Monday, March 31, 2008

Lords arising.

What's happened to their Lordships. Has someone slipped something arousing into their china teacups? Suddenly the red benches are rising up from their slumber and taking up arms against the Government. There are two very big and very hot stories brewing up. It looks as if we are going to see another fireworks display on the banks of the Thames.

Firstly, there's more than a possibility that the House of Lords will attempt to force the Government to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. That's the one that used to be called a 'constitutional' treaty and on which Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives all promised the people of Britain a referendum. Its the treaty on which Labour reneged, and the rampant (I've had 30 women) Nick Clegg got his knickers in such a frightful twist. Now, we've quite often seen a row between the two Houses of Parliament, when a Government has tried to force through a controversial proposal that hadn't been in its manifesto. But this is the first time that I can remember the House of Lords trying to force a Government to stick to a manifesto commitment that it doesn't want to stick to. When Lord Lamont was asked if he thought Ministers had lied over the need for a referendum, he said "I hesitate to accuse people of being dishonest, but I would come close to it on this issue". Strong stuff. Perhaps when he speaks in the debate, he should accuse the Government of misspeaking - just to test whether the word is an acceptable Parliamentary term.

The other big issue emanating from the Lords is a report on the impact of immigration into the UK over recent years. We have become very used to all official reports claiming great economic benefit flowing from the huge level of immigration that has taken place since workers from Poland, Bulgaria, Romania etc started moving in . Tomorrow's report is the first significant Parliamentary challenge to this orthodoxy. I think its going to be a big story, which will get even bigger if the BNP performs as well in next months local Government elections as some of us fear.

As the Government increasingly seeks to force important issues through, paying scant regard to the wishes of either the people or sometimes even its own MPs, the House of Lords decides to ride to the rescue of democracy. Lets hope we see more. It gives hope that our system of democracy is strong enough to withstand the casual disregard in which out current Government holds it.

Remember Ruddock

With all this lauding of the Gatland/Edwards magic, lets not forget the last miracle worker at the helm of the Welsh rugby team, the great Mike Ruddock. (You can see that I've finally forgiven him for his idiotic decision to allow himself to be used by Peter Hain and Rhodri Morgan to use him as a Labour Party pawn.) He's working another miracle at Worcester in the English Premiership. I take an interest in Worcester because its the nearest leading rugby club to where I live. Over the last month Ruddock's men have defeated Sale away, Leicester at home, and last Saturday they beat Gloucester for the first time. These are probably the three best club teams in England. At the start of the season, Worcester were most people's favorites for relegation, and a month ago, were still in danger. Now they are showing 'Grand Slam' form. Pulling off one miracle has become 'old hat' for Welsh rugby fans. Mike Ruddock's done it twice.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A man in denial

Wales' Deputy First Minister has been addressing his party activists this week at a Spring Conference in Newport. (I keep an interest in what Plaid Cymru are saying and doing because they took so many traditional Conservative voters, and I want them back.) OK, so we have to make allowances for the fact he's talking to party activists, where a certain amount of 'Good News' spin is understandable , but there's a limit. Matt Withers reports in today's Wales on Sunday that according to Ieuan Wyn Jones, the referendum on law making powers for the National Assembly before 2011 is still on track. Pull the other one, Ieuan. You'll remember that this was the issue which persuaded Plaid Cymru to throw in their lot with Labour after the Assembly elections last May. It seems that both First Minister, Rhodri Morgan and he, Ieuan Wyn Jones intend to honour the agreement to have a referendum by 2011 - no messing. And both Labour and Plaid campaigning for a Yes vote as well. That was the deal. He says he genuinely believes it will still happen. About as much chance as Wrexham FC have of being promoted to Division One I'd say.

And then I noticed the qualifier - "That's provided of course that we're satisfied that we can win it". So that's the referendum gone then . The truth is that all the body language coming out of Plaid Cymru's leadership know that the referendum before 2011 is dead in the water. Its just that Ieuan is afraid to tell his party members. The 'Deal' is turning out to be 'No Deal'.

And then Matt goes on to cover the tittle tattle and rumours there's been about 'Coalition Splits'. It seems that the Deputy First Minister has no idea where these stories come from. Now , the easiest way to find out where rumours come from is to work out who benefits. Call me cynical if you like, but the biggest beneficiary from these rumours is Plaid Cymru itself. We are entering a Local Government campaign, and Plaid would like to put a bit of distance (at least in voter's minds) between itself and its coaloition partners, the deeply unpopular Labour Party. This talk of disagreements could be very useful indeed to Plaid candidates on the doorsteps of Wales next month. I hope this ploy doesn't work, and that they all vote Tory instead.

Greetings of the season ma'am.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been avid in support of the hunt (though not a participant) since the spiteful decision by MPs to ban hunting with dogs. Been chatting to an avid huntsman over the weekend. The Tanatside Hunt now meet on my main farm twice a year, and he was showing me some photographs of the event on his mobile phone. We got talking about the amazing turnout at Welshpool last Boxing Day. He related unto me an amusing little story.

On Boxing Day for many decades now, horseboxes have parked up in Welshpool's Church St. Car Park and the mounted have then trotted along Church St to the starting point of the hunt, outside the Royal Oak. Today we applaud each one as they pass (all 65 this year). It wasn't always like that. A few years ago, when the hunt was in need of friends, there was a general policy amongst riders that they would doff their hats deferentially, and greet everyone who had turned out to show support - a sort of PR exercise. Anyway, my friend recounted an occasion when he was riding and doffing, when he passed a very elderly, small and frail lady, who had clearly made a great effort to turn out, so he was especially effusive in his greeting "The best greetings of this wonderful festive season to you ma'am". She looked him straight in his eye and said "I hope you break your f***ing leg".

Saturday, March 29, 2008


It happened to me once. And it wasn't even very funny. As always with humour, its a question of timing. I was chairing a planning authority meeting in the early 80s when we were considering a retrospective application to 'regularise' a chain saw repair business. There were dozens of letters complaining about the eardrum-shattering noise that was blighting this part of the tranquil Montgomeryshire countryside. After reading out all the letters of objection, the Principal Planning Officer (a droll character named Wilkes) observed that the immediate neighbours hadn't objected - and added that it was because they'd already become too deaf to notice. I 'corpsed' , and my Deputy had to take over while I left the meeting to recover.

So I sympathise with Charlotte Green, who 'corpsed' this week on the Today programme and had to be rescued by James Naughtie over something not very funny at all. Ms Green has history of course, but I could fully understand her previous collapse. She was introducing an item about a newly appointed big-wig in Papua New Guinea named Jack Tuat (where the 'u' is pronounced as a 'w'). I'd probably have pronounced his surname as twaite and pretended it was the local dialect.

Today's Telegraph lists other examples of presenters losing it. Most cricket fans will remember well Brian Johnston's collapse after Aggers described Ian Botham's vain attempt to avoid hitting his wicket as "He couldn't quite get his leg over" - ball-by-ball commentary at its funniest. Personally, I also liked his "Lilley - caught Willey, bowled Dilly". I must admit that I didn't know about the Reginald Bosanquet 'corpse', until I read it today. It was an item during the fireman's strike in 1978, when the ITV news cameras were following an Army Green Goddess fire crew to rescue a cat stuck up a tree - and then accidentally ran over it and killed it. Today, his uncontrolled laughter would probably have cost him his job as the only appropriate response to the thousands of complaining letters from cat lovers.

Probably the best example I remember in the world of politics occurred in the National Assembly for Wales. Former Tory AM for North Wales, Peter Rogers, a farmer with an unmatched lung capacity was at full throttle dismissing the arguments of what he disparagingly referred to as 'The Green Welly Brigade', and unfortunately said 'Willy' instead of 'Welly'. Lord Elis Thomas, the Presiding Officer, just about managed to hold himself together.

I'm Backing Boris

First time I met Boris Johnson was when he came to Welshpool to speak to the Wales European Women's Committee. I joined the meeting and took Boris to meet the train at Shrewsbury Station after the strawberry tea was over. At the time, he was on the first leg of his political journey, cutting his teeth, fighting Clwyd South (I think it was 1997). He struck me as a serious and thoughtful politician, nothing like his public image at the time. I've also been a subscriber to the Spectator for most of my adult life, so realise what a brilliant journalist Boris Johnson is - so good in fact, that initially, I thought his entry into active politics to be a great waste of such wonderful journalistic talent.

I really hope he succeeds in his bid to become Mayor of London. As always, I find myself at one with Charles Moore. He has the ability and personality to put a smile on the face of the great city. It would also remove from office one of the politicians that I most dislike. Ken Livingstone is everything that I find unappetising about modern politics. And of course, it would be a terrific boost for the Conservative Party. It would send out the message that after more than a decade of confinement to 'opposition' we are once again winning big elections. Its no wonder that Gordon Brown is swallowing his pride (and a whole lot else besides) to endorse the incumbant, a man he is known to detest. I really want to spend a day on the campaign trail in London during April, just so that I can say I was there when Britain showed the world that she's ready for a Conservative Government once again.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The 'Missing Two'

We all know by now that the decision to close our post offices was taken by the Labour Government, which decided that 2,500 should be replaced by 500 mobile units - and this after the same Government removed getting on for half of post office business in 2004. We know that Post Office Ltd have been left almost powerless to do much but change their plans at the edges because the Government own 100 % of the shares. The one chance to embarrass the Government over this was in a vote in the House of Commons last week. I was very surprised indeed that the two Liberal Democrat Powys MPs decided to absent themselves from this vote. In my opinion, this was an abrogation of their duty to their constituencies. I would most certainly not have missed the vote if I'd have been an MP.

I comment thus because a good old-fashioned rumpus has blown up over the action (or inaction) of our MPs in Powys. Several people have raised the issue with me, and Councillor Bobby Mills went public last week outside the threatened Garthowen Post Office in Newtown. I posted on this at the time. I have to say that I agree with every word that Bobby Mills said. 19 Labour MPs voted for our motion, as did most Liberal Democrats. Many more Labour MPs defied their party whip by abstaining. The vote was lost by just 20 votes, a close run thing for the Government.

