Sunday, August 30, 2009

More Female Conservative AMs and MPs.

Conservative Assembly Member, Jonathon Morgan published this essay yesterday. I find it both interesting - and contradictory. I agree with his general analysis of issues that need to be addressed, but not with his suggested remedy. The main issue is the relative absence of women elected to represent the Conservative Party in Wales - at both Cardiff and Westminster. Jonathon is repeating a call, made earlier by the Leader of the Conservative Group in the Assembly, Nick Bourne. They both believe that there should be positive discrimination in favour of women and ethnic minorities.

Regret to say that I don't agree with either of them. If all else were to fail, perhaps we should think about it. But we haven't really tried. If the party is serious about change, it would be giving women a much higher profile, and the opportunity to make their mark. Every year we hold conferences and policy forums. Why not give our female candidates the best slots - rather than wheel out the same list of speakers from Wales (almost exclusively male), with a 'name' or two from outside Wales - time after time. Why not issue press releases in the name of the party's most able women. Personally, I would find Party events much more interesting - and the higher profile would make our ambitious prospective female politicians much better known. Name recognition is such a big factor in electoral success.

Now lets look at the contradiction in Jonathon's essay. He suggests that the way to implement his proposal for positive discrimination is to place a woman at the top of every regional list in the next (I assume) Assembly election. This would mean demotion for William Graham, Brynle Williams, Alun Cairns (if he's a candidate), David Melding, Mark Isherwood, Andrew Davies and Nick Bourne. It could easily mean that all, or at least five of these current AMs would not be re-elected. Now, I cannot for one moment imagine that this is what Jonathon would want to see happen.

Yet, in the same essay, he's suggesting that the very same AMs, elected by the regional lists be given the security of almost automatic reappointment to their list ranking. I can see that there's a respectable case to be made in favour of either approach, but not both at the same time. Personally, I'd prefer to leave the current system alone - allowing party members the choice, but making a genuine and sustained effort to raise the profile of women interested in representative politics.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Party v Constituency

I rate Dan Hannan, the Conservative MEP. I don't always agree with him, but his writing and speaking style is clear and precise - and invariably well argued. He wrote this thought provoking article in yesterday's Telegraph. Provoked me anyway. But then I agree with the content. Lets consider this extract.

On why politicians give evasive answers ... "Ninety nine times out of a hundred, its because their opinion diverges from the party line. And so, not wanting to tell a lie, they effect to misunderstand the interviewer, or answer a different question to the one that was put, or use a lawyerly formulation.........because of the wretched, and relatively recent doctrine that no two members of a party can reasonably disagree" ... This describes the idiocy to which our political discourse has descended. I'm always insulted when someone with whom I'm involved in conversation refers to my having given a 'politician's answer'. Its something I try never to do. The flawed assumption on which all this is based is that the politician represents 'the party' rather than 'the constituency'.

Over the last few weeks, Dan Hannan has been big in the news as a result of expressing his opinion - honestly. He's repeated his long held opinion that the British system of delivering health care is in need of reform, and he's expressed his admiration for Enoch Powell. What on earth is wrong with that. But the Labour Party sought to make a big public issue of it. And, shamefully, the media, and the BBC in particular ran these stories as if they were news - using its dominance of the news agenda, financed by the 'poll tax' subsidy of the licence fee, to stick legs on a tiddler. Thankfully, the public seems to have seen this dishonesty and sycophancy for what it is.

Because I'm a parliamentary candidate, I do think about what sort of Parliamentarian I'd like to be. First and foremost, I would want to be a 'constituency MP'. I accept that where a three line whip is imposed, I would have to 'follow orders', except in extreme circumstances. But I would not be prepared to stifle my opinions. I would want the freedom to make clear my disagreement with party policy if I thought it wrong. I realise that sometimes I would have to accept a majority opinion of my party that I disagreed with. But I could not survive without the freedom to argue my case.

Next week, David Davies, MP for Monmouth is coming to Montgomeryshire to speak at one of our events. Haven't spoken to David for a while, but I suspect there are policy areas where we disagree. There always have been. But he's a much valued friend and colleague. We are both committed to the Conservative Party, we both have a tendency to say what we think, but we both accept that in the end the majority view of the party will prevail. That's how Dan Hannan sees politics. And so do I.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Throwing of Eggs

Lets get this straight. I deplore the throwing of eggs. As well as being a waste of one of my favourite foods, it is an awfully unfriendly act if they are aimed at people or their property. The reason I write this is that I'm taking a bit of stick for making a jocular comment about the throwing of eggs at two shop fronts in Machynlleth. I suppose the reason I was tempted to take some amusement from egg throwing is because of the dishonourable tradition of throwing eggs at politicians. I accept that I should not have said it.

One of the most memorable incidents at recent general elections was the throwing of an egg at John Prescott by Craig Evans at Rhyl in 2001 - or at least the response by Mr Prescott, an ex-boxer who hit his young assailant in the face with a left hook. When Radio Wales asked me what I thought of this incident, I said that if I'd been Mr Prescott, I'd have hit him with a right cross as well! Shouldn't have said that either. Sometimes politicians hope for eggs to be thrown at them, in order to attract media coverage, as I suspect Nick Griffin MEP did when he was pelted recently. I have some personal experience as well, in that I once took two eggs, one a glancing blow, and one full on at a 'Save the Pound' rally in Monmouth - also in 2001. The missiles were meant for William Hague, who was Conservative leader at the time. As I recall, everyone there thought it was very amusing. William was particularly pleased with me. My suit was never the same again.

Speaking of eggs, its the annual show at my village, Berriew tomorrow. A few years ago, there was a competition on the field which involved throwing an egg, and catching it, over as great a distance as possible. The late Dai Tanner took on the role of catcher. Unfortunately Dai had taken a tincture before the competition, which had effected his coordination. He missed the egg, thrown from around 50 yards, and it hit him in the eye. Everyone laughed at first (I mean hundreds of people howling) until we saw the blood. An ambulance was called and Dai was taken away on a stretcher. There was no long term damage.

The lesson to be learned from all this is that its not sensible to throw eggs, or take any amusement when some scoundrel resorts to it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A By-pass for Newtown.

I recall being in a meeting with a Welsh Office Minister when I was Chairman of the Development Board for Rural Wales almost 20 years ago. Under discussion was a by-pass for Newtown, in Montgomeryshire. I regarded it as a by-pass for Mid Wales. At the time the cost was being talked of as around £15 million. I reckoned that Mid Wales would benefit more from the investment of that sum of money into a by-pass than into the factory building which constituted most of my organisation's investment. Improving access to a larger, more populous market would increase the confidence of the private sector to invest in the region. We reckoned it could be up to 10 years before the Newtown By-pass became a reality. 10 years out already.

Today, 20 years on, the Assembly Government has published options along which a new Newtown By-pass would be constructed. OK, its only one step forward, but its an important step. My view is that this by-pass would be hugely important to promotion of the economy of the part of Wales where I've spent so much of my life trying to create new business. When I learn of new really important announcements which signal greater opportunity for business in Rural Wales, it fills me with excitement.

Today's publication proposes three main options with another three variations. All of them are to the South of the town, and all follow the same route for most of their length. The differences apply only to the Western end. The most expensive is over £50 million, while others options are getting on for £10 million less. The consultation period lasts until November. I hope that the town can agree on a preferred route quickly, and that we can translate today's initial proposals into reality without much further delay.

