Thursday, October 29, 2009

Snippets from Ireland.

Irish newspapers are very well written, providing pleasure as well as information. For example, a line from today's The Irish Times tells us that "England is the only country in the world that would welcome news of the longest life expectancy in human history with the headline 'Pensions Timebomb'." I'll share with you some of the stories that have caught my eye today.

The biggest story concerns a proposal by Taoiseach, Brian Cowan and his struggling Fianna Fail Government to introduce a 1.3 billion euro cut in the salary bill of its workforce. Unsurprisingly, there has been an 'outraged' reaction by the trades unions. Strikes are planned. But just guess who they have recruited to lead the fight - Arthur Scargill!! He's already coming out with pearls of wisdom such as 'never negotiate', 'never surrender', 'glory in defeat' etc.. I fear for the public sector workforce of Ireland.

Another story dominating the headlines, and providing a headache for Brian Cowan demonstrates his current weakness. His Government wants to lower the legal level of alcohol allowed in the bloodstream of drivers. Despite widespread support from his cabinet, there seems doubt that he can carry his proposals. Most of the opponents are his own backbenchers. One of the main critics of the reduction in the limit, Mattie McGrath TD is arguing that a drink or two helps nervous drivers relax behind the wheel. I'm not making this up. Lots of other TDs are claiming that a change will lead to social isolation for what are termed the 'good old boys' who live in the countryside. So far the leader of the opposition and favorite to be the next Taoiseach, Edna Kenny has not been able to make up his mind. Not as if he was being asked something difficult - like to name his favorite biscuit.

Most interesting story for me today is news that former Taoiseach, John Bruton has started campaigning to become President of the European Council. Bruton is currently the EU's Ambassador to the US, and will be a real threat to the ambitions of Tony Blair, who is also widely reported to fancy the position. No doubt where my loyalties lie. Fianna Gael is the Irish party most comparable with the Conservatives, and No 3 son, Tim has married into a Fianna Gael family. So I'm backing Bruton.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Do they really want to take the risk?

The Western Mail's Tomos Livingstone is writing about proposed changes to the way Wales is governed again today. Since this is a subject of great interest to me, I cannot resist the temptation to add my twopenny worth, taking Tomos' article as my text. My first thought was to wait until 18th November, when a bit more clarity may descend. But my second thought was that the Labour/Plaid Assembly Government will come up with yet another prevarication mechanism - so we might as well start considering the issue now. And after all, Tomos was writing with great certainty last week that Sir Emyr Jones Parry is going to advise the Assembly Government to 'go for it'.

Two points I want to make as I write this. Firstly, there's the casual reference to the proposed referendum as being a choice between 'the status quo' and a 'Scottish-style Parliament'. Well yes. This is the phrase I use. But the emphasis should be on the word 'style'. We shouldn't pretend that we're considering a change to anything like as powerful a body as the Scottish Parliament. I'm told that about 60% of the latter's work involves 'criminal justice' - and there's no suggestion that this policy area should be devolved at all. Personally, I've never seen the full transfer of powers in already devolved policy areas as being that big a deal. The change involved is not sufficiently radical to justify continuation of the constitutional threat inherent in the current incremental system of power transfer.

Second issue is timing of a referendum. Tomos describes the process of moving from the current process (which I've always thought illogically complicated) as 'complex'. Its not so much complex, as deeply embarrassing for Labour politicians. First step is a two thirds majority of Assembly Members voting for a referendum. That could be done next week. The Assembly Government have the numbers. That was Ieuan Wyn Jones' supposed reason for taking Plaid into a coalition with Labour in the first place. The complexity comes in because of a requirement for a subsequent simple majority in the House of Commons. In theory, it should be straight forward. Labour has a large majority in the House of Commons - but no commitment whatsoever to vote for a referendum. So to avoid embarrassment, Labour's friends in Cardiff Bay will not ask for the vote. They would rather wait until there's a Conservative Government at Westminster. At present we don't know for certain what would happen then. I've always taken the approach that the appropriate time to commit to a referendum is when the Assembly Government commit to asking for it. If they don't go for it, it will look very much as if they are not looking for success, but an excuse for failure!!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hello from Cobh

Cobh is a small town close to Cork. It has a particularly deep harbour which has given Cobh its special place in history, a place associated with great tragedy. Failures of the Irish potato crop to blight between 1845 and 1850 produced a terrible famine. This led to mass emigration, mostly to North America. 1.5 million desperate people left home and family behind during this six year period. The century after the famine struck, saw over six million Irish people emigrating, 2.5 million of them leaving from Cobh. During the first half of the 19th century, 40,000 Irish convicts were deported to Australia from Cobh as well. Huge numbers perished at sea, from storm and disease.

Cobh's next brush with tragedy was in 1912, when the Titanic stopped by to collect the last passengers to embark on its first and last Atlantic crossing. Then, Cobh was known as Queenstown, newly named following a visit by Queen Victoria. Prior to that, it had been known as Cove, the English spelling of Cobh. The final name change took place in 1920. 123 passengers embarked at Queenstown, taking the total on board to 2206, including crew and passengers. next stop was the iceberg.

Three years later, a German U-boat torpedoed the Lusitania, a cruise ship carrying 1959 people, close to Cobh. 761 survived and were transferred to Cobh's hospitals. The dead that were recovered are buried in Cobh's cemeteries. There's the excellent Queenstown Heritage Centre in Cobh which is well worth a visit if you're anywhere near the Cork area. Added bonus for us is that son, Edward lives temporarily (with Karen and little Ffion) just across the water at Rochestown, and there's a great little ferry to take us over. With such a tragic history, its not surprising that Cork gave birth to the fearsome spirit that is Roy Keane,who began his brilliant playing career with Cobh Ramblers.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Taking a break - perhaps

Not sure when I'll be blogging again. I'm off for a week's break to charge up the batteries, in preparation for the General Election campaign. Taking my golf clubs, but not taking my computer. But if there's a spare hotel computer lying around, wherever I happen to be, I could well be tempted to go online, and find out what's happening in our world.

The Powys Eisteddfod.

This morning, I was witness to the Gorsedd Ceremony of the Powys Eisteddfod. Location was Ysgol Uwchradd Y Trallwng (Welshpool High School). Felt just like a family and friends occasion. The Presiding Druid was Hedd Bleddyn, an old friend. We became councillors at around the same time, in the 1980s, and joined forces with David Rowlands (current Ukip PPC in Mongomeryshire) as the 'Freedom Fighters'. We advocated a permissive approach to planning permission. For six years we led the Planning Authority, me as Chair and Hedd as Vice Chair - and he took over when I moved to Finance. You might ask how on earth I finished up as President of CPRW!! Refined my opinions (as Nick Griffin might say)!

The harpist, who dominates the stage on these occasions was Sian James, probably the most famous member of my extended family. The sword carrier (not sure of the proper title)was Glandon Lewis, more family. Pleased that by tradition the sword never leaves its scabbard, because I wouldn't trust him with it any other way. One of the singers of the Gorsedd prayer was Alun Jones, and up on stage as one of the leading 'white rank' druids was John Talog - yet more family. And another was accepted into the Gorsedd - Dafydd Morgan Lewis, who has done so much for Cymdeithas yr Iaith. 'Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau' was sung almost as emotionally as when Cymru take on Lloegr at the Millennium Stadium.

The Powys Eisteddfod was first held in Welshpool in 1824. Its been held there eight times since then. The first Powys Eisteddfod was held in 1820, before the National Eisteddfod was first held. The area of Powys is not coterminous with the County of Powys, which is a modern totally bizarre creation. What we might call Powys proper comprises Mongomeryshire, part Meirionydd and Denbighshire. For the first time ever, the Montgomeryshire Conservatives sponsored one of the competitions tonight - Her Unawd (Solo Challenge).

The bars of Milano

Oh, how they must be sniggering in the chic wine bars of Milano today. As elegant fingers control the flow of Pinot Grigio, and Gucci and Prada shopping bags rest casually against their tables, they read that Italy has exited recession, along with the US, Germany, Japan and France. Only country still languishing in the mire is the one whose Prime Minister claimed was "best placed to withstand the recession". And the sniggers turn to joyous celebration as they read that Italy has now passed the UK in the 'prosperity' league. At least that's what happened last time this happened in 1987 - according to today's Telegraph.

