Saturday, March 31, 2007

Why Welsh Labour should lose.

Difficult to be non-partisan under a heading like this. But I'll try, in a non-partisan sort of way - although I admit that I could be fooling myself here. It must be for readers to judge the extent to which I'm driven by partisan interest and how much by concern for democracy in Wales.

Democracy without genuine choice is Pyrrhic. Citizens lose faith, lose interest and lose the willingness to participate. Politics becomes the playground of failed or frustrated 'celebrities', controlled by faceless puppeteers, concerned only with winning and holding office. At Westminster, we are currently watching the absurdity of a Prime Minister's 'resignation' and another Prime Minister's 'coronation' being manipulated by political Mafias without even a nod in the direction of democracy.

But back to Wales. Its not that Labour is unspeakably 'bad'. Its just that Labour has dominated Welsh politics for a century and is heading for electoral meltdown if opinion polls are to be believed. What sort of a choice is it that if Labour does indeed lose a hatful of seats on May 3rd, the only alternative is a Labour dominated coalition. This is no choice at all. But so ingrained is the 'acceptance' of Wales as a one-party-state that even some of my own side see it as the natural order of things - and cannot face the concept of a non Labour coalition.

There is no worthwhile democracy in Wales unless there is at least a prospect of forcing Labour into opposition. Whatever the result on May 3rd, I believe that my party, Plaid Cymru, the Lib Dems and any Independents have to give serious consideration of working together to create a genuine democratic choice for the people of Wales - by putting Labour into opposition.

Friday, March 30, 2007

What the hell is 'facebook'

I have only just got used to the 'blogging' thing - and now I'm confronted by something called 'Facebook'. I have all these strange people emailing me asking if they can be my friend. It doesn't seem very nice to say No. My nain always used to say that I should never spit a potential friend in the eye. It reminds me of an occasion when I was sitting on my own on a plane between Denver and Lincoln when an American woman came up to me and asked me if she could sit by me because she would like to have a conversation. She had heard my Welsh accent and liked it - even if she did think I was an Indian!

I have no idea what I am joining Facebook for - but Peter Hain and Peter Black have joined so it must be very 'new man'. I've just had a look around and I have a question mark where all my 'friends' have a photograph. I'll have to ask Phill, my PA who is a wizzo about these things to sort me out on Monday.

James Turner - High Sheriff of Powys

Straight from our manifesto launch in North Wales to the Shrievalty Service and Declaration Ceremony of my good friend, James Turner as The High Sheriff of Powys. James looked extremely pretty in his tights and finery. I resisted making any facetious comments about the new outfit at St. Mary's Church - probably because I was still feeling a bit chastened after my embarrassing mobile call to Brynle earlier in the day. (See previous post).

Actually, I felt rather privileged to be a guest. I'm a full blooded royalist and the post of High Sheriff is the oldest royal appointment of all. James had invited the children of my old school, Castle Caereinion Primary to attend the service. His Honour Judge Ian Trigger gave them a history lesson about the sort of things previous High Sheriffs had done to raise money for the monarch. It seems that it used to be common practice for High Sheriffs to kidnap the wives and mistresses of the clergy and demand a ransom for their return. Be interesting to know what performance measures were used as the basis for calculating the size of the ransom. Clearly, the clergy had things organised rather differently from today.

His Honour also told us about one High Sheriff who used to demand cockerels from all the farmers in his Bailiwick, supposedly as a gift for the monarch. No information on what happened to them. In those days one just handed over the ransom because the High Sheriff had full control over the important levers of power - or at least those that activated the gallows. But James Turner is an honourable and respectable man and there is no threat to the wives, mistresses and cockerels of the parish.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Blue Language and a Red Face

I very rarely swear. And never in front of women and children. I'm a tad old fashioned about this - even though I understand that young women out on the town these days are much more foul-mouthed than young men. So today's occurrence was unfair in the extreme. Fate dealt me a poor hand.

For some reason, I've been feeling a bit down for a while and this morning had been a bit stressful. I'd been to the Newtown studio to do a piece for Post Cynta on our manifesto, which was to be launched at 10.30 in North Wales. Problem was that I hadn't read the final version, didn't know the lines we were going on - and it was in Welsh, which is a beautiful language but which I still find difficult. And Iolo ap Dafydd shows me no mercy these days. Anyway, I survived and was belting up to Northop for the launch, having asked my good friend, Brynle Williams for directions.

Problem was that Brynle's directions were duff. He sent me right instead of left. After a fruitless search for a promised set of crossroads, I rang BW on his mobile. No answer. Rang 4 times. No answer. Launch time approaching and now highly stressed. 5th call and Brynle answered. He hadn't even finished saying "Hello" when I shall I put this......expressed my view of his directions, outlined displeasure at my predicament and suggested what he might do to help - but utilising words of variety and colour! It will not help my reputation if I record precisely what I said.

And just guess what Brynle said, and as cool as you like. "I'll come and collect you when I've dropped Cheryl Gillan and David Cameron off at the launch - and by the way my mobile is on open mike in the car." I felt a bit as the Earl of Oxford must have done when he farted in front of Queen Elisabeth 1st, and left the country for 10 years in shame. The only consolation is that David Cameron knows how desperate I was to get to support him at the launch. And Brynle will dine out for weeks on this of course.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Perils of live radio.

Did half an hour on Radio Wales discussing tail docking of dogs. The programme went out at one, 'live' from the Sennedd, with Alun Pugh lauching a new book, 'Pembrokeshire - Historic Landscapes from the Air' about 10 yards away from the makeshift studio.

Just as I finished my answer to the first phone-in question, a huge round of applause went up as Alun was introduced. Perfect timing. Both Richard Evans and I were much amused. Another huge round of applause went up just as I finished answering my second question. Richard had to explain that I hadn't brought along my own personal army of cheer leaders. All quite good fun.

But then it turned sour. Richard went to the 1.30 news bulletin and reported the top line story about a young woman being murdered in gory fashion, whereupon there was a third huge round of applause. I was horrified. I just hope it didn't sound as bad on the radio as it did to me. Just goes to highlight the potential pitfalls of live radio.

To dock or not to dock

Deeply disappointed by yesterday's debate on the Animal Welfare Act. Needed a calming capuccino to settle me and dispel the disturbing black thought that the National Assembly had just shown itself to be unfit to make laws.

The issue was the docking of dogs tails. The new Act bans all tail docking for cosmetic reasons, but allows the practise to continue for working dogs. We were resolving which breeds to list as 'working dogs'. The Government had consulted widely, and my Committee had taken evidence and drawn up a proposed list. And then Lorraine Barrett proposed that the list be changed, removing crossbred spaniels and terriers. The Minister told us that this would open up a legal quagmire of definitions - and that it was going to be reviewed in 2 years time. Members backed Lorraine.

None of my annoyance was caused by Lorraine, who has always been clear that she is opposed to tail docking of any dogs - an entirely logical and acceptable stance to take, even if I disagree with it. But what AMs did was listen to Lorraine's 'from the heart' speech - and completely ignore the consultation, the Minister and the Committee. I thought this was knee jerk law making at its cavalier worst.

