Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Change at Newtown Hospital

Met the new Chief Executive of the Powys Local Health Board yesterday. Honestly I did - just her and moi. Just a hastily arranged meeting to discuss an issue that I considered important. Bit of a 'first' this. In the past, my 'avenue' has been an invitation to HQ at Bronllys which involved all politicians of all parties going along to receive a prepared presentation. This new 'open' approach endears Judith Paget to me, and will endear her to the people of Powys as well. And of course, the one sure way of stopping me and my ilk from posting aggressively, digging around to find out what's going on. She's no fool either. I'm already a fan of the new Chief Executive - which does not mean that I'm always going to agree with her though!

Back to the issue. I'm told that after many decades, Newtown GPs are withdrawing their presence from Newtown Hospital. This involves creating a new minor injuries unit at the GP's surgery to replace that at the Hospital, and responsibility for the patients at the Hospital coming under the care of a consultant rather than the GPs themselves. The reason this is in the public domain, and that I feel that I can post on it, is that adverts have gone out for senior nursing staff to support the Hospital based consultant.

There is a lot of other stuff behind this decision as well, but it seems to me that the only concern we should have now is that the new arrangements work out OK for the people of Newtown who need treatment. The reason I decided to involve myself in this issue was that several people were telling me of their concern about what was happening to their Hospital - and inevitable believing it to be a threat to its continued existance. No reason whatsoever to think this is the case. But the people need reassurance. I hope that there will be some immediate strategy to explain what is going on and to reassure Montgomeryshire people that a proper emergency service will be retained.

Turbulence Ahead

Down in Cardiff Bay today 'sprotting' around for gossip (or searching for an insight into political developments in Wales). Bit like calling at the churchyard in Llanerfyl, where half of my ancestors are buried, in that it brings back memories of something I used to do. Yes, I do miss it. Anyway, I stopped off at Starbuck's and had a chat with John Toshack, who looked in serious relax mode, having a coffee and reading the sports pages of the Sun. I 'spotted' him despite his dark glasses and decided to tell him that I approved of his 'Victorian' attitudes towards pampered footballers. This was in my mind after reading the outrageous comments made by Mike Catt and Lawrence Dallallio about England's rugby coach, who only got them to the World Cup final. And I have no time either for the rubbish that Gareth Thomas has written in his book. I'm an old fashioned Tory who believes that managers should manage, and players should play.

Back to the serious stuff. I'm still reeling from the full realisation that a huge row between the Assembly and Westminster about powers is now inevitable - and its the Conservatives who are instigating it. Jonathon Morgan's Legislative Competence Order, which effectively transfers responsibility for mental health to the Assembly is a real big deal. What we have is all 60 Assembly Members supporting a proposition that the National Assembly should be able to legislate on anything whatsoever to do with mental health. Our MPs will not have expected this sort of thing flowing out of the Government of wales Act. They will have been expecting some specific issue in the mental health field - not the whole b***dy shooting match. If 'Mental Health', why not 'Broadcasting' or 'Policing'. Who needs a referendum on law making powers if we can deliver it by LCOs? I see some serious turbulence on the way.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Heiniken Man

I may have moved on to Sancerre over the last few years, but I was rather pleased to read Martin Shipton's article in today's Western Mail referring to moi as possibly having the Heiniken factor in the debate about law making powers for the National Assembly for Wales. It seems that Martin thinks I might be able to reach some of those who are not engaged with the devolution debate. Could be. Mind you, I wouldn't pin my bonus on transforming David Davies, MP for Monmouth into a doe-eyed devolutionary!

Trust Martin to do something like that. There's me openly questioning what role there is for this recently announced Convention, the general aim of which is to 'prepare the ground' for a referendum on law making powers in 2011 - when he writes an article suggesting that I should be a member of it. It seems that my strength would be that I have always had respect for the views of those who describe themselves as devo-sceptics (respectful disagreement that is) and could engage them in debate. I see what he's getting at. Now, I have no idea whether there is any chance of being involved in this Convention - but it was rather nice to see myself lined up in Martin's 'Gallery of Possibles' which included Sue Essex, best Assembly Member that there has been, and the soon to be ennobled Dafydd Wigley.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Twas Free Prescriptions what done it.

The slumbering giant that is England is on the move. Until this month the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament were but mere irritants. As Ken Stephens, one of my readers might say, they were no more than two teenagers who had left home, with possibly a bit more cash than mother thought they should have, not spending their money as mother would like. And this would have rumbled on - if the little Scottish one hadn't decided to rub mother's nose in it.

Free prescriptions in Wales - stupid but at least they paid for it with longer waiting times for elective surgery. Their choice, daft b*****rs. Free personal care - annoying but manageable because most people don't quite grasp what this means. Especially annoying because mother would like this herself - but can't afford it. But free prescriptions in Scotland, blatantly populist and introduced by the dreaded 'Nats' turned out to be a step too far. The worm turned. The giant awoke and now its too late. Some sort of English devolved government is inevitable.

Peter Hain, part-time Secretary of State for Wales is much agitated by this turn of events - as his spin-driven Government loses control. One of the reasons I opposed devolution (before the people voted for it in Sept. 1997) was, in part, because of the constitutional instability it would create. Peter Hain and Gordon Brown may prefer that the West Lothian question not be asked - but the slumbering giant has awoken and is asking it. And today, Malcolm Rifkind has answered it.

Personally, I don't support the idea of an English Parliament. There is no reason why the MPs representing English constituencies should not sit as an 'English Parliament' or 'Grand Committee' on one day per week. There would be consequences. The National Assembly for Wales would assume the same powers as the Scottish Parliament - and the number of Welsh MPs would be reduced from 40 to 26. This reduction in numbers was Conservative policy at the last General Election. I remember Michael Howard telephoning me at home to tell me about it personally. I told him that I supported it then. Of course, this would remove at a stroke, the unjustified electoral advantage that Labour enjoys because of the over-representation at Westminster from Scotland and Wales. Its no wonder Labour are squirming. Just deserts I'd say.

Convention for ?

We're still no wiser. There's this hugely important 'Convention' going to be created to 'prepare the ground' for a referendum on 5th May 2011 which will give the National Assembly law making powers - and no-one knows what its going to do. I see warning lights flashing.

We do know that Sir Emyr Jones Parry is going to chair it, and we all know that he was until recently the UK's Ambassador to the United Nations. So he is a really big fish. And we also know that those who want to see a No vote in the referendum have been rattled by the netting of such 'a good catch'. No-one looks more rattled than Peter Hain, as he tours the TV studios to rubbish the Convention.

Its a damn funny thing though - setting up this big Convention and not knowing what its job is. Even those of us who see a law making Assembly as the only logical, inevitable even, constitutional position for Wales, cannot fathom out its role. So far, the only purpose I can see is to engage with the devo sceptics, show some respect for their concerns and take the debate out to Monmouth, Pembrokeshire and the North Wales Coast where the Assembly is not well regarded. Supporters of a law making Assembly have a tendency to dismiss devo sceptics as if they are in some way anti Wales. Self defeating arrogance in my view. Last week's response to a much publicised challenging article by Stephen Crabb, MP for Presceli Pembs was a good example.

I must admit that I don't like the smell of this. It looks like a PR stunt to mark the 100 days of the Assembly Coalition Government - and not much else. Another 'today's headline' not thought through. Its in danger of turning into a shambles, with Sir Emyr walking away - unless Rhodri Morgan and Ieuan Wyn Jones can tell us what his job is.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Feed the Birds

I have a passion for wildlife. Its not based on the wet sentimentality that underpins modern man's attitudes. What I care about is what delivers overall benefit to the wild creatures we share our world with. That's why I enthusiastically support hunting foxes, fishing, pheasant shooting, deer stalking, culling grey squirrels etc. - even though I haven't been involved in any of these pastimes for more than 40 years. It's also why I have become involved with the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust. And its why I'm so horrified when I read about the projections of population increase for the UK over the next few years - which is devastatingly bleak news for our wildlife. Man is as blind as he is selfish.

Anyway I was pleased to see the RSPB launch its Homes for Wildlife scheme this week, advising us all to leave untidy patches in our gardens, particularly areas of long unkempt grass. The immaculate garden is bad news for birds, grubs, frogs snakes etc.. So next time you are under pressure from the spouse to stop watching the football and do something useful like tidy up the garden, just say that you have developed a passion for wildlife!

This week Mrs D put up all the bird feeders - a bit later than usual. I noted that the bill for peanuts, mixed seeds, fatballs, etc. was over £250. But its worth it. I never tire of watching the power eating of the nuthatches and greater spotteds - and we await the first visit from the little flock of long tailed tits that always pop in from time to time. Mrs D is hoping that siskins will return this year - there has already been a much greater influx of all the finches (including siskin) than usual into Southern England. There have also been Bewick swans, fieldfares and pink footed geese arriving much earlier than usual. All sure signs of a hard winter - so stop tidying and start feeding.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Creative Marketing

Travelodge has come up with a cracking new marketing strategy, aimed specifically at single women or WAGs whose partners are not paying them enough attention. They have issued a press release to the media, reporting that the number of men found sleepwalking while stark naked has increased sevenfold during the last year - to over 400 cases. Next time I suggest a Hilton weekend away, I fully expect Mrs D to suggest we save some money and book into a Travelodge instead.
Best comment on this remarkable change in Travelodge Man's behavior came from the company's 'Sleep Director' who said "We've put towels in the reception area. Its important that our staff know what to do when it arises".