During John Major's premiership, the UK regained its lead over the Azzuri. And later, I seem to remember Gordon Brown trumpeting his economic brilliance by boasting that the UK economy had become the fourth strongest in the world. Well, it seems we are now seventh. To make things more worrying, every economic forecaster had predicted that we would be exiting recession during the last quarter. The news that the UK economy shrank by 0.4% between July and September has come as a big surprise. They were all expecting 2% growth. The position is far worse than anyone was expecting.

Now I'm not usually much engaged with the business pages, but this matters. Met a local headteacher today who raised the subject of future funding of education. This is where it does become engaging. Today's news means that the reduction in public spending (whenever it takes place) will inevitably be even worse than we were expecting. And when the Treasury spends less, the budget allocation to the National Assembly is proportionately less, and the Assembly's allocation to local councils is proportionately less, and far and away the biggest budget head of our councils is education. Work it out for yourself. Managing a comprehensive school, or a hospital, or providing care for the elderly and mentally ill is going to a huge challenge over the next few years. There may be sniggering in Milano, but it going to be pain and sacrifice for many of those charged with delivering public services in the UK.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Griffin - gate

My initial reaction to last night's Question Time has hardened. I thought it was a rubbish programme. I supported the decision of the BBC to invite Mr Nick Griffin to be a guest on the panel, but I did not support the way it was done.

Today, I have been out leafleting and have met several people - all chance meetings. All but one of them watched last night's programme, and all thought it was 'Nick Griffin v The Rest'. They felt a bit of sympathy for him, and thought he'd done well to survive. Reassuringly, I do not think any of the people I met today (around 20) intended to vote BNP, but not one thought any less of Nick Griffin as a result of the programme.

Why on earth did the BBC do it like that. Every question was asked because of Nick Griffin's presence. Not even a question on the Royal Mail strike. It was, in effect, an hour of BNP propaganda - feeding into the victimhood strategy of the BNP. Losing the argument does not bother the BNP strategists at all. And today, it was Griffin/BNP which led every newspaper front page. And the one-sided nature of the programme has allowed the BNP to complain about unfair treatment. I despair.

As to the other panel members, I thought that Sayeeda Warsi and Bonnie Greer did OK, while Chris Huhne and Jack Straw were poor. Typically, the BBC online report include comments from Huhne and Straw - and nothing from Warsi and Greer. All in all, a bad night for British democracy.

Will they or won't they

Tomos Livingstone must have been tipped off by a member of the Sir Emyr Jones Parry Commission. How else could he be sufficiently confident to write this article in today's Western Mail. In it, Tomos informs us that on Nov 18th, Sir Emyr is going to tell Rhodri Morgan that he believes a referendum should be held to discover whether or not the people of Wales want law making powers in all devolved policy areas to be granted to the National Assembly. Tomos also informs us that Sir Emyr believes that Wales would vote 'Yes' in such a referendum. He'd better be right about this. Otherwise, he'll look a bit daft.

For the purpose of discussion, lets imagine that Tomos is correct. What happens on Nov 19th. The Coalition Government will have run out of excuse for any further delay - unless either Labour, or Plaid Cymru, or both, do not actually want a referendum. Seems to me there is no reason whatsoever why the Sir Emyr Jones Parry Report could not be debated and voted on before the Xmas recess. The only possible reason not to proceed would be that Labour does not believe that Peter Hain, and his Labour colleagues would agree to a referendum. Peter Hain is on record as believing a referendum will be lost. Will Ieuan Wyn Jones really sacrifice the dream of his party to avoid internal embarrassment to Labour?

Now, I don't know whether there's enough time to hold a referendum before a General Election - but that's not really the point. Seems to me that if the House of Commons approved a referendum before an election, it would be more difficult for an incoming Conservative Government to reverse the position - even if it wanted to. If Tomos Livingstone is right, we are going to find out how big are the Welsh Labour and Plaid's gonads. Interesting times.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


There's often a connection - a linkage between the big issues of the day. And these vary for each of us. Today my issues have been the appearance of Mr Nick Griffin on Question Time, a Telegraph article by Frank Field and Nicholas Soames, and the AGM of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust, of which I'm a trustee.

Lets start with the thoughts of the co-chairs of the Cross Party Group on Balanced Migration. Field and Soames are deeply principled politicians, who have long been willing to discuss immigration publicly. I admire them hugely for this. They talk about the population of the UK (mainly England at this stage) which is growing at an unprecedented rate. Today, the UK population is around 61 million, around 4.5 million more than it was 25 years ago. In the next 20 years, the population is going to grow to 70 million, the bulk of the growth being due to immigration. This post is not about the rightness or otherwise of this change, but about the near absence of any meaningful debate. Don't know about other politicians, but the reason that I'm always very nervous and careful whenever the subject of immigration crops up, is that I'm wary of being misinterpreted. I thought it was an important article.

This absence of debate may well have created an opportunity for the BNP, which has put this issue at the heart of its politics. We've finished up with the BBC giving Nick Griffin the sort of publicity he could only have dreamed of. I don't usually watch Question Time, but I did tonight. My local newspaper asked for my opinion about the BBC decision to invite Mr Griffin. I wouldn't have accepted an invitation to appear myself, but I supported the BBC's decision. Free speech is a fundamental basis of our democracy. But why on earth did the BBC arrange for the whole programme to be based on the BNP's favorite territory. I did not enjoy the programme. Neither did I agree with the panellists that it damaged the cause of the BNP. The antipathy of the audience and the panel gave Nick Griffin the desired level of victimhood that he enjoys. Also, what I cannot understand is the thinking of the protesters - doing exactly what the BNP want them to do. I remember a few years ago, the BNP arranged a 'fun day' at the Griffin's Llanerfyl home in Montgomeryshire. It would have been a total non-event, except that the anti-Nazi League arranged a 'counter rally' in Welshpool. I refused to have anything to do with it, because it was precisely what the BNP were hoping for. Hundreds of police were bussed in, and the town was like a police garrison. Just 20 miles away, a few families met at Llanerfyl with a bouncy castle and a few ice creams and lemonade for the kids.

And then there was tonight's Wildlife Trust AGM. There has never been a greater need for protection of our wildlife and our countryside. And the biggest threat of all is from too rapid population growth. Its my love of the wildlife we share our planet with that leads me to want to be a trustee. Population growth means more houses, more concrete, more demands for energy and less concern for the landscape and for wildlife. These damn connections. And while I'm at it, I'd like to pay tribute to the huge commitment being made by the employed staff of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust, at a time when most charities are under extreme financial pressure. When I think about the grabbiness of some of our politicians, exposed over recent months, the sacrifice being made is humbling. I will try to think about them instead of the depressing edition of QT I've just watched.

The old ones are the best

This is the funniest political speech I've ever heard - matched only by Michael Foot's comparison of Keith Joseph with a watchmaker many years ago. Foot and Hague are two quite brilliant speakers. If anyone's heard the Foot recording, and can direct me to it, I'd be most grateful - as will my visitors. I laughed like a drain when I saw this Hague video clip first time around, and am grateful to Guido for putting it up again.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sign of the times.

Passed an advert today which informed us that there are 'Winter Pansy's For Sale'.

Health issues.

Back from another little jaunt today. Mrs D and I played The Belfrey (PGA course on Monday and the Derby course on Tuesday morning), before heading down to Green Templeton College, Oxford, where I joined the RESEC (Research into Specialist Elderly Care) 'think tank' to discuss a new report, 'Dementia; ethical issues'. This is one of the biggest public health issues of our generation - and perhaps the next as well. We stayed overnight at The Randolph, Inspector Morse's watering hole.

