Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Just me supporting George Osborne again.

Still reading and hearing a few negative comments about George Osborne - though far less than had been the case. Personally, I think these comments are either born of an ingrained anti-Conservative prejudice, or are very difficult to understand. As readers know, I have a high opinion of George Osborne, and also believe that the populist Vince Cable is grossly over-rated (though I would not say I have a low opinion of him). I thought, as did Michael Crick on Newsnight, that Gearge Osborne gained most from the Channel 4 programme. Every one of those who have spoken negatively about the Shadow Chancellor directly to me, have had to concede that they didn't actually watch the 'Chancellor's Debate' earlier this week. While it doesn't prove much either way, this makes interesting reading. Anyway, similar things were being said about Margaret Thatcher in 1978.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Parkinson's UK

Top class concert by the Guilsfield Singers at St Mary's Church, Welshpool at the weekend. Proceeds went to the local branch of Parkinson's UK. I spoke to the assembled audience immediately after half-time. This is what I said.

"My name is Glyn Davies and I am president of the Montgomeryshire branch of Parkinson's UK. Parkinson's Disease is a degenerative neurological condition affecting movement and muscle control. It affects everything that most of us take for granted - like walking, talking, eating and even smiling.

Those of you with first hand experience of Parkinson's are aware that living with the disease is very challenging. Imagine having to really think about every movement involved in lifting a cup of tea, taking a step, or feeling happy inside but not being able to smile to show your happiness to a friend or loved one.

We do not know what causes Parkinson's, or why some people are diagnosed with it, and others are not. What we do know is that Parkinson's Disease is non-discriminatory, having no regard for age, gender, race or religion.

There are over 120,000 people living with Parkinson's across the UK, 6,000 of them in Wales. One in 20 of these are under the age of 40. At Parkinson's UK, we work both nationally and locally to support all peope affected by Parkinson's, their families, friends and carers. Our work can be summed up as providing help for today, and hope for tomorrow. Hope, because we are the leading non-commercial funder of research into the condition. In 2009 alone, we invested £4.7m into Parkinson's research, striving to increase our understanding of its causes, finding more effective treatments and searching for a cure.

Much of our work involves the provision of emotional support, information and advice, whenever and wherever people need it. We work to ensure that people with Parkinson's receive the consistent quality, and range of care that they need to be able to manage their symptoms effectively.

Parkinson's UK is not a big organisation. But our network of branches and support groups gives us a presence in local communities throughout the UK, and are run by hard working and loyal volunteers. In Montgomeryshire, our branch is run by our Chairman, John Day, and our secretary, Anne Smedley. We also have active branches in Llanidloes and Machynlleth.

In 2009, our scale of support for people with Parkinson's increased significantly. 3 new Parkinson's Disease Nurse Specialist posts were agreed, including one in Montgomeryshire. 7 new Parkinson's Information and Support Worker posts were established in Wales. An Education and Training Officer for Wales, and a Policy and Campaigns Officer have been appointed.

On April 8th we officially adopt our new name, the one I've been using tonight, Parkinson's UK. With the new name will come a new brand and image which will highlight our commitment to changing attitudes to Parkinson's, funding cutting edge research, as we search for a cure and hopefully, inspire people to join us.

The charity relies entirely on voluntary donations to provide much needed help and support to people with Parkinson's, here in Wales, and across the UK. This is why we are so grateful to the Guilsfield Singers for donating the proceeds of their wonderful concert tonight to our charity."

George Osborne will be pleased.

I watched the big debate on Channel 4 tonight. Turned out much as I would have expected. Don't think it will have greatly influenced things, except to the extent that some had too low an expectation of George Osborne beforehand, and others far too high an opinion of Vince Cable.

Alistair Darling, who now seems to be genuinely enjoying his job as Chancellor, was exactly what we know him to be, cool, unflappable and uninspiring - all qualities well suited to the keeper of the nation's purse. Don't know if Gordon Brown was watching. If he was, a mobile phone or two might have been smashed when Mr Darling kept reminding us that there was not a penny left in the Government's coffers. Perhaps its winding up the Prime Minister that brings pleasure to Mr Darling.

Vince Cable treated the whole thing like a Question Time appearance, milking the audience for cheap applause (successfully). Some people are impressed by this. He's never recovered from that joke he made about Gordon Brown morphing from Stalin into Mr Bean. He thinks he's an entertainer. I find it increasingly difficult to take him seriously as a politician. And he's just so hideously boastful. You would think he'd have been a bit chastened after his humiliation today, when he had to apologise to the Perm. Sec. at the Treasury for misleading the public with his fantasies of self-importance. I suppose people who don't have any real power do tend to do this sort of thing. His snide crack about "pin striped Scargills" (perhaps he meant the financial crook, Michael Brown - biggest donor ever to the Lib Dems) and puerile attacks on his opponents late on were typical. No more than an OK performance, which is all I'd expected.

And so to our man - George Osborne. A good sound performance - cool under pressure from the Darling/Cable combo working in harness, and totally confident in his ability. He would have wanted to look like a potential Chancellor, which I thought he succeeded. Overall, I thought tonight's debate will have most pleased the Conservative watchers, who have read so much bilge in the media about George's supposed weaknesses. He proved that he's no weak link - quite the opposite. Biggest loser was Vince Cable, mainly because of the unjustified reputation he has somehow managed to acquire.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Conservative's Welsh bridge team strengthened.

I've just heard the news that the former Labour MP and Deputy Presiding Officer of the National Assembly, John Marek has joined the Conservative Party. I knew there was something in the air today - having had notice yesterday that Cheryl Gillan and Nick Bourne are to hold a joint press release today. And the media had been sniffing around, with delphic references to 'fence-jumping' - looking for someone to spill the beans early I suppose.

John is as astute a political operator as you'll find anywhere. Until he joined us, I used to describe him as 'cunning' - but in future I'd better use the term 'astute'. We have seen a lot of each other over the last two years. He had joined the Advisory Board of an international care provider that I chaired. John Marek is a good man. "Welcome Aboard".

