Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bowel Cancer Screening

Down to Cardiff again today. Bit of a flying visit. Wales Cancer Conference in Cardiff City Hall. Another day, another panel discussion! - this time with Cath Lindley, General Manager of Macmillan Cancer Support, Lib Dem AM, Jenny Randerson, Plaid Cymru AM, Helen Mary Jones (she gets everywhere) and me, representing the Conservatives. BBC's Hywel Griffiths chaired. Seemed a very knowledgeable audience. Have to admit that they made me feel a bit inadequate.

But I do know a bit about Colorectal Cancer, or Bowel Cancer, as it is commonly known. There was a question about screening, so I said what I thought about the issue. In my opinion, the lack of urgency in putting in place a comprehensive Bowel Cancer screening programme is a disgrace. Those going down with this form of cancer will often make a full recovery, albeit after some fairly radical surgery - but only if the tumour is discovered at a sufficiently early stage. The evidence tells us that screening identifies a great many tumours, and also that a much higher percentage of them than those which are discovered as a result of obvious symptoms are at Duke's Stage One - which means that it remains contained within the bowel 'wall', and the chance of recovery is comparatively high. A screening programme would save a great many lives. If the same number of people died in any form of accident there would be an outcry, and Government would take action to stop it.

The reason that the Government is so slow putting in place the screening programme is that the 'resources' do not exist to deal with the extra cases that would be found. In other words, the effect of Government policy is that tumours of the bowel will develop to a stage where they are much more likely to lead to debilitating chemotherapy and an early death. Shocking when its put like that is it not? Now I'm not suggesting that Government Ministers decide that they actually want this to happen (which Helen Mary seemed to imply I was suggesting). Of course they don't, and I was not suggesting it - but it is the consequential impact of not implementing a screening programme.

I know that there is a problem of capacity to deal with the extra numbers. For example, there are not enough colonoscopists (if that's the correct word), and not enough being trained - and they've got to be trained. Its no good employing some bloke who uses the camera like a draining rod, leading to colon damage. But we've known about this capacity problem for a long time. Its time it was fixed. Anyway, I had a chance to ride one of my hobby horses this morning, and another ride now. I feel a bit like the fellow walking down the street when a concrete block fell from a high building and missed him by a whisker - who then tries to stop anymore concrete blocks from falling. Its a case of "What do we want?" We want a screening programme." "When do we want it?" "We want it now".

Assembly to Senedd

In Cardiff yesterday, at a conference arranged by the Institute of Welsh Affairs and an organization called Tomorrow's Wales. It was held at the All Nation's Centre under the title 'Assembly to Senedd' - The Convention and the Move to Primary Powers. My slot was part of a 'roundtable' discussion at noon, but I took in the whole morning. It started off with the opening/welcome from The Most Rev. Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales, Chair of Tomorrow's Wales, which campaigns for strengthening the National Assembly.

Next up was John Osmond, Director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, and Plaid Cymru candidate at last year's Assembly election. He focused quite a lot on changing the basis on which power is devolved to Wales - so that everything is devolved except what is reserved to the UK Parliament (as applies in Scotland), rather than what is specifically prescribed (as applies in Wales) . He seemed to think that this change (which is very significant) could occur within the current constitutional arrangements. 'Hope blinding Judgement' in my opinion. Its not that I disagree with what he wants - just that if its included in a referendum, the people's answer will be No. As ever, I play the role of pragmatic gradualist.

And then it was Sir Emyr Jones-Parry, diplomat extraordinaire, and Chair of the Convention that is being set up to, um..... I'm not absolutely sure. The official purposes are to facilitate a thorough debate throughout Welsh society about the granting of law making power to the Assembly, to assess the level of support for this, and to raise awareness of the current arrangements by which power is being transferred. Sounds impressive, but I'm not sure what it amounts to. It will depend on the way Sir Emyr tackles the job. But he does use the English Language with such elegance. For some reason he launched into a mini dissertation on the divisibility of 'sovereignty' which justified the ticket price.

He was followed by the consistently splendid Prof. Laura McAllister, sharing her experiences as a member of the Richard Commission, which produced a comprehensive report on Assembly devolution development, which is languishing somewhere in long grass. And then on to the Roundtable Discussion - Alun Davies from Labour, Mike German from the Lib Dems, and Helen Mary Jones from Plaid, plus me, representing the Conservatives. It became increasingly clear to me that the idea that a referendum will be held before May 2011 is as dead as a dodo. Alun Davies, who must have the top command's licence to say it, said "I would rather win a late referendum than lose an early one". Quite! Even Helen Mary was tentative. Something like 'It's still a possibility' - which technically it is. I wonder when Ieuan Wyn Jones will admit the demise of the main plank he walked when he shuffled his troops into the support positions which kept Rhodri Morgan in his job last May.

Not much came out of the roundtable. Interesting to note that I was introduced by discussion Chair, Emyr Lewis from Morgan Cole, as a blogger. Still think I had the toughest job of the day, outlining Conservative policy in this area. Don't worry devosceptics - I kept my own opinions on a short (ish) leash. And outside in the real world, the people of Wales carried on living their lives, completely unaware that such important discussions about their future's were taking place in the All Nations Centre.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Why Worry?

There are only two things to worry about-
Either you are well or you are sick.
If you are well, there is nothing to worry about.
But if you are sick, there are only two things to worry about-
Whether you will get well, or whether you will die.
If you get well, there is nothing to worry about.
But if you die, there are only two things to worry about-
Whether you go to Heaven or Hell.
If you go to Heaven there is nothing to worry about,
and if you go to Hell, you'll be so busy
shaking hands with old friends that you
won't have time to worry.
So why worry?

The Awfulness of Sex Addiction.

Until I read today's Telegraph, I had no idea that sex addiction is a disease, beyond the control of those it who suffer from its debilitating affects. Clearly sufferers deserve sympathy and understanding from their partners, rather than condemnation. I suspect that its a much more common disease than is normally appreciated, and many sufferers are forced to keep their affliction secret. Just imagine the hell and personal distress that would result from flying women out to a £6,000-a-night presidential suite at a hotel in Monte Carlo, drinking champagne and expensive wine and then taking part in sex acts. Despite extending my deepest sympathy, I don't feel that I can allow the problems currently being faced by 65 year old Lord Laidlaw of Rothiemay to pass without comment. This blog seeks to comment on the unusual. He has 'admitted' that he has been fighting the terrible disease of sex addiction all of his adult life. He is to undergo six weeks therapy in South Africa to help him in his battle against disease. Like Rabies, sex addiction is incurable. His Lordship has also admitted that self help is rarely successful. So he is heading for South Africa in search of long term help "not to cure, but to prevent any relapse".

I do think some of the comments on Guido Fawkes' post on this sensitive issue are unnecessarily frivolous. 'It makes you proud to be British' and 'I want to share his shame' demonstrate an uncalled for lack of sympathy. While it seems that it would be unrealistic to wish Lord Laidlaw a full recovery, I do hope he at least succeeds in establishing a long period of remission.

BBC on tour.

Early start in Llanbrynmair Car Park this morning with Radio Cymru. And there was me thinking that Post Cynta really wanted me to be a guest on their political panel to discuss the future of villages like Llanbrynmair in the context of this week's Council elections. Turns out that I was the only Conservative willing to show up. The interesting aspect of this is that they must have asked all the others before asking me for them to know. I suppose it stops one becoming insufferable 'important'.

The other 3 panelists were dotted about Wales in various studios. I was the only one who had made to the BBC bus, which was parked on one of the sites where the mobile Post Office van could be parked when Llanbrynmair's proper Post Office is closed down. The issues that worry local people in rural Wales are the loss of local services - post offices (and the shops that depend on them), village schools, community hospitals and public toilets. Other issues concern the difficulty young people have finding well paid employment and houses that they can afford.

Labour's panelist was Mrs Gwenda Thomas, AM for Neath, who is a lovely lady (that should annoy the political correct lobby but won't bother Gwenda). She once made a speech in the Assembly declaring her desire to be known as Mrs Gwenda Thomas. None of this Ms rubbish for her. Anyway, my reward for driving to the Beeb's bus was that I opened the batting. Then it was Gwenda's turn, and she stated off by saying how nice it was to hear my voice again. I think she was going to ask me how the family's doing, before Gary Owen brought the discussion back to electoral matters. And then he couldn't stop her. Gary was 'tearing his hair out' in the studio (you have to know him to appreciate that). Impossible to have any sort of discussion when the 4 panelists are in four separate studios.

Final question was about inspiring people to vote next Thursday. Not easy in Llanbrynmair, where the County Councillor has been returned unopposed.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Oh Ruby, what am I to do?

Dear Ruby Wax,

I'm in despair. I'm having a terrible time with my new partner, Gord. We've only been together for a year, since my previous partner, Tony left me. To be completely honest Ruby, I was glad to see the back of him at the time. Sure, he could charm the birds out of the trees and he was always telling me that he loved me - but it was only to have his way with me. Old Levy Cashpoint, who was always round for drinks in the old days was saying the very same thing on TV this morning. We'd been together for more than 10 years and I'd had a bellyful of the 'smarm' and yearned for a bit of rough handling by a big clunking fist.

Gord seemed just the man for the job, even if I'd never really liked the 'dirty' way he'd eyed me up during all the years he'd been coming around to do our accounts. After he moved in, it was great for a while and he couldn't do enough for me. He was smiling with contentment all the time and he had his teeth fixed. I was a bit worried when I caught him 'practicing' his smile in the mirror, but I really thought I'd found the decisive hard man I'd always wanted.

