the date of this referendum. I believe it should be in October 2010. It should definitely not be held on the same date as the next Assembly Election, and in my opinion, will lead to a No vote if such a stunt was tried. Supporters of a Yes vote (such as me) would have nothing to do with such a stunt. I could live with a date as near to Dydd Dewi Sant (March 1st) as possible, but it would be better in October/November. The decision has been taken. Lets get on with it.

There will be freedom for Conservatives to campaign in accordance with their beliefs. I have always been clear that I'm in favour of the devolution of all law making powers in currently devolved policy areas. I will campaign for this, though I will not want to become a part of any official Yes campaign. I suppose the reality is that if I'm elected as an MP on May 6th, I will have a significant role in the referendum. If I lose, I suspect no-one will care what I think. Whatever, today has been a hugely important day for the people of Wales. Oh how I would have liked to have been an Assembly Member today. All I can do is run through the speech I would have made in the bath tonight, and imagine that I'm speaking in the Siambr.

Update on Secondary Education in Powys

Joined the Friends of Llanfyllin School last night, along with around 150 others. Only 3 Councillors though. Suspect there had been a bit of pressure applied not to attend. Two issues under discussion. Nothing much new on the high school closures issue. It was mostly a repeat of last week's public meeting. All that's changed is the proposed timetable for introduction of the changes. My view is that any attempt to push things by those who see any merit in the proposals will fail - so the new strategy is one of attrition. I'm opposed to the closure of any high school site in Montgomeryshire, and the loss of any sixth form - and my 'advice' last night was not to expect any sort of 'victory' in the short term. Important to hold some ammunition for battles ahead. Next step is an 'Emergency Debate' by councillors on Thursday afternoon at 2.00. There will be a tactical battle - akin to a game of chess. I expect there to be a crowd, and I hope to spend some time with any representatives from my old school, Ysgol Caereinion.

The second issue is very interesting - pitting 'choice' against 'concentrating resources directly on education'. Not an easy issue. Llanfyllin High School governors have for many years used a part of its budget to pay the transport costs of students from outside its catchment area. There are more than 200 students coming over the border from England. From now on this 'subsidy' will not be allowed - removing an important power from school governors. The Council has decided and will truck no dissension. The only way forward for the governors is recourse to the law. Big issue this. The governors of Llanfyllin High School have created one of the most successful schools in Wales, and the Council has decided that one of the main planks of this success must be eliminated. Choice? - not in Powys.

Hitting the high notes.

Just thought you'd like to catch up with little Ffion. She's going through her Elton John phase - though she was singing 'Twinkle, twinkle little star'. She lives in Ireland and we haven't seen her for three weeks, so I was looking through 'My Pictures' and thought I'd share.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Weak start to the Yes and No Campaigns - Politics Show today

I was none too impressed by the arguments put forward by the two combatants in today's Politics Show, Rachel Banner and Nerys Evans. Rachel was outlining the case for a No vote in the forthcoming referendum on law making powers for the the National Assembly, and Nerys was making the case for a Yes vote. It wasn't Ciaran's fault. He was asking the right questions. Seemed to me that both of them were basing their arguments on very shaky ground. Bit depressing if this is to be a taster for the sort of arguments that will be used in the campaign.

Rachel first. She seemed to be implying that AMs are in support of extra power because it will lead to an increase in an AM's salary. I'm not at all sure this is true. In May 2007, an AM's salary increased by 8.3% because the power to make laws was granted in the 2006 Government of Wales Act. Its just that it has barely happened. Since the process of power transfer under the system that has applied since then has been so slow, it could be argued that AMs have been overpaid over the last two years! Whatever, the basis on which an AM's salary is calculated after a successful referendum will not necessarily change much. I can see that it will play well to people's current perception of politician's avarice, but it's falseness makes it a rather vulgar argument.

Nerys' turn next. She was trying to describe the change proposed in the referendum as a "tidying up exercise". That is not going to wash. Admittedly, the big principled change was made with the 2006 Act. But that has been a failure - despite what some MPs try to claim for it. But its still a big change. We've heard this phrase "Tidying up exercise" before, and it looked decidedly dodgy last time. If the Yes camp run with this, they will look dishonest, and may lose. I do think that we will have a referendum in the Autumn, and I hope the two sides come up with something rather better than we saw today.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Should we be outraged or entertained?