Creative Thinking

On the last day of Creation, God crafted a wonderful new country, with beautiful mountains and rivers, populated by handsome men and lovely skittish women, all of whom sang and spoke in their own delightful language. God named this new land Wales.
St Peter, who had watched over this final act of creation asked "Are you not being too generous to this new land called Wales? Usually, you ensure that every land takes a share of the troubles of the world as well." A smile flickered across the lips of God as he responded "Just wait until you see the neighbours that I've given them!"

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Wind Farms and Nuclear Power.

Rhodri Morgan announced today that the Assembly Government is to lease land in its ownership for the construction of wind farms. The BBC contacted me (as President of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales) for comment, which led to an 'appearance' on the Richard Evans Programme. Also on was Gordon James of Friends of the Earth.

I agree with Gordon about most things but not on the subject of future energy generation. He is fully in support of maximising the construction of wind farms on the mountains of Rural Wales - and he is adamantly opposed to new nuclear generation under any circumstances. I think that he and the Assembly Government is wrong on both of these issues.

I accept that some wind farms could go ahead where Planning Authorities and local communities are in support - but I do not believe that wind farms are sufficiently efficient to justify the damage that large scale construction of them will inflict on the Welsh landscape. I have always been vehemently opposed to the Assembly Government's TAN 8 planning guidance document which identifies 7 large tracts of Wales (Strategic Search Areas) where there will be an irresistible presumption in favour of permission being granted. Over the next few months, planning permission is going to be granted for hundreds of the things. As it happens, I accept that today's announcement is logical and I didn't oppose it specifically. If we have to have all these confounded wind turbines, they might as well be located where they will do least damage - and so it is logical that the Forestry Commission land should be considered. Even if the Assembly Government is behaving just like every other property owner and trying to maximise financial benefit from its asset - under the guise of doing social good!

I have more sympathy with Gordon James about new nuclear power stations. I have always been a sceptic because of cost and waste disposal uncertainties. But I fear it is too late. There is an approaching gap in energy provision which cannot be filled without resorting to new nuclear generating capacity. The lights are going to go out. There will first be panic - closely followed by a mad rush to nuclear with corner cutting and risk taking. Better by far to accept that we have reached the point of no return and proceed in an orderly way. Or is this too defeatist. Mrs D thinks so. She has a strong opinion on this issue. Even I would like to be proved wrong.

Finding the real message.

Stephen Crabb, Conservative MP for Presceli Pembs. is an outstanding politician. I agree with him about most things. Yesterday he caused a bit of excitement by writing a 'platform' article for ConservativeHome. I have just read the article - and I have seldom read anything that has instigated so much comment which completely misses the point. I'm sure my regular readers will be surprised when I say that, if anything, Stephen has been rather more 'devolutionary' than I think is realistic at present. Don't laugh or snort derisively. Just read on instead.

Stephen Crabb wrote that "the current arrangements are a confused and unstable settlement for the composite parts of the United Kingdom". I agree.

He also wrote that "abolition of the devolved institutions is not currently saleable". I agree.

He then wrote that "we should now be looking at a re balancing of the devolution experiment." I agree.

Followed by "the case for some form of law making body for just England is becoming irresistible". I cautiously agree with the principle.

Then he wrote that "reform of the relevant Whitehall machinery is also necessary". I cautiously agree in principle.

He then assumes "a reduction of the number of MPs from Wales". I agree.

He then writes that "a future Conservative Government could even look at some form of limited fiscal devolution to create the impression of a fairer and more responsible devolved system". This goes further than I think is realistic at present.

Now, I would not have written the article in the same style as Stephen. The tone is about as opposite from that which I would have used as it is possible to be. But I take almost exactly the same approach to this issue as he does. It seems to me that there is a real basis for agreement. As far as I can see, the problem is that Stephen Crabb and David Davies are not being sufficiently involved in what is being said on behalf of the Party. They are both good, rational men who should be seen as key to our devolutionary policy. They are also men who will not be ignored or silenced - and I'm with them both on that. They must not be left out. At the very least, I hope this post will lead to some re-reading of yesterday's ConservativeHome article.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Law Making Assembly on its way.

Yesterday saw the first step on the road to a law making National Assembly for Wales. Since the people of Wales voted in favour of devolution on Sept.18th 1997, I have believed this type of Assembly is the only logical constitution for Wales. The current arrangement is not worthwhile. Not all members of my own political party agree with me about this - but I genuinely believe that at some stage a majority will, and it will eventually become Conservative Party policy. My respect for the opinions of those who disagree with me influences my opinion about how the Convention, which was announced yesterday, is to be set up to prepare the ground for the referendum on law making powers should operate. There is a big task ahead.

I do not know Sir Emyr Parry Jones - but he is a 'big fish' and something of a catch So I welcome his appointment. I look forward to learning what he is going to do. Is he going to consider things like the number of Assembly Members and the voting system? Or is he going to recommend that more subject areas be devolved? Or is he just going to conduct an ongoing poll of public opinion and recommend ways of persuading people to vote 'Yes'. I suspect the answer is No to all these questions. But I do not know the questions to which the answer would be 'Yes'.

The only aspect of all this that I feel sure about (and this may surprise you) is that there must be real engagement with those who oppose the whole idea. I understand why many people opposed devolution (because I was one of them) and why they are suspicious of going further - but I have found it difficult to engage with, or even find, argument that is intellectually based, rather than instinct based. The Parry Jones Convention must find a way of engaging with the anti opinion if it is to have any point. I do wish him and his team well. I will be supporting his work and campaigning for a Yes vote when the referendum comes - probably in 2011.

Small Voice in a Big Flock

I went to a public meeting in Builth Wells last night. I am not sure what the point of the meeting was, (except that it was about the state of the sheep industry in Wales) - but I'd decided that it was important for me to be there. About 600 people turned up - mostly farmers from Mid Wales. What brought them out was a deepening concern about the future of their industry. It turned out to be a good opportunity for angry and depressed people to 'get it off their chests'.

I'm a sheep farmer myself and currently I'm selling fat lambs and breeding ewes in the depressed market. I'm also a politician (presently 'resting'), and if I hadn't lost my seat in the National Assembly election last May, I could well have been a speaker at last night's meeting. But I went to the meeting for another reason entirely. Well, two reasons actually.

Firstly I went to register my support for the industry in which I started my working life - to be seen if you like. As soon as the Chair invited questions I took the 'mike' at the first opportunity. There were so many people present that it was the only way I could make sure everybody knew I was there! Call it shameless if you must.

The second and main reason was that I wanted to speak in my capacity as President of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. The overarching strategy I have as the CPRW President is to ensure that we become involved in the whole range of issues that have an impact on Rural Wales - and nothing is more important to Rural Wales than a thriving agriculture. I was keen that the farmers knew that they are not alone as they struggle for financial survival. I'm not sure many of them were much bothered by what the CPRW think - but it matters a lot to me that I was able to tell them that there are many people outside of farming who share their concern. Mind you, after four hours of listening to 600 people 'sounding off' in freezing temperatures, I was grateful when the Chairman called proceedings to a halt. I'm still not sure what we achieved last night - but I was glad that I went.

Planning Madness.

I'm seething. Yet again the planning system in Powys has made my blood boil. There's so little genuine democracy left in the system, that its an abuse of the English Language to any longer call it 'local' government. The animals have taken over the zoo.

Its only a small application (for two houses) in the pretty little Welsh village of Pontrobert that has set my tail on fire. And I don't even know enough about the actual application to have any opinion about whether it should be approved or not. What makes me so agitated is that it may be decided by 'officers' of the Planning Department, with no input from the elected councillors. There is widespread local opposition to this development. The Community Council is vehemently opposed. The local County Councillor is opposed. There has been a history of refusals on the site. Yet it seems that the processes of the Council mean that this application will be decided by an officer, with no involvement of the Councillors at all. What the hell do we pay them their £10,000 per year for?

And another totally bizarre related matter. It seems that if the 'local' County Councillor attends the Community Council Meeting and speaks or votes on its recommendation to the Local Planning Authority (County Council) on an application, that Councillor is then barred from voting in the Local Planning Authority meeting because of what is deemed to be 'an interest'. Have you ever heard anything so stupid. It seems to be part of some great bureaucrat's scheme to undermine the principle of local democracy. As for as I can see, planning is a local authority function where there is a concerted attempt by central government to eliminate any local influence whatsoever being heard. I hope the population of Pontrobert will descend upon the Powys Council Offices in mass protest if this application doesn't go before Councillors for decision. If they do, I will be there with them.

Westminster behind the times

I learn from Iain Dale's blog this morning that the House of Commons Modernisation Committee is proposing that MPs be allowed to check emails in the Chamber, as long as it doesn't interfere with the business of the Commons. "So what" was my instinctive response. We did that all the time when I was an Assembly Member. They still do - and more. Two weeks ago Alun Cairns told us, via his blog, that Local Government Minister, Brian Gibbons was noticed buying a new suit on-line during an important debate. Multi-tasking is an essential requirement if you want to become an Assembly Member! Alun tells me that after checking up on all the suit prices, Brian moved on to the Archers website.



But on reflection, I agree with Iain about MPs checking their emails. They don't have individual seats or computers in the Chamber, as do AMs. It would involve them all indulging in that most irritating habit of constantly checking their blackberries. I find that some of them actually check them mid-conversation, giving a perfect impression of not listening to what anyone else is saying. I suppose there could be a degree of honesty about this practice! Its also the case that AMs are expected to be in the Debating Chamber rather more than MPs are because there are only 60 of them.