Care of the elderly is a subject that this blog visits from time to time. Awareness and treatment of dementia is a key aspect of it. This post outlines what dementia is. Its physical damage to the brain as a result of chronic progressive degeneration of nerve cells. Dementia takes several forms - Alzheimer's disease being the most common. Other forms include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, Parkinson's Disease dementia, frontotemporal dementia, alcohol related dementias and prion diseases. There are over 100 different types. Its reckoned that there are around 700,000 dementia sufferers in the UK at present, a figure that's projected to increase to 1,700,000 by 2051.

The above casual statement that dementia is a 'physical' disease which has consequences for mental health is an major issue. If someone is diagnosed with cancer, they are immediately regarded as the responsibility of the state. That dementia should be similarly regarded in unchallengeable - but such an assumption carries major consequences for our public finances. I just do not believe that we have remotely begun to understand the consequences of what we might call the 'dementia time bomb'.

Tomorrow, I'm meeting the new Chief Executive of the Local Health Board to discuss this and several other issues such as A&E services, the plan for mental health services, and the frustrating length of time its taking to develop renal dialysis services in Montgomeryshire. Don't suppose I'll be able to blog very freely on these issues because its a private meeting. That's probably enough about Montgomeryshire's health issues for now. I'd blog about golf if I played better. Mrs D won both rounds at The Belfrey.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nov 18th it is then.

Nov 18th will be a big day for Wales. That's when Sir Emyr Jones Parry will present his long-awaited report on the future 'pace' of devolution to the Assembly Government. This is the report on which will be based the decision about whether to ask for a referendum on granting law making powers to the National Assembly in all currently devolved policy areas. I sense that the Report will give a green-ish light, but the issue is whether and when the Coalition partners will go for it.

The timing of this has turned out to be interesting, for several reasons. Firstly, it will put the three runners in the race to become Assembly First Minister on the spot. They are going to have to make public what they think - and tell everyone with a vote in the leadership contest as well. It could make a difference - or not. Don Touhig (whom I think of as an anti) is reported to have declared for Edwina Hart (who has already declared as a pro)! Secondly, there's the imminence of a General Election. If the Assembly Government decide to go for it, all Westminster political parties will have to clarify their response. And thirdly, there's the issue of timing. I don't know how long these things take, but I can't see any reason why the UK Government cannot be asked to hold a referendum in very short order. And then once the question has been asked of Westminster, would the decision to hold the referendum, including precise wording, choice of date etc. be taken before a General Election or afterwards.

I didn't make a submission to the Jones Parry Commission myself. Thought about it, and then decided against. It was the pussy footing of the Coalition partners that put me off. If they weren't prepared to commit to a referendum with any urgency, why should I. Actually, I did change my mind two days before the deadline, after an old friend telephoned to press me to do so, but as bad luck would have it, circumstances conspired to prevent me doing so.

Regular readers of this blog would have known what my submission to the Commission would have said. The preamble would have riled some of my commenters, because it would have declared my unshakable belief in the United Kingdom. Even David Davies MP would have been proud of the first paragraph. Then I'd have gone on to discuss my commitment to a stable constitution - leading on to the constitutional instability inherent in the current Act. Its only when I would have moved on to the conclusions I draw that I'd have invited trouble. Seems logical to me that the only way to create the constitutional stability I crave is to grant full law making powers to the National Assembly in all currently devolved policy areas - to Part Four of the 2006 Act.

For two and a half years, this issue has flickered intermittently on our consciences. On November 18th, it will burst into flame. But will this flame be stoked up onto a firestorm of action, or will it be allowed to peter out? I genuinely do not know.

Kirsty Williams disowns Lembit Opik

In Montgomeryshire, I rarely meet anyone who knows that the Liberal Democrat leader in Wales is Kirsty Williams. Its often reported that there is not much public awareness of any Assembly Members beyond Rhodri Morgan, but the problem for Kirsty goes further than that. The problem for her is that in Montgomeryshire (and beyond - much further beyond), its our local MP who defines what the Lib Dems are. Well it looks as if Kirsty's had enough, and she's, in effect, disowned him. Kirsty Williams has decided that it's time to stamp her authority on the Lib Dems in Wales. In a quite remarkable interview she's given to Matt Withers, published today in the Wales on Sunday, she tries to put as much distance as possible between Lembit Opik and the Welsh Liberal Democrats. The whole front page, and all of page 5 as well. She's clearly tamping mad about something, and its seems obvious that she would just like him to go away. She must believe that "his approach to politics" is undermining her efforts to lead her party to better ground. This interests me because I will be challenging Lembit at the General Election.

The main plank of Ms Williams' attack on the Montgomeryshire MP is the column he writes for the Daily Sport. In my opinion, she's fully justified. Perhaps unusually for a parliamentary candidate, I try not make personal attacks on my opponents - except when I believe they are inflicting damage on Montgomeryshire. There's been just one issue during the last two and a half years when I have departed from this principle. Its the only issue about which I have been publicly critical of any of my political opponents. As far as I'm concerned, Lembit Opik's personal life is entirely his own business, but he should not be using his position as our MP to write such puerile garbage, for what I reckon is a newspaper verging on pornography. And doing it just for money - which I see is reported as being £6,000. Its an insult to the intelligence of Montgomeryshire citizens to claim that in some way, there's a higher purpose. There's an old saying in farming circles - "Where there's muck, there's money". Often true, but 'muck' and 'money' are not the same thing. This is an example of 'writing muck for money'.

Apologists will try to claim that my criticism is an attack on the Daily Sport, or on those who read it. I've nothing against the Daily Sport, or against anyone buying it, reading it, or just ogling at the pictures in it. As long as its legal, its OK with me. And just as long as I don't have to read it. What I object to is the utter pre-pubescent rubbish that Montgomeryshire's MP writes for it. Its no surprise that Kirsty Williams does not want this stuff to be the face of the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

Acer brilliance.

Today's photographs are of Acers, which currenty provide the main colour in our garden. First up is this little beauty which is especially lovely. Petite, fragile even, and not too showy. And she sits in a quiet corner, giving the impression of not wanting to be noticed. Don't know her name, and there are so many varieties that I've no chance of finding out. You have to be close up to appreciate her looks.

The second photograph is of an altogether more striking lady - (I always think of Acers as female). She's an Acer Palmatum dissectum viridis, and sits in her own place in lawn, where we can see her from most windows in the house. I suppose she's a bit 'chunky' in shape, but is my long term favourite

Third photograph is of one of the bigger Acers that are dotted around - and there's another 'viridis' undereath it. We' grow quite a few of these, and through familiarity, its easy to forget how stunning they can be. When visitors speak admiringly of our Acers, its always these large 'purpereas' that draw comment.

And the most 'showy' of all is this one - about ten feet tall and growing. The photograph doesn't make clear that there are two of the yellow Acers in the photograph, as well as the little stunner that featured above in the background. Acers have a reputation for sometimes dying for no real reason, but not in our experience. We also find them to be completely hardy. Acers come in such a range of sizes, shapes and colours that they should find a home in every garden. I probably blogged about Acers, when they were at their best a year ago, but it may not have been the same ones - except perhaps the viridis which has long held a special place in my affection.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Now you may ask what on earth I'm doing here. Well I'm being a hero - just like Humphrey Bogart in the African Queen. I accept its not quite as dramatic, but the principle's the same. Today was the 40th anniversary of the beginning of restoration work on the Montgomery Canal. A big birthday party to celebrate the massive effort that has been put in by volunteers was held in Welshpool this weekend. This little launch was the equivalent of the Royal Yacht, transporting the Mayor of Welshpool, our very own Katherine Hepburn, from the ceremony to the celebration tea. But it conked out mid-journey. Lucky I was on hand. I jumped out, attached a rope to the barge, and pulled her home. Macho or what.

And here is Welshpool's equivalent of the African Queen, Mayor Anne Holloway herself, looking on with great trepidation as Mr Jeremy Patterson, Chief Executive of Powys County Council embarks. She did make it as well, with a surprising spring in her step. Must admit it was Jeremy that came up with the African Queen line.