But then it all started to fall apart. Last summer, although we were already living together as man and wife, he wanted to 'go legit' - son of the manse I suppose. We had it all planned - date, honeymoon, invitations out, photographer booked. And then in early October, he changed his mind at the last minute. Just like that. I think he was afraid that I might say 'No'. And he's been dithering like a jelly with a nervous disposition ever since. He can't make up his mind about anything. He's even started messing about with my housekeeping money. Its ridiculous. Last year he worked it out by some bizarre formula, telling me that I was going to get a big increase, but when I looked at the cheque, it had gone down by 10p. I was bloody furious, what with the price of rice and that bloody haggis he insists on having. Please excuse my language Ruby, but I'm at the end of my tether. Problem is he thinks slipping me a few extra quid will keep me sweet and win him what he calls his favourite 'red teddy nightie' welcome. Well, think again big clunking fist. Its the spare room and Wynciette pajamas from now on.

Even worse Ruby, I've spotted someone else, that I've developed what you might call an unhealthy interest in. His name's Dave and he quite a bit younger that Gord - and soooooo handsome. Apparently, he argues with Gord a lot at work, and doesn't show him proper respect. But I'm the one that suffers when he comes home and practices what he should have said to Dave on me. When he finally deems to come home, that is. He's taken to working all hours in his office, hammering away on the Internet looking for good one liners by 'googling' words like 'Bullingham' and 'Toff' and Eton'. He tells me everything will be OK if he can just come up with his own 'Mr Bean line'. No idea what he's talking about, but it must be important because its all Gord's thinking about. I don't want to be disloyal, but I cannot stand this dithering, paranoid, control freakery any longer. Turns out he made a pig's ear of our accounts as well. Please Ruby, tell me what I should do.

Yours in desperation,

Britannia (Ms)

Dear Britannia,

Dump him.

Best wishes, Ruby

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Really enjoyable day. Went to Welshpool this morning to collect a dead rat. I'd been out canvasing with Steve Kaye yesterday, and promised to clear away the deceased rodent today. I'm always as good as my word. I was equipped with a plastic disposal bag - but the rat was gone. Perhaps Steve had been down before me with his plastic bag. The boy is going to be a great councillor if he wins.

Out canvassing with Russell George this afternoon in Newtown. He really deserves to win. Russ is a great campaigner, and he's taught me a thing or two already. I will be mega-disappointed if the curse of name recognition gives the well known Lib Dem who has put his name in a victory. In my opinion, Russ could develop into a great Council leader. If I have to ask readers to do one single thing for me in relation to this election, it would be to persuade anyone you know in Newtown Central to vote for Russell George on Thursday.

Mrs D and I went to suss out Llanfechain Church tonight - in readiness for No 3 son, Tim and Adrienne's wedding in July. We're not in the wonderful Church at Berriew, because Adrienne is a Catholic, and the wedding can't be done there for some reason. We went to watch a concert by the renowned Penybontfawr Male Voice Choir. When we arrived we discovered that the concert was in Llansantffraid, and we just made it in time. Male soloist were Tecwyn Jones, recently returned Powys County Councillor for the Llanfechain area (unopposed). He informed the congregation/audience that he used to sing with my grandfather when they were both members of Llanfair Caerienion Choir 50 years ago. Choir started with a great favourite of mine 'Men of Harlech' and Tecwyn finished his solo slot with another favourite 'If I can help somebody'.

Amazing coincidence. The only reason we had gone to the concert was on a scouting mission in preparation for Tim's wedding, and the woman sitting in front of us at the back of the Church (whom we didn't recognise) was the midwife who delivered Tim 27 years ago (As it happens it was Mrs D's 4th home birth, a subject attracting comment in today's newspapers).

There is an interesting window at Llansantffraid Church - presented by a Billy Hughes, Prime Minister of Australia from1915-1922. Hughes was born in Pimlico, and brought up in Llandudno. and had family living at Winllan, Llansantffraid. He remains Australia's longest serving MP (1901-1952) and dedicated the window to his mother. Lloyd George (no relation to Russell George) was present at the dedication. That's the thing about Montgomeryshire - so much emigration to every corner of the world that there is something to learn every day.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Just prattling on after a wine tasting session.

Life is a bit samey at present. I'm out supporting our Council candidates in Montgomeryshire whenever I can find the time. And I'm also trying to keep up with the early summer work in the garden. This afternoon I've been constructing a slate circular seat around a slate monument on top of our newly created mount - photograph shortly. The weather has been kind in that the nothing much is growing and the garden is 'on hold'. Two hot days would send me into a tailspin. I need summer to hang fire until next Friday.

Back to the stump. Montgomeryshire is such an interesting constituency. Campaigning style is so varied - depending on which part I'm working in. In the East, near Offa's Dyke, supporting Mark at Four Crosses, people are happy to tell me that they are voting Conservative (or not) - and they are doing. Seriously encouraging. For the first time in my political life, being a Conservative in Montgomeryshire feels like a major bonus. Could get to enjoy this. In Llanfyllin, last night it was so different. Two hours door knocking and no-one would cough up which way they intended to vote. It felt good though. In Newtown today three people told me that they were not voting because we (politicians in general that is) only came around at election time. I did wonder what they would say if we came around when it wasn't! This Council election is so important to me. If I'm going to seriously threaten the Lib Dem majority at the next General Election, I need at least four Montgomeryshire Conservatives to give us our first ever decent base . Next Thursday, I'll be more nervous than the candidates. Shadow Secretary of Wales, Cheryl Gillan put me in a good mood when her office rang to say she wanted to spend three hours with us on election day. If we win six, Lembit Opik is toast - but that's only my opinion.

And back to the garden. This is a big, big summer for us. Several W.I.s, Merched y Wawrs and garden clubs have booked up for visits, and No 3 son, Tim is marrying Adrienne, a good Catholic girl who bullys me unmercifully. The reception is in a marquee on the lawn on the 39th anniversary of the day Mrs D and I were hitched. And we're converting outbuildings into a house for Mrs D's mum to move into before the wedding. So much pressure. Being an Assembly Member was a doddle compared with all this. I'll try to read the papers tomorrow and catch up with what's happening in the political world.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Boris on form tonight.

I am a huge fan of Boris Johnston and have been for many years. But if I'm totally honest, I've not been impressed by the performance of any of the candidates in the race to be Mayor of London. But tonight, on Question Time, I thought Boris was in sparkling form. He was authoritative on times (didn't know he could do authority), displayed a real streak of commitment to London (clearly putting the City before party), and he retained a fair bit of what has made him one of Britain's favourite politicians and journalists. His one weakness remains a tendency to bluster and over interrupt when he is outraged. And he becomes really outraged when Ken Livingstone tells lies about him. That's the sort of thing that has always annoyed me to. Boris has come of age during this campaign. Ken Livingstonewasn't bad last night, but the problem for me is that I don't believe a word that he says. Brian Paddick was awful. Not only do I think that Boris deserves to win, but I also think that he will make a huge success of the job if he does.

Dai Havard - Red Rebel.

Stunning interview on Dragon's Eye tonight with Dai Havard, Labour MP for Merthyr. He said that Gordon Brown is currently 'in denial' about what the Labour Party thinks. He had to have it dragged from his lips that he would support Gordon Brown - even in a confidence vote. And he finished up by saying of Gordon "at the moment he's the leader" Blimey. When a party is in a downward spiral, previously loyal backbench MPs start talking as Dai did tonight. And it was obvious that he didn't give a damn what his leader, the Prime Minister thinks. We are in Dianne Abbott territory here.

Mini Carrot, Big Stick, Gordon's Green Greed

It wasn't really a surprise, but it still generates anger. Its the slyness of it that narks me - and the devious way in which public sympathy for protecting our environment was twisted by the Chancellor to disguise a huge tax increase. The case for change was that the car tax burden should be transferred from high carbon emission vehicles to low carbon ones. Who could argue with that. Well actually I was not at all happy with it, without some sort of 'essential user' allowance. But that's another point. This post is about the Government 'sneaky' doubling of the total tax take from vehicle excise licences to £4 billion. Turns out that it wasn't a tax switch at all, except in a minor peripheral way. It was a straight forward huge stealth tax increase on car owners. So its a big thank you to Justine Greening for asking the questions which exposed just what the Gordon Brown's Government is up to.

There is also a 'ticking time bomb' aspect to this which hasn't received much comment. The car tax switch was announced in the recent budget, and generally welcomed because it was thought to be a rational and cash neutral proposal to help the environment. A bit like the 10p tax band abolition, there is going to be a backlash when the public wake up to what's happening. Another interesting aspect of this is that the biggest losers are not going to be the most wealthy. And we know what happened the last time that Gordon Brown tried to raise taxes on the less wealthy.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My Macavity MP

Sorry if this post seems a bit partisan, but been out campaigning with Frank Torrens tonight. All very odd. Frank is standing as a Conservative candidate for election to Powys County Council in Newtown. His opponent is Richard Noyce, who is standing as a Liberal Democrat. Its a straight political fight between the Lib Dem incumbant and a Conservative challenger. One of the houses we called at gave us one of Richard's campaign leaflets. It carried a nice photo of him. I've posted before about the almost total absence of Montgomeryshire's Liberal Democrat MP, Lembit Opik from any of the Lib Dem campaigning material being used in next week's local election. Sure enough. The leaflet was plastered in endorsement by Alex Carlile, who was Montgomeryshire's local MP until 1997 - but not a glimpse of Macavity. Its clear that Montgomeryshire Lib Dem Council candidates have decided that their only chance of success next week is if they dissociate themselves completely from their own MP. This must be unprecedented. And Frank is a very good candidate who would be a committed Councillor if he were to be elected.

