Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Fable of the Sun and the Wind.

Once upon a time Mr Sun and Mr Wind were very good friends, but after many years of friendship they fell into disagreement. Mr Sun became disenchanted with Mr Wind's non-stop bullying and empty bluster. The disagreement became a trial of strength. The two former friends could not agree which of them was the more powerful.

While they were arguing, a man named John Bull sauntered past, and the blustering, bullying Mr Wind said "What you say Mr Sun is of no consequence. My ability to persuade, by huffing and puffing, will dominate your ability to persuade, through warming and informing. Let us ask that man named John Bull, who happens to be passing, to judge which of us is the more powerful." The Sun agreed and accepted the challenge.

So for several weeks Mr Wind blew and blustered and bullied, but John Bull remained unmoved and unconvinced. The sky was dark and full of clouds. He was not persuaded. Then Mr Sun put on his smiling face, and told John Bull that turning his back on Mr Wind would lead to a better life. As Mr Sun shone and shone, the skies turned a lovely shade of blue. John Bull said he was persuaded. Mr Sun had won, and Mr Wind was defeated and went away to somewhere else, where huffing and puffing was more highly regarded.

Shropshire (and Montgomeryshire) NHS - Part 2

Follow up to yesterday's post about location of 'serious' A & E services in Shropshire. I'm pleased that a bit of interest and concern has been activated. Its a complex issue that could not be included in a singe post. It would be an essay. Anyway, here's another take on it.

There are three time frames to consider. a) - 2010/11, b) 2012/13 and c) 2020+. Let's consider these in turn.

Firstly, there's the need to provide a clinically safe service in the immediate future. There are potential problems arising from a shortage of consultants. Two reasons for this. Firstly, there's the introduction of the Working Time Directive. And secondly, there's the trend for consultants today to be more 'specialised' than 'general'. More consultants are needed to provide the same level of service. The only way to deliver greater certainty of a clinically safe service is more consultants - which needs more money - from somewhere. I hope that every effort is being made to rejig finances to deliver on this.

The second time frame is connected to the first. Even if extra consultants are appointed, it will be no more than a 'sticking plaster' which puts a more radical resolution off for two or three years. There will need to be what we can call an 'interim' reorganisation around 2012/13. . The proposals about what this should constitute is what the current row is about. It will not be possible to deliver the full A & E service at both Telford and Shrewsbury. Serious emergencies will have to be concentrated on one site, and the currently proposed location is the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital - on grounds of carefully considered appropriateness and cost. To locate at Shrewsbury will cost less than £20 million, while to locate at Telford will cost getting on for £50 million.

The third time frame involves building a new acute services hospital, probably on a new site somewhere between the two towns. The cost of this development may well be £500 million,and even if a decision to proceed was taken now, it would take until 2020 until the project was delivered. Big decision! Big money!

Now back to what I want to happen. The opinion that I've been putting forward is that every effort should be made to retain full A & E services at Shrewsbury and Telford for as long as possible. When the decision to concentrate serious A & E services in one location has is made, it would be much more acceptable if a commitment to proceed with the new 2020 hospital were to be made at the same time. My fingers and legs are crossed that the short term problems can be sorted before Nov 2nd, and that the proposed consultation can be postponed for a couple of years.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wake up Powys - before its too late!

Longish post. Hugely important issue for Montgomeryshire. Two hours today locked in discussion with Shrewsbury MP, Daniel Kawszynski and Chief Executive of the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospitals Trust, Tom Taylor. I'd asked for the meeting. Needed to get my head around the complexities of delivery of acute health services in Shropshire and Mid Wales. This issue really matters to the people of Montgomeryshire. We don't have a District General Hospital of our own anywhere in Powys. The Royal Shrewsbury Hospital is our local A & E centre. Let me outline the background to this issue.

There are four main bodies involved in delivery of health care in Shropshire. Two service commissioners - a) The Shropshire Primary Care Trust, and b) The Telford and Wrekin Primary Care Trust. And two service providers - a) The Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospitals Trust, and b) The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt NHS Orthopaedic Hospital Trust. About a year ago, these four bodies agreed to review the overall delivery of services across Shropshire and Mid Wales, and put forward proposals for reorganising them from around 2012/13 onwards. The most contentious aspect of these proposals involves the location of serious A & E services on a single site, either Shrewsbury or Telford - rather than on both sites as is currently the position. The favoured site is Shrewsbury, a decision which has quite understandably caused a conflagration of objection in Telford. Incredibly, there has been almost no reaction in Montgomeryshire at all. I've never seen such rampant complacency. The whole of Powys and Shrewsbury had better wake up, and wake up pretty damn quickly, or the huge well-organised campaigns already underway in Telford will lead to the recommendations being reversed, and A & E services being removed from Shrewsbury.

So what do Daniel K and I want to happen. Firstly, we believe that it would be sensible to delay the change for as long as possible. The impetus behind the proposed change is to ensure that the service remains clinically safe. The only way to avoid implementing the change would be the transfer of spending within the Shropshire NHS into the recruitment of more consultants - because this is where the problem lies. More are needed, (to provide the same service) because of the introduction of the Working Time Directive, and today's increased specialisation by consultants. The current intention is that a consultation on the proposals will be held in early November. Our message was that this should be delayed if possible. However, we realise that the consultation may well go ahead. So our second objective will be to try to arrange a meeting between representatives of Powys Council, Powys LHB, Shropshire County Council, and the Shrewsbury Council as soon as possible - to try to instill some urgency into the case for retention of A & E services at 'our hospital' in Shrewsbury. So its 'wake up Powys' - before its too late.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Why Neil Kinnock could never have been Prime Minister.

Been away on a two day golfing trip with Mrs D. We played Porthmadog yesterday, and Dolgellau today. Were going to play Porthmadog twice, but climbing over the sand dunes like a mountain goat ricked my back, and I needed something a bit less strenuous today. So it was twice around the gentle nine at Dolgellau - with a buggy! Beautiful views of South Snowdonia. Stayed overnight at Portmeirion. Special treat. Stopped for coffee at The George Hotel which I also associate with lovely views. We're planning a few days in Ireland in late October, and then that's it until the General Election.

Just catching up on emails and blogs. There's so much of it. I've just started reading some of the policy stuff that's coming from Conservative HQ. I've never been much for reading policy documents and manifestos, etc. but I've decided to make an effort this time. I'm even a touch disappointed that I can't go to our Conference in Manchester this year. But I'm not a 'conference man' at all, and I'll probably learn more from reading about it.

As reading the comments on a post over on Iain Dale's blog I came upon this wonderful clip of Neil Kinnock speaking with Ed Stourton. You really must listen to it. It's so funny that I'm not sure it can be real - it must be Rory Bremner. After this performance, he was lucky not to be interviewed by Andrew Marr about mood swings. In passing, I thought Marr was out of order, asking such a naff generalised question of Gordon Brown on Sunday. If he was going to raise the subject at all, it should have been in depth about precisely the stuff that has been circulating on blogs. The question would have been better left unasked. I dread to think what someone as fiery as Kinnock would have done.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Expensegate revisited.

Over the last two days the Telegraph has splashed its front pages here and here with a reminder of the Parliamentary expenses scandal of a few months ago. I shared the opinion of most people I know, that the Daily Telegraph was right to publish MP's expenses, even if the way they were 'leaked' was a bit underhand. If this had not happened, we would never have found out what was going on.

