Friday, December 30, 2016

Trump and Climate Change

Its been a long time since it was deemed respectable in the world of climate change science to question the 'orthodoxy' that climate change is the biggest threat the human race faces, and that it's all a result of man polluting the atmosphere with carbon emissions. Anyone not joining in the Armageddon competition of disastrous consequences for our world has been thought anti-science. Even called a "denier", a truly offensive insult bearing in mind the connotations associated with the word. While I've never doubted that our climate is changing, as it always has, and over last few decades has been warming, I do think the anticipation of impending disaster has been overdone. And the vilification of anyone, including scientists who challenge the orthodoxy is .... well unscientific. To win an argument by silencing the other side is no victory at all. I took some stick for simply daring to go to a lecture given my Matt Ridley a few weeks ago.

Donald Trump's arrival in the White House is going to blow this 'orthodoxy' out of the window. Those who think fear of an impending climate change doom has been overdone will be back at the scientific discussion table. Personally, while I've never been impressed by the warnings of "X number of days to save the world" or the calls to wreck our UK economy while other states pay no more than lip service, I do worry about some of what Mr Trump has been saying. He's called 'climate change' a hoax. It's certainly not. He's appointed to key positions men straight out of 'Southfork Ranch'. It's clear that Mr Trump intends to put jobs and economic growth before policies to decarbonise. I wonder if he knows about the Paris Agreement.

We will have to wait and see what Donald Trump actually does in office, rather than what he tells us he's going to do. I would be very surprised if he were to turn his back on policies to limit climate change altogether. Even if he doesn't believe it's for real, I'd expect him to adopt some decarbonisation policy as an insurance against the possibility that he might be wrong. I'm equally sure he will give a bigger platform to sceptics. Our climate change scientists will once more be involved in a debate about science rather than what sometimes seems like a religious belief.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

In Defence of a Free Press.

A few weeks ago I informed the Whip's Office that I am totally opposed to Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act. At the time, the Secretary of State was considering whether to give effect to deeply worrying attempt to fetter our free press. Still considering it. And today I read an article on centre page of the Telegraph, where Jacob Rees-Maggie puts the case against far better than I ever could. There will be many more Conservative MPs of like mind. I certainly hope this iniquitous bit of legislation lies for ever in that huge pile of bad ideas that Governments have thought about before discarded after considered thought.

Perhaps I'm an unlikely champion of a free press, bearing in mind the things I've been accused of over the last 30 yrs. But I am. Determinedly so. To begin with, the personal criticism was hurtful. As a young man I was a sensitive flower. But I toughened up. Truth is that only those who think ill of us believe the negative stuff they read about us. But the Daily Mirror did hurt me. When 'Storm Leveson' was blowing its most fierce, the Mirror asked me to write 500 words in defence of our free press. I wrote the article and was rather pleased with it. And then the Mirror dumped me for Paddy Ashdown. I wouldn't have minded if it had been Jacob. But Paddy Ashdown! Yes that certainly hurt.

When I discuss my absolute commitment to a free press with constituents, to begin with they think I'm joking. Section 40 means that anyone can sue a newspaper about something it's published and even if the newspaper was entirely correct, it remains liable for the costs of the complainer. Totally outrageous. As Jacob writes, journalists guilty of writing the truth would be liable for the costs of those who were trying to hide it. Astonishingly, though unsurprisingly on second thoughts this does not apply to the BBC. Nor does it have impact on internet based news sites. The only way for a newspaper to avoid this outrage is for it to sign up to Government approved press regulatory body called Impress, which Jacob tells us is funded by Max Mosley. Section 40 would finish off our free press.

I've had local newspapers contact me about this threat to their existence. The economics of local newspapers has already been seriously undermined by the internet. Coincidentally, I was much interested in the example Jacob used in his article, where his local newspaper reported on the selling of unregulated commercial loans to farmers via a company called Acorn Finance. I have had farmers contact me about Acorn Finance. Responsible newspapers would be put in an impossible position - risk the very survival of the newspaper and jobs of its staff, or just don't report the story. Even if entirely true, it could be bankrupted. As editor, which choice would you take? I hope the Secretary of State will not give force to Section 40. So incredibly UN-British. It would signal the end of our free press.

The Passing of 2016

There will be more reflection on the significance of 2016 than there has been on the passing of an old year for some time. There's significant change every year of course, but not as dramatic as we have seen this year. But it's not so easy to know just what that change is. There is the election of Trump and the vote by British  people to leave the EU. But these are symptoms. The real change is more fundamental than either of them, even if contributing to both.

The biggest change (admittedly from a Western perspective) is the decline in power of the post World War/Cold War/Western dominated 'liberal' alliance. China is on the march and can do almost as she likes in her sphere of influence, and does. Russia likewise. Over the last 5 years, Russia has annexed the Crimea, destabalised Ukraine, and barrel bombed and starved the people of Aleppo, right under the noses of the US. The US is no longer able to dominate as she did post Reagan. Many will see this as positive. I don't. An 'isolationist' US would mean much more instability in the world. That is my greatest fear arising from Trump's ascendency to the Presidency. While we in Europe (including me) see Trump as a dangerous loose cannon, with his finger on military hardware a lot more powerful than cannon, the US voters see him very differently. They saw the Clinton candidacy as "not of them or for them". They decided to go with anti-establishment. Fingers crossed with that!

We are seeing the same in Europe. In the UK, the people went for the anti-establishment side of the argument on June 23rd. The same force will rise in the Netherlands, France, Germany and Italy elections over the next year. Not sure I'd want to bet much on the results of these. Even if the 'Leavers' don't actually win, they are going to make big gains, and we could well see Italy ditching the Euro (and no-one knows where that goes). Whatever, it was in 2016 that this disillusionment with European integration and the 'establishment' became a force to be feared.

And what can we make of what has happened in Syria. Bashar-al Assad and Russia have waged war, using weapons condemned by most of the rest of the world. Not a thought for the Security Council. Truth is the US with Obama at the helm can no longer impose its will. Lots of others with evil and avaricious intent will have been watching.

Anyway, let us take Mervin King's advice and look forward to the next few years with optimism.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Caring for our aged and frail.

Near everything is easier said than done, even when it's logical and obvious. No more so than the thrust of today's high profile Telegraph coverage of the need to switch some NHS funding to delivering social/nursing/even clinical care at home. Such change means more investment in GPs, more support for social/nursing care and less investment in hospital beds, more specialisation (which can mean more travelling), less investment in extending life beyond the natural end, and more support for social/nursing care in the home.

Let's begin by explaining my interest - beyond the interest triggered by personal experience that we might have with aged family. During my 'wilderness years' (politically speaking) between leaving the National Assembly for Wales in 2007 and arriving at Westminster in 2010, I did some work for a Residential Care Home business - setting up a Welsh management board, a system of lay visiting and a resident advocacy scheme. Learned quite a bit about social and nursing care - enough to know we do not remotely take social/nursing care seriously enough. The voice of the old and frail is not heard.

So what is today's story about. NHS England have divided the English NHS into 44 areas and ordered each to produce a "Sustainability and Transformation Plan" - a crucial programme of reform which will be highly controversial. So much so that I fear the plans may not be deliverable. We have just witnessed the disastrous result of attempted reform in Shropshire (which also serves Mid Wales). We had already received kickbacks on reform of stroke services and I am now hearing concerns about future of radiology. The decisions we face are tough to take but the NHS will collapse under the demands put on it, unless we find a way to not have in our Hospitals those patients who should not be there. The fundamental problem is that we are all living longer, with the more complex health problems that come with age, as well as the many new drugs and treatments which eat great chunks of the NHS budget. And we all know 'protecting' an unreformed NHS  service is the easiest campaign in the world to run for publicity - no matter how long term damaging.

I certainly don't have the answers. Reckon I've gone further than most accepting there's the problem. That's why I was in such despair following the shambolic failure to agree a reform plan for Shropshire and Mid Wales before Christmas. In my view, this is the second most serious issue facing the UK Government up to the next election. (I'm trying not to mention the first for a while). We must find a way of persuading/encouraging families to take more responsibility for care of their own. Some do of course, at great trouble and expense. But some just expect the state to take all responsibility. I did feel ashamed of the way we care for our old and frail, when the company I worked with was going to build two new care homes in India - for the ex-pats. When I asked why, I was told Indian families take care of their own. There needs to be a total reappraisal of all our care systems, with much greater emphasis on the aged and elderly. And if our system of government is too selfish to listen to their voices, think selfishly about the breakdown it will cause to the NHS that serves the rest of us.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Question is - To Hunt or not to Hunt.

You might think that my attending the annual Boxing Day Hunt outside the Royal Oak in Welshpool and voting Leave in the Last June's EU referendum have no connection. From most standpoints they don't. But from one that is particularly important to me they do. I do not care for being told what I can and cannot do by politicians without good and fair reason. Which is why I find the ban on hunting on horseback, with hounds, and being told what we British can and can't do by the European Court of Justice to be equally abhorrent. Even this paragraph, innocent and non-influential as it is, will lead to some informing me of their disgust that I should write or think in such a way. This is what Brexit is doing to people.

Now, I've never been hunting in my life. I never will. I've never been out shooting pheasants, duck, partridge or other lovely birds either. And I never will. I suppose I did indulge in a bit of ' under the radar' fishing over 50 yrs ago, but mostly to eat the catch. In fact I find it difficult to understand how pleasure can be gained by inflicting death or pain on fellow creatures for no practical reason. But I have no objection to others going hunting or shooting wild creatures if this is what they want to do, and if it does no harm to our world. I love foxes and badgers, but I realise too many foxes cause excessive livestock losses, too many badgers may cause spread of Bovine Tb, while shooting and fishing inject huge amounts of economic benefit into the rural economy. This attitude may seem odd and two-faced to some. Certainly is to a section of our population. But I was a hill livestock farmer who every year sold 1000 lambs, 100 cattle and thousands of chickens/turkeys for eventual slaughter. I may be a bit soft hearted, but the killing of animals and birds as part of human activity is part of my DNA.

