Monday, November 30, 2009

An Unsustainable Council Structure in Powys.

I like to keep my readers informed of developments at Powys County Council - and today there was a big one. The Powys Independent Alliance has decided to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. This new coalition has decided to call itself the Powys Administration. I do not intend to use this name myself, because it does not accurately describe what it is. I shall call it the Powys Independents/Liberal Democrat Coalition. Seems to me that the words Liberal Democrat have been deleted from the name in an effort to disguise what it is - and perhaps avoid losing those councillors who would rather be in bed with a rattlesnake than in bed with the Liberal Democrats.

Neither is it an 'administration'. It cannot be such while the Council's Executive Management Board is made up of five groups, including the 'Shires' Independents, Conservatives and Labour. I really cannot see any sense or logic in this new position. This new Coalition has a majority in the Council Chamber, and on the Executive Management Board. They have the numbers to do what they want. But what they don't want is responsibility for the decisions that they take. They want responsibility to be shared with three other groups who have no actual power to do anything. This looks very odd indeed.

Cannot help but wonder if this was at the insistence of the Liberal Democrats, who do not want to take responsibility for unpopular decisions. Interesting that the information given to Carl Yapp at the BBC refers to the possibility of changing the structure of the Council to a Cabinet system - at some future date. Several Councillors have telephoned me tonight to tell me that it will be in the summer - conveniently after the General Election!! If I were a member of the Powys Independents I would resign immediately, and join another group, or go genuinely 'independent'. No matter how you cut it, the reality is that any councillor who stays in this new group is in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Hmmmm. Lets wait and see what happens. So happens that personally, I agree with a change to a Cabinet system - but the situation created today is bizarre and probably unsustainable.

Bulls

Been to the Royal Welsh Winter Fair at Builth Wells today - along with almost 14,000 others. Second biggest attendance ever. Lots of non-farmers there. One asked me why the cattle were so varied in colour. I explained they were different breeds, which was only sort of true, because most of them were crosses. Anyway thought I should post a blog for readers who know little about cattle, outlining some of the basic differences. This first beast, a heifer, is a British Blue - which is a new breed. What happened was that many Belgian Blues were imported into the UK, and a while ago, a British herd book was started up - and the British Blue was born. This breed was imported because of its double muscled hind quarters, the part of a beef animal that provides the most expensive joints. Its a sort of Jennifer Lopez of the cattle world. The downside is that a high proportion of calf births have to be by cesarean, which is OK while cattle prices are high. Today's Show is a 'fatstock' show, so many of the animals were a Belgian or British Blue cross.

This is a Limousin, a French breed which has become very popular. My last bull before selling my suckler herd was a Limousin. Features of this breed are easy calving (main reason I kept them), rapid growth, and a tendency to put on meat rather than fat. Downside of the breed is that they are a bit 'frisky'. Always best to give bulls a wide berth, and the females can completely lose it, running through fences and jumping over high walls. I think the Limousin is a beautiful animal.

This is the bull of my childhood. Forty years ago and before, the Hereford dominated. The first 10 bulls I remember serving our herd of sucklers were Herefords. And then they became very unfashionable. Poor growth rates, and meat not in the right places. But the Hereford is making a comeback - especially on small farms and speciality meat suppliers. The meat of a Hereford is often described as 'marbled' whatever that means. Its a lovely quiet breed, and for all those Euro sceptics, its British.


And finally there's the Charolais. I remember when I bought my first Charolais bull. He was huge, and nasty, and French and frightening. A veritable Sebastian Chabal. Had to get rid of him. His replacement was not much better. But over the years, they've been bred to be a bit calmer. But everyone should be wary of any breed of bull. They can pick up the scent of a female 'in season' from a big distance away if downwind, and when aroused are always dangerous. Hope that's been an introduction to those of you who know nothing about our bovine friends.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Annual Newtown Santa Run.