Sunday, March 28, 2010

'Motgomeryshire Deserves Better'

I fear that this blog may become a bit intermittent over the next five weeks. There's so much going on - and if I have any spare time at all, I'll need to spend it preparing the garden for the summer. We sold 'A garden visit and champagne tea for 20' at Friday night's 'Promise Auction'. Actually, it was the launch of my campaign to become Member of Parliament for Montgomeryshire. The promise auction was just a way of raising some money to pay for leaflets, etc. at the same time. The launch was a thundering success.
Now. we tried to make it more a social than a political occasion. There was not even any stipulation that only Conservative supporters could attend. You can see from this photograph, which was arranged as a bit of an afterthought, that we are all looking quite jolly. There were over 100 there, with lots of balloons, and Nick Bourne came along to tell everyone what a fine Assembly Member I'd been - and what a fine MP I would be. Must admit it was great listening to this stuff - Nick eulogising about my ability, and Aled (who doesn't do effusive) joining in. I wish I'd taken a tape recorder. It'll probably never happen again.
I was last on, when everyone was in very good humour. Normally, I don't go in for bashing my opponents, but I admit to veering a touch in that direction. Well, it was the launch of my election campaign - and Russell had instructed me to 'enthuse' everyone with an 'inspirational' speech. I think it quite amused Mrs D, especially when I invited everyone to "walk with me to deliver the change Montgomeryshire deserves". Don't think I became too carried away. Our campaign message is 'Montgomeryshire Deserves Better'. And my main promise is to be a 'committed and full-time MP'. From this you can probably deduce the drift of what I said - with feeling, but without venom. At least I've found time to blog on this.

Walking for Life

This is Darragh, and he's knackered. This morning he 'walked' about 4 miles around Powis Castle Parkland. More accurately, he was 'walked' by me - so I was more knackered than he was. It was none too warm when we started out, which is why Adrienne had trussed him up in a Yeti suit. The second picture is of No 3 son Tim with wife and issue.

We were all walking as participants in the annual Walk for Life - which involves hundreds of thousands of walkers joining hundreds of separate walks all over Britain. The Welshpool walk was organised this year by Berriew YFC. I'm the secretary of the Powys branch of Kidney Foundation Wales, which has been campaigning for a Kidney Dialysis Unit to be located in Montgomeryshire for years. Half the donated money goes to the local fund, and half to the national charity. And at long last, there's a project board in place with a leader who actually wants to deliver. So we are hopeful that the new unit (attached to Welshpool Hospital) will be operational before the end of the year.

The weather was great today. Not too hot. Mr Wyn Williams, the buyer of my fat lambs over many years, and the Lib Dem's candidate to contest the Assembly seat being vacated by Mr Mick Bates in 2011 joined us. He's certainly putting himself about - which only emphasises the current mysterious disappearance from public view of the old Bob Dylan loving bruiser. I did notice that Wyn will have to get a bit fitter if he wants to keep up with me. Now, there's issueing a challenge is it not? Pushing Darragh around the Park would have tested him!! Anyway, well done Berriew YFC, and Becky, Lynne and Nikki in particular.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Government policy - 'Carry on Wasting'

Lost my computer yesterday. It became infected by a particularly vicious bug. Really maddening - especially when Darren of bluedigital (who is trying to fix it for me) jokingly told me that the culprit is probably sitting on a beach in Barbados planning on contacting me, offering to fix it - at a price. Anyway, it gives me a chance to use my netbook.

Its all a bit late to comment on the budget, but there is one point that's bugging me (as opposed to bugging my computer). The main difference between Labour and the Conservatives seems to be one of timing - and the Lib Dems are in agreement with the labour line. The Chancellor is telling us that there must be cuts greater than anything Mrs Thatcher's did in the 1980s (sorting out the financial mess left the last time Labour lost office in 1979) but not yet. The Shadow Chancellor insists that a start should be made immediately. Seems a fair debating point - except that its not. Labour spokespersons have been trawling the studios all day telling us about the billions of waste that can be cut from all departments without any effect on front line services. If that is the case, why on earth cannot a start be made by cutting this waste now?

A similar point cropped up on BBC Wales political programme, Dragon's Eye today. Former Finance Minister, Andrew Davies casually told us that huge savings could be made by cutting back on the over 160 schemes offering business support - many replicating each other. Pity he didn't do something about it when he was Finance Minister. Whatever, the sooner the better that the Assembly Government gets on with the job of cutting this waste. It does seem ridiculous that Governments at both Westminster and Cardiff Bay remain so content to waste billions of taxpayer's money

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What was Kirsty thinking about?

I'm indebted to my Plaid Cymru opponent in Montgomeryshire, Heledd Fychan for her very sharp post today. It really is worth a read. I like to check Heledd's blog on a regular basis - just to see what she's up to. Forewarned is forearmed, as Pam in my office tells me. Anyway, I would not otherwise have known about the press release put out by the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Wales, Kirsty Williams today. It demanded that Labour and Plaid Cymru AMs should lose salary for refusing to cross the picket line tomorrow (Wed.). I suspect that Ms Williams knew exactly what she was doing - and who she was dropping in the mire. And how. Heledd's post is about her and my Lib Dem opponent's 'other interests'.

So many people (including visitors to this blog) have been pressing me to make an issue of these 'other interests' for years. Sometimes I have been so incensed that I've been sorely tempted. Being an MP is not a part-time job. But I've always been wary of being branded 'nasty Tory'. OK, so I have condemned the puerile trash that he writes for the Daily Sport, and I've commented negatively (in passing anyway) about the six day 'freebie' cruise in the Med last November, when all of us thought he was in Westminster representing us. But, in general, I've left it to the media to let people know what's going on. I know. I know. None of it is covered by the widest read local newspaper. Where there might have been a conflagration of outrage, there has been zilch. Until today perhaps. Heledd Fychan has opened fire with both barrels. I'll put the link on again - because you really must read it. But the most intriguing aspect of this is Kirsty Williams' reason for issuing her press release. Was it a deliberate attempt to fire an Exocet into the Montgomeryshire Lib Dem campaign ship?