I do accept that there was much unfairness - and little judgement deployed about the differing seriousness of the various claims highlighted. Seemed to me that some politicians were very harshly treated, while it seemed that some 'got away with it'. But it was difficult to generate any sympathy for individual MPs, no matter how 'innocent', because of the extent to which efforts were made to keep it all secret. When the expenses were officially released, all the blacked out pages, left everyone involved in the 'leaking' appearing fully justified. People were angry about what had been claimed - and they were even more angry about the attempts to keep it secret. It was just not acceptable that claims were made for non-existent mortgages, or for Council Tax in excess of what had been paid. People do not think that properties should have been 'flipped', or that allowances should have been claimed on properties that had been let to others etc.. The next Parliament must be completely different - for the well being of our democracy.

The reason I applaud the Telegraph for reminding us of this issue is that it must not be forgotten when the General Election is called. I hope that the Telegraph returns to this story as the campaign proper starts - not to make life difficult for incumbent MPs, but to make certain that all candidates are pressured to make clear promises before being elected. What has happened has happened. We can't change that. The damage has been done. What's most important now, is that we do all we can to make sure that our next Parliament and its MPs are elected on a precise promise not to repeat the abuses of the past.

Tommy Cooper's Best Gags.

In today's Telegraph Review, Tom Horan has listed Tommy Cooper's best 10 gags. I never did think has jokes were very funny. It was just the way he told them. He made me laugh by just walking onto the stage. Anyway here's the best five.

"I've got the best wife in England. The other one's in Africa."

One morning she got up with curlers in her hair, cream all over her face, wearing an old dressing gown, and went to take the rubbish out - and when she saw the rubbish lorry moving away, she shouted 'Hey, am I too late'? And the dustman said 'No - jump in'.

This fellow knocked at the door and said 'Hello. Is Charlie in'? The woman replied 'Charlie died last night'. The fellow said 'He didn't say anything about a pot of paint did he?'

The other week, I had to share my dressing room with a monkey. The producer came in and said 'I'm sorry about this'. I said 'That's OK.' He said 'I wasn't talking to you.'

My uncle was 83 and wanted to marry a girl of 19. The doctor said 'This could be fatal'. He said 'If she dies, she dies!'

I said it was the way he told 'em. Les Dawson could tell these jokes as well, but I always preferred Tommy Cooper.

Macmillan's Coffee Mornings

I felt like how I imagine it must feel to be an MP this morning - rushing around from one event to another, just stopping for 20 minutes or so. I wanted to join three separate coffee mornings, each of them participating in the Macmillan's Biggest Coffee Morning in the World. Began at The Exchange in Newtown, where my dear friend, Trudy was involved in running things. Trudy rang me later to say they raised over £250. Next stop was Adfa, where Marion Jones had asked me to make a little speech. Every year, she and a few helpers raise over £500 for the charity. And finally to Llanfair Caereinion, where Mrs Moore (don't know her Christian name) had invited me to join them. Old friend, Mick Bates was there as well. You can tell he's not standing for election again. He'd gone before the photographs.

Most of us know someone who has been affected by cancer. As treatment has improved, there are many of us who are recovered cancer patients, or are 'living with cancer'. Its why so many of us are keen to support these coffee mornings. I went to two yesterday as well - Montgomery and Welshpool. What I really like is the 'voluntary' aspect of supporting Macmillan Nurses. Its us as human beings looking after each other. In so many ways, citizens expect 'government' to look after those who fall vulnerable, or who cannot look after themselves. But there's only so much that 'government' can do. Yesterday and today, huge numbers of people were out at coffee mornings, across the world, all there helping each other. Its what makes civil society. Joining in is one of the joys of being a human being, as well as being a parliamentary candidate.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Unexpected meeting with a former close friend.

Long term readers of this blog will know that a few years ago a cancerous tumour was cut from my bowel and discarded. I've never really thought about to where. Or cared. Flushed down the loo perhaps. Or incinerated. Or dumped in landfill? The last thing I ever expected was that any part of it would have been returned to a factory in Newtown, Montgomeryshire, and stored alongside 500,000,000 other bits of human tissue. But that is what happened. I was quite taken aback.

A significant part of any parliamentary candidate's preparations for a general election should be to develop relationships with local businesses. So today, I visited a growing and successful business on the Mochdre Estate, named Cellpath. The last time I visited this business was almost 20 years, as Chairman of the Development Board for Rural Wales. It was primarily a manufacturing business then, specialising in medical products. I took home a cervical smear swab to show Mrs D what one looked like. I took home another more modern version today. Cellpath still manufactures them in their millions. But what really impressed me was the scale of storage of human tissue, stored in glass. Until recent years, these tissue samples had been piled up haphazardly in buildings on hospital sites, all around the UK. Today, most hospitals have transferred responsibility for the storage and associated documentation to Cellpath in Newtown. Some of the samples date back to the nineteenth century. Any single one of the half a billion filed tissue samples can be accessed in less than 20 minutes. Most English hospitals are now working with Cellpath, but none in Wales. I do hope its not the Assembly Government's prejudice against the private sector at work again.

Cellpath is a privately owned company, currently employing 55 people. Its a terrific success story, with promise of a great deal more to come in the future. I never fail to be inspired by the creativity and initiative that the private sector is capable of. There's not enough of it in Wales, and its not properly appreciated.


We wanted to know when half-term fell this year, so checked the Powys County Council web site. It informed us of the following;

Non-pupil days may be varied into alternative dates within a school year, other than pupil school days, subject to a minimum of one term's notice to the Heads of Schools and Inclusion. If schools wish to vary a non-pupil day into a pupil day, this change can only operate on a catchment basis and must involve all the schools in a particular high school catchment area to avoid increasing the Authority's transport costs. Up to 3 of the 7 non-pupil days may be converted into twilight sessions, subject to a minimum of one term's notice to the Heads of Schools and Inclusion, with one non-pupil day being deemed to be the equivalent of 3 twilight sessions of 2 hours each. The calender allows for 188 school days and 7 non-pupil days in line with legal requirements.

Well that's clear enough then.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rhodri Morgan

Soon, the waiting will be over. The Rt. Hon. Rhodri Morgan will inform the Labour Party of his intention to stand down from the position of First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales. Rather as they do with obituaries, journalists will have already written their reflections on his contribution to Welsh politics, in preparation for publication when the anticipated announcement arrives. I've been discussing the issue with David Williamson of the Western Mail today. No idea whether David will use any of my comments, but let me blog some of my random thoughts.

The memory of Rhodri Morgan that will stay with me is his incredible capacity to store information in his brain. He's a human Wikipaedia. If you asked him to tell you the result of Wales' game against the All Blacks in say 1922, he'd rattle off the points scorers, after how many minutes the first try was scored, and probably what the referee had for breakfast on the morning of the match.

Rhodri Morgan has unquestionably been one of the dominant figures of devolution to Wales, during the run up to, and since the establishment of the National Assembly - along with Dafydd Elis Thomas and Ron Davies. Ron's fall from grace has been a great loss to the devolution 'process', but he played the key role before 1997. It really is a case of 'if only'. Others may choose other names, such as Dafydd Wigley, Sue Essex and Peter Hain - but I'll stick with my three.

