Saturday, February 28, 2009

The real stories.

Been catching up with the weeks news - from a Welsh Conservative perspective that is. There have been two big stories - neither of which won the media coverage that they warranted. Both were overshadowed by other issues, important but of lesser significance. The issue of secondary importance was the Conservative Assembly Group reshuffle. I was receiving calls about it from my 'snout' Edna from teatime on Thursday. There was a comprehensive reshuffle of the official opposition taking place, and it was hardly being covered at all. No more than a passing reference on BBC Wales' flagship political programme, Dragon's Eye - which went out several hours after the BBC's journos knew about the reshuffle. And the reason? The Beeb had invested money in an opinion poll about attitudes to devolution which was almost exactly what most of us would have predicted - and they wanted to make that the main news item.

But the truly astonishing issue of the last week was the latest attempt by Gordon Brown to persuade our banks to begin lending money again. I hesitate to comment on the Asset Mnagement Scheme, having no specific expertise beyond common sense, and no experience beyond that of a small businessman. The sheer madness of what was done this week, the sheer scale of taxpayer's money which our Prime Minister (and I think we can personalise this) has potentially given RBS is beyond belief. I cannot believe that losses leading from the decision to guarantee RBS's 'toxic' loans will not lead to huge damage to our public finances and services over future years. This is probably the biggest financial story to hit our country during my lifetime. And yet, the Government managed to pull off a 'spin' that let it slip by almost unnoticed. I cannot believe that the terms of Sir Fred Goodwin's pension arrangements were not leaked at a time to coincide with the announcement about an Asset Protection Scheme, and confine the big news to the inside pages. OK, so Sir Fred's pension arrangements are grotesque - but it does not compare with the importance of the Asset Protection Scheme. And to make the Government's 'spin' operation even more irritating, we have Labour politicians on our screens expressing outrage - despite there having been a Government Minister in on the pension arrangements when they were agreed.

Which brings me to the other hugely damaging aspect of this 'spin' operation. In order to deflect responsibility, Gordon Brown has sacrificed the authority of 'government'. We have had the utterly pathetic sight of a Government Minister claiming to be 'innocent' (because he omitted to ask the right question) - and then carrying on in office as if nothing untoward has happened. And we've had to watch the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom asking an individual to repay a pension previously agreed by one of his own Minister's - and being told to get stuffed. Its unbelievable, and greatly diminishes the authority of government. The 'spin' may have worked like a dream this week, but it doesn't change the reality, which will come back to destroy Gordon Brown's premiership.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Inching forward to a Welsh Parliament.

Lots of excitement following publication yesterday of a BBC Wales opinion poll predicting that over half of Welsh voters would vote 'Yes' in a referendum about the granting of law making powers to the National Assembly for Wales. It was very much in line with what I would have expected. The only surprise to me was that the most popular of a series of options about the way forward (34%) was that tax raising/varying powers should be devolved as well. There was something symbolic about support for a law making parliament going through the 50% barrier. There will not be a referendum before 2011 though. It is no more than another inch forward, even if it is consistently in the same direction.

I enjoyed the performance of Plaid AM, Rhodri Glyn Thomas on the BBC's Dragon's Eye last night. He was back to his ebullient best - trying to give the impression that the referendum promised when his party signed up to a coalition deal with Labour to form the National Assembly Government was still on target. There's a bit more to this than meets the part-seeing eye. He could well have been laying down a bear trap for his leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones. He owes him one. Could it be that he is ramping up expectation, so that Ieuan really cops it when he announces that there's not going to be a referendum by 2011 after all. Labour Minister, Carwyn Jones gave us the true 'softening up for reneging' approach of the Government on last night's programme.

The key statistic in any opinion poll on this issue will be the gap between the 'Yes' side and the 'No' side. 13% is just not enough. Personally, I think it would be too risky to go for a referendum unless the gap is 20% over several polls. It could happen. One reason why there has been increasing support for a law making Welsh Parliament is the sheer incompetence of the current Westminster Government. There's a sense that 'We can't do any worse than that'.

Be interesting how much attention is given to this constitutional stuff over the next week. Its 30 years since the overwhelming rejection of devolution in 1979. That was at a time when the nation was facing huge problems associated with economic and industrial unrest. Voters thought politicians should be concentrating on what they saw as more important matters. It may not be wholly logical, but I do think we could see the same response if a referendum were to be called in the current economic chaos.

Being helpful to the Lib Dems in Montg..

This blog tries to be helpful to all Montgomeryshire people where it can. Tonight I'm offering a helping hand to our Montgomeryshire Lib Dems. This morning, one of our members handed me a copy of a quite substantial leaflet which they had delivered to his house this week. The leaflet asked him to let their office know of any new campaign I launch, or any tactic I employ, and also send them copies of any of our leaflets or letters. It would be a lot cheaper for them to just read my blog. This week I've been leafleting in the Llanbrynmair area, and will be available if any Lib Dem wants a chat at 'Machinations' in Llanbrynmair at 10.30 on Saturday. I, along with William and Margaret have also leafleted around Middletown and Trewern yesterday, and I'm available at the Village Hall at 6.00 tomorrow. Hope that's a help.

I was also interested to read an appeal for recipients of these leaflets to send letters to the County Times, Shropshire Star and Cambrian News in support of Lib Dem campaigns. So if there's a rush of letters in our local Montgomeryshire papers over the next few weeks, saying how fabulous our Lib Dems are, we will know that it was the Lib Dems themselves who are behind them. Yet again I was surprised to see that there wasn't one word of Welsh in a leaflet which had been delivered around Llanbrynmair.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Assembly Tory Re-shuffle

Just home and there's an email in my inbox informing me that there has been a comprehensive reshuffle of the Conservative Group in the National Assembly. Bit of a surprise this. Earlier tonight, both Radio Wales and Radio Cymru wanted me on tomorrow morning to discuss what, at that stage were only rumours of what was going to be announced tomorrow - which I deemed too risky for me to accept. Jonathon Morgan and William Graham have both left the Shadow Cabinet. Jonathon is to become Chair of the Audit Committee. When I decided to resign from being a Spokesman and concentrate on Chairing a Committee a few years ago, it was the best decision I took as an AM. I hope Jonathon finds the experience as satisfying as I did. I expect William's orchid to be a bit more 'droopy' next week.

Andrew Davies has taken over the Health brief, where Jonathon made such a mark. Darren Millar has moved from Environment to Local Government, which will give him the opportunity to put himself around Wales - if he wants to that is. Paul Davies is going to Education, and the Welsh Language is being separated from the Culture portfolio, and is going with him. Angela Burns is moving to Environment, Nick Ramsey is moving to Finance, while Alun Cairns seems to have landed a real sackful of responsibilities - Chief Whip, Business Manager, Heritage, plus a share of the Economic brief. That should hopefully keep him out of any trouble!

According to the Press Release, Mark Isherwood is staying at Social Justice, Brynle williams is staying at Rural Affairs, and David Melding retains a share of the Economy. And I'm not sure what has happened to Transport. Be interesting to see what the commentariat make of this.

Lord Turner dumps on Gordon Brown

The head of the Financial Services Authority, Lord Turner really put the boot into the Prime Minister earlier today. And Lord Turner has inflicted some serious damage on him. He told MPs that Gordon Brown pressurised the FSA to go easy on financial institutions. This is the FSA which Gordon Brown created when he removed regulatory responsibility from the Bank of England. Lord Turner told us today that the man who destroyed effective regulation of our banks, and allowed the madness which has all but destroyed our economy was Mr Gordon Brown. This is the one devastating fact that the Prime Minister has been desperate to hide from us. Too late now.

Really good discussion on this issue on Newsnight between Paxman, John McFall, Labour chair of the Treasury select committee, and Tory member, Michael Fallon. I'll leave you with two quotes that give you a flavour of it.

McFall on Brown - "If you want him to apologise, you get him in Jermey, and ask him yourself"

Fallon on Brown - "In the end Richard Nixon said sorry".

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Nuclear Power

Having a blitz on political leafleting at the moment, and trying to spend an hour or two each day cutting back grasses in the garden. Not much time to keep up with my Telegraph - so only just caught up on a very interesting article in yesterday's edition which presages what I expect to build up to become a revolution in environmentalist's thinking. 'Four leading environmentalists have abandoned their opposition to nuclear power and said that Britain must build more reactors to meet its climate change targets.'

They are Stephen Tindale, former director of Greenpeace; Lord Smith of Finsbury, Chair of the Environment Agency; Mark Lynas, an award winning science writer; and Chris Goodhall, a Green Party activist and parliamentary candidate. I, and many others have undergone the same change in opinion, but for rather different reasons - or at least additional reasons. My conversion took place when I realised that the British Government had allowed a situation to develop where in the absence of a commitment to new nuclear power generation, the lights are going to go out.