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Ken and Peter Show.

Just watching Newsnight. Entertaining debate between Ken Clarke and Peter Mandelson - and some poor bearded Lib Dem, whose name I don't know, is not getting a word in. Two old war horses and a lame little pit pony blinking in the light.

Empty vessels making diversionary noise.

Newsflash - The Pope is a Catholic! This was my reaction to the publication today of a dossier from the Labour Party in Wales accusing the Conservative Party of being 'split' over devolution. We all know that there are different approaches to how the National Assembly should develop amongst the Conservative Party in Wales. There are similar differences of approach amongst three of the main political parties - Conservative, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. You may be surprised that I've included the Lib Dems, but so many of the supposedly Lib Dem voters I talk to would vote to abolish the Assembly tomorrow if they could.

I'll leave to one side the sheer brass neck of the Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Hain to accuse the Conservatives of being split - bearing in mind some of the statements he's been making lately. And leave aside Carwyn Jones' increasingly desperate attempts just to be noticed. Let us consider the Conservative position instead. During the 1997 devolution referendum, most Conservatives were opposed to the establishment of a National Assembly for Wales. I was, and campaigned for a No vote. But we were on the losing side. I realised that an Assembly would be a permanent feature of Welsh political life as soon as the Carmarthen result came in. As a party, we accepted the decision of the Welsh people, despite it's being based on a very low turn out - and only 25% of Welsh voters saying Yes.

Today, no-one with an unprejudiced eye could possibly see anything other than a Conservative Party seeking to make a success of devolution. Last month, all 12 Conservative AMs voted in favour of delivering a referendum on law making powers for the Assembly, and some of the Parliamentary candidates standing in the imminent General Election agree with them. I do. David Cameron has committed a future Conservative Government to holding the referendum asked for by a unanimous vote of AMs. That's the one that Peter Hain would like to scupper, and is doing nothing to progress - leaving it for a Conservative Secretary of State to do. I argue that no political party has adapted itself better to post devolution Wales than the Conservative Party. Today's Labour 'dossier' tells us more about the clouds of negativity and vacuity that hangs over Welsh Labour today than it does about the Conservatives.

Clegg exposed. And this man thinks he's up to the job of Prime Minister!! I'm not sure that I'd let him use a chain saw. He'd probably cut off his own leg. Courtesy of Conservative Home.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Another desperate day for democracy.

Almost three years ago I was selected by Montgomeryshire Conservatives as their candidate for the General Election we expect on May 6th. It was one of the first selections in Britain by 'open primary'. I had just (surprisingly - to me anyway) lost my position as a member of the National Assembly for Wales, after eight enjoyable years. Proportional representation can sometimes be akin to roulette. Whatever, the point I want to make is that, at the time, I had felt sufficiently valued and respected by the people I'd represented, to be keen to stand as a candidate for election to the House of Commons.

And then a young American journalist named Heather Brooke started asking questions about the expenses being claimed by some of our MPs. Her story was printed in today's Mail on Sunday. Her full story will be published on April 1st by William Heinemann in a book called 'The Silent State'. The full horror of what had been going on was eventually made public by the Daily Telegraph. If you think you can stand it, the Telegraph reporters, Robert Winnett and Gordon Rayner published their book, called 'No Expenses Spared' last year. No issue has ever done such damage to the reputation of the British Parliament. It is entirely understandable that many of the British people hold politicians in utter contempt. Many of the culprits are not contesting the coming General Election. But many of them are. The future of British democracy depends on the voters not having forgotten.

You really would have thought that MPs would have learned the lesson. But No. I personally know of a non-declaration of income/benefit - that should have been declared. And of a six day 'freebie' trip on a luxury cruise when Parliament was sitting. These things have become so commonplace that they are not even reported on. And then today, we have another full-blown scandal. Just listen to this from Stephen Byers. And read this in today's Sunday Times. And here by Iain Dale. And here on Guido's blog. Its mind-numbing stuff. How can Stephen Byers, exposed by words emanating from his own mouth, ever again enter through the portals of the House of Commons without shame. And is it possible to believe this is an isolated incident? After watching the sheer casualness with which he perpetrated such outrageous behaviour, is it possible to believe that 'payment for access' is not common? I note that David Cameron has called for a Commons Inquiry. It needs to be carried out in the next two weeks. How can voters have confidence in MPs after this. 'Lobbygate' is as bad as the Expensesgate'. Please don't let it pollute the next Parliament as well. Decent people are just going to walk away.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Strange Bedfellows.

British politics must seem very strange to an outside looking in. For example, what can they make of the activities of people like Charlie Whelan, and Lord Pearson of Rannoch, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party. Lets take Mr Whelan first. He is Political Director of the 'Unite' trade union, and close advisor to the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. Despite this, he seems intent on causing serious damage to the Labour Party, by inflicting huge disruption upon the British people - just six weeks before the General Election. 'Unite' as good as own the Labour Party, which could well be bankrupt without the financial support that 'Unite' has pumped in over the last year or so. Charlie Whelan openly boasts that his mission is to help Labour win as many marginal seats as possible, and to keep David Cameron out of office. It has links to 160 Labour Ministers, MPs and candidates. So why on earth is he and the rest of the 'Unite' leadership doing all it can to discomfort the voters, inevitably discouraging them from voting for the party which they virtually own? Must be some hidden agenda.

Just as strange is the determination of UKIP to inflict damage on the Conservative Party - more so than on any other party. Montgomeryshire is quite a good example of what is strange about this phenomenon. Now, this post is no sort of attack on my local UKIP opponent, David Rowlands. He is a longstanding friend of mine. And I feel sure his stance is nothing personal against me. But in all our conversations about politics over the years, and in the many letters he's written to the press, it's only the Conservative Party that he attacks.