If we can move quickly to an early date for delivery of the By-pass, Montgomeryshire's attitude to the National Assembly will be transformed. Since it was created, Mid Wales has become the forgotten part of Wales. Its almost as if Mid Wales doesn't exist. Perhaps the decision to abandon the M4 relief road (cost estimated to be one billion) has enabled the Assembly Government to consider schemes elsewhere in Wales - and a good thing too. Perhaps the people of Montgomeryshire will, at long last, discover a reason to applaud the creation of a National Assembly.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Magic of Machynlleth.

I've always liked the place. And its not just because Machynlleth has a history as a seat of government. The most well known instance of this was the establishment by Owain Glyndwr of a Parliament in 1404, where he was proclaimed the Prince of Wales. The nearest thing to a Parliament of Machynlleth that exists today is the debating forum at the local Bowling Club. In order to begin my research into the local attitude towards a proposed new Tesco supermarket in the town, it was to the Bowling Club that I went to began my journey. Seated at the 'cabinet table' was that great local historian and author, David Wyn Davies and the equally celebrated local tribune and leading town spokesman, Councillor Michael Williams. You may think it unusual for a 'parliament' to be disguised as a bowling club, but this could be a cunning plan to fool the 'outsider'.

After the taking of evidence, along with a lager, we three headed to the war zone, otherwise known as the local livestock market and old Travis Perkins site. This is where it is proposed that the supermarket be raised. Must admit I thought it was a very good site. Currently it an unattractive area, reasonably close to the town centre, with a long frontage onto the road. Its also adjacent to a well used railway station. I could see no credible planning reason whatsoever for not granting the application by Tesco to build its supermarket. But I'm told there is a lot of opposition, led by the Guardian writer, George Monbiot, who lives in the town, and the local MP, Lembit Opik.

I accept that there is some deeply felt opposition. There are posters in some shop windows stating 'Tesco. Dim Diolch' - which translates to Tesco No Thanks. But there are many more posters supporting the development, and not one single person that I spoke to today in Machynlleth or in near-by Penegoes had any objection at all. And as I blogged yesterday, Tesco has already brought some extra trade to the town's egg suppliers. Someone has been buying eggs to pelt the shop fronts of those who are opposing Tesco. I do not approve of this expression of opinion, but can find no rational reason to join in with the opposition myself. I'll have to leave this to the MP.

And then it was back for tea at the great historian's house. A good while ago, we were councillors together, and have a few memories between us. I left laden with his books to read. There was 'A Mach Lad' - a life story of Emrys James, the Shakespearian actor. And 'A History of the River Dovey'. And 'Hugh Williams' - the man who was Rebecca. And 'Machynlleth Town Trail' - a historical guide. I also joined the Civic Society for the fee of £1. And I have the telephone number of a direct descendant of Owain Glyndwr, who I'm told enjoys a game of social golf. Imagine that. Playing golf with a man related to the greatest ever Welshman. I must ring him tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

When is it right for Britain to go to war.

As a general principle, I don't support the involvement of British forces in wars unless there exists a real threat to our security. This principle cannot be absolute because of our membership of NATO, where we have treaty responsibilities to partners. The two most significant wars in recent years which have involved British forces have been in Iraq and Afghanistan. I supported the Government's decision to go to war in both cases. I suppose there never is any certainty about the appropriate moment to make a judgement on whether Britain's intervention can be regarded as a military success, so let's consider this to be an interim opinion.

Firstly Iraq. I accepted Tony Blair's warnings that there was a serious threat to Britain's security. Surely a Prime Minister would not lie to the British people on so important an issue. We now know that what he said was 'questionable' (to put a generous interpretation on it). Must admit I was very disturbed when I learned that the 'dossier' was 'dodgy' and that there never were any weapons of mass destruction. I'm nervous about claiming that I was 'conned' into taking a position that I otherwise wouldn't have taken. Don't like people who retro-fit previously advocated opinions, for convenience. In any case I still reckon its too early to be certain how history will judge the removal of Saddam Hussein by foreign intervention.

I've also been and remain supportive of British involvement in Afghanistan. This is not because of a desire to impose Western values about democracy and gender equality on another country. Its not even, principally anyway, about eliminating a breeding ground for exportable terrorism. These are important issues of course. The real reason I feel that we are right to be in Afghanistan is the danger of allowing the Taliban to establish a base from which it can further destabilise neighbouring Pakistan, a nuclear power - and become a nuclear power themselves.

I comment only because people ask me my opinion, consequent upon the steady drip of dreadful news about casualties. I have no specialist knowledge of international relations, it being limited to just one year's study at Aberystwyth University 15 years ago. It's because the exercise of writing a post helps me reduce my thoughts on serious issues of the day to a form of words that are readable and understandable. It may be that they may stimulate supportive comments - or otherwise.

Tesco row turns ugly.

(I'm hearing reports that).... Feelings about the possible arrival of Tesco in Machynlleth are running high. I posted on the expansion of Tesco into three of Montgomeryshire's market towns last week. It was clear from the response in comments that opinion is particularly deeply divided in Machynlleth. I daresay this sort of disagreement is not uncommon. Differing opinion is not really a problem - as long as it doesn't escalate out of control. But from what I hear, there is a danger of this happening.

(I'm told that)... Some of the shops have placed posters in street windows, proclaiming that Tesco is not welcome in the town. In response, other stickers taking the opposite view have been been stuck on top, and the shops concerned have been pelted with eggs. I suppose eggs are not going to do too much damage, but once missiles of any sort are thrown, its difficult to prevent things escalating.

I've arranged to meet local County Councillor Michael Williams tomorrow afternoon. He's going to show me around the site, and I'm meeting others as well. I think Michael shares my view that what the people of Machynlleth want should be an important factor when consideration is being given to whether planning permission should be granted. I just hope that the planners put some urgency into reaching an early decision. I've always thought of Machynlleth as being a friendly community. I would like it to stay that way.

Monday, August 24, 2009

An unreconstructed old Leftie'

Read this article by George Pitcher in today's Telegraph. In it, he outlined some of his personal philosophy thus .... "I don't like a big intrusive state, but I want to be properly taxed for good public services, including education. I believe in personal freedom, but that includes the freedom to think liberal thoughts. I'm against capital punishment, but also vehemently opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia. I hate religious extremism but I" .... The article suggests that this is a description of "an unreconstructed old Leftie" in the eyes of what he referred to as 'Righties', or 'intolerant Tories'.

What stuck me is that Mr Pitcher had written some unreconstructed old bilge. His description of himself fits me and most other Conservatives that I know. He's not an old Leftie at all. He's a modern Conservative.

Why I Blog.

This sad little post by Craig Murray raises a question about why bloggers blog. Not easy to answer. I suppose each of us has our different reasons. Mine have never been the same as Craig's. He's depressed, because following his rejection by the voters of the recent Norwich North By-election, he's realised that no significant minority has any interest whatsoever in what he has to say. Luckily, I've never suffered from the same grand illusion, and consequently, am not susceptible to the same disappointment.