And here are the real stars of the weekend - four individuals who were out there as volunteers, on the first dig, 40 years ago. There's something about the Montgomery Canal which inspires love. I'm a keen supporter of restoration - and eventual linkage to the Shropshire Union Canal, and the national network. I was much involved in the restoration in the 1980s, but must admit I saw it as an economic development project - still do. But I've always had the greatest of respect for those who are driven by love.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Intermittant Blogger

Back to the keyboard - after missing a day. A few more missing days coming up before Xmas. Long day yesterday, down in the Welsh Capital for the Annual Care Conference for Wales 2009, held at the Millennium Stadium. Health related subjects are taking an increasing amount of my time. So much to learn. And then it was up to the BBC at Llandaff to learn a bit more about the role that is and should be played by the BBC. I'd asked for a briefing to aid the development of my opinion. I used to enjoy having a bit of a kick at the Beeb from time to time, but the fun's gone now that everyone's at it. When Labour's 'Culture Minister, Ben Bradshaw decided to put the boot in recently, I knew it was time for wise people to stop.

I've always thought that the BBC is more important to Wales than she is to the rest of the UK. Her responsibilities are much more complex - because Wales is a bilingual country. And because Wales is a nation, rather than a region - with its own devolved Government. And the 'regional' content provided by independent broadcasters is fast disappearing. This matters to a 'nation'. So pruning BBC Wales, to allow space for 'independent' regional English Language production doesn't seem attractive to me. So from now on, I'm going to become a cheerleader for BBC Wales - within reason anyway.

While I was at Broadcasting House, I was able to contribute to tribute programmes in memory of Patrick Hannan, who died so suddenly earlier this week. Caught up with a few friends not seen for a while, as a few of Patrick's regular guests had been rounded up to do the same thing. Met George Wright (first time for 20 years), Helen Mary Jones, and sister Myfanwy (all of us ex-Caereinion High School in Montgomeryshire), Siobhan McClelland and Mike German. No idea which clips will be used, but I hope its me saying how much I enjoyed being interviewed by Patrick. He was always able to give an historical perspective to an event, and was able to make links between issues that gave context. He was gentle, yet tough and competitive. But he never wanted to humiliate his guests. It was enough to win the argument. I reckoned that the degree of aggressiveness he adopted was proportional to his judgement of his guest's ability to cope. He wouldn't have liked being referred to as the 'media star' he certainly was.

Been up to Liverpool today, on 'care' business, so struggling for time. Every bit that's spare has been devoted to practising going through two Welsh Language scripts I'm reading tomorrow morning. One is for a podcast about the life of another 'media star' Wynford Vaughan Thomas, and for a 'guide' around the Wynford 'trail' beginning at his Memorial, near Staylittle. One is for the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust, and the other for the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. I'm hoping to adopt a Wigley-esque, or even a Burton-esque tone by dropping my voice an octave. Hope it doesn't sound stupid.

There' ll be a few blogging breaks up to the end of November. After that its a new family arrival, and build up to the General Election.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Who'd be an MP?

Yesterday, I spoke to the Welshpool and District Visual Impaired Group. Around 40/50 of them. Very friendly occasion. Three big issues under discussion were all health related. A&E services in Shropshire (and Montgomeryshire), the frustrating delays in bringing a renal dialysis unit to Welshpool, and the proposed closure of a residential EMI unit at Newtown Hospital, all issues that will feature on this blog over the next few weeks. I'm working to develop expertise in all of them. And then someone asked me why on earth I want to be an MP. Iain Dale is asking and answering the same question in today's Telegraph.

Truth is that I cannot think of a job I'd rather do, except perhaps play stand off against the All Blacks - and that's not very likely to happen. At present, I spend most of my time, doing the sort of things I'd expect to be doing if I were to become an MP - but without the pay and expenses! Something to be said for that. In my answer I did explain that an elephant's hide for a skin in essential. Anyone who has a tendency to hot temper, or being cowed before verbal assault should go do something else.

Iain's full page article focused mostly on the public's response to the current furore about expenses, and the disrespect, often merging on contempt, that is currently felt for politicians in general - which is why yesterday's question was asked of me. I can honestly say that I never hear any of this amongst the people I meet, except when I was asking them to vote at the Euro election earlier this year. Perhaps it would change if I were to win. Whatever, it certainly won't change for incumbent MPs until the people have had their say in a General Election - nor should it. But back to the question. Being MP for Montgomeryshire would be a dream realised. Imagine walking into the Palace of Westminster as the representative of the people I have always lived amongst - following in the distinguished footsteps of Clement Davies, Emlyn Hooson and Alex Carlile. Who'd be an MP? I would, please.

Value of a 'Bunny Boiler'.

Living in a big rambling farmhouse in the countryside, and taking pleasure from a three acre informal garden brings with its own problems. Two of these are the terrifying cost of heating the house, and the depredations of a ever growing rabbit population. A solution could be at hand. The practical citizens of Stockholm have found a way of dealing with both problems. Each year, they kill thousands of wild rabbits that eat the plants in Stockholm's public parks, and use the bodies as fuel to heat houses in the Karsloga region of central Sweden. This innovative approach to recycling and pest control is reported in today's Telegraph. A case of killing two problems with one stove. I've often heard the term 'bunny boiler' used, but I'm not sure what it means. I have a feeling that its an uncomplimentary reference to a type of woman. Perhaps someone can tell me what it is - apart from a heating appliance in Sweden. I wonder if it takes grey squirrels as well.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Powys goes hungry again.

Today, the Welsh Assembly Government announced its Welsh local government settlement for 2010/11. Each one of Wales' local councils now know how much central government support will be available to them next year. For the third year in a row, Powys has been given the lowest settlement of all Welsh Councils. What on earth has Powys County Council done to treated like this. I know that Powys is a rural county, and that there's plenty of space to grow our own vegetables - but this smacks of vindictiveness.

Now I'm not going to criticise the Assembly Government for a low overall settlement - even though I expect plenty of others to do so. Last week, George Osborne injected a strong dose of realism into the public expenditure debate. I applauded the direction and tone of his message. I can't have it both ways. But I can, and do, criticise the discrimination against Powys. Its brutal and unfair and urban-cenric, and undermines public services in my part of Wales. And do you know what else the Minister's told Powys Councillors. He's told them he expects them to stick Council Tax up - and not offer the sympathetic approach to taxpayers that they did last year. Can you believe it?

The big questions now are going to be where the Council finds the money. Cuts are clearly on the horizon. I was asked by one of Mid Wales leading journalists today where I thought the axe would fall. I said small schools and leisure centres. Almost cried as saying speaking the words. There will also be sales of buildings and assets like the Leighton Farm Estate. I don't disagree with this. Whatever, while we have an Assembly Government that is intent to carry on impoverishing Powys, our Councillors are going to have very tough decisions to take.

The Bigger Picture

I see that some MPs are thinking about refusing to refund money that Sir Thomas Legg reckons has been overpaid to them. I can see why they are angry, and why they think they are being unfairly treated. It can be said that Sir Thomas is 'changing the rules' retrospectively. It can also be said that he's not. As is so often the case, one's view is influenced by where one stands. He is putting actual figures on what was no more than a 'reasonableness' test when the claims were actually made. And what is 'reasonable' is subjective. But none of this matters anyway.

The reality is that the public are simply not willing to listen. They are so angry about individual cases of abuse, and the determined effort to keep everything hushed up, that there is not a smidgen of sympathy out there. The only way to have tackled this issue, was ready, voluntary, and complete disclosure, followed by a General Election to allow voters their say. Fairness just doesn't come into it. It's totally irrelevant.

Yet again David Cameron has quickly identified the only acceptable response. He has made it clear that any Conservative MP who does not repay money that Sir Thomas Legg recommends will not be allowed to stand as a Conservative candidate at next year's General Election. Full stop. Now, that's what I call decisive. So what are the other party leaders saying. Not sure about Gordon Brown, but Harriet Harman point blank refused to answer the question about whether Labour refuseniks will be allowed to stand (several times) when put to her by Peter Allen on Drive tonight. And Nick Clegg has only been willing to say that he expects all his MPs to co-operate fully. That's dodging the question as well. Hmmm. Interesting.

What matters most is the bigger picture. The future of our democracy is in under threat. Fair or not, every MP should repay in full all that Sir Thomas Legg recommends. This whole issue has wrought awful damage on our electoral system, and this is just one minimum step to repairing it. An early General Election is the next.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Young Man Starting Out.