Thinking about this today because I went down to show support to the Tanatside Hunt, at its traditional Boxing Day meet at the Royal Oak in Welshpool. Seen more horses in the past, but never more people on the street, who came especially to show support. 40 horses and I'd say we'll over 1000 people. The sound of the hunting horn, clatter of hooves and applause of the crowd as the Hunt moves off and up Broad St is highly evocative.

It seems to me that the antipathy to hunting is based on a desire to control the way people think rather than any impact of what they do. There seems to be no real objection to control of foxes by shooting, which in my opinion and experience is far more cruel. There is no real objection to controlling the density of foxes, as long as no enjoyment is taken from it. What's in the mind of those seeking to reduce the fox population bothers me not at all. What's in the minds of those who pay £thousands per day to shoot tame pheasants doesn't bother me either. What's in the minds of those who sit on the banks of rivers to catch beautiful salmon bothers me not. But it would bother me big-time if these activities represented a threat to any of the hunted species. In general, the land management which supports these activities is hugely positive for the natural world.

I thought it a great mistake on the part of a Blair Govt to ban hunting with dogs, creating a nonsense of a law. Blair himself thought so too. But it is the law, and must be obeyed. If there were to a vote in Parliament, I would vote to repeal the Act. But there's not going to be. I did think there would be a change to the 'flushing out' rules to bring into line with Scotland, but ironically the SNP at Westminster would vote against - so it won't happen. What is likely to happen is that 'drag hunting' will continue, gun packs on foot will do most Fox control, badger culling I fear will go partly underground. The amout of cruelty will be higher than it needs to be. The logic of our law will remain a nonsense. And I'll carry on going down to support the local hunt every Boxing Day.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Always look on the bright side of life.

The Archbishop of Wales in his last Christmas Day sermon before retirement will deliver a Hobbesian view of the world as being a "brutal, bloody, divided, torn world." This is only a partly fair analysis. He should have added that the world today is probably less brutal, less bloody, less divided and less torn that it has ever been in history. The world is richer and more peaceful, with less war and less poverty than ever. The Archbishop is far too negative. Don't think I'd want to go listen to his sermon if I lived in Cardiff. I'd prefer something that recognised the good that exists in our world as well as the evil.

The reason the reports of Archbishop Morgan's sermon caught my eye, were the examples he chose as witness to his view. Two of them, Syria and refugees I accept are terrible tragedies. But not the other two, Brexit and Trump - both shocks, but delivered by a majority of voters. It's certainly the case that the losing side in both these referendum/elections are utterly appalled. Cannot believe that voters can be so downright stupid as to disagree. Some of them write to me in deeply offensive terms because I voted Leave. Some just shake disbelieving heads.They cannot be said to believe in democracy if they do not accept the result, and try not to make the best of it. They attribute base motives to those who dared disagree with them. Well, it so happens that I too thought Donald Trump the most vulgar awful candidate I've ever seen, but I accept he won. We make the best of it. Hard to believe but he may turn out to be ok.

I find the continuing campaign to undermine the Brexit vote as rather more dangerous. I've read articles outlining various reasons why over 17 million of us are thought to have voted Leave. We are portrayed as racist, as hate-filled, as right wing headbangers. There may be one or two of course. But most of us just want our country back. We want to decide who comes into our country to work. We do not want European Court of Justice telling us what we can and can't do. Most of us knew we were voting for uncertainty, and perhaps leaving would not be in our short term financial interest - though I'm increasingly confident that might not be the case. It won't stop our media writing the most brain scrambling rubbish to fill its space. I read an article today telling us that The Queen is unhappy that the Prime Minister hasn't informed her of her withdrawal strategy. Laughed out loud when I read that. We will have plenty more of this. In fairness, some of it is quite funny.

It's fairly simple really. Article 50 will be invoked in March. Only limited negotiation will take place during French and German elections. Then we will get down to serious negotiation. Personally, I sense there will a positive approach from both sides, involving the UK joining a European trading block, and continuing some trade at least. But maybe not. That won't be the UKs wish. And if it all fails, we'll fall back on World trade rules. Main reason I'd worry about that is the damage it would do to the remaining EU members economies.

I don't think some of the Leave supporters are being realistic either. I don't expect immigration to fall much in the short to medium term, even if the UK controls it. I expect us to be paying a fair sum to cover liabilities as we leave. I expect some sort of transitional arrangements. But I do expect us to leave, to take back control, run our own laws and become an independent country once again. My vision of our future is optimistic. Now that's a sermon I would go to listen to.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Update on Fracking for Shale Gas in UK

I've given up my practise of always using the term 'hydraulic fracturing' instead of the more perjorative term 'fracking'. I really don't like perjorative terms, coined by opponents, and then adopted by the media as normal. Two other recent examples are "Bedroom Tax" and "Snooper's Charter". Doesnt make any difference of course, apart from very slightly annoying me. And that doesn't count much in the greater scheme of things! Must write about developments involving the Investigatory Powers Act, where I've an instinctive sympathy with opponents.

But back to 'fracking'. Initially, I found it difficult to take a definite view. But after fair bit of consideration became certain that we should establish whether it's viable in the UK to extract the huge amounts of Shale Gas buried deep in the earth beneath our feet. Actually, I'm still not confident that the industry is viable. And that's roughly where I remain, several years later, believing most of the opposition to have been deliberately misleading and in some cases downright untruthful. And it makes little sense to me from the 'climate change' standpoint. But is it viable. We need to know.

Opposition can be loosely grouped under two headings. First we have those opposed to developing a new fossil fuel energy source on principle, believing we should develop only renewables. Yet, the main aim of decarbonisation policy is to stop generating power through burning coal, and the only way to do that is by building new gas fired power stations. And what is the sense of importing the gas to run these new power stations from unstable countries, or importing it from the US, when there's 100 yrs worth under our feet in Britain? What sense does that make as a decarbonisation policy!! When I see tankers of Shale Gas coming into Grangemouth from the US, I just rub my eyes in disbelief at the madness of it.

And then there's the apocalyptic warnings of earthquakes, polluted water supplies and outbreaks of leprosy (sorry, made that last one up). There is nil evidence to support this. I accept that theoretically Shale Gas could leak into the aquifer, but only because of faulty pipework, not fracking. But it matters not to the fracking opponents. It's a subject where rational discussion is pushed aside by a sort of religious fervour.

Anyway, reason I'm commenting today is that this week the High Court ruled that a 'fracking' permit awarded to the drilling company, Third Energy was legal. This is a very significant decision. We now have the first authorised Shale Gas mine in the UK since the moratorium was lifted in 2012. A big step forward has been taken to establish whether Shale Gas is viable in the UK. And that is sensible from a UK economy and a climate change viewpoint.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

New Financial Arrangements for Wales.

Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Wales published a written statement 'Welsh Government Fiscal Framework'. It is a very big deal for Wales. After 30 yrs of squabbling about the supposed unfairness of the Barnett Formula as the mechanism by which the Treasury calculated a 'block grant' to fund public services in Wales, the Welsh and UK Governments have agreed a new 'fiscal framework'. I feel I've lost an old friend. No more debates about the Barnett Formula. What are we Welsh going to argue about in future Welsh Grands!! Have to find new issues to argue about. Welsh jurisdiction perhaps. I do hope not.

Together with the Wales Bill, we are putting in place much changed governance and financial arrangements. Stamp Duty land tax, Landfill Tax and Welsh rates of Income Tax will become responsibility of Welsh Govt. We're told the new fiscal arrangements will take into account Wales long term tax capacity, and future population changes. I particularly like the mature relationship between the UK and Welsh Govts we've seen in resolving what has been a long term grievance. There will be much work needed to bring these taxation changes in for 2019. Agreeing the principles is important, but so is putting in place the working arrangements to deliver the changes.

Big changes in Welsh Govt overall borrowing powers as well. Up from £500,000,000 to
£1,000,000,000. And the annual limit on borrowing increased to £150,000,000. Daresay there'll still be some nitpicking over details of the Wales Bill, currently at Report Stage in the House of Lords, but I sense it will now go through to the Statute Book.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Keeping the lights on.

Really missing my place on the recently abolished Energy and Climate Change Committee. But am trying to retain an interest in the rapid changes taking place in the energy sector. There's quite a bit of coverage on one interesting aspect in today's papers - the Government's commitment to stop burning coal and how we are going to keep the lights on!!

We know that the 'safety net' is far smaller than it used to be - that's the spare capacity available to electricity distributors from energy generators when demand is high. We are told that National Grid is better able to manage and meet demand today than previously, and that there is no need for a large back-up reserve, and that there is not a problem. I've never been convinced by this. I think there is a problem we're not being told about. And that's why I'm not convinced by the commitment that we'll be off coal by 2025. No chance. Anyway, one of the big generators, Scottish Power is not at all happy that Govt has decided to put available subsidy to ensure supply, agreed on in its annual 'capacity market' into supporting old coal plants, rather than new gas CCGTs (Combined Cycle Gas Turbines). The current price of oil means they cannot be built without long term subsidy arrangements. Of course keeping old coal plants open is a cheaper option, but it looks like short term thinking to me. We need new gas plants, and we need to get on with building them. Gas plants are cleaner, more efficient and more responsive in meeting sudden demand than coal. We cannot rely on shale gas because we don't know if it's a viable source, and surely we're not going to rely on Russian gas, imported shale etc. And nuclear is still a very long way off delivering power to the market. It's also uncertain. I'm meeting Scottish Power in the New Year. No doubt the subject will be the Govt's failure to support new gas powered generation. Promises to be an interesting discussion.