One Minister told me afterwards that he had 'voted in favour of the dogs' - as if Carwyn Jones and my Committee didn't. There are times in politics when patience is tested to endurance. You can see why I needed the cappuccino. Anyway, a nice Welsh lamb dish washed down with a glass or two of champagne at Garcon in the Bay last night has sorted me out. By tomorrow all will be forgotten when our great retriever of past glories, Cameron joins us to launch our manifesto in North Wales.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Spannish Fly - tipping

Tough start to the week. Had to be in my Cardiff office by 9.00 this morning to meet a group of local and regional government officials on a fact finding visit to Wales. They were interested in renewable energy and what we do with our rubbish. I find these sort of meetings both satisfying and enjoyable. trouble with early Monday morning starts is the traffic on the A470. The meeting stretched out and took most of the morning. They thought the new Assembly Building was 'fantasteec' - and I chickened out of telling them that I led the opposition to it being built!

One of the group, who had an 'agricultural waste' brief asked me what I thought of the ban on the burial of dead farm stock. The interpreter had a bit of trouble with "barking bloody bonkers". Anyway, he picked up my tone, and it was obvious that he agreed. But it seems that both of our nations are making it work - even if it is the single most environmentally damaging regulation to come out of the EU, ever.

I also had a bit of bother when they asked me what long term plans Cardiff has for rubbish disposal. I said that I don't have a clue - and I'm not at all sure that the City Council has either. Happy to be put right on this one - and I will pass on the info to Spain.

Had a bit of luck with the Beeb's Good Morning Wales programme, who were wandering around the Assembly to see what happens on a Monday morning - and as luck would have it, I was the only politician at my desk. The nation will think that I'm a workaholic on their behalf. I quite like that.

Rest of the day I've been clearing my desk and emptying my inbox, before the election. I'm hoping to take in a lecture from Peter Sutherland, ex EU Commissioner and Chairman of BP and Goldman Sachs International before I head for home again. A long day.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Plaid Conference Special

I'd just about given up on it. For months I'd been prostrating myself before Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems, asking them (almost begging them) to consider us as a potential coalition partner after May 3rd. I know that I rattled Ieuan up a bit with the 'Wobbly Wyn Jones' stuff - but generally I've been craven in my sycophancy. I've even been nice to Mick Bates - which has left the poor fellow in such a state of confusion that he will probably go and lose his seat at the election. Tories being nice throws the whole political world into turmoil. Mr Cameron is showing us this on the UK stage. Anyway, I'd had so little response to my prostrating (and not a lot from my own side either) that I was on the point of going back on the attack. Never been one to flog a horse that is definitely dead. There would have been the usual ferocity and vindictiveness of the lover spurned.

And then, would you believe it. Up pops Plaid and tells us that they are interested after all. And its Adam Price of all people. Easily Plaid's star performer. Telling everyone willing to lend an ear that Plaid would be willing to talk to the Tories on May 4th. Now I know that its 'even' the Tories and we're grouped with the communists - and that Adam's 'local country solicitor' must be First Minister. But I'm not fooled. Plaid has announced that she's 'biddable' and we've been invited to make an offer. This is real progress. My book of '100 ways to insult Plaid Cymru' will be returned to the shelf. Mick Bates stays an OK bloke. Its back to the Old Spice aftershave and brushing my hair before going into the Debating Chamber. It sounds as if the Rainbow Coalition is back in business.

Good stunt by Martin Eaglestone. Got him stacks of publicity. No-one had heard of him outside North Wales until today. Every one's forgotten what his silly little petition was all about - but Adam's counter petition gave the story legs. Alun Ffred can't take anything for granted. I've read some psephologist who thinks that Martin's going to win - which would up the average standard of Labour AMs and drop the average standard of Plaid AMs.

The Griffin at Felinfach

Ate last night at our favourite restaurant, 3 miles NE of Brecon on A470. We probably eat at the Griffin once a fortnight, en route between Cardiff and Berriew.

The Griffin isn't 'posh' or pretentious in any way at all - just very comfortable and relaxing. The atmosphere is so friendly that there's a temptation to talk to complete strangers. And there is plenty of room, both to sit with a drink before eating and between tables. There's such a temptation in restaurants today to pack in as many customers as possible, with tables that are too small. Not at the Griffin.

The service and food have been top notch throughout the years I have been a customer. Service is invariably quick and informal. Its not a huge menu - but wide enough. I'm going through a phase of eating the venison or the hake - and its always just about spot on. I never order a starter (usually because we want to get on with our journey) - but there is always a complementary amuse bouche and a few small slices of delicious bread to compensate. And there's a good selection of wines.

There are rooms at the Griffin. We've not stayed there - but I'm told that they are in keeping with the rest of what's on offer. Simple, informal, comfortable and high quality. If anyone who lives in Cardiff fancies going out of town for supper and an overnight stay, there will be nothing better than the Griffin within an hours drive.

EDF Energy Cup Semis.

Began yesterday in my Cardiff office, clearing my desk before the Assembly Election in 38 days time - just in case we Tories do very well, in which case I will become an ex-AM. I know this takes some getting your head around. In fact, its beyond rational explanation. But that's today's Welsh Labour for you. They're constitutional vandals who put the sectarian interests of Welsh Labour above all else.

The Leicester/Sale game was like watching two exhausted sumo wrestlers leaning on each other for 80 minutes. All sweat and grunt and no spark. Only a try by the magnificent Frenchman, Chabal to inspire the crowd. Even the result was entirely predictable. The Tigers looked winners from the start.

There was more action in the first 10 minutes of the Cardiff/Ospreys game than in the 80 which had gone before. Promised to be a good game till the Blues lost their heads. There was more yellow being flashed that at the Plaid conference in Caernarfon - and Sidoli would have gone for an early bath if I'd been the ref. What was he thinking about. He didn't even try to disguise the 'agricultural' swing he took at Cockbain.

I wonder what the Ospreys money men think after watching Justin Marshall show Mike Phillips how to play scrum-half. If Marshall heads off to France for next season (and who could blame him), the money men might have wished they'd left Phillips with the Blues. I suspect a lot of rugby fans would quite like to see the selfish grab for Phillips turning a bit sour. Hope my wife doesn't read this because he's joined Pat Cash in the pin-ups gallery in our house.

Called at the Griffin in Felinfach for supper - which will be the subject of another post after an hour or two in the garden.

Chauffeur's Diary

Sunday morning and back to my computer for a 'blogfest' after a demanding week - in part self-inflicted by political ambition and the pursuit of pleasure, a dangerous combination.

Thursday - lunch with the Institute of Welsh Affairs in Cardiff to listen to a polished performance from our Cheryl Gillan. Then a quick dash to the Bay to film a discussion about Welsh politics with young Poles outside the Norwegian Church. An interest in the Second World War has given me an enduring respect for the Polish nation. And then the train home for a fundraiser with Shadow cabinet members in Mid Wales - and to collect wife's car for chauffeuring duties the next morning (I'm driving an old banger at the moment). This meant a midnight drive back to Cardiff. Knackered.

Friday - Reception in the Millenium Centre, attended by our shiny new leader, Mr Cameron. And then back to Mid Wales with Shadow Minister, Caroline Spelman. I drew the long straw here. Not only is Caroline great company, but she's a rugby fanatic as well, married to an ex-Saracens prop forward. My ruthless adherence to a timetable enabled a visit to Ysgol Cedewin to discuss desperate shortage of respite care, followed by a visit to Welshpool's Spar supermarket to discuss local sourcing of food, and arrival on the platform as the train back to the Midlands was pulling in. Trip went like clockwork. Even more knackered.