Brown's 'got it now'

Tonight's television was definingly disastrous for Gordon Brown. I've never seen Michael Crick fillet a senior political figure so comprehensively. The high point for me (and the low point for GB) was Merthyr's Dai Havard on the national UK News, treating his party leader (and our Prime Minister) as if he was a secondhand car salesman who needed to be left over the weekend to sweat on a deal. Dai was smirking like Del Trotter, because he knows that the party leadership is too weak to discipline him. Without knowing it, he was treating Gordon Brown with total contempt. We then had Yvette Cooper on Newsnight, informing us that she had no idea what the compromises GB had made on the 10 p tax issue were going to cost, or how many of the over 5 million effected were going to benefit from them. And this after the Prime Minister had been all over our screens earlier in the day, trying to give the impression that pressure from his rebellious MPs had nothing whatsoever to do with the change in policy. No panic or caving in to pressure - just a carefully worked out strategy to help the poorest people is what he said. The mocking laughter in the House of Commons was genuine. I still can't get over it. Its almost beyond belief that Gordon Brown, who looked like a political colossus up until last October has turned out to be the weakest, most indecisive and ineffective British Prime Ministers of the modern era. His own team have no fear of him or respect for him. I just cannot see a way back for him.

Taking on the W. I.

Featured in an Any Questions last night, courtesy of the Women's Institute. Always been wary of the W. I. ever since they reduced Tony Blair to a jabbering sweatpig when he was in his pomp. Fellow panelists were the Reverend Mary Turnock, Voyka Turner, and former Montgomeryshire MP, Delwyn Williams. A few of this blog's favourite subjects were on the menu, including the proposed badger cull, the proposed post office closure programme, closure of small schools, and the diversion of food producing land to bio crops. Discovered a huge advantage flowing from writing a blog. All of my arguments are lined up in my head, all ready for rolling out. Only problem is that everyone else discovered the disadvantage is that I do go on a bit when mounted on my hobby horses. The Rev Mary thanked me because it reduced the need for the rest of the panel to answer more questions. Good job there wasn't a question on law making powers for the Assembly!

The question that caused most disagreement was the one about bio crops. Delwyn seemed to believe that the inherent ingenuity of the human race would deliver all the grain we need for food and energy, that climate change is no more than the sun doing one or two odd things, and that global warming was nothing whatsoever to do with human activity. I just launched in and said that transferring land which has been producing food to producing ethanol on the massive scale its happening is bonkers - only superseded in its madness by the clearing of tropical forests to grow bio crops. I think the W. I agreed with me on this one. I'm not sure they did on the badger cull, even if Ann Dixon, a local vet's life sniggered when Delwyn said we should vaccinate all the badgers.

Update on 'Dear Lord Roberts'

This post is for anoraks and should be read in conjunction with my post of two days ago entitled 'Dear Lord Roberts'. My letter has already gone, but I want to adjust it, following helpful suggestions of others.

1) - I want to clarify the point about not wanting the same range of powers as currently apply in Scotland to be replicated in Wales. The position under the Scotland Act is that the Parliament can legislate on anything except for a list of specific and major policy areas, such as foreign affairs and monetary policy. Under Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act, the National Assembly for Wales is constrained within the broad policy areas already devolved. My opinion is that the range of policy over which the Assembly can legislate should remain so constrained at what is still an early stage in the devolution process.

2) - I want to address the apparent contradiction where I support law making powers as a constitutional argument, but believe it is legitimate to take a case by case view on specific policy points while the current system of transferring power by Legislative Competence Order continues. This has been well illustrated by the response of Conservative MPs (and me) to the proposed LCO concerning suspension of the right-to-buy. My support for moving to Part 4 of the GoW Act is an acceptance that Westminster would no longer have the ability to question or block what the Assembly Government wishes to do. Because this is an apparent contradiction, there will remain opportunists who will seek to portray our position as negative about the Assembly, when in fact it's the opposite.

3) - I want to expand on my description of the current Act as being 'constitutionally unstable and a long term threat to the relationship between Westminster and Wales'. At present, there are too many players on the field - the National Assembly, the Assembly Government, the Wales Office, Whitehall departmental civil servants, and the Westminster Parliament. All these ducks have to be in a row for any progress to be made, and when they are not in a row, there is and will be endless arguments about who is to blame. No-one will be able to work out where the blame lies, and there will be complex disputes which no-one can understand, including the participants in this ridiculously complex process. Recrimination and constitutional instability follows. This may suit some, but it does not suit a Tory. The position could worsen when there is a Conservative Government at Westminster.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Edna's snoop on William's droop.

Edna was on this morning. She's been out of action recently with a dodgy knee - all this cleaning of slates in the Assembly. She would have had a replacement knee already, if she lived in England. Poor woman was in an awful state. She was walking past the office of the Assembly's top caretaker, William Graham on Monday and heard him wailing uncontrollable. It seems he had been told that a couple had been found having sex in a baby changing room in the Senedd - and he was partly responsible. He had given them permission, though he had not been aware of the precise position when his permission was sought (so to speak). Poor William was so upset that his Phaliopedilum went limp. Actually, Edna was in the Assembly when the deed was done and didn't take much notice and thought it the sort of thing that politicians do - even if she thought it was a bit unusual to arrange for it to be filmed. She saw some TV series a few months back when the political stall and lobbyists seemed to do nothing much else. Live and let live is Edna's motto. Only thing that annoyed her is that she'd just cleaned the place, and these two rampants had messed it up again.

But the reason she rang me was more local. She was cleaning in Powys County Council offices last week when she heard an interesting bit of news. Interesting to local developers anyway. It seems that Gareth Thomas, the Council's Head of Planning is retiring in a few weeks time. This is a really big issue in Powys. I have more approaches from Montgomeryshire people about planning than any other issue. I wonder whether these two things are connected. Turnover of staff at Powys Planning Department has been a bit like the last 15 minutes of a rugby international, when its a job to keep up to date with who's on the field. Reason Edna told me was this was not going to be made public yet, so I'd best not pass on this bit of information on.

Best Wishes to....

Over breakfast this morning I've been reading the election leaflet which Penny Vingoe sent to my mother-in-law this week. She wants to be elected to represent my village of Berriew on Powys County Council. She is standing as a Liberal Democrat candidate. There are three Independent candidates as well, all good friends of mine. So Like Jimmy Carter, I will not be offering any specific public endorsement, or going beyond saying that I will be voting 'Independent'.

On Penny Vingoe's leaflet. there is a photograph of Mick Bates, local Lib Dem AM, of Richard White and Richard Noyce, two Lib Dem Council candidates in Newtown, William Powell, another Lib Dem Councillor from Radnorshire, and Jenny Randerson, another Lib Dem AM from Cardiff - quite an extensive galaxy of 'celebrity' endorsement. But strangely there is not the merest glimpse or mention of the local Member of Parliament. There was me, chewing on my muesli, thinking how unfair it was that my local MP was not receiving his due attention, when he appeared on the BBC's morning programme - the UK BBC that is. The reason being that he has 'let slip' to Hello magazine that he has just asked his girlfriend to marry him.

I'm trying to work out what this says about Penny Vingoe's view of her local MP, about the MP himself, and about the priorities of the BBC. I do want to extend the best wishes of this blog to the soon to be married MP and his girlfriend.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Dear Lord Roberts

Tomorrow I will be posting my contribution to the review of Conservative Party policy regarding the future of devolution being undertaken by Lord Roberts of Conwy. The review was announced by David Cameron at the Conservative Spring Conference held at Llandudno. An interim report is due out in the early summer. My response will be as follows,

Dear Wyn,
This letter is my response to the invitation from David Cameron to contribute to our Party's review of our policy in respect of devolution to Wales. By way of context, I should begin by noting my opposition to the devolution proposed for Wales before the 1997 referendum. However, as did many other Conservatives, I immediately accepted that the National Assembly was here to stay after the Yes vote. I also formed the opinion that the new Assembly would not be worthwhile without the granting to it of primary powers in those subject areas which have been devolved. I do not think that the Scottish model, where all is devolved unless specifically and statutorily listed as not, should be considered for Wales at this early stage in the devolution process. I accept that the current constitutional arrangement does already allow for the gradual transfer of law making powers to the Assembly. However, it is through an unwieldy and complex process which I believe to be constitutionally unstable, and a long-term threat to the relationship between the Westminster Government and the National Assembly. I am strongly of the opinion that we should seek to move as quickly as practically possible to a referendum which tests the opinion of Welsh voters on the vesting of primary powers in the National Assembly.

I accept that not all of our colleagues share my approach, and I am keen that we should seek a policy position that both I and those of us who take other opinions can agree on, again as far as practically possible. I believe that all of us would be supportive of a commitment to hold a referendum to settle the matter, and would respect each other's opinions, where they might differ. The main point at issue is timing. I anticipate that some Conservatives would be likely to prefer that primary powers continue to be transferred to the National Assembly gradually through the passage of Legislative Competence Orders, but the commitment to hold a referendum by the Party would demonstrate our positive willingness to consider a proper law making National Assembly for Wales.

Perhaps the most contentious aspect of a referendum is when it should be held. We know that the Assembly's Coalition Government is signed up to a referendum before or on the date of the next Assembly election in May 2011. I neither believe this will or should take place. I also foresee some political turbulence within the Assembly when the decision not to hold a referendum before the next Assembly election is finally taken. My main reason for opposing an early election is that I am not sufficiently confident that it would be won. In my opinion, we should commit to holding a referendum on the transfer of law making powers on all devolved matters to the National Assembly during the first term of a Conservative Government. This translates into 'before 2015 at the latest' and probably two or three years earlier than that. This timescale would also allow a reasonable period of time to assess how the current process of transferring power by Legislative Competence Order is working.
Best wishes, Glyn

Sunday, April 20, 2008

d'Ancona gets it right.

Late at night, and just catching up with today's papers. We've been out with friends to an 'much extended' lunch in England today (well, only just - at the Wynnstay Hotel, Oswestry) to celebrate St George's Day. This may seem an odd activity for a Welshman, but the idea was that we would establish a 'Welsh' table as a gesture to the development of future 'international' relations in the event of all this separation talk getting out of hand. Its all very light hearted of course but it wouldn't have happened before devolution. The Venerable John Hall made a speech is praise of an England that is lost. Very entertaining, but more an attack on political correctness, which could just as easily be applied to Wales. Anyway, I felt comfortable toasting the spirit of St George at the end of it.