Not many others are voicing the same warnings about the possibility of the lights going out - at the moment. They would certainly be dismissed distainfully by Ministers - at the moment. But let's see what the position is in a year's time.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

21st Century Fox bid for Sky

Over last day or two my inbox has been overwhelmed by emails from constituents deeply concerned about a bid by 21st Century Fox for the 61% of Sky it doesn't already own. Fox has bid £18.7 billion, 40% over the current share price. Appears to be a good offer, which has been accepted. If my inbox is any guide, this is the biggest issue of concern this week, leaving the terrible events in Syria and uncertainties around Brexit way behind. All of the emails are exactly the same, suggesting they are based on a campaign organised by a lobby group of some sort, which is not named. There is no indication who or what is behind the campaign. Now, I think this Fox bid to be interesting, and will share with you the content of these emails ---

 "Dear MP, Today, Rupert Murdoch officially launched his bid to take over Sky. I am one of thousands of people concerned. He already has too much influence over our news. Allowing him to own even more puts the democratic nature of our news at risk, and will be a deeply worrying move. The first step to stopping the bid requires the Secretary of State at DCMS to launch as investigation. She will only do this if there is enough pressure from people like you. So please will you speak with Karen Bradley on my behalf and ask her to refer the bid to Ofcom. There is not a lot of time - in fact only 10 days in which she can refer the bid. Please will you write to Karen Bradley and share my concerns. Please will you let me know her response."

Normally, I don't favour Gov't getting involved in commercial deals, but there are interesting aspects to this deal, and the campaign to stop it. While the emails are personalised against Rupert Murdoch, the bid is actually made by 21st Century Fox. The dominant personality in this company is James Murdoch, who was much criticised after the 'hacking' scandal a few years ago. At the time many concluded he was not a fit and proper person to lead BSkyB, (as Sky was then known). Today he is widely admired as a strong and effective businessman. Not much doubt about his competence today.
Second objection seems to be about media plurality - and the public interest. But this is not so clear cut either. In both areas of its activities, Fox must be under pressure from market changes.  Firstly, the readership of its newspapers in the UK (Times, Sunday Times and the Sun) sales have been falling substantially - as have all newspapers. And in the US film and TV world, viewers are increasingly recording programmes to watch later, fast forwarding to avoid adverts. Fox has to adapt or die. Expanding into Europe with Sky is its preferred route to a secure future. The new business would not dominate as it would have done 5 yrs ago. There are so many other internet based platforms - Google, Facebook and others.

So maybe the threat of media domination and Fox having too much influence over our news is not as real as it would have been in the past. I can well understand why BT don't want another strong player to disrupt its own growing domination. I can also understand why the BBC would not want more well resourced private sector challenge to its liberal view of the world. I will tell the Secretary of State I've received all these letters as I've been asked to do, but not until I know who or what is behind them. Transparency matters to me. Then it's over to her.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dilemmas over Syria

Over last few days, I've received several ever , most of them identical, pressing me to do something about the tragedy we've witnessed unfolding in Aleppo - almost as if we MPs have not been appalled by what we have ourselves witnessed over the last few years. For me to share a view, we need to cast our gaze backwards to get some grasp of background. And let this look back be over the three years I've had some personal involvement, rather than the thousand years that a student of Middle East history might want to look at. Let me start in summer 2013.

In August 2013, the then Prime Minister recalled MPs to Parliament in the summer recess. Like many others, I was expecting David Cameron to seek Parliamentary approval to attack the forces of Syrian President, Bashar-al-Assad, following strong evidence he had used poison gas on the civilian population of Syria. I left Montgomeryshire for London on the Monday of that week expecting to vote against my Government for the first time. There seemed little doubt that Bashar-al-Assad was an evil butcher, did not see how bombing Damascus would improve the position. Several other Conservative MPs must have made similar intentions clear to the party whips. When the Govt motion was eventually tabled, it condemned Assad, referred to the use of military force, but crucially included a requirement that there would have to be another vote of MPs to approve military action. It was a recognition that MPs were not ready to become involved in war in Syria. I was content to support that motion. But quite shockingly to me the motion was voted down. I thought it a terrible decision. When David Cameron stood up in the Chamber immediately after the vote was announced to say "He got it" - what the House had decided. There would be no action against Assad- end of discussion. I just sat in my seat feeling stunned. President Obama was also taken aback and after a telephone call to the Prime Minister also made clear he had no intention of launching a military strike without the UK. In effect, we walked away, telling Assad, Russia and Iran to do their worst. And they did their worst. Recent days in Aleppo may well have been (in my view) a consequence of the 2013 decision. I can be no more definite, because nothing is as it seems or predictable in the Middle East.

Over the last week there has been nothing that MPs could do, except say how shocked and appalled they were by the brutal slaughter, often of innocents, taking place in Aleppo. And we have been shocked. We have had calls for the UK to go in with food drops for besieged and starving people. But the reality is that the food parcel planes would have to go in low and slow, needing Russian/Syrian Govt permission to avoid them being shot down. Permission would have been refused.

The Syrian Civil War has probably been the worst displacement of people since World War Two. I'm not remotely well informed enough to know what would have been the right action for the UK to have taken in 2013 - or to take now. Not sure that anyone knows. But we did not properly discuss it. Bearing in mind the angst that I and many of my colleagues have experienced since that vote in Sept 2013, when Parliament walked away, allowing a brutal dictator to use poison gas on innocent people to get away with it, it's a bit much to receive a pile of emails informing me of the horrors of Aleppo as if it's new to me! It's wonderful news that a ceasefire has brought the slaughter of innocents to a sort of end today, however temporary is wonderful news. Let us pray it holds. It's not the end of this story though.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Black Day for NHS Reform in Shropshire and Mid Wales

About 30 yrs ago, I first met a young consultant named Paul Brown at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. I'm told Paul was a brilliant 'guts doctor'. There is a ward named after Him at the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford today. I met Paul when he removed a coin that our youngest had swallowed with an endoscope - very new procedure in those days. It turned out that he was an enthusiastic squash player. We were well matched, and played each other many times and played for the same Shrewsbury School team in the Shropshire Squash Lg. We became very good friends.

When Paul realised I was involved in public life, he really laid into me about the new hospital that had recently been built in Telford. Paul was totally opposed to it. He had great foresight. He could see, even then, that in a fairly short time, Shropshire would not be able to sustain two District General Hospitals. I lost count of the number of times he told me that by building the Princess Royal, we would effectively, in the long run, be closing the Royal Shrewsbury. I think he was over-egging it a bit to make a point. It was Paul Brown who 'educated' me about the inevitable inexorable move to more distant specialist services and larger 'catchment' areas. Anyway, enough of the preamble.

Around ten years ago,I got to know the Chief Executive of the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals Trust, a good and bluff man named Tom Taylor, who became a friend . It was already clear reform was needed to deliver effective care, and to retain services in Shropshire. He tried reform, with help from me at the time. With little success. Later on he was succeeded by an Adam Cairns, who decided to focus investment on the Princess Royal, including a £28million investment in a new Women's and Children's Hospital. If he had stayed, I suspect, Shrewsbury would have been gradually run down. How I disagreed with Mr Cairns. How glad I was to see the back of him.

Then about 3 yrs ago the new NHS management structure in Shropshire (2 Clinical Commissioning Groups - the Shropshire CCG and the Telford and Wrekin CCG) established a new body (the Future Fit Programme Board) to make a serious assessment of how services should be reformed. It's reported to have cost about £2million - so far. Recently it met to decide and decide it did. Clearly and unambiguouslsly. It proposed that a new Emergency Unit should be built at Shrewsbury, including the Women's and Children's services currently delivered at Telford. It's proposals to reform A&E have attracted a lot of attention and comment, much of it untrue. The recommendation is that the new 'Emergency Centre' at Shrewsbury would deal with around 20% of most serious cases currently going to A&Es, while the other 80% would continue to be treated at what would be called 'Urgent Care Centres' at the two hospitals. The widespread claims that A&E would no longer be available at Telford is untrue and misleading - at best!

Tonight the two CCGs met to consider the recommendation, and despite the huge amount of work already put in, decided not to accept it. Instead they have asked the Future Fit Programme Board to do more work. This is a disaster for the Shropshire and Mid Wales NHS. Already the number of consultants available to man A&E are at the absolute minimum, including (so I'm told) one locum. It's on a knife-edge. I suspect clinicians will be in despair tonight. No-one knows where the process is now heading. ULooks a total shambles to me. No amount of smooth talking is going to cover that up. Suppose we'll have to let the dust settle and regroup. But it's been a very black day for the NHS in Shropshire and Mid Wales.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Boris - a very good Foreign Secretary

In my opinion, Boris Johnson is proving to be a very effective Foreign Secretary. It is great to see Britain's Foreign Secretary making a meaningful impact on the international stage. I should imagine he is doing exactly what the Prime Minister thought he would do when she appointed him. She would not have expected him to suddenly change into a shy retiring super diplomat.
None of us would have expected him to become that traditional diplomat, conversing in the weird language that only other diplomats understand. He does not speak as others would. But we knew that. What our Foreign Secretary does is use language non diplomats actually understand. It's rather sad watching those reporting on the supposed 'gaffes' that Boris has made, completely missing the point. No-one agrees these 'gaffes' are 'gaffes' at all. As far as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Yemen, our Foreign Secretary is saying what most of us think. His assertion that 'Britain is back' in the Middle East will have much positive impact on Britain's status  in the Middle East. That's his job, and he's making a great fist of it. Carry on Boris.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Lessons from recent by-elections

Recently, an important by-election was held to select a new Member of Parliament, following the resignation of a sitting Conservative MP, who was dissatisfied with Gov't policy. The result told us much about the current state of party politics at Westminster. And No, I'm not referring to Richmond Park, which told us very little, beyond that MPs who resign and cause what is seen as an unnecessary be-election as well as deserting their party usually lose - irrespective of the honourable nature of the resignation. I am referring to the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election last Thursday when Caroline Johnson was elected as the new Conservative MP. Despite it being a far more significant result than that in Richmond Park, it was almost completely ignored by the media. I'm not keen on commenting on political party matters, because there is such danger that it pollutes with partisanship the factual assessment. But this was an important result on the political barometer.