This does not make any sense to me. I would never want to misrepresent the opinions of others, but I'm almost certainly the only candidate with any chance of winning in Montgomeryshire who could be described as remotely 'Eurosceptic'. By making a special effort to attract potentially Conservative voters, the effect of what David is doing is to campaign for the incumbent Liberal Democrat MP. Translate this to the national level, and the effect of what UKIP is doing is campaign for the retention of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister. Time to recall that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats reneged on their commitment to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, ensuring that it became a part of EU law before the Election, thus depriving a potential Conservative Government of the capacity to grant the British people the binding referendum they had been promised. I have no problem with UKIP candidates, and am comfortable with much of what they espouse. Its just that I cannot follow the logic of their strategy to target Conservative voters specifically.

Also worth noting that in Montgomeryshire, UKIP have a little problem of their own - in Mr Bruce Lawson, a local accountant who is standing as an 'Independent'. Bruce is another good man (and longstanding friend), who had been the UKIP candidate in Montgomeryshire for several elections, and is seen by many as being the authentic voice of 'anti-Europeanism' in Montgomeryshire. He's had big advertisements in the local newspapers for weeks, and is already very active. I heard that he left UKIP after having a spat with Nigel Farage (though I know this only as a rumour). I have no idea what impact any of this will have on the voting intentions of the Montgomeryshire electorate.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Kidney Dialysis in Powys - eventually!

Been to a presentation for 'stakeholders' by the 'Project Board' responsible for the delivery of a Satellite Kidney Dialysis Unit at Welshpool Hospital today. In part, this was why I couldn't attend the Secondary School Reorganisation debate at Llandrindod Wells. I campaigned for this renal unit when I was an Assembly Member, and I've stuck at it since. Its probably been the most frustrating campaign in which I've ever been involved. Its been an example of the public sector at its absolute worst. But today was different, and the difference was Ms Chrissie Hayes, Executive Director of Planning at the Powys LHtB. I believed her when she promised that the first stage of this project would be delivered later this year. I should add that I'd stopped believing anything I'd been told about this project many months ago.

I'd put out a press release about the meeting, but I don't want to tread on the toes of PR firm, Good Relations, who were there today in the form of Noreen Bray. First met Noreen when she was BBC Wales' main newsreader - a very long time ago. She hasn't changed much. All I'm doing is blogging what I knew before going into the meeting. The most encouraging aspect of the meeting was the enthusiasm shown by nephrologists (kidney specialists) from both sides of Offa's Dyke about the working arrangements they have (finally) agreed on. And I also learned that the two politicians who have given proper priority to renal dialysis in Wales have been Lord Crickhowell and Edwina Hart - two people that I admire.

Decision to put Powys a top priority was taken (after much delay) in January 2008. There isn't really a word to describe what happened next (inertia is the nearest, but does not do it justice) - until Chrissie Hayes arrived on the scene last October. Its taken five months, but today did finally arrive. I can now call a meeting of all those people who have given donations to "enhance the patient experience" in the new unit. Welshpool Town Hall on 7th April. We could have an official opening of the temporary 'demountable unit' in late summer - with the permanent unit following in 2012.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Gillan pressing Hain to get on with referendum!

Well, who would have thought it. The Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan issuing a press release, taking the actual Secretary of State, Peter Hain to task for not getting on with the procedures necessary to deliver a referendum on law making powers for the National Assembly. We do know that Peter Hain is not that keen on holding a referendum. Mrs Gillan tells us that Mr Hain has written on his web site the words; "a referendum held before, or in 2011 would be lost" and that further powers for the Assembly should not be granted "today or tomorrow or even next year or even the year after that."

This is an interesting development. The Labour/Plaid Coalition Government in Cardiff Bay is committed to an early referendum (preferably in 2010) - and all AMs voted in favour of setting the process in motion last month. First thing that happened (or didn't happen) was that Carwyn Jones delayed conveying the Assembly decision to Peter Hain for as long as possible. Now it seems that Peter Hain is leaving the issue gather dust on his desk. What are they playing at? Whatever the truth of all this, it seems to me significant that Cheryl Gillan is so clearly exercised about the delay in moving things along. I imagine one or two Plaid bloggers will be choking on their Corn Flakes when they read about this in tomorrow morning's papers. They will have to at their most inventive to put a negative Tory spin on this one.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Where's Mick Bates.

For years, the people of Montgomeryshire have become used to seeing their MP and AM almost joined at the hip. Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Ant and Dec. Igglepiggle and Upsy Daisy. But no more . It looks as if Mick Bates has gone the way of Sam Mendes - not so much airbrushed as swept under the carpet with a giant broom. The Lib Dems in Montgomeryshire seem to have no further use for him. They have have moved him out, a bit like deposed communist dictators used to be moved out. On the scrapheap. Mick has been moved out, and my lamb buyer, Mr Wyn Williams has been moved in.

This week, Lib Dem leaflets about the NHS have been dropping through the letterboxes of Montgomeryshire. It's a 4 page job (English only) - entitled 'Lembit Opik and Wyn Williams NHS Inquiry'. There's a delightful photograph of the newly introduced couple, with a beaming Wyn. Only problem with all this is that health is devolved to the National Assembly for Wales, and Mick Bates is the Assembly Member - and he's still being paid over £50,000 to do the job.

As usual, there's this graph on the back page which informs us 'Only the Lib Dems can beat the Tories here'. I rather like this graphic. We're going to start using our own version - 'Only Glyn Davies can beat Lembit Opik here!' But at the moment, we're all very concerned about the whereabouts of Mick Bates. Where are you Mick?

Walk for Life

Here we are promoting this year's Walk for Life. Suzanne, who arranged it last year was not able to do it again, so I asked Berriew YFC to take on the task, which they have done with anticipated splendid efficiency. The walk is on March 28th, a week next Sunday. It starts (at 11.00 am) near the Tourist Information Centre in Welshpool, and finishes at the Church House, where light refreshments will be available to welcome walkers home. Money raised is going towards Kidney Wales Foundation - half towards the national charity and half towards the local branch fund, which is to enhance the renal dialysis unit we expect to be operating at Welshpool Hospital before the end of this year. The three Berriew young farmers in the photograph are Lynne Pritchard, Nikki Hughes and Becky James. The less young non-farmer with me at the back is the Mayor of Welshpool, Councillor Anne Holloway. You can access sponsorship forms (or entry forms) from Becky on 07595918945. If you can't get her you can telephone me on 07968082891.