Saturday - back down to Cardiff for the EDF Energy Cup semis (courtesy of the BBC) - which will be the subject of next post, after I've had lunch.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Love not War says Plaid

The sun will be shining over Caernarfon this weekend, according to BBC online. There will he happy smiling faces and Dafydd Iwan crooning about love and goodness. If it had been June, there would have been boys and girls in check shirts and floral dresses skipping over the grass and making daisy chains - throwing their heads back and blowing kisses at 'Vote Labour' billboards. No more nasty attacks on political opponents. All Plaid wants to do it seems is 'make a difference'. Better tell Rhodri Glyn that propping up Labour in a Lab/Plaid coalition after the May election isn't making much of a difference

But what's this. Ieuan hasn't read the script - again. "After years of rudderless leadership" he rants. "A lack of vision from Labour" he thunders. Hang on, Ieuan. What about these positive ideas and no attacks on political opponents? It didn't even last as far as the end of the press release. If you're not careful, they will call you a floppy daffodil. Ah well, politics back to normal.

Top Tories in Town

Wales is over-run with Tories at the moment. Top Tories everywhere. Tomorrow is a Welsh Tory-fest with David Cameron and the entire Shadow Cabinet in town. Its clear that we really mean business on May 3rd. We want you to know that we are ready to take a share of power in the National Assembly

Went to a Institute of Welsh Affairs lunch today where Cheryl Gillan was warming up for tomorrow. After the speech came questions and first up was Darren Hill from positif politics. What is Cheryl's opinion of PR in Welsh local government. Bit of a googly, which she flicked away by saying that this was a matter for the party in Wales - even if she personally preferred 'first-past-the-post'. Good answer, I thought. And then Geraint Talfan Davies asked what policies she saw as making the Tories distinct in Wales. Another googly, in the sense that the Manifesto is not being published until next week - and she couldn't really spill the beans today. And then it was Andy Klom, the EU's man in Wales, asking Cheryl about where we are going in Europe now that we are committed to leaving the European People's Party. This was a snorter of a ball which was played with a straight bat. We are at the 'embryonic' stage of forming a new centre/right grouping in the European Parliament. An all round polished performance from Cheryl, I thought.

And then tonight, a dinner in Llandrindod with David Liddington, Oliver Heald and Hugo Squire, rising stars of our party. All three had been in North Wales all day and called en route to Cardiff for tomorrow. Three men to watch.

And so, on to tomorrow. Shadow Cabinet meeting in Cardiff and then top Tories radiating out in every direction. I'm taking Caroline Spelman to Newtown and Welshpool in the afternoon where we are backing Dan Munford. I'm told Charles Kennedy and Lembit Opik are also joining Mick Bates in a street walk in Newtown tomorrow. I'd have thought poor old Mick had enough to worry about without these two electoral liabilities making things worse.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Its always 'Smoke and Mirrors'.

Media crammed full of budget analysis today - much of it as mysterious as a Prescott dissertation on endogenous growth theory. One thing really bugs me. I wish people wouldn't talk about 'Gordon's money. Its 'our' money which Gordo plays his monopoly games with.

Now, in general, I condemn this budget (an opening line which will please our press officer) because it continues the relentless increase in the overall tax take which has been such a feature of the last 10 years. The remorseless creation of a client state rolls on. And independent experts tell us that public spending, as a proportion of national income has grown from 37% to 45% - or thereabouts. No wonder the UK falls down the international productivity league.

The two announcements in the budget which could this blog's eye were the personal tax changes and the 'Chelsea tractor' tax. I'm content to see a very un-Brown-like simplification of the income tax regime - even if I'm not content with how Gordo's done it. Scrapping the 10p rate by, in effect, doubling it to 20p will hit low income earners. My personal preference would have been to use the £8 billion to raise the threshold rather than cut the basic rate - taking millions out of the income tax system altogether. But Gordo put his one day headline ahead of helping the poorest people. No surprise there. That's New Labour for you.

I suspect that we all knew that the Chelsea tractor was going to be clobbered - and I would have no problem with this except that it hits Powys tractors as well (and I do not own any before you ask). And I am deeply critical that this a huge tax increase rather than the green tax 'switch' which I could have supported. Brown's usual tricks are on display here. Licences for Band G vehicles go up to £400 per annum - while for Band B vehicles fall to just £35 per annum. A green tax switch? Oh no, its not. Because Band D is as wide as the Mississippi and Band B is like a prostate restricted dribble. The change grabs £44 million for the Treasury over the next 2 years. Its no wonder we are all so cynical about new green taxes.

Political commentators are asking what Gordo will do when Cameron trounces him at the next election. Well, what about trying selling smoke and mirrors.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Pedalo off Ynys Mon

OK, so he had to have his knuckles rapped. You can't get bladdered, purloin a pedalo and then sink it in the local lake without expecting some kick-back. I suppose that dropping Freddie for one game and stripping him of the vice-captaincy was just about 'proportionate'. But, Oh Dear!, its the moralising that I find so insufferable. Next thing, we'll have calls for the return of his OBE. Don't forget that its Freddie Flintoff who pulls in the fans. He's just a one-off who takes a bit of managing. Mind you, I wouldn't put him in charge of an ocean going liner.

Another one-off has just announced that he's going to stand as an 'Independent' in May's election. My old friend and ex-colleague AM, Peter Rogers is the Freddie Flintoff of Welsh politics. I'm not sure how good Peter would be at the helm of a pedalo - but the only encounter with a sea going vessel that I know of involving Peter, led to him inspiring a posse of incenced farmers onto a ferry off Holyhed. I don't know how near they came to sinking it, but they made a good job of chucking all the discovered Irish beef overboard. Now that Peter is in the Ynys Mon contest, I hope that the furniature being used at hustings meetings will be robust.

Perhaps the most worrying news of all is that Peter is due to take over as High Sheriff of Ynys Mon in two years time - which I undestand will give him the right to send criminals to the gallows. At least a man can't be hanged for sinking a pedalo.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Not a single Welshman.

So its all over for another year. Another six nations comes to an end. France and Italy are the big winners. Only Scotland have nothing worthwhile. Both England and Wales finish with something to build on.

But who has played their way into the imaginary 'European' team. Not a single Welshman, I fear - except that, personally Mark Jones would always be on my wing. "What about Hook", I hear you cry - but it was Wilkinson who put in the best individual performance, and O'Gara would did the business over the whole tournament. "What about Peel", I hear another cry - but for me the Frenchman, Mignoni gets the nod. "What about Martin Williams", I appeal to myself - but how can I leave out the Irish boys, Easterby and Wallace to play alongside the Italian, Parisse in the back row.

Ah, but they will come good in the World Cup. I'm a Welsh rugby fan imbued with super-optimism. I see world beaters emerging everywhere. Its just the way we are.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Rainbow Coalition Gathers Pace

Plaid Cymru (in the form of Mat Mathias) opening the score for the Assembly team in Saturday's big game against the Commons and Lords Parliamentary team. Supported by the Welsh Conservatives (in the form of AM Glyn Davies) and the Lib Dems (in the form of Andrew Sherwood) - together with Simon from Members Research to ensure that the ball is grounded in accordance with standing orders! There was no stopping them. Just preparing for May 4th.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Electoral Commission v Powys County Council

I have already posted on this row between the National Assembly and the Electoral Commission on the one hand, and Powys County Council on the other. The Assembly Presiding Officer and the Electoral Commission jointly sent a strongly worded letter to the Chair of Powys asking that the decision to refuse to promote the Assembly Election, taken by the officers of the Council be reversed, explaining that only Powys of the 22 councils in Wales had refused. It seems that Michael Jones, the Chair responded by saying that Conwy and Gwynnedd had also taken the same line, and that the council couldn't afford it anyway (though I have not seen a copy of the letter).
I have now seen a copy of the Electoral Commission's response to this letter. It is fairly obvious to me that the Electoral Commission does not fully accept the Council's version of events and are 'tamping mad' about the Powys attitude. I publish this letter below. You can judge for yourself.