Rhodri's greatest achievement was to bring stability to the Assembly following the debacle created by Blair's parachuting in of Alun Michael as the first First Minister - against the popular will of Labour Party members in Wales, and the Welsh people. He is a seriously cunning political 'operator', who has sought to hide this talent behind a front of a 'slightly eccentric, shambolic 'man of the people' facade.

In my opinion his greatest failure has been to 'squander' the massive and consistent increases in successive Assembly budgets since 1999 on the free provision of public 'goods' and expanding the public sector, allowing the private sector to fall behind. The consequence of this strategy has been a drop in Welsh productive capacity and Welsh prosperity. His successor is faced with dealing with this legacy and the huge problems involved in maintaining the giant Welsh public sector against a background of significantly falling budgets.

Rhodri Morgan's great strength has been a formidable intellect. And of course his idiosyncrasies have been a joy for the media. His greatest weakness as a 'Chamber' politician was the ease with which he could be rattled. Alun Cairns could wind him up every time, with minimal effort. Rhodri just couldn't do lofty disdain, which would have been the best way to deal with Alun and Nick Bourne.

Big question is whether Rhodri Morgan would have been a success if he'd remained at Westminster. I think not. There's less room for idiosyncrasy there, - Kenneth Clarke excepted. Anyway, we are expecting the man I regard as Wales' real first First Minister to announce his departure plans in the next day or two. Welsh politics is about to enter a period of great change. For better or worse? Who knows!

England to dominate the world.

Today we learn that the Rugby Football Union plans to dominate the rugby world over the next eight years. Today's Telegraph Headline, over Mick Cleary's column is "England's target is world domination". The RFU expects England to win two World Cup tournaments, four Six Nation Championships, including two Grand Slams, and to win two out of every three games against major southern hemisphere teams. This is typical of England sporting teams. There's this casual assumption that they have some God given right to win, which irritates the rest of us no end. And there's absolutely no justification for such confidence. I was just reflecting on whether this was the most overblown, unrealistic, unbelievable ambition of the 21st century so far, when I read this report of Nick Clegg sending party activists home from the Lib Dem Conference 'back to their constituencies to prepare for him taking over as our Prime Minister'!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Big decisions in Powys

Powys County Councillors agreed two very important decisions today. The first was that the Council should 'move towards' a merger with Powys Local Health Board. The anticipated date on which this merger is intended to be finalised in 2012 - at the earliest. The second decision was to appoint Jeremy Patterson as the Council's new Chief Executive on a permanent basis, at an annual salary beginning at over £124,000 - without any competition. He had fulfilled the role on an 'interim' basis since March when his predecessor, Mark Kerr, resigned.

The proposed merger is hugely significant. Its would be a very big deal indeed were the delivery of healthcare to be placed under democratic control - first time since the 1940s. Over the last few weeks, several people have asked me what I think of this. Its just not been possible to express a firm opinion. Bearing in mind how important a decision it is, there has been almost no public discussion. The phrase that comes to mind is 'buying a pig in a poke'. At present the LHB spends about £12 million more per annum than its budget, which is covered by the Assembly Government. I'd want some firm assurances about how this financial 'black hole' is going to be filled. I wouldn't want to be the councillor who closed all of our Community Hospitals. But I have no objection in principle to the merger, and in my opinion the Councillors had no option but to proceed further. I'm not sure that I share the certainty of the press release issued by the Council after the decision, which announces "Better services for citizens and better use of the Powys pound". This deal is not sealed yet.

The Councillors voted unanimously to appoint Jeremy Patterson as Chief Executive. I blogged on this last Friday. I'm told there were questions about how this story appeared on this blog, when it was supposed to be confidential. I'm told there could be another Powys CC 'leak' investigation. Well, they won't have to look far. I'm also told that one leading councillor had placed it on his web site before I blogged on it. Anyway, Jeremy Patterson seems a good choice to me. It's interesting though that an appointment at a salary similar to that of the Welsh First Minister can be made without any competition whatsoever. Whatever, this blog wishes Jeremy good fortune as he takes on such an important job at such a difficult time.

French Diplomacy

Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger has always seemed to me a very special man. He exudes style and articulate passion - in an occupation much associated with uncouth behaviour. He is renowned for his selective myopia. How often it has been that every single person in the stadium has observed some infamy by an Arsenal player, only for Arsene to have been looking away at the crucial moment. In last night's Carling Cup match against West Brom, one of his players, Jack Wilshire uttered comments so offensive to his opponent that it instigated a violent reaction, which resulted in a red card. When asked to comment on Wilshire words, Wenger's response was ; "My eyes are not great and my ears are even worse". Sheer class.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lib Dem Conference.

I've been much involved in my 'Elderly Care' work over the last few days, so only now catching up on what's been happened at the Lib Dem Conference in Bournemouth. The only consistent theme seems to have been a full-blooded attack on the Conservative Party, and David Cameron in particular. "Who's the nasty party now?" is a question that occurs to me. It wouldn't be so worthy of comment if the Lib Dems were not always banging on so piously about a new type of politics. Anyway, it bothers us not, because it won't do them any good. Lofty disdain is the appropriate response - and more love bombs.

The reputation of Vince Cable seems to have taken a bit of a battering. The start of the Conference coincided with appearance on blogs of an interview between Mr Cable and Andrew Neil, which torpedoed the myth that he had predicted and warned us all about the financial crisis. The much-feted Finance Spokesman then informed us of a series of public spending cuts that he supported - including the cancellation of the planned military training centre at St Athan, in the Vale of Glamorgan. His egotistical self-confidence has reached such a level that he didn't even bother to tell the Welsh Lib Dems before he announced it. Then he proceeded to announce a 'Mansion Tax', his purpose being to press the 'envy' button on the Conference floor. He also delivered a speech which every report I've read dismissed as ineffective and 'envy based'. Here are a few quotes from a man whom some people speak of in almost saintly terms. Describing the Conservatives he said; "a team of young things who have no beliefs or convictions, beyond a sense of entitlement to rule, and a mission to look after their own......whose lifetime experience of business is confined to managing their Bullingdon Club bar accounts" and "We have a so-called opposition which is callow and pitifully ill-equipped - politically, morally and intellectually".

Perhaps the biggest failure of the Conference has been Nick Clegg and Vince Cable's efforts to portray the Lib Dems as being cost cutters. Let us set aside the St Athan fiasco. The eye catching announcement was that the policy of abolishing tuition fees may be abandoned. But Charles Kennedy waded in and by today, we had Evan Harris, who will be responsible for the General Election manifesto reassuring us that the tuition fees policy will remain unchanged. Not surprising, but it does mean that the Conference will end with no clear message about public spending, or taxation - or who is 'in charge'. Just watched Nick Clegg on Newsnight, and he was making little sense on this. He just kept repeating that he's in favour of scrapping tuition fees, but that he doesn't believe the nation can afford it. For what its worth, I'd be in favour of abolishing tuition fees as well - if the necessary funding could be found in a bucket somewhere. All we are left with is an impression that they are very concerned about the Conservative threat to the re-election of current Lib Dem MPs, and that they don't like anyone who has worked hard and been successful, or anyone who happens to live in a big house.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Conservative Love-bombing.