My Guardian Article

I promised to provide a link to the piece I wrote last night for Guardian 'Comment is free'. The subject I'd been asked to write about was what its like to work with the Liberal Democrats, against the background of the current discussion about a 'hung parliament'. And from a Welsh perspective. I didn't build the article on policy or philosophy issues. It seems to have stimulated a decent comment response. Bearing in mind where it was placed, there was not as much condemnation as I might have expected.

Polly Toynbee - in your dreams!

Its 1.30 am. I'm still at my keyboard - sitting here stunned by what I've done. I've just written a 550 word article for the Guardian newspaper. I've never even read the Guardian - except on holiday and when I cannot find a Telegraph or a Mail. Earlier today, the Deputy Editor rang our Welshpool office, and asked Pam for my contact numbers. Pam duly informed me. Being fore-warned is being fore-armed she said. Because my only previous contact with the Guardian was a good bit less than friendly, my first instinct was to wonder what I'd done this time. Sure to be my bl***y blog again, I thought. But I've been so careful lately. Nothing risky. Stripped of innuendo and humour - until after the Election. Cheryl hasn't been on the phone for ages to tick me off.

But no need to worry. The email waiting for me at home seemed genuine. Couldn't see any bear traps. She just wanted 550 words by tomorrow. Unfortunately, I was not free until after eleven - which is why I'm still here at 1.30 am. Anyway article's been sent - and I've copied it to Richard Hazlewood, who does for the Welsh Conservatives what Alistair Campbell did for New labour. Talk about being careful. I hope my words are used. I wonder whether they pay. Shouldn't think so - and I'm not going to ask. Don't want to give the impression that I'm a 'trougher'. They must know that we wannabe MPs will do it just for the profile. And now to bed, and to sleep, and to dream about Polly Toynbee perhaps,

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I will not be nasty to the Lib Dems - no, never.

They're a funny lot, the Lib Dems. You try to be nice to them, and what do they do - spit in your face. I've never uttered a bad word about Vince Cable, but he was being really vile to us at this weekend's Lib Dem Conference. Its enough to inspire a Zac Goldsmith outburst. This is really worth watching. I'd always wondered if Zac was too nice to be a politician. I will wonder no more. Reason Mr Cable was so vile was his view that the markets have reacted badly to the threat of a 'hung parliament' because the Conservatives told them to. I thought he knew a bit more about markets than that. They decide for themselves Vince. If you carry on like that, the reaction will be even worse.

Anyway, lets turn to Mr '30 ladies' Nick Clegg. He's a bit like one of those girls who are all over a bloke one minute, chewing his ear and things, and just when his boiling point is approaching, b****** off with somebody else. Last week Mr Clegg was telling the world how much he admired Margaret Thatcher, and how he wanted to cut the deficit by £10 billion next year, and how all of the deficit reduction would come from cuts in public spending. Severe cuts I think he said. And where was he today. Telling us we shouldn't be cutting the deficit at all next year. I can understand that he doesn't want to be too 'pushy' at this point, but there's no need to be so nasty about it.

Mr Clegg's problem is that lots of the Lib Dems closet Labour. We saw that in Wales in 2007, when Mike German, their leader at the time wanted to enter a 'Rainbow Coalition' with the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru. But the current leader Kirsty Williams, (do you remember THAT interview) and a few others scuppered the plan at an internal party meeting. Montgomeryshire played a part in that fiasco. Former MP, Lord Carlile was reported to have been working behind the scenes, and current MP, Lembit Opik, openly advocated a Lib Dem- Labour Coalition. I wonder if he's 'forgotten' that. Whatever, I'm going to carry on being nice to all the Lib Dems in Montgomeryshire - no matter how rude some of them are to me.

Worth a Punt?

Though I took some enormous risks in my early years as a farmer (thankfully most of them paid off) I'm not a betting man at all - one of the few who have never bought a lottery ticket. I did go to Chepstow Races once, where I worked with the late great Patrick Hannan in deciding what to back. We were both a bit new to it. Mrs D and I broke even that day. And last summer I spent a splendid day at the Trotting Races at Caersws, where I lost money. I was doing a 'spontaneous' interview for Dai Llanilar. And the whole family bet a pound or two on the National every year - which I've won on the nose a few times. Sundew, Bindaree and Party Politics come to mind. All in all, I'm probably ahead over my lifetime.

Anyway, Mrs D told me she'd put a bob or two on me to win Montgomeryshire in the General Election - so I've just been looking at the odds. Seems you can get 9/4 at Betfair365 and Paddy Power, but only 7/4 at Ladbrokes. If you want to bet on the Lib Dems holding the seat, don't go to Paddy Power, because you can only get 1/4. At Ladbrokes you can get 2/5. This surprises me a bit. We're talking about a 11.4% swing from the Lib Dems to the Conservatives here. That ought to be worth the Paddy Power odds. Only reason I can think of for this is that a few punters have gone for me at Ladbrokes. Someone told me that you can get 11/4 on me somewhere. Even though I'm cautious where money's concerned, I might just be tempted by that.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Battle of the slogans.

So we now know the campaign slogans under which the main parties will fight the General Election.

Labour's slogan is "A fairer future for all".
Our slogan is "Vote for change".

And now we have the Lib Dem offering - an amalgam of the other two; "Change that works for you. Building a better future." That's more of an essay than a slogan. Looks a bit as if they couldn't think of anything, so just joined up the slogans of their opponents. Perhaps they'll change their emblem to a yellow bird in a green tree chewing on a red rose. Should have asked that new porn film director, Anna Arrowsmith that they've just selected in Gravesham. She'd have come up with something more original.

My own personal slogan is "Montgomeryshire Deserves Better". I thought it was a bit aggressive, but everyone else in the office liked it. Not at all sure these things make much difference though.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Peaceful Protest in Newtown

I've never been on a demonstration - unless the million strong march in support of foxhunting, which took place in the run up to the passing of the Hunting with Dogs Act counts. As I recall, that was just a gentle stroll through the streets of London. But I was thinking of carrying my first placard tomorrow morning - but eventually decided against it. Let me explain.