For years, environmental campaigners have resisted nuclear power (most still do) because we still do not know how to dispose of radioactive waste. And they are right to be worried, and there is a responsibility on Government to get a move on in deciding where the deep burial shaft is going to be located. But unfortunately, there is no longer any choice. The Government is now playing the only card left in the pack (after a decade of pretending that renewable energy can do the job on its own) - clearing away any obstruction that might stand in the way of several new nuclear power stations.

Yes, I am irked.

Robert Preston has really put me in a bad mood tonight. To be fair, he did say he thought we'd be irked by what he had to tell us. It seems that Mr Fred Goodwin, the financial whizzo who led RBS to bankruptcy, (or would have done if the British government had not pumped billions of our money in to save it) has retired on an annual pension of £650,000. We're also told that Ministers are 'unhappy' about this. Well, my dear Ministers, we are all 'unhappy' - desperately b****** unhappy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

He did it his way.

I hope that it did not seem inappropriate, but as Sir Bernard Ashley began his last journey on this earth, from the front of the Church in the Montgomeryshire village of Carno to his grave, alongside that of his first wife Laura, I discovered that I was smiling. And I was not the only one. As the bearers carried his coffin down the aisle, a recording of Frank Sinatra's voice, singing 'My Way' filled the Church. The song could have been composed especially for Sir Bernard Ashley.

It was a lovely service, mixing inevitable sadness, with humour and celebration of a truly inspirational life. It began with his favorite Bible reading, delivered by his daughter, Jane. Next was Dave Duggan singing 'This Land', a song composed by his daughter-in-law Ari Ashley. The line that implanted itself in my memory was 'This land is the place I belong'. We were in the heart of Montgomeryshire, surrounded by her largely unspoilt uplands. Then it was moving tributes from grandchildren and nieces. There were quivering lips and misty eyes all around the Church - and I daresay, amongst the hundreds outside. And then Vicomte Phillippe de Spoelberch, who introduced himself to us as a BB (the second B standing for Belgian. One of Sir Bernard's genuinely affectionate descriptions). His tribute was both funny and touching. Absolutely bang on appropriate for today.

The sermon and committal part of service was conducted by the Vicar of Rhayadr, a man who used to be a Tesco manager before he was ordained. Seemed to me so very apt that a former businessman should conduct the funeral service of one of the greatest entrepreneurs ever to live in Mid Wales. First time I've attended a service where there was a choice of singing hymns in English or Welsh. Decided to sing in Welsh, because there were so many people belting out 'Guide me, O thou great redeemer' that no-one could possibly hear me.

Today's funeral told us a lot about Sir Bernard Ashley. He was clearly a great family man. His grandchildren showed their great love for him. He was a religious man. His brother, Geoffrey let us know that Sir Bernard read the Bible every day, before he ended the service by reciting a lovely poem, 'Memories of the Heart'. He was an unusual man (I used the word idiosyncratic when interviewed last week). The tribute, and the recording of 'My Way' informed those of us who did not know it already that this was the case. He was a loyal man. The Church was filled with people who had worked for him many years ago. They came from far afield just to say goodbye. And we know that he, in that amazing partnership with Laura was a great businessman. He was a man who made a huge mark on Montgomeryshire, the land to which I belong. I was privileged to be in Carno Church today.

Growing GM Crops in Wales

Interesting statement yesterday from Elin Jones, The Assembly Government's Rural Affairs Minister. She has announced tighter rules for the growing of GM crops in Wales. I do not think there are many who will disagree with this. But its not going to satisfy the opponents GM crops, who still want a GM Free Wales.

I recall much heated debate about this issue a few years ago, when Carwyn Jones was the responsible Assembly Minister. Consistently, he told us that he favoured the most restrictive rules possible, with the lawyer's qualification 'within EU and UK law'. But it wasn't good enough for most AMs, and certainly not for groups like Friends of the Earth who wanted an absolute ban. There was overwhelming opposition to the idea of growing GM crops in Wales at all. I was content to go along with this approach - an instinctive fear of the unknown I suppose.

But even as I voted to oppose GM crops, there were several aspects to the debate that raised questions in my mind - which I incorporated into speeches on the subject. So much so that I remember someone once telling me (it could have been Ron Davies) that my anti GM speech sounded more pro-GM.

Firstly, there's the 'genie out of the bottle' argument. GM crops are being created and grown all over the world. We will not be able to stop them indefinitely. It was already impossible to distinguish between GM and non GM imported soya, which was a constituent part of many of our basic foodstuffs. History tells us that when the science exists, a way will be found to implement it. There was also the dubiously moral stance of opposing GM crops in Wales 'until thorough research had been carried out' - but insisting that none of this research took place in Wales. This is akin to awaiting the results of research carried out in England, before allowing GM crops to be grown in Wales. GM maize was already being grown about 15 miles from my farm, just over the border in Shropshire - out in the open air. And there's the issue of the competitiveness of Welsh agriculture. If GM crops become widely grown, which I do think is inevitable, there's a danger that home grown cereals would become uncompetitive.

Growing GM crops in Wales was not and is not illegal. But activists took the law into their own hands. A GM maize crop near Chester (in Wales though) which I visited to discuss the issue with the farmer was trashed by vandals wearing white lab suits. A proposed trial in Pembrokeshire, again on land of a farmer I knew well was aborted as a result of threats of a commercial nature. Don't know this for certain of course, but I would be surprised if this violent behaviour has not driven the growing of GM crops underground - so to speak. Whatever, I'm with the Minister is adopting as cautious approach as is legally possible within the law.

Monday, February 23, 2009

It could have been worse.

I suppose today's announcement from Control Techniques in Newtown of 30 redundancies, and that the factory is going onto short time working is bad news for the Mid Wales economy. But it doesn't seem such bad news when you've been expecting it to be worse.

Control Techniques is a hugely important employer in Mid Wales, and has been ever since Trevor Wheatley, Kevin Curran and Ken Briggs moved in their small little business, called KTK perhaps 30 years ago. It grew, and grew, and grew and was eventually taken over by its current American owners, Emerson. One of the biggest decisions I was ever involved in was to build the R&D headquarters for the company in Newtown - well before Emerson were on the scene. At the time, I was Chairman of the Development Board for Rural Wales. My view was that the building had to be of sufficient stature to encourage any future owner to stay in Newtown. That seems to have been a decent decision. There are about 350 employed in the manufacturing unit, and perhaps another 100 in the R&D unit - big numbers for Mid Wales.

I'd heard rumours about redundancies at Control Techniques, and was fearing really bad news. Today's announcement informs us that there are to be 30 redundancies - voluntary in the first instance. And there is to be a reduction in working hours of one day per fortnight. Of course its disappointing when jobs are lost, but it could have been a hell of a lot worse. I spent the morning in Welshpool Town Hall, listening to representatives from Jobcentre Plus, Careers Wales, and TGAL (Business Advisory Service) explaining options and rights to the 90 strong Floform workforce who were just ordered to leave the factory with 5 minutes notice last week - one of the worst examples of disgraceful treatment of workers I've ever seen. Now that's what I call bad news.

Control Techniques is still there, and looking strong, and employing well over 400 people in Newtown. Bearing in mind what's happening in the manufacturing sector, today's news doesn't seem that bad.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Inflation will be back.

I find the current orthodoxy of financial commentators impossible to swallow. The rush to spend more and more billions (disguised by the reassuring words 'financial stimulus'). The decision to start printing more of the stuff (disguised by the meaningless words 'quantitative easing'). The dropping of interest rates towards zero. These things all seem crazy to me, a recipe for inflation. And then we have the collapse in Sterling which is bound to push up the cost of imports - and stocks can only be run down so far. Even more pressure on inflation. I read that prices are falling, and that the RPI is down close to zero. But last month's Consumer Price Index dropped only 0.1% - to 3.0%. This should have been seen as a red flashing warning light - but for some reason it wasn't. The UK is in a mess because our banks lent to much, (often without giving much thought to the capacity of the borrower to repay), and the British Government, despite having already borrowed too much, has just has gone on a spending and borrowing spree, the like of which we have never seen before. And yet all these financial experts dismiss inflation as not being a threat. Except Liam Halligan in today's Sunday Telegraph. Well Liam might be 'bonkers' - 'bonkers' like a man who has his opened his eyes to see, rather than his ears to hear what those around him are saying..

Anyway, my view that inflation will soon be back to stalk the land has caused me to take an important personal decision today. Last September, I put a 100 acre block of farmland on the market. But when the banks suddenly hit the wall, I decided to rent it out over the winter instead, with the intention of selling it in the Spring when the panic was over. Some hope of that. Today, I've decided I'm not going to sell it at all. When inflation comes to town, the best investment is farmland (or gold I suppose). In two year's time, I see a new Government fighting to control the evils of inflation, with interest rates being forced up to cripplingly high levels again. I see Gordon Brown's legacy as a crashed landscape in need of massive reconstruction. OK, so perhaps I'm wrong - 'bonkers' even, but I'm taking precautions, starting today.

But what is Ieuan's going to do about it.