The young man that I'm shaking the hand of is a man of courage. Today he is setting out on the tough all consuming road of setting up and running his own business. His name is Paul Hill, and his business, based in Newtown, Montgomeryshire will be to quick fit tyres, exhausts, batteries etc. This morning I joined him at his new currently empty unit. The tyres etc are arriving later this week.

Over my lifetime in public affairs, I must have attended hundreds of 'official' openings and launches of business expansions - probably about one per week during the five years I was Chairman of the Development Board for Rural Wales and quite a few during the seven years I chaired the Local Planning Authority in Montgomeryshire in the 1980's. Many of them were very big businesses. But I always took most pleasure when one or two young people were taking the inevitable risk associated with entering the world of self employment.

So its very best wishes to Paul.

Patrick Hannan

Just want to add my name to all those who are saying and writing nice things about Patrick Hannan, whose death at just 68 years old was announced today. He was one of my all-time favorite journalist/presenters. Over the last few years, the radio programme that I most enjoyed appearing on was Call to Order - and it was Patrick that made it. He had no time for guests who recited party press releases, and he expected straight answers. Patrick was always armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of Wales and her politics, and it was all wrapped up in a wonderful sense of mischief and humour. I will be down in BBC Llandaff of Thursday, and sad that there will be no chance of bumping onto Patrick. Good Journalist. Good company. Good man. Goodbye.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Who's going to succeed Mick Bates?.

The Montgomeryshire Liberal Democrats must be gearing up for the selection of a candidate to fight the next Assembly Elections - to replace the retiring Mick Bates. As candidate that is. I expect the Conservative candidate to win. I've been hearing a few rumours, but nothing definitive. That of course does not prevent me from speculating - or from inviting you to speculate.

Here's the list of names I've heard. Powys Councillor Liam Fitzpatrick is one of the favorites, while Cllr. Les Davies' name is also heard. Don't think any money is being put on my good ol' mate, Newtown Cllr., Richard White. Most interesting name I'm hearing is 'Independent' Councillor Wynne Jones of Abermule. Several people have telephoned me with this as definite'news'. Not sure myself. Must admit that I didn't even know he was a Lib Dem - but he's a hard working man who would give it a real go. Only other names I've heard are Peter Jones, who is sometimes wheeled out as a 'spokesman', Sue Callery, a capable woman who works in the Lib Dem office, and David Selby, who has often acted as agent in the past. Another possibility must be Dougie Bancroft, well known from his work with the Santa Run. And rather more controverial suggestion I throw in is Lembit Opik, though he's unlikely to be available until after next May! Any more names, let me know. With a bit more information, I could blog some odds on the various runners.

The Blindingly Obvious.

Today's BBC's Politics Show in Wales (and her online page) has gone to town on an issue that falls into the 'blindingly obvious' category. We all already knew that after 2013, Wales will almost certainly not qualify for the highest level of regional aid - because lots of other poorer Eastern European countries have joined the EU. Poor young and talented Ciaran Jenkins can never have asked a more naff question in his life. "Dear Mr Important Man, does one take away one leave less than one?" The EU bigwig he was interviewing must have experienced difficulty keeping a straight face. This wasn't any story at all.

We had Mr Derek Vaughan MEP wanting action to ensure that Wales does not receive less money after 2013. I wonder how he thinks that's going to be achieved. Hasn't anyone told him how the Structural Funds system works. Either Carwyn or Edwina are going to have to explain things to him when one of them takes over the reins from Rhodri in December. Also on was Mr John Bufton MEP, who has no time for the principles behind regional aid at all. He just wants Wales to have its money back, and this would apply even if we were the richest nation in the EU.

There are important aspects of this issue which could have been explored. How is the current programme being used to prepare for the post 2013 position. Any farmer who's managed a sizable business over the last few decades could tell you how access to financial support can warp business decisions - to satisfy the grant criteria rather than 'the market', or even what was appropriate for the land. The same will apply to Objective One funds, and 'transition' funds. A massive bureaucratic structure has been created to access 'EU money', sometimes for schemes of questionable priority. As manager of a farming business, I could not afford to ignore available grants, while all around me were taking them - but I was not any worse off when the system was changed to more closely reflect the market. Same will go for Structural Funds. Now that's an issue for Ciaran to get his teeth into.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

MP's Expenses back on the front pages.

I daresay that a few MPs were hoping that the rumpus about MP's expenses had been swept under the lush Parliamentary carpets. There's been scant reference to the issue during the conference season. I'd almost forgotten about it myself. But No. Its about to rear it's very ugly head again. It appears that Sir Thomas Legg has just been biding his time - waiting until MPs are back in Westminster, within easy reach of the media pack, before re-igniting the conflagration. It all kicks off again on Monday.

Who is Sir Thomas Legg you may ask. Well, he was appointed by the Prime Minister to conduct an audit of expense claims by MP's over the last 4 years (or is it 5?). He is a retired civil servant, with nothing to lose - dangerous man. I hadn't expected his report until the New Year, but if tomorrow's Telegraph is to believed, Sir Thomas will be sending letters to over 325 MPs on Monday, asking for 'clarifications'. It must be a bit like waiting for the dreaded envelope from the 'Road Safety Partnership' after you've suddenly noticed that you've passed a speed camera doing around 29 mph over the speed limit. Perhaps Gordon Brown has heard a whisper of this, because he's returned to the subject of expenses in his long Telegraph interview today, telling us that he expects some MPs to face corruption charges.

No-one in public life is happy with this. Even candidates such as myself are condemned as ripping off the taxpayer - despite it costing me around £10k a year just to contest the election. We all suffer. One lady in Montgomery really laid into me a few weeks ago for the way I was 'ripping her off' with my expense claims. When I explained that I didn't receive any, and that it actually cost me, she was silenced for a few seconds. She then laid into me for wanting to get into a position where I could 'rip her off'. To cap it all, she said she was going to vote Ukip!! Our democracy is is serious trouble. There should already have been a General Election to elect a new Parliament of MPs who had been forced to make real commitments to voters. It will not end until the public have their say.

I'm divided about whether I welcome the re-ignition of the expenses row. On one hand its obvious that people are already deeply disenchanted with politics, and this will only make things worse. But on the other hand, I know that confidence will only be restored if voters feel that everything has been exposed, and those who have done things that they disapprove of have faced the electorate. Gordon Brown has refused to do this. So on balance, I reckon that the return of 'Expensesgate' to our front pages is probably a plus for the future of our democracy. Not sure where its all going to end though.

Is the IWA inherently anti- Conservative?

I've been a member of the Institute of Welsh Affairs since the beginning -in the 1980s. Established in response to a challenge to the Welsh private and public sectors to create a forum for debate and policy development specific to Wales by the then Conservative Secretary of State for Wales, Nick Edwards I accepted that it would inevitably be challenging Government, of whatever colour. I did not expect it to become a politically partisan body. In general, the IWA has fulfilled its remit. But after reading today's Western Mail essay by the IWA's Director, John Osmond, I find myself wondering where this organisation is going. Lets consider some of the detail - in the order they are written.

'the Tories...give the impression of cruising into Government on a wave of promising polls'. The reality is that almost every independent commentator has acknowledged that the Conservative Party has declined the idea of cruising into power, but has taken the risk of committing to less public spending at the heart of our Conference. In the same paragraph we have an attempt to blame the excesses of the financial sector on Mrs Thatcher's Big Bang - ignoring the fact that Labour have formed the Government for the last 12 years, and that Gordon Brown completely restructured the financial regulatory regime ten years ago. He then goes on to comment about the MP's expenses scandal - again referring only to the Labour and Conservative Parties. Completely missing the point that David Cameron's response to the scandal has been widely applauded as decisive.