Background to this is the development of a new 39,000 sqr. ft. Tesco supermarket in Newtown, Montgomeryshire. Now, I don't share the antipathy some hold for the supermarket giant. Its brilliantly managed, and provides what the customer wants. Welshpool people are shopping in Newtown!! Even Mrs D, Welshpool through and through, shops there. But I was not in favour of this development being granted permission. As far as I recall, local opposition at the time was led by Conservative Assembly Candidate, Dan Munford, supported by me. I recall the developer's transport experts putting on a display for a large crowd of us at the Elephant and Castle, which I thought was fantastical 'cobblers'. My opposition was based on likely traffic congestion and damage to the distant town centre. But permission was granted. I was 'gobsmacked' when the Assembly Government did not call the application in - and refuse it.

And then to make matters worse, the Assembly Government required Tesco to pay for the installation of traffic lights in place of the McDonald's roundabout. I thought this was nuts. Not all of those I consult on these things agrees with me here. Whatever, the combination has created utter chaos since Tesco opened for business a few weeks ago. The issue is 'What happens now'? Working with local councillors and AMs, I've been trying to generate some concern in the mind of Ieuan Wyn Jones, Deputy First Minister at the Assembly, who is the responsible person. And something called a SCOOT system has been installed today, which is predicted to improve things.

And then, along with hundreds on others, I received a message on Facebook from our MP informing us that he, personally, was going to fix it - if the problems had not been sorted by 9.00 tomorrow morning. Must admit this alarmed me. Only a fool would disrupt traffic (and make the situation worse) or interfere in the traffic controls (which would risk human life). Anyway, it seems that the Police warned the MP that he would be arrested if he went ahead with his plans - and rightly so. So Mr Opik has arranged a placard waving protest instead. I'm with him on this, and would like to have gone along in support. But in the end, I decided I shouldn't intrude on my political opponent's plans. But I'll be there with him in spirit, and all those who join in. Probably drive past and give them a toot - unless the traffic jams are too great!

Dyfed-Powys Police Volunteer Cadets

Went to a great event in Newtown last night. The Dyfed-Powys Police were welcoming 10 (or was it 12) young people into the Force as Volunteer Cadets. Most of the audience was made up of proud parents and friends. Over the next two years these youngsters will have all sorts of opportunity to develop communication skills and engage in various activities. Its a pilot scheme in the Dyfed-Powys area, based on Newtown. Seems a great way to develop understanding between the Police and the policed. So much better than just watching 'The Bill'. Lets hope the scheme turns out to be a success, and is replicated in other areas.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Carrot or the Stick.

This story is about the young man holding the European Owl over the unsuspecting head of the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Montgomeryshire. His name is Ryan, and a few months ago, he was one of the long term unemployed in Rhyl. Along with three other youngsters, also long term unemployed from Rhyl, he joined a study course in falconry, based at the Mid Wales Falconry at Pen-y-Bryn Farm, near Castle Caereinion in Montgomeryshire.

Over the last few weeks, Ryan has undergone a transformation. Along with developing a new skill, he has developed confidence and an outgoing personality. He knows that he has the skill to do things that very few others can do - free-fly the world's most impressive birds. From being someone with no prospects of structured life, based on employment, he now loves his work.

Helping the long term unemployed into work was the subject of the fringe meeting I chaired at last weekend's Conservative Conference at Llandudno. The issue is whether the more effective way to persuade young people who have been living on benefit to find work is by use of the carrot or the stick. Most people I talk to believe it should be the stick, but I'm not so sure. Systems which force unwilling youngsters to do some mindless work would need hugely expensive supervision to operate. And they don't change the mindset of the individuals concerned - except to make them even more resentful of society. Today I learned about a scheme which persuaded Ryan, and two others, to do it all voluntarily and enthusiastically.

Alongside me is Brynle Williams AM, and Jim Paice MP, Shadow Minister for Agriculture, who presented achievement certificates to Ryan - a very proud young man.

Forward onto the doorstep.

Tried some old fashioned campaigning today. Delivering leaflets around my local village, talking to a few people, and finishing off with a public meeting in the Old School. Wasn't expecting much of a turn-out after realising that I was clashing with a meeting of Berriew Bowling Club. I'd promised myself that if I failed to reach double figures, I wouldn't do it again. Well, I did - just. So I'll do it again next week - at Castle Caereinion. These are the two villages in which I've lived my life.

I'll refer to just two of the issues raised. Firstly, the 'reneging' on the promise to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. I thought this issue had died a death - but it seems not. I've never thought this a justifiable criticism anyway. Cameron/Hague gave the British people a 'cast iron guarantee' that they would hold such a referendum - if it had not already been signed into EU law. My experience is that this response is met with a 'grudging' acceptance. But what really does surprise me is that my questioners seem to have forgotten that it was the Labour and Lib Dem parties which did actually renege on promises to hold a referendum, rendering the Conservative promise undeliverable by doing so. That's politics I suppose.

Second issue was MP's salary - and outrage that an increase has been awarded at a time when some public sector workers are subject to a pay freeze. I said that I didn't know how much MPs were paid, but thought that they were probably well paid already (bearing in mind that there should be an element of public service in the job), and that I'd consider not taking the increase myself while a pay freeze applied to public sector workers. I'd have been more definite, but I could get into bother for making such a commitment. I've checked now, and the salary is £67,737 . Well, I think that is a damn good salary in anyone's language.

Not at all sure that today will have increased my vote come the General Election, but it was enjoyable and satisfying. Good job I'm not some 'pin striped Home Counties barrister' I thought as I descended into George's milking parlour, where there's a real danger that one of the rear ends of the 18 cows present could have expressed an opinion in traditional bovine style. But they recognised a friendly face. More than anything else, I want the next eight weeks to be about enjoyment and satisfaction.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The value we put on our democracy.