These two fine figures of men are dressed up and ready to head off to join today's Santa Run around Newtown. In case you're wondering, that's a turkey on No 3 son, Tim's head. You should also note that he's a tall man, which is why my 5' 10" looks a bit stumpy.
I was expecting today to be a 'trial run' for the General Election campaign in Montgomeryshire. I'd been told that both Heledd Fychan (Plaid Cymru) and Lembit Opik (Lib Dem) were running as well as me. You can see that I've been warming up. I was feeling a bit tense, because I've been suffering a bit of ankle trouble, and wasn't sure how it would go. Didn't want to be beaten by either of them. Anyway the ankle survived OK. But I needn't have worried. Didn't see Heledd anywhere, (I must have been misinformed) and the MP was only there for the start. I was told he'd cried off with a sore throat. Don't know why he didn't do the same as last year, and just ride around on his Segway!
It was nothing like as successful an event as in the past, when over 4,000 Santas have been known to run. I believe everything went off quietly this year, with no repetition of the street brawl a few years ago when several Santas were arrested for trying to knock six Xmas bells out of each other. This story reached across the world. It was an incident that greatly worried the organisers at the time, but I was never sure that the sheer ridiculousness of the imagery didn't counter any negativity - especially as the name of the police spokesman was Inspector Slaymaker. Whatever, the weather was kind and Tim and I had an enjoyable run around Newtown. I hope its organised again next year.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Reflection on the Iraq War.

I did not know Corporal Paul Thomas. I did know his parents. I attended Paul's funeral in 2004. It was the event that brought the horror of war home to the village of Castle Caereinion, in Montgomeryshire. I live just 3 miles from the village. It was very much my village until I moved two miles nearer to Berriew in adulthood. I will never forget the sound of the rifles being fired at the graveside. In our local weekly newspaper this weekend, the Montgomeryshire County Times, there was an article reporting that the Elizabeth Cross has been presented to Paul's parents in his memory. Paul was a member of the Second Battalion The Light Infantry. His father, David is quoted as saying on behalf of himself and Paul's mother, Joyce "We were really proud to receive this honour on behalf of the Queen. Paul was a fabulous lad, he was our only son, and we are both very, very proud of everything he achieved".

There's another story arising from the Iraq war in the newspapers this week - the Chilcot Inquiry. Already, I find some of the witness statements to be deeply shocking. I supported the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair in his decision to take Britain to war. There were two main reasons. Firstly, I accepted his word that Saddam Hussein possessed what were referred to as 'weapons of mass destruction', and that he could, and intended to use them against our country. And secondly, because I did not settle on a firm opinion until it was clear we were actually going to war, I wanted our young soldiers to feel confident that they had my full support, as they were putting their lives at risk on my behalf. I saw my support for the British Prime Minister's decision as the pursuit of national security, and as loyalty to our armed forces. I would not have supported going to war to achieve 'regime change'.

This week we have been told that for many months before going to war, Tony Blair kept secret from us that he had agreed to join President George Bush in his mission to achieve 'regime change', and that the Prime Minister's claims about weapons of mass destruction were exaggerated (at best) or downright untruthful (at worst). I cannot believe that a British Prime Minister would behave in such a way. And I cannot believe that Gordon Brown, our current Prime Minister was not fully aware of this mendacity. How in God's name can we expect the people of our country to have respect for the institution of Parliament, when its integrity was so shockingly abused. How can anyone have respect for these seriously tarnished individuals ever again.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Referendum Timetable.

This will be my last post about the proposed referendum on transferring law making powers to the National Assembly for Wales - until at least the New Year! Its inspired by some of the discussions I enjoyed while in and around the National Assembly this week - including appearances on AM/PM and CF99, where the subject dominated. Much of the discussion followed Labour's clumsy attempts to scupper any chance of the referendum being held in accordance with the Coalition agreement they have with Plaid Cymru. Its all boils down to timing.

Let us work backwards. While holding the referendum in spring 2011, or even on the same date as the Assembly Election is possible, the reality is that advice from the Electoral Commission, and other political considerations rule this out. I also believe that late November/December 2010 would not be considered acceptable because a referendum so late in the year would increase uncertainty because of the danger of a low turn out. So we are looking at a last possible date of early November. If there is to be a reasonable campaign period, (say 7-10 weeks) it follows that the Order in Council relating to the referendum must have been made before the summer recess, which usually stretches from mid July to early October.