Nothing more devastates a young man contemplating his future than unrequited love. Do you remember, as a blotchy teenager, asking the object of your fantasies if she would like to join you for five minutes behind the bike shed, or accompany you on a visit to the cinema - only to be rebuffed with a contemptuous laugh. And do you remember the humiliation when the goddess then told all of her friends of your vain attempt to win her favour. The emotional stress was severe - for a few days anyway. I look back on the behaviour of such women as cruel and heartless. Nick Clegg's behaviour today has brought it all back to me. His failure to even consider an invitation to discuss the possibility of getting together with the Conservatives is distressing. His public boasting about it on national media is the action of a man with no regard for human feelings - just the sort of thing a man willing to sleep with 30 different women might do!

Now that the Lib Dems have performed the mother of all U-turns, and are acknowledging that there must be reductions in public spending, there should be no reason why Nick Clegg shouldn't be willing to co-operate with the Conservatives. He seems to be adopting most of our policies. Yet he chooses to launch his 'nastiest' attacks on us. This is what Ukip also do. Despite the Conservatives being the 'Euro-sceptic party', its in our direction that Ukip seems to direct most of its vitriol. And now I think about it, Plaid Cymru are focusing their heavy artillery on us as well. As the home-alone spotty teenager might ask,"why don't any of them love us". Perhaps they're all a bit miffed that we seem to have the voters on our side.

Winning the affection of Lib Dem and Plaid voters is crucial to my own chances of success in Montgomeryshire. I suppose you could call it a strategy - except that it just comes naturally. Lots of my friends have generally voted Lib Dem over the years. Lots of my extended family are instinctively sympathetic to Plaid Cymru. And I will not choose my friends, and cannot choose my family on the basis of their politics. My 'libertarian' and 'localist' instincts should make for comfortable discussion with Lib Dems, and my love of Wales and its language must help with Plaid friends. In fact, I sense that I have very little in common with the spotty teenager at the Montgomeryshire level. Perhaps, David Cameron should make me head of his 'love-bomb' unit.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Helping rats breed.

Sometimes we do see the most incredible headlines in our newspapers. After reading page 7 of today's Telegraph, I think I've seen it all. It reads '9 out of 10 rats prefer rub-on Viagra'. It seems that a new technique has been developed which minimises side effects by delivering drugs directly to the affected area using nanoparticles, which are smaller than the size of pollen grains. Researchers at Yeshiva University in New York have discovered this stunning information. A report of their work has been published online in the 'Jounal of Sexual Medicine'. One of the authors, Kevin P Davies (no relation) said "The response time to the nanoparticles was very short, which is basically what people want in an erectile dysfunction medication" I'm sure this post could be developed further, but its probably best to leave it there.

The Lost Symbol

Unfortunately, I'm not allowing myself to read Dan Brown's new book, 'The Lost Symbol' before Christmas. The family know I quite like his books, and its bound to appear in my Xmas gift pile. Instead, I'm enjoying reading the insufferable snobbery displayed by some who consider themselves to be 'proper' writers. This list of Dan Brown's worst phrases in tomorrow's Telegraph is a joy to read. The problem these literary snobs can't grasp is that the pace and ridiculousness of the plots are very enjoyable to read. Its just jealousy. They would prefer to see a well written book which no-one bothers to read, than a badly written, but good story which appeals to millions - many of whom would never read a book at all if it were not for Brown. I concede that its a mystery why he's quite so popular. I suppose the Catholic Church helped by condemning him, and taking his books seriously. Anyway, I'm content to be a cultural Philistine. I prefer Springstein to Beethoven. But even if I didn't, I would read 'The Lost Symbol', just to poke the snobs in the eye. I might even read it twice.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rhodri Glyn - time to move on.

Cannot understand why anyone would be surprised that Adam Price has announced that he will not be standing at the next General Election. His departure from the House of Commons became obvious when he referred to his position as Member of Parliament for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr in such disparaging terms last week. It would be an insult to voters to ask for their support after describing the position of Member of Parliament as an unpleasant experience. Adam Price is an able politician, who will bring oratory and presence to the National Assembly - if he can find a way of being elected. An year in the States to recharge his batteries will only add ferocity to the fire in his soul. Its what happens in Wales while Adam is on his year out that's interesting.

There's no reason why anyone should take the slightest notice of my opinion but it seems to me that now is the time for the Rev. Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM to make a personal sacrifice for his party. Its time for him to put his name forward for selection as Plaid Cymru's candidate for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr at the next General Election. Its time for him to put the 'lit cigar' incident behind him, and try to reach 'the smoke' where he would be able to use his outstanding oratorical and sartorial flourishes to bring 'Welsh' colour to the proceedings of the House of Commons. He will be free to rediscover his swagger, and and sper-confidence. Come on Rhodri! Its time to go for it.

Patterson to be given top Powys job - without competition.

Jeremy Patterson, who was appointed to run the good ship, HMS Powys County Council when former Chief Executive, ex-sea captain Mark Kerr walked the plank last March, is going to be given the job on a full-time basis. He will start on a salary of £124,404. He will be given the job on a permanent contract without the job being advertised, and without facing any competition. The executive Board of the County Council have unanimously recommended this course of action to the next meeting of the Council, which takes place next week.

Jeremy Patterson is a very fortunate man, but I have to say that he's impressed me by his approachability, responsiveness and competence since taking over on a temporary basis 6 months ago. There are bound to be questions about making an appointment to a public sector job in Powys, paying such a massive salary, without advertisement or competition - but I do accept the Council's reasoning, and support the recommendation. Always better to appoint someone you know who can do the job, than take a risk on someone unknown.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this appointment is what it tells us about the proposed merger of the County Council and the Powys Local Health Board. A decision on this is expected next week. Appointing a Chief Executive to the Council, on a permanent basis, suggests to me that we cannot expect to see a merger any time soon. And quite right to. I'm not opposed to the principle of a merger of the Council and the Local Health Board, but its a decision that must be very carefully thought through.

Anyway, congratulations to Jeremy (assuming everything goes through next week, which it will ). I'm sure he will do a good job.

UPDATE - I now discover that this information was 'confidential'. I acquired the information from someone who had not realised. I will add that I see no reason why it should be confidential, and since it was sent out to all councillors, (around 100 people would have known) it was much the same thing as making it public! But I've decided not to publish confidential information on my blog. No point in withdrawing it now, but I will contact the local media, hoping they will not report on what is a very big Powys story until Wednesday, when the Council meeting is being held.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

End of an era.

I sold 220 Beulah yearlings at a breeding sheep sale at Welshpool Livestock Market today. They were the last of my flock, which I've been selling in stages over the last year. I am no longer a sheep farmer - official. Its one of those moments in my life - like leaving school, hanging up my rugby boots and undergoing a vasectomy. I've always been a sheep farmer - until today.

It will have started when I was a toddler, feeding orphaned lambs that were being warmed in the bottom oven of our old Aga - with a baby's bottle. As soon as I could walk, I would have been carrying newly born lambs, as my father ushered their mother's out to pasture. And then later on, I would have been called on to help with a difficult birth because I would have had a boy's small hands. I remember these things. In my teens I became a contract shearer. At one stage I owned over 1,000 breeding ewes. Even when I became fully employed as a quangcrat, I always took three weeks off in March to oversee the lambing season. My most embarrassing moment was when stopped by police as taking a load of fat lambs to Llanidloes abattoir - not wearing trousers. The media coverage still comes up if you google me.