But reading Craig's post did make me ask myself why I blog - because it does take up quite a bit of time. Firstly its because I enjoy it. I've always liked arranging 'units' into a form that pleases me. Perhaps its because I can't paint. I used to enjoy doing jigsaws. And since daughter Sally taught me how to upload photographs, I've enjoyed it more. Secondly, it helps me arrange my thoughts on difficult issues, when there are strong arguments on both sides. Examples of such issues involve the way Wales is governed, and the great moral questions of the day (such as abortion, stem cell research, drug laws, marriage promotion etc.). And I welcome any challenging comments that flow in. Thirdly, my blog is a useful way of alerting the local media to a story that has come my way, or some of the campaigns I'm involved in. All politicians need a certain amount of publicity, and if I'm the source of the story, my comments are more likely to get a mention. Fourthly, it enables me to let fly, when I feel outraged. Its my blog and I can write what I bl***y well like! A good recent example was the Scottish Justice Minister's decision to release a man convicted of murdering 270 innocents as an act of compassion. Just writing these words raises my hackles again. And there are other reasons.

Must admit that I quite like it that the site attracts a good number of visitors. And I did quite like it when other bloggers used to vote mine as one of the best political blogs in Wales - sadly a thing of the past. I fear that my blog may have become 'unfashionable'. But I can't complain because I've never voted in any of these polls myself. I did seriously think about switching to blogging in Welsh, to learn how to write in the language of the Gods, when I reached 1,000 posts - and I'll think about it again when I reach 2,000 in about two months time. I suppose it boils down to whether its fun. No point in blogging if its not.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

August Delights.

This Monarda has been terrific this year. Its around 5' high, and flowers for months. Like all Monardas, it has an interesting scent. I think its called 'Apache'. We grow it because it doesn't suffer from mildew, which is a curse of Monardas - especially in a hot summer.

I like these Pineapple Plants. They're easy to grow and to propagate. The catalogues say they can be a bit tender, but its not our experience. The bulbs can be dug up in the autumn and replanted in the spring to be on the safe side - but there's no need. Its easy to forget they're there, because they don't appear until very, very late in the spring.

We've become keen on Eupatoriums. These are about 7' tall and stand upright no matter how hard the wind blows. They go well with the purple Loosestrife which grows to about 4'.

There are lots of Yuccas dotted through the white border, and the spikes have been very strong this year. The Hydrangea is also looking good. Most plants have benefited from the wet July, but some flowers, like those of the day lilies suffer badly. Surprisingly, these two whites seem to thrive no matter how wet it is.

Scottish Justice - or stupity?

I've already blogged about my utter disgust following the recent release of the Lockerbie bomber, a uniquely evil man. The nausea I felt watching the Scottish Justice Minister trying to justify his decision was matched by the contempt I felt watching Alex Salmond expressing his 'disappointment' at the hero's welcome given to the murderer on his arrival in Tripoli. What the ****** did he expect. As the entirely predictable consequences have played themselves out, the intensity of my antipathy has increased.

Some in the blogosphere seem to agree with this obscene decision. There are some who seem to have decided (with what evidence I've no idea) that this criminal is innocent of the crimes he has been found guilty of. There is an appeal process to deal with this. Now it seems there may be some darker duplicity behind the decision. Despite the Justice Minister's insistence that it was 'his' decision, and that it was based on 'compassion', (itself a ridiculous judgement) we now hear that Gordon Brown and Lord Mandelson may have had some involvement. There's a bit more to run on this one I think. At least the Director of the FBI let the Scottish Government have what it deserved, both barrels, and between the eyes. I've rarely read such an angry letter as this. Scotland's Justice Minister has brought shame on Scotland, and delivered a damaging blow against devolution.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tesco Roundup

I've always had an ambivalent attitude to Tesco. First, the plus side. I used to know the Managing Director and another Board Member very well - and liked them both a lot. I know that shouldn't make a difference, but it does. I like to support my friends, everything else being equal. I also admire the will to succeed that is so characteristic of the company. Tesco is a brilliant British success story. Now the other side, which is more based on realism than anti. Tesco know how to screw its suppliers, how to dominate markets and how to maximise profits. And Tesco is so big that it needs Government to stop the bullying. My business life has been about producing meat, which Tesco buys, though not mine directly. Farmers have never felt strong enough to counter the commercial power of such a heavyweight retailer. Tesco is a giant that must be controlled.

Anyway Tesco are dominating the headlines this weekend in Montgomeryshire. There are plans for three new supermarkets. I've supported one, been opposed to one, and am uncertain about one. Lets look at them in turn.

Firstly Welshpool, where the deal is done for a new store on the current livestock market site. An alternative spanking new market will be open for business before the end of October. We were expecting a start on realigning the town's road network next month, but it seems that the planners are insisting that the full details of the Tesco store be approved before allowing a start. We expect the supermarket to be up and running next in 2010. I've always supported this proposal.

Secondly, Newtown, where the steel structure of the new supermarket rose phoenix-like out of the ground this last week. Looks as if it will be open before Welshpool. I've not supported this development - mainly because I just do not believe the assurances given that this will not cause traffic chaos. But its too late now. We have to wait and see.

And thirdly, Machynlleth, where its being reported that a real ding dong is underway about whether it should be allowed. Not got a feel for this proposal yet. Telephoned most of my Machynlleth contacts, who all seem to be keen on the idea. The two vociferous public opponents of the development are the Guardian writer, George Monbiot, who lives in the town, and the local MP. I've been a but concerned about some of what Mr Monbiot has written. He's claiming that local councillors are afraid to stand up to Tesco, and will allow themselves to be bullied. I don't accept this at all. The local councillors are not afraid of anyone. They just disagree with the Guardian writer - and the local MP. Machynlleth Town Council voted 6-2 in favour. Everyone I've telephoned to gauge public opinion is in favour. When the MP issued a press release claiming a majority were against, I'm told he was challenged by the company and made to withdraw his claim. It seems that almost 80% of those who had attended an exhibition of Tesco's plans had registered support. Its always best to check facts first. Anyway, I shall spend Wednesday next in Machynlleth, talking to as many people as I can. Hope it helps me formulate a clear opinion.

And then there's today's UK business pages where Tesco's top finance man confirms that Tesco is going to become a fully fledged bank (creating 800 new jobs in Scotland). This is great news. A business which is based on the customer being king, entering the world of banking. About time too. So happens that the finance man concerned, Andrew Higginson, used to work in Montgomeryshire, for Laura Ashley in the village of Carno, ten miles from Machynlleth. Small world!!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Great Scottish Mistake.

Just watched Scottish Justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill on Newsnight. His performance filled me with contempt. He was trying to justify his decision to release the only criminal convicted of murdering 270 innocent people over Lockerbie in 1988 - on compassionate grounds. That's right - compassionate grounds. Incredible. Today he damaged the world's opinion of Scotland, and the reputation of the SNP Scottish Government. The decision was shockingly wrong and will define the first term of SNP Government. I realise that this terrorist was suffering from prostate cancer and is reckoned to have just three months to live. My attitude may make me seem not compassionate, and that's because I feel nothing but revulsion for this criminal. I cannot find in my heart any sympathy for such a very evil man, found guilty of the indiscriminate murder of 270 innocents. The great celebrations and welcome that will be bestowed on the return to Libya by this murderer will only make matters worse.