Now its worth looking at what these two MPs have been saying in defence of their actions. Firstly, Roger Williams, MP for Brecon and Radnorshire. He told the B and R Express
"I talked to my whip about it and thought it was more important to take part in the consultative meeting. You can never get these things right, as you either spend too much time in Westminster, or too much time in the constituency. I was pleased to have attended the consultative meeting as it did give us a number of positive avenues we can use to mount a defence of post offices".
Now, its a weak MP, who hides behind the whip - and the meeting was for Town and Community Councils. The Post Office have offered me, a mere candidate, a full briefing on this issue at a time of my convenience - so I have not the slightest doubt that they would have done the same for the MPs. There was absolutely no need to be there, except that they wanted to be seen.

Lemit Opik has launched a full scale assault on Councillor Bob Mills. In today's County Times he is quoted as saying, amongst other things
" As Councillor Mills knows I was at a very important meeting about post office closures in Llandrindod Wells, where the decision makers about the cuts were available to discuss the issue. Cllr Mills has a bit of a brass neck to highlight this point considering he didn't bother to attend the meeting in Llandrindod Wells himself - perhaps his own sense of guilt for missing the meeting is the reason for him making the accusations now. "
And plenty more of the same. Now we need to remember that there were several attendees at Llandrindod who could have reported back to the MPs about what was said, a special meeting for them could have been arranged, and it was only MPs who could have voted in London. It looks to me that the MP is digging an ever deeper hole for himself over this - and Bob Mills is not a man to take on in a digging competition. The MP was wrong, made a gross misjudgement and should accept it, and not just attack a County Councillor who has stood up for his constituents by stating nothing but the absolute truth.

Dr Kay Swinburne.

Conservative Party members in Wales have chosen a 40 year old financial consultant to be their lead candidate in next year's European Elections. Dr Kay Swinburne is originally from Llandysul and is a Welsh speaker. She must have made a big impact on party members last year when she contested the 'open primary' at which Jonathon Evans was selected to fight Cardiff North at the next General Election. Its never wise to count chickens too soon, but because of the proportional system of election, it is highly probable that Kay will become one of Wales' 4 MEPs after the votes have been counted in May 2009. We are also hopeful that Evan Price who has been placed second on the Conservative Party list, might make it to Brussels as well. We know that we will have to do very well indeed to achieve this, but things are looking good at the moment - so why not?.

The reason that the 'vacancy' arose to top our list was because current Conservative MEP representing Wales, Jonathon Evans has decide to step down in order to seek a place in the House of Commons. This blog offers its fullest congratulations to Kay Swinburne, and hopes that she will be successful in being elected and just as successful as a member of the European Parliament as Jonathon has been, if elected.

Its the Little things.

Its the little things that nobody ever thinks about. This morning I had coffee out with a woman who was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease about 5 years. Apart from that, she's absolutely fine. We were meeting to set up a photograph of myself (President of the Montgomeryshire branch) and her daughter (who had won a competition prize). The photograph is for the next local Parkinson's Disease Newsletter. Anyway, I arranged the set and handed over my camera. And then I realised that operating a camera is not an easy thing for for her to do, and the owner of the cafe took the photograph. I know its not much, but its something relatively small that bring things home. To begin with I was cross with myself for being so insensitive. But on reflection, I think that's probably the best approach - treating people who are suffering from an illness as if they're not.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Free Vote

David Williamson of the Western Mail has been on the telephone today to ask me for my opinion about 'Free Votes' in our parliaments. He may have been reading my post about the Human Fertilisation and Embyology Bill, which has caused me angst and Gordon Brown to display another bout of dithering. I'm rather in favour of the 'Free Vote' as a general principle. I accept that there has to be a system of 'whipping' if any sort of consistency or structure is to be maintained, but on issues of moral or religious conviction, I think politicians should be encouraged to decide for themselves - as far as possible anyway.

I thought that David Cameron was absolutely right to grant a 'Free Vote' to Conservative MPs on this contentious Bill, and Gordon Brown was right to change his mind, thought it doesn't really smack of 'moral compass' in that he only conceded when he thought he could carry his Bill without the rebels. Expediency rather than any sense of 'rightness' methinks. This debate is now likely to be much more interesting. It will be more transparent for the public, it should bring out some strong parliamentary performances by individual MPs (I would really love the challenge of speaking on this issue) and its good for democracy, in that voters can see how their MPs perform when they are not confined to the party line. This Bill is shaping up to be a highlight of the 2008 Parliamentary year.

What now for the Barnett Formula.

A few years ago, it wasn't possible to go through a week in the National Assembly for Wales without Plaid Cymru or the Liberal Democrats calling for the end of the Barnett Formula. The mantra was that this formula was being used by the dastardly politicians at Westminster to deprive Wales of shedloads of millions that was rightfully hers. Well, it looks as if these politicians at Westminster might just give them what they've been asking for. Never has the advice 'be careful what you ask for' been more appropriate.

Now the reality is that what members of the National Assembly for Wales think will be nothing to do with any decision at Westminster to review the Barnett Formula, the way that the amount of money going from the Treasury to Cardiff Bay is calculated. The only reason is that the voters and taxpayers of England have had enough of watching all sorts of 'freebies' being handed out by the Scottish Parliament, which are unavailable to them, paid for by money going from the Treasury to Edinburgh. The 'subsidy' which is widely reported to be heading over Hadrian's Wall amounts to about £1,500 per capita more than is being spent on the equivalent services in Wales. The Scottish Parliament was established in 1999, and at last, the English giant is stirring.

I've always warned that there is no guarantee that the Welsh block grant would go up if the Barnett Formula were to be reviewed, so I was always cautious about calling for a review. Well, I'm still cautious, and so is Paul Murphy, the Secretary of State for Wales. The per capita payment coming to the National Assembly is also higher than is spent in England. It was an easy hit to shout that Wales was being robbed when no-one was looking in detail at the reality. I've an idea that all those siren voices in Wales who've been calling for a scrapping of Barnett and a review of funding are now looking nervously over their shoulders.

Will 'misspeaking' be 'Out of Order'.

Who will be the first British Parliamentarian to accuse an opponent of 'misspeaking'? More interestingly, what will be the response to such a charge by the Speaker in the House of Commons, or the two Presiding Officers in Edinburgh and Cardiff Bay? Will 'misspeaking' be ruled out as 'unparliamentary'? As far as I can see, the word is a synonym for 'bare-faced lying', so it should really should be. Or perhaps it will become part of that collection of words and phrases that only parliamentarians use, and which forms the acceptable face of the English Language - rather like 'dissembling' or 'considering your position'. I daresay there are plenty more.

Spring in the Garden.

My first big day in the garden this year today. Cleared the mole heaps off the lawns, divided the veratrums, pruned some of the hydrangeas, transplanted a few shrubs and cleaned the moss out of the turf I bought from the Welsh Rugby Union after the great 11-9 victory over England in the last grand slam season. Do you remember the game? The pitch cut up so badly that it was sold off in squares to raise funds in memory of Brent Cockbain's baby who died that year aged one. I bought a square and it has pride of place in our garden. We live near the Wales/England border and if you stand on this square, you look out onto our oldest and dearest neighbours with fondness and happy memories of great games played between our national teams - or you can just stand there, remember the 11-9 scoreline, and salute worthy opponents in a time honoured way.

More gardening tonight. I chaired a Gardener's Question Time at Carno Community Centre for Montgomeryshire Women's Institute. There were questions about why the berries on a callicarpa shrivel and drop, (too dry) and how to grow a Monkey Puzzle Tree. (Why on earth would you want to is what said). I was one up on the panellists in that I've managed to grow a Chilean Flame Tree (embothrium) in our garden. They are difficult to get going but wonderfully satisfying if you can. Or you can save yourself the bother, and just go to Bodnant in June.

And today's Telegraph had a half page on our most common garden birds. Not surprised to see the Goldfinch in the top ten for the first time. Its only recently that this spectacular little bird has wintered in any significant numbers where we live. We have one bird feeder with little black seeds especially for Goldfinches. My favourite bird feeder visitors are the Greater Spotted Woodpecker and the Nuthatch. They go for it with such incredible vigour. I also love it when a group of long tailed tits pass through. Even though they help themselves quite voraciously to whats on offer, they never seem to come back for more the next day. They must be stupid - bird brains I suppose. I'm hoping for a few more hours in the garden tomorrow as well, weather permitting.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Environmental Insanity?

The law of unintended consequences strikes again. This time its the headlong rush to grow and process crops to produce bio fuels. Professor Robert Watson, the Government's leading environmental scientist has warned that the Government's policy is potentially 'insane'. Blimey. Don't be afraid to say what you think, Professor Watson.

For a long time now, I've been warning that the diversion of crops from feeding people to fueling power stations and motor cars will drive prices up to a level that will cause millions to go hungry and drive environmental considerations out of the window. People forget the environment when their bellies are empty. I talked about this at an RSPB fringe meeting at our recent Welsh Conference at Llandudno. It was something that Julian Salmon of the CLA said at the 2006 Winter Fair at Llanelwedd that started me thinking about this. Now we are told that the clearance of forests and the ploughing up of grassland and peat-lands is going to pump more carbon into the atmosphere than the switch to bio fuels will save. Now that is insane.

So what is to be done in the face of this authoritative opinion. From next week, 2.5% of all fuel sold at British pumps must be derived from bio fuels. By 2010, it is proposed that the figure will be 5%. This has the makings of being a serious environmental disaster, created by a desire to do environmental good, by a government which has announced a policy without carrying out the necessary research first. It seems that our Government policy will starve people, undermine agri-environment policies and damage the environment. I'm starting to cry. Please find me anothere scientist who will tell me this is not an insane triple whammy.