But over recent years, I've become too involved in other things. For years, I've told myself that I might return to become a sheep farmer when I retired form these other things. This is why I've kept the flock going until now. But I have finally accepted reality, and today marked the end of an era for me. The trade was good and they sold well. I suppose that I could perhaps buy another flock some day.

Plaid' heading two ways on nuclear generation policy

Plaid Cymru's policy in respect of nuclear power has become even more bizarre. It was already very strange in that party leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones supports a campaign to build a new nuclear reactor on Ynys Mon, while Plaid policy remains opposed, in principle, to the development of any new nuclear generation. Now another of Plaid's big guns, Presiding Officer of the Assembly, Lord Elis Thomas has joined Ieuan in backing the campaign for Wylfa 'B' to be given the go-ahead. He was opening a nuclear waste storage facility on the site of a former nuclear power station at Trawsfynnydd. In my opinion, Ieuan and Lord Elis Thomas are absolutely right. But it does make their party's position look ridiculous.

But one question about the new waste storage facility interests me. We're led to believe that the radioactive waste to be stored at this site, perhaps for 100 years, was left behind when the now redundant power station that was active at Trawsfynnydd until 1993 was closed. Will waste be brought in from other sites around the UK? And if so, how much and when? Present Government policy to dispose of radioactive waste is by deep burial - but since it may be anything up to 40 years until a site is identified and prepared, all waste will be stored above ground in centres such as the one officially opened today. Just asking.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Modelling career off to a good start.

I must admit that I'd been dreading it. Not so much the actual doing of it. More the photograph that might appear in the County Times. I knew their photographer, Phil Blagg was salivating at the prospect of a photograph of me making my debut on the catwalk wearing nothing but speedos and flip flops. I was so worried about being compared with you-know-who that I'd rung the editor of the County Times and appealed to Nick Knight's good nature, begging him to ban such a photograph. Anyway it all turned out OK.

The occasion was a Marks and Spencer fashion show in Montgomery Town Hall. Lillian, who organised it had asked me if I would be a male model. I was enjoying a cappuccino in the sunshine outside the Castle Kitchen in Montgomery when she asked me, and feeling very relaxed having just knocked off the 'moderate' sudoku in the Telegraph in six minutes - so I said "yes". It was only when I turned up at M and S in Shrewsbury for the 'fitting' that I learned about the 'Beach wear'. Panic. I couldn't pull out. It was for a good cause. Grit my teeth time. Several tickets were sold on the 'beach wear' basis.

Phil Blagg turned up at the fashion show with camera primed and a vicious glint in his eye. He knew he'd got me over a barrel. But salvation was at hand. There'd been a cock-up. No beach wear. So relieved that I agreed to photo-op, which involved me posing like a Roman god surrounded by all the lady models. Mrs D said afterwards that she cringed. Phil went home, and I could proceed with the important business of my debut as a male model. Must admit that I was not happy that the other male model, Toby was built like one - handsome, tall and slim. Whatever, my turn came to face the catwalk wearing luxury moleskin trousers. Voyka had coached me in how to pose, spin and drop my hip. Great welcome, and then Phil blagg leapt out from behind a curtain to snap me in full pose. I'm dreading tomorrow's edition.

Lillian tells me that around £1000 was raised towards a defibrillator unit for Montgomery - so the stress was all worthwhile. PS - the welcome I received from the audience was such that I bought the moleskin trousers.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Redundant studios, and irrelevent debate

Around 11.00 this morning, I was in Newtown when my mobile sounded. It was the Conservative's Media Director asking me if I'd appear on Radio Cymru's Taro Post to talk about Gordon Brown's expected admission that Labour would cut public spending after the next election. Since I was around 50 yards from the studio at the time, I readily agreed. But when Taro Post rang me to confirm the interview, I was told that the studio was not acceptable. It would have to be a land line. This surprised me enough to prompt an inquiry as to why. It seems that because the other guests in a four party discussion were on landlines, being in a studio would give me an unfair advantage. Never happened to me before. I wonder whether this is a new policy by our all of our broadcasters, or is it just limited to Taro Post, limited to Radio Cymru, limited to Conservatives, or whether it was a one-off. The next time I'm on a land line when someone else is in the studio, I'll have some more questions to ask.

The discussion itself was a bit disappointing. Since the basis of the conversation was that Gordon Brown was going to say there would have to be cuts in public spending, I'd expected a measure of agreement about the way ahead. Didn't work out like that. There was much talk that reversing Conservative commitment to increase Inheritance Tax thresholds would help resolve the financial crisis - despite it being funded by a specific tax on non-doms, being programmed 'sometime in the first Conservative Parliament', and amounting to what is a comparative drop in the ocean of the debt we face. There was also talk of the 50p income tax rate for those earning over £150,00 pa, as if it would make a difference. There may be reasons to approve of this proposed rate (though I don't agree with them), but they are nothing to do with raising extra revenue. Past experience informs us that the new rate will raise virtually nothing at all. The approach of the Lib Dem spokesman was the oddest. All he seemed to care about was cutting the defence budget. National security has always been the first responsibility of government in my view. I was not at all surprised to learn later in the afternoon that Vince Cable has announced that the Lib Dems want to scrap the St Athan training academy project.

Still, its a start. At least reduction in spending was under discussion. Over the next few months there will be a lot more about where the now agreed cuts are going to fall. Could be lots of busy landlines, and a few redundant studios.

Hard Sell.

A Conservative Parliamentary candidate was walking along High Street in Newtown, Montgomeryshire this morning, when he was accosted by what can only be described as a high pressure salesman, seeking to persuade unsuspecting passers by to switch to Swalec to supply gas and electricity. The conversation went something like this;

High Pressure Salesman - "Who supplies you with your gas and electricity?"

Parliamentary Candidate - "Er, um, Manweb."

HPS - "Do you know who owns Manweb?"

PC - "Er, um, Scottish Power."

HPS - "And who owns Scottish Power?"

PC - "Er, um. I don't know. Does it matter?"

HPS - "Its owned by the Spanish" - delivered in a tone that suggested that any clear thinking British person would leap back in disgust, and immediately sign on the dotted line of Swalec's transfer form.

PC - "Don't you think your attitude is a bit narrow minded?"

HPS - "We should not be allowing profits to go to a foreign country".

Must admit that I'd had enough, and walked off. The last time I stopped to speak with a stall on the side of a street in Newtown was about 20 yards around the corner at the entrance to Bear Lanes a few months ago. It was a BNP stall. Just thought I'd mention it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Labour running into Reality Wall

Lord Mandelson has today made Gordon Brown appear as a mere bystander on the battlefield that is British politics. He was even prepared to tell blatant untruths about what the Prime Minister has said, as he wrought major change in Government policy. He's been telling Nick Robinson that Gordon Brown has never portrayed the next election as "Tory cuts" versus "Labour investment". This is not true. I've heard him say it myself - more than once. Nick even informs us here of two such occasions. Things have reached such a state that when our Prime Minister is being treated with such casual contempt by one of his own Ministers, it doesn't even make it onto the news.