Then John really gets going. "He (David Cameron) hasn't fundamentally changed the Conservative Party. It remains in favour of low taxes, against any real distributive fiscal policy, anti Europe Union, pro fox-hunting, basically anti-green but in favour of neo-colonialism grandstanding in Afghanistan and other places around the world.". Then we have a whole lot more stuff, leading to a call for a 'hung Parliament'. I have no problem with anyone holding all of these opinions - particularly when a paid up activist member of another political party. But in this essay, John is speaking as Director of the IWA. Well, I'd like to make it clear that he's not speaking in my name.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Red Squirrels gaining ground

I was going to blog on David Cameron's speech tonight, but it was pretty much as I expected - very very good, with a commitment to treat the war in Afghanistan as a war deserves to be treated, with a 'War Cabinet'. It also covered personal stuff that I could never have spoken without cracking up. An amazing level of emotional control. What I enjoy most about a Cameron speech is the flat refusal to wear the clothes that his opponents try to dress him in. Its great to hear the Conservative Party speaking with more credibility than Labour about tacking poverty - with a standing ovation! I can face up to all those who have over the years described me as a 'pink Tory', and stand proud as a 'mainstream' Conservative. Terrific stuff, but only what I expected. So I'm going to blog about red squirrels - one of my long standing favorite issues.

There is no more lovely creature living wild in Britain than the red squirrel - but its no longer living in enough of it. I'm a great supporter of all efforts to reverse its decline, which involves the removal of the grey squirrels. On Ynys Mon there has been a successful campaign to remove the greys from the whole island, which was a prerequisite for the successful reintroduction of the red. The good news is that there are now plans to pull off the same transformation on the Gower. For me, this is exciting news. There are some type of reds that I want to see prosper.

Guest Blog from Daragh - 'All Shook Up'

Hello. My name is Daragh Quinn. I'm 16 years old and attend Welshpool High School. I also do a bit of voluntary work for Glyn, and he's invited me to write an occasional post for publication on his blog. This is my first effort, which I have emailed to him, granting permission for alteration as he wishes. I accept that this could be a bit risky.

This morning, we went to the theatre together - sort of. It was a play put on at Welshpool Town Hall, and organised by Diabetes UK, in partnership with the Pyramid Theatre Company, which was formed in 1993 as a specialist 'Theatre in Health Education Company'. The whole event was sponsored by the Wales Young Farmer's Clubs.

The play was about a middle aged lorry driver whose life was turned upside down when he was diagnosed with diabetes. Frank was also an Elvis impersonator, which is why the play was called 'All Shook Up'. He had been feeling very tired, had been losing weight, had been peeing all the time, and had been "having trouble with his lifting equipment in the bedroom department". (Sorry, but Glyn added this line from the script). We learned today that the 'one and only' Elvis was diabetic. The play was a mixture of very funny sketches and serious messages.

Just over two weeks ago I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes myself. Since then I've been in and out of hospitals and clinics, seeing dietitians, nurses and doctors. I would like to give my full support and appreciation to all of them. They are doing a wonderful job. The play was aimed at Type 2 Diabetes rather than Type 1, so didn't apply directly to me, but it was a hugely enjoyable and informative experience.

Sadly, too few people turned up to watch. The question and answer session afterwards was unsuccessful. A great shame. I strongly recommend that anyone who has been recently diagnosed (or is an old hand) should check out where the the tour is going next. You can telephone 01269850329 or 07967456233 to find out. Diabetes UK will be there to offer advice and answer questions. I was very pleased that I went along.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The opinions of Valley's Mam.

Valley's Mam writes one of my favorite blogs. Occasionally, she comments on my posts. She makes good points, even though I don't always agree with her. But today she made a comment with which I totally disagree. She commented thus;

"I think Osborne was dreadful. He came over as an accounts clerk, not a financial expert. I think your party has not done well this week Glyn - Europe, cuts, Mr Pickles and Boris J have done you no favours."

I thought Osborne was excellent yesterday - best performance I've heard from him. At last week's Labour Conference, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor almost completely ignored the financial position that we are in. The speeches they made were truly incredible in every sense of the word. The tone that George Osborne adopted represented the first time that a leading politician has told the people of our country what to expect - and it will be the case whichever party is elected. I also thought he came over as a serious politician, a view that seems to have been shared by most commentators and the city.

I thought the Party leadership handled the backwash from the Irish Lisbon Treaty Vote very well. The media and opposition did everything possible to make it the dominating issue - and it was hardly mentioned. Personally, I find the policy position that we have on the Lisbon treaty to be entirely logical - up until its ratification is confirmed, at which time I would expect a new policy to deal with the new situation.

I'm not sure what the point about cuts is - too much or too little. What George Osborne did was establish a tone and direction. The cuts announced are nothing like as much as will be needed to deal with the structural deficit that will face any Government next May. All Gordon Brown's speech offered was a series of uncosted commitments to spend even more than now - which no-one can possibly take seriously.

Have no idea what Eric Pickles has done, but I thought Boris Johnson was terrific. Boris is not part of the shadow team, and will not be part of a Conservative Government if we win the election next spring. His interview with Paxman was terrific, in my opinion - so good that the BBC is reported to have left out bits that put the great inquisitor on the spot. Like other leading figures in our party, such as Dan Hannan and David Davis, he sets out to influence party policy in the direction he wants. There is nothing wrong with that.

In the current economic climate, it's not possible to hold what has been the traditional party conference. Because it's possible that the Conservatives may win the next election, nothing can be said that cannot be delivered. Its a tough time, and in the circumstances I thought our Conference has gone well. So what do you think? Is Valley's Mam right, or am I right. You decide!

The Hunting Ban

Article in today's Telegraph about what a Conservative Government might do in respect of the ban on hunting with dogs. Rosa Prince has built her piece around some comments David Cameron is supposed to have said on BBC Radio 4. It's interesting to me because its one of those 'touchstone' issues, which leads voters to decide how to cast their vote - particularly in a rural constituency such as Montgomeryshire. Regular readers of this blog will know that I was strongly opposed to the ban, when it was passed into law. Let me outline what I would like to see happen.

I believe that we should make a manifesto commitment to provide the next Parliament with an opportunity to re-consider the hunting ban - and in Government time. It should be early in the Parliament, despite the inevitable accusations this would attract about skewed priorities. Simple rule applies. Promises should be kept. It should be a free vote, because its a 'conscience issue. In general I'm supportive of there being more free votes. I realise that many who are implacably opposed to hunting with dogs cannot be placated, but I still think it would be sensible (as well as right) to make concessions to those who are concerned about improper practices, which is why I support regulation.

The major issue I have to decide on is what form this regulation should take. My preference is for the hunting community to self regulate, rather than create some new quango to do the job. This may be the only difference between the opinions of my political opponents in Montgomeryshire and myself. But it must be genuine regulation - and seen to be genuine regulation. There would have to be some form of independent 'lay' inspection, without warning. And there would have to be tough sanctions for any breach of agreed protocols. If I were to be an MP, I would vote to over-turn the ban. But I would the legislation to ensure that the sport be conducted with minimum distress and cruelty to animals.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

George Osborne's Speech.

John Smith tried it in 1992 - and was rewarded with the blame for losing the election for Labour. So it took a bit of nerve for George Osborne to start the process of telling us what to expect from a Conservative Chancellor if we form the next Government. Pay freeze for millions, job cuts for many who work in the Civil Service and the regional quangos, an end to some tax credits, a delay in reaching pensionable age, etc.. Truth is that he did not have any real choice. To be elected next May without voters understanding the scale of the mess we are in, or the scale of pain needed to put it right would have been disastrous for the Conservative Party in the long run. Another uncomfortable truth is that what was announced today, will not be enough.

There was an air of seriousness amongst the audience. No triumphalist applause. A sense of general shock throughout the country as people begin to realise what's happening. If an opposition party, deeply committed to trying to win an election, feels it has no choice but say these things, the situation must be desperate. And it is. It strains belief that Alistair Darling, the Chancellor rushed out an announcement of a freeze in Civil service pay, simply in order to beat the Conservatives to it - breaking every convention about making major announcements during the Conference season. It's pathetic that he didn't have the b*** to make the announcement at his own Conference last week. Darling has suddenly realised that he and his Government are in danger of being swept away by a hurricane of truth.