Dominating today's Wales on Sunday are two stories. Front page headline reads"What were you thinking - Moment of Madness". Not sure which of the central characters this applied to - Alun Wyn Jones or Montgomeryshire's Assembly Member, Mick Bates. Photographs of both men, and then the line 'Politician apologises for night on the tiles he can't remember'. Now, getting splattered is not against the law (even if it is a little unwise), especially with a new hip - so I was sort of entertained by what I was reading. But the biggest headline of all screamed out "AM in 'Drunken Abuse' shame" - Matt Withers' first paragraphs read "An Assembly Mmeber is being investigated over allegations of abusive behaviour towards hospital staff". After reading that, I realised that this was not an entertaining matter at all - and I bet Nick Clegg and Kirsty Williams don't think so either. The BBC have also waded into the story.

Because Mick represents Montgomeryshire, it was no surprise to me that I received calls from the media to comment. I wasn't that keen. But Matt had dug out a quote from me a few years ago where I said "Since he arrived here, Mick Bates has treated the National Assembly as an entertainment centre". At the time I was dismissed as a 'fuddy-duddy'. I think that was after Mick turned up in the Debating Chamber in a Santa suit - to promote the Newtown Santa Run. Great cause, but I did think it demeaned the National Assembly. Mick's most notorious trick was to give the Presiding Officer 'the finger' in the Debating Chamber. Unfortunately it was caught on YouTube. Must admit that I was highly amused by Mick's 'explanation' at the time. He said that he "was showing Rhodri Glyn Thomas which finger he should use to operate the Assembly's modern push button voting system".

What this could really be about is the hot competition for the Wales on Sunday's annual 'Buffoon of the Year Title'. Mick had won this for several years in succession, and we were all stunned last year when the afore-mentioned Rhodri Glyn Thomas usurped him, courtesy of an incident with a cigar. It was a bigger shock than Phil Taylor losing a darts match. It could be that Mick wants the title back this year so that he can retire undefeated in 2011.

Never let it be said that this blog is less than fair. I'm in agreement with Kirsty Williams about this. Lets find out exactly what happened before we throw stones. And anyway, there's a bit of me that wants to support a fellow-Montgomeryshire man in trouble.

UPDATE - If this morning's reports turn out to have any basis in truth, there is no doubt that we should all be outraged. Violence against hospital staff is an utter disgrace. But I still find it so hard to believe. I will await developments during the day, but its likely that this blog post will be removed tonight. There is no longer a shred of entertainment in this story.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Another terrible day for democracy.

Yesterday, we learned that 3 Members of Parliament and a member of the House of Lords are to face criminal charges for claiming expenses to which they were not due. We were also told that a majority of MPs have been asked to repay some of the expenses that they had previously claimed. I suspect that many of these over-claims were innocent mistakes. I also suspect that many other not so 'innocent' mistakes, or claims which the voters would think outrageous were not included in Sir Thomas Legg's report. What I think of all this is of little consequence, but what is of consequence is that the people of Britain find it outrageous and shameful. Since that first day when the Telegraph began its exposure of what had been going on, the people have grown ever more incredulous. They would have been entitled to think that it could not get any worse. Well, today it did.

Unbelievably, we learned today that the three MPs who have been charged with committing a criminal offence are trying to claim 'Parliamentary privilege' to avoid prosecution. Apparently, this 'privilege' dates back to 1689. They are claiming that their election as Members of Parliament granted them the legal right to steal money from the state (allegedly), and to cheat the state (allegedly) without fear of criminal sanction. Its sounds unreal, but it's not - and its happening in Britain today.

What a tragedy it is that a General Election was not called last year. For almost a year, the UK has suffered under the yoke of a stinking rotten parliament. The reputation of politicians, guilty and innocent has been trashed, and will be further trashed by today's extraordinary developments. And nothing will change (nor should it) until a General Election is held. The people must have their say. We're not in a position to find anyone guilty of a criminal offence, and have to await the judgement of the courts before doing so. But we can judge MPs who claim its proper in law to hide behind parliamentary privilege to avoid answering criminal charges. We should judge them harshly because of the damage they have delivered to our already tottering democracy.

Just how 'brainless' can you be on a rugby field?