Watched John Dixon, Chairman of Plaid Cymru on today's Politics Show. He was trying manfully to explain Plaid Cymru's 'position' on the thorny issue of top-up fees in Wales to Felicity Evans. John assured us with great clarity that Plaid Cymru, at their special meeting held in Aberystwyth yesterday, reaffirmed its policy of total opposition to top-up fees in Wales. Personally, I don't agree with this position (though I accept that the Conservative Group in the National Assembly may well take a different view - and its a matter for them). However its understandable and its consistent. What is much more interesting is the position of Plaid Cymru's Assembly Members - in particular the position of the three Plaid Ministers. They have to face up to the 'reality' of politics - not some hypothetical possibility.

It's reported that the Leader of Plaid Cymru informed yesterday's meeting that he will not be able to deliver on this policy - that he may not be able to persuade his Cabinet colleagues not to go ahead with its plans to introduce top-up fees. Felicity didn't ask John Dixon whether Ieuan Wyn Jones would try to persuade them, and how hard he would try. Either yesterday's vote was an empty gesture, designed to appeal to the student vote, or a policy that the Party Leader must try to force through Cabinet. The statement that he will 'not be able to deliver' suggests that an effort to force it through will be made. This will require the submission to Cabinet of a carefully worked up 'alternative' budget. It will be interesting to learn what budget changes he will put to his Cabinet colleagues as he, Elin Jones and Alun Ffred Jones battle to persuade them to change their minds. I can see some very interesting exchanges coming up in the Assembly Debating Chamber over the next few weeks, as opposition AMs try to extract details about these discussions.

I also hope this puts an end to all this blogging by Plaid supporters who make such a song and dance about differing opinions in my party about future constitutional changes in Wales - particularly in respect of a 'hypothetical' referendum on law-making powers. Yes, that's the referendum that was promised before 2011 by the Labour/Plaid Cymru Coalition when it was formed, and which is now being quietly dropped.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Royal Visit

We dug out the pool about 10 years ago. Its a central interest in the garden. This time of year it becomes as lively as Cardiff's St Mary's Street at the weekend - and for much the same reason I suppose. The breeding season is upon us. Thoughts of love are in the air. Today there were coots at war, and nine Canada Geese engaging in the early skirmishes, which eventually results in two who commandeer the pool, and drive all the others off the water. I daresay there are moorhens and mallard who like to conduct their lovemaking hidden in the bushes. But today, there were two swans on the pool. Don't know where they came from. And they were still there tonight, having spent the whole day inspecting every nook and cranny. They were surely on a recce, looking for a suitable nesting site. If they decide to stick around, things are going to get very interesting. There are only two little islands, where nests are safe from foxes. There's not enough room for everyone. Who will take precedence. I'm split about this. On one hand, the Canada's have been returning to us for years, and its the same family - but it would be something else to have swans nesting in the garden. I'll update on progress next weekend.

Sat afternoon in the Garden

What's so special about this photograph of a newly planted tree you might ask. Well, for starters the ginkgo is growing out of a stone - which is pretty unusual. In fact, its a William O'Brien cast iron ginkgo. Mrs D gave it me for my birthday last week. William is a Berriew blacksmith who lives next door to us. I've advertised his artwork on this blog before. Not sure whether this will be its final resting place, but it will be there for the summer.

This miscanthus is about 12 ft high. I don't pretend that its very pretty, following the winter's battering. Ive been cutting it down to ground level today. In three months time it will be back up to 12 ft. You can almost see it growing. The reason I've put the photograph up is that this is the miscanthus that is now causing excitement as a fuel for energy generation. I've been growing it for 20 years. I bought it as a freak plant, when its current use had not been thought about.

I thought I should put up a photograph of some of the snowdrops we grow, now that they are fully out. As I'm looking to run the garden on less time and work, its trouble free plants like this that will take over. Even less work with those that are made of cast iron!

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Driving Test.

Miss Lisa Connolly took her driving test in December 2006. She was proceeding along the highway when for some reason, she braked suddenly - using her wrong foot. This manoeuvre led to her examiner, Andrew Hindley suffering whiplash, and forced another vehicle to take evasive action. She also mounted the pavement during the reverse parking manoeuvre, and succeeded in effecting a nine-point turn.

Mr Carmichael recorded 14 faults, 5 serious faults and one dangerous fault. The Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled that Miss Connolly's driving instructor's insurers are liable for all losses, damage and injury sustained by Mr Carmichael. Today's Telegraph report of this incident doesn't inform us whether she passed the test.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Checking the system for disease.

This post is a bit gruesome. Now you might wonder what our system of democracy has in common with my large bowel. Well, read on. First of all there's the dodgy history. On the one hand there's 'Cash for Questions', and a few other Parliamentarian's failings, while on the other hand, there was that nasty tumour in my rectum six years ago which required some skilled but fairly savage butchery on my person by Mr Hunt. Both systems need a periodic check-up to expose any new nasties that might have invaded and be festering, out of public view. I underwent a colonoscopy this afternoon.

As always, there's no point in inspecting anything, without clearing away all the debris that interferes with a careful look in every nook and cranny. That requires an effective laxative to clear the decks, so to speak. Two Picolax sachets made yesterday rather more high risk than I like. Probably the first time a colostomy cap has been blown off in the Cardiff Hylton! No-one was hurt. I suppose this can be looked at as the equivalent of full publication of politician's expenses. The Picolax effect was much more dramatic than I'd expected, since I'd only eaten a light supper on Tuesday, plus the colonic irrigation before going to bed should have shifted most of it. (I've been using CI for three years now to avoid having to wear a colostomy bag). Whatever, I survived the trauma, and arrived on time at the Shropshire Nuffield this afternoon to meet up with Mr Hunt once again. This time he was armed with a camera on the end of a long lead, rather than his scalpel.

Decided against the anaesthetic that I've always had injected into me in the past. In politics, its always a good policy to face up to the camera. It was a fascinating film, as the camera slithered its way through the bowel like a snake. The surgeon's job looked quite unscientific. Just like shoving a three foot long draining rod up a sewage pipe. Mr Hunt looked as if he was steering the thing with a playboy. The camera was about two foot in when he said "That little hole is your appendix". Carol, (I think. I was under pressure) one of the attending nurses squirted some water over it so that I could see the detail. And then he reached a dead end - where the large bowel runs into the small bowel. Spent five minutes looking for the entrance - not to enter, but just to show me what it looked like. He was getting quite carried away, as if he was taking a tutorial. If I hadn't said I wasn't that fussed to see it, he'd still be looking now. And as he withdrew the camera, I joined in the search for any polyps that might need burning off before they grow into something more dangerous. We didn't find any. And then it was all over - apart from the disconcerting noises that Hitler was renowned for at the dining table. Don't know what the Fuhrer's excuse was, but mine was that air had been pumped into my bowel to open the road for the snake. No anaesthetic was a bit uncomfortable, but then it was a film show not to be missed.

The good news for me is that nothing untoward was found. Lets hope that the media when its poking around in MP's expenses, due to be published shortly will find the same completely clean bill of health in our democratic system. I enjoyed the bowl of soup and poached eggs on toast that appeared at tea time. I hadn't eaten for almost two days. Felt like a reward. Its a great feeling when everything has been exposed to the closest scrutiny, and nothing untoward has been found. Just ask the Assembly Members.

UPDATE - I just had to add this. Best laugh I've had for ages. Read it and sympathise.

A Lib Dem Apology?

My favorite celebrity cleaning lady/snout, Edna Mopbucket has been on the phone, looking for info. She wants details of a public apology that the Liberal Democrats in Montgomeryshire are making to their fellow councillors for distributing misleading leaflets around the old County. Told Edna that I've heard nothing about it. Actually, I had heard, but didn't want to embarrass Cllr. Richard White, a straight sort of bloke, who doesn't deserve to have his reputation sullied by association with such disreputable behaviour.

Not often I hear Edna in 'outraged' mode, but she'd been tamping about the leaflets the Lib Dems had been putting out. Her language was enough to make Boris Johnson and Lord Mandelson sound like angels of sweetness. "How dare the ******* make such ******* claims for things they didn't ******* well do." I tried telling her that this is what we expect, but that just made her madder. To calm her down, I told her about last weeks invasion of the offices of the Shropshire Star, County Times, and Lib Dems themselves by Montgomeryshire Independent Councillors in full war cry, demanding apologies. Edna tells me that they then took the issue to Powys Council's Monitoring Officer. She was going to fire up Independent Cllr., Bob Mills into a rage, and was also looking forward to a right dust-up at the next Council meeting - changed her work rota to be there and see the blood letting. Edna reckoned they hadn't got a leg to stand on, and would be routed. And now she fears they've spoilt it all by issuing a public apology. Edna wants to see it - even if she claims to be quite soft hearted, and not interested in seeing them grovel.

So I promised Edna I'd post on it tonight, in the hope that one of this blog's visitors could shed some light. Comment if you know anything more. Be a pity not to share the details with the wider public.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sir, give him another one.