Monday, March 24, 2008

One Hellish Choice.

MPs are paid more than AMs, and the last few days have helped me understand why. Not because they work harder, or longer. Its because they have more responsibility and have to take more difficult decisions. I was an Assembly Member for 8 years and I always voted as instructed by the 'whip'. Didn't always agree, but never felt sufficiently strongly to rebel. The issues just didn't seem important enough to break the whip.

But I try to imagine being in the House of Commons when the Embryology Bill is being debated. First problem would be deciding which way to vote. At present, I have no idea which way I'd go. I'm very supportive of research which could help people who suffer from neurological diseases, such as Motor Neurone Disease and Parkinson's Disease, and we're assured that the creation of part human, part animal embryos for use in stem cell research could bring major scientific advances. And yet. And yet. The thought of giving scientists the freedom to create these embryos fills me with horror. Mind you, I daresay rogue scientists will create them illegally, whatever's decided. (Been reading too much Dan Brown. This is absolutely 'Angels and Demons'). And another thing. If I was faced with a vote on lowering the legal time limit for abortion to 20 weeks, I would be in the lobby with Nadine Dorries, no matter what instruction I received. I know that the Conservatives are being given a 'free vote' on this Bill, but it does bring home to me the sort of responsibility that comes with being an MP. That's if you take the job seriously of course.

Suddenly, being an MP seems a much more difficult job. Can I just add that I greatly sympathise with Secretary of State for Wales, Paul Murphy. It would be tough enough for me , and I'm not a Catholic.

The Sheep Trade.

Been down to Welshpool Livestock Market this morning. £25 to the good. By the most extraordinary coincidence, I won a raffle prize donated by Mick Bates, Lib Dem Assembly Member for Montgomeryshire to the Grand Draw at Llanfair Caereinion Agricultural Show last September. Hadn't seen Glandon Lewis, the organiser til today, when he handed over my loot. I need some suggestions about what to spend the money on.

Prices were surprisingly good. Hoggets were about £12 over. I should explain this to those of you unfamiliar with farming terminology. A hogget is a lamb that was born last spring. The hogget trade will peter out over the next few weeks as lambs born this spring come onto the market. And the price is based on weight. For example a hogget weighing 58 kilos was making about £70 today (that's where the '£12 over' comes from.)

Another market that is in full swing at the moment is that for ewes and lambs. As found mules with one and a half lambs were making around £55. Some more explanation needed. 'As found' refers to the ewe's teeth. As a sheep becomes aged, she loses her teeth, and needs better grazing to prosper. A sheep is 'full mouthed' when she reaches 4 years, and after that her mouth is 'as you find it'. You will sometimes hear country people refer to 'mouthing' people - which means no more tha guessing their age. A mule is a crossbred sheep - in mid Wales usually applying to a cross between a Welsh Speckled-faced or Beulah mother crossed with a Blue-faced Leicester ram. The one and half lambs means that, for example a pen of 10 ewes will have 15 lambs with them, 5 singles and 5 doubles.

I was also told that the 'killer' trade was very good as, though I'd left before this market started. More explanation. This trade is for old ewes that are unsuitable for breeding again next season. The market is normally strong over the next month or so, partly because of a shortage of young lamb. When I started out in farming, old ewes were worth next to nothing, but with the arrival in the UK of people from the Indian sub-continent, they have become much more valuable.

I also called in on the cattle trade, but I think we've covered enough for this post. Now for that £25. Maybe a bottle of Sancerre to toast a Boris Johnsone victory.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

New Policy taking effect

I've resisted the temptation to post on this in today's Telegraph. Such fertile territory too.

Second Homes in Wales.

Another report in today's Wales on Sunday caught my eye. Written by Matt Withers. Nick Bennett, Chief Executive of Community Housing Cymru is claiming that new laws planned to control second homes in England will drive second home buyers into Wales. First time I sat down with a coffee to think about this issue (my favoured form of contemplation) was a few weeks ago, after receiving a letter from Plaid Cymru MP, Adam Price. I understood the points he made about Gains Tax changes and possible planning law changes in England, but I just did not accept the scenario that Adam was postulating.

The basis for the concern is that Gordon Brown is supposed to have talked about creating a separate 'use class' in the planning system for second homes in England. To buy a second home in England would require getting planning permission for change of use, a costly and lengthy process. So they would come to Wales instead. If we set aside the question of interfering in the property market, it seems ever so simple when put in these terms - but its not simple at all. I've spent quite a lot of time discussing this issue in the past, principally in a comprehensive National Assembly review of the future of the Welsh Language some 6 years ago. I think all the other AMs on the Committee disagreed with me, but I concuded that it simply wouldn't be workable. Not only would it be a 'cheat's charter', but it would be impossible to enforce the % limits on second homes in designated communities that would have to be introduced, if the proposal were to have any effect.

Two other points that I want to make. If second homes become a real problem, and I accept that it might in some locations, it would be a lot easier to control numbers through Council Tax multiples. And secondly, if the proposed change on planning law were to be successfully introduced in England, it would so undermine my opinion that its unworkable, that I would expect teh National Assembly Government to quickly introduce the change into Wales. Even a statement that it intended to follow suit would immediately kill off the threat that Nick Bennett and Adam Price have raised.

Peter Black has posted on this issue as well

Fear of the Spin Doctor

7.55 a.m.. Waiting outside the Berriew Spar, desperate to see what the Wales on Sunday's Spin Doctor column has to say about the little difficulty I experienced with a 'risque' blog post this week. I've been subject to the most cruel ridicule by the Spin Doctor in the past, so I just knew I was in for both barrels today. Must admit it could have been worse. The gist of the piece was that he regretted my declared intention to eliminate from my blog anything which might be considered suitable material for his column. He might be onto something when he goes on about what might be in the drinking water in Powys though. Despite the damage it would cause to the environment, I'm considering switching to bottled water on - at least on a trial basis, to see if it makes any difference.

Pleased I read the Spin Doctor column today because of its helpful interpretation of how they do politics in Caerphilly. The column reports as follows.

Jan 17th. 2008. Wayne David said "Post Offices in these valley communities are particularly important for elderly people. Not only do they provide a service, but they also provide a focal point for senior citizens. I would hope that people speak up strongly in support of their post offices. If people value their post offices, they have to stand up and be counted."

Mar 18th. 2008. Wayne David voted against a motion in the House of Commons to suspend post office closures - and is quoted as saying "I have always said the Post Office cannot keep losing £500,000 a day nationally. Money has got to be saved, but its up to the Post Office how to save that money."

1. The Labour Government of which Wayne is a part, skewered the Post Office by removing getting on for half of its business, and has instructed the Post office, which it wholly owns, to close 2500 post offices across the country.
2. I read somewhere that Wayne David did not vote last Wednesday, so I'm not sure if Spin Doctor has got that bit right.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Wisdom of Francis Maude

First time I met Francis Maude was in the early 1990s. I was his chauffeur when he visited Montgomeryshire and featured in a debate about whether the UK should enter the Euro, held at Gregynog. His pro-Euro opponent that day was Charles Kennedy. The audience was about 100 local businessmen and women, and the Chair was the BBC's Sarah Dickin. Francis totally destroyed him. A vote was taken and the entire room (except for about two backed Francis). I've had a great regard for his political skill and judgement ever since.

So I read today's major interview in the Telegraph with especial interest. "The Conservative Party only succeeds when we are forward-looking." and "Our greatest tradition is to modernise." and "The idea that offering tax cuts is an instant route to electoral success is utter rubbish." and "I haven't found a single person who wants to spend less on the health service." and a whole lot more. Much of this may well not appeal to everyone, but it does appeal to me.

People often ask me what I think the Conservative Party has to do to win the next election. I usually respond (in all seriousness) by saying we have to persuade a lot of people who have not considered voting for us for the last 11 years, to change their minds. In Montgomeryshire, I always tell our team that there is absolutely no sense in criticising the thousands of people who seem to vote Liberal Democrat no matter what. For us to win, we have to persuade them to vote for us. Francis Maude understands this same principle at a national level better than most.

Let the people know.

Been to a protest meeting today at Garthowen Post Office at Newtown. It was very cold. "Enough to freeze the ears on a brass monkey" as my mother-in-law used to say. 100 - 150 there, at the invitation of the local councillor, Bob Mills.

Bob started his speech by drawing attention to the absence of local MP, Lembit Opik from the crucial vote on post offices in the House of Commons last Wednesday. "I want to begin by expressing my disappointment in our local MP, Lembit Opik that he wasn't in the House of Commons last Wednesday, to vote to suspend the post office closure programme" is roughly what Bob said. No messing. Straight for the jugular. It might have been no more than the truth, but I felt myself shuffling uncomfortably - especially when Bob handed me the floor to speak.

The more I get into this debate about closures, the more sympathy I feel for Post Office Ltd. Their spokes people have been put in an impossible position. The Government is the only shareholder of Post Office Ltd, and not only took away about half of the business, but instructed the company to close 2,500 post offices. No discussion. Just close 2500 post offices. The only way to save Garthowen PO, or Abermule PO, or my own PO in Berriew is to come up with another post office that we would close instead.

The only place to make any significant difference to the closure programme is in the House of Commons, which brings us back to the forthright Councillor Mills. I've not seen any reference to Lembit's decision to absent himself from last Wednesday's vote in the media yet. But Councillor Bob Mills made sure the good people of Garthowen know about it.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Politics changing in Powys

Been out leafleting today - supporting Steve Kaye, a Conservative candidate standing in the Welshpool 'Castle' ward in the imminent elections to Powys County Council. I'm going to be doing a lot of this over the next six weeks. In Montgomeryshire, we could have 10 or more candidates carrying the Conservative banner. This is an entirely new situation and it will be the first time I will be so committed to a council election.