Many years ago, I was playing in a semi final of the Shropshire Sevens Tournament. I was playing for Shrewsbury against Bridgenorth. We were leading by a point, with less than a minute to go. The referee gave a scrum to Bridgenorth. Totally disagreed with his decision. Red mist descended. I was forced to hand the ball over to their scrum half, but I 'accidentally' dropped it as handing it over, and then 'accidentally' trod on the scrum half's fingers as he was picking it up. Penalty. Three points. Bridgenorth were in the final. Taught me a lesson I've never forgotten. Its just a shame that Alun Wyn Jones wasn't playing for us that day. Had he been, he would not have been so utterly stupid at Twickenham today - and right under the ref's nose. 17 points while he was in the bin! My excuse was that I was young and impetuous, and was in my first full season after switching from soccer. I wonder what excuse Alun gave Warren Gatland!

Shock News - The Pope goes to a Catholic Church!

Why on earth does the media take any notice of stories that have absolutely no traction at all. Last week there was an attempt to build up tension before next week's vote in the National Assembly for Wales about whether to trigger the referendum on law making powers for the National Assembly. It was ridiculous. Supposedly the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives were thinking of abstaining - thus condemning the trigger vote to defeat. Oh Yeah! There was never the slightest chance that the 40 votes needed wouldn't be there. Then we have the story that an agreement has been negotiated. No idea what's been agreed, but I'd wager that nothing fundamental has changed from a week ago. Lets just hope that there are at least one or two speeches that do justice to the importance of the vote.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Emergency Schools Meeting in Powys.

Just heard that there's to be an Emergency Meeting in Powys County Hall next Thursday, 11th to debate a motion that the controversial Draft Secondary Modernisation Strategy be scrapped. I suppose the consequence of this being passed would mean that the Steering Group will have to go back to the drawing board and come up with options that retain all the schools. Mind you, if the arm twisting and threats that have gone on in a vain attempt to stop Councillors signing up to this debate is anything to go by, the motion could well be defeated. Never seen this sort of thing in Powys before. Councillors have been a bit shocked. But the Conservative Group, Annie Holloway, Viola Evans and Gareth Morgan are made of stern stuff. A debate there will be.

I know that some think I've been behind this move for an Emergency Debate. They are totally wrong. I've been asked my opinion by several Councillors, but I've replied that they are in a better position to judge than I am. I will do all can to prevent the proposed wilful destruction of our outstanding secondary education, but campaign strategy is a matter for Councillors. Because this has been driven by Cllr. Aled Davies, who is my party chairman, some people will assume there is a political motive. They would be wrong there too. Anyone who suggests that does not know Aled Davies. Since I first discussed this with Aled on that first fateful Friday, I've seen a man who has put everything second to his mission to save Llanfyllin High School. He knows that removing the sixth form will visit huge damage on an extraordinarily successful school. Entirely properly, he is determined to do all he can to protect the school, and Aled is one determined individual. Arm twisting has no effect whatsoever on some people. One reason why this proposal has infuriated Montgomeryshire Conservatives so much is that we hold the 3 Council wards in North Powys, which is served by Llanfyllin. And for me, Caereinion is my old school and I've always had a special affection for Llanidloes.

Have to change my plans for next Thursday. I want to be there - not inside the chamber, but standing with anyone from my old school, Caereinion High. I wonder whether Westminster politics is as cut-throat as Powys politics has become.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

New Jobs for Newtown

A major issue affecting Newtown in Montgomeryshire at present is the potential loss of 180 jobs at Shop Direct in Newtown. The loss of these jobs is a massive blow to the local economy, and an emotional break with Newtown's industrial heritage. The current call centre operation is an extension of the mail order business established on the same site (The Royal Welsh Warehouse) by Pryce Pryce-Jones in 1879. I refer to the job losses as 'potential' - because there is the usual statutory 90 day period before confirmation.

I know that there is much constructive discussion going on with the owners of this business, by the Assembly Government civil servants based in Newtown, the Town Mayor and others. No point in me replicating what they're doing. So I thought I'd meet a few businesses in the town to search out some alternative employment opportunities if the worst comes to the worst. This afternoon I met the Joint CEO of Laura Ashley Ltd at their hugely impressive Texplan unit in Newtown. We had a terrific hour, walking around Texplan and discussing issues where I may be able to help. I've been involved with Laura Ashley in one way or another for most of my life.