Been to Care Forum Wales AGM in Cardiff today. Its a useful organisation - largely because of the enthusiasm of its chief executive, Mario Kreft. Over recent years, most social care has been transferred to the private sector, backed up by public sector regulation. I approve of this principle. I also believe that the trend towards the private sector will continue, despite an alternative rhetoric emanating from some corners of the Assembly Government.
There were speakers about regulation of service providers (CSSIW) and employees in the sector ( Care Council for Wales). Then I had to leave early. Learned a bit, but my related interest is in the way we treat dementia, which wasn't on today's agenda.

Which brings me to Terry Pratchett, who has done more to make dementia an issue for public debate than anyone since Ronald Reagan. Yesterday we heard the harrowing story of how Alzheimer's Disease has transformed the lives of Bonnie and John Suchet. Its a disease that destroys the lives of carers as well as sufferers. Another great article by Terry Pratchett in today's Telegraph. Please read it. He gets angry about the lack of support - which is a consequence of the reluctance to talk about it. "Lets keep it behind closed doors" is still a common response. Same goes for Bowel cancer, which I do my bit to publicise and raise awareness. Perhaps that's why I so admire Terry Pratchett. Today, he became Sir Terry Pratchett - a reward for his services to writing. He should become Sir Sir Terry for his services to dementia awareness. Anyway, tomorrows post is likely to be about colonoscopies.

Much ado about nothing

Not commented much of late on the transfer of law making powers to the National Assembly for Wales - except on the specific Legislative Competence Order relating to the Welsh Language. I think the reason the subject has dropped off my agenda is because its dropped off everyone else's. Its just going nowhere. The two parties which form the Assembly Government have reneged on their commitment to hold a referendum on the issue before 2011. And we have this rather ridiculous Commission, spending lots of public money for no discernible purpose except to provide an escape route out of his promise for the leader of Plaid Cymru. And I'm told that even Sir Emyr seems to have lost a bit of interest in it. So there's a bit of an effort by their bloggers and researchers to cover up the embarrassment this creates for Labour and Plaid by pointing fingers at the Conservatives. We've been open that we don't all agree about this, and my understanding is that there will be a 'Free Vote' for us.

My opinion has been clear since 1997. When the Welsh people voted in favour of a National Assembly for Wales on 18th September, I accepted the result (no option), and after careful thought, concluded that the only way to make any sense of the constitutional dog's breakfast we had created was to vest in it law making powers in those subject areas already devolved. The 2006 Act then made the position worse. Since 1999, we'd had 'a constitutional crisis waiting to happen' - and then we added a system of granting law making powers which has the capacity to create little squabbles twixt Westminster and Cardiff Bay on an ongoing basis.

Now I genuinely don't know what David Cameron said on his CameronDirect visit to Barry. I've heard differing reports. Party contacts seem totally unconcerned, but others are trying to make a lot of it. What I do know is that despite my finding all this interesting, its just not an issue where I live. I would be disappointed if my position ever becomes outwith party policy, but I suppose it wouldn't be the first time I've been out on a limb. If David does a similar CameronDirect meeting in Montgomeryshire, I wonder whether anyone will ask him questions about the constitution in Wales. I suspect not..

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The dirty business of 'Politics'.

There's no doubt about what the public think about politics and politicians. Not much at all, and the bit they do think is not good. The idea that members of political parties disagree, argue ferociously, and try to persuade the public that they are so much better than 'the other lot' is seen as 'posturing' or 'playing political games'. Many people like the idea that all sides work together for the common interest, setting aside their divisions. I fundamentally disagree with this proposition. There is nothing so dangerous for the people as when all political parties agree, and no-one is testing Government proposals by vigorous, even forensic examination. I'm pleased that Barack Obama's efforts to bring all sides together in support his financial stimulus has collapsed. All my instincts tell me that Obama is taking a terrible and unjustified risk with the economy of the Western world. Thank goodness that the Republicans are challenging what seems to me to be crazy levels of public spending and borrowing. I think the same about what Gordon Brown is doing.

The reason that this issue in my mind tonight is that three separate people have told me this week that they would like to vote for me at the next General Election, but cannot bring themselves to vote Conservative. Now, I may be something of a political maverick, and most of my public sector career has been as an 'Independent - but I do not believe that 'Independence' works at Westminster or at the National Assembly for Wales. It may be true that an 'Independent' can do the 'constituency work' , but cannot achieve much beyond that.

During my eight years as an Assembly Member, my most influential work was as Chairman of the 'countryside' committee. I hugely enjoyed the role, and felt that I made a bit of difference. The reason I was given that role was through my position as a Conservative. And if I were to be elected as an MP, my ambition would be to play an influential role in developing an effective relationship between the UK Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales. Sure, I could make a lot of noise as an Independent - but could make a difference only as a member of a mainstream party. I 'came out' in 1996, and I'm going to stay out. Its the most effective way that I can serve Montgomeryshire, and Wales.

No human Decency.

Last Thursday, I posted on the falling into administration of Floform in Welshpool. This came as quite a shock to the workforce, but they anticipated working on while the administrators decided what to do. Yesterday, two working days later, 74 of the 80 workers were called to a meeting and told to go home because their jobs were finished. They left the factory to join others who had been made redundant before Christmas. I believe 6 workers have been retained to maintain the site. Today, the former employees of Floform do not know what redundancy is available, or how to access it. They are probably at home feeling stunned. The Assembly Government have not been told what is going on, and as of this afternoon, did not have access to the factory to set up any sort of advice or job centre. In 2009, its hard to believe this is happening.

Tomorrow, the now ex-workers are meeting outside the factory gates at around 3.30 in the afternoon. I feel so outraged by the 'Dickensian' way that the workforce has been treated, that I've pulled out of the afternoon session of a Care Homes Conference I'm attending in Cardiff to join them. I've discussed the issue with the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales tonight, and she wants me to report back the situation. I know that when the order book is empty, the jobs are gone, and not much can be done to rescue the position. Its dishonest to pretend otherwise. But the way the employees at Floform has been treated is an utterly shocking disgrace. I will probably be not much more than a bystander tomorrow, but I want to show some solidarity with Montgomeryshire people who have not been treated with the respect and human decency they deserve.

Fishmore Hall

On special occasions, we like to disappear to fairly upmarket 'get-away-from-it-all' place where we can completely unwind. Preference is for somewhere around an hour from home - worthwhile an overnight, but not too much travelling. The sort of place I mean is Portmeirion, the Harbourmaster at Aberaeron, the Griffin at Felinfach, or the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel (even if a bit close to home). The best place to look for such places in Wales in the excellent Welsh Rarebits brochure.

But last night, we ventured over Offa's Dyke to Fishmore Hall, a mile outside of Ludlow. Absolutely top notch. Lovely old building, beautifully renovated in a modern, almost 'simplistic' style. Think St David's Hotel in Cardiff. Just 15 bedrooms. Ours was superb, and all the stainless steel gadgetry in the bathroom worked perfectly. The service was as good as it gets, and the dining was very fine indeed, though Mrs D thought the puddings plates were a bit 'busy'. The our d'oeuvres were the best I've ever encountered. I had the haddock starter, the John Dory' main course, and strudel for pudding. And there were little extras as well. We were on a mid week offer, and so went for an 'executive' room, and a bottle of decent champagne. Set me back £250.00. Well, it was a special occasion and we don't do it often. So go on and treat yourself. Fishmore Hall comes with our unreserved recommendation. You can make your reservation on 01584 875148.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Who is in charge!

Just received an email under the heading 'Colonoscopy'. Not sure whether this was a coincidence, or the sender knows that my surgeon intends to inspect the inside of my colon later this week. I will not be allowed anything but water to drink for over 40 hours! This is what this heartless person sent me.

Colonoscopy - The organs of the body were engaged in debate about who called the shots.

"Me" said the brain, "because I run all the body's systems".

"Me" said the blood, "because I circulate the life giving oxygen".

"Me" said the stomach "because I process all the food."

"Me" said the legs "because I carry the body where it wants to go".

"Me" said the eyes "because I allow the body to see where it goes."

"Me" said the rectum "because I remove all the waste."

They all laughed at the rectum, so it got into a huff and closed down.

In a few days the brain had a terrible headache, the stomach was bloated, the legs were wobbly,, the blood was toxic and the eyes were watery. In desperation they were all forced to agree that the rectum was top dog. This goes to prove that no matter who does all the work, its usually the a******* who's in charge. This story was started by a member of Gordon Brown's cabinet.