So let's consider what happened in Sleaford, setting it against the backdrop of typical by-election results. Usually, the party in power loses ground in by-elections. Usually, support swings behind the party most likely to defeat the party in power. You would expect this 'normal' pattern to be reinforced when the sitting Gov't MP has resigned with the intention of inflicting damage on the governing party he was previously a member of. But none of this happened. Caroline Johnson was returned with an astonishingly high vote, bearing in mind the context. UKIP, the party thought most likely to offer challenge actually lost ground. Labour, the official opposition collapsed back into 4th place. (Not quite as bad as Richmond Park where Labour had less votes than it has party members!!). And this extraordinarily good result for the Conservative Party was accompanied by an opinion poll which showed Labour polling at historically low levels. Richmond Park may have excited our London-centric media, and filled our newspapers, but it was the Sleaford result that was the bigger story. Labour is in a desperate place.

Now you might think, that I as a Conservative MP would be entirely content with this position. But strangely I am not. British politics is constructed around an adversarial system. It needs an effective opposition. Currently Labour is not providing that. It's not healthy for the body politic. Some of the very good Labour MPs that I know are in despair. And it's not improving. That is the story of recent by-elections.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

More on Tidal Lagoons

Another good 90 minute debate at Westminster today about the much discussed Swansea Tidal Lagoon. The debate was led by Stephen Crabb, Conservative MP for Presceli Pembrokeshire, who was supported by almost all opposition parties in the House of Commons. It was a very one-sided debate. The cost hardly mentioned. I'd like to have spoken in the debate myself, but because of my close working relationship with Welsh Office ministers felt it unwise to do so. But on my blog, A View from Rural Wales, I reckon I can get away with it. If I choose my words carefully, I don't seem to land myself in any trouble. And anyway, despite being entirely positive about the proposal, I fear my contribution would have seemed negative - much like that of the only Conservative backbencher to speak, Antoinette Sandbach. Same goes for Minister, Jesse Norman who was responding on behalf of the Govt.
Everyone wants to see the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon going ahead. It's an exciting new technology. The proposal itself is comparative.y small, but can be looked at as a pilot for much bigger schemes around the coast of Britain. Like everyone else, I hope we can find a way of using tidal energy to produce power, and Swansea Bay could be the key.
But it cannot be at any price. Govts cannot do that, and the current Govt has commissioned a report on the potential of UK tidal power from former respected DECC minister, Charles Hendry. None of us have seen this report yet. Despite rumours circulating around Westminster, I have no idea what this report says. The report is into tidal power, rather than just the Swansea Bay project. It will inform Govt's thinking. But as Antoinette and Jesse Norman both said today, (and I would have said if I'd spoken) it has to be financially viable. It falls to Government to always balance benefits against cost, and make a decision based on value for money. Not much consideration of this aspect of the proposal. It's what will matter to the Chancellor and the Prime Minister though. I'm looking forward to knowing what is decided - in due course.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

My personal Brexit wish list.

Hard to make much sense of some of the reporting about the UK leaving the EU. Most of it seems to be a mixture of untruths and make believe. I suppose there's so much media space to be filled, they have to write something. Anyway, just thought I'd add my personal perspective - what I want to see the eventual exit deal deliver.
Now I've no real idea what constitutes a Hard Brexit, a Soft Brexit or a Grey Brexit. No idea where on this spectrum (if it is a spectrum) I stand. Perhaps the reason I'm writing this quick blog post is that it will enable others to tell me where I stand !! Mostly, I think the media coverage is gibberish.
But should begin by setting out the fundamental position. The UK will be leaving the EU, and I would anticipate all involved in this divorce will want as amicable a settlement as possible in the interests of all parties. There are many who voted Remain still doing what they can to frustrate the voice of the people, as expressed in the referendum - while pretending they are not. Luckily we have a Prime Minister made of stern stuff, who is not going to be bullied and browbeaten by these anti-democrats.
Now to the detail of where negotiation may lead. And it's all guesswork of course. Until Article 50 is invoked in late March, we will know little to nothing about any negotiations. But we do have opinions as individuals, which informed how we voted on June 23rd. And I'm sharing mine.
There seem to be four main concerns that influenced our decisions about which way to vote. Only two of them really mattered to me, with one of those being 'the reason' I would always have voted Leave - leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Without this, Britain is not really an independent country at all. Judges might sometimes make us cross, but I can live with that if they are British judges. Dealing with this unacceptable position (to me anyway) seems to feature in everything I hear and read about the Govt's position. Good. Everything else I am more relaxed about. But I am also enthusiastic about the UK being able to trade with any other country or region in the world. I can see that this is a complex and contentious area for debate. But it is important if the UK is to be a genuinely 'independent' state. And it makes good economic sense anyway.
The other two policy areas much discussed and that personally, I am not so fussed about - are immigration and financial contributions to the EU Budget - though I do accept these were probably the two reasons which Leave voters were most exercised about on June 23rd. On both areas, I thought our Foreign Secretary reflected my opinions on Marr this morning. Immigration is important to the UK, but it's currently at too high a level to be sustainable over the long term. The UK Govt should have control over this. But we must not become anti immigration and insular. And there's no reason why the UK should not continue to pay into the EU for something that is important to the UK, on the basis of value for money - a deal not a membership fee.
Not sure whether any of this would be controversial if Liam Fox, David Davis or our Foreign Secretary were to say it. It's not if I say it and it's just what I, a back bench Tory MP thinks. It's what I thought when I voted Leave. But I've no idea what sort of Brexit it is.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Brexit must now prevail.

Having quite a bit of correspondence at present. wanting to debate the wisdom of the UK leaving the EU. I don't think I'm going to join in. That debate took place before June 23rd, and the voters of Britain, (of Wales and of Powys) decided on Leave. So happens I'd not been involved in that debate. I refused point blank to comment at all until May 6th as my personal protest that this referendum seriously disrupted the Welsh General Election. Remember having some stick about this on a Welsh Language TV panel programme, Pawb a'i Farn, who felt I should declare earlier. I stood my ground though. And by Welsh Election Day, May 7th I was so disgusted by both the Remain and Leave campaigns that I decided not to become involved in the debate at all. I did however make public that I intended to vote Leave - mainly because I do not want the UK to be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. I voted Out in 1975 as well. I did not try to persuade anyone to follow. I would have preferred to keep my opinion to myself, but as an MP, accepted that it was difficult to do that. But I did decide I had as much right as anyone else to have an opinion. Had a few offensive emails/letters at the time, which I declined to engage with. The key point is that we had the debate, a long heated debate, and we decided to Leave.

But many do not accept the vote. They still hope to reverses it. No chance. The media coverage of likely impact of Brexit, following this week's Autumn Statement is as much utter rubbish as I've ever read in my life.  Truth is the Office of Budget Responsibility, who produced some guesswork figures, has no more idea of what's going to happen to the UK economy than the average cuddly toy. All the prediction of Armageddon following the vote itself proved to be hopelessly pessimistic and wrong. Even the IFS, which I normally think of as sound, is making ridiculous statements based on guessses. None of them know. It's those who voted Remain trying to justify the position they took. Fortunately we have a Prime Minister who is not going to be bullied or diverted from her mission to ensure the UK leaves the EU. The BBC can dig out one 'expert' or opinionated obscure EU personage every night (and it will) but it won't make any difference. What the BBC doesn't seem to grasp is that all this propaganda simply strengthens the voice of Leave.

Today we had Tony Blair, Sir John Major, Nick Clegg and a Maltese MEP being given big coverage - all ironically actually reinforcing the case for Leave. I'm a typical example of a Brit. While I was not  supportive of the idea of a referendum and would have readily accepted a Remain result, I'm becoming an ever more determined Leave champion. To back off now would cause great harm to British democracy and make the next election a total lottery. I have not the slightest doubt that Article 50 will be invoked in March and the UK will leave the EU in 2019. Again ironically, all those still refusing to accept the referendum result make it more difficult for the UK to negotiate the best possible deal.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Wales Bill reaching the End Game.

Seems as if the Wales Bill has been winding its way through the fog and dust of Westminster's legislative processes for an age. It all started when Stephen Crabb was Secretary of State for Wales. He invited representatives of all political parties (under chairmanship of much respected Paul Silk) to suggest a new stable permanent settlement for how a devolved Wales should be governed - when Welsh MPs would no longer have to debate how Wales should be governed! Stephen introduced a draft Wales Bill which was not well received. So it's been much altered to meet some objections under the guiding hand of new Secretary of State, Alun Cairns, and Ministers Guto Bebb and Lord Nick Bourne - an impressive team I enjoy working closely with.