Most significant from the Prime Minister's standpoint (and ours) is that he is being forced to completely change his policy. Lets hope Lord Mandelson bothered to tell him that he was changing it. The new mantra is that Labour policy is now to be 'wise spending' rather than 'big spending'. Must say I rather approve of this. Its what we've been advising the Prime Minister to do for years. All Labour have left to hit the Conservatives with now is what I think of as their 'Crewe and Nantwich' approach - trying to portray the Conservatives as wielding the public spending axe with glee and relish and zeal, while Labour would do the same thing with heavy hearts and pained expressions. Did you see Ben Bradshaw and Frank Dobson on Newsnight. Paxman did well to keep a straight face. Adam Price tried the same sort of approach at the Plaid Cymru Conference last weekend. Boys, its not going to work. The British (including the Welsh) voters are not that daft. This is fodder for your more tribal supporters, not serious policy.

But what's important is that we are getting there - inching towards the honest debate that we need about what awaits us after the election. I still don't believe that voters are yet fully engaged with the scale of the debt problem. I hear various calculations from inside the civil service, and from economists that there may have to be reductions in departmental budgets exceeding 20%. This is on a scale that we have never seen before. Governments (including the Assembly Government) are going to have to take a radically different approach to what they do. It cannot be done by an across the board approach.

But what about the detail. Scrapping ID Cards is obvious. Trident will have to be looked at. Scrapping quangos, including regional government in England is inevitable. I can see other areas of massive public spending where reductions will be inevitable - but as a mere candidate, venturing onto this dangerous territory is above my pay grade. And then there's the impact on our attitude to the European Union, as the costs of membership become increasingly resented. Its going to be an election campaign like we have never seen before. And a landscape of unprecedented challenge after it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Adam Price best ignored.

I take more than a passing interest in Plaid Cymru. In part, its because I calculate that if my party are to feature in a governing coalition in the National Assembly for Wales in the foreseeable future, there would have to be some arrangement between our two parties. Its simple logistics - unless there's some political revolution of course! So imagine how disappointed I was to read this report of Adam Price's speech at the Plaid Conference this weekend. The Western Mail's David Williamson rang me for a chat about it as well.

I cannot fathom the strategy at all. At the very time when I would have expected Plaid to seek to influence Conservative policy (in that we have a decent chance of soon becoming the British Government) Adam seems intend on fostering enmity. How on earth does he think that will help Wales? I suppose he thinks it might help Plaid Cymru. And what possible grounds does he have for his assertion that we represent a 'regressive right' as opposed to his 'progressive left'. Just empty rhetoric. Its probably his response to the reductions in public spending that will be needed to restore the broken economy that Labour will leave behind. Perhaps he's one of the few in Britain who agree with the current Prime Minister that there's a choice between 'Tory cuts' and 'Labour investment'. Let him read this excellent article by Frank Field in today's Telegraph. Or is Frank Field dismissed as another of the 'regressive right'? And I have no idea from where Adam Price has conjured up the idea that David Cameron is to launch a 'war on the poor'. The clothes he seeks to drape upon the Tories are a very poor fit. It can only be the economically illiterate that fail to see that its those who have wrecked the British finances who are responsible for what must be done to repair the damage.

I was also surprised by the highly personal nature of the attack on Nick Bourne, Leader of the Conservative Group in the National Assembly. Two years ago Plaid Cymru agreed a 'programme for Government' with the Conservatives, (led by the very same Nick Bourne) and the Lib Dems (led by Mike German). The 'Rainbow Coalition' would have come to pass, if the Lib Dems had not deserted Mike at the crucial moment. It was Adam Price who negotiated on behalf of Plaid Cymru. It seems that he would have been very unreliable to work with.

Normally, when my team is attacked, the hackles rise in anger, presaging vigorous retaliation. But I just feel a sense of sadness and disappointment. I thought Adam Price was a rather more astute politician. The aspect of this sort of attack that does anger me is the underlying assumption that Plaid Cymru and 'the left' have some sort of monopoly on a love of Wales and appreciation of what makes Wales special. In the crucible of the conference hall at Llandudno, it may be that the delegates managed to delude themselves about this. But despite the best efforts of Adam to will it otherwise, there is love of Wales on the right of politics as well. I do hope that Nick Bourne and his team in the National Assembly resist the temptation - and join me in a dismissive, sorrowful shrug of the shoulders, and move on quickly to something more constructive. Something which benefits Wales.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Our 5 days in Stresa

Back home. Been visiting the small town of Stresa in North Italy. Wow. Expected Lake Maggiore to be an attractive spot. It's spectacular. No, its better than that. One of my (and many others) favorite view in Wales is across the water from Lake Vyrnwy Hotel in Montgomeryshire. Imagine multiplying by a factor of 20 - times number and height of mountains - times expanse of water - times number of gasps of admiration. And it was warm as well. Oddly, there were very few birds about - despite there being so much wooded area that we were told that European Bears live and sit in the woods there.

Only reason that I'd heard of Stresa was because a highly significant conference was held there in 1935, following Hitler's declaration earlier that year of his intent to re-arm Germany. The French Prime Minister, Pierre Laval, Britain's Ramsey Macdonald and Benito Mussolini met and formed The Stresa Front to resist the resurgent Geman dictator. But Britain then did a separate deal with Hitler without involving her new partners, which led Mussolini to stick two fingers up to the agreement and invade Abyssinia - a decision which eventually led to Il Duce hanging upside down from a lamp post full of bullet holes. The Conference took place on Isola Bella, an island off Stresa which is the most enchanting place, complete with palace and a very special garden - the main reason we were in Italy. There was another room in the palace, where Napoleon and Josephine slept when they were in town. There are three islands in Lake Maggiore - Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori. We did the gardens in the first two, and took a romantic dinner on the third, where Hemingway liked to go to write. A separate post about a Ceder tree on Pescatori will feature this weekend - the most amazing thing we saw on the whole trip.

Didn't do much touring. But did take the cable car to the top of Monte Matterone, a climb of around 3.000 ft. Stunning. It was too misty to see Monte Rosa, the second highest peak in the Alps - over the border in Switzerland. Couldn't see Interlaken either. That's also just over the border, and is where Wilberforce spent as much time as he could spare, attracted there because of its great beauty. Which informs you that I've been reading William Hague's biography of the great man. Also read Ian Rankin's latest,'The Complaints', and 'City of the Sun' by David Levien, which I didn't like much. Have not read a single newspaper for five days. I wonder if anything's happened.

Visiting other countries spreads understanding - and I understand a lot more about Italy than I did a week ago, and what leads to the election of a man like Berlusconi. Much of the property around Maggiore is owned by a rich Italian family. The Borromeos have been rich for many hundreds of years, and are much involved in business, in culture, in politics and in religion - with links to several Popes over the centuries. These activities are intertwined. Appropriately, Berlusconi has a house near Stresa. When the head of the Borromeo family is staying in his palace on Isola Bella, his flag is raised, just as it is when HMH is in residence. And the locals refer to him as ' The Prince'. And we all thought it was a republic. No matter what it is, you should make a visit to Stresa if you can.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Hope and Optimism. Hallelujah!

I've always found debate involving different ideas to be stimulating - within limits that is. The basis of good politics is disagreement over philosophy and ideas. So it will come as no surprise for you to learn that I'm fascinated by extremes in human behaviour. And I can think of no greater gap between extremes than the 'comments' thread on Guido Fawkes' blog, and the Mayor of Newtown's Civic Service, which I attended this morning. Where Guido's readers see nothing but ill when they reflect on the merits of politicians, today's preacher saw goodness and love.