A devastating critique of Gordon Brown's trip to the US by Mathew d'Ancona in the Telegraph. He seems as amazed as everyone else by how Gordon Brown's authority has totally evaporated. A similar almost casual dismissal of our Prime Minister by William Rees-Mogg in the Mail. And perhaps, worst of all some supporting words from Peter Hitchens. Can it get any worse. Well yes it can. I've also just read an essay by Ian Gibson, Labour MP for Norwich. I only know Ian Gibson as a fine centre-back in Westminster's Parliamentary soccer team, and he does carry the sobriquet 'usual suspect' - but he usually speaks for a lot of other leftish Labour MPs. It really does look as if Gordon Brown is finished. I've been out canvassing in Montgomeryshire over the last few days, and the anti-Labour vote is everywhere, and vitriolic with it. The seeming normality and acceptance of Brown's failure to match up to the job makes today's newspapers very bad news for the Prime Minister. I think we could be entering the sort of volatile political territory that we have not seen since the early 90's. Its all becoming very interesting.

Time to go Joe.

I missed to rise to take in last night's fight live. But I've read the BBC report, and it reads to me as if Joe Calzaghe only just squeezed home - against the 43 year old Bernard Hopkins. OK, so Joe retained his unbeaten record, but there must be the question hanging in every-one's mind about whether he is as good as Hopkins was 10 years ago. He could take on another legend, Roy Jones Jr. but such a fight would be no more than a repeat of last night - risking a lot against a man well past his best. Or he could take on the flashy newcomer, Kelly Pavlik, but even that would add nothing to the reputation he so deservedly won when demolishing another rising star, Jeff Lacey, still for me the best win of Joe's career. Joe is already talking up his next fight, which worries me.

Of course, it may be that he needs the money, but I hardly think so. More likely he loves the glory (and who can blame him), but how often have we seen the love of glory lead to one fight too far. Perhaps the only reason for his fans to want 'just one more' is that a fabulous Welsh career can be drawn to a close in Wales. My advice to Joe Calzaghe is to think seriously about hanging up his gloves. He is a legend already. He is still a very handsome man. There is nothing left to prove. Hire an open top bus and tour Wales. I'm sure that Rhodri Morgan will help arrange some sponsorship. Its time to go Joe.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

But what's going to happen to Wales?

This week's Spectator is dedicated to the creation of a politically 'Independent' England. There is a thread of assumption flowing through the Speccie's pages that there will be a House of Commons Conservative majority representing English seats after the next General Election, even if the Party does not win an overall majority. The astute Fraser Nelson concludes that in such an event, flames of English resentment would be stoked up. From here on, the consequences of the conflagration are impossible to predict with any certainty. Imagine. A Labour Government ruling England (where there's a Conservative majority), led by a Scot, sustained by the votes of Labour MPs from Scotland and Wales - while the Scots and the Welsh have their own Parliaments to deal with the same issues. And don't forget Alex Salmond, the most cunning of manoeuverers, siting astride his 'nationalist' steed in Edinburgh, tossing canisters of high octane fuel over Hadrian's Wall onto the already inflamed passions rising up in the breast of 'middle England'. Does this sound to you like a recipe for constitutional turbulence? It does to me. The Speccie sees a 'coming together' of increasingly noisy demands for the Scots to be given their 'freedom', and a growing enthusiasm by the English to give it to them. But the subject of this post is not about what to what I'll refer to as 'Hadrian's Divide'. Its about what happens in Wales.

Wales and Scotland are not the same. Even Fraser Nelson gets it wrong. He writes that 'the Welsh electorate has decided more or less to expel the Tory Party from its borders'. Er, No it hasn't. The first-past-the-post system may have delivered just 3 Tory MPs (out of 40) in the current Parliament, whereas a PR system would have delivered 9. In last year's National Assembly election, the Conservatives won 12 seats (out of 60), missing several others by a whisker. And the proportion of Welsh voters who want to leave the Union is put by opinion polls at a consistant 15%-20%.

Wales does not want separation from England. There is an ongoing debate about exactly what sort of relationship is most appropriate between the two nations. Nothing new there, and nothing wrong with that. Personally, I feel with a passion that the current contract is flawed and constitutionally unstable, to the extent of it being a threat to the ancient family bond. If an emerging adult is not given freedom to take an adult's decisions, there will eventually follow a blazing row, a suitcase packed, a door slammed and a loving relationship broken forever. Now it may well be that the Scottish youngster and the English parent are heading for a mutually desired split. But lets not suppose that a similar divide should follow the line of Offa's Dyke. Wales does not want it. Wales wants to grow up, flex her muscles, stand on her own feet - but we do not want to move out, or become 'Independent'. At least, not many of us do.

Friday, April 18, 2008

You couldn't make it up.

Absolutely brilliant. All these ecological experts flying around the world to massive conferences in beautiful places like Bali to discuss just how we are going to save our planet from overheating. All these forests that are being felled to produce mighty tomes, featuring 'hockey stick' theories and complex strategies to tackle global warming. And all the time its been staring us in the face. At long last Powys County Council has come up with the answer. All we have to do is turn off the street lights.

This is an even better idea than it looks. If the Council invests all of the money it will save in power bills, it can spend it on providing thousands more street lights which it never switches on, thus making yet further massive contributions to the fight against damaging climate change. And this brilliant idea can be extended. Why not withdraw public transport, and spend the savings buying new buses which can be left in the garage. Just think how much carbon that would save. And why not stop all these refuse collection vehicles running around, burning up fuel. Sometimes, reality is odder than fiction.

Tailor to his Lordship

It looks like a little beach hut, next to Tal-y-Cafn/Eglwysbach railway station, about 4 miles North of Llanrwst. In the dusty window, there was a pure wool 'tweedy' jacket costing £135, a pair of heavy corduroy trousers at£45, and a pair of blood red slacks at £30. They were all absolutely made for the wardrobe of 'Lord Elis Thomas'. And indeed, I was told that it was from this little beach hut, adorned with the name 'H Ogwen Evans - Teiliwr/Tailor - established 1870' that the National Assembly's Presiding Officer procures his 'country' gear. I felt that there should be another sign declaring 'By appointment to Welsh royalty'.

I was at the station waiting to collect a senior executive of the European Care Group who was joining the Company's Welsh Advisory Board which I chair. We were out on a brainstorming 'away day' at a nearby hotel. I recommend anyone who happens to be driving up the A470 to turn off at Tal-y Cafn and pull in at this little station. You'll have to take your own sandwiches. Its like something out of the 19th century. Its impossible to sit on the platform, waiting for the one carriage train to arrive at this tiny little 'request stop', without feeling nostalgic for a by-gone, pre-Beeching age. And if you sit there for long enough, and close your eyes, its possible to imagine his Lordship stepping off the steam driven train, wearing blood red red slacks, a pure wool 'tweedy' jacket and the trademark cap. Someday, this little shop may well be moved to St Fagan's. Personally I think it ought to be listed and stay on its current site forever.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Day Off

Heading for Snowdonia now, and not back home til tomorrow night - so no posting til then.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What do we want? We want cancer screening. Now.

Be difficult to blog much over next three weeks. I'll be out supporting our eight council candidates in Montgomeryshire as much as I can. Tonight, I've been out with Aled Davies in Llanrhaedr-ym-mochnant. I'm very keen that Aled wins. He would be a wonderful councillor. My hope is that we win Llanwddyn, Llanfyllin and Llanrhaedr (Tanat Valley). These are the three most Welsh constituencies in Powys and I our commitment to bilingualism in Montgomeryshire may well make the people of these three areas feel comfortable and confident with Montgomeryshire Conservatives. It would be a huge message to my party right across Wales if we manage to pull it off.

But I want to report on yesterday's visit to the National Assembly before it recedes into the storage part of my memory. I parked outside our flat in Century Wharf and walked in, as I always used to. New coffee house named Mischief on the way - so I called in. No customers, so I asked if it was open. "Been open two minutes" said the man in charge. Since I hadn't seen the coffee house before, I asked him how long it had been open. "Two minutes" he said. I was the first ever customer. So now I have a special bond with Mischief.

A day of catch-up meetings, including half an hour with his lordship, the Presiding Officer which was highly informative as always, and five minutes watching Peter Black perform with as much fire as I'm ever seen from him when attacking the badger cull in the debate on Bovine Tb. In passing, I really cannot fathom the logic in having the debate on this issue a week after the Minister announced her decision. And finished the day speaking at a reception in the Senedd to promote cancer screening.

I was there to speak as one of three cancer sufferers, before Finance Minister, Andrew Davies responded on behalf of the Health Minister, who had cried off for personal reasons. Newer readers of this blog will not know that in 2002, I went down with Colorectal Cancer, and underwent surgery which involved the removal of my lower bowel, anus and rectum - so I do know a bit about the subject. And what I know more than anything else is that early diagnosis can be the difference between life and death - so I'm a passionate advocate of all forms of cancer screening. The Minister told us that a screening programme for Bowel Cancer is beginning in Wales in October - for people in their 60s. Well OK - but its all oh so slow. Efficient screening for all over 50s would save hundreds of lives every year. If similar numbers died unneccesarily in any other way, there would be a public outcry for new laws to be passed with real urgency. Pilot scemes in England and Scotland have shown that for every 1000 people screened, 1 to 2 are found to have a cancerous tumour that they didn't know about, 4 to 6 have polyps in their bowel, which can lead to a tumour, and 16 need a follow up colonoscopy. The lack of screening really is rather shocking. I would have driven to Cardiff just to to say these things to a public audience. And supper at the Felinfach Griffin was its usual high standard on the way home.

Looking nevously into the future.