The House of Commons has enthusiastically backed this Wales Bill through all Parliamentary stages, and it has now progressed through the House of Lords to 'Report stage', having just completed passage through 'Committee Stage'. Three more crucial steps to go. On December 14th and on another day in early January, their Lordships will consider the Wales Bill at 'Report Stage'. There could be a bit of dispute between the Houses if anyone tries to play 'silly b*****s with it, but it's a mighty risk to the entire future of the Bill. Any delay and timetable issues may sink the Bill completely, especially if we have an 'urgent' Article 50 Bill tabled in January, following a Supreme Court judgement against the Gov't. That would dominate all else. After that, it's a matter for Assembly Members. No more complaining. It's their call. In mid January, After Report Stage it will become a matter for Assembly Members , who will be asked to approve a Legislative Consent Motion, which informs the watching world that they support the Wales Bill. If they don't support the LCM, the Bill will be become a deceased Wales Bill. Up to AMs to decide. If they do approve the LCM, their Lordships will move quickly to Third Reading and then it's Royal Assent. Could be all done in February. The only big question left then is "what will Welsh MPs do with no Wales Bill to squabble about - until the next one comes along that is!!

The Style of Philip Hammond

I approve big-time - approve of Philip Hammond that is. We have a Chancellor who looks and acts like a Chancellor, an accountant. From my viewpoint on the world, from high up a rural Wales mountain, that is the highest of compliments. No politic manouvering. No histrionics. Just a sound cautious calculation  of risk and balanced response. In fact it was pretty much what we expected. I'm very grateful not to be a financial journalist. They will be running around in circles like frustrated greyhounds, not having any rabbits to chase. This is what budgets and autumn statements should be like.

While we know that the post EU referendum predictions of gloom simply did not happen (I thought they wouldn't). Quite the opposite in fact. But most of us accept we are in a period of uncertainty. Let's make the heroic assumption that the Office of Budget Responsibility have got it somewhere near right. There is likely to be a higher deficit and growth uncertainty over next couple of years than we had been told to expect pre June 23rd if we had voted Remain. So the Chancellor is right to borrow a bit more to invest over this period - what he calls headroom. Chancellor has changed his predeccessor's deficit elimination plan in this Parliament, replacing it with a balanced budget "as soon as possible". I think we knew this already. Seems to me the spending relaxation is limited and well directed.

Of course no chance to look through detail yet. And I like to read the weekend assessment before settling on a firm opinion. But extra money for housing must be a big plus. We need more places for people to live. Lots more. And I'm really pleased to see the agent fees on renting property being reined in - even if it is only in England. Hope Wales follows suit.

Chancellor is right to see productivity as the UK's biggest challenge. Since 2010, we have gone big on reducing unemployment (with astonishing success) but one price we've paid is lower productivity. We must hope investment is aimed at tackling low productivity. Bigger challenge than unemployment now.

Steady as she goes in Wales as well. Welsh word for rabbit is cyningod (please correct spelling!). Fair bit of extra money flowing down the Barnett interconnector from infrastructure spending in England. Good to see reference to Swansea and North Wales. Some are moaning no reference to tidal lagoons. Of course there aren't. We still don't know if they are financially viable. Desperately hope they are, but everything must have a price.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Should we increase number of AMs to 80.

Watched Welsh Sunday Politics today. Sensible comments from the two sensible Assembly Members in the studio, one Labour and one UKIP. Neither convinced that an increase in AMs is needed, but both open to a discussion about it, which is approximate to what I think. I thought UKIP's Mark Reckless was particularly sensible. While realising there may be little support for an increase, they were both clearly impressed by the force of argument put forward by Elin Jones, the Presiding Officer, who supports more AMs. Plaid Cymru would have been a real force if she had been chosen leader. I too  consider her to always worth listening to. 

I've phrased the the 'question for discussion' on an increase in number of AMs from 60 to 80, because the new debating chamber was built to allow for easy expansion to accommodate 80?  Others will advocate a greater increase. I just can't see that idea flying. Some will advocate no increase. Expect the usual trick of presenting options, with the favoured one being 80, in the middle! What the public think is another matter altogether.

Key to this issue will be The Wales Bill which gives the power to decide number of AMs to a new Welsh Parliament. I can comment as a mere observer from the sidelines. It will have nothing to do with MPs at all. Anyway, we will be debating the position soon after the Wales Bill has secured Royal Assent next spring.

I do not see any logic in considering numbers in one tier of Govt to justify numbers in another. They stand on their own. I accept others will not see it in the same way. Firstly, at the next general election we expect to see a reduction in Welsh MPs from 40 to 29 (though I don't yet rule out 33 if number of MPs is not reduced). And of course we expect to see the disappearance of Members of the European Parliament altogether by 2019. The biggest anomaly of course is the massive increase we have seen in the unelected House of Lords. The blame for this unjustifiable position deserves its own post.

 In the context of all this, consideration of number of AMs is entirely logical. My guess, and it's no more than that, I think AMs will move quickly on acquiring the power to increase their number to 80. Which will lead to a debate about how to do that!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Is it wise to cut MPs to 600?

Not in Westminster today. Pleased about that. I would have been seriously torn when the division bell rang. Don't want to excite the whips, so I cannot write that I'd have voted with Labour. PPSs can't do that sort of thing. Labour were supporting a Private Members Bill at Second Reading which would scrap the impending cut in numbers of MPs from 650 to 600. However I do think it's ok to ask readers of my 'thinking aloud' blog to make their own judgement.

First the case for the reduction. It was a manifesto commitment in 2010 (both Conservative and Lib Dems, who wanted to cut much further - to 500). It was approved in an Act of Parliament in 2011, taken through the House by the then Lib Dem Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg. And it may be that the public would quite like to reduce the number of MPs, who are not the most popular creatures on our planet.

Now for the other side. The disruption it will cause will be huge, especially when implemented alongside equalisation of constituency populations. It will save some money, but nothing like as much as the extra than is being spent on appointed new peers to the unelected house. There will also be a big reduction (and saving) by the abolition of UK MEPs. The cost of democracy is already coming down. It will lead to even greater domination of the House of Commons by the 'Government' in that since the number of ministers is not being cut, the significance of backbenchers will be greatly reduced. After today's debate and big support for the Labour supported Private Members Bill, they may be some questioning about whether the hassle is worth it.

Now equalising the size of constituency populations is much more justified. As it currently stands, the boundaries are very unfair to the Conservative Party. Over the last 20 yrs. huge numbers of people have moved out of inner city seats (which tend to vote Labour) into leafy suburbs (which tend to vote Conservative. There is no credible case to resist 'equalisation'. But I do want to throw in two further points of relevance here.

Firstly, the tolerance allowed to Boundary Commissioners to allow for factors like history, geography, culture etc.. At present the 'tolerance' is just 5%, which gives Commissioners almost no leeway at all. If it were to be 10%, the degree of disruption would be much reduced. The Commissioners would have a proper job to do. And secondly Wales. For many years Wales has been over-represented - by quite a lot. Historically, this imbalance was considered necessary as a measure of 'fairness' to a small nation. But with a Welsh Parliament, this simply can no longer be justified. Anyway, enough from me. Hopefully left you a few bones to chew on.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The way things are in a Perfect World

News reaches me at the Westminster end of the M4 that all political parties in the National Assembly for Wales want to scrap the Severn Bridge tolls. Not reduce them, but scrap them completely. Now wouldn't that be nice. I can imagine it would be a very popular policy. So would scrapping Income Tax, Stamp Duty, Council Tax and planning fees etc. etc.. Seems to me that this is one of those 'fantasy world' policies that grow on the magic money tree. 

I'd thought we were already moving to a good place on Severn Bridge tolls. The Secretary of State for Wales has talked about halving the tolls, which I'd thought would a great boost to the Wales economy. Instead we now have what looks to me to be a hopelessly unrealistic proposal, which has little chance of becoming reality. And in any case, the Severn Bridge tolls are not devolved, so this motion debated in the National Assembly, to which all Assembly Members have signed up, is not within the Assembly's powers to deliver on. 

I see that one of Labour's AMs, Lee Waters has taken a different approach. He wants to retain tolls, at perhaps half what they are now, to fund other transport solutions for South East Wales. Must admit that I agree with him. Might not agree on precisely where the money would go, but tight in principle. Sensible AM is Lee Waters. And there we have the Wales Bill in a nutshell. It's the reason I have been so determined to see a proportion of income tax devolved to the Welsh Government. Any policy based only on the 'benefit' with no consideration for where the money is coming from is not real politics. It's more gesture politics, concerned with how reports will appear in the headlines. Hopefully, the Wales Bill will deliver harder edged debate, based on benefit balanced with cost.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Ebbw Vale and the European Union.

What are we to make of the way Ebbw Vale voted in the EU Referendum debate. 62% voted Leave. The highest Leave vote in Wales. Ebbw Vale in a town with a population of 18,000, and is reckoned to have received the highest level per capita EU funding in the UK. Ebbw Vale is an old ironworks/steelworks/coal mining, valleys town. While one might have expected the good folk of Ebbw Vale to be grateful for the massive sums of money the European Commission has invested in their area over recent years, the reality is the opposite.

Along with 3 other members of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, I joined around 40 Ebbw Vale citizens at their local Institute to consider the way ahead. While it was an articulate engaging audience, I'm not sure it reflected local opinion. Almost all those who attended were 'Remain' voters. I think the Chair of the Committee, David Davies MP walked down the street to discuss the issue with people just going about their business, and found not a single Remain voter. There's a hugely important message there for those of us involved in 'government' at all levels. 

The purpose of our meeting was to allow the attendees to tell us what the Gov't should be focusing on during Brexit negotiations. The general areas we were hoping to cover were 'Arts', 'Jobs and Industry', 'EU Funding for Wales', and the 'Welsh Language. In reality, I did not find it a structured discussion at all - and none the worse for that. Inevitably it was not easy to move on from the debate about Remain/Leave, but it was lots better than a similar debate would have been at Westminster. My conclusion was that it's too early to have a meaningful debate on Brexit negotiations yet. But I enjoyed my meeting with the opinions of Ebbw Vale. Maybe repeat the exercise in two years time. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon.