And a big thank you to The Pool Card Company.

The paragraph that interests me is the first. The Electoral Commission did not 'publicise any previous correspondence to the media'. They sent me a copy and I published it - on this blog. And now that I have individuals who work for Powys, telephoning me about things that the Council wants to keep secret, I can see this blog being kept increasingly busy !

Dear Councillor Jones,

Thank you for your letter dated 12 March.

Firstly, may I clarify that the electoral Commission did not publicise any previous correspondence or any additional information related to the distribution of the leaflet in question to any section of the media.

It may help if I give some further background about the issue of the distribution of the information leaflet. The Commission held a series of briefing sessions with electoral administrators across Wales to discuss a number of issues related to the upcoming elections to the National Assembly for Wales. Powys County Council were represented at the session in Swansea on 5th December 2006. At this session the proposed information leaflet was discussed, with attendees being advised that the Electoral Commission and the National Assembly for Wales would be responsible for the design and production element. Local Authorities were asked to take responsibility for the distribution of the leaflet (not including costs), in the most effective manner, to every household in Wales. This would be consistent with the new statutory duty of local election officers, under the Electoral Administration Act 2006, "to encourage the participation by electors in the election process", including at elections to the National Assembly.

The Commission followed up the briefing sessions with correspondence providing additional details about the leaflet, so that individual local authorities could plan for distribution.

We were advised by Powys County Council officers, however that they were unable to arrange for distribution. All other Local Authorities in Wales agreed to make arrangements to distribute the leaflet by various means, including the local authorities of Conwy and Gwynedd.

I am pleased to say that a local distribution firm in Powys (The Pool Card in Welshpool), having heard a report regarding this situation on a local radio station, has come forward and offered their help in the delivery of the resource. Commission staff are now dealing with this company in ensuring that each household in the county will receive a copy of the leaflet.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

Yours sincerely, Glyn Mathias, Electoral Commissioner

I was there.

Truly great game. Apologies to the WRU. I was so excited after the first 15 minutes, I broke my seat. I think it was Gate 310, Row 20, Seat 22, if they want to fix it. I hadn't seen Wales play like that since the 70s. If they had kept that up, we would have scored 50. I had to buy my ticket for a change, and was in the lower seats. Not so good a view as from a hospitality box of course, but surrounded by genuine fans. It really was one hell of an atmosphere.

The wonder boy, Hook was exactly that. Apart from the middle of the second half, when we lost some lineouts and the bounce of the ball seemed to go against us, we totally destroyed England, especially up front. A lot more 'grunt'. The back row were awesome - across the gain line every time. Where has Ryan Jones been for the rest of this season? And the front five were great too. It was something else to see the England pack on the back foot. Bring on the All Blacks. If Carter and Macaw are injured, I reckon we could have a chance in a hundred of nicking a result. And we Tories could win 31 seats on May 3rd.

And to cap it all, the Assembly team beat the House of Commons and Lords Parliamentary team on the Glamorgan Wanderers ground at midday. We had a damn good team out. I'd no idea what to expect, because we just emailed all the Assembly staff to see who fancied a game. All these young lads turned up - fit as fleas. And we had a stand-off named James, who was not far short of Hook's standard. I missed two gold plated try scoring opportunities. 30 years ago I used to suffer from 'red mist' whenever the line was in sight, which meant either try or penalty (and maybe the bin these days) but now I seem to suffer 'white line fever'. Deeply grateful to 'dancing feet' Dai Lloyd on the wing for putting one down even more dramatically - thus diverting flak from me. Son Tim was watching, and so thankful I didn't score. Would have talked of nothing else for the next few months.

A special word for Wyre Davies, who 'guested' for us at scrum half. Can you see anyone else reporting on a six nations game for the BBC at 5.30, turning out for a serious 'fun game' at midday. He's a top bloke, as well as a top reporter. And I'd better mention that Matt Mathias scored our opening try after 40 seconds. For the record we won by about 35 - 25, and raised best part of £1000 for Bowel Cancer UK. It was a special day all round.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Big Game

All roads lead to Cardiff today. There's a big game on at 12.00. And it coincides with a six nations game at the Millenium Stadium, later in the day - so expect traffic problems from 11.00 onwards. The 'big' game is at the Glamorgan Wanderers ground. A National Assembly XV is taking on The Commons and Lords Parliamentary XV.

I arranged to meet a few of their boys at the St David's Hotel last night. Did I say 'boys'. They were great hunks of men with bulging shirts and bull necks. (Luckily not all the bulging was in is the right place!) And they growled like annoyed rottweilers when they found out that the St David's doesn't sell beer on draught. They've even got someone from HQ playing in the 2nd row - a giant named Alex Murphy. Max Boyce would be impressed. And rumour has it that Jason Leonard is 'guesting' for them. The plan will have to be 'soften him up' early on.

No choice but play the 'Welsh Way'. Look to Alun Cairns to 'hook' quick ball and spin it out to our fleet-footed fliers on the wings, Dai Lloyd and Rhodri Glyn. And I did take the precaution of buying a couple of drinks for the ref, David Rose, who was down in the city last night getting a feel of things, as international refs do these days. I was advised that this is a good ploy by an Irishman.

Ah well, its 10.30. Can't put it off any longer. Onwards into battle. As Cap't Oates might have said , "this could be my last post for some time".

Friday, March 16, 2007

Hot Air on Dragon's Eye

Dragon's Eye looked at carbon emission reduction targets last night. As it happens , we had discussed the same issue in EPC Committee on Wed morning - when I caused a few sharp intakes of breath when I said that I had some sympathy for Rhodri Morgan's position. But it is only a smidgen of sympathy. I disagree with a lot more than I agree with.

Rhodri and Carwyn Jones, who was on last night's show do not want any specific Wales targets for emission reductions. Carwyn keeps on banging on about something called 'levers of power'. I haven't heard Rhodri mention these things yet - but I'm sure its only a matter of time. Carwyn keeps on saying that these 'levers' are all confined to London, where he can't get at them. So, according to Carwyn, since he has no 'levers' he is not willing to have any targets.

Alun Ffred and Mick Bates looked less than convincing to me. They said a lot more than Brynle, but made less sense. And this is where I agree with Rhodri. I could be out on a bit of a limb here but I am not at all sure about annual 3% reduction targets. I am in favour of short term 'rolling' emission reduction targets (probably annual) but they have got to be independently set at an achievable level - or they will have no integrity and be ignored. And I do not think it is realistic to have the same reduction targets in every part of the UK - because it depends on so many regional factors. I know that simplistic demands are easiest to communicate but we must have targets that are 'tough but achievable'. They just won't work otherwise.