Did something odd yesterday. Spoke as the Conservative 'presence' at the launch of the Wales office of the Electoral Reform Society. The event took the form of a reception in the National Assembly for Wales. Reason it was odd is that I've always been a first-past-the-post man. I began my contribution by saying that I couldn't think of a singe reason why Annabelle had asked me to speak. Actually, I was very keen to attend, for several reasons - in addition to the principle that personal participation increases understanding of complex issues.

Firstly, the Electoral Reform Society are much involved in promoting 'participation' amongst the disillusioned young, an objective that all politicians share. And secondly, my inherent pragmatism has been nagging at me on this issue for a while. I did say that I think "The tide of history is flowing in the direction of proportional representation" (I know this sounds sickeningly Blair-like) - and so it would be as well for the Conservative Party to influence the direction this tide is flowing.

The Electoral Reform Society favours the Single Transferable Vote system. There was a Peter Snow-like cake cut into slices to demonstrate how the share of seats would change under STV. The big beneficiaries would be the Conservative Party. In Wales, we would have 9 MPs rather than the current 3. Self-interest makes you think. (I noticed that the Labour 'presence' John Griffiths joined me in avoiding having my photograph taken cutting the cake. We left that to Plaid and the Lib Dems - no point in asking for trouble.) I said that my nature is to be heavily influenced by tradition and that my instinct is to build on the Additional Member System, by which Assembly Members are presently elected. To win my support, it would have to be based on 'open' lists so that voters can choose candidates as well as parties. And the shameful ban on dual candidacy, which so pollutes Welsh democracy and will always be a deep and smelly stain on the reputations of Rhodri Morgan and Peter Hain would have to be reversed.

Anyway it was a very nice event. I had to be circumspect in what I said because I could see the little newshound, Clive Betts scribbling in his notebook and ITV's Nick Powell leaning nonchalantly in the background. And sure enough, Clive was straight down to the Members Tearoom to ask Tory Group Leader what he thought. Bloody troublemaker', I thought to myself. That's his job I suppose. Anyway, He came back up and told me he thought I had been 'cautious', so clearly he hadn't found a Tory 'split' to report on. I did feel quite proud of my traditional Tory roots when the Plaid spokesperson, Helen Mary Jones pointed out that the first-past- the-post system was introduced in the 1870s. I suspect that we will be forced to move on, and at least I've started to consult the map in order to decide which way I want to go.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Memory Lane Day

Not been to Cardiff for a while, but going down today. Intention is to eat at the Felinfach Griffin on the way home, so will not be moderating comment until pushing midnight. Oddest reason for going is to speak at a Electoral Reform Society meeting in the Senedd - odd in that I've always been a first-past-the-post man. My guess was the Society asked me because no other Conservative would do it! But I was keen to. Firstly, I'm hoping to become an anorak and learn a lot more about proportional representation systems. And secondly, I think its likely that PR will eventually be extended to all of our electoral systems which makes it important to decide which is the preferred system. At the moment, its the Additional Member System, as long as its based on an 'open list' and an end to the shameful ban on dual candidacy which currently pollutes National Assembly elections.

Am also speaking at a 'Bowel Cancer Screening' reception later. This is an issue that really does matter to me. The continued absence of a proper screening programme is a national disgrace. The only reason its not being introduced is that the NHS would not be able to cope with the number of positive cases it would throw up. In other words, thousands of sufferers are being condemned to an early death, because we are not discovering all these lurking developing tumours until its too late for the full recovery I was lucky enough to experience.

I'm also meeting people whose opinions I respect about how the current constitutional arrangements are working in Wales. I've still to make my submission to Lord Roberts' Conservative Party Review of the way forward for devolution. And hoping to catch the debate on the Badger Cull in the Assembly Chamber if timings work out. The question is 'will Peter Black live up to his blog post? I also intend to read my Telegraph in Starbucks in the Bay and Mrs D has an appointment with Ken Picton. Its going to be a bit like old times.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Graphics OK - Humour content absent,

Has anyone ever watched a less funny programme than 'Headcases', the new ITV programme which is often referred to as a new 'Spitting Image'. I watched the last edition and it will be the last edition I watch. It was truly awful.

Climate Change is dominating.

Attended a Conference on Climate Change at the Metropole in Llandrindod Wells today. There's a lot of this sort of thing about - but this turned out to be a very enjoyable event for me. I was President, and chairman for the day - though I'm not sure quite where the distinction lay. Two reasons it was so good. Firstly, it was all in the Welsh Language, which was terrific practise. By the time I reached the slot where I wound up proceedings for the day with a speech, I was starting to 'blossom' with confidence. Mind you it had been a dodgy start in the morning, because the Welsh Language of the first speaker, Dr Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd was way beyond me - the sort of advanced Welsh that I've only previously heard Cynog Dafis speak. I think he tested a few others, some of whom have been speaking Welsh all of their lives. I've managed to acquire an English version of his 40 minute speech to read at my leisure.

Second reason it was such a good conference was that everyone listened - right up until after 6.00. Those of us who have spent years speaking in the Assembly Debating Chamber are more used to fellow members working at their computers or chatting to each other (Rhodri Morgan used to do it deliberately, trying to unsettle the speaker if his debating position was weak.) I was to have chaired tomorrow's session and Cynog today's, but we swapped at the last minute because he had double booked himself.

As listening to all the speakers, what really struck me was how 'Climate Change' is impacting on every aspect of my life - as farmer, wildlife enthusiast, CPRW President, my involvement in care of the elderly and as politician. Only sport seems to be unaffected. If I wasn't now committed to Cardiff tomorrow, I'd have been tempted to spend another day at the Conference. Assembly Environment Minister, Jane Davidson, spoke well as officially opening the event.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

More on the Badger Cull.

Assembly Minister, Elin Jones has really started something with her decision to slaughter thousands of badgers in a determined attempt to eradicate Bovine TB in Wales. The proposal is before the National Assembly for debate on Tuesday, and it could turn out to be quite lively. We knew that there could be some on the Labour benches opposing the Government's proposal (especially those sitting in close proximity to Lorraine Barrett. I didn't expect a ferocious condemnation of the proposal from the Liberal Democrat benches. But that's what it looks as if we're going to have.

Peter Black has used his blog today to launch a full blooded assault on what he calls a 'stock letter' for Parliamentarians - which was probably written by his Lib Dem colleague, Mick Bates. He doesn't mention Mick by name, but I can't see who else could have been the author of this letter which has been written up as the Lib Dem's position statement and has so angered Peter. The serious matter of how we tackle the Bovine Tb crisis in the countryside in very important. Pity if its overshadowed by another internal row amongst the Liberal Democrats.

I'm in Cardiff on Tuesday, and will try to catch this debate if I can organise my day's activities. Just for once, a debate in the Assembly could appear on the radar of the UK media.

What else would you expect, Leanne?

Busy week. Out with Parkinson's Disease collection tins, a very impressive concert in St Mary's Church, Welshpool by the Guilsfield Singers, a mercy dash to Manchester Airport, Berriew Show's 60th Anniversary Black Tie Ball, an extended Sunday lunch as guests of our next door neighbours, and filling in the blanks with some Council Election campaigning. Blogging demoted to one of the minor placings. But catching up on the week's newspapers tonight. And have started with the Wales on Sunday. Not much outside the sports pages to catch my eye, except the headline 'Welsh Tories in row over right to buy'.

It seems that Plaid Cymru AM, Leanne Wood, who chairs the Assembly's Affordable Housing Legislative Committee is complaining because Conservative MPs are opposing a transfer of power from Westminster to the Assembly, in order that AMs can suspend the 'right to buy' by council tenants. What on earth did she expect. If Plaid Cymru AMs are going to use the new GOW Act to demand the transfer of a power to do something that is strongly opposed by the Conservative Party, they must know that MPs will oppose it. Of course, the truth is that this is exactly what Plaid Cymru wanted when the proposal was put forward. I seem to remember that it was done without any discussion with the Labour Party, their Coalition partners. It does look very much as if the proposed Legislative Competence Order was a political stunt, designed to give Ms Wood and others the opportunity to make the very complaint she is making. So very very predictable! What Leanne and her Party are guilty of is putting 'political' advantage ahead of the development of confidence in the new process by which power is being transferred under the new constitution.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

His Lordship's Opinion

The National Assembly Presiding Officer has written a long essay for today's Western Mail about how the constitutional arrangements, under the Second Government of Wales Act, are working out in practise. Its a good essay, and its a pity that I can't find the story on the web pages to provide a link. His Lordship seems terribly pleased that the first Legislative Competence Order has been approved by the Queen and the National Assembly is now able to pass new laws (or measures) in the specific subject area included in the LCO. There is no doubt in this reader's mind that he is in no hurry whatsoever to hold the referendum on law making powers. This was also the tone of his public rebuttal of Archbishop Barry Morgan's controversial radio comments about devolution yesterday. He is busy softening up his party's activists, by making out that everything is tootling along at an acceptable pace, and that the LCO process will deliver a law making capacity to the National Assembly at an adaquate pace - without the need for a referendum, in the short term anyway.

The only part of the essay I disagree with is the assertion that the LCO system is not complex. The Presiding Officer's view seems to be that since Westminster processes are always hugely complex, its OK if the LCO process is the same. I always hesitate before disagreeing with the PO, and I know he gets terribly crouesty whenever anyone challenges his view on this. But my concern is that only a tiny proportion of the population have the slightest clue clue about what is happening, or even that law making power is currently being transferred. And this is not healthy in a democracy. Anyway, what he says suits me fine. I have accepted that there will not be a referendum on law making powers before 2011, and that the best we can hope for is sometime between 2011 - 2015. Lord Elis Thomas must do what he must do to keep onside his Party's activists (who voted for the Coalition with Labour only because of the early referendum). What matters to those of us who believe that the most sensible and stable constitutional settlement is where law making power is vested in the Assembly in respect of all devolved issues, is for the current LCO system to work effectively.

Taxing by stealth.