As it happens, my surgeon removed my rectum six years ago, so I suppose no-one is in charge of my body! Anyway, its my birthday today so we're off out for a slap-up meal. So no blogging until tomorrow night. I suppose its the last proper meal I'm going to have for a while.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Six Nations - Week 2

Been listening to people who were disappointed in Wales performance yesterday. People who thought we were going to win by 30 points. Some people do not inhabit the real world. If Wales had won three Grand Slams in a row, and England had 'won' three Wooden Spoons, I'd still take a one point victory. Wales were awesome yesterday. They were justifiably the pre-match favourites. But as expected England fought like animalistic underdogs. OK, so they came with a defence mindset, to shut off our main attacking thrusts through Roberts and Powell, and to tackle like demons - and they did. But we came through it. Roberts was terrific again, keeping Worsley busy. And both Stephen Jones and Gethin Jenkins were terrific. A word of support for Mark Jones who was outpaced by Sackey for the try. He's not quite at his sharpest after a lay-off, but he had a decent game. There were no failures. I was more impressed by Wales this week than last. They met fire with fire, kept cool heads, and came through a brutal encounter victorious. Just bl***dy brilliant.

France beat Scotland, and that's about all you can say about it. It was a poor game. The Scots were better than last week, and showed more enterprise than the French. They could easily have nicked it. Wales will be clear favourites again next week. Problem with France is, you just never know. There's always one incredible performance incubating inside that Gallic mystery. Hope its not next week. A one point win will do.

And Ireland beat Italy, and there's not much you can say about this game either. O'Drisoll's men were too good for Italy, but disappointing. In the end, the Irish boys scored a few points, but on another day..... Someday, the Italians are going to make the grade, but its not going to be this season. I don't even fancy them to beat the Scots on the evidence of this weekend.

Still too early to talk Grand Slam. Perhaps I'm just saying this to avoid tempting fate - but after coming through the England examination, its definitely on.

Sir Bernard Ashley 1926 - 2009

Sir Bernard Ashley has died at the age of 83. In partnership with his wife Laura, he made a huge impact on Mid Wales. The business empire that they established through the 60s/70s/80s remains a major employer in Montgomeryshire today. I'm told his funeral will be in the village of Carno on 24th.

Laura and Bernard Ashley began their business in Pimlico, London. She designed various items, and he printed them on machinery which he had designed, and which was located in their attic. They moved the business to Montgomeryshire in 1961, and to the old railway station at Carno in 1967. This factory was to become the base for a worldwide retailing empire. As the business grew, a huge new factory was built by the Development Board for Rural Wales for the company in Newtown (still known as Texplan). Shops were opened across the world. Laura Ashley's floral designs became must-have fashion wear in every major city. Today, you will hear floral patterns described as typical Laura Ashley. A Queen's Award for Export was bestowed in 1977. A knighthood followed in the 1980s.

Tragedy struck in 1985. Laura Ashley fell down the stairs at their home, and died ten days later. I recall it being a loss felt by the whole of the region. Laura and Bernard Ashley had put Mid Wales on the map. Laura Ashley Holdings plc went public in 1985, and I remember its shares being hugely oversubscribed. The share price almost reached the stars. However, through the following years, the company fell out of fashion, and several of its manufacturing units were closed. But it always stayed true to Montgomeryshire. Sir Bernard retired as Chairman in 1993. Laura Ashley, now under foreign ownership remains an important business in Newtown, even though the famous Carno factory now sadly lies idle.

I worked with Sir Bernard and the Laura Ashley business during my three year stint as Chairman of Montgomeryshire District Council and my eight year stint as a member of the Development Board for Rural Wales (five as Chairman). He was a very unusual man. I like unusual people. But I'd not met Sir Bernard for many years. His 'imprint' on Mid Wales was such that many of us will feel, as we learn of his death this weekend that it has deprived us of a real 'Champion of Mid Wales'.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Being Responsible.

Another post on Council Tax in Powys. To recap, the Conservative Group on the Council proposed that the increase be limited to 2%, while another group thought it should be 4%. (It was eventually agreed at 3%). Several people are accusing me and the group of 'posturing'. I have to admit this gets right up my nose. We thought long and hard about the position to take, and we felt that 2% was the responsible decision. I'm not going to criticise others for what they felt was responsible. Its just that we didn't agree with them. I've heard no-one say that we didn't argue our case well.

There are two basic considerations when deciding on the level of Council Tax. Firstly, there is the requirements of the Council to deliver services, and secondly there is the capacity of the people to pay. For the first time in my adult life, the people of Powys have less available money than the previous year. By April there will be a huge number of redundancies, much reduced hours work, much lower profits, and a much lower return on savings. Its also the case that inflation is likely to be below 2% throughout the next financial year. As it is, there are going to be many more people who just don't have the money to pay. I fully expect the number of people that the Council has to take legal action against to extract the money is going to rocket. In my opinion a 2% increase could have been justified..

We are not pretending that this is going to be easy. I have noted that most Councils in Scotland have actually frozen Council Tax at last year's level. Disagree with us by all means, but you can stuff your accusations of 'posturing'.

Will Hutton says;

Just watched Newsnight, and jotted down some phrases spoken by Will Hutton. "Gordon Brown has lost control of the economy". "He would have been better to have done something decisive". "this weekend they are sixes and sevens". Yes this is the Will Hutton, and he was talking about Gordon Brown and the Labour Party. Never thought I'd see the day.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics.

A local interest post. Though it may replicate what happens elsewhere. Now, I've never seen County Councillors so angry. At least six members of the Montgomeryshire Independent Group on Powys County Council have shared their utter fury with me over the last two days. I witnessed some of them heading towards newspaper offices of the Shropshire Star and County Times in Welshpool today with black steam pouring from their ears. I don't want to seem overly partisan, but the only way to describe the cause of all this angst is their opinion that Montgomeryshire's Liberal Democrats are telling lies to the public. When I suggested that this might be a bit strong, one of their leaflets, which had been circulated around Machynlleth was thrust in my face.

This leaflet had photographs of Mick Bates AM, Lembit Opik MP, Cllr Francesca Jump and Cllr. Richard White on the front page and underneath was written

COUNCIL TAX VICTORY - Liberal Democrats councillors in Powys have won the battle to keep Council Tax increases for 2009/10 as low as possible. Independent Councillors wanted to see a rise in Council Tax of 3.99%; but Lib Dem councillors led a group calling for much lower increases, and the Council finally approved an increase of just 2.99%.

Now I'll tell you what really happened - and you can judge for yourself whether they were lying or not. Please concentrate. The first discussion about Council Tax in Powys took place at a meeting of the Council's Executive Board. The Powys Independent Alliance were supporting an increase of 3.99%. The Montgomeryshire Independents were supporting 2.99%. The Liberal Democrats began be supporting an increase of 2.75%, but after discussion decided to support 2.99%. The Conservatives maintained its already declared position of supporting an increase of 2%. At the full Council meeting when the rate of Council Tax was set, the recommendation from the Board was 2.99%. The Conservative's 2% amendment was defeated, though it was properly costed and the Montg Independents abstained rather than vote against. The Lib Dems voted against. The Lib Dems then made complete fools of themselves, eventually calling for a break to prepare an amendment, which was so utterly ludicrous that they finished up arguing amongst themselves, and not putting forward any amendment at all. Their shambolic behaviour reduced the Council Chamber to bemused laughter. The Powys Independents 3.99% amendment was also defeated. The Montgomeryshire Independents led the 2.99 proposal, which was carried with support from all except the Powys Independents.

Now you can see why the Montgomeryshire Independents are incandescent with rage. Its been simmering for week a two, but the newspaper and leaflets that the Lib Dems have been circulating has blown up into an inferno of anger and contempt. Two things have surprised me. Firstly, that the Conservative Councillors are relaxed about it all, judging that the public will see through it. And secondly, that the Lib Dems distributed a leaflet around Machynlleth of all places without any Welsh at all on it.

The proper response to a racist joke.

I need your advice about what I should have done. Earlier tonight I called at a Montgomeryshire public house. There was quite a gang there, and even though it was early, a fairly boisterous atmosphere prevailed. Then one of the group read out a poem, which was racist in tone. Mildly so, but definitely racist. Its telling resulted in some general amusement. No-one, including me was at all offended - at least as far as I could see. I find this sort of thing is a fairly common occurance. But not everywhere. We're hosting a dinner party at home tomorrow night, where I will be astounded if anyone makes a racist comment.

I should record that I do not think the poem reciter is at all racist. (And I do know what real racists sound like). But I do not think the poem would have been recited if a Pakistani had been present, and I would have been offended if anyone of Asian origin had been. I wasn't sure how to react. What I did was smile in a non-noticeable sort of way, come up with a follow up joke based on us being lucky that we weren't in the BBC's Green Room - which led to some comments about whether Carol Thatcher should have been sacked for her reference to the French tennis player, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and move the conversation on to less contentious matters. I need you to tell me how you think I should have reacted.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Loss of Floform.

Just another 'job losses' headline to the media. "Car Parts Firm in Administration" is how the BBC has put it. Another 80 jobs gone. Not that great in the scheme of things. Well, actually it is that great. The loss of Floform in Welshpool today is a lot more than that. Trouble is that its journalism by numbers today. The meaning of Floform to Welshpool is simply not grasped at all. Now, I'm not that well informed about the history, but I know a bit about it.