Many Montgomeryshire people do not like the idea of 'political' councillors, and if I'm honest neither did I. During the 13 years I served as a councillor myself, I was the 'Independent' member for Berriew. Only when I decided to enter 'national' politics did I declare my party affiliation. In the 1980's, almost all of us in Powys were undeclared. The first party to challenge this tradition were the Liberal Democrats (though there had been the odd Labour councillor in Ystradgynlais for years). Everybody seemed to think only 'Independents' could win - and then the Lib Dems shattered the myth by winning about 10 in a row. The final blow to the old way was the decision by all the councillors to join 'groups' last year. So now we have the Lib Dems, Labour, the Montgomeryshire Independents (Migs) and the Powys Independents (Pigs). The true 'Independent' has gone already.

So its inevitable that my party enters the race with serious intent. After May 1st, I hope there will be a Conservative Group on Powys Couty Council that will work with me (and Suzy Davies, our Parliamentary candidate in Brecon and Radnorshire). If we demonstrate that we can win standing as Conservatives, and we demonstrate that our engine is driven by the public service ideal, the days of the Independent councillor will be numbered. I'll be out for an hour again tomorrow. We will be doing our damndest to win.

A Question of Doubt M'lud.

I don't like sloppy reporting. And I've just listened to what sounded like an example of just that on Radio Five. George Brook, the Saturday Editor of the Times was talking about stories in the news - perhaps in tomorrow's Times. The main story that had caught his eye is a series of unauthorised peeks into the secret files of Barak Obama. It seems that no-one has been apprehended for this crime, but Mr Brook concluded that the only motive behind it was to seek out 'political dirt'. Without presenting any evidence, he went further. He stated emphatically that this was obviously done by Barak Obama's Democrat opponents, or by the Republicans, looking for information to discredit him.

Well I'm sorry, Mr Brook, but it doesn't automatically mean this at all. The first thought that came into my mind was that it was the Obama camp itself which was responsible. Clearly, whoever had done the infiltrating had left enough evidence to ensure that the crime would be discovered - which is something I would not have expected the Clinton or McCain camps to have done. They would have remembered Watergate. And ask yourself who is the only person to benefit from revelations of this sort. Oh Dear, am I really more cynical than a the editor of a national newspaper.

Just Practising

My IT support, daughter Sally is home, so I've just had a lesson on copying and pasting. I picked another post at random to copy onto my blog - and since I just happened to be reading Valley's Mam's blog, I've copied one of her posts as a practice. I should add that I take no responsibility whatsoever for the content. In fact, I can see that the first of her 'Cooperisms' could easily cause serious offence to anyone who happens to be born with light coloured hair. I do want to reassure readers that I deplore discrimination based on the colour of a person's hair.

MORE SILLYNESS - GOOD OLD TOMMY COOPER. (Filched from Valley's Mam's blog)

Two blondes walk into a'd think at least one of them would have seen it.

Phone answering machine message - '...If you want to buy marijuana, press the hash key...'

I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day but I couldn't find any.

I went to the butchers the other day and I bet him 50 quid that he couldn't reach the meat off the top shelf. He said, 'No, the steaks are too high.'

My friend drowned in a bowl of muesli. A strong currant pulled him in.

A man came round in hospital after a serious accident. He shouted, 'Doctor, doctor, I can't feel my legs!' The doctor replied, 'I know you can't, I've cut your arms off'.

I went to a seafood disco last week...and pulled a muscle.

Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly. They lit a fire in the craft, it sank, proving once and for all that you can't have your kayak and heat it.

Our ice cream man was found lying on the floor of his van covered with hundreds and thousands. Police say that he topped himself.

Man goes to the doctor, with a strawberry growing out of his head. Doc says 'I'll give you some cream to put on it.'

'Doc I can't stop singing 'The Green, Green Grass of Home' 'That sounds like Tom Jones syndrome. ''Is it common?' 'It's not unusual.'

A man takes his Rottweiler to the vet. 'My dog is cross-eyed, is there anything you can do for him?' 'Well,' said the vet, 'let's have a look at him' So he picks the dog up and examines his eyes, then he checks his teeth. Finally, he says, 'I'm going to have to put him down.' 'What? Because he's cross-eyed?''No, because he's really heavy'

Two elephants walk off a cliff...boom, boom!

What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh.

So I was getting into my car, and this bloke says to me 'Can you give me a lift?' I said 'Sure, you look great, the world's your oyster, go for it.'

Apparently, 1 in 5 people in the world are Chinese. There are 5 people in my family, so it must be one of them. It's either my mum or my Dad, or my older brother Colin, or my younger brother Ho-Cha-Chu. But I think it's Colin.

Two fat blokes in a pub, one says to the other 'Your round.' The other one says 'So are you!'

Police arrested two kids yesterday, one was drinking battery acid, and the other was eating fireworks. They charged one and let the other one off.

You know, somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a little note on the windscreen. It said, 'Parking Fine.'

So that was nice.' A man walked into the doctors, he said, 'I've hurt my arm in several places' The doctor said, 'Well don't go there anymore'
Posted by Valleys Mam at 7:23 PM 5 comments

Pride in a colleague.

Conservative MEP, Jonathon Evans was on Dragon's Eye tonight, discussing the death of Ama Sumani. I was proud that he's a colleague of mine. No policy should be implemented by our UK Government without humanity. Jonathon has humanity in spades. Our Labour Government does not. I can see him enjoying a great Parliamentary career when he returns to the House of Commons after the next election.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

How do we save our Post Offices?

Been to a meeting in Abermule tonight, where over 200 local people turned out to make the case for retaining their post office. It was a really odd meeting. Three reps from Post Office Ltd had travelled up to face the music, but it seemed to me that they were virtually powerless to reassure anybody. We didn't have the real decision takers there. They remain faceless and protected from local wrath.
The Post Office has been instructed by its only shareholder, the Labour Government, to shut down 2500 post offices and replace them with 500 outreach facilities. The Government has removed best part of half Post Office's business, and issued a lot of other directions as well. The helpless Post Office reps were no more their apologists. Local coucillor, Wyn Jones and local MP, Lembit Opik made some good points from the top table.

Now, lets be clear about this. The announcement of post office closures in Mid Wales is only 'proposed' at this stage. This must have been repeated so often that I started to disbelieve it. The position is that if the good people of Abermule can find another full-time post office in the area that should be closed instead, it could be reprieved. And its no good talking about other local post offices like Adfa (which was mentioned), because that's only open for 1 1/2 days a week. Its got to be full time. The ridiculousness of this would make you laugh if it wasn't so serious.

Its difficult to know what is the best approach that anyone committed to retaining public services should take. It seems to me that local pressure is important, but the most effective pressure has to be that put on the Labour Government. Which is why yesterday's debate in the House of Commons was so important. Its so frustrating that we came so close to winning the vote. It would have made a real difference. All I can do is continue my meetings with Postwatch and the Post Office. But I feel that I'm only scratching the edges of the sore.

Its Goodbye to Humour.

Don't visit this blog in future, if you are looking for any attempt at humour. The BBC have seen to that today. I've had to accept that my sense of humour must be eliminated from this blog, because no matter how inoffensive I try to be, it has the capacity to self-inflict embarrassment. And me a declared feminist as well.

A few days ago, I blogged about Heather Mills pouring a jug of water over her ex-husbands barrister's head. It was an attempt to be funny, but the BBC's David Cornock reported me to the Shadow Secretary of Wales, and I suspect several others as well. The BBC have also run a story about this on their internet news site and Good Evening Wales asked me on to explain myself on air. For the first time in my life, I refused to appear, and I'm not going to approve any more comments on the offending post either. I would delete it, except that I think it would give the story more legs. I'm rather surprised by this turn of events.

For me, there is an important point in all this though. Now I'm not racist, homophobic, sexist, fatist, or any other ist for that matter. But I do see humour in most things. But if my humour is going to produce stories which undermine my commitment to equality, its just got to stop. I thought I had become fairly politically correct, but there clearly remain a few loose ends for me to tie up before I become a fully-fledged 'identikit' parliamentary candidate. In the meantime dear readers, you will now have to visit elsewhere to find pathetic attempts at humour.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cynicism in Politics.

Occasionally, I'm asked a question which really makes me sit up. It happened last night. I met Llangynog Community Council to discuss issues of significance in their area. The main issue of contention was the absence of a mobile signal - an issue that has the capacity to split communities. But the question in question was more a personal one.
"If we elected you to be our Member of Parliament, would you be your own man, or would you be more interested in just doing what your party wants, and not what we might want."

Tough question. I thought about it before answering, and answered honestly. In fact, I've already discussed this with the Conservative Party's Chief Whip. My answer went something like this. During the 8 years that I served as an Assembly Member, I did not once vote against the party 'whip'. In part this was because there were not many votes in the Assembly which really made a difference - but it was also because I know that ignoring the 'whip' creates instability and even chaos. But what I won't do is lie about what I believe. If I disagree with my party, I would want the right to argue my case within the party, and I would let my constituents know that I disagreed. And most importantly, I would not say one thing to my constituents and another at Westminster. Nothing brings politics so quickly into public contempt.

This is why I feel so disappointed by the behavior of many Labour MPs who voted against the Conservative Motion in the House of Commons today to suspend the post office closure programme. Its not the decision by Labour MPs to vote in favour of the Labour Government's closure programme that shocks me. Its that many of them have been campaigning to save post offices from closure in their own constituencies - and travelling up to Westminster and voting in favour of closure - or at least for not suspending the closure programme. This is hypocrisy of a high order. I heard one Labour MP trying to justify herself on the radio today. She just sounded unbelievable. And we wonder why young people are so disengaged with politics!

Men Sleeping Together.

Just catching up on yesterday's newspapers. Interesting story about Richard 1 (Lionheart) sleeping with Phillip 11, the King of France. Today, these words imply that they were engaged in homosexual activity, but there is no reason why this should be. When I was a boy living at home on the family farm, there was nothing unusual about men sleeping together - certainly not in our house anyway. It certainly didn't follow that they were gay. I'm sure that in Richard's time, he was only doing what many of his subjects were doing.