Important story about Council Tax in today's Western Mail by Martin Shipton - the re banding by stealth of properties in Wales. It seems that 24,000 have been re-revalued, following the 2005 Wales wide revaluation. Very often, these sort of stories are not hugely significant - but I think this one could be. There's a bit of background here of course. The revaluation of 2005 was controversial, because the total Council Tax 'take' went up by around 9% 'under its cover' - after the Minister had assured everyone beforehand that it would be a 'revenue neutral' exercise. And the equivalent revaluation in England was cancelled before the last election. Over 30% of properties were revalued upwards, and only 8% were revalued downwards.

Martin's article included a response from a Valuation Office Agency spokesman which reinforced the story. "We have a statutory duty to maintain the list of Council Tax bandings.....this is maintaining accurate and fair Council Tax bands in the interests of fairness". Now revaluations do take place all the time, as a result of appeals and property extensions. Since 2005, there have been 702 upwards revaluations and 645 downwards. But in the case highlighted in the article, 40 properties were revalued upwards as the result of the Valuation Office visiting one house. This is, in effect another revaluation.

If we are to have another revaluation in Wales, people should be told about it. I wouldn't be in favour of it, mainly because of the way it was used to conceal a big rise in Council Tax last time around. Well done the Western Mail for giving this issue some big coverage. Several comments from a Plaid Cymru Councillor, Gwenllian Lansdown were included. Perhaps she could have a word with the Assembly Coalition Government, in which her Party is a partner, who could have a word with the Valuation Office Agency to ask exactly what is going on.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The New Grey Peril.

How long will it be before the Chief Constable of North Wales begins parking horse boxes manned by armed police officers with speed guns on the street corners of Llanrwst and Porthmadog. Perhaps he'll decide to use ice cream vehicles or one of these new 'mobile' sub post office vans that are going to be popping up to replace all the proper post offices that are being closed by the Government at the moment. He'll have to find some way of clamping down on the new scourge of the High street. I must admit to a close escape myself as walking out of Barclay's Bank in Welshpool last week. I swear she was doing 10 mph (it is slightly downhill). Never even saw me. I only just spotted her in time. It really is only a matter of time until there are fixed penalty charges for any elderly person who exceeds the speed limit while driving a mobility scooter. Our town centres aret no longer safe.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

An argument too far.

I see that the Archbishop of Wales is reported as saying that to be against a law making Parliament for Wales is "immoral". Now, I agree with much of what the Archbishop says about devolution, and I defend his right to say what he believes, as long as its clear he is speaking in a personal capacity and not on behalf of his Church. But I don't believe he is right to describe the position of those who disagree with his opinion as 'immoral'. In fact, I find the use of this word by someone who, in general, shares my opinion as unhelpful to the cause.

This issue has blown up today because the first Legislative Competence Order has just been approved by Her Majesty. The Assembly will now be able to pass laws (or 'measures' as they will be known) in the subject area included in the LCO. This blog has consistently argued that the procedure that has just been concluded is ludicrously complex, and beyond the preparedness of the vast majority of people to invest the necessary time in to understand.

It would be far more transparent and accountable if the National Assembly had law making powers in those areas that are devolved. I agree with Archbishop Morgan that the current legal processes are "tortuous and convoluted". Later this month I will be speaking at a Conference arranged by the Institute of Welsh Affairs arguing this case. Perhaps Archbishop Morgan will be there making the same argument. But I would not dream of claiming any higher morality for my opinion over those who disagree with me. I will respect those who disagree and try to change their opinion by logic and argument.

A taste of country life.

Good article on which to base a debate in yesterday's Telegraph, concerning an issue that has always mattered a lot to me, and which causes so much disconnection between those who live in 'urban' Britain and 'rural' Britain. Its what makes it almost impossible to have a rational discussion between the diverging halves of our nation about issues like foxhunting, pheasant shooting or culling badgers - which was also in yesterday's news.

The article included 10 ways in which parents can help their children enjoy the countryside. I would choose differently. I do think children should know more about where food comes from. I'm not suggesting they should be taken to the actual slaughter area, but a visit to an abattoir would be a sensible idea. As would visits to a Bernard Mathews turkey factory, both battery and free range laying flocks, a lambing shed (which they would all love) and a large dairy farm at milking time.

The 10 suggestions being put forward by Country Life magazine are.

1 - Give children more freedom
2 - Label food by county of origin
3 - Eat a rare breed
4 - Reduce Britain's deer population by 30%
5 - Drink 'English' champagne
6 - Clean up our verges
7 - Learn to love GM crops
8 - Eat only ethically produced chicken
9 - Save protected rural areas from flight paths
10 - Plant a tree.

I don't agree with all of these and if you can stir yourselves to comment, I would be interested in other opinions.

Does 'Profanity' offend?

What is the point of profanity? I suppose swearing has always been part of my life because its fairly common in both agricultural and sporting environments. I've never been a habitual offender myself, because my parents rarely swore, nor does Mrs D - so none of our children do. I've been trying to cut it out altogether since an unfortunate experience before the last Assembly Election, when I telephoned Brynle Williams in a state of high agitation, and let fly - not knowing that David Cameron and Cheryl Gillan were in his car and the 'open mike' was on. I've never been able to look Cheryl in the eye without a twinge of embarrassment ever since.

But profanity doesn't offend me either, though I've no time for public performers who use swearing as a form of humour. One of the best speeches I ever heard was by the great Welsh ex-captain and coach, Clive Rowlands, at a dinner in the Coal Exchange in Cardiff. The dinner was to honour the Pontypool Front Row, and he was following the great but 'colourful' Bobby Windsor, and a lot of other 'colour' as well. Clive brought the house down, without a single swear word in a brilliantly funny 30 minute speech. A very special man.

Anyway, this 'taking offence' at profanity is something of an issue in the village of Lunt, where a prospective Conservative councillor is trying to get the name changed, because vandals are changing one letter on the village signs. I wouldn't mind being in attendance when the Parish Council discuss this issue. It seems that the alternative name suggested is Launt. Well, I suggest they consider how French tourists would pronounce this if the resident vandal just added an apostrophe after the 'La'. This need to be aware of translation occurs to me because Mrs D tells me this particularly offensive word, when translated into Spanish is entirely inoffensive. She used to attend Spanish classes in Cardiff, and her tutor assured the rather shocked class that it was a rather endearing word that his respectable granny would use freely back home in Spain. I should also add for the benefit of all those of you who are travelling to South America, that the Spanish translation of the word 'wallet' means the same as the word causing such a problem in Lunt, and is even more offensive. It also occurs to me that its fortunate that Lunt is in Merseyside and not in Buckinghamshire. The Parish Council would be in an awful tiss.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Badger Cull

I've always had a lot of time for Ceredigion's Plaid Cymru AM, Elin Jones. During my period as Chair of the Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee up to the last Assembly Election, she was a very good colleague. OK, I know she talked some tosh about 'Independence' at Plaid's recent Spring Conference, but she's proving to be a sure-footed Rural Affairs Minister. Yesterday, she told us that she is going to sanction the slaughter of a lot of badgers. This was a difficult and controversial decision to take. But she took it. Elin Jones has assured us that she intends to 'walk the walk' while her Labour and Liberal Democrat predecessors would only 'talk the talk'. Love badgers as much as I do, I believe she has taken the correct decision.

The present truly disastrous mess cannot continue. Over the last 10 years, the number of cattle slaughtered as a result of Bovine Tb in Wales alone has increased 10 fold to almost 8,000 in 2007. Over the last 7 years, the cost of compensation to farmers has increased 8 fold to over £15 million in 2007/08. 16% of Welsh farms are currently under movement restrictions, a financial and human disaster which devastates the lives and businesses of the farming families involved. The Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales says that the disease is out of control. It has to be tackled. It should have been tackled a long time ago.

Of course, all we have so far is a decision in principle. Next step is to decide where the one 'intensive treatment area' is going to be. Over recent years I've consistently argued that it must be only one area, and a big enough area to be meaningful. It should have as much 'natural' boundary as possible and be a 'hotspot' of infection. It always seemed to point to the Pembrokeshire/Carmarthenshire area where the sea creates much of the boundary. I recall making this argument in Montgomeryshire which local farmers believed should be considered for the pilot cull.

I hate the thought of slaughtering wildlife for no reason - but I'm not a sentimentalist either. The only slight doubt in my mind is that I've never seen cast iron evidence that slaughtering badgers will succeed - so I'm against extending the slaughter programme to any other areas until there is definitive evidence from this first pilot scheme. I suspect that will it will be years until we have the proof we need. I anticipate Elin Jones being heavily criticised for her decision by wildlife groups, and I've already heard articulate speakers condemning her on the media. Daresay I'll be criticised for giving her my full support. All I can say is that I have a deep commitment to the welfare of wildlife, and I've no reason to believe that Elin doesn't share it. I believe in the longer run, yesterday's decision will be good news for badgers as well as for the livestock industry.

NOTE - I will check over this post and edit it when I'm home later tonight.

The Stress of Hopelessness.

I've discovered a potential research project for some obscure US university which specialises in the study of stress levels - as they do. Wire up two groups of people from the same community, sending one group out to do something of benefit to his fellow man, (such as onto the streets of Machynlleth with Parkinson's Disease collection boxes), while forcing the other group to attend a meeting where Post Office Ltd try to explain why it plans to close its local presence. I'll discover the stress involved in the former activity today, while I experienced the latter last night in Llanbrynmair Community Centre.

It was the third such meeting that I've been to in the last fortnight. The Centre was full. Standing room only. Heulyn from the Post Office explained the 'rationale' behind the closure proposals. 'Rationale' is not really the right word. More a question of "Our one and only shareholder, Her Majesty's Government has instructed us to close 2500 sub post offices, and our computer model tells us that Llanbrynmair is to be one of them. We are intending to provide you with an 'outreach' alternative which will be open for 9 hours per week." Pretty much end of story! Heulyn looked a bit like that attractive new media spokes lady that Al Fayad has - putting a presentable face on the brutal idiotic strategy of their paymasters.