And what does Gordon Brown think of this decision. Our Prime Minister, who normally has a ready comment to make about everything under the sun, and over matters where he has no jurisdiction is silent. This awful decision by the Scottish Government may well damage Britain's international reputation, especially if Gordon Brown remains silent. The world knows that he is Scottish, and could interpret silence as agreement, which I cannot believe is the Prime Minister's opinion. Another case of a MaCavity's cat impersonation at No 10.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hello Cardiff, Montgomeryshire just letting you know we exist.

This week is 'close of play' for making submissions to the All Wales Convention, which was established to advise the Assembly Government on whether it should ask the UK Government to arrange a referendum on whether full law making powers should be transferred to Cardiff Bay. My consistently expressed view has been that this Convention is an expensive and unnecessary exercise in prevarication. Nothing more than a convenient excuse for Ieuan Wyn Jones to justify reneging on the promise he made to his own party to hold such a referendum before May 2011. This is not to imply that the Convention and its Chairman, Sir Emyr Jones-Parry have not carried out their remit anything but highly professionally.

This blog post reflects on how the National Assembly appears through the eyes of Montgomeryshire people, and what might be our response if the Assembly Government were to act on a Convention recommendation that a referendum should be held. Lets re-cap. In 1997, Montgomeryshire voted against the establishment of a National Assembly. Because the count was on a Powys basis there are some who dispute this, but, in my view, without any evidence whatsoever. Since 1999, when the Assembly was born, Montgomeryshire has been treated abominably by successive Assembly Governments (again in my opinion). Investment in our transport infrastructure has dried up. Financial settlements for our Council have been amongst the worst in Wales. Our traditional links with Shropshire Hospitals for elective treatment has been undermined. Our CHC is under threat. All but one of our Community Hospitals are under threat. Our landscapes have been earmarked for more wind farms than anywhere else in Wales, and a massive 400kv cable is going to scar one of our beautiful valleys. And the Government still hasn't given the final go-ahead for a desperately needed renal dialysis unit. Its almost as if Assembly Governments have not wanted to win the love and respect of Montgomeryshire people.

In light of the above list, it may come as a surprise to you to learn that I personally favour moving to a referendum and to full law making powers for the Assembly as quickly as practicable. My reasoning is simple. The current devolution settlement as a dangerous recipe for constitutional conflict, which threatens the integrity and cohesiveness of the United Kingdom. So scrap it some of you will say. Admittedly logical, but ain't going to happen. I usually say its like wanting India back. The National Assembly is here to stay, and arguing for abolition is akin to abstaining in a ballot - which is what happened in 1997. That's how we found ourselves with an Assembly in the first place. I want to make the best of it, and in my opinion the best of it is to bin the ludicrous system of powers transfer that exists at present and move as quickly as possible to the settled and stable system of devolution that is where we will reach in the end. But unless the Assembly Government realise that its responsibilities extend to serving the people of Montgomeryshire, its going to be one hell of a job persuading them to vote yes in any referendum.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Catwalk Beckons

Stephanie and I are discussing how well I carry off the luxury Italian moleskin trousers and North Coast casual top that I was trying out at Marks and Spencers, Shrewsbury this morning. Must tell you how this came to pass. Now, I don't wish to seem unconfident as we approach the general election, but I do accept that victory is not necessarily a dead cert. I may need an alternative career if the worst befalls us. And I've read somewhere that male models earn good money. OK, laugh unkindly and snort derisively if you must, but stranger things have happened.

This morning Mrs Lillian Beddoes invited me to make my debut on the catwalk in a fashion show at Montgomery Town Hall on September 15th. Must admit my first thought was "this must be a wind-up". But no. The invite was for real. And it gets better. She informed me that her commission had been to search out a man of good build, well known locally and good looking "How can this be?" I said. "I'm built like a bullock, 5' 10" tall with a waistline that has surreptitiously crept out to 38", an inside leg the same as Roy Noble's (just 29"), a face as craggy as General Sir Mike Jackson, and a colostomy unbalancing my belt-line". None of these significant imperfections seemed to bother Lillian at all.

By mid-day I was being dressed by Stephanie in Menswear. "We've dressed many worse" she said in what I took to be a complimentary tone. Even if I say it myself, I did look the business in the sandy Collezione suit with cream shirt and matching tie - 'The Wedding Outfit'. I didn't try on 'The Beach Outfit' but it consists of navy 'chino' shorts with tight fitting T-shirt. I suppose it will be sunglasses and flip-flops as well. I did feel a touch offended when Mrs D drew extended amusement from this, and immediately sold several tickets to her golfing friends by text. She predicts a sell out. This reaction of nearest and dearest set alarm bells ringing. Don't think I'll tell the local press about it. And then it was time for the luxury Italian moleskin trousers together with the North Coast top - 'The Casual Outfit'. They fitted like a glove. Stephanie must have been impressed because she said "They were designed especially for you sir. I can see what Lilian saw". My modelling career has taken its first tentative step forward. Only a month to polish up the pecs and redefine the six pack. Catwalk here I come.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Everything in Moderation.

Been lots of coverage of the shocking advice from the World Cancer Research Fund, published today, advising parents not to put processed meats in children's lunch boxes. The claim is that it could lead to bowel cancer in later life. Must admit, my reaction to all this publicity is deep scepticism. Sounds like over-egging it to me. The prejudices which may have influenced me are two. Firstly, six years ago, I was struck down with bowel cancer myself - and secondly, the whole of my business life has been founded on the production of red meat.

I've always been doubtful about these sort of scare stories. It seems to me obvious that eating too much food, or eating foods that make us fat are unwise. It follows that encouraging our children to eat such foods must also be unwise. But how should parents give effect to these observations. Some steps are obvious. Over the years our house has accepted that too much sugar, salt, fatty foods and confectionery should be avoided - except at Xmas. And fruit, vegetables, and semi skimmed are always available. Unfortunately, nuts and wine remain unconquered. And we still eat red meat, at least once a week, sometimes more often. I had become almost vegetarian until the announcement that there may have been a link between Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy and Creutzveldt Jacob Disease - after which I felt it was my duty to eat more beef. No principle involved in my near vegetarianism. I just prefer fish, macaroni cheese, fishcakes etc.

I do not remember hearing either of my Nains saying "everything in moderation" but I imagine its what they would have said. Its also what the UK Food Standards Agency says. "Processed meat is fine - but not too often". Sounds like good sense to me. I'm not at all 'convinced' by the supposed 'convincing' evidence which has been produced today. Seems to me that it's more to do with eating too much, with too much of it fattening, and not taking enough exercise to stop getting fat. I find the video clip in this BBC report very 'unconvincing'. I do hope that the cancer charities are not being hijacked by the vegetarian movement.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Local Show.

In the villages of rural Wales, this is the season of the local show - the culmination of a year's hard work by the local show committee. For several years I was one of the group of dedicated volunteers that managed Berriew Show. My responsibilities were confined to the flower and veg tent. There is a lot of preparation needed for the big day. While I was an Assembly Member, I attended several 'county shows' - the Three Counties at Carmarthen, the Pembrokeshire Show at Haverfordwest, the itinerant Meirionydd Show, the Vale of Glamorgan show and the oldest of all, Brecon Show. Now I restrict myself to the local shows of Montgomeryshire. Yesterday, I attended the Carno Show (1.00 - 3.30) and the Llanfyllin Show (4.30 - 6.00). Have to go to Carno now that the family have married into the village. And I've gone to Llanfyllin Show from time to time throughout my life. I'll never forget a horse slipping in a galloway race once upon a time, and having to be put down. I was a little boy and remember being very upset.