Our farmhouse had four bedrooms, plus one room downstairs for an Italian lady named Carmella, who helped my mother look after the children. One of the bedrooms was accessed by a separate flight of stairs. There were six children, and farm workers also slept in the house. And it was common practice then, to employ live-in young men from the cities who came to work under some Government sponsored scheme. It was Rodney from Manchester who taught me to play cricket. He was a Brian Statham fan, while I was in the Freddie Trueman camp. Anyway, the logistics meant that I slept with one, sometimes two men in the separately accessed bedroom. To the best of my knowledge there was never any homosexual activity in our house - and no-one thought the sleeping arrangements were anything but normal. Today, we all expect our own individual bedrooms, but then, it was not unusual for the family home to accommodate three generations, bigger families and employees. Either you slept together or slept on the floor.

So I think Professor John Gillingham is correct. It would be entirely wrong to assume that the Kings of Britain and France were homosexual just because they slept together. Not that there would be anything wrong if they did of course.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Nuclear Dilemma

Watched 'Week In, Week Out' on BBC tonight. It was based on three young students considering whether Britain should commit to new nuclear generating capacity. I've always been suspicious about nuclear power, but have reluctantly become a convert to the opinion that we no longer have any practical choice but go down the nuclear road. I feel quite angry about this because I'm afflicted by the sense that I've been trussed up by British Governments which have failed to address difficult issues about energy policy for many years. My greatest nightmare is that the 'lights go out' and our Government responds with a panic and mindless rush to nuclear, without the proper safety consideration. Since there is an energy gap almost upon us, I cannot see that alternatives to nuclear have sufficient time to fill it. It has been a terrible failure of democracy.

There are two principal problems with nuclear, the greater of which is what to do about radioactive waste. During the last year that I was an Assembly Member, I chaired the committee looking at radioactive waste policy, and we (the Britsh Government that is) did not reach a definitive answer, beyond a strategy to bury it deep, somewhere, sometime. I'm less concerned about safety (at least as a reason not to build in Britain) - mainly because a nuclear power station is almost as much of a threat to us in France (or Russia for that matter) as it is in Wales. The danger is there whether the UK builds more generating capacity or not. The second main, though lesser problem is cost. Its painfully obvious that energy prices are increasing so rapidly that nuclear is becoming more competitive, but I just don't believe new capacity is not going to cost British taxpayers an awful lot of money.

But I do want to talk to Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology, located near Machynlleth in Montgomeryshire. Paul was on tonight's programme and believes that the UK can switch to sole dependency on renewable energy by 2030. I've agreed to help Darren Millar develop policy in this area, and I do need to at least understand the principles on which Paul makes this claim. It would also be very satisfying to find a way out of my current acceptance of the inevitability of building more nuclear power stations.

Heather Mills.

I do try to see good in everyone. Heather Mills is a bit of a challenge. But she has brought a little sunshine into our lives today. Firstly, by her claim that her divorce settlement of £24.3 million will condemn her daughter, Beatrice to have to travel B-class, while her father travels A-class. I know train and air fares have gone up but.... And secondly by throwing a jug of water over Sir Paul Macartney's legal representative, Fiona Shackleton in court. From the 'before and after photographs' in today's newspapers, I have to say that the wet bedraggled look bestowed upon Ms Shackleton a wanton and rather fetching appearance. If she wants my advice, I'd recommend she considers adoping the wet look on a regular basis. She might even try wearing a T-shirt as well.

Simon Easterby

I've only met Simon Easterby once. I was door knocking in support of Alun Cairns in Barry at the last General Election. We were walking through a residential area when I espied a tall, powerfully built athletic man approaching us, who looked vaguely familiar. It was only when Alun said "Hello Simon" that I realised that I was in the presence of greatness. Mr and Mrs Simon Easterby and Mr and Mrs Alun Cairns were converting farm buildings into houses next to each other. I'm not sure that Alun fully understood what a wonderful rugby player he was dealing with.

I mention this because Simon Easterby announced his retirement from international rugby today, after 65 appearances for Ireland. I have a special regard for back row men, especially the real unsung grafters - the Dai Morris, Gerry Collins types. It was entirely possible to watch a game in which Simon's name was not mentioned by the commentators once - until he was given the Man of the Match award at the end.

I know he's Irish. But with No 1 son, Edward working in Cork for the last few years, and Adrienne, who is marrying No 3 son, Tim in July hailing from Macroom, I feel half Irish myself. Anyway, Simon has given such fantastic and loyal service to the Scarlets and has married a lovely Welsh girl, with a fine rugby pedigree herself, and has settled down here, I see him as an honorary Welshman. He deserves his place on a Wales based blog. So its thanks for the memories and best wishes to a gentleman and a star in retirement.

Snatching at my youth.

Haven't been on a squash court for over 5 years (not since the major op in Dec. 2002). In fact, hadn't played much since 1999, when I was elected to the National Assembly. At risk of stimulating an ear-shattering, collective snort of derision, I just didn't have time. Mid and West Wales was such a huge constituency. Anyway, last night, I performed the official opening of the impressive new fitness centre at the Armoury in Welshpool. Really enjoyable evening. I was very pleased to be asked. Only downside might be the photograph. I never entirely trust Phill Blagg, the County Times photographer, not to give rein to his 'sense of fun'. Its me sitting on a complex piece of fitness equipment, wearing a suit and tie, surrounded by most of Welsh[pool Town Council, who run the Armoury Centre. Hope I don't look too ridiculous.

Anyway, the Armoury Squash Courts are next door and I took in 10 minutes of the action. Eyes misted over as I remembered the good times. I started playing squash when my battered body would take regular rugby no more. Its a brilliant game and I played for Shrewsbury, around the courts of the West Midlands for over 20 years - and then the cancer finally stopped it. Lying in bed last night, I thought "Surely, if I took it gently, focusing on T domination and placement rather than the attritional retrieval style of old, I'd be able to avoid pulling any muscles - especially the heart muscle! After all, it was the same 'boys' playing last night as 25 years ago. Its no good. The wistfulness and longing is too strong. I'm going to book a court today.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Labour MPs - 'all hat and no cattle'?

I've been looking for an opportunity to use my new favourite phrase. Not sure if its a perfect fit though. We are going to find out next week whether all these Labour MPs, including 7 Cabinet Ministers, who have been joining in local protests about post office closures have any 'cattle' - or cojones, which seems to be the latest Parliamentary word.

The Labour Government is insisting that 2,500 post offices across the UK must close. But the Conservatives have called for the closure programme to be suspended and are forcing a division in House of Commons. This is a very smart move. The Telegraph puts the spotlight on Paul Murphy, Secretary of State for Wales today. According to Chivrav Dalal, who runs two post offices in Paul Murphy's constituency, the Government Minister should support his constituents. I suspect there will be a lot of local newspapers across Britain watching which way these Labour protesters will be voting next week.

This is an important issue in Montgomeryshire, where several closures were announced last week, including my two local post offices at Berriew and Castle Caereinion. Its difficult to know what to do about it. I am working alongside Nick Bourne in the National Assembly and advising other concerned local people. I am also meeting a Post Watch representative on Wednesday, and encouraging my party to put pressure on in Westminster to change the Government's mind. I'm also planning to meet Post Office representatives to try to inflence them. I'm just a bit concerned that all the focus seems to be on making a lot of noise locally. I worry that this will not have much effect on the distant businessmen who take the decisions. Petitions and protests have a role, but the real influence will be in meetings well away from the public gaze. At least the Conservatives at Westminster seem to have a coherent strategy through its debate next week.

Asking for trouble!

Tomorrow, I am scheduled for office work, and I intend to prepare my submission to Lord Roberts about the approach the Conservative Party should take towards devolution. Regular readers of this blog will know that there are one or two 'givens' - but I do not think it is a straightforward issue. The 'givens' are that I cannot see any point in proposing any 'rowing back' on devolution. I know that several of my readers would prefer this, but I just think its unrealistic.
The second 'given' is that I see no point in arguing for a referendum on law making powers before the next Assembly election. The slow pace which the Labour/Plaid Coalition Government have adopted thus far, makes it impractical - and I no longer think such a referendum could be won anyway. So the only commitment which is deliverable, in my opinion, is a referendum by 2015. I can hear Alwyn and Alun spluttering. But I do think the way the AM salary increase was handled was a disaster with long term consequences. And the Assembly Government's poor delivery on healthcare services also makes too many people nervous of granting any more power to Cardiff Bay. An important unknown is just how much of the power that would be the subject of a referendum will already have been transferred via Legislative Competence Orders.

Anyway, any advice that readers want to offer me to help me with my submission would be appreciated.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Gatland Smile.

Watching Scrum 5 on BBC Wales. Warren Gatland turned up with the Trophy. He smiled when he came on. And he kept on smiling throughout the programme. This is a truly amazing season. Perhaps the 'congratulations' message he had from Gordon Brown caused it.

Watching the highlights of yesterdays game has just been an emotional experience. When I blogged yesterday, I forgot to mention the Welsh 'push' at the French scrum, under the Welsh posts on 65 minutes. It was absolutely sensational. Mrs D couldn't see why I thought it was the best moment of the match. I told her it was a 'forwards moment'.

Justin Marshall has just said that the reason Wales won was that the rest of the Six Nations teams have been c**p. He's really cool. Pleased Mrs D hasn't spotted him yet. Actually, he didn't put it quite so bluntly, but he's got a point. Warren then made a reference to the Irish problems - and laughed. And then he made a joke about fans singing "Edwards is a Welsh name, Edwards is a Welsh name" and laughed even louder. Gatland's become a laughing cavalier.

Justin has just said that we have a tendency in Wales to get a bit ahead of ourselves when we win. What an outrageous thing to say. There is absolutely no reason why we can't smash South Africa in the summer, win next year's Six Nations and the next World Cup.

Have-a-go Hero - or not.