I arrive at these meetings in a good mood. I like meeting the people of Montgomeryshire. And as I listen to the presentation, and the articulate contributions and questions from the floor, I feel frustration, hopelessness even, pervading the meeting. There's a sense of just going through the motions. No-one believes Heulyn or Richard from Postwatch when they tell us that nothing has been decided yet. Its not their fault. Hands of all are tied behind the backs, theirs and ours, and the people who did the tying are probably indulging themselves in the House of Commons restaurant as we spoke. I feel my stress levels rise as the fog of helplessness envelops the room. I'm sure that a stress-measuring instrument of some sort strapped to my wrist would have gone off the graph.

Keith, who represents the sub post masters was the most depressing of all. He told us that 70% of sub post masters hope to be offered redundancy so that they can close down - the only way they can recover the money they have invested. Government decisions have removed most of their business. He also said that if the Government stick to their financial plans of withdrawing all subsidy from the Post Office by 2011, the 2500 current closure programme would be dwarfed by the next one. In 20 years time post offices will be like cockpits - somewhere for people interested in social history to visit.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Harbinger of Spring

For some its the arrival of the swallow and for some its the cuckoo. For us at Cil Farm, its the day that Mrs Canada Goose settles down on her nest. Canadas can be a problem because they multiply so quickly and damage crops. But our pool is only big enough for one nesting pair. As soon as she's laid, no other goose is allowed on the pool. Last year's youngsters just stand around on the surrounding fields, occasionally venturing onto the water, only to be attacked by their last year's doting father. I don't know how close another nest would be allowed, but its at least 50 meters, which is roughly the distance from the central mini island to the edge of our pool. They will hatch during the first week of May - probably the 2nd, just in time to catch the local election results.

Monday, April 07, 2008

A Naked Emperor

Who would have thought that the big political row of the week would be about changes to the taxation system introduced by the Labour Party, which involves 5.3 million of the poorest paid people of Britain being left worse off. Unsurprisingly, there are 73 seriously and publicly disgruntled Labour MPs, who are very displeased by what their leader and Prime Minister is doing. They're lining up to be disloyal. Tonight it was West Wales MP, Nick Ainger. Normally, when tax changes are upsetting MPs, its the Chancellor who gets in the neck, but this week's changes were announced by the previous Chancellor in last year's budget - so Gordon Brown can't do his usual Macavity disappearing trick when there's a whiff of cordite about. And anyway, Alistair Darling has become so discredited that he doesn't really count any longer. What makes it all so odd is that they cheered the very same Gordon Brown to the rafters of the House of Commons when he announced the changes that have just come into effect - 13 months ago. How times have changed.

And that's what's so interesting about all this. Its not the reams that have been written about the abolition of the 10p income tax band. The aspect that interests me is not the financial, but the status and standing of Gordon Brown. I watched him on some sort of party email conference tonight, answering questions about the tax changes being put by a 'soft' inhouse questioner. He sounded like the speaking clock, and looked about as convincing as Del Boy in a velvet suit on April Fool's Day. I'd read about Labour MPs barracking the Prime Minister over recent days, but hadn't quite believed it. I suppose I still had in my mind the dominant figure who towered over the Labour Party from his lofty post at the Treasury for 10 years. But I believe it now. I've also read that Gordon Brown is not a man to be underestimated, and that he could rise again. Well, yes I suppose he could. But what's new is that now it would be a real surprise. His 'aura of power' has simply drifted away on the breeze.

Breakdown in law and order.

Its been a traumatic day for us, and a shocking development in our community - mainly because its always been such a peaceful part of Wales. We did once have an armed robbery in our local post office in Berriew some 30 years ago (which did far less harm to it that the current Government's current plan which it to kill it off altogether) but generally, there's never been any violence or vandalism worth a mention. Anyway, our telephone and Internet has been down since last Friday, and I asked the men in yellow coats, who were about today in numbers what the trouble was. It seems someone had gone to the trouble of elevating himself (sexist I know) to the height of the cable, and hacksawed through it. In Berriew. What is the world coming to? Law and order is breaking down. Power back on now, so blogging resumed.

The Foundation Stones.

Regular readers will know that I see creating a Conservative Group on Powys County Council as a crucial first step in establishing the Conservative Party as the dominant political force in Montgomeryshire. Its the foundation on which Assembly and General Election success will be built. No idea how much bigger than one the group will be, but I hope it will be at least big enough to ensure membership of the 'Board' which runs the Council. "Whoops, there goes another rubber tree plant" as Frank Sinatra used to croon.. We are putting forwards nine candidates from Montgomeryshire, one of whom has already been elected unopposed. There are another fourteen candidates standing for us in Brecon and Radnorshire. Our nine are, in no particular order,

Simon Baynes-------------Llanwddyn (elected unopposed)
Peter Lewis----------------Llanfyllin
Aled Davies---------------Llanrhaedr-Y-Mochnant and Llansilin (Tanat Valley)
Mark Johannsen---------Llandysilio
Steve Kaye----------------Welshpool (Castle Ward)
Russell George------------Newtown Central
Frank Torrens------------Newtown Llanwllwchaearn North
Peter Harris---------------Newtown Llanllwchaearn West
Richard Horne------------Montgomery

I'm not sure that I have all the ward names correct, but they're somewhere near. Having even one councillor will be a new experience for us. Anyway, starting on Thursday, I will be spending quite a lot of time out on the stump with our intrepid team. Anyone want to help, ring me on 07968082891.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Will there be 'Biofuel' food riots?

Even though Mugabe and his gang look to have decided on ignoring the voter's judgement in Zimbabwe, the bio fuel 'food riots' have started, and my home telephone and Internet have been down since yesterday, I'm in a good mood. As is every Welsh person, except perhaps Leighton James and a few like minded souls in the Swansea area. (In passing, is a Swansea man wanting Cardiff to lose to gallant Barnsley any worse than a Welshman wanting England to lose to the All Blacks?) Anyway, Cardiff are in the Cup Final. And Mrs Canada Goose has settled on her clutch of eggs in our garden. I'd put up the photograph except I can't do it from the Conservative Office in Welshpool, where I've had to come tonight to access the Internet, my emails and to moderate comments.

Back to the food riots, which I've been predicting for quite a long time on this blog - well more warning could be a possibility. There's an interesting article on the subject in the 'Business' section of today's Telegraph. What alarmed me over a year ago was realising the scale of the transfer of crops in the US from food to bio fuels. It seemed to me that when added to the exponential demand for food from China, India, and other 'growth' countries, this transfer was inevitably going to create increased demand, followed by increased prices, followed by increased hunger in the poorest parts of Africa in particular, followed by social unrest. Well, according to the excellent Liam Halligan, riots began last week in Niger, Cameroon, Senegal and Burkino Faso - though this was to do with shortage of rice rather than maize or wheat. But the market in these basic foodstuffs are interdependent. The UN is warning that the food riots witnessed last week "may become common in other places in Africa".

The context in which I've raised this has been the need to properly research the implications before rushing headlong down a gleaming new 'green' road because it seems an attractive option at first sight. It may be that a switch to bio fuels is sensible on a limited scale and if introduced in a controlled and sustainable way. But not the wholescale transfer from food to fuel that's happening at present. Like the UN, I hope that the world doesn't witness a human tragedy born of this well meant but uncontrolled rush to bio fuels.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Its now or never.

The Conservative Party hasn't won an election in Montgomeryshire since 1979 - and that was a first and only victory in a century. I'm the first to concede that this is not a great record. No way we can change things overnight, but for the last few years we've been trying to steadily build up a reputation for commitment to public service and engagement with the people of Montgomeryshire that might eventually bring with it electoral reward. (Occasionally this focus on public service has caused me to lose sight of the need to win elections.) In my opinion, we have reached the point where electoral success is crucial to the morale of our local team. During the next three years, we have Council elections in three weeks time, a General Election in 2009 or 2010, and an Assembly Election in 2011. Somewhere amongst that lot we need a big win. Which brings me to the current Powys County Council elections. as they affect Montgomeryshire. The names of the candidates were published last night

Firstly, I want to congratulate those Councillors who are already elected because they are unopposed. In no particular order, they are,

Joy Shearer--------Rhiwcynon
Michael Jones------Churchstoke
Bobby Morgan----- Llanbrynmair
Eldrydd Jones ------Meifod
Wynne Jones -------Abermule
Gwilym Vaughan----Glantwymyn
Tegwyn Jones-------Llansantffraid
Michael Williams---- Machynlleth
David Jones---------Guilsfield
Kath Roberts-Jones--Kerry
Beryl Vaughan-------Banwy
Roche Davies-------- Llandinam
Graham Brown------ Llandrinio
Viola Evans----------Llanfair Caereinion
Barry Thomas -------Llanfihangel

All Independents and all unopposed.

And our very own Simon Baynes, elected to represent Llanwyddyn on Powys County Council - and the Montgomeryshire Conservatives.

You can call it a breakthrough, a turning point, a watershed, the start of a revolution in Montgomeryshire politics or a... Steady on Glyn. Its only one councillor, and he was elected unopposed. Well, what may be only one councillor to you is a glorious triumph to me. We're off to the Wagon and Horses for a bottle of champagne to celebrate tonight.

And now we start the battle to add a few more names to Simon's group of one. We have 8 other candidates standing, (plus another 14 in Brecon and Radnorshire). Over the next three weeks, I will be doing all I can to help them. I really do feel that its now or never for Montgomeryshire Conservatives, and its now or never for me. If I'm going to defeat Lembit Opik, a team of Councillors would be a huge help. I feel in my water that this is it. The time is now.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Forcefeeding by 'Spin'.