Mind you, I'm not at all sure that Brian Gibbons should be allowing his attention to be diverted. He has form. When he was the Health Minister, he pressed the wrong button and voted for a independent review of the Welsh Ambulance Service immediately after he had spoken on behalf of the Government, roundly condemning it. The vote was lost by one vote- and Brian has never lived down the embarrassment. Brian was also the AM who played football for our Assembly football team in the Annual Parliamentary Shield, sponsored by McDonalds, wearing a shirt with a big 'golden arches' M on the front. When a story broke about our Health Minister supporting a fast food company, Brian said that when he looked down at his shirt he thought it was a W for Wales. (He could have been joking - you can never tell with the Irish).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Black and White Lies

Much the biggest story in today's newspapers is the statement by Sir David King, the Government's Chief Scientist that a badger cull is necessary to bring Bovine Tb under control - and for two main reasons. Firstly, and at long last, this statement gives the livestock industry some hope that the Government might take some action to deal with a disease that has wrought devastation on livestock farmer's business and personal lives for decades. And secondly, it completely undermines what little confidence the farming industry has in anything that the Government now says.

Throughout my 8 year term as an Assembly Member, I was a member of the committee that had the responsibility of covering issus relating to Bovine Tb, 5 years of this period as Chair of the Committee. Throughout the 8 years, I pressed the Government to take the issue seriously. Throughout the 8 years, successive Ministers prevaricated and used every possible device to avoid taking the admittedly difficult decisions that were needed. We took evidence from all and sundry, and I visited Ireland twice to discuss the control measures adopted there. Along with the farming unions, the vets and almost every other farmer in the land, I did not believe the findings of the report prepared by the Government's Independent Science Group chaired by Sir John Bourne which was published earlier this year. This report claimed that culling badgers would be counter-productive in controlling Bovine Tb. As a result of Professor Bourne, framers have had to foot the bill for a strict regime of testing before movement, while the rampant disease in our wildlife was completely ignored. It sounded like nonsense - and now we know that it was nonsense.

During last April/May's Assembly Election campaign, Bovine Tb was a major issue in rural Wales. Every time I was questioned, I told my audience that I supported the creation of large areas of the country, surrounded as far as possible by a long coastline, where a large scale badger cull would take place - somewhere like Pembrokeshire for example. I said that failure to do so would eventually lead to a far greater cull - probably the whole of Britain. At the time, the responsible Assembly Minister sought to portray my opinion as irresponsible and not based on 'the science'. Well. now the Government's Chief Scientific Advisor has completely rubbished Professor Bourne's Report. And he is backed by the Government's Chief Vet, Debby Reynolds. His comment that the data 'does not support its conclusion' is another way of saying it was total nonsense. It should be rather fun when the Knight and the Professor give evidence to a select committee later this week.

I hope that the current Assembly Minister, Elin Jones ( who I believe shares my opinion of what has been going on) will apologise on behalf of the Assembly Government for the suffering its prevarication has inflicted on the farming industry in Wales, and for the taxpayers money that has been wasted by its refusal to face up to the obvious.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Welsh Premier

Top result of the weekend was Caersws notching up their first victory of the season, away at Porthmadog. There is real hope for the villagers after all as they rise from the bottom of the table. TNS continue their onward march to the title with a 1-0 win away at Llangefni. Only Llanelli remain in front of the Oswestry based side after winning 5-3 away at Newtown - but its only by one point. Rhyl lost ground by letting Welshpool snatch a late draw and are now 5 points off the top, level with solid looking Carmarthen who beat Newi Cefn Druids 4-1 at home.

Of the rest , perhaps the most noteworthy was Caernarfon's continuing decline, losing at home again, this time to Haverfordwest. Aberystwyth scored a good win, 2-1 away at Connah's Quay, Neath beat Airbus 2-1 at home while Port Talbot and Bangor played out a goalless draw

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Why was Gordon Brown there?

Have you ever seen anyone look so out of place as Gordon Brown last night, shaking hands with all the players after the World Cup Final. He must have been gutted that he was not able to use national sporting success to restore his smashed image in the way that Mbeki so blatantly did - and he's no Nelson Mandela. I wonder what he was saying to the players. Johnny Wilkinson walked straight past him as if he wasn't there. Someone should ask Johnny if he wants to stand as a Conservative candidate somewhere. Anyway, it was the England team. Gordon Brown is Scottish and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He wouldn't have been there if it had been Wales in the final. What the hell was he doing there?

Justice.

I have nothing against English sporting success - honest I haven't. But I was pleased that Kimi Raikkonen, driving his Ferrari won motor racing's Formula 1 Driver's Championship today. Our Lewis Hamilton is a truly fantastic driver, and a wonderful role model is the way he presents himself. I really hope he wins the Championship next year. But this year McLaren were caught cheating - caught red handed, illegally spying within the Ferrari camp. McLaren were fined £50 million and lost their constructors championship points. But there was an irrefutable case for stripping McLaren drivers, Hamilton and Alonso of all of their points as well. They may well have benefited from industrial espionage. They were allowed to keep their points for blatantly commercial reasons. Absolutely disgraceful. The lenient treatment of the drivers has undermined the credibility of the sport. Cheats should not be allowed to prosper when they are caught. So while we may sympathise with a young man who is blessed with genuine star quality and who I have no reason to think was involved in the cheating, we should all celebrate that justice was done.

Brunstrom Revisited

Been a busy weekend so far. So much work caring for little Ffion. Yesterday, I only managed to get 40 mls down her cute little throat - but today it was the full 100mls. And yesterday, we took her for her first walk down to the village. Where was everybody? I was desperately hoping that somebody would come rushing up to enquire after the contents of the pram - and I could nonchalantly say "Oh, this is only Ffion, my little grandchild." Did I say "pram"? I'm told its a 'Jane' transport system (pronounced 'hannay'). It has but three wheels and is so manoeuverable that I expect supermarkets to be redesigning their trolleys on the same basis. Anyway, there were no enquiries - and there were none today either. I'm going to start knocking on people's doors next weekend - asking something like "Have you seen our cat?" as an excuse.

Ffion time makes me rather more reflective at the keyboard. Peter Hitchens in today's MoS has caused me to think again about last week's comments on drugs law by Richard Brunstrom, Chief Constable of North Wales. I have posted before about my fundamental disagreement with his campaign to legalise all drugs. "Typical reactionary Tory response", I hear you say. Except that I don't think that's justified. As it happens, I'm instinctively libertarian and my general approach to life is to favour individuals doing what they want with their own property - which includes their own bodies. This sometimes puts me on a collision course with the 'authoritarian' wing of my party. The Conservative Party will always have dynamic tension between these two philosophies - as will individual Conservative's thought processes. Case of melding suspicion of the domineering state and respect for civil order.

Back to Brunstrom. My disagreement is founded on the sacrifice of his credibility as a law enforcer, rather than what he says. I accept that the current policies are failing, that drugs use is growing, associated crime is increasing as well, and more young people are destroying their lives than ever before. Any door knocking session, even in rural towns, will elicit reports of young local 'dealers' and properties where dealing is common practice. Its the biggest problem facing society today. We have to do something about it. My opinion remains that we should enforce the law.

I ask those who advocate legalisation of all drugs to imagine a Britain where this policy is introduced. Britain would inevitably become the drugs capital of Europe, if not the world - much as Thailand became the paedophilia capital before the Thai Government began intervening. Just as financial freedoms have allowed the City of London to become a leading financial centre of the world, a drugs free for all would make Britain's towns and cities into international drug dealing centres. Britain is only an island in a physical sense. If Brunstom wants to have any real influence (as opposed to headlines) he should resign, and go and work for the United Nations (which is the best we have as a worldwide debating forum) or the EU where he could do some good by putting the case from a standpoint that wouldn't do the real harm that he is currently inflicting on respect for the law in North Wales.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Right Result

Must admit that England played very well, and on another day could have won the game. I amaze myself when I write that I wouldn't have minded if they had won. Such great spirit. Mind you, until another look at the replays after the game, I felt certain that England had scored a try in the corner. But his foot was in touch - and so they hadn't.

But it would have been a bad bad day for rugby football if England had won the World Cup. They play the most unenterprising boring rugby of any team in the world. Their game against France was possibly the worst game of international rugby I've ever seen. Even in today's game, the sole tactic was to attack through the pack to get within kicking distance - and use the up-and-under at every opportunity. Except for Mathew Tait that is. Boring! If that's all rugby is, no father would ever want their sons to play the game. I don't blame England for playing this negative stuff. But I can be disappointed that it has proved to be so successful.

I would like the All Blacks to have won. They play the most fabulous rugby. I didn't see their defeat because I was speaker at Welshpool Rugby Club's 40th anniversary dinner on the same night. By all accounts they lost through a late try that should have been ruled out. Pity, because the French, who defeated them, for some bizarre reason played England the only way that allowed England to win - by out boring them through the forwards!

So congratulations to South Africa, to Fiji - and most of all to Argentina, who so gloriously made the whole tournament worthwhile.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Small Schools.

Managed to secure the most desired slot on the Wales Media today - an appearance in the top story on Wales Today. The issue was Gwynedd County Council's decision to close 29 small schools. I was emerging from the BBC Newtown studio, having jousted with Rhun and Bethan on Dau o'r Bae, when I bumped into local BBC man, Steve Jones, who interviewed me as President of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. I was really pleased about this. Since I was elected preident, I've been keen to change the perception of CPRW from an anti wind farm group into a body concerned with the whole range of issues affecting rural Wales. This kind of interview helps a lot.