On 12th October 1984, a massive explosion destroyed the Grand Hotel in Brighton. It was an attempt by the IRA to assassinate the British Prime Minister, her entire cabinet and many of their friends and family, who were staying there at the time. It killed 5 people, including Conservative MP, Sir Anthony Berry. Mrs Margaret Tebbit and many others were badly injured. The bomb exploded at 2.54 am. The Prime Minister, Mrs Margaret Thatcher was still working on the speech she was to deliver to the Conservative Party Conference the next day. Her bathroom was extensively damaged. She changed her clothes and together with her husband Dennis, was taken to Brighton Police Station, and then on to Sussex Police HQ, where they stayed until morning.

As Mrs Thatcher was escorted from the wreckage of the hotel, she informed the BBC reporter outside that the Conservative Party Conference would carry on as programmed. British democracy was too precious to be undermined by a mere bomb. Marks and Spencer opened its Brighton store at 8.00 next morning so that all the delegates who had lost clothes in the explosion could buy replacements. Mrs Thatcher opened the Conference at 9.30. am, exactly as it promised in the Conference Programme. But she did deliver a different speech from that which she had intended.

Today, the National Assembly for Wales has reacted to the presence of a picket line outside the new home of Welsh democracy by suspending all of its business for the day.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Barnett Formula Again.

Forgot to mention the late fringe meeting, arranged by Positif Politics in my conference round-up. Speaker was Gerry Holtham, who has a nicely relaxed manner, as well as being expert on how Treasury funding is allocated to the devolved nations and the English regions. There were so many questions I'd like to have asked. Got in just one. Top table was too big for a fringe meeting. It should never be more than two, or the audience has little chance to engage.

I've blogged on this issue before - after reading reports of Gerry Holtham's appearance at the Plaid Cymru Conference a few weeks ago. Won't go through the figures again - except to note that Treasury subventions to Wales are a bit on the low side, to Northern Ireland are a bit on the high side, and massively, humongously generous to Scotland - when compared with what it would be if it was all based on the same 'needs' distribution formula that the Treasury already uses in England. The figures also make it clear that England as a whole is underfunded - though its not clear by how much.

The obvious way to sort the problem out is a simple redistribution of the money. But the hit on Scotland would be too great, and could lead to the happy Scots going their own way. I would not like to see that - but I do wish the SNP wouldn't whinge so much. They've got a very good deal indeed. Gerry Holtham's answer to this (actually, I'm being a bit previous here, because its not yet a finalised report) is to transfer some tax raising powers to Wales. This is what has been proposed for Scotland by the Calman Commission, so its more a 'natural progression' rather than 'new thinking'.

What bothers me here is that the imbalanced funding is there now, and it will take years to agree on a satisfactory way of transferring the tax raising powers - if ever. It also seems to me a hugely complex solution (tax raising powers) to what is a simple problem (unbalanced devolved budgets). But it will serve one purpose. Gerry Holtham has taken away Plaid Cymru's 'victim suit' by his calculation about current expenditure patterns, but has given them a new 'cause' which could go on for years - and which no-one would understand. A win-win position for them. There is one good argument for tax raising powers though. It would increase accountability. It would consign the begging bowl to the recycling bin for ever.

Day by the Seaside.

I've never liked party political conferences. First time I went to a UK Conservative Conference, I stayed in a B&B in Blackpool with Alun Cairns. I've never properly recovered. Anyway, I went to Llandudno yesterday to the Conservative Spring Conference. Only went for one very long day. Arrived at 8.00, and saw my Plaid Cymru opponent, Heledd Fychan parking up. Double take. Surely not followed the route established by Mohammad Ashgar!! Disappointingly, she was there only to do a 'fringe' meeting.

Surprisingly, I really enjoyed the day. I like making speeches to a big audience, and I was invited to deliver two of them - and chaired a 'fringe' about helping the long term unemployed back into work. (Yes, this was a Tory Conference) Also did a lot of interviews. Only mistake I made was to do a pre-record for David Cornock. He may be an old friend, but he can turn the most innocuous comment into a 'gaffe' if you give him the freedom to edit. And then there was William Hague as after dinner speaker - 300 of us there. My view is that William is the best political speaker of our time. His signed copy of 'Wilberforce' made over £300. Mrs D bought me a copy last year - at a discounted price on face value. I've also got a signed copy of Ffion's book about Lloyd George's women 'The Pain and The Privilege'. I recommend them both.

I was given a front row seat for David Cameron's speech. I've been reading all these reports about 'mature' white males being stuck at the back, out of sight. Bo****ks. There I was, in prime position - sitting next to Maria Caulfield, our candidate in Caerphilly. I reckon she's heading for political stardom. Very impressed I was.

Now what did I think of the leader's speech? Very impressed by that too. He looks really 'up for it' - the biggest challenge any incoming Prime Minister will have faced since the war. Even Hercules would have blanched at the challenge of clearing up Brown's appalling mess. I spoke in the 'Health Debate' which was wound up by Andrew R T Davies. He's like a rumbustious steamroller - in the David Davies and Peter Rogers mould. Going to be a conference favourite for years to come. And spoke in the 'Economy Debate, which was wound up by Phillip Hammond. Been a fan of his for a while too. Anyway, home by 1.00 a. m., and feeling knackered today. Might have eaten something I shouldn't.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Pysgod a Sglodion.

Boris Johnson is a star. Listen to this chat with Adrian Masters, and admire. He has a good understanding of devolution as well. I have not the slightest doubt that he would favour law making powers in all devolved policy areas for the National Assembly, if the issues were laid out before him. His hair is out of control, but his thought processes are precision personified.

Same ends - different means.

Couple of months ago, I joined a very successful midnight walk around Powis Castle Park, arranged by the firefighters of Welshpool. There were around 400 of us, and I joined the Mayor, Cllr. Ann Holloway to start the event off. Bobbie and I walked - Ann sold raffle tickets. We were raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. And we often open allow groups to visit our garden in the summer - with all proceeds going to the colostomy nurses in the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, in appreciation of their help when I had my own encounter with cancer in 2002. So I'm a keen raiser of money for cancer charities.