Mrs D and a friend used to run the Granary Restaurant in Welshpool. They learned a bit about marketing. If the 'vegetable bake' wasn't going quickly enough, they'd change the name to 'crunchy vegetable bake', whereupon it simply 'flew' off the plate. By adopting the same principle, Labour has persuaded the people of Britain to let them govern our country since 1997. The worst example of renaming has been the change from an EU Constitution into an EU Treaty for the sole and devious purpose of breaking a manifesto promise to hold a referendum before signing up to it. But a problem for Labour today is that the people have sussed them out. Brown just can't tell 'em like Blair. Jeff Randall has written about this in today's Telegraph, in reference to eco-towns.

Let there be no confusion about they're trying to do. What is proposed by our Government, in our spin-polluted democracy, is that normal planning procedures are to be suspended in order to allow for the building of new towns comprising many thousands of new houses all over England. The Government is doing this to accommodate the many millions more people that are going to come to live in the UK over the next few years. The various projected population increases we have seen are incredible, and will have a dramatic impact on our landscapes, our environment, our wildlife and on our public services. The House of Lords has shed some light this week on the impact of this huge expansion in Britain's population, which has received almost no serious consideration. If the Government is going to create all these new towns, there should be a genuine public debate about the proposals. We need to get behind the spin.

The Government does not want this debate of course - so its adding the prefix, 'eco' to towns, and talking about these developments only in the context of impact on climate change. It is entirely sensible that Government considers how new development should be more 'eco friendly, and its also sensible that it issues planning 'guidance' to Local Planning Authorities about prioritising 'brown field sites'. But lets not let this aspect of the Government's proposals divert our eyes from what they are really about - forcing new towns on reluctant communities by subverting the planning process. I can tell you from experience that the Granary's 'crunchy vegetable bake was delicious. But this dish being served up by the Government's leaves just a nasty taste.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Don't be sick in Wales.

Long post this - but my family's healthcare matters to me. The National Assembly for Wales has now been in existence for 9 years. I wonder who readers assess as the worst Minister during that period. And no favouring anyone who is rather a nice person. I mean who has achieved the least and cocked-up the most. Now, I'll turn to the political leadership of the NHS in Wales over the last 9 years.

In 1999, Alun Michael appointed Ms Jane Hutt to be his Minister (then known as Secretary) for Health and Social Services. She immediately set out to reorganise the Wales NHS, and decided to focus on health prevention rather that getting people treated. She may well have said that her aim was to "improve patients care and the patient experience, ending competition in favour of co-operation."
Oh how they cheered on the Labour benches, and on the Lib Dem ones too, when the Lib Lab Pact was agreed in 2000. Throughout this period, Ms Hutt was under the heavy influence of a strong hallucinatory drug called coterminosity. She created a pyramid of bureaucracy, founded on 22 Local Health Boards, coterminous with local councils. When our man, the visionary David Melding warned of impending doom, she accused him of insulting this thing called coterminosity.

Anyway, Ms Hutt was moved suddenly one day, in fact it was about a day before a damning report was published about the state of the NHS. Her successor, Mr Brian Gibbons, was forced to shift his focus back onto getting patients treated, and reducing the horrific differences in the time that patients from Wales and England had to wait. His stint as Minister was truly a poisoned chalice. And then yesterday, the current Minister, Edwina Hart blew Ms Hutts coterminous NHS structure into oblivion. Very soon there will be nothing left to remind us of the time our NHS was entrusted into the care of Ms Hutt.

I've been trying to get my head around Edwina Hart's 'Proposals for Changing the Structure of the NHS in Wales', which were announced yesterday. She tells us that her aim is to "improve patient care and the patient experience, ending competition in favour of co-operation". Now, where have I heard that before?

Now this is a complex issue. The NHS is currently divided into 'purchasers' of services (22 Local Health Boards) and 'providers' of services ( 10 NHS Trusts). Mrs Hart proposes to end the 'purchaser' role of LHBs and create an All Wales Strategic Authority to do the job instead - so far so good. Personally, I hope that this body is as independent of the Assembly Government as possible - but don't hold your breath with this lot. But she is not abolishing the LHBs. She wants to reduce them from 22 to 8 (none of this coterminosity claptrap from Edwina) and give them an entirely different job to do - become the 'provider' of GP and Community Health services. Now I'm not sure about this. I will need to consult Mr Melding again. The NHS Trusts carry on as before, with a chunk of their responsibilities hived off to the LHBs. So it looks as if the end result will be less bodies, but an extra tier. We have three months to think about it and comment.

Mrs Hart is claiming that this ends the internal market, something else I'm trying to get my head around. Seems to me that there is still a 'purchaser'/ 'provider' split - its just that it is in a different place. And surely I cannot believe that the All Wales Strategic Authority is not going to shop around for the best price. Please don't tell me its just going to pay what the Trusts think it should be. Perhaps we'll all just have to pretend there is no referenceto price at all - just so that her Plaid Cymru coalition partners can go around boasting that they have in some way cleansed the NHS of the dirty word, 'competition'. - just so they can feel better.
Oh and by the way, Ms Hutt is now responsible for education!

What do you think of this?

Not sensible for me to comment on the way that my party has chosen its candidates for next years elections to the European Parliament - so I won't. But I will post what Tim Montgomery has to say about it on ConservativeHome, just in case any of you read my site but not his. Please feel free to tell me what you think, but don't expect to receive a full response.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Lib Dems get everywhere.

Normally, I can depend on my Daily Telegraph to be a Welsh Liberal Democrat free zone - at least if I steer clear of the gossip and celebrity pages! But on page 8 of today's edition, being quoted at length in the Mandrake column, there was fellow blogger, Peter Black AM. And he was talking sense as well.

The issue under report was the rejection by the Advertising Standards Authority of an anonymous Welsh viewer's complaint that a Barclaycard advert was anti-Welsh. Peter welcomed the ruling, as do I, making the rather obvious point that if Welsh people make official complaints every time somebody makes a joke at their expense, everyone else will think that we do not have a sense of humour.

Actually, my only appearance in Hello magazine was when I ridiculed the decision by police to travel from Wales to London in pursuit of Ann Robinson, when she had made some derogatory slight upon my nation. The Telegraph also makes reference to the time when police officers 'were persuaded to feel the collar of Tony Blair' when he referred to "the f***ing Welsh" on a fraught election night. Jokes at our expense do no harm to our standing at all. In fact, its the complaining, and the taking serious notice of these complaints that cause the harm

The State of our Roads.

I've been to meet Llanbrynmair Community Council tonight to discuss issues of importance to that part of West Montgomeryshire. (No doubt, this will cause the usual comments asking why the Council should waste time talking to me.) It was great practice for my Welsh because Llanbrynmair is one of the rare Councils which conducts its business in the language of the gods. Anyway, one of the main issues of concern is inadequate investment in the roads of Montgomeryshire. And then I checked my emails and, lo and behold, this afternoon I'd received copy of a press release from Conservative Shadow Minister for Economic Development, David Melding informing me how displeased he is that there are now 200,000 potholes in Wales. My first reaction on being told of this dire position, was "How on earth does he know ?" Who's been out there counting them, and has he included the 8 potholes on the minor road to my mother-in-law's bungalow?

I don't think there is any denying that there are more potholes about than there used to be. Local authorities claim this is because they do not have enough money to fill them all in. There is now one pothole for every 15 people in Wales. and it leads to much inconvenience and cost. Only today, I had to replace a wrecked tyre on my car - probably caused by one of Montgomeryshire's potholes. And with my extra wide wheels, its not cheap. Perhaps there would be less potholes if shovels were bought for all those people who have been out there counting them. Potholes will be one of the issues which will feature in next weeks discusions amongst the 9 Conservative candidates from Montgomeryshire, who have put their names forward as candidates for next months Powys County Council elections.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The 'humanimal' Genie is out and gone.

All the fuss there's been about the creation of embryos created from the mixing of human and animal genes for the creation of stem cells for scientific research. The Prime Minister has been forced to allow his Catholic Ministers a free vote. I'd been worrying myself about how I'd vote on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill if I was an MP. I still find it a very difficult issue tro come to a decision about, and I'm still uncertain about which way I'd vote. And then I was just watching Newsnight tonight, when 10 minutes ago, Jeremy Paxman casually announced as a minor item of news that scientists at Newcastle have just gone and done it. Just like that. Newsnight paid much more attention to last night's item on Nick Clegg's prolific sex life.

So what was the fuss all about if the scientists have already started to mix animal and human material to create a new form of life. No problem they tell us, because they have every intention of destroying it again during the next few days. Bloody frightening isn't it?
Two things occur to me. Firstly, the scientists must be so certain that their activities are going to be approved by Parliament , that they saw no reason to delay. And secondly, if Parliament passes an amendment to strike down this sort of experimentation, there will be no possible way in which it will now be stopped. The genie can rarely be put back into it's bottle. I wish I hadn't read those damn Dan Brown books last month.

Prime Minister Exposed.

During last October's Conservative Party Conference, Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, flew to Iraq to announce that the number of British troops on active service in Basra was to be reduced and thousands of our armed forces were coming home early. To this blog, the visit looked suspiciously like an attempt to overshadow the Conservative Conference. At the time, many people, including this blog, were dismayed by what seemed to be the blatant use of our armed forces for political purposes. And it seems that many of the people of Britain saw things the same way. Personally, I believe this misguided visit played a major part in the dramatic collapse in public confidence in the Prime Minister that began on that day, and has continued ever since.

Today, a statement by the Defence Secretary to the House of Commons informed us that not only had Gordon Brown broken with convention by making such a visit during the Opposition's party conference, but that the troop reduction announced are now not going to happen on the anticipated timetable. As a result of increased activity by Shia militiamen in Basra over the last few days, the troop reduction plans have had to be put on hold. Troops who had been planning to come home, following the Prime Minister's promise last October have had there hopes dashed. Lets hope we never see a British Prime Minister behaving in such this way ever again.