I have a lot of sympathy with the Councils which have to grapple with falling school rolls. We are simply not breeding as prolifically as we used to. I can see that sometimes there is no choice but closure. All I want to do is ensure that decisions are taken with every aspect of the debate properly considered. Firstly, there is the financial aspect where the 'cost' of pupils in a very small school is much higher. And of course, there is the educational aspect, which some people see as the only consideration. My input is to emphasise that there is an effect on the local community, where the school so often provides its heart. I bang on about this in an effort to ensure this aspect is given due weight. Its a tough call for councillors though - and while I might try to make the decision to close schools as difficult as possible for them, I'm reluctant to attack them if they do eventually decide on closures. I'm appearing on Good Morning Wales tomorrow morning as well. More publicity than when I was an Assembly Member.

A Happy Medium

Since I've lost my seat in the National Assembly, I've been looking at the debate in the Chamber through the glass walls, from the outside of the new building. I used to describe much of the goings on as 'sitting room politics' while I was in the 'sitting room' myself. Its even more 'sitting room' than I thought. And when the temperature rises its too often fretchedness and niggle that comes across. If ever I find myself back in the place, my ambition would be to inject intellectual aggression into the debate. Melding is the best at this - although Cairnsey's ankle snapping has its place. Rhodri Glyn used to be the best until he became the establishment. (That'll really wind him up if someone tells him).

I've been looking at what happens in other Parliaments for inspiration. In a debate in the Nigerian Parliament yesterday, four MPs decided to sort things out as I used to when I was the team 'enforcer' in my rugby days - straight forward fist fight. It seems that the Presiding Officer has been accused of spending £2.5 million of Government money on tarting up her office and official travel. This led to a bit of a rumpus. I wonder how much Dafydd El has expended on this sort of thing. My money's on Carl sergeant if it gets that far. Anyway, things got so out of hand that one of the MPs died in the melee. Perhaps there's something to be said for 'sitting room politics' after all.

Bottling it

Ever since I began repeating the mantra that Gordon Brown 'bottled it' when he did his impersonation of the Grand Old Duke of York by calling off a General Election for this autumn, I've been wondering what this phrase 'bottling it' actually means. Britain's finest journalist, Charles Moore has come up with the answer in this week's 'speckie'.

It seems that 'bottling it' or 'bottling out' derives from rhyming slang. 'Bottle and Glass' is a part of the body - and 'losing your bottle' has, in the careful expression of the dictionary, 'the connotation of temporary incontinence associated with fear'. So now you know. From now on, I'm going to refer to Gordon Brown having 'chickened out'.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dragon's Eye

Really shocked by the performance of the Chair of the North Wales Police Authority on Dragon's Eye tonight. Young people in North Wales already have a Chief Constable who emits the message that they should be free to enjoy cannabis, heroin and all other drugs that kill so many of them and are currently illegal. While admiring Richard Brunstrom in other ways, I do think the way he has promoted his opinions about this issue have made him unsuitable for the job he holds. It was stunning to see the Police Authority Chair add authority to this maverick opinion.

Drugs are the greatest scourge in our society today. The only way to deal with it is through zero tolerance. Every other Chief Constable and Police Authority in Britain must be in despair as they watch their colleagues in North Wales bringing them into such contempt across the country through their irresponsibility. I have always been very doubtful about the proposal to create directly elected police chiefs. Between them, Richard Brunstrom and the North Wales Police Authority have changed my mind.

I don't know about you, but I thought Lembit Opik looked as if was sitting on a thistle tonight - and Rhun ap Iorwerth looked to be thoroughly enjoying himself wiggling the thistle about. Lots of rictus smiling. Perhaps he's feeling the pressure! For sure, he was nothing like as assured as Tory Assembly Member, Darren Millar, who looks more the part every time I see him on TV.

UPDATE - There was an even bigger thistle in the Waterfront studio. Mai was enjoying herself as much as Rhun. More rictus. What's happened to him.

Sheep farmers despair.

I've had several sheep farmers on the telephone today. Prices are on the floor. I've sold 221 speckled faced yearlings this morning for an average of £37 each. They were nice sheep, and in another year would have averaged £50 each. In Welshpool last Monday, fat lambs averaged about 75 p/kg instead of the 100p/kg it would have been reasonable to expect. I was taking home over 100 p/kg 15 years ago. And no-one is expecting things to improve until the unnecessarily strict regulations governing export of lambs are changed. The only person in Wales who is in a position to apply some pressure in Elin Jones, the Assembly Government Minister.

Even though I'm not in a position to raise the issue on the floor of any parliament at the moment, I have promised to meet a group of farmers at Welshpool at 9.00 next Mon. morning to discuss things. And another group are trying to put together a farmers rally at the Royal Welsh Showground next Thursday. I've said I'll speak if they want as President of the Campaign for Protection of Rural Wales. CPRW does not want to see an industry that underpins the rural economy losing money and people. The farmers I'm particularly worried about are those who are not sufficiently well established to survive a year when they make a loss. The position is so dire that I cannot think of a single joke that I can link to this post.

What's happened to Rhodri Glyn

I've always thought that Rhodri Glyn Thomas would make a fine Assembly Minister. He was certainly very good in opposition. And I so wanted him to be successful. But I've not been impressed by the way he's handling the fallout from the financial position of the Wales Millennium Centre - in fact, deeply unimpressed. His performance in the National Assembly yesterday was about as uninformative and unimpressive as you can get. He even roused our David Melding to his withering best - as follows (I've filched this from Peter Black's blog.)

"It is extraordinary that a Minister comes to the Assembly Chamber to make a statement and then impugns those Members who are cheeky enough to hold him to account for what is being said. You are here to be scrutinised Minister. If your decisions are effective and the proper ones, all the scrutiny that we could bring to bear will just strengthen your position. What we are doing now will strengthen effective negotiation. It is a bit rich for you to say that these things as somehow not in the public realm. They clearly are."

I haven't included anything the Minister said because he said nothing worth repeating. Now, it takes a bit to invoke the ire of David Melding in this way. It was the sort of 'tell them nothing' attitude unusually employed by Rhodri Morgan or Jane Hutt. We had expected a bit more of the Edwina Hart or Carwyn Jones approach. Everyone understands that some things cannot be said. Nothing is gained by clamming up. And all of us are now left thinking the worst - and a lot less of Rhodri Glyn. The reason I decided to throw in my two pennyworth as well as so many others is that I hope he will take a bit of notice if he hears people who wish him well being seriously underwhelmed by his attitude.

Pass me my Walking Stick

I feel as sprightly as a spring lamb this morning, skipping around the garden amongst the bunnies singing 'Its not unusual.". I say this to counteract any negativity there might be about my age. Less than five minutes into my appearance on AM/PM yesterday, and Phil Parry (who is no spring chicken himself) turned to me and said "And how old are you Glyn?". He'd just be talking about the deposed Emperor, Ming's unsuitability for leadership on account of his advancing years. He didn't ask Siobhan McClelland, my fellow guest how old she is. I'm 63 and I reckon Siobhan is about 33.

Really enjoyed the programme. It started with the 'tired- looking' Mike German (don't get snappy with me Mike - its just what everyone is saying) talking about the state of the Lib Dems. "How are things?" said Phil. "The Liberal Democrats are in good spirit. We have just had a wonderful weekend conference at Aberystwyh. There is a lot more 'territory' opening up for the Liberal Democrats in Welsh politics at the moment." Best laugh of the programme. Its the way he tells them. By the way, this was the conference at which both Mike and Lembit Opik resigned their leadership positions.

Back to this 'age' thing. I'd almost reached the point of asking for cocoa instead of coffee and for a lie down before part two when Siobhan saved the day. Phil asked her what she thought and she said that she looked on me as "The Tom Jones of Welsh politics". What about that then. I just sat back and waited for the underwear to start flying in my direction. But we went straight into Prime Minister's Questions which cooled things down a bit.

Gordon Brown was in better form yesterday, but he still smiles like a crocodile with colic. Cameron is the boss though. The PM looks at Mr Speaker most of the time, while Dave looks Gordon straight in the eye. Bearing in mind that the questions were about the dreadful state of the health service in Maidstone and the Prime Minister's refusal to hold the 'promised' referendum on the new EU Treaty. I thought he did OK. I had no idea what point Vince Cable was to trying to make when his turn came. He started off by telling us that he and Mrs Cable have a good marriage before ending the question about Inheritance Tax. Perhaps he's too old to cope! Gordon welcomed him and said that if the Lib Dems carried on changing leaders like this, every one of their MPs could have a go by the General Election. This was the only jole where he got the timing right. He's only almost too old.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Back to Cardiff

Back in the National Assembly tomorrow morning - at least back to the fourth floor to do some work for the BBC. I'm a guest on AM/PM, a programme that goes out between 11.30 and 1.00. I've done it before. We look at the papers, comment on PMQs and cover some other issues.

Tomorrow's papers will inevitably cover Ming's reappearance in public. It will be easy for me to speak well of Ming Campbell, who has always impressed me as a decent grown up politician - a bit out of his time. And there is also a touch of sympathetic empathy with a man who recovered from cancer five years ago to continue his political career. There could also be a bit about the Northern Rock debacle. I would like there to be something about the most horrific story of the last week, which has been the incredible incompetence (and worse) which happened in the Clostridium difficile outbreak in the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Hospital Trust in Kent.

PMQs are bound to be focused on the refusal of Gordon Brown to hold the promised referendum on the EU Treaty. Even his own side should be behind Cameron on this. And I've been told that we might be discussing something about the use of agency nurses. As always I'm looking forward to it - my thespian streak coming out again.

While in Cardiff, I'm hoping to meet up with my old right hand man Phill for a coffee - if Darren Millar , his current employer can spare him. And I want to meet Brynle Williams, our 'Rural' spokesman to discuss the current disaster enveloping the sheep industry - and what pressure we can bring to bear on making the current export rules more workable. My life has been redirected from the National Assembly since May - but I daresay I'll feel a bit homesick tomorrow.