Now, you may well ask what is going on in the photograph. Well, its the highlight of the show (though the local MP and AM entering the stocks and allowing wet sponges to be thrown at them may have appealed to some). Its terrier racing. This is one of the heats. You will notice that there is handicapping (on length of leg I think). The man in charge is Stephen Moyle, and you should be able to spot the 'hare' in his hand. When Stephen blows the whistle, the 'hare' is pulled down the track mechanically, and the terriers are released. Its hilarious, especially when the equipment fails (as it always does) and the terriers catch the quarry. Stephen is funnier than Tommy Cooper. The terrier racing in Llanfyllin Show is even more chaotic because its a circuit. Yesterday there was much cutting of corners, several stewards enquiries, disqualifications, one re-run - and no-one knew who won. Total chaos. Just as it should be, and just like last year. Unmissable.

There are serious competitions as well. This is the sheep shearing final. I'm always interested, because I was a sheep shearer myself. If I'm elected as an MP, I'll enter next year. Shearing is like riding a bike. Once learned, never forgotten. It just takes a bit longer, and you can't manage as many. 20 is enough these days - rather than the 200 a day I used to manage. Its a competition for powerful, super fit, young men of the countryside, with well honed bodies. There were several ladies amongst the spectators.

Premiership Predictions

Never has the coming football season seemed so predictable. Almost every commentator in the land is saying the same thing - and even though I like to go out on a limb I cannot disagree with them. The champions will come from one of the 'Big Four'. Despite yesterday's stuttering performance against Hull, everyone's favourite for the drop, I fancy Chelsea for the title. But then, I fancied them last year! But it could just as easily be Liverpool, Man Utd or Arsenal. Some were writing off the 'Gunners' after the pre-season transfer comings and goings - but less so after yesterday's spectacular start at Everton. I, too think that Man City will lead the challengers, alongside Spurs. Villa and Everton will also be thereabouts despite poor opening games. I'd like to see Wigan and West Ham prosper, simply because I admire their respective managers. And have you seen the stuff about Ferguson bemoaning opposition teams cheating through gamesmanship. Incredible. For years, Ronaldo's was conning referees by falling over non existent obstructions - with Ferguson's full approval. Its like Lord Mandelson complaining about Tory spin.

And there's boring agreement on who's for the drop as well. My three are Burnley, Hull City and Portsmouth - though Wolves, Birmingham, Bolton and Stoke will be in the mix. After my impressive prediction twelve months ago that the first Premiership manager to be sacked/resign would be an emotional Kevin Keegan at Newcastle, this year I'm going for Phil Brown at Hull this year. OK, I know that Keegan wasn't technically 'first' but it was near enough. Hot favorite is Mark Hughes, but I reckon he'll last until at least Christmas.

Much harder to pick the teams that will challenge at the top of the Championship. I think at least two of last year's relegated clubs will bounce straight back up - West Brom and Newcastle. It could be QPR's year, if the wallets of investers, Mittal, Ecclestone and Briatore are opened wide enough.

I'm tipping The New Saints to win the Welsh Premiership. Not because of their 5-0 opening victory, but because of the glow of confidence which was engulfing Mike Harris when I met him last week. Llanelli and Rhyl will provide the main challenge again.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Countryside Clutter.

'Appearing' on Country Focus tomorrow, wearing my President of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales hat. The discussion (with Melanie Dole) is about countryside 'clutter'.

Now I don't mean the sort of obscenity featuring in the third photograph on this post (below), which you will be surprised to learn is not a scene from the centre of Tokyo. Its one that I took last year on the A458 trunk road just outside Newtown in Montgomeryshire. I passed the same spot today, without camera, and if anything the position has deteriorated. Neither is it about the temporary fly posting that sometimes disfigures our countryside. These are both important issues which could be the subject of separate posts. No, what I mean are the wholly unnecessary or duplicating signs erected by public authorities. When Mel asked me for an example of what I meant, I referred to the speed restriction signs as entering Berriew, the stunningly beautiful Montgomeryshire village where I'm so fortunate to live. Now, I have no argument with the two restriction signs themselves - even if they are garish and the blue parts, informing us that the police are going to enforce the restriction seem superfluous. I cannot see any reason for the intrusive writing on the road. But what I really object to is the wholly unnecessary top photograph, warning us that there is a speed restriction sign ahead. What is the point? If the 30mph restriction signs were obscured, or close to a corner, I could accept them. But they are not. Anyone who cannot see these signs in time to slow down should not have a licence. And this sort of thing is repeated all over the country. Its costly and unsightly.

As for this obscenity, the photograph speaks for itself. Its on one of Wales' busiest trunk roads - one which is travelled by almost everyone heading for the tourism dependent Cardigan Bay hinterland. Imagine Constable painting it and calling it 'A View from Rural Wales'.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

One Man's 'Rations' - Another Man's 'Riches'.'

It was despair and incredulity in equal measure that flooded my thought processes when I read the front page of today's Daily Telegraph. This is just one of the articles that have fed this despair and incredulity during the day. Its so outrageous that its scarcely believable. This could be the occasion to reassure the people of Montgomeryshire that I would regard £64,000 as an extremely generous salary were I to be elected an MP at the next General Election. My guess is that no more than 2% of the electors in Montgomeryshire who would have voted for me would earn as much. Personally speaking, I reckon any MP who thinks the salary should be higher would be better to go look for alternative employment.

Being an MP is not as other jobs. Remuneration is, or should be measured in satisfaction for public service as much as financial reward. If the objective is to earn money, go in search of better paid employment elsewhere - assuming you can find it. Now there is nothing wrong with young things moving straight from university to employment as political researchers as a stepping stone to a safe seat before the age of 30 - as long as there's not too many of them. And that's because the most important skill that an MP can bring to the job is good judgement, in part born of experience, rather than great cleverness or knowledge - which will always be available within the Civil Service. Also important that these youthful high flyers accept that the aim is to deliver public service at a level of pay that the people are content to pay. And the people think £64,000 per year is enough, without the need for added supplement via unjustified expenses.

The coming General Election should be different - but it is up to the voters. Candidates should be asked for cast iron promises. I've already floated some of the promises I will make on this blog. I have said that I will not make claims on the Communications Allowance - which is nothing more than a quite disgraceful incumbent's re-election pot. I have said that I will not make any claim without making it public immediately - though this is on the assumption that any employee's salary would no longer be treated as an 'expense', but be paid from a central fund as it is in the National Assembly for Wales. I've said that I will not claim for food - because I have to eat wherever I am. The reality is that the people have made it clear that they are disgusted by the 'expenses' culture that has been exposed by the Telegraph. The people will soon have the opportunity to change things - but only if they will be prepared to balance their party loyalties with the personal qualities of candidates. The voters will carry the power. Let them use it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Planting Poppies

Today, I've been planting poppies in our garden. Not ordinary poppies. But nine feet high iron poppies designed and created by William O'Brien, an artistic blacksmith who lives next door to us, and has his smithy in Berriew. It wasn't an easy job. The three poppies were delivered as three separate 'blooms'. I hauled them up by ropes, and suspended them from a farm building roof truss, 'planting' them in a large flower pot. Next step was to fill the pot with concrete.
Three days later, I recruited the services of my neighbour and his digger to transport the poppies to the selected site on the banks of the pond, where they can display themselves to best effect. My second photograph gives you some idea of the scale of the operation. The problem was the sheer weight of the work of art - around five hundredweight. Anyway it looks fantastic. I was also lucky that I had my little helper, Ffion to offer advice and guidance. She looks very satisfied with the completed task.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dedicating a Fire Engine