Welshpool is a small is market town. It developed because of its position on the banks of the River Severn, in the shadow of Powis Castle, and as a gateway into Central Wales between mountains. Its economy was based on agriculture, and its always been a major livestock trading centre. That tradition remains to this day. A new livestock market is currently being built on the edge of the town. It was the arrival of Floform in the 1960s (?) that transformed the economy of Welshpool from agricultural to predominately manufacturing. At the time it was huge - so huge that a 200 unit housing estate was constructed to accommodate the workers who would have to move in. The infamous Oldford Estate later became well known as the first in Wales to be transferred to a housing association for demolition and redevelopment. Welshpool was never the same again.

Floform was a hugely successful company - and than it fell into the Maxwell empire. It then became what is sometimes known as 'a cash cow'. Floform has gone through several different ownerships, but has still continued to provide a lot of well paid jobs in the town - winning all sorts of awards on the way. Today's announcement signals the end of a hugely significant chapter in the history of Welshpool. The loss of 80 well paid jobs in a small rural town is a mighty blow - made much worse by the 'hit' to morale, derived from the significance of its history. Today is a very sad day for Welshpool.

Is Sir Emyr off to Bosnia?

Reading through some of my favourite blogs tonight, I came upon this on Adam Price MP's blog. Too late for me to write a post of any substance. I want to sleep. But the possibility of Sir Emyr Jones Parry heading off to Bosnia seems to have much significance for the future of the National Assembly. The most interesting aspect is what it says about Sir Emyr's view of what the people of Wales think about the need for a referendum to be held on granting full law making powers to the National Assembly. Bound to do a more considered blog tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

False Claims Backfiring.

I'm in disagreement with one of my Conservative colleagues in Montgomeryshire. At first, I was uncertain of my ground. But after speaking with several councillors today, my confidence is returning. The subject of disagreement is my approach to a promotional newspaper being distributed by by my Liberal Democrat opponents. It suggests that they were influential in delivering a lower Council Tax increase. It also implies that Lembit Opik MP and Mick Bates AM are working with the Council and have played a significant part in switching street lights back on. Many people I've spoken with today share my view that these assertions are very deliberately misleading.

Now to the disagreement. My inclination is to trust Montgomeryshire people to see through this sort of stuff. No need for me to wade in - except on my blog where I do occasionally give vent to private thoughts. But one of my colleagues is more punchy - and its a lady as well. She wanted us to distribute leaflets telling people what we reckon is the truth - which is that the Liberal Democrats Councillors were in such disarray over Council Tax that they finished up arguing with each other, reducing the entire Council Chamber into convulsions of disbelieving laughter. They had no idea what they were doing, and withdrew any proposal that they might have made because their figures didn't add up. The position with street lights in even more outrageous. The above MP and AM did meet with Council officials, but taking with them a single supplier of LED lighting. Bearing in mind the requirement for a tendering process, I guess this must have been a bit embarrassing for Council officers. And LED lighting was nothing new to Council officers anyway. I'm told that they have been considering it for a while - and there was already one LED array up and shining in Builth Wells. Disagree with the Council's policy of switching off the lights in the first place is fair enough. But it was entirely the work of listening local councillors and Council officers that led to many of them being switched back on. Trying to usurp other people's efforts only works in the short term. Eventually, the truth will out.

Anyway, several people have been expressing to me their outrage at the behaviour of the Lib Dems today. I reckon that making all these unjustified claims are backfiring on them.

Defnyddio Cymraeg - Using Welsh

Attended a Powys County Council meeting today (Montgomeryshire Committee) comprising all the Councillors representing wards in Montgomeryshire (North Powys). There are 33 of them. The excellent Chair, Cllr. Eldredd Jones had invited me to inform the Committee about the new Kidney Wales Foundation - Powys Branch which was launched yesterday. I stayed on for the next item,which was a presentation from Menter Maldwyn outlining progress and promotion of the Welsh Language. The presentation by Craig Duggan (ex BBC) and Rhiannon (I think) was in Welsh, and as I would have expected, there were translation facilities available. What surprised me was what happened when the meeting moved on to the next item.

As Craig and Rhiannon were clearing up their presentation equipment, all the translation facilities were collected up and put away - perhaps until Menter Maldwyn is on the agenda again in a year's time. If any Councillor wishes to speak in Welsh, it has to be to a Committee where around 80% of members cannot understand, or there's a break to distribute earphones, and track down a translator. The reality is that Welsh is never spoken. I wonder if this satisfies the Council's Welsh Language Scheme.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Love Poetry

Further to my post on 'Kissing' two days ago, and the absence of romance in the discussion about the chemicals that surge into the brain when the lips touch. Grateful to Chris Carr of Norwich in today's Letters to the (Telegraph) Editor for the following poem.

My cortisol
Is for my moll,
And so's my oxytocin.
The level of the both is raised
By those tight jeans she rocks in.

Keane's the man.

Sometimes I think the Premier League has gone completely off the rails. Yesterday was one of those times. Abramovich popping into Chelsea, en route to a business meeting, just to fire Scolari is just another bizarre chapter in the soap opera. The only reason anyone could possibly want the job now would be for the money. And why not. It's probably be the only job in Britain that pays better than being in charge of a bank. The current favourite seems to be Dutchman, Guss Hiddink. He tells us that he's a big mate of the Russian oligarch, who currently coaches the Russian team, which suggests he's gagging for the job (money). Personally, I reckon they should go for Roy Keane, who is only happy with the best. OK, so it would end in tears, but in the short term, what Chelsea's prima donnas need is a bit of Keane to stiffen up their resolve.

After the way Avram Grant was treated last season, almost everyone except committed Chelsea fans would like to see them miss out on a Champions League place this season. How they must be laughing at Anfield and Old Trafford.

Renal Dialysis in Welshpool - Latest.

I was expecting about twenty or so to be there - which was why Pam was on her own making the coffee. But when I walked in at around 10.15 this morning, the Corn Exchange at Welshpool was already full. Must have been at least 60 people, and they kept on coming. We were launching a local action committee to campaign for the provision of a renal dialysis service in the town. By the launch time of 11.00, there were around 100 people there. We'd had to marshall some of them to man the coffee and the raffle. And now for the background.

For many years there had been demand for a satellite renal dialysis unit attached to Welshpool Hospital. A previous Assembly Minister went so far as to promise one - a promise that was broken. For many years the local hospital League of Friends had raised money for the unit, and had reached the point where they had to consider spending the money on something else. So last summer I invited the Chair of Kidney Foundation Wales to meet the LoF, and he suggested a local action committee, operating under the umbrella of his organisation. Its taken a while to pull things together. We did it today.

Things have moved on elsewhere as well. Edwina Hart, the Assembly Health Minister has set aside money to increase dialysis capacity in Wales. And on Jan 6th, there was a comprehensive 'working group' of all and sundry in the dialysis field held in Cardiff, charged with advising Edwina Hart on priorities deserving of investment. Powys and Gwynedd were placed top of the list. I had thought about abandoning the action committee - but we've seen so many false dawns that I abandoned the thought instead.

This has become something of a 'litmus' issue in Montgomeryshire, which will inform us whether the area features on the Assembly Government's map of Wales at all. If this unit doesn't go ahead now, the reputation of the National Assembly for Wales will plummet. And I don't just mean the Assembly Government either (before someone points out the difference). I mean the whole shooting match, and the principle of devolution with it.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Its no time for a joker.

Just watched John Prescott on Newsnight. He was embarrassingly awful. Its really hard to believe that this man was our Deputy Prime Minister for so many years. He was treating the current economic crisis which is facing the world as an amusing confusion of words. It wouldn't have been so bad if he had not been commenting on such serious issues. 'Its no time for a joker'.

What were the issues. Firstly ,the Labour Government Minister who is closest to Gordon Brown, said over the weekend that Britain could be in recession for up to 15 years, and that the recession would be worse than the 1930s. I do not believe that Ed Balls would have said this casually, or without the Prime Minister's blessing. This is a million miles away from what our Chancellor of the Exchequer told us in his Pre-Budget Report. This speech is bound to dominate tomorrow's media. Ed Balls should have been on Newsnight tonight.

And then there was a studio 'discussion' about where the fault lies for what's happened, prior to tomorrow's interrogation by MPs of Sir Fred Goodwin (and others). John Prescott looked as if he couldn't understand what the other three were saying, and launched into a ferocious attack on the regulatory system which had allowed banks and bankers to behave like casino players. It didn't seem to occur to him that the regulatory system had been put in place by a Government he was a leading member of. He kept going on about the long period of growth that has occurred under Labour, as if all this was as a result of Labour management of the economy - before condemning the implosion of the economy as if it was nothing to do with Labour policies at all. This is such a ridiculous proposition that perhaps John Prescott is absolutely the right man to put it forward.