Have not done much on this blog on energy generation for a while. Over next few weeks hope to keep my eye in on this developing policy area. It's been an interest for a year or two. Just read through some correspondence eulogising about the benefits arising from a Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon as clearing my desk. It's only because I have absolutely no idea of Govt thinking on this project that enables me to comment at all. It's a project I've had an interest in for a couple of years and it would be accurate to describe me as an enthusiast for the project.

It's main attraction is that it could be the forerunner to several other tidal lagoons. What we have been told by the developers is that if the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon were to go ahead, it would be followed by others, bigger and less expensive. Tidal power has the potential to deliver flexible, predictable and clean electricity. And quite a lot of it. Former energy minister, Charles Hendry is soon to deliver a report on the potential of tidal power. And some in the sector are pointing to next week's Autumn Statement as being significant. Not so sure myself. But I do think we are moving towards an assessment of tidal power's potential.

You might think from the above that I believe the Govt should give the go-ahead to the Swansea Bay Tidal Barrage. You would be mistaken. cannot do that until I study, and take a positive view of the costings, business case and opportunity costs of the project. I feel certain there must be a cost effective way of harnessing tidal power. But we just don't yet know whether the financial case for a Tidal Lagoon in Swansea Bay is it. We can but hope it might be.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Paying for NATO - Trump has a point.

Me thinking aloud again. Dangerous practice. But open to correction through comment. The first duty of any political entity's is to protect its citizens from external threat. This has been the case since cave dwellers began organising themselves into groups. Also the case that as the scale of threat has grown, it's been necessary to arrange defence on a scale capable of resisting attack from ever stronger forces. Terms such as 'Balance of Power' and 'Mutually Assured Destruction' have emerged within international politics to describe the consequences of this process. In today's world in practice, it means firstly that many countries in the West have merged military capability into one (more effective) unit, and secondly that the United States, vastly more rich and powerful than any other state has to be a part of it. Which brings us to NATO - our 'All for one;'One for all' defence policy.

But who pays. This is the question that has landed on Western leaders desks today. Donald Trump thinks the US is being required to do much of the heavy financial lifting. The accepted NATO target is that all countries should chip in 2% of GDP. The UK does. I think Poland does - two states which remember the horrors of 1939-45 better than most. Of all the statements/promises the incoming Commander-in-Chief has made over the last few months/years, the most worrying have been about his commitment to NATO.

With Rusia's President Putin on manoeuvres along Europe's Eastern borders, there will be much nervousness developing in EU capitals. I do hope the EU integrationists don't see Trump's words as a reason to divert resources to EU armed forces to fill a gap. Without the US, the EU will not have significant capability. Seems to me the best course of action is to start talking seriously to President Trump. It may even be that the UK will be well placed to broker sensible resolution. Now there's a though in our Brexit world. But at the heart of this, every EU state is going to have to get serious about defence. We will all have to our bit - a bit more I suspect.

The Soldier. Rupert Brooke. 1914

If I should die, think only this of me;
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by the sons of home.

And think, this heart all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Trump Victory - One day on

The world did not come to an end. The financial markets didn't react badly. The defeated candidate, President Obama and most leading US politicians set aside personal disappointments to wish the incoming President well. And Donald Trump himself spent the day presenting himself in reasoned tones. In fact, nothing much at all happened. Three Englishmen scoring centuries in India is slightly bigger news in some corners of the world stage. After day one, we have very little idea what to expect from a Trump presidency. But I do think it's clear that the only sensible course is to "Give Trump a Chance." 

Spent quite a bit of today in conversation with former Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind - as measured as you would expect of a man with his experience of the international stage. We agreed it's far too early to make any meaningful assessment. We know so little about what his agenda is going to be. I feel sure it's not going to be what he's said its going to be. The biggest concern for the free world has to be the Trump approach to NATO. Trump's 'noise' on this issue has been the extent to which NATO members have been prepared to pay their fair share. Only the UK and Poland have paid up the 2% of GDP. We must hope there's room for agreement and compromise here. It's the top issue.

Trump is making some very aggressive noises about Daesh. We don't know what his plans might be to crush this evil, but he can hardly do much worse! Maybe, the warm words he's used about Putin will give him leverage. Have to wait and see on this. We've heard his anti trade rhetoric, based around the principle of protecting US jobs. But we don't know whether this will be tinkering for PR impact, or a serious undermining of free trade, particularly with China, which would be damaging to all. From a British post Brexit perspective it could be goodish news on trade. 'Front of the queue' maybe! So much to ponder.

But one day on from the astonishing US Election result, the reality is we do not know much we didn't know yesterday. Except Trump has surprised us by his reasoned tone. Gone is the hate-filled rhetoric of the last few months. It may just be that having won, he will want to be a good President. I for one am content to say I that while I could never have voted for the campaigning Trump, I should trust the American voters, and 'Give Trump a Chance'. We owe that to the future of our world.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

First Reflections on US Election.

No point denying it. I was utterly astonished by the result of the US Presidential Election. And yes, disappointed too. I'd been bit surprised by the Conserative victory at the last General Election, greatly surprised by EU Referendum result, but utterly astonished by the Trump victory. Of course it's too early to draw any final conclusions about what it all means. There are some very big questions hanging out there for we Brits to be thinking about.

Firstly, why were we in the UK so misled about how US voters felt. It's clear there must be a massive disconnect between 'Washington' and a big chunk of the American people. The British media presented us with the buffoon Trump, out of touch with today, despised by Hispanics, by women, by minorities. Led most British observers to dismiss a Trump victory as unlikely and unwelcome. It was simply not how Americans viewed him. I should have known better. American businessmen I'd talked to had told me they were backing Trump. When I expressed surprise, they told me the British media were making no attempt to explain the scale of contempt for 'Washington'. They thought Trump would win. Yet again I was conned by the cosy consensus that delivers overseas news to us. Have I really become part of the metropolitan cosy club!! Was equally astonished when Colombians voted down the recent peace deal between their Govt and Farc. That came as a shock to me, but not to modern articulate Colombians I've talked to who cannot stomach wholesale amnesty for years of murder and violence. UK view of the world out of touch again. 

We are where we are. The American people believe in democracy. The defeated Democrats (Clinton and Obama included) have backed the victor, wishing President Trump the best as he takes over the political leadership of America. I think they mean it. They still seem to believe in the American dream, something else our cynical media will struggle with. My guess in that the British media will report every negative story about Trump they can find, while the American media will give President Trump a chance. I must try not to be so easily taken in.

My main concern about President Trump is his attitude towards world trade. Looks as if TTIP is dead in the water. It was looking on its last legs anyway. Seems he's keener on a trade deal with the UK than Obama has been. Good on the face of it. But let's wait and see. Trade relations with China look interesting. And could be very new US policy in the Middle East. Attitude to NATO will be interesting as well. Like most Brits, I've not liked the idea of a President Trump. We've no real idea about what President Trump will be about. Not sure what he's said so far counts for much. But he won. We had best get used to it. It's democracy, US style. No doubt I'll be editing this post tomorrow. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Freedom of the press is freedom to inflict misery.

Over the 40 years I've been involved in public life, I've taken some big hits in the media. Never responded. Known it to be a lost cause. Just taken what's been thrown at me. I'll not pretend it's not hurt - on one occasion hurt quite badly. So when there was a great kerfuffle around the 'hacking' scandal, and the Leveson Inquiry, it was assumed by many I would be for restrictions on press freedom. But I wasn't. The Mirror was so shocked to learn of this (they had just put me through public humiliation about a deer-shooting tweet I'd published) that they asked me to write 500 words for them. Which I did. Good article it was too. But the Mirror heaped ever greater humiliation upon me by dumping my article in favour of one from Paddy Ashdown. Which I thought was total bilge. Mirror didn't pay me either.

Truth is I've always believed freedom of the press is fundamental to a free society. That's why I never had any enthusiasm for the Leveson inquiry. Over recent months, the investigative press has won some better headlines. Which brings us to today's statement by Prince Harry. I certainly understand why he made it. He must have been furious. Even so, my personal advice would have been to say nought in public. In particular, I'd have just let the Internet comment run. Because it won't stop. If anything it will have heightened interest and make the position worse. There's a lot of evil-minded vindictive individuals out there with no moral compass at all. 

It does make me warm to Prince Harry though. He is outraged by the treatment of his girlfriend, Meghan Markle, who seems to be a most attractive and talented actress. He sees her as being mistreated by media and internet trolls and others. He wants to protect her from abuse and harassment. And he's right to be furious. At Harry's age I would have wanted to see blood drawn. 

But I fear it won't do any good. You can't beat these people who hide behind their computer screens, publishing the most outrageous stuff. They become brave behind their computer walls. Prince Harry, turn your computer off. And persuade your girlfriend to turn her computer off as well. Ignore them all. Abandon Twitter, the Internet cesspit of our age. Don't let the b*****rds get you down. Carry on doing the brilliant work you do, alongside your brother. Most British people hold in contempt the little minds typing out bile on their computers. Through my life, I've realised the one response these people hate is to be ignored. For most of us, your desire to protect those closest to you is the best of British.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Triggering Article 50

Whenever I'm confronted by some great email extravaganza, first rule is to stand back and try to understand what the fuss is all about. Is it a genuine conflagration? - or a lobbyist generated fuss over not much at all. That's how I feel about this Article 50 thing. It's an important issue. We all realise that. But I cannot see some great constitutional issue behind the rumpus. To me it looks more an argument about a legal technicality. Let us stand back and consider what's actually happened.