CPRW President Supports Review of Welsh Language Act

Glyn Davies, new President of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales is supporting calls for a review of the Welsh Language Act. Glyn has learned to speak Welsh over recent years and in 2003, he reached the final of the Learner of the Year Competition at the National Eisteddfod. He made his remarks at a meeting of Caernarfon CPRW last weekend.

Commenting on the current debate about the need for a new Welsh Language Act, Glyn Davies said;

"The Welsh Language is a hugely important feature of life in Rural Wales. Protection and promotion of the Language must inevitably be a major issue for the CPRW. This may be a controversial issue but I believe that there must be a detailed consideration of the need for a new Welsh Language Act. Current legislation has succeeded in stemming the decline of the Language, but many people believe that it now needs to be strengthened if this success is to move forward to a position where the use of Welsh can increase further, and we can be confident about its long term survival.

I have always believed it is absolutely vital that any change in legislation must be carefully considered and sensitively handled. The continuing public and private investment in the Welsh Language depends on the goodwill of non Welsh speakers and it would be disastrous if this were to be sacrificed. I expect the Assembly Government to begin a review of how the current Welsh Language Act is operating and how the legislation can be improved. I hope that the CPRW will be able to contribute to this debate."

Whip's Worth or Pork Barrel Politics.

I see that the plan to give extra megabucks (£59,000 actually) to four Assembly Members which has been lurking in the undergrowth for a couple of weeks, has finally broken cover. I have never been against paying AMs the rate for the job - but this is plain ridiculous. As well as being completely unjustified by workload or extra responsibility, it also adds to the Government payroll vote, which is too big already. As it is, there are far too many individual AMs who are in financial hock to their party leaders. I can just see it now. "So you disagree with your leader do you? Interesting! Perhaps I ought to reconsider your position as the Party Whip - which, lest you have forgotten, is in my gift, and for which you enjoy a handsome bonus payment. Ah that's better. I thought you might come to see things my way."

I hope this plan is killed stone dead by the Assembly Commission tomorrow - even if my favorite Labour AM would be the biggest loser. My favourite Labour AM used to be Sue Essex, but is now Carl Sergeant. Carl's a top man, tribally Labour, but with a sense of fun. But he doesn't deserve an extra £26,000 a year - unless he is promoted to the Cabinet (and there are too many of them already). And Chris Franks doesn't deserve his extra £15,000, or William Graham his extra £12,000 (good man though he is), or the Lib Dem whip the extra £6,000. Sorry William.

I see that Ireland is setting something of a precedent here. Well, I've never thought we should be modelling ourselves on Irish politics. This is money for old rope. This is pork barrel politics at its worst. If this goes ahead, it will do great damage to the credibility of the National Assembly. The Assembly Commission must do its duty.

Red Card and Red Faces.

Did you see the look of guilt-fuelled panic on the face of Simon Hughes, President of the Lib Dems on Newsnight last night. At least the impressive Vince Cable managed to look innocent - even if he wasn't. Both were desperately trying to persuade us that it was all Ming's own decision to resign. How stupid they must think we are. Kirsty Wark has a job keeping a straight face as she read our their own quotes back to them.

Politics has its own language. When a political party's President says on the BBC (as Simon Hughes did on Sunday) that the Leader 'must do better', it is a yellow card, verging on the red. When a political party's Deputy Leader says on the BBC (as Vince Cable did yesterday) that the Leader's position is 'under discussion', its a red card, verging on an invitation for a buyer to come in. These two men made Ming's position completely untenable. There is nothing wrong with this of course. Their job is to do what is right for their party. But let's not pretend that they did not systematically and deliberately push out the honourable and respected (by me anyway) Ming Campbell.

Ming's problem was that he is not a beautiful man. He has a great intellect, capacity for reason and is hugely impressive in calm debate. But he looks gaunt, old and old fashioned. Today's politics insists that the Lib Dems new leader will have to be pretty. So even though the best candidate by a mile is Vince the Vicious, he has no chance. Clegg or Huhne it must be.

Monday, October 15, 2007

BMW

A favorite pub quiz question is "What does BMW stand for". The answer is something like Bavarian Motor Works. I have also read that a senior marketing executive of the company once claimed it stood for "Beat Mitsubishi Worldwide". Well last week's edition of Gardener's Question Time came up with another answer. It seems that the Rhodochiton Volubile is commonly known as BMW - or Black Man's Willy. The expert panellists discussed at length how to care for this tender plant - and it seems to have caused a bit of a rumpus.

The Reader's Digest encyclopedia of garden plants describes the Rhodochiton Volubile thus - 'The maroon to purple tubular flowers are flared abruptly at the mouth, and hang down from slender stems. Each flower hangs within a bowl-shaped, red-purple calyx. The dark green leaves are ovate and sometimes slightly lobed.'

Panellist, Anne Swithinbank made reference to 'hardening off' these tender plants, and warned that they would 'shrivel up' in cold weather. When the presenter asked another panellist named Bob Flowerdew (absolutely true) for his opinion, he replied "I've never seen one close up, and not that colour!". Anne Swithinbank then said "I've never seen one in my life. They don't like the cold and as you can imagine they shrivel up and look very unhappy. They need a good long growing season before potting them up and potting them on and eventually hardening them up." Now you know. My BMW will never seem quite the same again.

Falling Standards

Over recent years there's been much discussion about how much easier educational examinations have become. I've never had a firm opinion about this - even if I have thought there to be a fundamental arrogance involved in claims by students and the teaching profession that our generation is cleverer than previous generations. Today's Telegraph gave me the chance to judge for myself.

On page 6 there were 5 sample questions for Oxford's Politics, Philosophy and Economics Admission Test. The first two questions required answers that were subjective, but the next three demanded straight forward, right or wrong answers. So I tackled them 'against the clock'. They took me 5 minutes and 20 seconds. I then tackled the 'Gentle' Sudoku on page 24 (which is really for beginners) . This took me 5 minutes and 40 seconds. I did feel in quite good form today but I reckon No 2 Son, Patrick would have polished them off in less than 4 minutes. So that's it - official. Oxford's admission tests are easier than a beginner's sudoku.

Now I accept that this is not an entirely scientific assessment - but it certainly makes you think. I would have expected an Oxford Admission Test to be a bit more challenging than this.

Ming Gone

There was not the slightest doubt in my mind that Ming Campbell was done for as leader of the Lib Dems. My weekend predictive post of 'Goodbye Ming' came to pass a little more quickly than I expected. But today's newspapers had Vince Cable declaring that Ming's position was "under discussion". And then to hammer in the final nail, I read on Iain Dale's blog that Lembit Opik had been making supportive comments about Ming. Game over.

This is a seriously messy resignation. Unusually it takes effect immediately. Ming was not even prepared to make the announcement himself. Simon Hughes and Vince Cable did that. My guess is that there has been a blazing row between Ming and Vince Cable, who looks to have been the wielder of the knife. Simon Hughes, who has been publicly undermining Ming has probably been party to the political assassination as well. You've got to hand it to the Lib Dems. They really do treachery better than anyone else.

So who will take over. From a personal interest perspective, I hope its Chris Huhne, who has always seemed a bit too smarmy to my taste. Nick Clegg looks the part, and could be a bit of a threat to us because he is so 'conservative' in outlook. But what's the betting on Charles Kennedy coming back. Now that would be a serious threat to us. Perhaps we are in for a bloodbath. I can but hope.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

CPRW President attacks Post Office and Small School Closures

(I've decided to publish Press Releases on my blog rather than send them out separately - so here goes).

Glyn Davies, new President of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales has called for the rural campaigning organisation to put retention of local services at the heart of CPRW policy. In a wide ranging speech about the future of the Welsh countryside, delivered to Caernarfonshire CPRW on Saturday, Glyn Davies outlined his ideas about how he believed the organisation should set about engaging with the people of Wales and attract more members.

In his first speech as CPRW President, delivered to a well attended meeting at Abersoch on the Lleyn Peninsular, Glyn Davies said:

"There are great and increasing pressures for change impacting on Rural Wales, and there has never been a greater need for a campaigning organisation where people who care about the future of the countryside can meet, discuss and influence policy which drives this change.

Too many people see CPRW as always 'against everything'. This is totally wrong. CPRW accepts that there must be new housing, new business, new energy sources and improvements to the transport infrastructure. What we seek to do is ensure that these changes are implemented with the greatest possible sympathy for the physical beauty and cultural traditions of Rural Wales.

Too many people see CPRW as only a campaigning body against on shore wind farms. This is a total misconception. It is true that, in general, we disagree with the Assembly Government's planning policies on renewable energy, which puts far too emphasis on wind farms. We see the Government's policy as damaging to the landscapes of Wales and as undermining local democracy. But CPRW is about so much more.

Top of my personal agenda is the threat to the local services which underpin our rural communities. In Rural Wales at present, there is a huge threat to our small village schools and to our network of rural post offices. The heart is being torn from our villages at an alarming rate. I see CPRW as a key player in persuading Government to recognise the importance of these services to village life. During my first year as President, my ambition is to broaden the range of subjects where we are seen to be championing the cause of Rural Wales"

Goodbye Ming

Ming Campbell will be gone by Xmas. No longer the slightest doubt about it. I would very much like to be wrong. I quite like to see the Lib Dems down at about 12% in the opinion polls - and thats where they'll stay as long as Ming stays as leader. Its not fair of course, because I reckon Ming is twice the man that either Chris Huhne of Nick Clegg will turn out to be. But he has had Peter Black's 'Black Spot' on him for a while. Its Goodbye Ming.