Some of the commentators I've seen are awful. On BBC at lunchtime, we had Will Hutton spouting utter drivel. Andrew Neil couldn't seem to grasp the perfectly clear exposition of pension age policy by the ever outstanding Phillip Hammond. And then there was Jon Snow tonight with his puerile little jokes about a boy in a man's job. At least they didn't have the preposterous Kevin Maquire on. Perhaps he's being saved up for Newsnight. The gap between the leading media outlets and the general public grows ever wider. Personally, I expect the more thoughtful considered commentary of tomorrow will be rather more complimentary. Sure no-one likes the message, but its a whole lot better than the totally unbelievable stuff we heard from Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling last week.

Today we heard the speech of a man who knows that the people must be told the truth. For me, George Osborne judged it right - for both his country and his party. Just watch his star rise from now on.

Lessons from history

It's reported in today's Telegraph that Dr Michael Scott, a Cambridge University classicist has just published a new book titled 'From democracy to Kings'. The book outlines Dr Scott's take on what caused the fall of ancient Athens. The four features of the time which he highlights were a crippling economic downturn, politicians committing financial misdemeanors, a failure to control immigration and soldiers being sent to fight unpopular wars. What was that about history being a guide to the future?

Matching Chairs

Mr Lyndon Jones is the recently elevated Chair of the Welsh Conservative Party - now its President. He is a very substantial politician, given to sprinkling his speeches with often complex, humorous anecdotes. David Cornock has just posted on his growing eminence in the Conservative Party on a UK level, making a comparison with our hugely popular national Party Chair, Eric Pickles, MP. I felt that it was a post worth sharing.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Another 'Hypothetical' Question.

I was going to write a blog post tonight about the ridiculous obsession of the media with a hypothetical question about what a Conservative Government would do in a situation which 'may' come to pass - before or after next year's General Election. But Dan Hannan beat me to it with his excellent article in tomorrow's Telegraph. That's my second link to it. So I'll write about a different hypothetical question that the Welsh media seems obsessed with. Here again, there seems to be an unhealthy desire to give credence to a strategy driven by our opponents. The hypothetical question concerned is what the response of a Conservative Government would be if the National Assembly (by a two thirds majority) asked that a referendum be held to establish whether a majority of Welsh voters want to move to part four of the 2006 Government of Wales Act.

I must be honest. Even though this issue is hugely interesting to me, I have never been asked it by any Montgomeryshire voter. In fact, the only time I've ever been asked it was on a Radio Cymru panel programme last year, when fellow panellist, Ieuan Wyn Jones tried to make it an issue - unsuccessfully I thought. On that occasion, it was Ieuan trying desperately to hide from the ears of the listeners the tortuous indecision that has typified the delivery on this issue by the Coalition Government of which he is a part. Nothing has changed. Its not a question I expect to be asked by anyone in Montgomeryshire before the General Election.

If you ask Mr Wyn Jones, or any of the three candidates who are standing in the election to become Wales' next First Minister, whether the Assembly will ask for a referendum before 2011, you will not elicit a straight answer. Set aside the bluster and it will inform you that it all depends on what Sir Emyr Jones-Parry advises in the Report that he is currently squirrelling away at. Labour and Plaid Cymru informed us that this referendum was going to be held in May, 2007. Three years will have passed by the time of the General Election. And still they cannot tell us that the question is going to be put. Now, I've been willing to tell them that I, will be supporting the move to part four of the Act, but they are not willing to be honest with me. Since they will not tell me whether the question is going to be asked, why the h*** should I answer their hypothetical questions.

Euro Row - What Euro Row?

I was just going to write a tetchy piece about the media's obsession with the European Union. I keep on reading and listening to media commentators informing us that David Cameron is under pressure from all these right wingers demanding a guarantee that a Conservative Government will hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Its just that I've not heard any actual Conservatives saying any such thing. But I cannot write anything remotely as good as Daniel Hannan has written in tomorrow's Telegraph. I've been in touch with friends who are at the Conference, and what I'm told is that everyone is happy with David Cameron's policy. So I'll blog about something else instead.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

What to expect from Manchester.

I'm not going to Manchester this week, but will be much engaged with what happens there. Personally, I reckon its easier to judge events from a distance. My experience of conferences is that attendees see only a small part of the action, and have no idea of how the watching public see it. This post is about my hopes for the week. There are three issues that matter above all others - the EU constitution, the desperate state of our finances, and the war in Afghanistan.

Discussion during today's run up to the Conference has been dominated by the implications of the Irish vote on the Lisbon Treaty. Timing made that inevitable I suppose. But important as this issue is, it should be no more than a side issue this week. We will see what happens. Its our political opponents who are desperate that it should become the dominating issue. The policy reality is that David Cameron and William Hague decided on their stance a long time ago, and they have no intention whatsoever of changing it. Quite right to. The promise was, and the intention is, to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, if it has not been incorporated into the EU constitution by the time DC becomes Prime Minister. Until today there were three countries which had not yet signed up. Now there are two - Poland and Checkoslovakia. If these two countries do sign up before the General Election, David Cameron will have to tell us what he intends to do in the changed circumstances. I really do find the comments of both Labour and Liberal Democrats on this issue deeply hypocritical. Both parties reneged on the promises that they made to hold a referendum, resorting to linguistic gymnastics and a deviousness that has revolted many voters, and brought disrespect down upon politics in general. They should just lower their heads in shame as declaring their admiration for David Cameron's integrity. Some hope of that though.

In respect of the war in Afghanistan, I hope there will be reaffirmation of the creation of a 'War Cabinet', and an absolute commitment to winning the war. Generally speaking, I'm not sympathetic to the idea of 'going to war'. But when you're in, you're in. Once our young people are 'at war' I will always give them total support. While our armed forces are in Afghanistan, we should stand 100% behind them. I expect that to be the unequivocal message from Manchester this week.

And thirdly, there's the desperate state of the UK finances. The speeches of Kenneth Clarke, George Osborne, William Hague and David Cameron will need to instill into the nation a confidence that they have the determination and vision to clear up the appalling mess that Labour will have left behind. The sort of descriptions of their speeches that I hope to read are 'workmanlike', 'reassuring to business', and 'a clear vision of what's needed', etc.. It would be very unwise to assume that the next General Election is won, but its important for the United Kingdom that these four opposition politicians look like leaders of a Government-in-waiting.

Birthday Girl.

Today was little Ffion's second birthday. She's been demonstrating her potential to be a contestant on the X Factor. First photo is of the next Duffy lining up her new electric organ, totally oblivious to the expectant audience.

And here she is belting out 'Twinkle, twinkle little star' - her favourite number. Actually its her only number - apart from the sound track to 'In the Night Garden'. The house is full of Pinky Ponks and Ninky Nonks. Today's event would have really pleased the Prime Minister, in that it has been a 'fiscal stimulus' on its own. On second thoughts, most of these things are probably made in China.

And its not just the electric organ that Ffion has ambitions to play. She rather likes the idea of the guitar as well. She hasn't really got the hang of it yet - but I'm sure its only a matter of time. Next time we meet will be in Cork in three weeks time (that's where Ffion lives) when I expect a Mark Knophler performance.

The secret ingredient which produces this musical talent is the humble raspberry. She picks them up by sticking them on the end of her finger like a thimble. She's just finished hers and is eyeing up mine. I know, I know. They're all cute, but armed with a new camera, what do you expect.

The Garden in October.

I have purchased a new camera. Please be tolerant as I sprinkle this blog with posts featuring the product of my new toy. Its supposed to take photographs of a standard suitable for reproduction in newspapers. First up are three photographs taken in our garden today - 4th Oct. They disprove the generally held view that there is not much colour around this month - except for Michaelmas Daisies and autumnal leaves. The top photo is of two of my favourites - Rudbeckia and Alsteomeria. I really should have dead headed the Kniphofia in the background. A new camera does not a David Bailey make! Second photograph is of Cosmos Daisies, a really good annual that flowers til the frost, and looks a clean white no matter what the weather.