On 23rd June, a majority of the voters of the UK, (and the voters of Wales and the voters of Powys) decided to leave the EU in a referendum. None, or at least very few thought their decision was merely advisory. They thought their votes counted. After all, the then Prime Minister, David Cameron had told them he would be invoking Article 50 straightaway. That's all clear enough. But we have a significant number of 'Remainers' who did not accept the result, and who have been looking for ways to frustrate it, who see delay as their friend. We know 'delay' means 'death of Brexit'. So we are finding our inboxes full of 'ever so reasonable' emails imploring delay, creating unnecessary uncertainty. Suddenly Article 50 is not just triggering the 'leave' process. There's an effort to make it part of the negotiation, including the type of deal which can be negotiated. Which it is not. Nor will be. This is how I see it anyway.

Like many I'd assumed that Article 50 would have been invoked fairly quickly. Not how Theresa May operates. She decided to do it when best for the UK and the EU (no rush but before end of March). She also decided to just do it, because like me she thought the people had known perfectly well what they were voting for. Some judges have disagreed. The Prime Minister hasdecided to appeal against the judges call.  She thinks her position is correct. We will see. Personally I think there's a case for forgetting the appeal altogether, accepting the judges position, and putting forward a one clause Parliamentary Bill as soon as poss. It would say no more than that Parliament instructs the Prime Minister to invoke Article 50. I think that is about all the judges actually asked for. Though we know there will attempts to attach all sorts of amendments to the simple bill, because the real reason behind this has nothing to with the principle of consulting Parliament. It's an attempt to frustrate the will of the people - to reverse the referendum result. This would be a very dangerous game to play. Too dangerous for most Parliamentatians I suspect. I think that both the Commons and Lords would vote to invoke Article 50, and we could move on to the next big hurdle, debating the Great Repeal Bill. If the Article 50 debate were to be defeated there would be a mighty kerfuffle, and may well have to be a General Election. Would cause a lot of uncertainty, would damage both the UK and EU's interests. The blind fury it would cause amongst voters may well also deliver a much stronger Mrs May and a greater drive for reduction in the wholly unreasonable numbers of peers. Whatever I see us invoking Article 50 in 2017. Those are my initial thoughts on the Atricle 50 noise. Always willing to edit in the face of well argued challenge.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

When is an 'insult' not an 'insult'

 Not been at all well over last few days. My aim of writing a blog a day evaporated as I sunk into what can only be described as a deep sleep. So been unable to comment on what I thought a most bizarre Twitter rumpus, following a rather clumsy 'throwaway' tweet of mine around a week ago. The 'Academic Community' didn't take kindly to me writing that I personally don't consider academics to be  'experts'. That is of course not what I actually think. No doubt I'd have altered it if the sheer number of people who considered themselves 'insulted' hadn't taken off into the thousands, by the time I'd finished my supper. Now if I'd said that, "personally, I don't think academics to necessarily be the greatest experts.... " they would prob be still 'insulted'. Blimey, when I think of some of things they say about me on social networks.  For good measure I suggested a bit of experience in the real world would help. Whatever, this post is not about justifying the clumsy wording of my tweet, ( which I don't want to justify) but the response to it which I found truly astonishing. I'm not altogether sure why.
The numbers who took offence was massive, thousands of them who do work in schools, hospitals, and reseach companies. All these people have great experience of the real world. Anyway that's not the issue. 
The issue was the response to a tweet which they disagreed with and thought 'insulting'. Lots responded by simply called me a C**t. The liberal use of the F word and worse was enough to make this hill farming rugby player blush. And the leader of one of our national political parties compared me with Hitler (who murdered 6million innocent Jews.) Interesting that I had a few media calls, (which I didn't think justified a response from my sickbed) who wanting to run a story on my tweet. I had no interest whatsoever in what I thought deeply offensive tweets of others. If fact I was asked if I wanted to make an issue of the Hitler tweet. But No. We have heard far too much about the Nazi dictator over recent months. As far as I know the only coverage I actually saw was by BBC Wales's David Cornock. Could have been more but then I wasn't looking for it. It was all so bizarre, I simply refused to comment. 

In fact David is a sharp cookie, and rightly guessed what had caused me to feel a touch agitated. I'd been been listening to this Welsh political academic, from Cardiff, who is wheeled out almost as often as Derek Brockway on Welsh TV, totally rubbishing the Wales Bill. No problem with that. Clearly he's opposed to this Bill. But is he? No-one asking him if he'd actually vote for this Bill he was describing as so awful. If he were to say he couldn't support it, I would respect that, while disagreeing with it. I think it's a welcome bill. But it sounded to me as though he wanted to lambast the Bill, while hoping others would vote to approve it. The Assembly Members won't have that luxury. They are going to have to decide. 

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

My International Politics Day.

I think I'm rather unusual amongst MPs in that I have a great interest in international affairs but am not keen on travelling abroad. Partly that's because I don't think those who vote for me approve (they think it's a junket). And partly because I just don't like airports. They are little hells on earth. Since I was elected, I've been to Brussels once and to Gibraltar as a guest of the Rock's Government. All other overseas trips I've been paid for myself. 

Anyway, there are endless opportunities to meet with representatives of overseas territories at Westminster itself. Three of them cropped up today - international day. First visit was by a cross party group of Welsh MPs to Canada House at Trafalgar Square. We are interested in how other countries manage devolution. Canada has a federal system, where the states and territories have more power than devolved nations in the UK, and greater involvement in federal decisions. Really interesting at present, because Canada (that's all of Canada) has just signed a trade deal with the EU. I was much interested in the role  states and territories had played in this process.

Then it was back to the House of Commons for an offshore wind reception and a stint at the bar of the House of Lords, listening to the Wales Bill debate (in committee) about a distinct jurisdiction for Wales. There seemed to be little enthusiasm for it, contrary to what some Welsh academic 'experts' seem to be campaigning for. I much enjoyed comments accepting that this issue would be returned to in a future Wales Bill!!!  

Returning to the International theme, we then had a Japanese Embassey reception. A most impressive event. The Japanese Ambassador made a good encouraging and realistic speech. Impressive man. I liked him. Coincidentally, there was a statement on the floor of the House at the same time by the outstanding Sec of State, Greg Clark, about the Nissan announcement in relation to two new models to be built in Sunderland. It's given the UK economy a great boost. Enough to make make my next car a Nissan perhaps! Whatever, the U.K.- Japan relationship looks I good heart.

Final leg of our 'International' day was at the Gherkin. Never been there before. It's brilliantly impressive. The Gibraltar Govt were putting on a show on the top floor. I do get some good breaks. Gibraltar is, quite naturally concerned about the impact of Brexit. First Minister, Fabian Picardo was his usual bouncing self. And I was pleased to meet up with his predeccessor, Peter Caruana, who once came to speak to the National Assembly for Wales as my guest. I think we are going to be seeing quite a lot of them over the next year or three.

 And to cap it all, tomorrow, the Colombian Ambassador is speaking to Peers and MPs in the Queens Robing Room. I'm hoping to catch a chat with him, because I'm in the process of trying to establish a Colombia All Party Group. Rest of the day, I'll be nose to the grindstone, catching up with my office work. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Reorganising Political Life

If the proposed new structure of constituency boundaries is approved in October 2018, I will not be asking any new constituency association to consider me as its 2020 General Election candidate. I've represented Montgomeryshire in one way or another for 40 years, and before that on various sporting fields. Cannot start all over again somewhere else. So if the new boundaries go through I have a maximum of three and a half years left in the House of Commons, representing my home area. Less if there's an election in 2019, as the Brexit negotiations are concluded. 

I want to enjoy it personally and make it as constructive as possible for Montgomeryshire. So change is afoot. For the last 18 mths, serving as a member of the Energy and Climate Change Committee has needed a big commitment. It was abolished last week. So I've secured a place on the Environmental Audit Select Committee. This will also need a big commitment. First meeting on Tuesday. See how it goes. Will also be a member of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee. For the time being at least. We are spending tmrw afternoon at the Canadian High Commission as part of a study into how devolution operates around the world. And I want to help Welsh Ministers, Alun Cairns and Guto Bebb as much as I can. Two biggest issues (amongst many) will be Wales Bill and impact of leaving the EU on Wales, especially Rural Wales. Will spend Thursday this week with the NFU at a Brexit conference in Llandrindod. There are several All Party Political Groups I want to spend more time with, including establishing a Colombia APPG. The President is coming to Westminster on Tuesday as part of his state visit. I have one Colombian constituent at least, and another two half Colombian constituents! 

On top of this Parliament based work, I want to become more involved in constituency issues, even if most are devolved and not matters for me. It's a question of making my job satisfying and enjoyable. All this work means a significant cutback in social networking. I enjoy Facebook. Most of my 'friends' are Mid Wales based. But there are several thousand of them - way too many. Over the next month, I will go through the list (alphabetically) removing those who shouldn't be there, and probably don't want to be there. If I defriend anyone who actually wants to remain, let me know. I'll apologise and add again. Will probably drop Twitter altogether. Have thousands 'following' me - for no obvious purpose. Going to limit my social networking to an hour per night, which should allow for stimulating a Facebook discussion and a photograph - plus a daily blogpost which I find helps me arrange my thoughts in order. Starting today. So apologies to Adam Ant for de-friending him! 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Backing Regional Aid

The decision by Nissan to build two new models in Sunderland has produced some what seem to me to be illogical attitudes amongst some of those who comment on my Facebook page - based on misconceptions of reality (past and present). Let's list a few. Firstly, that we should know exactly what discussions have taken place between Government and Nissan. Secondly, that the same terms, whatever they are, should be available to all. (this one is particularly misguided). And thirdly a local complaint that as a result of Govt policy, young people are leaving rural Wales in "droves". 