But its the words of Ed Balls that should alarm us. Of course the Prime Minister could be trying to talk up the scale of the crisis, so that he can claim some credit if its not as bad as feared - an old trick this one. Or the Government hasn't got a clue where we are, or what to do for the best. I just think that the Governments of the world are suffering a collective madness. Every bone, nerve ending and brain cell in my body is telling me that the policies of so many Governments to spend our way out of trouble, as if there's no tomorrow is deeply flawed.


Been down to the livestock market in Welshpool this morning, where a group of hill sheep farmers and I were in conversation when the subject of kissing came up. In part this could have been in response to today being the beginning of International Flirting Week, with its natural climax on St Valentine's Day this coming Saturday. Or it could have been all the publicity being given to research carried out at Layfayette College, Pennsylvania and Rutgers University, New Jersey. There was a general view amongst us that kissing is the 'must-do' activity for this week.

The human body is a complex creation. (I use this word deliberately). A simple meeting of lips unleashes a chemical surge into the brain which stimulates excitement, happiness and relaxation. Apparently its to do with oxytoxins and cortisol. The more passionate the kiss, the more intense is the consequent stimulus. And it seems that things get even more heated if there's an exchange of spit, which is thought to trigger hormone release and enhanced arousal by the exchange of sexually stimulating pheromones. The research also informs that 'cold' kissing doesn't work so well for women as men. For maximum impact on women the research recommends soft lighting and gentle music. One of the boys, who doesn't have much time for academia said that he finds a bottle of wine to be effective with what he termed 'difficult cases'. Kissing also seems to be an efficient way of spreading germs, and boosting internal body defence systems. There was agreement amongst we sheep farmers today, that we didn't need American academics to tell us most of this.

One kiss, whatever its intensity is fairly harmless. Trouble comes because one kiss can so easily lead to another - and before you know it, the 'pheromone boost' is more out of control than Gordon Brown's financial stimulus. Shakespeare got it right. "Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged! Give me my sin again." Romeo said that - and we all know how he finished up.

And you thought St Valentine's day was about romance!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Public Confidence in Politics.

I've just accepted an invitation to speak at the Electoral Commission fringe meeting at the Spring Conference of the Conservative Party. The subject is to be 'Politics and Public Confidence'. This is a 'hot' issue in Wales, following publication of Assembly Members expenses just before Christmas. My guess is that it will become even hotter if MP's expenses are made public, though I wouldn't put it past those with the power to do so, of finding a way to stop publication.

Anyway, it was the subject on my mind when I settled down to read Mrs D's Mail on Sunday after lunch today. The big story is about the way Home Secretary, Jackie Smith has used her 'second-home' allowance. Not everyone will fully understand what she's done - so I'm going to try and help. I'm going on what's in the newspaper, trying not to be judgemental. Leave that to you. Lets me start with what happens in the National Assembly.

When I was an Assembly Member, I had access to an allowance which covered costs associated with my having to stay in Cardiff. It was around £10,000 per year, and could be used to pay for hotels, renting a flat, or paying the interest element of a mortgage - plus household bills. My choice was to have a property which served as a 'family home', so we bought a very nice flat in Century Wharf. Its annual cost to us was far more than the 'second-home' allowance would cover. So it cost us. No complaints. It was our choice. Now there has been much criticism of the extravagance of furnishings charged to this allowance by some AMs - TVs, sofas etc.. There's also been criticism that AMs living a relatively short distance from Cardiff are able to claim the 'higher' allowance - rather than the 'lower' allowance (for hotels etc) available to AMs who live very close to Cardiff Bay. Personally, I thought that, in principle, this system was fair enough - with one or two changes.

Now, there was no profit to me in this (unless I sold my property at a profit - which I didn't). But could I have arranged things to benefit myself financially? In theory, I could have lived with Tim and Adrienne, near St Fagans, claimed that as my main residence, and 'transferred' the whole of my 'second home' allowance to cover the mortgage interest on our main home at Cil Farm in Montgomeryshire. If I didn't pay rent to our son and his wife when staying with them in Cardiff, I could have effectively supplemented my income by the £10,000. This seems to be what the Mail on Sunday is accusing the Home Secretary of doing - except that the MP's allowance is £24,000. I repeat that I'm only repeating what's claimed by the MoS. Neither do I know whether this arrangement is available to AMs. Also, Mrs Smith says that its approved and is entirely in order. There are other claims in the article as well, but to cover those would confuse the issue.

I have tried not to be judgemental at all. You may feel differently. My aim was to spread a little understanding of what today's article was all about.

Six Nations - Week 1

Ireland just about shaded the weekend, though Wales' first half performance was probably the best 40 minutes. France were a close third. The other three were way back. England just about edged out Scotland for fourth. Italy came in last. The best game was Ireland/France - by a long way. After Scotland's terrific performance against S Africa in the autumn, I was not confident of victory in Edinburgh. But Wales were terrific for an hour. And since our game against Ireland is in Cardiff, today's performance was enough to make us favorites for the Six Nations Championship, and the Triple Crown. Too soon to talk 'Grand Slam' yet. What did we learn this first weekend.

The Twickenham game demonstrated that no team can play without a scrum half. In the second half, Italy looked a match for England, even with their fifth choice scrum half. Most surprising aspect of the game was the domination of Andrew Sheridan by the Italian prop, who's just returned from injury. England were woeful. I cannot understand why a collection of such strong talented players can produce such a c*** performance.

The Ireland/France game at Croke Park was just fantastic. Pace, power and skill all over the field. Ireland were on fire, and had to be to beat France yesterday. The Lions captain is going to be an Irishman - but I'm not sure which. O'Driscoll was back to best.

Wales played like champions for an hour. The pack were awesome. Pushing the Scots off the try line, on their put-in was the best moment of the match for me. Lee Byrne is easily the best full back in the world. I can see Jamie Roberts and O'Driscoll pairing up as Lions centres. Lets hope Ryan Jones is back next week. Despite all the above, every Welshman will be nervous about next weekend. However well we played today, and however badly the Old Enemy played yesterday, next week's showdown is going to be the big one. I'm feeling tense already.

Winifred Maud Williams 1919 - 2009

I lived at Bank Farm, Castle Caereinion for the first 25 years of my life. Bank Farm remains the 'base unit' of T E Davies and Son, the farming business established by my father, and which has long kept the wolf away from our door. The neighbouring farm was Pen-y-Coppy, where Mr and Mrs Herbie Williams lived. Herbie died 22 years ago. Yesterday, I was a bearer at the funeral of his widow, Mrs Winnie Williams. She was 90 years old, and leaves three children, Carol whom I met for the first time in 40 years yesterday, Brian who still lives at Pen-y-Coppy, and Maureen. Plus lots of grandchildren.

The Rev. Bill Rowell, when speaking on behalf of the family, describing the wonderful treatment Mrs Williams (which is how I still referred to her) received at the Rallt Nursing Home in Welshpool. She had been suffering from Alzheimer's Disease and had been in the Rallt for a year or so. We often read negative stories about the service provided in care homes. As a nation, we don't take care of the elderly anything like seriously enough. It was great to hear of an example of really good care.

Its now more than 24 hours later, and my hearing is only now returning to normal. As a bearer, I was sitting in the front row. Immediately behind me was Mr Geraint Peate, the funeral director, who is blessed with the lungs of a boomer monkey. The funeral was in Castle Caereinion Church, and I reckon I'd have heard him in Berriew. Geraint is a fabulous and quite famous singer, with a huge voice. I've listened to him many times before - but always as a member of the audience when he's performing. Never heard him at two feet behind me before. I should have worn the ear defenders I use when chain sawing. But there's one big plus. I have a loud 'foghorn' singing voice, but enjoy singing, especially hymns. Yesterday it was 'The Lord's my Shepherd', 'What a friend we have in Jesus', and 'Abide with me'. I was able to sing away to my heart's content, and there was no chance of anyone hearing me. Geraint is a congregation all on his own. After lowering the coffin into the grave, I stood in front of my father's grave (33 years ago) for the committal.

Friday, February 06, 2009

A Wise Decision

Deciding when to retire is a difficult decision. But some people get it right. Tony Blair certainly did. There's poor old Gordon Brown sitting impotently in his office watching the debt-funded Leviathan he created when he was Chancellor collapsing outside the windows of his new house at No 10 Downing St. The poor fellow is working 20 hours a day, pumping out new initiatives at a prodigious rate - but the collapse goes on regardless. He reminds me of a deranged farmer who carries on tedding his hay in a thunderstorm. And there's his predecessor getting up close and personal with Mrs Obama on the front page of today's Telegraph. All the PM's had a quick phone call with Barack. He must be spitting nails.

Another man who has retired in a timely way is Joe Calzaghe, the undefeated world super-middleweight champion. He's also the world's best at light-heavyweight as well. He's held the world title for 11 years and has won his 46 professional fights. The last time he was beaten was in the Welsh Amateur Boxing Association finals in 1990. Personally, I thought his best victory was when he completely outclassed Jeff Lacy in 2006. I'd expected Joe to lose that one, but he annihilated the American with amazing hand speed. Made his name across the Atlantic with that one, and moved into the 'big bucks' league.