UPDATE - Monday 6.00. Ming has gone with immediate effect. He did not even make the announcement himself. Vince Cable takes charge.

Cuddle Time

Sorry to go on like some demented lover - but little Ffion has been over to visit today. I had a go at feeding her. Not something I've done for nigh on 30 years. Karen didn't see Ffion from the moment she arrived until she went. She reckoned that she wanted to be home to watch 'Strictly Come Dancing'. Maybe she just wanted her baby back. And I say to my regular readers, "Don't moan, you're lucky You haven't got photos as well"!

The Black Spot

So the teflon man survives. Not only is Mike German remaining as Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the National Assembly, but it looks as if he will become the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Wales as well. Unity seems to have broken out amongst the Liberal Democrats. Likely story! And when Gordon Brown called off the election, it was nothing to do with the opinion polls.

So let me share with you what I think actually happened. Peter Black treats his blog as I treat my red hot pokers. He protects it with great care. He posts what he genuinely thinks. When he said that he would stand against Mike German to force a leadership election, he meant it. They were not just empty words. Problem was that he needed another AM to support him. Now they don't come much more cunning than Mike German, and the old ivory tinkler spotted an opening.

There are only 6 of them. Mike knew that Eleanor Burnham wouldn't support Peter because she wants to stand herself. He also knows that Kirsty Williams is gagging for his job, but knows she is deeply out of favour with the Party at the moment because of the way she scuppered the Lib Dem's chance of power in a Rainbow Coalition. An election delayed for 9 months would do nicely. He knew that Mick Bates would do whatever's necessary to get his Powys based colleague into the leadership. After all he has a skin to save at the next Assembly election. And finally, he knew that Jenny Randerson would just do whatever he wanted - out of sheer loyalty. So Peter was 'stuffed'.

I don't think Peter Black minds that much. Look at it from his standpoint. A few months ago, he probably decided that as long as Lembit Opik, Ming Campbell and Mike German were leading the Lib Dems in Wales, they had no chance. Well Lembit's gone. Ming will be gone by Xmas. And Mike will be gone in 9 months time. My advice to every ambitious Lib Dem. Don't cross Peter Black. The 'Black Spot' is deadly.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Special places and people

Been to Abersoch today to speak to the Caernarfon Branch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. First branch meeting that I've visited since I was elected President. Always enjoy driving through Pwlleli where the town centre, Tory Blue Conservative Club is so in-your-face'. The downside is that it reminds me of just how much ground my party has lost in 'Welsh' Wales over recent decades. Around 40 enthusiastic CPRW members turned up. I did a Cameron style off-the-cuff speech, and expected a bit of disagreement in the response. But it was terrific. Really positive stuff. Charges of 'Nimbyism' or 'Single Issue-ism' are the opposite of the truth in Caernarfon. Now that a General Election seems to be on the back burner for a while, I should be able to give more time to the CPRW.

My favorite stretch of road in all the world is the drive from Dinas Mawddwy to Dolgellau. Today was brilliant. Not too sunny and cloudlets of mist floating amongst the mountains. The mountain tops were lost in low cloud. Its special climbing up the winding road to the top, hemmed in by mountains on both sides - only to emerge onto the plateau which runs gently down to Gwanas, with Snowdonia as the backdrop. Here, its easy to imagine the voice of Tom Gwanas soaring amongst the hills. Today my imagination was drowned out by a Springsteen CD - 'The Rising' which he wrote after the attack on the World Trade Centre. At the time, I was playing its second track, 'Into the Fire' at full volume. This track will always be special to me because I played it over and over when I spent some time in hospital recovering from surgery in 2002. "May your strength give us strength. May your faith give us faith. May your hope give us hope. May your love give us love". So many images crowding in at the same time. Keep your mind on the road Glyn.

Worst part was that I missed little Ffion. I was not expecting a visit today, because Karen has not yet fully recovered from the birth. But visit the happy threesome did in my absence. Sally, Verity and Mrs D all had serious cuddle time. I'm told that No 2 Son, Patrick showed the first ever glimmer of paternal interest - as did No 3 Son, Tim. Anyway, Ffion is coming over again tomorrow. I expect to have my turn.

Was Lembit Pushed?

So Lembit Opik has resigned as Spokesman for the Lib Dems in Wales. Step forwards Roger Williams. Now I could claim Lembit's resignation as my first political scalp. Lembit has told the BBC that he wants to concentrate on his constituency - which suggests that he has some concern about whether he can hang onto the seat at the next election. I've promised him that I intend to fight like a tigress to win it - and I mean it.

But when I read the bitterness in some of his reported comments, I had to ask myself whether there is more to this than is obvious at first glance. At today's Lib Dem conference in Aberystwyth he launched a bitter attack on those in his party who have been undermining him by criticism behind his back. And I'm told repeated this to the media. I agree with Lembit about the distastefulness of this sort of thing. Most politicians suffer from it occasionally, but normally things have to be really venomous to 'go public' about it. This aspect of his resignation comments makes me think that he might just have been pushed, and chose to jump first.

Anyway, I feel some sliver of satisfaction. Montgomeryshire once again has an MP who is promising to give more attention to the constituency. I hope that the General Election contest in Montgomeryshire turns out to be a ferocious battle between candidates who have a total commitment to the constituency. I will play my part. Let battle be joined.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Dragon's Eye

There's no choice. No way can the Assembly Government allow the Wales Millenium Centre to go bust. In fact, I'm sorry to see this sort of story appearing on Dragon's Eye at all. It raises an air of negitivity about what is Wales top cultural centre. So I'm afraid that Rhodri Glyn Thomas is going to have to make some painful cuts elsewhere in his budget. There is no way that Finance Minister, Andrew Davies will add the required monies to the Culture budget.

If I'm totally honest, I am not surprised by the news that there is a revenue deficit in the WMC's finances. I was Tory Culture Spokesman at the time it was built, and I knew that Russell Goodway was warning that the figures didn't stand up. But I didn't have the evidence to challenge the Minister. Jenny Randerson, the Lab/Lib Dem Coalition Government Minister at the time was firm in her assurances that the budget stacked up - and it would have been difficult to resist it. Alun Cairns made the good point that it does look as if this nugget of bad news has been known to the Government for a long time - and would have been better made public by public statement than a TV programme.

Great to see Angela Burns looking the part on Dragon's Eye tonight. And it was fun to see Labour AMs queuing up to rubbish the Lab/Plaid Coalition document on the programme. I had been fairly sure that the Coalition would last the full four years - but I'm becoming less sure by the day. One of these days there may well be a scoop on Dragon's Eye that Rhodri Morgan and Mike German's successors are seen dining together at a Chinese in some secret location.

New Job - First Day

Been in Cardiff last night and today - at the Village Hotel. It was my first day in a new job. I've been chairing the first meeting of the Welsh Advisory Board of the European Care Group. This rapidly expanding international business is involved in residential, EMI and nursing care as well as the provision of services and care for people whose lives are challenged by mental illness, acquired brain injury, learning difficulties and autism related conditions. This is a testing role for me, because it is an area of activity that is completely new. Which of course makes it all the more interesting.

This afternoon, we visited one of the European Care Group's recently acquired properties located at Porth in the Rhondda Valley. It has accommodation for around 80 and is a mix of residential, EMI and nursing beds. I was deeply impressed by the standards of care. Over the years I have visited several homes of 'mixed' quality. Ty Porth was the best that I have ever visited.

One of the reasons I decided to become involved was my longstanding concern about the way we treat old people and those suffering mental illness. This is one of the biggest problems facing Governments across the world as people live longer and we become more aware of mental problems. I was pleased to see that Jonathon Morgan has 'won' a ballot in the National Assembly to formally request a transfer of power from Westminster to Cardiff Bay (a Legal Competence Order) to reform Mental health legislation. And this morning I was listening to a Westminster Government Minister outlining plans to spend an extra 170 million pounds on mental health illness. At long last this policy area is getting the attention it desreves. I am employed only for about 6 days a year, but I expect to be spending a lot more time on this issue over the next few months.

Bus Hopping

I have just had two phone calls concerning the appointment of Mr Tony Goodman to the employment of Veolia, a French company that has aggressively and successfully bid for school bus routes in Powys - and has put a few long established operator's noses out of joint. This is interesting because it was Mr Goodman, then working for the Council who oversaw the redrawing of bus routes earlier this summer, and the awarding of contracts that has caused such a stink over recent weeks.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with this - but it is interesting. I know the bus operators are deeply concerned about it. It would be reassuring if the Council's Chairman or Chief Executive put out a public statement about what has happened.

What is known is that Mr Goodman arranged the advertising and awarding of all the new school bus routes in Powys during this year's summer holidays. I'm told that Mr Goodman went on holiday on the day that the autumn term started, and was away when the balloon went up. We also know that Mr Goodman is no longer in the Council's employment - but at whose instigation he left is not known. And now I'm being told that Mr Goodman is to start work for Veolia later this month. I'm not surprised that bus operators are so concerned about this. And all this 'innuendo' is not fair on Mr Goodman. I suggest a public statement from the Council to clear the air.

Whip's Reward

I've heard a rumour (stronger than that actually) that there is a move afoot to reward the hard work of the party Whips in the National Assembly with a generous increase in salary. I'm told that the sum being touted is an extra £1,000 per AM per year. Now this works out as a 'right tidy sum' as the typical Montgomeryshire hill farmer might say.