The service was held at the Hope Community Church in Newtown. I've always referred to it as the 'Pentecostal Church'. I've been there before to meetings and to visit the attached residential home. But today was the first time I've been to a service. I was seriously impressed. Lots of young people, clearly enjoying themselves. The service was constructed around a sense of optimism that's a bit alien to me. I admit to having within me that streak of the dark pessimism that is typically Welsh - and without which the late Sir Kyffin Williams wouldn't have been a great artist.

Anyway back to the extremes. The sermon (or it could been the address) was given by Alan Hewitt. I've never heard anything like it. In praise of public servants!! Honestly. For twenty minutes he spoke about me and my kind (not personally of course) in the most generous of terms. When he finished, I felt pretty good about myself - all the Mayor's official guests did. It probably made us want to go out and do some more good. What really impressed me was that with each new statement in praise of politicians, there were audible murmurings of assent from the regular churchgoers. Cllr. Richard White was positively bursting with pride by the end - a truly joyous sight to behold, and which inspired him to make a very good speech later.

But it would take me a while to get used to it. To me, applause in church a bit shocking. And all the arm waving by the congregation while singing, and the shouts of 'Hallelujah' etc. during the sermon shocked me as well. But when I think about it, why on earth not? There's no law against having a good time in church. And there were some fantastic ideas. I've seen big screens in the pub where the punters can all watch the Premiership, but never three big screens in church where I could read the words of the hymns, without having to resort to my reading glasses! At one stage I felt as though I was in the cinema.

The whole occasion was worship through a prism of optimism - revolutionary for me. I'm too 'conservative' to change my way of worshiping. But watching huge numbers of young people joining in an optimistic vision of humanity through worship of Jesus Christ tells me that the Hope Community Church has got something very right indeed. Oh and I must add my thanks and best wishes to Joy Jones, Mayor of Newtown and husband Roy, a Berriew man.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Cameron doing a great job.

They're completely wrong, these armchair politicians who keep telling me that David Cameron must become more ...... well, I'm not really sure. As far as I can make out its 'more like we used to be'. You remember - when we were miles behind in the polls. Today I was told that David should promise to pull out of the European Union, should promise tax cuts for the 'middle classes', should cut off benefits for scroungers and send all the immigrants home. I should add that I didn't ask which party these people normally support. I just pointed out, ever so sensitively, that most opinion polls have had us at around 15% ahead in the polls throughout 2009, after almost twenty years of trailing miles behind the Labour Party. And on balance, I prefer it that way.

But I don't like to just dismiss what people say to me. I think about what they say. But even after consideration, I really cannot see any justification for criticising David Cameron's strategy - particularly after a week when he's handled the fallout from the deplorable decision to release the Locherbie bomber so well. David has been clear and unequivocal, while the Prime Minister has been at his clumsy disingenuous worst. Even Janet Daley in tomorrow's Sunday Telegraph agrees. Could it be that the Telegraph, my regular read, has decided to end its war on the Conservatives. I do hope so. Earlier today, Mrs D suggested I should think about taking the Guardian instead. That was a suggestion that I didn't consider. Whatever, I rather prefer being ahead in the polls, and think David Cameron is doing a great job.

Montgomeryshire's most impressive.

Impressive or what? These two magnificent examples of horseflesh took first and second in the 'decorated heavy horses' class at Llanfair Caereinion Show today. The Show itself is impressive as well. Grown to be the biggest summer show in Montgomeryshire. I've always had a special affection for Llanfair Show since the organisers honoured me some years ago by asking me to be President - performing the duties that Dr Tony Evans is doing in this photograph.

Competition is the basis of most of the activity at these local shows, and I've been much involved in it over the years. It all began with the 'onion from seed' classes. For three years in the early 80s, I was obsessed. Won three 'Best in show' cups with my Robinson's Improved. Then it was on to the Dahlia and Chrysanthemum classes, which meant our garden looked like a building site bedecked with various structures designed to protect the potential prize blooms from being ravaged by the weather, slugs and earwigs. Finally it was the flower arranging phase, where Mrs D and I really went head to head in public. It produced the unforgettable headline in the Montgomeryshire County Times 'Wife beats hubby in flower tent at Berriew Show'.
There was extra stiff competition on the field today - six politicians putting themselves about. There were what we can refer to as the three Llanfair Show 'regulars, Lib Dem AM Mick Bates and Ukip candidate, David Rowlands who both live near the town plus myself. And this year we had three extra. New MEP representing the BNP, Nick Griffin, who also lives nearby, Plaid candidate, Heledd Fychan (whom I didn't actually see) and Lib Dem MP, Lembit Opik, who is turning up everywhere at the moment. Anyone would think there was an election on the horizon!

Friday, September 04, 2009

In praise of 'Chunky Thighs'

Now that I've agreed to make my debut as a 'charity' catwalk model, I'm taking rather more note of body shape. Perhaps unusually, I've never been attracted to the look of these long legged Amazons, with thighs like cricket stumps. Give me the 'chunky' thigh any day. (I should add here that Mrs D's body shape is the perfect happy medium). Anyway, we now learn that those of us blessed with a pair of 'chunkies' have a lower risk of heart disease and premature death. It seems that we will live longer.

This useless bit of information (useless because we can't do much about it) has emerged from a study carried out at Copenhagen University Hospital. Lead author of the Report, Professor Berit Heitmann says that people with very thin thighs could have as much as double chance of developing heart disease, and dying early. So if anyone sniggers, or I hear anyone whispering 'thunder thighs' as I take my first tentative steps on the catwalk in Montgomery Town Hall on the 15th Sept, I shall hold my head up high, knowing that I will have the last laugh - unless the Grim Reaper finds some other means of claiming me first!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Wind turbine farmers deserve an answer.

I need to begin this post by declaring my scepticism about whether onshore wind farms are worthwhile. I do not believe that the energy benefit justifies the damage inflicted on our landscapes. That posted, I have to accept that the Assembly Government has decided to ignore my opinion, and others who share it. They published planning guidance which indicated to developers that permission would be granted in 7 designated areas of Wales. In Carno, a group of farmers entered into a collective, in order to do exactly what the Government asked them to do. They formed a company named Tir Gwynt and submitted a planning application to erect a few turbines on their farms almost two years ago. This has cost them a considerable sum of money. It looks increasingly as if they may have been hung out to dry.

The main issue is transporting the turbine components. The current position is thus. Because Powys County council has received 14 planning applications for wind farms, its been decided that none of them will be dealt with until a 'transport plan' is agreed. In principle - entirely sensible. But Tir Gwynt is not as the other wind farms. It already has an agreement to connect to the National Grid. It could go ahead now if given permission. All but one of the other 14 applications submitted would not have a connection until 2016 at the earliest - and that's not certain. And they have all been submitted by large international businesses, who will be in no rush to have a decision. This seems both ridiculous, and unfair. Its not as if the turbines cannot be transported. Several wind farms have already been constructed. It makes no sense to group Tir Gwynt with all the others.

My scepticism means that I'm not calling for the granting of planning permission. I'm just think that the farmers deserve a decision. Its unreasonable for these local farmers to have been led up the garden path, only to find that no-one will even answer the door. They are just left, waiting and festering - with their hard earned money tied up. And all the time, the authorities find new ways to avoid coming to a decision. Tir Gwynt should be disaggregated from all the other wind farms and decided on its own merits - soon.