And finally (though there was plenty of alternatives) I chose a shrub - a Hydrangea. Some gardeners are a bit 'sniffy' about these shrubs, because they used to be everywhere. The 'mopheads' still are, especially near the coast. Some of the newer varieties are spectacular. Anyway, my 'sniffy' phase is over, and our garden is graced by about 50 Hydrangeas. This is one of the best.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Wales' Next First Minister.

During my 8 years as an Assembly Member, I was fortunate in the Minister's that I shadowed - or worked closely with as Committee Chairman. Three of them were very impressive politicians. In my opinion, they all had the potential to take on the role of First Minister. The best of all was Sue Essex, who retired at the last Assembly election. The other two were Carwyn Jones and Edwina Hart. Its these two who are in the frame to step into the shoes that Rhodri Morgan will discard in favour of the slippers he will wear to walk to his garden shed, where he intends to write his memoirs. Sorry Huw Lewis, but I do not think you have the slightest chance of winning. Sorry because you alone have tried to put some philosophical discussion into Labour Party politics over the last two years.

Can't decide who I think will win. Its a tough call. Can't decide who I want to win. If sue Essex was still there, I would have a clear opinion. Don't agree with the bookies that Carwyn is a clear favourite. I'd have them neck and neck. The two are very different politicians. I'll tell you how I found them.

Edwina Hart is a decisive politician, not afraid to take difficult decisions. I always admired the 'straight' way she answered questions, much the best at Minister's Questions. But she has some weaknesses, real or perceived. Her attitude towards the media has been awful. An emergency crash course is needed. She is thought by many to be unsympathetic towards the Welsh Language (though not convinced that this is true) - and don't laugh, but I think she is too emotional and sensitive. But in the end we found out that Mrs Thatcher was also a deeply emotional woman - so its not an absolute bar. Needs a good campaign to win.

Carwyn Jones is a man who exudes presence. He is a big, physically impressive man. I recall the very first committee meeting I attended after being elected in 1999 - the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee. We were all new. After the meeting, my leader, Rod Richards asked me about the other members, which I had just met for the first time. I told him there was Labour AM named Carwyn Jones, completely unknown to me, who knew nothing about rural affairs, but was a politician to watch. And so it's turned out. Carwyn has developed a reputation as being lazy. I do not know whether this is true. Perhaps his commitment to family gave this impression. He needs an energetic campaign.

Whatever, I expect a quite friendly contest between the two of them. I just hope that they move out of the comfort zone and put some life into Welsh politics.

Pool Quay Argae - Again

I return to a local issue in Montgomeryshire, which I believe is of national significance. Firstly, because it concerns a hugely controversial conflict between protecting a Grade 2 listed building from flooding, and increasing the risk of flooding to several neighbouring properties. And secondly, because potentially, costs in excess of £1,000,000 may have to be paid out by the taxpayer. The issue involves the Pool Quay Argae - a saga about the rebuilding of a flood embankment by the owner of Trewern Hall, near Pool Quay in Montgomeryshire.

Lets recap. Some time ago, permissions relating to the raising of this argae were refused by the Environment Agency and by Powys County Council. There was much courtroom activity which led to various refusals and a conviction against Thomas Till, the agent representing the owner. Eventually, an appeal was made to Welsh Ministers under Section 110 of the Water Resources Act. An Inspector was appointed and the Inquiry sat for 9 days, after which the Inspector recommended in favour of the appellant. He also criticised the Environment Agency and awarded full costs to all those involved with bringing the appeal. The Minister accepted the Inspector's recommendations. My first blog on this issue attracted some criticism. I was thought to have been too harsh on the EA. This time I will remain absolutely factual. You can make up your own minds.

I'm copying from what's called the 'Disclosure Log' which has been made public following a FOI request. The following quotes are from the Civil Service's report to the Minister, advising her on what response she should make following the Inspector's Report to her.

Page 5, para 19 - "The Inspector's overall conclusion was that the benefits of providing improved protection against flooding to Trewern Hall, a building of national importance, are so great that they outweigh the slightly increased risks caused to other properties in the area".

Page 5, para 20 - "He considered that the Agency's unreasonable behaviour resulting in unnecessary expense......had been demonstrated and he therefore concluded that a full award of costs to the appellant is justified".

Page 7, para 31 - "In his Report, the Inspector highlighted flaws in the Agency's handling of the consent application.........This represents an important failure on the part of the EA..."

Page 7, para 32 - "The Inspector highlighted......There can be no reasonable excuse for the Agency's failure to take into account the benefits to the listed building, a matter which I found in my main conclusions to be of such importance as to outweigh all other matters."

Page 8, para 33 - "The Inspector also stated that the Agency also failed to take into account the detrimental effects of the work.......This represents yet another shortcoming in the EA's decision making process."

Page 8, para 34 - "Officials are concerned at the shortcomings in the Environment Agency's procedures as evidenced by the Inspector's Reports.....officials consider that these shortcomings...mean that the consideration by the Agency of the scheme put to it was was flawed and inadequate and cannot be considered to be reasonable in the circumstances....Officials propose to write to Environment Agency pointing out the flaws in its procedures and asking them what steps the Agency is taking to remedy the situation."

Page8, para 35 & 36 - "Officials agree with the Inspector......Officials note the Inspector's analysis and conclusions....and see no reason to disagree with them."

Page 9, para 46 - "officials agree with the Inspector that the refusal of the consent was unreasonable."

The allowing of the appeal did not mean that planning permission was granted. So a planning application was submitted to Powys County Council. The Council did not deal with the application as quickly as the applicants considered reasonable, so they went ahead anyway, and raised the Argae without permission. And that's where things stand today. The Argae has been raised, many local families are furious, and the taxpayer is going to be clobbered big-time. This blog will try to find out what the final costs to the taxpayer is - but it will be difficult. I may never find out how much the Environment Agency have to pay out to the appellants - and I don't suppose the Agency will ever tell us what it's own costs were. My guess is that we're talking about a million pounds. If I do find out, you'll be able to read it here.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Labour Conference Woes.

Its been a funny old week for the Labour Party. Their Party Conference seems to have been a bit of a disaster. Didn't begin well when Andrew Marr asked the Prime Minister a question about whether he popped pills to' help him through'. Whether this was simply crassness on Marr's part or cynical set-up as some have suggested is neither here nor there. The issue dominated the Conference opening. Personaly, I reckon the sheer stupidity of the question probably helped Gordon Brown as much as it annoyed him. But it did distract from what happened in the Conference.

We then had the Prime Minister's speech itself, which was full of uncosted promises, but by all accounts, well received in the Conference Hall. But a few hour's later, the Sun newspaper overtook all the coverage of the speech by announcing that it intended to support the Conservatives in next year's General Election. I don't think that the Sun's decision was totally unexpected, but its timing came as a shock to Labour. It swept away the Prime Minister's speech, and suggests that the Sun is going to become an influential opponent of Labour during the seven months up until the likely date of the General Election. But I was surprised by the reaction. Instead of smiling sweetly in mild disappointment, as if it was no big deal, Labour went ballistic. Gordon Brown himself displayed a childish level of petulance in interviews which have caused him electoral damage. And then we had the dramatic tearing up of a copy of the Sun by Tony Woodley - ensuring that nothing else that happened at the Conference was reported all day. Self-indulgent and stupid.

And today, we saw David Miliband lower himself into the gutter of sleazy politics by his personal attacks on the Conservatives. William Hague has responded to this. Its clear that William was much angered as Miliband displayed his unfitness for high office. Must admit that I hadn't realised our Foreign Secretary was such a nasty piece of work.

Not sure what we learned from this Conference. We now know that the General Election is going to be held on May 6th - but we knew that already. We now know that Gordon Brown will lead Labour into that Election - but we knew that before. We learned that Labour are not going to enter into an honest debate about public spending, making it difficult to hold such a debate - but we knew that before. In truth, we learned nothing new at all.

Now its on to the Conservative Conference at Manchester. Personally, I hope there will be little reference to Labour and Gordon Brown, or the Lib Dems and Nick Clegg. There's a more serious job to be done. Up until now, David Cameron has single-mindedly and successfully striven to change the perception that voters have of my party. Next week his aim will be to deliver the speech of Prime Minister in waiting. I have not the slightest doubt that's what he will deliver.