It means that the Labour Chief Whip would get an extra £26,000 per year, the Plaid Whip would get an extra £15,000 per year, the Tory Whip would get an extra £12,000 per year and the Lib Dem Chief Whip would get an extra £6,000 per year. Just imagine what the proposals would be if there wasn't an eye wateringly tight budget settlement for the next 3 years! Tell me what you think of this. And remember that comment moderation is on - so really profane language will be rejected.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

My cuts are bigger than your cuts.

I was going to launch another scathing attack on Gordon Brown today. But I've never been one for kicking a man when he's down - even if he does expect us to believe that he would not have called a General Election had the opinion polls not turned against him. And anyway, the much respected Welsh left wing blogger, Normal Mouth will fly off into another 'paddy' unless I'm very restrained in my phraseology when posting about Gordon. So there will be no gloating that the Prime Minister has been forced into a competition with us as to which is the tax cutting party. And no commenting on Labour's explicit commitment to hold a referendum on the EU constitutional treaty - even if the Prime Minister is expecting us to believe the unbelievable here as well. Mind you, the way he's been dithering, he might just change his mind on this one.

Today's Comprehensive Spending Review is interesting because the Government has chosen to 'spin' it as a statement about tax cutting. It is nothing of the sort of course (in fact it signals an increase in tax). But what's interesting to me is that it is suddenly respectable to talk about tax cuts again. Instead of attacking the Conservative's proposal to cut Inheritance Tax, Labour have tried to pretend that they are doing the same. Even though they are not. The doubling of the level where IT becomes payable from £300,000 to £600,000 makes no diference to many couples - becuse they were enjoying this benefit already. Where the spouse who dies first leaves £300,000 to the children and the rest to the other spouse, there is already £600,00 free of IT. This proposal is nothing more than sleight of hand - again. You really can't believe a word they say.

No wonder Brian Walden, the Labour MP turned television interviewer has had enough of it. He's going around giving speeches explaining why he will be voting Conservative at the next election. I could do with some high profile defections from the Lib Dems to me in Montgomeryshire.

In Wales, we must wait to see what Plaid Cymru Ministers are going to be saying. Throughout the 8 years that I was an AM, all Plaid did was hold out the begging bowl and say that Wales was not having enough to spend on public services. Well, they are going to be having a lot less from now on. I see some turbulance ahead for the unlikely couple. Watching the contorted faces of Helen Mary, Leanne Wood and Dai Lloyd in this year's Assembly budget debate is going to be priceless.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Upstaged by Ffion

Its almost beyond belief. She's only four days old, and she's upstaging me already. Tonight Ffion received her first round of public applause. She is clearly a great electoral asset. I was a panellist at a discussion arranged by the Aberystwyth University Politics Society (I think its so called) - alongside the wonderfully erudite Lord Elystan Morgan, and he of the dark brown voice, the soon to be ennobled Lord Dafydd Wigley. The panel was being introduced when the Chair referred to the recent arrival of Ffion - information gleaned from this blog. There was a huge round of applause. For me and both the existing and imminent Lords there was nothing. Perhaps she will recruited to join Henri Cairns on the campaign trail.

A most enjoyable evening. Bit testing for my Welsh when Cynog Dafis started speaking - and downright impossible when he and Elystan started debating a technical legal point. It would have been very confusing for any student who arrived late - having been told that there were to be representatives of the Conservative , Plaid Cymru and Labour Parties on the panel. It would have been quite difficult to tell which was which from the discussion. I suppose that my cold blooded pragmatism about devolution and the open neck shirt would have given away my identity as the Tory! Nothing much else would have.

As driving home, I reflected on which way I thought the audience would be likely to vote. Its never possible to be sure and its unwise to assume - but I reckon a fair few would be in the Plaid Cymru camp. I further reflected that if they were, they should all vote for me (at least those who have a vote in Montgomeryshire). As I pointed out (in a disgracefully self serving way), there is likely to be a Conservative Government in Westminster after the next election - and a Conservative MP in favour of a law making Assembly is likely to have much more effective influence in that direction than another Plaid Cymru member. I'd sort of hinted at this during the discussion. And if I say it often enough, I'll get to believe it myself!

Lib Dem leadership battles

Discussion about the Lib Dem leadership in Wales has gone a bit quiet of late. I hope that fellow blogger, Peter Black hasn't forgotten his unswerving determination to ensure that there should be a contest to decide who should lead them in the National Assembly. I believe this coming weekend is deadline time for nominations. Its time it became an issue for public debate.

In particular, I think we should be told if Mike German has decided to stand down as leader. If he has, I expect to see Jenny Randerson's hat in the ring. She would win. But what if Mike intends to soldier on. The only other name I've heard openly campaigning for the job is the ever-colourful Eleanor Burnham. Is Peter going to back Eleanor, or is he going to stand himself, or is he going to back Kirsty Williams who might be thinking of emerging from the shelter of the barricade behind which she's been seeking refuge since she shafted the Rainbow Coalition last June. Now that Gordon has finally stopped dithering, UK speculation is turning to how long Ming will last. It will be a great loss to Wales if Lib dem leadership battles are going to be confined to the Palace of Westminster. Time for a post on this issue Peter.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Dithering and Dissembling

So Gordon Brown 'bottled it'. He just didn't have the b***s. He 'chickened out'. For weeks, he's been like a great big jelly in a vibrating dish. And then to cap it all he couldn't even stop his dithering without making a complete 'Horlicks' of it. The people of Britain have stood back in amazement and watched their spanking new Prime Minister dithering for weeks - and then dissembling like a schoolboy caught peeping into the girl's changing rooms.

Everyone in Britain with an iota of interest in politics knows that Gordon Brown wanted to call a 'cut and run' General Election to take advantage of his comfortable lead in the opinion polls. And if he hadn't gone to Iraq to re announce the withdrawal of our soldiers, in the middle of the Conservative Party Conference, with the purpose of nauseatingly 'playing politics' with our armed forces, a General Election it may well have been. Whatever, it was the astonishing turnaround in the opinion polls which caused him to call it off. We all know that. And what does this dithering heap of jelly go and do. He tells us "I want the chance to show the country that we have a vision for the future of this country" and "I want to get on with the job of change in this country and I believe that I have got to show people that we are implementing the changes....." blah, blah.... Problem is we all know the truth. He called off the election because he did'nt think he would win - or at least win with as big a majority as he has now. He 'bottled it'.

And our Prime Minister has messed up in another way. Because he knew that no-one would believe this version of events, he selected the compliant Andrew Marr of the BBC to become the conduit by which this stuff would be released. I wonder what Nick Robinson, the Beeb's chief political reporter thought of this. I wonder what the rest of the media thought of it. What price Andrew Marr's independence now. And to really mess up Brown's day, David Cameron gets better with every interview.

Having written all this, I have to admit that personally, I am pleased that he didn't call an election. It may well have been Gordon Brown's best chance for winning his own mandate as Prime Minister, but it would not have been right, And it would not have suited me in Montgomeryshire either. We weren't ready. By 2009 we will be. Today, probably for the first time, I really believe that David Cameron will be the next Prime Minister, and that I will be the next Member of Parliament for Montgomeryshire.

Rugby nostalgia

Welshpool Rugby Club has been going for 40 years. Last night the Club held an anniversary dinner to celebrate. I proposed the toast to the guests, while the great 70s megastar, Mervyn Davies responded. When the Club was formed, I was playing my rugby with Shrewsbury, in the Midlands and North of England - but I moved to play for Welshpool two or three years later because of work and family commitments. Such happy memories. Such long term friendships. I am usually asked to speak at anniversaries - and its always a great honour.

Before I spoke last night, Club Patron, Ithel Gilbert Davies made a very nice speech. Ithel is rather special to us all, in that he has suffered from polio for as long as I have known him. He has always been a real champion of the club. I joked that he was the only one we always had to carry into the pub!
During his speech he recited that hoary old joke about three surgeons discussing what group of patients they liked to operate on. One said Germans - became every moving part is so well engineered and reliable. One said Japanese - because everything is so technically advanced and all the tubes and wires are colour coded. And the third one said politicians - because they only have two working parts, the mouth and the anus, - and they're interchangeable. Brought the house down of course. I was toying with the idea of starting off my speech by telling the assembled diners (who had had a few by this stage) that since my lower bowel re-section following colorectal cancer almost 5 years ago, I don't actually have an anus. But I decided against. Thought it might put a dampener on things.

Best laugh of the night for me involved another hoary old joke from Mervyn. He was talking generally about the limited IQ of the Welsh forwards in the great 70s team (fabled but probably untrue - but who cares). Supposedly when Phil Bennett came in to partner Gareth Edwards behind the scrum, he developed a code which informed everyone which way he intended to take play if the ball was won. For some reason (which I don't recall), if he shouted out a word beginning with a P, he intended to go to the right - and if he shouted out a word that began with the letter S, he intended to go to the left. And everything worked well until Phil shouted out the word 'Psychology'. It usually takes forwards a few seconds - but backs get it immediately! Now I've heard this before so I took my enjoyment from everyone else's pleasure.

There followed a lot of whispering on the next table - and after about 40 seconds, when Mervyn was half way through his next story, a big bloke on the next table, who looked like a prop began roaring with laughter. For me it was the funniest moment of the night.

The name is Ffion



Did you ever see anything so cute in your life. And did you ever see a taid so comfortable holding such a gorgeous little package.

There has been a lot of dithering over the name - but a decision was arrived at before Gordon Brown stopped his dithering. Libby, Sioned, Megan and Carys had been in the frame. Ffion was a late entry. I like Ffion - and not only because the wife of my favourite politician shares it.

The family returned home to Carno this afternoon. I think they are coming to stay with us next weekend - so I'm really pleased that Gordon eventually decided against holding an election this autumn. I promise not to put a new photograph up for at least a week.