I just loved Mike German's joke about the Welshman with one tooth being known as 'Dai Central Eating'. Its as old as the Cambrian Mountains but I've never heard it told quite like that before. And its probably the first time I've laughed at it. I hope Mike will repeat his joke in the Chamber for us - as long as he explains the joke to us all afterwards. That's the bit I enjoyed.

What's an AM worth

Just had the new pay rates for next year.

An Assembly Members salary from 01/04/07 will be £46,496

AMs who are also MPs or MEPs £61,995

First minister £123,392

Presiding Officer £86,435

Leader of largest party not represented in Cabinet £86,435

Deputy Presiding Officer £71,617

Chairs of subject and audit committees £52,315

If you think your politicians are paid too much (or too little) let me know.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Curtain Comes Down

My last Environment, Planing and Countryside Committee this week. I've really enjoyed being Chair of the Assembly's 'countryside' committee - a job I've done for about 5 years of the Cynulliad's 8 year's existance. I'll miss it.

Now, its on to the campaign trail - hoping to persuade the voters to favour the Conservatives with their support. And I hope to be back in Cardiff Bay on May 4th, trying to wangle myself a decent job of some sort. Perhaps there will be another committee to chair.
I like being an AM - though I read somewhere in the blogosphere (Arse-embly I think it was) that I would like to move to 'another place'. How the hell does he know? Mind you, I have to admit I wouldn't mind taking the errmine. I could spend some time with the brilliant Cobra beer entrepreneur, Lord Bilimora, who was so impressive when he spoke at the Cardiff Business Club this week - and my old friends David Rowe-Beddoe, David Hunt, Brian Griffith and Peter Walker. Oh, what it is to dream!

Now lets get back to the real world. 'Dau o'r Bae' and 'Call to Order' tomorrow, carrying the Assembly's honour onto the Glamorgan Wanderers Rugby ground on Saturday and stacks of meetings all next week, including food with Tory star, Cheryl Gillan in Cardiff, with top Tory man, David Liddington in Llandrindod and top Tory woman, Caroline Spellman in Montgomeryshire. Plus two rivetting afternoons in the chamber.

Tir Mynydd Again - Another Fog Blog

I was just moidering about what I might say in the big debate on Tir Mynydd, which is due before AMs head off to plead for votes, when my own business' Tir Mynydd payment arrived in the post. Its £3684.44 before anyone named anonymous asks. It seems that I will not have to open the debate on behalf of the EPC Committee - so I'll be freer to say what I think.

Its been one of the most difficult issues for me to handle as a Committee chair. The most difficult was when I was charged with coming up with a Committee opinion on 'hunting with dogs' a few years ago, when both Peter Pogers and Ron Davies were both Committee members. Peter and Ron were entirely reasonable and I came within a whisker of pulling off the impossible. But there was some playing of 'silly b*****s' at the death and I had to scrap the whole venture. Who knows what would have happened if we had succeeded - and it was the pro- hunting side which b*****ed it. Really shot themselves in the foot.

But back to Tir Mynydd. I've admired the Minister's straight and upfrontness about his intention to cut the budget. I have also admired Elin Jones doggedness in taking on the Minister and his back-up team of officials. And a special mention for Mick Bates (now this isn't easy for me you understand) and Brynle Williams for not confusing the position by backing Elin in a quiet, determined way. The Assembly performs well when there is genuinely expressed disagreement. I daresay there will be some rubbish in the Plenary debate though. Hope not.

I will back the reprioritisation of the Minister's budget and support the increase in the Tir Mynydd budget line, despite the negative impact on current agri-environment schemes. However, I will want to link my support to a future review of the nature of the scheme. I am committed to channelling farm support through the agri-environment route. I will stand by my promises to do all I can to return the budget line for Tir Mynydd to the £36 million it used to be - but the only way this can be done is if Tir Mynydd itself becomes, at least in part, an agri-environment scheme itself, rather than a wholly compensatory scheme. There is an election in 49 days - and I'm only going to say what I would be prepared to deliver.

Scrums For Bums

I rarely talk about bowel cancer in my public life - even if I'm much involved outside public view. Don't want the word 'Cancer' to flash up whenever I speak. If its one thing I can't cope with its sympathy! Anyway its over 4 years since my body was redesigned on the operating table. I consider myself 100% recovered.

But my work on 'awareness raising' left me with no choice but to contribute to the 'Cancer Services' debate in the Assembly this week. If I hadn't, bowel cancer wouldn't have got a mention.

Around 2000 people in Wales go down with bowel cancer every year - and around 600 die. Its a major killer. And the thing about the disease is that it is curable - if caught early enough. I was bloody lucky. The tumour was so low down that it made its presence known to me at an early stage - even though I went through the usual few months of denial. The upshot of this was that I underwent some radical surgery and now have a permanent colostomy - but the diseased bit was chopped away and carted off to the incinerator before it had spread to the liver, etc.. So I'm alive and no chemo - and back to captaining the Assembly rugby team which is taking on the Houses of Commons and Lords in Cardiff on Saturday. The press release which has gone out from Bowel Cancer UK rather indelicatly refers to Saturday's 'Scrums for Bums'. I just hope no-one gets the wrong idea about the game!

So you can see why I had to raise the issue of screening this week. It is incredible to me that everyone over 50, especially where there is a family history isn't screened in some way. Screening would save lives and save money in the long run. I've always found the reason for not screening to be illogical as well as cruel. Apparently, its expected that so many tumours would be found that there is not enough capacity to deal with them all. Another way of putting this is that tumours are being left until the patients discover them for themselves - when it will spread to other organs and be too late for a full recovery. This doesn't make any sense at all. I am pleased to report that the Health Minister's response was encouraging. Brian Gibbons is a doctor himself - so he knows it makes sense.

The 'Scrums for Bums' game is kicking off at 12.00 at the Glamorgan Wanderers ground. £3.oo entry fee.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Benefit of Hindsight.

I see that the 'hindsight' critics are at it again. This time its the LG inward investment project in Newport, that went belly-up a few years ago. Well, I'm not joining in. As far as I can see it was a perfectly reasonable investment decision to make. The chance of 6000 new jobs was worth some element of risk.

The project emerged after I left the WDA, so I have no background knowledge of it, except that I know how much competition there would have been for the project. I also know that there was no reason to think the market would collapse as it did, leaving the Korean investment so exposed. Lucky Goldstar was a blue chip company, who would have known better than anyone the state of the market. Sometimes these things just happen.

The Auditor's report is as good as could have been expected. The idea that a project like this one could have been cast iron safe is unreal. And the same thing would apply to a big inward investment today. Whether the Assembly Government would be entrepreneurial enough to take the sort of chance that would be needed to pull off a big deal is a question that only time will answer.

I will not criticise initiative - even when there might be some opportunistic advantage available. A few months ago, some opposition AMs were trying to embarrass the Labour Government when Dairygold shut up shop in Ceredigion after receiving Government grants. I didn't join in. There will never be any investment in Ceredigion without some risk - and some opportunity for the 'hindsight merchants' to criticise.

So, I say to the Assembly Government "Be willing to take risk, but make sure it is calculated risk - and don't be too frightened of the auditor's backlash. It is only those who achieve nothing at all who will remain immune from the auditor's criticism.