Now we come to the less predictable aspects of the timetable. All we know for certain is that the 'maximum' gap between the trigger vote in the National Assembly (where 40 AMs recommend that the First Minister informs the Secretary of State of the Assembly's decision), and the date by which a Draft Order must be laid is 120 days - 4 months. It could be less, but there's so much to do that I can't see it being much. Because a General Election is likely to be held in early May, it is impossible that this process can be completed before it - except in the unlikely event of AMs holding the definitive debate next week!! So the only practical way the Coalition's agreed timetable (a pre Assembly Election refererendum) can be adhered to is if the new Secretary of State , appointed in mid May, gives top priority to this issue, resolving all the necessary questions in the 8 weeks before summer recess. This is a very demanding timetable and dependent on the trigger vote taking place in mid January. Every week that the trigger vote is delayed is one week less for the incoming Secretary of State to manage the process of translating the Draft Order into the Order in Council which would enable the referendum to take place, a process that involves weeks of consultations and votes in both Houses of Parliament and the National Assembly. And all at a time when there will be a huge focus on repairing the nation's finances. I hope you are still with me - and not too depressed.

Three reasons for this 'explanatory' post. Firstly, to inject realism into the debate; secondly, to demonstrate just what the Welsh Labour Party were up to last week (trying to scupper the whole thing); and thirdly to create an opportunity for readers to challenge or correct my thoughts on the issue.

An Evening with Montgomeryshire farmers.

Back to my keyboard after two days in Cardiff. Been to the Annual Meeting of the Montgomeryshire NFU tonight at Maesmawr Hall, the scene of Edward and Karen's wedding three years ago. Guest speaker was the National Assembly's Director of Rural Affairs, Rory O'Sullivan. He was standing in for the Minister, and she'd have been proud of him. As delphic as ever when necessary.

After an excellent meeting, Richard was asked to give a vote of thanks. I should have sussed it when he walked to the front and stood by my side to deliver his speech. He told us that he'd telephoned a farming friend from Devon this morning, and asked how things were going, only to be told that an awful tragedy had befallen his friend's cowman since they had last spoken. A few weeks ago the cowman had slipped while using his chainsaw, and sawn off his arm. Then, a few days later his vacuum slurry wagon had malfunctioned and his by now one-armed cowman stuck his head up the suction inlet to find the fault - only for it to spring into action and suck his eye out and his ear off. When his cowman finally managed to extract his head, now minus an eye an an ear, he was knocked over by a tractor which happened to be passing - mainly because he failed to hear or see it. Since he had no arm to save himself, he slipped into the slurry pit, and disappeared under the s***. By the time the fire service had pulled him out, and the ambulance arrived, the paramedic declared him to be brain dead. Richard's friend was bemoaning his bad luck, because his previously excellent cowman (and they are hard to find) had accepted that he would never again be able to do anything remotely useful - so was now standing for election as an MP. It went down particularly well because Richard can deliver lines with a fine Devonian accent.

Dai Davies, who has done such a sterling job as President of NFU Cymru for the last four years was in Montgomeryshire for his final visit while in office, and his successor, Ed Bailey was there as well. First time I've heard Ed speak, and for an unfailingly polite man, gave Rory a bit of stick - good natured but sharp enough to encourage the entire audience that we've found another good man. Great night for me, catching up on developments in Welsh agri-politics. Luckily, I can still understand what Rory is saying, even when he drops into delphic mode - the intention being to bamboozle us because he's been asked something that the Minister would prefer him not to answer.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Labour thrashing around - dodging a decision.

'The Old Man and the Sea' by Ernest Hemingway is a very good book. I've read it twice. When David Cameron delivered his 'Broughton Statement' it was the equivalent of old Santiago casting his line. The Welsh Labour Party takes the role of the unfortunate marlin who took Santiago's bait. Labour can huff and puff and thrash around all it likes - but there is no escape. There will be no veto of a request by the National Assembly for Wales for a referendum of the Welsh people on the issue of whether full law making powers in all devolved areas should be transferred to Cardiff Bay. If they ask, it will be granted. It's decision time. The ball in firmly in play, and it's in Labour's court. Around midday, the Labour marlin almost ripped the line from the old man's hands, but by nightfall, had accepted that the first swim for freedom had failed.