I'm pleased that Nick Gannon, headteacher of Cefn Fforest Primary School hasn't been sacked, despite being found guilty of misconduct by the school governors. He had taken his hammer and spade and removed a partition wall in his school without complying with all the appropriate 'Health and Safety' regulations. Must admit there's a cut of the same cloth about me. I recall once trying to persuade my local council to remove some high branches from a tree that was threatening a constituent and his family. I was having no success, so I turned up with a ladder and a chainsaw myself. The local newspaper turned up as well, and my efforts were duly recorded. Of course, I couldn't do much because the offending dead branches were about 60 ft up. So I persuaded Wyn Jones, a friend of mine to help me the following week with a digger, and I took a few more branches off - as high as the digger bucket would reach. I've got a really good head for hieghts, but Wyn was terrified that I'd fall out of the bucket. I then threatened to turn up the next week with a cherry picker to reach the top. But someone from the Council must have been a Conservative supporter, because I had a call to say that they were going to do the job themselves. Today, I'd have probably been arrested for putting my own life at risk. When I look back, I have to accept that I was way out of order, - but frustration does odd things to a man.

My good friend Daniel Kawczynski, MP for Shrewsbury could also be having a call from the police. Last week he too took the law into his own hands when he decided to chase down a couple of shirt thieves in London, putting his life at risk. It seems that Daniel was shopping in an upmarket shirt shop when he spotted the crime being perpetrated, and ran after them shouting "Stop thief". He's over 6' 8'' and his stride at full gallop must be about 3 metres. No wonder the thieves jettisoned their ill gotten goods. I hope he didn't break any Health and Safety regulations.

Wonderful Wales

Snowdonia was in the news last week. Wrong reasons. I was there today, presenting Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales Awards to Caban Cyf and Gwynedd Council for the classy transformation of an old Edwardian school at Brynrefail, near Llanberis into a restaurant, business premises and gardens. The project is a great example of a local authority working with the private/voluntary sector to create employment. Good for perception of CPRW as well. The Award recognised importance of the built environment in Wales most stunning landscape, and the recognition that economic and social development have to be accommodated.

The summit of Snowdon can be seen from Caban. I decided to stop at the Cafe located at the highest point on the Llanberis Pass for a coffee on the way home. Its in the shadow of Snowdon and is where most walkers start there trek to the summit. It was a 'high cloud' sky this afternoon, and her profile was sharp and innocent. Mt Snowdon is not innocent. She is fearsome and demands respect, and last week claimed the life of a senior policeman. We don't know what role the mountain played in this tragedy, but it adds to her unyielding reputation. I think she looks best in some low cloud (not enough to hide her face completely) and light rain - when her dangerous, threatening Kyffin-esque blackness dominates all who look at her. Hard to believe that I've never walked to the summit.

Everyone else waiting to buy coffee was wearing climbing gear. I was wearing my suit and tie. Thought I looked quite smart until the young girl taking my order asked me if I was a driver. I know that I have a tendency to scruffiness, but I do try if I'm 'on duty' as I was today - but to accuse me, in my best suit, of looking like a bus driver hurt. I suppose if I'd said "Yes", I'd have qualified for a free cup. But a man had got his pride. So I paid up.

I'm in Llanrwst on the 18th April and I'm going to climb the great mountain after my meeting. I'm told its better to start at the Beddgelert side rather than the Llanberis Pass side. If I can find a companion, and arrange our transport, perhaps I'll go up one side and down the other.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Ambrose Williams

I first met Ambrose when I was 11 years old. It was the sprint final at the Area sports, held at Llanfair Caereinion High School. I was representing Castle Caereinion Primary and was assuming that I was going to win. After all, I'd never been beaten over the sprint by anyone in my age group. Our School was a small school and the races had been over about 50 yards. At the area sports, in the final, I was about 50 yards down the track, already savouring victory, when Ambrose cruised past. I remember being very upset about it. When I moved to the High School the next year, I learned that 50 yards was about my limit. My powerful short legs enabled me to hit top speed immediately, and it took a while for the genuine sprinters to catch up. My best distances turned out to be the 440 yards (about 58 secs) and the 880 yards (about 2 minutes).

Over recent years I've occasionally met Ambrose and we've discussed the day when he visited such destructive disappointment upon me, amongst other things. Well I met him again today, and he started the conversation - in Welsh. Never happened before. In school, he spoke Welsh as his first language, while I spoke none. Every time we've met, in school and since, he's always spoken to me in English. Over the last 7 years, I've worked hard to learn the Welsh Language. I suppose Ambrose has heard me speaking Welsh on Radio Cymru and S4/C. Today he opened up in Welsh, without thinking - and I don't think it crossed his mind to change. I was very pleased. After all these years, Ambrose repaid a little of the misery he caused me, all that time ago.

I wasn't there

I wonder what its like to live with Martyn Williams. How do you relate to someone who is quite so special. Does he snore, eat cereal for breakfast, and just stroll down to the nearest paper shop to buy the Wales on Sunday? Or does he sleep on a concrete slab, eat iron filings and have his newspapers delivered by man on a white horse. For me, a man who strove to perform well at open side on the playing fields of the Midlands and North of England, this man is a god. I felt myself welling up when he was interviewed after today's game. This season's Grand Slam winners are a very special group of sportsmen, and I think that Martyn is the greatest of all - perhaps because that was my position. OK, fair enough if you feel the same about Gethin Jenkins, or Stephen Jones, or Gavin Henson, or the brilliant Shane Williams, or my man of the 6 nations, Lee Byrne, or Mark Jones, or Alun Wyn Jones, or Jonathon Thomas, or Adam Jones or Ryan Jones, etc.....

I watched today's games at home. Italy were great. I so wanted them to win - even if it was a pity that it meant that Scotland had to lose, probably a touch undeservedly. I'd expected Italy to win and they just scraped it in an enjoyable game. Just imagine the bars in Rome when that Marcato drop goal went over. I want to go to Italy for a holiday.

England were very good today. Do you realise how much writing that line took out of me? But Cipriani is a real star - insufferably cocky and he'll make it easy for me to continue my life long desire to see England lose. But he is a class act. Brian Ashton will be retired, perhaps before the New Zealand tour. England are still the team to beat.

But Wales were just incredible. I'm not mentioning the French because of the utter rubbish they set out to play in Cardiff today. They knew that they were not as good as Wales, so set out to kill the game of any adventure. Some of the great French players of the past must have been in despair. And at one stage, it did look as if this desperate negativity would win the day. Thank the heavens for Shane Williams - again. I so much wanted Mark Jones to have scored with that length of the field run, but it was not to be. And it all ended with Martyn Williams scoring the final try of a memorable Championship. It was enough to bring a smile to the faces of Gatland and Edwards - something that I thought I would never be able to post. I think champagne is in order.

How to confirm if a cat's dead.

Little girl told her mum that she's just seen a dead cat on the roadside. When he mum asked how she knew it was dead, she said that it had not moved when she pi**ed in its ear. "You did what?" said shocked mum. "Yes, I just leaned over the cat and went 'pssst' in its ear". This is a very unlikely story. Most little girls these days would just have given the cat a good kicking.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The understatement of 2008 - so far.

There has been a lot of publicity about the proposed closure of post offices in Mid Wales over the last few days. But this was not the Powys story that shocked me most this week. It was this one. I've not had the chance to work out the implications of it yet - so shocking is it.

The Chair of the Powys Local Health Board, Chris Mann described it yesterday with the words "it was fair and thorough, albeit hard hitting". That was one hell of an understatement. The 'It' was a report by the NHS Clinical Governance Support and Development Unit. And it said that the 10 Community Hospitals in Powys are unable to meet standards of safety. It said that all services should be transferred to other areas as soon as possible in the interests of patient safety. And it said a lot more of the same.

Now two things occur to me. Firstly, is this going to lead to yet another attempt to close down Community Hospitals in Powys? And secondly, how on earth can the Chair of the Board not feel compelled to resign - nothing personal, but I've never seen anything so damning. We knew there was a serious problem when the LHB's Chief Executive resigned last year - and we knew that there had been other major changes at senior management level - but I don't think any of us knew it was as bad as this. We also know that the Powys LHB's budget is spiralling into debt. I really do fear for our hospitals this time.

Its all very well for Health Minister, Edwina Hart to start beating the drum about wanting improvements. Lets not forget that this has happened under the watch of Governments of her party. This story has not received anything like the coverage it warrants. Its a real genuine scandal - which has put people's lives at risk.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Big Dragon's Eye tonight.

Two hugely important issues on Dragon's Eye tonight. And both of them challenging the horrible belief that underpins the Welsh Labour Party that 'Government' is all powerful, is always right, and not open to any form of independent opinion. The first issue was the refusal of the Assembly Government to establish an 'Independent' advocacy service for children. The hugely respected Sir Ronald Waterhouse launched an astonishing attack on the Assembly Government. He said he was scandalised, thought that the Government was afraid of exposure, and that the Assembly Government's 'alternative' proposals to provide advocacy for children would fail. We also had Helen Mary Jones, Plaid Cymru AM, a member of one of the governing parties joining in the assault - in effect against her own party. Astonishing. I've cannot remember witnessing such a blistering attack on a Government about the way we treat our children.

And then we had Peter Hain on, launching another attack on the the underlying fundamental philosophy of Labour Assembly Government's since 1999. Of course the language was not as colourful as Sir Ronald Waterhouse's - but it was an attack on the 'freebie' strategy that has led to a bloated public sector which as Peter Hain so rightly says is stifling the private sector in Wales. Its really very odd watching Peter Hain striding around the TV studios of Wales talking so sensibly. Oh that he had said this sort of thing when he was in a position to make a difference.

As I retire to my bed, with the glint of the Dragon's Eye still boring into the receptive part of my brain, I have never felt so certain that Wales will never be economically successful until Labour is out of office.

Where's the Beef?