Lib Dems at War

Last week, I caused Lembit Opik to have a strop by, in some innocence, suggesting that all the publicity that has engulfed his private life might have caused former Lib Dem supporters in Montgomeryshire to switch to us. Even I (with no innocence at all) would not have gone as far as the Party's Chair in Montgomeryshire did in the Western Mail this week. It seems that I understated the position. It looks as if the Lib Dems are at war. I wonder how many fingers Mick Bates is using to express his opinion of all this.

I'm told that Lembit made a decent speech at the Lib Dem conference over the weekend - but the only press coverage I've seen was Martin Shipton's interview with the Montg. Chair about his private life. I wouldn't mind being a fly on the wall when Mick is next discussing his campaign strategy with Lembit and the local committee.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Big Week on tax policy coming up.

I'm a touch nervous about posting about tax policy - party because its not a devolved matter and partly because its such a politically 'hot' subject. But it cannot any longer be avoided. We are beginning to hear messages coming from on high - like a tax regime which gives greater support to the family and a tax switch to influence environment policy. Today's Telegraph goes into some detail on the latter.

I agree with both these policy positions, even if I do think we must present our support for the family, without a moralistic tone - concentrating our arguments on supporting a stable environment for children to be brought up in. The statistics seem to back this approach. Unless we make every effort not to be judgemental about how individuals choose to live their lives, we will be criticised. The environment tax switch is a massive political issue for us, and this is a big week, as George Osbourne outlines some of his thinking and the Climate Change Bill is published.

I cannot resist a slightly tongue in cheek linkage between marriage and environment policy. Or divorce rather than marriage. According to Marc Barker in today's Wales on Sunday, a Welsh company, Quickie Divorce UK based in Bridgend can disunite the unhappy couple for just £40. Assuming the couple move into separate houses, they would qualify for 2 lots of £20's worth of free low energy light bulbs if the Tories win May's Asembly election. What's the betting some wag starts mocking our 'divorce for free' manifesto.

King of the Political Gaffes

Heard this morning that Boris Johnson has fought off strong challenges from Lembit Opik and John Presscott for 5 Live's title of most gaffe prone MP. I'm starting to feel a bit sorry for Lembit. He doesn't even win when he deserves to. And blow me if he didn't make another serious gaffe on the Politics Show today - at least it would have been a serious gaffe if I'd said it.

Adrian Masters was poking into Lembit's private/public life again, when our man said "My relationship with Gabriela is nothing like as important as the relationship between the Liberal Democrats and the environment". One can only hope that Gabriela's mother didn't hear that. I can see what he meant - but I'd tread a bit careful next time he meets her.

Mind you, I can talk when it comes to 'gaffes'. Last week I referred to Her Majesty the Queen as a prostitute on my Welsh Language blog. I was posting about Rhodri being late to meet Her Majesty. The Welsh word for late is 'hwyr' - while the Welsh word for prostitute is 'hwr'. The Welsh word for embarrassment is 'embaras'.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Woe is Wales

Arrived home just in time to see Wales take on the Azzurri at Stadio Flaminio. From political elation to rugby depression in 80 minutes - less 10 seconds or so. And it wasn't as if Italy didn't deserve it.

I know there were some ifs and buts. There was the blatant off-the-ball tackle on Kevin Morgan when he was looking to take a try scoring pass from Mark Jones (what was the linesman doing?). There was the disgraceful assault on Stephen Jones by Bergamasco - for which he will inevitably and rightly be banned from the game, hopeful for a long time. He should have been red carded. And then there was the utterly bizarre misunderstanding with the ref at the final whistle which cost us the draw.

But none of this counters the fact that the Italians dominated possession and territory, were parked on the Welsh line for what seemed like hours and simply deprived us of the ball for most of the game. You can't play rugby without the ball. And they even showed some invention behind the scrum as well. This season, Italy are a team that take some beating - and that is terrific for the Six Nations. I just wish they had waited one more game before showing the world what they can do.

What is Victory?

Peter Hain and Rhodri Morgan are 'The Absolute Pits'. Both men will have legacies polluted by the deeply partisan changes they have introduced into May's Assembly election rules. Their reputations deserve nothing less. Both men may be genial by temperament - but both are willing to corrupt the political process for their own advantage. It makes my blood boil. I really hope that Rhodri is forced to resign on May 4th - and I really hope that Peter comes last in the Labour Deputy Leadership election. They deserve nothing less. I will never forgive them for the ban on dual candidacy for the Assembly election that they forced through as part of the Government of Wales Act. And the electors of Wales would be totally disgusted if they understood what these two men have done. A future Conservative Government must surely reverse this vile rule.

Labour's fiddled rules mean that I will be campaigning for the next six weeks to bring about my own removal from the National Assembly. As will fellow Conservative AMs, Mark Isherwood, Brynle Williams, Nick Bourne, Lisa Francis, Alun Cairns, David Melding, William Graham and Laura Jones. And we will all campaign flat-out, because we are committed to the party. No doubt, all this will cause much mirth when Rhodri and Peter sit down for a chat together. Well, I just hope the coffee goes down the wrong way.

The fact that hardly anyone knows what these two election fiddlers have done really came home to me today. I went to a fundraiser at the new home of Simon and Maggie Baynes in Montgomeryshire for our local association. It was the best function we have ever put on. So good in fact that I really believe we can win Montgomeryshire first-past-the-post. Dan Munford is a top class candidate, there is terrific back-up and a sense of momentum that I have never seen before.

Now, I get carried away by these things. But my wife thinks more clearly than I do. As I'm enthusing about our prospects as driving home , she said "You do realise that if Dan wins, you lose". I replied "Yes, but I don't think anyone else does - and it would be rather novel if my political career was ended by victory". And much as I enjoy my job, I will do all I can to ensure that it does. But it simply cannot be right.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Way of the World

Just had another Council snippet passed on to me. It seems that an elderly lady (in her 90s) set fire to a few cuttings in her garden this week, as she does every spring as a precurser to tidying up for the summer. This year, the wee fire had been burning for about 10 minutes when the Council van came racing down her drive. It was the Environmental Health Officer (or was it the Health and Safety Officer?). "You cannot light a fire in your garden ma'am. You are causing a nuisance." After realising how utterly bizarre he must have seemed, I'm told that the man in the van rather sheepishly advised the elderly lady to set fire to her cuttings on Nov 5th. so that no-one would notice. Hard to make it up. And this is definitely true.

Even worse, Mr Arthur Bulmer, aged 79, wanted to clear his garden of sand which had blown onto it from the next door beach. He was just going to put it back. But NO. The man from the council (Fylde Council this time) said that tranferring anything from his garden onto the beach would constitute flytipping under the Neighbourhoods and Environment Act. Mr Bulmer will now need to contact a specialist waste disposal team at a cost of £500 I feel a bit guilty about this, because we have been passing regulations concerning this piece of legislation in the National Assembly. I hope I don't owe Mr Bulmer an apology.

'Double' Top Man at Powys County Council?

Heard an interesting story today about Mark Kerr, Chief Exec of Powys County Council - a man for whom I have a lot of time. Regret to say it is single-sourced and I haven't seen the evidence for myself - so cannot be sure that its true. Rings true though - so I'll blog it.

Now Mark Kerr is an interesting man - not your conventional Chief Exec. None the worse for that. He seems decisive and straight talking. But I have always wondered how a man who reached the very top in the Royal Navy would cope with the frustrations of Committees and councillor's sometimes parochial demands. The question is "Have I found out".