The horrible reality is sinking in. Welsh Labour knows that if a referendum is asked for, it will not be vetoed by a Conservative Government. Welsh Labour knows that the only time a referendum can now be held is Sept/Oct 2010. Welsh Labour knows that for this to be possible, a definitive decision to ask for a referendum must be taken before the General Election. Unfortunately for Labour, Plaid Cymru activists know it as well. If the decisive debate does not take place, the Coalition will fall. Labour tried it on today with this 'statement', which collapsed before the afternoon was out. Betsan reports on the climb down here. Carwyn Jones, if he wins, is going to have to face down his MPs or lead a minority government. The marlin will surely make another bid to escape - but it will not succeed. After a boring spell, Welsh politics is fascinating again.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Not 'Getting it'.

You really have to laugh at the sheer cheek of it - the sheer brass neck. We have read in the Telegraph that many MPs dislike the plans to cut back on their expenses, but the Montgomeryshire Liberal Democrats and their MP, Lembit Opik have really taken the top prize for not 'getting it' - and for telling Sir Christopher Kelly where to go with his proposals. One of the main conclusions of the Kelly Report was that the Communications Allowance should be scrapped. And quite right too. It was a disgraceful tax, designed in my opinion only to help incumbent MPs retain their seats. This blog has campaigned for it's abolition for years. All party leaders have accepted this Kelly recommendation without reservation. They know there is no justification whatsoever. Mr Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader has been been able to talk of little else. He even wanted to scrap the Queen's Speech to talk about it.

So what do the Montgomeryshire Lib Dems and Mr Opik do? It takes your breath away. Just before the Communications Allowance is banned, they rush out a glossy leaflet, paid for by this very same allowance ( all taxpayer's money) and post it (the postage paid for by the taxpayer) to voters in Montgomeryshire. My copy was delivered to me by my postman this morning. Never seen a more cynical 'milking of the system' in my life - demonstrating a level of 'not getting it' that deserves wider attention.

And it gets worse. They've put a photograph which includes myself on the front of it. Now I'm not sure what the reason was for this, but it means that the Communications Allowance (which I have always said is so offensive to democracy that I would never touch it) has been used to promote me. On one level, I find this to be appalling, but on another, the sheer effrontery of it is quite funny. I wonder what Nick Clegg thinks of this. The poor man must be in despair.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Hillbillies


This lady's name is Linda Rowe, and she lives in the village of Kerry, in Montgomeryshire. She is the lead singer with The Hillbillies, and as well as having a strong voice, has strong opinions - especially in respect of the damage that wind turbines and associated power cables inflict on the landscape. I'd not met Linda until this weekend, but when she told me her name, I remembered that I'd been email lobbied by her about the new 32 kv power cable which is to built near Kerry to carry power from the proposed replacement wind farm at Llandinam to the National Grid. Didn't speak to her for long, but got the feeling that she's not one to be tangled with. But its admiration rather than fear that has instigated this post, which is meant to be considered as a promotion of the Hillbillies.

Last night's do was the 'Shire' Chairman's Dinner. The background to this annual event needs explanation. In 1994, the then Conservative Government did a terrible thing. It tried to wipe the county of Montgomeryshire off the map - merging it with Radnorshire and Breconshire to form the new County of Powys. This Powys is a ridiculous construct, which councillors have no choice but try to make some sense of. Its not to be confused with the old Powis, which took in Montgomeryshire, and parts of Meirionydd and the old Denbighshire, an area which marches well together , and made more sense. Many Montgomeryshire people have never accepted this 'constitutional crime' (including moi). Several Powys County Councillors have not accepted it either, and a 'Shire' Committee continues to meet in Montgomeryshire on a regular basis. This year's Chair of the 'Shire' Committee is Councillor Roche Davies, who represents Llandinam. He is a good friend of mine, which led to my being invited to his Annual Dinner. (And before you hair shirt types comment, we all paid for our tickets). A good time was had by all, and The Hillbillies played their part.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What's to be the Question