Back to the keyboard.

Just settling down at the keyboard after a hectic couple of days. Been no blogging - so here goes with a blogfest. The new little one interfered with my schedule - a sign of things to come I suspect. After the trauma of Thursday night's birth, Karen wasn't taking visitors on Friday - so I did a full day's campaigning in Llanrhaeadr (Gordon was still dithering). Followed by a great night at Welshpool Golf Club Dinner Dance. Mrs D was in fine jiving form - and this time her new knee stood up to the hammer.

Saturday morning and it was over to Aberystwyth to see the new little one (separate post) - and then back to Llansilin for more campaigning in the afternoon (Gordon was still dithering), before Welshpool Rugby Club's 40th Anniversary dinner in the evening (separate post). And then this morning it was new Mayor of Newtown, Sue Lawson's Civic Service (separate post tomorrow).

At the same time as all this was going on Northern Hemisphere rugby comprehensively scotched the widely held notion that Southern Hemisphere rugby is streets ahead. And Gordon Brown 'bottled it'. He'll never recover the authority that he had before the Iraq trip. A very satisfactory weekend all round.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Thursday, October 04, 2007

We are a Taid

Bloody hell. Its 23.30 hrs and its taken a long, long time. But she's out - all 9lbs 9ozs of her. I bet she is the most beautiful little baby girl there has ever been. And I bet Karen and Edward are about as stresed out and happy as they've ever been.

We had all hoped that the birth would be in Llanidloes, but it wasn't to be. Karen was taken into Aberystwyth and, in the end, it was a caesarian. But its all over and we are a taid. Edward sounded quite calm when he rang through with the news. Bit late to open the champagne. Bloody hell - its a relief. Did somebody mention an election.

Sorry

Sorry - but I've had to switch on comment moderation - until after the General Election anyway. I'm desperately disappointed about this. I hope it will not put you off commenting. For some reason, traffic on my site has increased a lot recently. I'm pleased about this, but its not as important to me as the number of comments - which has never been as high as I'd like. I enjoy writing my posts - and I would like to hear from those of you who disagree with me. But I simply cannot allow offensive comments on my blog while I'm a parliamentary candidate. I will approve everything except the truly offensive.

Brown has blown it

Apologies if this post is a bit repetitive - but I really do think the last few days has been a watershed in British politics. A week ago, I really believed that Gordon Brown was riding so high in the polls that he would not be able to resist going for a 'cut and run' opportunistic General Election. I thought his Conference speech was authoritative and worked well - even if I didn't swallow a word of it. But then he went to Iraq in the middle of the Conservative Party Conference to make an announcement that 1000 of our troops would be home by Christmas. He was a fool to do this - and he threw away the sort of chance that he my well never have again. He looked like a spiv, playing politics with our armed forces, many of whom have paid the ultimate price and many more who will. The media completely misjudged this. No shock there. The visit was portrayed an a serious Prime Ministerial visit. But the public are not so stupid. They know a spiv when they see one - and they know a political stunt when they see one as well.

And then David Cameron produced a fantastic speech at Blackpool. He looked like a modern Prime Minister, talking to his audience, rather that at them. Again, some of the commentators got it wrong. I heard Mathew Parris, normally so astute, on 5 Live today saying that Cameron's style had sacrificed authority and didn't look like a Prime Minister. I thought this to be just about the poorest judgement that I have ever heard Mathew express. I reckoned that the public would think it was a great 'reaching out' speech.

So I'm waiting for the weekend polls - hoping they will stop Brown 'cutting and running'. Tomorrow's polls have the Labour lead collapsing - to between 1 and 4%. I reckon the weekend's will be the same. Brown's chance has gone. Great news for me if it has. I spent this morning in Caersws, blatantly canvassing - finishing up in Feast for Food for a chat with anyone who wanted to call in to see me. I really enjoyed it. And that is why I do not want an election yet. I enjoy canvassing and discussing issues and problems with Montgomeryshire people - and dealing with them. In truth I'm operating as a voluntary MP. OK, Lembit has got a good majority, but I am going to give him one hell of a fight. He is going to have to spend a lot more time in Montgomeryshire if he wants to hang on to his seat - and the longer I have, the better my chances are going to be. So fingers crossed for the weekend polls.

Pole Dancing in Cardiff

I had to check the date. Perhaps I've missed a few months and we've moved on to April 1st without me noticing. There was a headline in today's Telegraph that reported 'Pole dancing classes for teens'. Ah, surely it was something to do with dancing classes for the many Polish people who have come into Britain in the last year or so. Silly me. But no, it was pole dancing classes for children as young as 11. Now what loony council would do something as daft as this. Must be one of Ken Livingston's madcap schemes. "Come on Boris, save us from this lunacy". But no again. It is an initiative run by Cardiff City Council. Can you believe it. I have a flat in Cardiff and I pay Council Tax for this stupidity. The Telegraph reports that a spokesman for the Council said "The sessions are led by highly skilled professionals and have proved particularly popular with families wanting to try something together". Its good to know that our Councillors are spending my money so wisely! - or not.

Surely it can't be off

Just checked Iain Dale's blog and he's reporting that the opinion poll for tomorrow's Gaurdian and other polls are showing the Labour lead falling to around 3/4%. This is what I had hoped for - and expected. I've been at a loss to understand why Labour held such a lead in the first place. Brown's disgracefully opportunistic use of our soldiers who are based in Iraq, combined with David Cameron's confident performance at Blackpool may well have turned things around. I really hope so.

UPDATE. A YouGov Poll for Channel 4 tonight gives Labour a lead of 4% over the Conservatives, while a Populus poll for the Times tomorrow gives Labour a 3%lead. I'm being told that a Gaurdian poll tomorrow has the lead at 1%. Well, Mr Brown, "Whats it to be?"

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

My Kinda Speech.

Well, its all over. Its been delivered. David Cameron has made his much anticipated conference speech - and very unusual it was too. A full hour and eight minutes, without a note. I listened to the speech in my car, parked outside the Buck in Caersws. Couldn't judge what it was like in the Conference Hall - but it sounded like a very good speech indeed in my car. David sounded calm, controlled, totally on top of his brief and confident. It might not suit me, but I really think he wants the Prime Minister to call this election on Nov 1st..

So I consider myself to be midst an election campaign. I was in Caersws today leafleting the village. My leaflets were inviting recipients to join me tomorrow at a new coffee shop called Feast for Food. Four people rang me tonight to say they are coming along between 10.30 and 12.00. One man rang me to ask whether the cost of my leaflets are going to be included in my election expenses - miserable sod. It was quite a funny afternoon. First house I went to there lived a man named Hadyn who remembered when I captained Berriew Youths in a cup game against Caersws Youths. Now that's going back a bit. As it happens, I also remembered the game because I was given the task of 'softening up' a brilliant 13 year old called Micky Evans who was just beginning to make his name. Micky was a lot too good for me and I never got anywhere near him - which was no surprise because he went on to enjoy a very successful career in the Football League. Bit further on and John opened the door. He used to play rugby for Welshpool - and reminded me of his last game, a 'friendly' against a Shrewsbury Guest team. I was playing openside for Shrewsbury and one of my Figi-type hits on him cracked a couple of ribs and forced him into retirement. Thats the problem with standing for Parliament in a place where you've spent the whole of your life!

While I was in Caersws current MP, Lembit Opik visited - in a huge motor home plastered in posters, which looked every inch a campaign vehicle. He's on a several days tour of Montgomeryshire, being an MP. He's also been posting out glossy literature telling everyone what a wonderful MP he's been. I suspect that all of this is coming out of his Parliamentary allowances i.e. paid for by you and me. It is pretty clear to me that other sitting MPs are doing this, having anticapated that there was going to be an election some time ago. The MP for Chester was on Newsnight tonight, not even bothering to deny that she was using her allowances to campaign in all but name. She had sent out 42,000 glossy magazines to every ratepayer. It seems that it is all ok if there is no request for a vote. I can honestly say that I never did this with my expenses when I was an AM. It is outrageous - and I would never do it if I were to be elected. This sort of thing only makes me more determined to give it a real go.

Kill them - but how..

Every day, I see the cutest little grey squirrels lolloping across the lawn in front of our house, with their cute little cheeks puffed out and acorns nestled in their cute little mouths. Even I can see just how cute they are. Its no wonder so many of the British people are appalled by those of us who want to exterminate as many as possible of these evil 'rats with tails'.

Simon Heffer thinks we should shoot them. Got to catch them first! Truth is its been a losing battle. There are reckoned to be five million of them in Britain. The genuinely lovely red squirrels have been driven out of most of Britain by the greys and their diseases. Millions of our trees are dying because the greys have removed bark from their trunks. We simply do not know the scale of the damage they do to songbirds by raiding their nests. Grey squirrels are not cute - they are horrible creatures.

But salvation may be to hand. Contraception may do the trick. First time I heard about this, a few years ago, I thought it was a joke. But it seems that it's serious. I should make clear that we're not talking about little rubber sheaths - but an oral contraceptive. The only problem left to be solved is how to deliver it without sterilising the the entire population of wild creatures that might help themselves to what the squirrels leave behind.

I have been thinking about using traps after a friend told me how effective they are. But I'm not sure how I would kill them - being a bit soft-hearted. My friend is rather a gentle lady named Ivernia, who rather shocked me by telling me that she keeps a water butt close by and simply drops the trap into the butt. Official advice is that they should be ushered into a sack and beaten to death with a stick. It's illegal to let them go. What a tragedy it is that grey squirrels were ever imported to Britain.