I'm not one whit wiser. It seems to me to have been the biggest non-discussion since Tony Blair organised his Big Conversation with the people. I can't even remember what that was about. The 'establishing committee' of Labour and Plaid AMs and MPs have completed their work and have today announced what Sir Emyr Jones Parry is going to do. Seems to me that all that these recommendations have done is deprive Sir Emyr's Convention of the main decision I thought it was being set up to take - how it would consult on the public mood for a referendum. Seems that these 16 fine people have outlined precisely how the consultation is going to be carried out.

What we really want to know is what the Convention is going to consult on. It seems bizarre that a convention should be established, at a cost of £1.5 million, to report by Autumn, 2009, simply to tell the Assembly Government what Welsh people think of devolution and how they will vote in a referendum. It would be the most expensive opinion poll in history. I haven't read the full report from the Establishing Committee yet, but I hope there's a lot more to it than the BBC has been able to find.

What's to be done with Dr Christopher Woods.

For many months now, a US based Welsh lawyer, commenting under the name of Dr Christopher Woods has 'embellished' this blog with frequently delivered opinions and some fairly shameless touting for business. I've found this 'cookoo-like' activity to be a positive addition to my own opinions, homilies, and observations on passing traffic. I'd feel deserted (desolate even) if Dr Woods 'did an Oscar' and disappeared. But not all of my visitors feel the same. Some are starting to be very rude about him, and in at least one instance, I thought the rudeness was being directed at me - which led to some hump-taking, firstly on my part and then on Oscars. So what's to be done.

This is a bit like one of those 'tests' prospective candidates are put through when being assessed on their suitability for inclusion on an 'approved list'. I don't want to lose him, or his opinions - but I don't want to lose visitors either. (At this moment, please imagine sound effects of man scratching head)....."I know. I'll do what Tony Blair used to do - just lie and pretend. If I say that I'm going to limit Dr Woods to one comment per post each day, everybody will think I'm 'tough on crime'. It looks as if I'm putting heavy shackles on a transgressor, while it actually allows dozens of posts every day - even if I were to enforce it. And I'm the man who's in charge of moderating. And all this discussion of a perceived 'problem' may well lead to Dr Woods exercising restraint. Brilliant. I won't have to do anything at all. Of course, he might just take the hump and b****r off. I do hope not.

Lifted up and dumped again.

'Fuse' is a shop on Broad Street, Newtown, which sells CDs, books and lots else. Called in today to see Russell, who owns the business. Kate, an attractive twenty-ish (perhaps a teenager) young woman was there, searching for a Johnny Cash CD. I'd never met Kate before and because of the excitement, I'm not sure that I'd recognise her again. All that I can say is that she lifted my spirits up high and filled me with hope only to then smash it to pieces about my feet.

And how did Kate do this you may ask. Well, the context is my taste in music. Its so 'old'. Not for me the Arctic Monkeys who so thrill the Prime Minister, or the Jam, who do it for David Cameron. I go for Bruce Springstein, Status Quo, Neil Diamond, Simon and Garfunkel and ....Johnny Cash. You can imagine my excitement when I heard a first time voter actually searching out one of my favourite artists. Couldn't resist it. Said something about her good taste, and how I liked his 'raw' San Quentin type music better than the 'pop' stuff like 'A boy named Sue'. Really felt I was connecting, and then.....

and then she told Russell she was buying something for her gran. Oh, the embarrassment of it all. I went straight outside and had a haircut. Next time. I'll pretend to know something about Radiohead and Duffy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

BBC goes Wild.

I don't watch much television - except political programmes and sport. But if I'm in, I do watch whatever is on at suppertime (8.00ish) . Perhaps I should refine that to being in the same room as the television at suppertime. OK if its a quiz or a gardening programme. Tonight there was some really top class wildlife coverage. The BBC really excelled itself.

Firstly there was Bill Oddie, whom I'd stopped watching over recent years, while he was part of a puerile double act with a young woman. But tonight it was great. Bill's antics seemed somehow more acceptable when there wasn't this woman fawning al over him. Some great stuff on dippers, which I've seen in the Rhiew. And quite a funny piece on whether the collective noun for rooks should be a 'Parliament'. Rooks are noisy, argumentative, and forever nicking each others partners for illicit sexual activity. When Bill said that the older 'more senior' rooks claimed the best central locations in the rookery for their nests, I thought immediately of Portcullis House. Anyway, Bill thought he'd made his case.

There was also a good item about the re-introduction of beavers into the Scottish wild lands, something that I'm all for. And then it was a programme presented by a Johnny Kingdom. He could also become very irritating, with his exaggerated accent, but tonight's item on brown hares was terrific. I'm very fond of hares. These lovely creatures were the reason I gave up shooting about 40 years ago. I used to love rough shooting (not the killing frenzy that the guns seem to enjoy today), and nothing more than lying out under the horizon, shooting them in the moonlight. My last shot for fun only wounded the hare, and it screamed pitifully. It sounded like a baby. I haven't shot for fun since. Tonight's programme was about moving brown hares from where they are still plentiful to where they are now scarce. If this works, I would be keen to re-introduce them onto my farm.

Calling the Assembly Government.

Hello. Is there anybody there. I'm calling from a place known as Mid Wales. Its that part of the country which you claim to govern, North of Merthyr, that you have to pass through to reach Wrexham. People live there, real people who pay taxes, and need services - and in particular suffer from kidney diseases, just like everywhere else.

Last night, I joined a meeting of Welshpool Hospital's League of Friends. I was invited to talk about the long awaited renal dialysis unit which has been anticipated for years now. This is a subject in which I have retained an interest since losing my position as an Assembly Member. Unusually, everyone is in agreement about this project. The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals Trust desperately needs it, as a 'satellite' unit because it cannot cope with current demand. The Powys Local Health Board have submitted a business case to Health Commission Wales. Even the Minister has made supportive statements about it. And Kidney Foundation Wales are supportive. The League of friends tell me that they have raised a good sum of money to put towards the cost. And yet, from Health Commission Wales there comes a deafening silence. Deep, deep frustration all round.

What's to be done - apart from threatening to set fire to the Senedd, an idea to which I'm opposed. I advised tackling the politicians. I will write to Nick Bourne who represents the area. I suggested writing to Mick Bates AM, another local representative. And I also recommended writing to Nerys Evans, Alun Davies and Joyce Watson, who both represent Mid and West Wales and are part of the Government Coalition parties. One of the reasons I opposed the establishment of the Assembly in 1999 was that I thought Mid Wales would be less well treated than when being governed from Westminster. There are a lot of people living in Montgomeryshire who are now saying the same thing. We want our Renal Dialysis Unit in Welshpool.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Words with 'Meaning'

I like phrases which use words in an evocative way to convey meaning. On of my favourites was "Fur coat and no knickers". Well, my new favourite probably emanates from Texas - "All hat and no cattle". Any other offers?

The Senedd - Value for Money?

Looks as if the (not so) new Assembly Building is back in the news tomorrow. I think there's an Auditor's Report due out. There could be an embargo on it, so I'd best not post on the content. But I can express an opinion about what I think of the Senedd today.

Now, I was perhaps the most fierce opponent of the decision to build the new 'Senedd', and I did my best to stop Assembly Members taking the decision to go ahead. I was very critical of the timing. Just didn't think that building a new debating chamber should have been the first big decision we took after being elected. I was particularly scathing about the ludicrous alternative than Rhodri Morgan made his entire Cabinet vote for, as he sought to give the impression that he was personally against it. He'd probably been listening to the conversation down the Dog and Duck. He just made himself look ridiculous. As it happens no other AM supported him.

So what do I think now. Well, since there was no turning back on the project, I've taken the view that we should extract as much value out of it as possible. I used to compare it to that Kyffin oil that we should never have bought - but having bought it, and spent the money, there was no sense in not fully 'appreciating' it. The Senedd is a superb building - modern, yes - but certainly no carbuncle. Streets better than the Scottish Parliament, which already looks dated. Today, I just laud the Senedd as an architectural masterpiece which, along with the Wales Millennium Centre, the Wales Millennium Stadium, the National Botanic Garden, is one of the great newly built icons of Wales. I try not to give any thought to value-for-money.

Plaid Cymru getting their excuses in first.

The BBC tells us that Plaid Cymru leader, Iuean Wyn Jones has started the process (which this blog has been predicting for a few weeks) of preparing the ground to renege on his promise to his loyal membership that there would be a referendum on law making powers 'in or before 2011'. If you recall, this was the ploy he used to persuade his members to prop up Rhodri Morgan in office last May, rather than lead a 'Rainbow Coalition' himself. I didn't think he really believed in it then - and I think he knows its a 'dead duck' now. So he's looking to get his excuses in first.

Its now over 9 months since the Labour-Plaid agreement was consummated. We have already had a full pregnancy term - and still no sign of any birthpangs. We haven't even had the morning sickness yet. All we've had is an announcement of a 'Convention' to be led by an impressive name, Sir Emyr Jones-Parry, the purpose of which remains as clear as mud. An arthritic snail would have generated more momentum. The Convention 'might' be up and running sometime later this year, and it will need at least 18 months to report. By then we're into the run-in in to the next Assembly Election. Woops. Big promise overboard.

So Ieuan needs excuses - Now. Things are becoming obvious to the troops. So why not blame Conservative and Labour MPs. Doesn't matter if there's no justification. The fact is that neither I, nor he has heard anything we weren't expecting. We knew that in the negotiations, Rhodri Morgan was not speaking for his MPs. We all knew that. And its no good complaining about MPs asking questions about the Legislative Competence Orders they are looking at. No way were MPs going to just rubber stamp things. If I could see that the Government of Wales Act is a 'Recipe for Conflict', why could not Plaid Cymru. No, the MPs are doing the job that Peter Hain told them they would be doing when he was persuading them to put this divisive Act on the Statute Book. Ieuan Wyn Jones has been taken for a ride. The interesting question is whether he knew it at the time.