The dust is gradually settling on the storm blown up by the publication of Sir Emyr Jones Parry's Report on the future of devolution to Wales. Personally, I thought it was a mini-storm in a mini-teacup. A lot of excitement about a report which told us what we knew already, and had known for a long time - even if the information was presented in an elegant and considered way. I thought the 'Broughton Statement' delivered by David Cameron last week was rather more significant. Plenty of scope for 'long grass', mainly because Sir Emyr, for reasons best known to himself, made specific reference to any request for a referendum being held by June. He should have said March.

It was the 'Broughton Statement' that turned Welsh politics on its head. Where are we now? The Conservative Party (in Wales and Westminster) is entirely comfortable allowing individuals to campaign for either a 'Yes' or a 'No'. So no problem. Its unusual, but long anticipated and accepted. But what about the others. The Plaid leadership resembles a horse eyeing up 'The Wall' in a Puissance competition - while the entire Labour Party resemble a herd of rabbits trapped in a giant searchlight. They were assuming that a Conservative Government would veto any request for a referendum before 2011. Just watch for the myriad of reasons that will be trotted out about why the referendum should,be delayed until after 2011. You can imagine the sort of thing. In private they'll be saying "What the h*** do we do now". In public it will be "Leave it until a Yes vote is certain". Well, in my opinion, its never going to be certain. For two years, the Coalition partners have faffed around, hoping that eventually, Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act would just be there for the taking, like a low-hanging fruit. In my opinion, there will be no Yes vote without a fight - nor should there be. No persuasive case. We stay on the ELCO slow train.

And then, what is the question on the referendum paper going to be. Simple is best, but 'simple' I can't come up with. What about "Do you support progressing to Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, which entails vesting in the National Assembly for Wales, law making powers in those areas currently devolved?" OK, laugh if you must - but come up with something better.

"Ouch"

Leuven is a town in Belgium. It could well be the home town of the new President of the EU Council, whom Mr Iain Dale, and others have christened Mr Rumpy Pumpy. It is reported in the current edition of Farming News from NFU Cymru that earlier this month, in the town of Leuven, animal rights campaigners released 20,000 pink balls at the HQ of the Belgian Farmer's Union. This 'direct action' was a protest at the practice of unaesthetised castration of male piglets. The union is reported to have responded by highlighting its support for research into alternatives to castration, and pointed out that consumers do like meat from uncastrated animals. This response seems to miss the point, which is about the absence of anaesthetic rather than the absence of testicles.

This report brought back to me one of the most barbaric practices I've ever been involved in. It was when I was quite young. We bred and reared pigs as part of the farm business. When the male piglets reached a certain age their testicles became sufficiently prominent to enable removal. Warning - the next sentence may make your eyes water. My job was to catch the piglets and dangle them in the air, holding them up by their hind legs. My father then cut open the sack, gripped the contents, and sliced off the little pink testicles with a razor blade. No anaesthetic. I remember our sheepdog (unoriginality named Pup) eating them voraciously. In fact Pup usually caught them after they had been tossed up in the air. I can do the same thing with peanuts and quail's eggs. Pup lived to be very old. Not sure what lessons are to be learned from this fact. Piglets can be very noisy at the best of times, but they were exceptionally so as this was procedure was taking place. I don't know how widespread this barbaric practice is today, but something like it is taking place in Belgium at least. Could this be why farmers are thought to be uncomfortable about having vasectomies?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Post early for Xmas

Had our first Xmas card today. It was from the Royal Mail. Are they trying to tell us something about how long its going to take for our cards to arrive this year?

A policy which hurts the most vulnerable.

A recurring theme on this blog is the way we treat the elderly infirm, particularly when they are suffering from dementia. This post concerns a most awful proposal in yesterday's Queen's Speech, which uses the most vulnerable of people as political pawns in a most shameful way.