Another new experience today - dedicating a new fire engine (or fire 'appliance' in today's jargon) at Welshpool's Fire Station. My invitation to the dedication came from Brenden, the Watch Manager (proper title for the local Station Manager) via the Mayor of Welshpool. After the prayer's and Bible readings, I was invited to contribute to the proceedings. I had not anticipated being asked to speak, so was scratching my head searching for something appropriate to say. At the last second I had a brainwave.
Began by describing an appearance on a Welsh language radio programme called 'Beti a'i Phobl' (Beti and her people) which is a sort of 'Desert Island Discs'. I was required to choose four of my favourites. One of the tracks I chose was 'Into the Fire' by Bruce Springstein. He wrote it as a tribute to the firefighters who risked (some of whom sacrificed) their lives after the New York Twin Towers were rammed by terrorists. At the time, I'd thought of it as being akin to entering the operating theatre for my 'lower bowel re-section', not feeling certain about re-emerging afterwards. Anyway, it was an event that raised the appreciation of firefighters across the world. No matter how careful the Watch Manager is, firefighting is a dangerous business - and most of them in the photograph are volunteers. Like our soldiers in Afghanistan, they deserve the best equipment we can provide. Brave boys. Nice Appliance. Firefighters 'tea and sandwiches' to follow.

Michael Ancram to stand down.

I'd been looking forward to getting to know Michael Ancram much better after the General Election - in the House of Commons tearoom. Actually, this isn't true. I don't allow myself to exhibit hubristic confidence about my own election prospects. In any case, it now cannot be, because earlier today he announced that he is standing down from the House of Commons. I am saddened by this decision. I have always reckoned Michael to be a really top man, as well as a great representative of the Conservative Party.

The Telegraph's reporting of Michael's decision to stand down is a disgrace. The BBC's reporting is also unduly snide. I supported the Telegraph's reporting of the details of MP's expenses - but the way that the newspaper is now attributing every retirement from the House of Commons as one just another 'scalp' is nauseating. I do not know what has been the attitude to Michael Ancram by the good people of Devizes, but there's no reason whatsoever to imagine that he has been pressured to retire, or dismiss the reasons that he has given publicly for stepping down.

I first met Michael Ancram when he represented the Welsh interest in the Shadow Cabinet as Constitutional Affairs Spokesman between 1997-1998, before being promoted to Party Chairman. He was a very relaxed, 'easy to talk to', politician who was genuinely willing to listen. When William Hague stepped down after the 2001 General Election, he was my first choice to become the new leader, but was defeated in the first ballot. Interesting fact about Michael is that he once defeated Gordon Brown in a General Election - Edinburgh South in 1979. Another interesting, though better known fact is that he is a hereditary peer - The Most Hon. The Marquis of Lothian. He also plays a very mean guitar and has a pleasing singing voice. Unlike the snide journalists at the Telegraph, I very much hope that removing himself from the stress of an MP's life will lead to improved health and a long, enjoyment-filled retirement.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Lord Elis Thomas in search of a 'Bwgan'.

Long standing readers of this blog will know of my admiration for the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales, Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas. He's not quite in the Shane Warne/Ian Botham league of 'making things happen', but Dafydd does add a dash of spice to the depressingly drab politics of Wales. My admiration is founded on Dafydd's Machiavellian cunning, shameless pragmatism, strutting grandeur, and inbuilt 'Welshness' - all put. with a natural selflessness at the service of his and my nation.

But......sometimes he irritates - just like Shane Warne on his mobile. He was at it again last week at the National Eisteddfod. No way was he going to allow the yet to be ennobled Lord Wigley to dominate the headlines with his rather predictable speech about law making powers for the Assembly. He decided to have a dig at the Tories. I didn't comment on the speech at the time - because it niggled me more than the gnats on the terrace at the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel the same evening. In order to ensure that his presence was properly noticed, Dafydd suggested that the current absurd system by which law making powers are being transferred to the National Assembly is under threat if the Conservatives win the next General Election. And Matt Withers, in today's Wales on Sunday has bestowed on the 'heir to Lloyd George' the publicity which he craves.

Let us consider the Lord's concerns. Firstly, there's the failings of the current hideously complex system of transferring powers by means of Legislative Competence Orders. You would be forgiven for thinking it was nothing to do with Lord Elis Thomas himself - but it was none other than he, together with Peter Hain who came up with it, and has defended it, being rather rude to BBC journalists who dared suggest it was a tad too complex to be workable. Truth is it's a dog's breakfast - repast that Dafydd had a hand in creating. And secondly, there is the small matter of two LCOs (relating to housing and the Welsh Language) which have been scuppered by MP's who have utilised constitutional devices which had not been foreseen. MPs gave consideration to LCOs as if they were 'measures' (laws) rather than transfers of the power to make laws - exactly as some of us predicted would happen when the 'bonkers' system was passed into law. But the relevant point here is that it was not the Tories wot done it. We are but a minority on the relevant Westminster committee. It was Paul Murphy and Labour wot done it. Your coalition partners Dafydd. And thirdly, there is the referendum on transferring law making powers in all devolved policy areas to the National Assembly - or moving to Part four of the Government of Wales Act. This was promised by Dafydd's party in May, 2007 - to take place before 2011. If the Conservative Party wins a General Election held in May 2010 (as most now seem to expect), Dafydd's coalition will have had three years to act on its promise. But no. All we've seen is procrastination, faffing around, and coming up with every excuse in the book (and some new ones) to avoid embarrassing those committed Labour referendumites, Touhig, David, Hain and Murphy at Westminster. But as soon as the Tories look as if they might win power, (and there's something typically Welsh about this), there's a 'Bwgan' to blame. So so predictable.

Anyway, you never know. Montgomeryshire might elect a Conservative who will refuse to slot in into the 'Tory image' selected for Conservative MP's that Dafydd and his political colleagues are depending on - someone who is as 'Welsh' as any single one of them. The 'Bwgan' might turn out to be benign.

Day Lilies

Its been a rather poor summer for Hemerocallis, the Day Lilies. They thrive in sunny dry weather. Today has been the first time I've found myself free in a dry spell to tidy them up by removing spent flowers, and appreciate their cheerfulness. We grow a few varieties. I've chosen six that show the range of types that are available. Hemerocallis are really easy to grow, easy to multiply through division, and during sunny days in July/August provide us with lots of pleasure.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A Dilemma Returns.

Four/five years ago, I was dropped into a deeply embarrassing position. Not that unusual for me, but this was particularly so. As 'Environment Spokesman' for the Conservatives in the National Assembly for Wales, I was leading the opposition to the Government's drive to cover large tracts of Wales with wind turbines. And then a Spanish energy company, Gamesa, approached me with a proposal to site turbines on my land, near Llanerfyl. No chance was my first reaction. But I discovered that this response was not quite so straight forward. Firstly, several of my neighbours, who are also friends were very keen to go ahead, and my land was a key part of the development. And secondly, every other member of my immediate family was also keen, and it was a family decision. They were in favour of both the money and the principle. I was outvoted 5 -1.