The great news for Newtown is that Laura Ashley Ltd are looking for around 20 new employees to train up as machinists. A training programme would be provided, and the opportunities are there now. Neither the company , nor I, would wish to interfere in efforts that are being made to save the Shop Direct jobs, or to find a buyer for the business. But its great to learn that there are other opportunities for employment in the town. Next week, I've arranged to meet some other businesses in Newtown. I suppose I am the perennial optimist and always think there's some way to improve bad situations - but only if I work at it.

Can Powys survive?

One question that flows from the rumpus about secondary school modernisation in Powys is whether Powys is a sustainable entity for delivering public services. Its clear that in some policy areas, Powys as a county is being disbanded. Firstly we had mental health, which had been delivered by the Powys Local Health Board. For whatever reason this has come to an end. Montgomeryshire is now considered to be a part of North Wales, and mental health is now managed by the Betsi Cadwalladr University Health Board. And now we learn that the new renal dialysis unit proposed for Welshpool is also to be provided and managed by the Betsi Cadwalladr Trust. alongside this dismembering process, work is progressing on merging the Powys LHB with the Powys Council (target date 2012) but the question that's emerging is whether there will be anything left of the LHB to merge!!

People's Voice

Picture's a bit fuzzy, but it gives you some idea of the audience at Llanidloes Community Centre tonight. Russ counted 410. That's the biggest audience that I've ever attracted. Not that it was anything to do with my pulling power. It was the issue we were discussing.
A 'document for consultation' about the re-organisation (modernisation in officialese) of secondary education in Powys. Two of the 4 options involve the closure of Llanidloes High School, and one involves the closure of its sixth form. This High School is one of the best in Wales. I'd been involved in making the document public, and I'd arranged tonight's meeting.
It was an amazing meeting - a novel exercise in local democracy. A Council Steering Group prepare a 'document for discussion' which will have a massive impact on the social and economic infrastructure of an area, and the people discuss it before the Councillors, and tell them exactly what the People's Voice is saying - before the Councillors discuss it and tell the people what they should think. Exhilarating stuff. I really wouldn't like to be in the shoes of a County Councillor who stands up in public and advocates the closure of Llanidloes High School.
And Mr Bruce Lawson stood up in the middle of the meeting and announced that he's standing as an Independent in May's General Election. Bruce used to be the Montgomeryshire UKIP candidate for several elections, before switching to Robin Page's political party (Britain First I think). Anyway Bruce is back. Not sure whether any of the audience noticed though. Minds on other things. It all happens in Llanidloes.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Sometimes the extreme efforts to which Assembly Members will go to create a difference of opinion amongst themselves verges on the heroic. The shenanigans about next Tuesday's vote on whether to ask the UK Government to arrange for a referendum on transferring law making powers in currently devolved policy areas to the National Assembly for Wales is near to laughable.

Firstly, we've had weeks when Labour and Plaid have declined to say whether the vote will be a 'trigger' for the referendum request to be made. Well, since there would be nil point in holding it for any other reason, and the Plaid- Labour Coalition would be likely to collapse if it wasn't, this was a no-brainer. It was very kind of the BBC to bother to report on the question at all. And now we have reports questioning whether the vote will be passed. Its a bit like speculating on whether Usain Bolt or Mr Blobby would triumph over 100 metres. Still, its an important issue, and I suppose they have to find some angle.

Must admit that I don't quite understand the point of dispute. I do understand that the referendum should not be held on the same day as the Assembly Election in May 2011. I thought everyone was agreed on that, including the Electoral Commission. Even if it were to happen, it would be so cynical as to be self defeating. I most certainly would not want to have any part in such a election-warping exercise. What surprises me is that the date would be a matter for the Assembly. I would have expected it to be an issue that had to be settled before the referendum legislation is approved. Must check this out tomorrow - unless you constitutional experts who read my blog are kind enough to clear it up for me. What I do know is that there is no way the Liberal Democrats will let the trigger vote fail, and I will be desperately disappointed if the Conservatives vote against. I suspect a political stunt here somewhere. If I was still there it would take a very powerful three liner to bring me into line. Have no fear. Usain Bolt will beat Mr Blobby.