For some reason Council staff (and ex-staff) have begun ringing me up with interesting snippets of information. My latest source tells me that the Chief Exec has A4 size photographs of all the councillors on a wall in his house - and he throws darts at them when the mood takes him. I have no information about which photographs have the most dart holes in them - or whether AMs are in the target gallery. I will ask him the next time I see him. I hope this story is true. I'd like it to be. I think every Chief Exec should do the same.

Patrick Mercer had to go

Just off to do an interview for Dau o'r Bae about the sacking of Patrick Mercer. I was really sorry about this because I've always thought of Patrick as being a decent man. I had a coffee with him when he was in the Assembly sometime last year. I still do not believe that he is in any way racist. But David Cameron was right to sack him. In fact, he had no choice.

I accept it may be possible to read Patrick's comments in a entirely non-racist way - but context is all. His comments sounded racist. They caused great embarrassment and damage to his party because of how they sounded. And he would have to have gone in the end. We've all got to be careful about language, ensuring that it doesn't cause offence. David Cameron did what he had to do, with decisiveness

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Firm Grip on the Law

I've been there. I've yowled in pain. I've walked funny after the experience. Yes, I know what it feels like to have my testicles nestled in the hand of someone trying to crush then into pulp. And it was a man's hand, with the fingernails driven inwards by a man's muscles. And I suspect every other rugby forward could relate a similar happening. Paul Gascoigne's contorted face when his testicles were receiving 'undue' attention from Vinnie Jones is one of the most enduring images of the 20th century.

So I have some sympathy for Pc Anthony Mulhall, who recently reacted with force when Ms Toni Comer tried to grab 'handfuls' of his genitals after being ejected from a Sheffield nightclub. He also claims that she tried to kick him in the same general area, which makes my eyes water just thinking about it. There was a suggestion on a 5 Live phone-in this morning that a drunken woman has the power of 7 elephants. The question to be decided is whether the force used by Pc Mulhall was 'undue force'.

I will await the inquiry before committing myself to a judgement on the case, but the next time I go to a Sheffield nightclub, I want my colleague, David Davies to come with me - fully armed with his extended baton and Taser gun. I'm not taking any chances.

Brunstrom at war with Labour

Hot debate in the Assembly this week was about the cost of policing in North Wales. Its not an easy issue. Big Council Tax increases v effective policing. The Labour Government wanted to limit any precept increase to 5% while the North Wales Police Authority had set its precept increase at 6.75%. There was a decent argument for both sides. The precept in North Wales is already £167, while in neighbouring Cheshire its only £108. But the Government lost by one vote. So up goes the Council Tax. The PR 'spinners' will be busy in North Wales this weekend, fighting to win the 'blame game'.

What struck me was the anti-Richard Brunstrom 'tone' pouring forth from the Labour seats. He may be a bit 'colourful' for some, but Brunstrom is the Chief Constable - and at the moment, he is at war with Labour in Wales. Ann Jones, Vale of Clwyd, publicly demanded an apology from him - and there was plenty more barely disguised antipathy. This is dangerous stuff.

Only light moment in the debate was when Ann Jones told David Davies AM/MP where to stick his extendable baton. Don't ask.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Turn Again Lembit, Lord Mayor of London

Hello, the Lib Dems are advertising for a London Mayoral Election candidate. Surprise, surprise. Whose name pops up. Step forward, Lembit Opik. The Shropshire Star reports that Lembit is unlikely to throw his hat into the ring. I rather hope that he changes his mind. It might stop him being so 'crousty'. Whatever happened to 'Fun Guy Lem'.

Last week, I was asked by Golwg's lively reporter, Carwyn Fowler how I thought we would get on in Montgomeryshire next May. I said that we might win. We cut the majority last time from 5700 to 2300. Our candidate, Dan Munford is a class act. And I added, in passing, that all the publicity about Lem's private life would probably have helped us as well. Blindingly bl***y obvious. Thought nothing of it. But No. Lembit went ballistic. Launched in so far that Carwyn offered me the right of response. So I just repeated what I'd said.

Perhaps Lembit had sat on a thistle. Perhaps, the rumours about his local association's unhappiness with him are true after all. Perhaps Sian Lloyd is going to stand against him at the next election. There's certainly something 'bugging' him.

So "Turn again, Lembit. Get back in the public eye. Get out the leathers, the Honda 500, the harmonica and take to the streets of London Town. We Tories will look after Montgomeryshire when your mind is on other things. You might even find your sense of proportion and humour when you're back on the telly again.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Powys going for a Low Turn-out

I've just had a copy of a letter sent by Presiding Officer, Dafydd Elis-Thomas and Glyn Mathias, Electoral Commissioner for Wales to the Leader of Powys County Council. It reads

Dear Councillor,
You may be aware that we wrote to all returning officers in Wales recently requesting their support and co-operation in the distribution of a leaflet jointly produced by the National Assembly for Wales and the Electoral Commission, copy attached. Our intention is that the leaflet informing the electorate about the new
powers of the Assembly and the importance of registering and voting in the May 2007 Assembly election, should be distributed to all households on Wales.

I am pleased to report that we have received a positive response from 21 of the 22 local authorities. In the case of Powys however, council officials have taken the view that they are unable to allocate any resources to this work.

Clearly, this is very disappointing and may mean that Powys constituents will be disadvantaged. We therefore hope that, in your position as Chair of the Powys Board, you will give the matter your consideration with a view to your providing us with a more positive response.

We are copying this letter to all Powys Assembly Members, knowing that they will have an interest.

What on earth is going on at Powys? I want to be as supportive as I can, but the Council seems to be losing its way on an increasing number of issues. The National Assembly elections are crucial to Mid Wales. I have been arguing for all I am worth to raise the profile of Mid Wales issues in the National Assembly - but it seems that the Council don't really care a lot. I hope that the Leader of the Council will reverse this short-sighted decision by the Council officers.

Brynle re-profiling Wales

My colleague, Brynle Williams has just told the First Minsiter that there is "Considerable downward pressure on upland farms". The obvious question is at what stage do they become lowland farms. Brynle was making the important point that the upland farming scheme, Tir Mynnydd is important to hill arms in Wales in his own inimitable way

Cameron on form in Cardiff

From the second he walked onto the stage, David Cameron took complete control of the Conference Hall. He looked as if he was enjoying himself. And his enjoyment was infectious. What I really liked was his concentration on the speech. We didn’t have the artificial ‘pressing of the audience participation buttons’ that I intensely dislike – and there was none of the ‘look at me, am I not wonderful’ stuff at the end. Cameron doesn’t need any of this to make his impact. We have a star leading us to the Promised Land.

Have to admit that I’m a touch worried though. I entirely agreed with Cameron’s message. It was rather a good feeling to be in agreement with all that my leader was saying – about public services, about tax, even about marriage where he tackled a seriously risky subject in a sensitive but forceful way.

But hang on a minute Glyn. How can this be? I have always thought of myself as being on the ‘wimpish’ side of the Party. And there I was walking out of the Hall, listening to my good friend and colleague the very un-wimpish David Davies, AM/MP, eulogising about the speech content. And today, we have Melanie Philips in the Daily Mail doing the same. If Simon Heffer joins in, I’m going to read the speech again to make sure I wasn’t just star struck and missed the real message. After Melanie’s comments, I am very nervous that Peter Hitchens will do some damage to the Cameron revival by saying something supportive. No, this can never happen. I’m worrying too much.