At the time, my solution, was to do nothing. Surprising how often this turns out to be the best strategy. I didn't think it would win planning permission, so I declined any 'exclusivity' payment, refused to sign any 'option', but agreed verbally that if it were eventually to go ahead, we would participate in the scheme. I was deeply grateful when the Strategic Search Area was redefined to take my land several miles outside the zoned area. Huge sigh of relief. Dilemma evaporated. But not before the media, political opponents and turbine haters had given me so much stick. We did forego quite a lot of money.

Today, another wind farm company is offering me (and I suppose my neighbours) financial inducement if I will sign an option to allow them to seek planning approval for a 13.5 megawatt wind farm on the same land. I was stunned. I'm the President of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, and Conservative Candidate at the next General Election. Its ridiculous. The site is several miles outside the SSA, as far as I know no work has been done on transport issues or on grid access issues. Its not going to happen, so why are these people embarrassing me so. Well, I'm not going to agree to it. No realistic option. And if I have any more trouble I'm just going to sell it. OK, so I know that doesn't help anyone, but it will get me out of a tight corner - and stop this sort of situation arising again.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Labour Leadership race 'hotting up' ?

Wasn't able to make the National Eisteddfod at Bala today afterr poking myself in the eye with a stick. Disappointing because RESEC, (Research into Specialist Elderly Care), a charity I'm associated with was presenting a £500 cheque to Tamany Wyn Jones far her work with dementia and the elderly in rural areas. Been making some calls to find out how it all went. I'm told that my Deputy Chairman, Eurig Wyn did his usual professional job. But then, as usually happens, discussion turned to the politics that always infects the Maes. This year it will be particularly interesting because its the last Eisteddfod before Labour has to choose its next Welsh leader and new National Assembly First Minister - that's if Rhodri Morgan does not change his mind about retiring. In passing, I'm told that he's expecting to immediately be raised to the ermine, along with two of his Assembly girls, Sue Essex and Jane Davidson. Lord Rhodri of Michaelston-le-Pit I suppose.

Anyway, about the succession. Favourite Carwyn Jones has been putting himself about, making a speech which was stating the bloody obvious - that Labour needs to build on its core vote. And Huw Lewis has been there too, and has roundly rubbished Carwyn's speech on his blog. And today, I'm told that Edwina Hart will definitely be standing as well. It seems that she's 'letting it be known' that she wants to lead, without actually saying anything. Just getting on with the job as Gordon Brown is so keen on saying. When I was told that all this meant that the leadership contest was 'hotting up', I thought it was best described as the first stirrings of a heavy sleeper after a heavy night on the whiskey. It may be possible to detect a little movement, but too early to be sure it signifies wakefulness. I've not been involved in Assembly politics for over two years, but I do like the gossip. And who cares if its not true.

Theatr Hafren

For almost three decades, Theatr Hafren in Newtown, Montgomeryshire has been providing eclectic cultural experiences to audiences drawn from Mid Wales and further afield. While I've always thought the theatre to be an ugly building from outside, as is the college to which it is attached, the attractive and much valued programme of entertainment it delivers is anything but ugly. It is exceptionally good. To me it is unthinkable that it should come to an end.

Last Tuesday, Powys County County Council's Head of Recreation, Culture and Countryside Services wrote to all Executive Board Members and Councillors from Montgomeryshire to inform them that there is the possibility that the Theatre may fail its annual insurance inspection later this month. Such a failure would, in effect, lead to the cessation of most public performances. His letter went on to emphasise that whatever the outcome of the insurance inspection, the Theatre will need significant investment over the next year or so. The feeling that I take from the letter is not that the insurance inspection is likely to fail - but that it may fail, and that Councillors should be made aware of the risk before it happens.

Reason this interested me enough to visit Theatr Hafren this afternoon is that the Newtown 5 ( Local County Councillors) have involved me in their efforts to persuade their fellow councillors to reinvest in the town all or part of a large capital receipt arising from the recent sale of the Newtown Smithfield to Tesco Developments (perhaps as much as eight million pounds). My advice has been that the most likely route to success is to press for investment that would fall as a cost on the County Council in any case. Restoration of the town's Market Hall is one such scheme. In my opinion, investment in Theatr Hafren would be another. And it would have the added incentive of serving a much wider catchment than just Newtown, which should find favour with other councillors. This issue is likely to feature strongly when the Newtown 5 present their own ideas to another public meeting on Sept 3rd. I suppose there is a possibility that the theatre could be closed by then.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Conquering my natural shyness.

Up until the General Election I intend to publish occasional posts about my approach to campaigning. Downside is that my opponents may find out about my secret strategies. I heard recently that Mick Bates, the local Lib Dem AM was complaining that he had to read my blog to find out what was going on!! Upside is that everybody else will know as well. We held a campaign strategy meeting today. Great turnout. We're going to need a bigger meeting room. There was much discussion about how much coverage I succeed in winning in our local newspapers (especially the weekly County Times) - with comparisons being made with the publicity being won by the MP I'm hoping to unseat, Lembit Opik. In general, there was a view that I should try to win more publicity. I put forward my personal view that I already have as much publicity as is good for me.

Stimulus for this discussion was that over the last few weeks there has been a huge amount of publicity about my opponent - nationally and locally. Two weeks ago there were large photographs on 7 (yes 7) pages of the County Times. I would have been horrified if that had happened to me. I reckon this is damaging both the interests of the MP and the newspaper. It makes the MP look as if he's obsessive about publicity seeking, and makes the newspaper look as if its obsessive about him - whether this is true or not. Several people have already stopped me in the street to say as much. I wonder what its doing to sales figures!

If I could arrange things exactly as I would like, I would indeed like my photograph to appear - but just one per week, and that related to a serious local issue. I will not do daft photos anymore, or be photographed with a glass in my hand. I cannot afford to be seen as aping (or is it apeing)the antics of the MP. Actually I don't like to see my photograph, but name recognition is such an important factor in elections. I also told my campaign committee that I do already receive more coverage than a mere candidate can reasonable expect - largely because I work at it, and I'm involved in much that happens in Montgomeryshire. The Montgomeryshire County Times, the Shropshire Star, and the Cambrian News have always been very fair with me. In the end though, we decided that I will have to set aside my natural shyness, and not turn away from the cameras quite so often. And it means that I'll have to wear a suit more often. You've been warned.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Assisted Suicide.

Two articles in today's Mail on Sunday have been read twice by this blogger. The rest of today's copy is c**p, (especially the quite incredible tripe which filled page three). The subject under discussion was assisted suicide. The writers were Terry Pratchett and William Rees-Mogg. High class content of intellectual power, unmatched by anything in today's Telegraph. Terry Pratchett is suffering from Alzheimer's Disease (and has already done a truly wonderful job in opening up discussion and understanding of this terrible affliction). He tells us that he will want to commit suicide before the disease finally "wipes his brain clean". Like Debbie Purdy, he makes an argument which is almost impossible to challenge. I know that the majority will side with these two impressive individuals, but yet again I find myself in a minority on a great social issue of our time. I'm with William Rees-Mogg on this - as is usually the case.