But compare my style of money raising with that of my political opponent, Lembit Opik, which was much featured in today's Daily Mail. Its as good a way of telling the difference between us as any. You pays your money and takes your choice.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Referendums and 'Hung Parliaments' ?

With all this contemplation about the possibility of a hung parliament, my mind has turned to thinking about how such an eventuality would effect the timetable for the referendum on law making powers for the National Assembly for Wales - assuming that Carwyn Jones has actually written the required letter to Peter Hain requesting it. I hope that constitutional experts are chewing this over.

What we know is that the Secretary of State for Wales has 120 days to respond to the First Minister's letter, requesting the referendum. And we expect the General Election to be held in about 60 days, on May 6th. Also relevant is the reluctance of the current Secretary of State, Peter Hain to progress things quickly - so most of the work may have to be carried out within a tight timetable after the General Election. But what if there is no clear winner, and negotiations about forming the next Government drag on for months. The only reason negotiations to form an Assembly Government after the Assembly election in 2007 was limited to one month was that the constitution demanded a fresh election if it wasn't. In some countries, it takes several months to sort things out.

So what would happen in the unhappy event of a hung parliament. With no new Government, I suppose Gordon Brown and Labour would carry on as some sort of 'Caretaker Government'. The question I'm asking myself is whether this 'Caretaker Government' would have the authority to commit to a referendum. Wales is brimming with experts on this sort of thing. Perhaps they'll let this blog know what the position is.

Sheer bliss in the hills of mid Wales.

This is no ordinary beef. Its Wagyu beef - known world-wide for its flavour, tenderness and succulence. The breed originates from Japan, but Ivor Humphreys' Montgomeryshire herd, from which this cut came, has been bred from stock imported from Australia. Its qualities are derived from the extra 'marbling' which my newly acquired photography skills have captured rather well. Historically, Wagyu were pampered, treated to massage and beer to create the contentment needed for best results. Works for me as well. In this case, Ivor provided the massage, and the Pam Honeyman, who brewer at our local Monty Brewery provided the beer. Ivor came up with a great line in his speech. We all know the slogan of 'From pasture to plate' to advertise knowledge of an animal's history. Well, Sue Turley, who implanted the semen which eventually produced this cut, was present and on my table today. Ivor's slogan was 'From conception to consumption'.

Sue's services are no longer needed, because Ivor has bought himself a Wagyu bull. Unless he turns out to be impotent of course. Which is what happened to a French limousin bull named Boris, who is owned by Dave Joyce from Solihull (according to today's Telegraph). Dave was on the point of sending Boris on his last journey to the abattoir because of his total disinterest in the ladies, when his farmhand, Rob Smith tried feeding him with a herbal remedy he acquired from the Internet. The capsules are a blend of horny goat weed, cordyceps, damiana, avena sativa, and muira puama. Mr Joyce reckons that "since he's been on this herbal Viagra, he's been rampant". Personally, I'd prefer to stick with the massage and beer. If any of you visitors are interested, Mr Joyce has started selling sausages, containing the herbal mix in his farm shop.

And the young chefs at Coleg Powys, who prepared the seven different Wagyu courses were great. For those of who watch Ffermio, Alun Elidir was filming it all for Monday's programme.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Foundation Trusts

Today, I've completed a Membership Application Form to join The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt NHS Orthopaedic Hospital Foundation Trust. I considered carefully before joining. After the horrors of what happened at Stafford Hospital, everyone will consider carefully. Reason I'm posting on the issue is to encourage others to do the same.
'The Orthopaedic' at Gobowen, near Oswestry is a much loved hospital. It serves the whole of North Wales, as well as much of the West Midlands. It was where Mrs D had her knee replaced. About 30 % of its business is derived from North Wales, significantly less than in years past, because of Assembly Government policy to repatriate treatment to Wales - the policy I believe has the potential to create two separate NHS' each side of Offa's Dyke.
A few years ago, when I was an Assembly Member, I arranged a presentation by the Hospital Trust Board at the National Assembly for Wales. Several AMs attended, but the application for trust status wasn't submitted. Since the Stafford Hospital catastrophe, all applications have been on hold. The process is only now getting going again. Lets hope the regulatory side is water-tight this time.
The idea of a Foundation Trust is that anyone with an interest in the Hospital, (patients, staff, carers, volunteers, etc.) can become a member, and can then, collectively elect Governors of the Trust - or even apply for Non-Executive Director posts on the Board of Directors. There will be a total of 21 Governors running the Hospital, which will remain part of the NHS. 11 of these will be Public Governors. Powys will have just one of these places, while North Wales will have two, Shropshire will have four, with the remaining four coming from Cheshire and the West Midlands. I accept that there is political antipathy to the whole concept of Foundation Trusts within the Assembly Government, so there's not likely to be encouragement from that quarter. But its happening at our Orthopaedic (and at the Royal Shrewsbury as well) - and in my opinion, we're better served becoming involved than burying our heads in the sand. Anyway, I've filled in my form.

A Post for Alun Cairns AM

I just thought this was a nice photograph for Dydd Gwyl Dewi !! I can almost hear the gnashing of those left of centre teeth.

Britain becomes poorer.

I know its a bit boring for those who visit this blog, but I want to return to the seriously misleading and downright dangerous interpretation by the media of last week's Office of National Statistics (ONS) growth figures. They were not just wrong. They were ridiculously, totally, upside-down wrong. Economics is a difficult enough science for the layman to understand as it is, without a media that misleads. We already know that 100 economists come up with 100 different answers to any question, without help from anyone ! I attached an update to my last post, but this issue warrants a separate post, based on this link, which puts it rather well.

So lets look at what the markets made of it. OK, so the UK's AAA rating has not been downgraded, but the markets are deciding to downgrade our currency anyway. The pound continues its downward path (though this may, in part, be due to opinion polls suggesting a hamstrung 'hung Parliament') and the rate at which the UK Government can borrow money has risen to over 4%. The markets judgement of the ONS figures is a massive thumbs down - and this was sold to us as 'good news'. This is me doing my bit to spread the truth.

I promise that this non-economist will now consider his sense of outrage satisfied.