And now its on to other things. With his undamaged good looks and confidence, it could be the film world. Or Strictly perhaps. Or Italian Ambassador to Wales - taking advantage of his name and family history. I hope he doesn't become just another media boxing pundit. He's too special for that. Anyway, congratulations Joe on a wonderful career, and thanks for the memories.

"Ve have Vays of making you conform"

What's happening in the Powys Planning Service. There seems to be a sudden breakout of efficiency. Two people who have been tearing their hair out in frustration, waiting for a decision, have telephoned me to say that the approval notice arrived this week. Regular visitors will have read about my involvement with what I've been referring to as local 'Agents' who have been tamping about what they regard as an unacceptably slow service. Well, this blog fearlessly reports it as it hears it.

Had two other calls relating to this issue today from Motgomeryshire Councillors. Following the 'Agents' meeting a few weeks ago where there were '30 Angry Men', a successful meeting (forum) was held with the Council's 'Planning First Team'. The messages emanating from the 'Forum' were encouraging. But what matters is translation into 'action'. The campaign goes on. And the 'Agents' next step was to invite all of Montgomeryshire's Councillors to a meeting to outline their concerns - on Feb 11th. The invites went out. Then this week all the Councillors received the following letter from their legal department.

Dear Member,

Re; Meeting called by agents regarding planning matters at Montgomery on Febuary 11th.

I have been made aware that Councillors in Montgomeryshire have been invited to attend the above meeting.

My purpose in writing has been to remind Members of both the Planning Committee and the Employment Committee that should they attend this meeting then this may create difficulties for them in their future roles on these committees.

I am sure members of these two committees will understand the potential for future conflicts conflicts of interest connected with attending this meeting.

Kind Regards'

Clarance Meredith.

Immediate reaction was that this was like something out of a James Bond film. But my considered reaction is that its good advice. If I was a councillor, I would still go to the meeting, but I'd discuss it with Mr Meredith first - and be ready to walk out if any inappropriate discussion starts. There will need to be a strong Chair. Now the last time I turned up at an Agents meeting I was asked to chair it. I think it would be wise of me to be ready on the 11th - just in case I'm asked again. Any discussion that relates to specific applications or to specific employees will have to be ruled out - if the Councillors are not to be compromised. But this letter does tell us something about the world we live in though.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

EDMs for a Segway discount?

Wow! Looks as if I'm in for a rough time - and at the hands of a lady too. She's certainly ripped into Lembit Opik like a Caribbean tornado. Time to stand back. Heledd Fychan is in the building. According to this week's edition of the Montgomeryshire County Times, our local weekly newspaper, Plaid Cymru's candidate in the coming General Election is Heledd. You'll find her on my blogroll. Actually, she tells me that its not official yet - but I did predict that it might be she a few weeks ago. She might be my opposition - but she's a Llanbrynmair girl. So she can't be all bad.

Anyway, back to today's article in the County Times. Heledd has sunk her teeth deep into Lembit's neck, and may well have hit the jugular. It does make me feel like a floppy wimp. Several people have raised the issue with me, but I've let it go. Didn't want to seem too harsh I suppose. The implication of this article is that Lembit Opik has been benefiting financially from using his position as an MP to support the Segway Personal Transporter. Not so much 'Cash for Questions' as 'Early Day Motions for a Segway discount.

I don't suppose Lembit needs any advice from me, but I reckon his best course is to be entirely open about any benefits he's received. And its not good enough just stating in the Register of Member's Interests that he was loaned a Segway Personal Transporter , and then purchased it at a 'preferential rate'. We know that a Segway costs around £4,500, and people want to know what he paid for it. That could mean anything fro £1 to £4499. And they also want to know of any other costs the Segway people might have covered. I don't suppose people will be that bothered if he has benefited, but they will be big-time bothered if he doesn't tell them, and it leaks out. Get in first Lembit. So far, his response has been to lay into Heledd Fychan, accusing her of being anti-green - which sounds divertingly ridiculous. Anyway, I've taken note. Heledd Fychan seems not to be one to mess with. Better be careful. She sounds like one tough lady to me.

Lunch with Owen.

Montgomeryshire Conservatives lunch today. Criggion Village Hall. Filled the room to capacity. Several non members, and there was a lovely atmosphere. Our speaker was Owen Paterson, MP for North Shropshire, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and ninth most sexy politician in the world. Tony Blair is tenth - according to this particular poll. Owen lives not many yards outside the border of Montgomeryshire.

The last time that Montgomeryshire Conservatives had a 'do' in Criggion was just before the General Election in 1979, the only occasion that we have ever won the seat. The Hall is the only place in Montgomeryshire which has a belly-dancing class once a week. Just thought you would like to know. Criggion/Crew Green/Bausley/Coedway is a discrete part of Montgomeryshire, bounded be the River Severn and the Breidden Hills. I delivered leaflets to most properties there last weekend, and I'll repeat it every six months until the General Election.

Owen was in sparkling form. First questioner wanted to know his opinion on the proposal by Lord Eames and Denis Bradley, two churchmen of note, that 'compensation' of £12,000 should be paid to everyone killed in the 'troubles'. This to include that terrorists and the young children that they murdered. I'd read about these proposals - and been utterly disgusted by them. But I didn't know what our official 'Party' response had been. Sometimes there's a wider agenda. But Owen was as clear as spring water. He shared my view, and that of every person in Criggion Village Hall. I do not think I have heard anything so outrageous. A few members from North Shropshire turned up as well. I was really pleased when they told me that they want to come over Offa's Dyke to help me in my election campaign.

Gold Star for Newtown High School.

The Headteacher and the Chair of Governors were bursting with pride when I called at Newtown High School yesterday. Not 'pride' in one of the deadly sins sort of way. Just the pride that envelopes people when they know that they have done a very good job. They were armed with the latest full report from Estyn, Wales' School Inspectorate. Its being made public today, and will be probably be reported on in the County Times, our local weekly newspaper. I hope the report is given a bit of a splash.

When the last full inspection was carried out, Newtown High school was placed in 'serious weaknesses' category. There were several very negative reports in the local press. Some parents wanted to move their children to other schools. There has been a transformation. Today the school has received a 'glowing ' report - littered with comments like 'good school', 'several outstanding features', 'significant increase in standards and exam results', 'the school cares for and guides its pupils', 'clear focus on teaching students vital skills', 'outstanding leadership and management, school self evaluation and professional development'. And plenty more.

The Headteacher is Judith Pryce, and the Chair of Governors is David Lush. They have every reason to be bursting with pride. And the rest of us have every reason to congratulate them on what they have achieved.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Edna writing from Powys

This post will only be of interest to Powys Council anoraks. My very good friend, Edna Mopbucket is spending a lot of time at the headquarters of Powys County Council at the moment. Regular visitors will know that she has a love interest in one of the Councillors, so she hangs around the members tearoom whenever she's on a break. She was there today, and heard a very odd rumour.

Now for visitors who are not familiar with the political allegiances in Powys, I should explain that there are two 'Independent' groups as well as political party groups. There is the Montgomeryshire Group, which includes 12 (I think) councillors from the North of Powys. And there's the larger Powys Independent Alliance which is the larger group, and includes councillors from all over Powys, including the North. Edna tells me that there's no love lost between them.

Anyway, today Edna heard some of the Powys Independents discussing jumping ship and joining the Montgomeryshire Independents. But what's odd is that they live in the South. And the way they were talking today, it seems that some serious discussion has already taken place. So much so that the Montgomeryshire Group has discussed the issue, and even considered a change of name to accommodate the new situation. Perhaps it will be called the 'Shires' Group. I know this is only of interest to those closely involved in local government in Powys, but I thought I should mention it.

More on 'The Reader'.

Must admit that I've always swallowed the Nazi propaganda that their evil deeds were all carried out by men. (Except for Helga on Hello Hello of course). This widespread belief has been debunked by a book published this week in Germany, Female Perpetrators; Women under National Socialism. The only reason an article about this book in today's Telegraph caught my eye was that I went to see 'The Reader' last night. The author, Kathrin Kompisch informs us that the women were every bit as bad as the men.

We're used to watching films about the Nazis in which women are portrayed as the fairer sex, all gentle wives and mothers, with Hitler awarding them gold crosses for staying at home to look after the children. The author says "the participation of women in the crimes of the Nazis has been blended out of the collective conscious of the Germans for a long time". And she adds that the truth is very different. Women assisted doctors who murdered and sterilised disabled people. They were guards in concentration camps. Karin Magnussen worked alongside Mengele at Auschwitz, experimenting on eyeballs removed from living people. They may not have been allowed to rise to positions of national leadership, but they were encouraged to enforce terror at grassroots level. More than 3000 women served in concentration camps. I read lots of stuff about women being in some way different in their approach to politics, (and war is only an extension). Never been convinced that this is true. I think of myself as a genuine feminist, believing that women are as capable as men in all fields - and there is no reason why this should exclude evil.