I fully accept that the law on assisted suicide is illogical. Our law often is. We know that there have been several cases where 'assistance' of some sort has been given to people who have travelled abroad to end their own lives. On the face of it, this is not lawful. And yet, no action has been taken. The Director of Public Prosecutions has decided in every case to use his discretion to take no action. But last week, there was an important ruling which presages big change. The Law Lords agreed with Debbie Purdy, who suffers from MS, that the DPP should prepare clear and definite guidance on when 'assistance' would be legal, and when it would be illegal. The discretion would remain with the DPP, but the rules by which the discretion would apply must be framed in law, so that everyone knows the circumstances when action legal action will follow assisting someone to commit suicide. Its difficult to disagree with this - until you think it through.

No-one, unless guided by strong religious belief will see anything wrong with assistance being given to two such strong characters as Terry Pratchett and Debbie Purdy. They will probably know when the time to go has been reached. But so many others are not strong minded, and many will be hopelessly vulnerable when they are ill and old. In a few year's time we will reach a stage when it will become standard practice to inform the old and ill that they have the right to assistance to commit suicide. Oh yes, there will be safeguards and assurances, but people who love their families, and feel a responsibility to help them financially rather than be a continuing burden will become increasingly pressured (from within themselves, rather than from unscrupulous beneficiaries from an earlier death) to kill themselves.

The idea is that the law should become 'definite'. Debbie Purdy persuaded the Law Lords that she needs to know precisely what her husband can do, to protect him from criminal sanction. But the law is never definite. Its based on precedent and majority opinion. Every time the DPP exercises discretion it will creating new precedent and there will continue to be argument about individual cases. What I fear is a ratchet of death, whereby the circumstances in which assisted suicide is legal will rapidly expand to a degree that creates a level of pressure on the old and ill that I will find unacceptable. When we look at other jurisdictions across the world we see law that we consider deeply immoral. Well, I fear that through responding to the emotional argument presented to them, the Law Lords have created an opening for immorality to become embedded in our own law.

Candidate's World Tour - Last Leg.

Candidate and candidate's wife awoke this day back in England (Hartwell Hall, near Aylesbury). We passed on a tour of the grounds because it was chucking it down. Headed towards Wales, but then decided to visit Tewkesbury, a town never before visited by either of us. The town was named after a Saxon named Theoc who established a hermitage there in the 7th century and it used to be known Theocsbury. Anna Ford was born in Tewkesbury and Eric Morecombe collapsed and died there. Checked into the Tewkesbury Park Hotel, Golf and Country Club. After lunch decided to play the course. A very nice 18 holes. The third (I think) had us driving between two 100 ft conifers which framed Tewkesbury Abbey in the middle distance. Resolved to stay overnight and visit the Abbey next day. That's more golf in a week than the rest of 2009 put together.

Construction of Tewkesbury Abbey began in 1102 to house Benedictine monks. Embellishments were added in the 14 th century. After the dissolution in 1540, the Ladies Chapel and other bits were demolished, but the rest was sold to the townspeople for £453. There is the finest copper beech that I have ever seen in the Abbey grounds - worth the visit on its own. The Abbey totally dominates the town, which has a population of less than 20,000 and is often flooded by water that falls from the skies above Montgomeryshire and travels to Tewkesbury by means of the River Severn. The semi-professional Abbey Choir were warming up for a service, creating a fabulous atmosphere for our visit. And we were accosted by one of those volunteer enthusiasts who cannot stop talking about the building and its history. We had to leave after a couple of hours, but could have spent all day there - and our volunteer enthusiast still wouldn't have stopped extolling the wonders of the place. Then we went home to Wales. The 'World Tour' was over.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Discussing Wind Turbines Again.

This morning, I attended a 'Community Engagement Session' at Llandinam, in Montgomeryshire. This was a posh name for a public presentation by an energy generation company, Nuon Renewables, of its plans to build a wind warm on the Montgomeryshire/Radnorshire border - around 14 turbines with the capacity to produce around 30 megawatts of power. Now I'm sceptical about the cost effectiveness of on shore wind farms, and reckon that impact on the glorious landscape of Mid Wales is a very high price to pay - but I do like to keep myself informed about what's going on.

Spoke at length with Alistair Hinton, Regional Development Manager of Nuon Renewables, and discussion turned to transport issues - and to the impact that transport of wind turbines would have on the town of Welshpool as they passed through, en route to the uplands to her West. I told him that Welshpool Councillors were protesting with great vim and vigour. I'm told that the next step is to drive 6 sheep across a bridge over the River Thames, equipped with mini wind turbines strapped to their backs. Conversation then drifted, quite naturally to Julian Cayo-Evans, leader of the Free Wales Army in the 1960s. Cayo-Evans came up with a Baldrickesque cunning plan, which involved strapping explosives on the backs of Welsh sheep dogs, and then using a dog whistle to send the unfortunate creatures to squat under advancing tanks for the moment of detonation. I do not know whether he tied little wind turbines on the sheep dogs as well. This plan turned out not to be a success. He finished up serving 15 months for conspiracy to cause explosions.

Anyway, to return from this digression. Lots of Welshpool residents have asked me about what impact lorries carrying towers and blades are likely to have in the town. Must admit that I've never been much for public protesting. though I've nothing against 'making a noise'. It can have an influence if the 'noise' is loud enough. My preferred way is to try 'making a difference' through calm and direct discussion. So I'm going to ask Mr Hinton, perhaps accompanied by representatives of other renewable energy companies to come to Welshpool to meet a deputation to discuss my concerns. And I can see no reason why Councillors and the media shouldn't be included - though too many would render calm discussion difficult. There have been too many unanswered question hanging in the wind for too long. People are concerned. Its time to turn the page and find the answers.

Candidate's World Tour - Fifth Leg.

The Candidate and the Candidate's wife awoke in France on the fifth day of their World Tour. Drove round a while taking in the scenery. Wind turbines and monstrous power cables every where. Persons standing on the first tee of the St Omer golf course would lift up their eyes following the first shot to gaze upon four separate wind farms. That is what Mid Wales is going to look like by 2020 I thought.

After lunch, drove back to the Eurotunnel. Again marvelled at its efficiency. Back in England after 24 hours on French soil. Then headed north to Aylesbury. The M25 was absolutely dire, even though it was a Sunday afternoon. Arrived to celebrate our ruby wedding anniversary at the National Trust hotel, Hartnell House, near Aylesbury - a very splendid mansion. The house was first mentioned in the Doomsday Book and was owned by the illegitimate son of William the Conqueror. It was later owned by the Lee family of which the confederate General Robert E Lee was a descendant. From 1809 to 1814 Charles Lee rented Hartwell House out to the exiled Louis xviii of France. The King signed the document accepting the French Crown again in the Library. The Royal Meteorological Society was also founded in the Library by Dr John Lee in 1850. The mansion was finally accepted by the National Trust as a gift in September 2008. It continues to be run as a hotel.

The Aylesbury Golf Course is adjacent to Hartwell House, and we dashed off 18 holes in a little over three hours, before settling into the champagne and fine fare of the hotel. No idea what was happening in the outside world, except that I did hear that David Cameron told some obscure Radio Station that he doesn't twitter because he fears that "too many twits make a tw*t". Then I read somewhere that this 't word' was OK, but when he used the term 'p***** off' later in the interview, an apology was required. This is valuable information for a political blogger. The BBC have people watching out for moral lapses. It was a very nice day, but went to sleep feeling a bit homesick for Montgomeryshire.