Laura Ashley drawing back the blinds.

Went to a book reading at Unit 40 on the Mochdre Industrial Estate in Newtown yesterday. Unit 40 is otherwise known as Texplan, or the Mid Wales headquarters of Laura Ashley, the fashion and furnishings manufacturing and retailing company. The book is titled simply 'Laura Ashley' and has been written by Martin Wood, himself a designer of textiles, interiors and gardens, as well as an author. The book tells the story of a remarkable woman, an extraordinary partnership, and the creation of a business and brand that spread across the world from its base amongst the uplands of Montgomeryshire. Its a lovely coffee table book, full of quotes and first hand accounts from Laura Ashley's friends, family and colleagues. On page 89, our only granddaughter, Ffion's other taid, John Griffiths from Carno is quoted as recalling "I even had to strain lumpy dye through ladies nylons" - describing the dye mixing process of the early days.
It was an event that pleased me for two reasons. Firstly, because it was an enjoyable do for me to attend. The story of Laura and Bernard Ashley has run alongside my own adult life in Montgomeryshire. The couple arrived from London at a time when local employment opportunities were so weak that most of my classmates at Llanfair Caereinion School had no option but to leave the area in search of a job. The business expanded during the periods when I was Chairman of the Local Planning Authority and the Montgomeryshire District Council - and expanded even more during the period when I chaired the Development Board for Rural Wales. I was a genuine 'goon' as Bernard Ashley referred to anyone involved in public bodies. Didn't offend me at all. Must admit my own approach to authority makes me rather proud to be have been referred to as a 'goon' by BA.
The second reason yesterday's event gave pleasure was that, for me, it signified that Laura Ashley Ltd wants to re-engage with the local media and the wider community - to draw back the blinds again. For many years, most media coverage of the company has been very negative, focusing always on the company's difficulties. Unsurprisingly, every call from the media must have been dreaded - and to a large extent the shutters came down. Its been easy to forget just how important to Newtown the company remains. Laura Ashley is a brand which will forever be associated with Newtown (and Carno) alongside that of Robert Owen and Pryce Pryce-Jones. There are probably around 400 jobs in total at Texplan, and the distribution and mail order units. Laura Ashley really matters to Montgomeryshire, and we should make more effort to show our appreciation.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The people not doing what Gordon wants.

Our Governments are never as influential as they would have us believe. Sometimes 'decisions' are no more than calculations of what's highly likely to happen anyway. Sometimes they are no more than simply following orders - passing on the decisions of the European Union. And sometimes decisions by Government are undone because the people refuse to do what they are 'supposed' to do. That's what seems to be happening with spending in the UK. I don't mean Government spending, which has rocketed into the unknown, but that of all the individual citizens. For the first time since records began in 1993, households paid back more than they borrowed in July - to the tune of £635 million. Unlike our Prime Minister, the people have decided that spending huge amounts of money that they do not have is not a sensible idea.

Much of this reduction in debt is the result of reduced mortgage lending, driven in part by reduced risk taking by lenders, and in part by a desire of borrowers to pay back some of their debts. All this will be unwelcome news to the Prime Minister because the impact of the people's prudence will be to reduce demand, undermining the strategy that has underpinned the Government's approach to limiting the impact of the recession. The downside of this reduction in debt is that it may feed through into a slower recovery and greater unemployment. But people respond to how they feel - and this is not always in accordance with Government expectations. Its how I feel myself.

A hard question to ask.

The General Medical Council is recommending that all doctors should ask dying patients and their relatives about their willingness to donate organs after death. I really do not know how such a recommendation could be phrased. Its possible to imagine that sometimes it would be appropriate to raise the issue. But in other cases, it would be impossible to approach the subject without being just about as insensitive as its possible to be. No doubt Dr. Sharon Burton, senior policy advisor to the GMC is right when she says that the more the issue is raised, the more organs will be donated, and the more lives saved. But at what price to civilised behaviour?

I do not know what to think about this with any certainty. And neither does Dr. Tony Callard, Chairman of the British Medical Council's Ethics Committee. In the same Telegraph article, (I cannot find the link) he's quoted as saying he is keen to see a rise in organ donations without causing additional distress to patients. I think we could all sign up to that, but it doesn't tell us whether he agrees with Br Burton's proposition or not. These ethical questions are so difficult.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Leadership and Courage - or not!

Gordon Brown has been found out. He's been indicating to the US that he thought the evil Lockerbie bomber should not have been released, while he and his Government have been making it clear to the Libyans that this terrorist should not be left to die in a British jail. It was bad enough that he should have been released. But I dread to think what the US political leadership will think of Gordon Brown and his Government now - or what political and economic damage it will do to the trans-Atlantic relationship. And even now, when the duplicity has been exposed, the Prime Minister of Britain is not prepared to express an opinion on the matter. How's that for leadership and courage.

Who's The Greatest.

Mohammed Ali was a lovely boxer, blessed with exceptional skill, speed and resilience. I was a big, big fan. I remember, as a young lad, rising in the middle of the night to listen to his totally unexpected demolition of Sonny Liston on the radio in the middle of the night, when he first became a world star. He was probably the best boxer of my lifetime. But I've never thought that Ali (or Clay as he was when he beat Liston) was the greatest sportsman ever. But this raises the question about who the greatest is. Personally, I think Usain Bolt has a very good claim.

When I search back through my sporting memories, I cannot recall any other occasion when I have been as amazed by sporting performance. Today, the Telegraph seems to be suggesting that Kenensia Bekele is Bolt's equivalent. I've heard others suggest that Tiger Woods and Roger Federer may be. All these are wonderful sportsmen. But for me, the greatest is Usain Bolt.

Power Cuts will be Labour's Failure

Until about six years ago, I was opposed to the development of new nuclear power generating capacity in Britain. And then I realised that my opposition was akin to the thinking of King Canute. Ironically, it was consideration of how to dispose of radioactive waste that led me to change my mind. We still have no firm proposals to dispose of the waste, but the study of the issue opened my eyes to the inevitable.

I was Chairman of the National Assembly's 'Environment Planning and Countryside Committee' at the time, and we were in discussion with the body established by the Westminster Government to examine the issue. The eventual conclusion was deep burial in a location where the locals would have been sufficiently 'compensated' to accept it. It was thought that it may take up to 40 years to find such a location, and that in the meantime, the waste would be stored temporarily above ground. Seemed to me that this was no answer at all. But during consideration of the issue, I learned a bit about the 'energy gap' that makes the lead story in today's Telegraph. As well as changing my attitude to nuclear power, it led me to support the construction of the LNG facilities at Milford Haven (in my constituency) and the associated pipeline.

What we are faced with (and comparatively soon) are power cuts. This has not happened since early 70s, when we were subject to the three-day week. For at least a decade, we have seen procrastination by Government on an epically irresponsible scale. Instead of tackling the contentious issue of nuclear power, or investing big in tidal and carbon capture research, the Labour Government has faffed around with onshore wind power, pretending to 'be doing something'. Regrettably, we now need real urgency (which brings with it an inevitable temptation to cut corners), and investment in keeping existing power stations operating longer than they should be. Because of our growing dependence on gas, we need to make huge investment in storage capacity, to try to limit our vulnerability to foreign powers which may see an apportunity to apply political pressure. Yet another poisoned baton to be handed over to the next government.