It would take too long to cover all aspects, but I can share some of my own experience, which in itself offers a reasonable rebuttal. I think so anyway. 

I left a small comprehensive school (Llanfair Caereinion HS), aged 16, to work on the family farm. Not a big farm, but a good little livestock rearing business which my parents had worked hard to build up from scratch over 16 years. My father died young, and I took over the farm. Aged 30ish began taking an interest in local politics.

I was much influenced by the opportunities (lack of) for my classmates when I'd left school and also, the dire state of the local economy. There were very few quality jobs available. Anyone academically minded had to leave for work. If continuing in education, they had to leave for university. They still do but it's not anything like so difficult to find good jobs locally today. Let's look at what's changed.

When I was young, the population of Montgomeryshire had fallen over recent decades - as rural based work had become mechanised. The population of Montgomeryshire, which had been well over 60,000, had fallen to a low of about 36,000. The economic prospects were so bleak that Govt contemplated building a new town of 65,000 people in the Severn Valley, incorporating Newtown and Caersws. Prospects for young people were so bad, I supported this crazy idea. Won my first bardic chair with an essay championing this plan. Very sensibly the Govt of the time decided against, but did establish a new town corporation to double the size of Newtown and established the Development Board for Rural Wales to promote economic dev't across Mid Wales. Now here's the relevant point. All this activity involved giving a business advantage to anyone establishing or expanding in Mid Wales. That's what regional aid involves. I was much in support of it. I still am, where it strengthens the economy of disadvantaged areas. That's why I welcome Gov'ts work with Nissan to agree it's massive investment in Sunderland. 

I find it difficlt to understand anyone who is not very pleased about the Nissan decision. Sec of State, Greg Clark went out to Japan to help develop a trusting relationship. I do not want to know what the discussion involved. I do assume it was consistent with state aid rules. It's the best form of regional policy I can think of. As well as being brilliant news in itself, it demonstrates the flexibility and agility the UK is capable of. It's great long term news for international investment in the UK, as well as a huge short term boost to the North East.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Nissan - Fantastic News.

Sometimes I despair of the negative discussion environment surrounding unalloyed good news stories. This week Nissan announced that it is to build not one, but two new models (the Qashqai and the X-Trail) in the UK. From every angle this is fantastic news indeed. It secures 7000 jobs in Sunderland, an area where these jobs are particularly valued. It is a massive boost to the automotive industry in the UK. It will deliver jobs over a much wider area through component suppliers. And it announces to the world that the UK is open for business. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that yesterday's announcement is anything but a huge success for the UK.

Ah but wait. Out come those who are determined to rubbish any good economic news, lest it challenge their own narrative that the UK economy is crashing following the EU Referendum vote to leave the EU. They just can't believe it. What on earth can Nissan be thinking about. Most shockingly of all, they give the impression that they would prefer to have seen Nissan announce they were going to build the new models outside of the UK. I can just about imagine the queue of 'remainers' outside the BBC studios wanting to denounce those who voted Leave if this had been the case.

Of course, these criticisms have to carefully packaged, in questions that suggest some questionable secret deal has been done. Matters not that Secretary of State, Greg Clark, who visited Japan last week, has said "No deal, no compensation, nothing about tariffs". No matter that the Nissan spokesman has said "No special deal. Expect nothing the rest of the industry would not have access to. We see this as a whole industry thing, not a Nissan thing." They seem to want every detail of every conversation to be made public. 

So happens I've done a bit in the 'inward investment' field myself - including visiting Japan. Still recall being despatched to distant capitals as part of Wales diplomatic efforts. Didn't enjoy the travelling much, and didn't make much publicity of it. It was a sort of quiet diplomacy. The transformation of the Welsh economy in the 1980s and 1990s was built on inward investment - exercised through the Welsh Development Agency and Development Board for Rural Wales. Much of the success was built on trust. No more so that in Japan does mutual trust count.  Hugely important that Greg Clark went to Japan to meet Nissan. That visit would have generated great mutual trust. The biggest investment in Montgomeryshire over the last year has been the purchase by Nidec of Control Techniques in Newtown. Another deal struck post Brexit.

Yesterday's announcement by Nissan was fantastic news, in every possible way. We should be cheering from the rooftops, not carping from the sidelines. Actually, that's what most British people will be doing.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Climate Change - Following the evidence.

Two weeks ago, I attended the 2016 GWPF (Global Warming Policy Forum) lecture at The Royal Society by Matt Ridley. My attendance, in itself was enough to draw down upon my head bucketfuls of contemptuous ire. The problem is that both the GWPF and Matt Ridley are open minded about the scale of dangerous global warming, and the appropriate public policy response to it. To many of those involved in what I will refer to to as the 'green' lobby, (and this is not meant to be disparaging) no right thinking person should even listen to any view other than that the world is facing catastrophe unless we make massive cuts to carbon emissions. We are simply told that the science is settled. There must be no further debate. My attending the Ridley lecture was akin to attending a meeting of devil worshippers intent on sacrificing virgins. Well, I think it's wise to listen to 'alternative' thinkers. Turned out it was a very good lecture. And thought provoking.

Matt Ridley began his lecture by telling us he agreed that we are experiencing a degree of global warming, and that he accepts the scientific consensus - which is that global warming is real, but not necessarily dangerous. There are several scenarios, ranging from harmless to catastrophic, according to the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change), with the extreme predictions of dangerous climate change being very unlikely. That's not too far from what I think. But being instinctively a cautious man, I tend to lean towards the opinion that we should decarbonise as quickly as we reasonably can.

First part of the lecture was about the extent of 'global greening' - the degree to which vegetation covers the face of the earth. I've not considered this as I should have done. We all know that more carbon dioxide makes plants grow more quickly. Indeed I'm told some glasshouse growers maintain high CO2 environments to encourage growth. Matt Ridley claims there has been a huge growth in global greening over recent decades, which he further claims is the result of higher levels of CO2. This seems highly credible to me. There was a whole lot more as well.

I'm not a scientist, and have no wish to enter into any sort of debate about the science. Neither do I feel competent to judge most of the speech, though I did find it informed and interesting. What I do find really interesting, and the inspiration for this post is that I do not think Government policy should be based on a partial view of science. I like to make judgements based on evidence. So often, I hear the greatest advocates of action to limit climate change as dismissive of any questioning. It's a mistake. In the end, governments the world over will be guided by evidence - or science delivered as evidence. I think Matt Ridley deserves to be listened to. At least his speech to the GWPF deserves to be read.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Fight to save Montgomeryshire

Currently, a review of parliamentary constituencies across the UK is underway. In Wales, boundary commissioners have published their first draft of what they feel should be the parliamentary constituencies in the 2020 general election in Wales. A final decision is expected in time for Parliamentary approval in October 2018. In my experience, very few of my constituents are aware of the detail about what is happening, or the history which has led up to the current position, or what that current position actually is. The sad reality is that Parliamentary democracy as we know it is being emasculated in Mid Wales, with scarsely a murmur if dissent.

 So I invited Montgomeryshire's Town and Commiunity Councils (and County Councillors) to join me for a sort of 'seminar' last week. A few came along, and we had a good general discussion. I'd hoped more might come. The Montgomeryshire Conservative Association even provided refreshment, even though it was not a political meeting. I tried to be as non-opinionated as I could be, not a rule that applied to my guests of course. They could say what they wanted. They did. I've run through the history in a previous blog post, so here's just a brief summery of the background.

It began in 2009, following the 'Expenses Scandal'. Political parties competed to be the most beastly to future MPs, including cutting their number. The voting public was rather pleased about this approach. The Conservatives (led by new boy, David Cameron) made a manifesto promise to reduce the 650 MPs to 585, while the Lib Dems (then a force in the land) made a manifesto promise to cut to just 500. In the event, neither party won a majority. So in May 2010, the two parties formed a Coalition Government - and announced in its 'Programme for Government' that there would be a reduction in the number of MPs of 8% - from 650 to 600.
In 2011 the Parliamentary Voting and Constituencies Act was passed, taken through the Parliamentary process in a resolute determined way by the then Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg. Not only did this Act reduce number of MPs to 600, it legislated to allow only a 5% difference in electorate of each of these 600 constituencies, eliminating the historic over-representation of Welsh MPs at the same time. The intention was that these new boundaries would be in place for the 2015 election, but in Sept 2013, this was scuppered when the House of Lords successfully inserted a 5 yr delay.
The proposals for Wales assume the number of Welsh MPs falling from 40 to 29, and each electorate being approximately 72,000-78,000. The poor old Welsh boundary commissioners had little choice but to carve up Mid Wales to make the numbers work elsewhere. And that's where we are today. Last Thursday we awere considering the first attempt to carve us up!  I just do not think many people know all this. Which is why I invited Council reps to come for a chat about it.
Interesting meeting. All agreed with the input I'd had into the Welsh Conservative official response - moving Llanidloes and Blaen Hafren back into the South Powys Seat, and moving Forden/Berriew into the North Montgomeryshire and Clwyd South seat. But I accept this is 'tinkering at the edges'. Some wanted to go further, and challenge the proposals wholesale, launching a fight to retain a Central Powys constituency (Montgomeryshire/Radnorshire). I said I thought this is tantamount to opposing the 2011 Act. At the personal level,I would love to see this approach succeed. 
Surpringly, some of the Councils most affected by the changes did not turn up, which was a bit disappointing. They probably have other forums to discuss these changes. But there were a few seasoned campaigners there, who do not intend to go quietly. So I expect we will hear more of this. Expect updates.