It is a pig of a job though. Immediately after the speech David had to do a ‘Photo with Candidates’ session. Must have been 100 photos in 10 minutes. I know what its like because I have presented various prizes and certificates in the past (I once presented a trophy to Michael Owen when Liverpool under 12’s won a football tournament see ‘Name them’ Blog of 27 Feb) – and it is difficult to prevent the individuals merging into what seems a never ending amorphous line (though I’m not sure what amorphous means). And then facing up to the best of Welsh media looking to trip him up, and then back to his helicopter – no doubt to cook a late Sunday lunch for the family. And blow me if the UK news didn’t pick on the helicopter thing, despite the fact that he couldn’t have come at all without it. We demand too much of our leaders.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Two sporting stars

Whenever I blog on sport, it is usually in awe of Nicole Cooke. She's done it again - and this time to the Australians in their own backyard. Earlier this week she won the tough Geelong Tour - the first non-Australian to do it. And then this weekend, she won the first round of this year's World Cup - taking on all the world's best and a thunderstorm as well The woman from Bridgend is Britain's shiniest sports star bar none.

And a special word for D M Leverock, a 20 stone + plumber from Bermuda. In today's Cricket World Cup warm-up between England and Bermuda, DM took 2 for 32 in 10 overs. This is Shane Warne territory. Apparently he had the number 99 on his back - which several spectators thought was sponsorship!! Its not as if they were not good wickets. He got Pieterson and Collingwood, two of our best.

Sorry Peter - but Ming's blown your cover.

I usually call on Peter Black's site whenever I'm on a blog trawl. Today's is an interesting read. Peter desperately trying to retro-write Ming's weekend invitation to Gordon Brown to give him a ring if there is a 'hung' parliament after the next General Election. For anyone who knows anything about political 'positioning', there was little doubt about what Ming has in mind. And I can understand why. David Cameron is grabbing Lib Dem territory like a hyperactive hymac and hoovering up Lib Dem votes like a rampant road sweeper.

Its the same in Wales. Just like Ming, Mike German is trying to wriggle out of the Lib's longstanding commitment to proportional representation. They both know that Labour will not touch PR with a bargepole. There's been a bit of speculation in the media about the Tories looking at including some reference to PR in the Assembly manifesto. Wouldn't it be something if Mike German wanted to do a deal with Rhodri next May, without any reference whatsoever to PR in local government in Wales - while both Plaid and the Tories were willing to move in the PR direction. I don't know if its in our manifesto (my story anyway) but it would be rather fun to watch Mike (and Peter and Kirsty) trying to squirm their way out of that little conundrum.

Sorry Peter - but Ming and his spin doctors seem to have blown your cover. You may have to talk to us after all!!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

After Dinner Jokes

Just home from the Conservative Conference Dinner. Michael Dobbs was the guest speaker. Jokes to share.

The Lady said to Mr Churchill, "If you were my husband, I would put poison in your coffee". Mr Churchill replied, " If you were my wife I would drink it".

An elderly couple sitting quietly in front of the fire, when she suddenly smacked him across the face, saying "That is for being such a lousy lover over the last few years". After a few minutes, he smacked her across the face saying, "And thats for knowing".

Lets hear it for Whistleblowers.

Powys County Council is on the hunt for a whistleblower. I hope this public spirited person remains uncovered. The story, so far.

Last week the County Council discovered that it had not carried out CRB checks on 44 staff - as it is required to do. Instead of making a public statement about this shocking failure in its systems, the Council decided to keep the matter secret. This was a bad mistake - and the Council is lucky that someone blew the whistle about what was going on before too much damage was done.

Then we heard that the Council went into overdrive to deal with the problem - but not about the failure to make CRB checks. Oh no. What sent the Council into a frenzy of activity was the leak. A formal inquiry has been set up. Aside from its inappropriateness, I wonder what this is going to cost Council Tax payers.

Such shady behaviour smacks of cover-up. And over the weekend, my concerns have been heightened by two telephone calls from recent employees of the Council who tell me that they were not checked when they should have been - and that the Council has not yet given us the full story. I have no way of knowing what has really been going on - but I have to report that my two new whistleblowers sounded highly plauseable to me.

But what was really scary was that both told me that they were afraid to give me their names because they were afraid of being victimised by the Council. I'm afraid that this whistleblower inquiry rather justifies the fear in my callers voices. This situation does not look good.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Milgi - a Good Restaurant.

Always on the lookout for a new restaurant in the Cardiff area - especially away from the Bay. Went to Milgi this week, out on City Road, behind the University. There is a real 'buzz' about the place and I'll be recommending it. Though I do have to admit its a bit 'young' for me. The main course was top quality. Milgi hasn't been open long and its run by two young women from Aberystwyth, who have brought some of the 'Welsh' ambiance of the Harbourmaster at Aberaeron with them to Cardiff. I recommend that my visitors give it a go.

Unusually, the local taxi driver who took us to Milgi was interested in politics - and seemed to have Conservative leanings. Didn't tell him who I was, but did ask how he thought the Tories were doing. "Doing well", he said "but I'd never vote for that Cameron fella because he wants to bring back hunting". I just slunk off like a wounded fox. Good job Milgi was so good.

New Lamps for Old

Close thing. Just managed to go through the re-cycling box before it went out. Found two dirty old 40 watt 'incandescent' light bulbs, which my wife had swapped for some brighter 60 watt replacements. My wife thought that I'd finally lost it.

"These will be worth money if we win the Election", I announced. "I've just read about Nick Bourne's manifesto committment to offer new energy saving light bulbs in exchange for any old 'incandescent' light bulbs that work". I know its only up to a value of £20 - but I still have hill sheep farmer's blood running through my veins. £20 is £20. That's a lot of bulbs in old money. Montgomeryshire is next door to Ceredigion. I will have my old bulbs ready on May 4th.

Scott Quinnell is a very Big Man.

High point of the week for me, (and by a long mile) was listening to Scott Quinnell telling us about his dyslexia experiences. This mountain of a man, still only 34 years old and looking as fit as a flea was standing before us in the old Assembly Debating Chamber. He was telling us how he used to cry after school every day because he couldn't read and write. As he was speaking, I could see standing in front of me, this pathetic little schoolboy. The emotion in the man reached me - and for a minute or two, he looked just like a vulnerable little kid. But, in truth, Scott Quinnell is one of the biggest men I have ever met - in every way.

Scott has been through a new programme deveoloped by Wynford Dore, which helps dyslexic people and has changed his life. And it has changed his children's lives as well. I heard a man who has lived my dream on the rugby field, telling us that the thrill he now gets from being able to read a book, matches anything else in his life. Its rare for a hard nosed old 'seen-it-all' like me to be stunned into a state of complete admiration - but Scott Quinnell managed it this week. I learned more about dyslexia in one rather unstuctured speech than I ever would from any textbook.

During his Dore course, Scott discovered that he had defective balance. Can you believe it? One of Wales greatest ever forwards with 52 caps with no balance! I just sat there is wonderment at what sort of a player he would have been with balance. Probably the only back row man ever, better than Ritchie Macaw.

But I have to say that Alun Cairns (who arranged the event) and Scott Quinnell, walking across the Milling Area in animated conversation was funny - reminding me of one of those wildlife films where the elephant and her calf trot along together. But thanks Alun for making my week.