My view is that we may see the referendum in 2012, and that's nothing like certain. Just don't pretend that you didn't see this coming Ieuan. Not all of us were born yesterday.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Broken Moral Compass.

Anyone who joins our Armed Forces deserves and receives my deepest respect. Anyone who puts their life on the line in the call of duty, is a hero to me. And any politician who plays 'cynical games' with these Armed Forces attracts my deepest disdain. Enter Gordon Brown, our 'moral compass' Prime Minister. I was utterly disgusted when he visited our soldiers in Iraq to announce troop withdrawals last October, in an attempt to overshadow the Conservative Party Conference. At the time. I thought that this brazen cynicism opened the door for the disastrous collapse in Gordon Brown's opinion poll ratings, which started the next day.

Now we find, if today's Telegraph report from Basra is true, that the troop withdrawals that he announced are not going to materialise anyway - at least when he said they were going to. Liam Fox, our increasingly impressive shadow defence secretary is quoted as saying
"The Prime Minister's announcement of troop withdrawals from Iraq have amounted to nothing more than classic Labour Government spin at the expense of the welfare of our Armed Forces and their families".
As Churchill might have said, "Some morality. Some compass".

What happened to the video-link?

I was disappointed to read on Betsan Powis' blog tonight that the National Assembly's Sustainability Committee Chair, Mick Bates is to lead a team of AMs to Germany and Austria as part of an inquiry into 'Carbon Reduction in Wales'. It seems that the AMs are all flying (3 flights in all). So the National Assembly for Wales is playing its full part in accelerating global warming!

Why don't they arrange to discuss these issues by video-link? When I was an Assembly Member myself, I chaired the Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee, and during my last year, 2006/07 we started inviting senior EU officials and politicians to meet the Committee via video link between Cardiff and Brussels. I'd hoped that this way of communicating would grow in usage, and become the norm. Its no good politicians banging on about reducing carbon footprints unless they walk the walk themselves.

I'm sure that there are good reasons why these particular discussions have to be held face-to-face. But I just thought I'd make the point - on the day when Her Majesty, The Queen, called on the world to work together to protect the environment. Now, I'm not talking 'crusade' here. After all, I like to take the odd holiday in the sun myself. You can't soak in the sun in winter without flying after it. But I do hope the video-link meetings, which looked so promising as a means of reducing air travel 18 months ago, is not put on the back burner.

What was he thinking of?

Mathew Williamson is an extremely knowledgeable man. So much so that he came in second, on 26 points, in tonight's high scoring edition of Mastermind. Question master, John Humphrys asked him what the commonly used name for Dicentra 'spectabilis' is, a name which is is shared with a part of the human body. After a few moments thought, he answered "Red Hot Poker". I wonder which human body part he had in mind? For non-gardeners, the correct answer is 'Bleeding Heart'.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Ten Commandments - Mark 2

The Church of England has produced a guide to help couples prepare properly for the rigours of modern marriage (Sunday Telegraph). The guide, titled 'Growing Together' comprises a modern day set of Ten Commandments.

Thou shalt decide who does the household chores.
Thou shalt talk about sexual 'turn-ons' and 'turn-offs'.
Thou shalt consider a joint bank account.
Thou shalt go to a sex counsellor if having problems.
Thou shalt look to improve relations with the in-laws.
Thou shalt prioritise sex, sport, career and children.
Thou shalt remember that communication is vital.
Thou shalt write a budget to show how money will be spent.
Thou shalt discuss whether you want to be buried or cremated.
Thou shalt honour thy 10-year plan.

So its all about who cleans the toilet, sex, money, sex again, the in-laws, sex yet again, watching the rugby, talking (does arguing count?) , money again, and finally death. Covers most things I suppose. Any better ideas?

The Big Fight.

David Haye versus Enzo Maccarinelli was only the suppoprting bout in Wales, this week. Top of the bill was Welsh Assembly Health Minister, Edwina Hart v the Westminster bantamweight, Ben Bradshaw. He'd made the mistake of deliberately standing on the Gower bruiser's toes when he rubbished the Assembly Government's record on health. Wales on Sunday are reporting the latest blow from the lady's clunking fist today.

It seems that the Minister has written to all AMs, defending the Government's record. In the letter she is reported to have claimed that the number of patients waiting to see a hospital specialist is at its lowest since figures were recorded, that the outpatient list is at its lowest for 7 years, that 99% of cancer patients are being treated within the 31 day target, and that 999 waiting times are improving. All this was accompanied by some typically robust commentary. Mr Bradshaw's attack on the Assembly Government's record was belittled as 'some recent media attention'.

Now lets be fair here. These claims are probably correct. Things are improving. But they remain way behind the equivalent figures for England. Where Edwina Hart's claims fall apart are that the improvement is only from the appalling position which was created by one of her Labour predecessors, Jane Hutt when she was the Assembly's first Health Minister. From 1999 on, what Wales experienced was a Minister obsessed with reorganising and building a complex bureaucracy of different healthcare organisations based on local authority boundaries. At the time we all told her it would lead to failure. At the same time, the Labour Government at Westminster was focused on getting waiting lists down.

Sorry Edwina Hart, but you are still a member of the same Cabinet as Jane Hutt. Things may well be improving under your watch, but you carry a collective responsibility for the dreadful performance with which you are drawing comparison. You should save your letters, boasting about performance, until your Government can claim to matche the performance being achieved over the border in England.

Clegg living with the fairies.

My parliamentary ambition requires that I take some interest in significant statements by the Lib Dem leadership. So I was interested in how today's 'major' speech by Nick Clegg at his Party's Spring Conference at Liverpool was going to be 'spun' to the media. What important message did he want to cast forth onto our airwaves. What great ideas did he have to repair the wreck of his disastrous week (or 'mixed'week as Vince Cable described it today). Well, it seems to be as bad an example of meaningless waffle as I've ever heard. Perhaps Vince Cable will describe the speech as Nick Clegg 'doing his best' which is how he described his handling of the EU Treaty debate. No wonder they call him Brutus.

Now, we all know that the Lib Dems are the party of Proportional Representation. This anorak-ish principle has been fundamental to the Lib Dems for as long as I can remember. We all also know that a consequence of this electoral system is that political parties have to form some sort of coalition after an election - unless there is a landslide of a force we have never yet seen in the UK. So what do we make of what Clegg has been saying today.

Apparently, Nick Clegg will never (Yes, that's what this man said) join a Labour or Conservative Cabinet. Perhaps he might do a deal with the BNP or Ukip! He's in favour of something he calls a 'pluralist' form of Government - though no-one from the Lib Dems has been prepared to explain what this entails.
"I am interested in a new type of government....based on pluralism.....a new system that empowers people rather than parties".
What on earth does this mean. Its gibberish. Its total b*****ks. It wouldn't be so bad if this man who's been waffling on about empowering the people hadn't last week reneged on his party's promise to empower the people through a referendum on the EU Treaty. I'm really looking forwards to reading what sense Peter Black, a fairly sensible fellow, makes of this airy-fairy nonsense on his blog. I won't hold my breath though, because anyone fairly sensible will say nothing and hope we all forget about it fairly quickly.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Politics in crisis?

I was speaker at a Conservative dinner at Llangedwyn, in the Tanat Valley last night. One of the issues I spoke about was the crisis in confidence that the British people have in the body politic. Last night, I was still reeling from the dreadful publicity surrounding the proposal to increase Assembly Members salaries by 8.3%. The issue I focussed on was the reneging by the Liberal Democrats and Labour on the promise to hold a referendum on the EU constitution. How can either party be trusted again? Yet another report in today's Telegraph about this loss of confidence, this time concerning comments by Mike Grannat, who was employed by the Speaker of the UK Parliament until last month.

He said "Parliament is like most institutions in a crisis. Firstly, they they don't quite see what the crisis is, collectively. And secondly, they think that whatever is going on it can be dealt with in the usual fashion by the means and through the usual channels that I think would be a very damaging self-delusion at this point .... I think there's a circle of denial" His main message is that politicians do not seem to realise the depths to which they have fallen in public esteem. I'm just reporting what I've read!

I did not want to speak negatively about any individual last night, but I did promise the people of the Tanat Valley that if I'm elected to represent them at the next election, I would be deeply committed to Montgomeryshire, as I have been for the last 30 years, and my ambition would be to have the constituency known for its serious approach to Government rather than pursuit of celebrity! They think they knew exactly what I meant.

Grand Slam Beckons.

Must admit that I hadn't expected it. A stunning performance at Croke Park today. Better than we could possibly have hoped for. Wales should have won by 20 points. A real team performance with no stars, unless you count Shane Williams who accelerating through a non existent gap to score the only try of the match, when he had no right to - and his rather polished stint as scrum half when Mike Phillips was in the bin for a rather stupid gratuitous knee in the back of an Irishman. In passing, can anyone tell me why Phillips was shown a yellow card for this act of juvenile stupidity, while the mad Irishman, Bernard Jackman, who put Ryan Jones out of the game with a much worse gratuitous assault in the second half got off with no punishment at all - except that Hook kicked the killer goal from the penalty I suppose. There's just not much to be said about the game, except that Wales were better in every aspect of the game. And the best bit of all was the last four minutes when we were in total control and ran down the clock. Mrs D thought this was boring. I thought it was brilliant - but then I was a forward. We must be hot favourites to beat France next week and win the Grand Slam.

At Murrayfield, England were just awful. The BBC's commentators just didn't know what to say. The match was that bad. They just couldn't bring themselves to tell us that Johnny Wilkinson was probably the worst player on the field. It was something of a blessing when Ashton took him off to avoid further embarrassment for one of the world's greats who is well past his best. Its a pity he took Neil Jenkins points record today, because its entirely possible that he won't play for England again.

If any of my readers have a spare ticket for next week's game, I would greatly appreciate an invitation. When I was an AM, I used to have multiple invites, but now that I'm a nobody, I don't get invited at all - well not very often anyway. Please.