No-one disputes that social care policy needs reform - and there are several aspects to the debate. Its unfair that everyone who has been thrifty and responsible all of their lives, and saved money have to pay for their own care - while everyone who have saved nothing at all (for all sorts of reasons) have social care provided free of charge. Also, there needs to be more investment in enabling the moderately disabled elderly to stay in their own homes. And there needs to be greater provision of residential places for the most severely disabled who would benefit from this greater level of care. Finally, there needs to a recognition that dementia is a 'physical' disease, involving physical damage to the brain, rather than a form of mental illness. There's a lot else as well. Tackling these issues is not straight forward because of the massive cost implications. There's a lot of thought being put into policy reform, both at Westminster and in the National Assembly.

Yesterday's Queen's Speech proposes that a part of the NHS budget in England be used to support the most frail elderly in their own homes. Superficially attractive - and completely bonkers. Just listen to authoritative Labour Peer, Lord Lipsey rip the proposal to shreds. It will take money from social care for those who would benefit from home care - in order to spend on social care for those who would not. My interest in this issue extends to england as well as Wales. The new digital TV was lucky to survive not having my fist through it last night, as I watched the increasingly oleaginous Ben Bradshaw on Newsnight, trying to justify the Government's poisonous proposal. It was nothing more than a political gimmick, the price of which will have to paid by the most frail elderly in pain and suffering. On its own, this proposal is good enough reason to remove Gordon Brown from office.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Centenary of a Village School

This young lad's name is Jamie Owen, and he's a pupil at Aberhafesp Primary School in Montgomeryshire. Earlier today, we were cutting the School's 'Centenary Cake'. Aberhafesp School has been in existence for a long, long time, but its been on it's current site for 100 years. Such schools are so much more than places of education. They are the heart of communities. The head teacher of the school is Mr Eifion Thomas. He's the captain of a very seaworthy ship. A regular visitor to the School is TV personality, Sian Lloyd, who lives 'up the hill'. Today's celebratory lunch was just one part of a programme of events, organised by the community, centred on the School. On Friday, there's a concert, with a 'community choir' especially put together for the occasion. A book about the history of the School is being 'launched' at the concert. Powys Catering prepared the food. I felt privileged to share in the School's celebrations. Reason I've blogged on this event (apart from it being part of the life of this blog's author) is that the School has 29 pupils. Earlier this week, the Executive Board of Powys County Council decided to approach every primary school in Powys with less than 35 pupils to discuss voluntary closure. I know the Council's facing an almost impossible financial position, but as joining in today's celebrations, I find the idea of closing this school as impossible to contemplate on such a significant day in its history. It must not be allowed to happen.

The Report of the All Wales Convention.

Today, Sir Emyr Jones Parry presented the Report of The All Wales Convention to the First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales. Regular readers will know that I thought the establishment of this Convention to be no more than a 'device', which enabled the Labour Party to consign a coalition promise to the long grass, and provided Plaid Cymru (particularly its leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones) with a fig leaf of an excuse to cover any decision to renege on the promise he made to his party activists that a referendum on law making powers in all devolved policy areas would be held before the next Assembly election in May 2011. None of this is to suggest that Sir Emyr and his group haven't done a thorough job. They have. Today, the ever urbane and diplomatic Sir Emyr delivered a sensible 'conclusion' - but pretty well exactly what I expected from Day 1. Its pretty well what every Labour and Plaid Cymru Assembly Member would have expected on Day 1 as well.

The 'conclusion'. - "We are convinced that Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 (an Assembly with law making powers) offers substantial advantages over the present arrangements in Part 3. It would offer greater efficiency, permit a strategic approach to the drafting of legislation, provide greater clarity, be more consistent with the rule of law and democratic tradition, and reflect the emerging maturity of the assembly. This appears to be a view shared by the majority of the Welsh people." I agree with his every word.

So where now? There will be a formal 'Statement' from the outgoing First Minister, before he 'goes out'. There could be a bit of knockabout when Peter Hain presents the Queen's Speech to AMs next week - assuming he comes out of hiding by then. But Peter's too cute to be embarrassed - and most AMs won't see the point in doing so anyway. All this is 'going through the motions stuff'. The big step, (that's the one that's been avoided for as long as possible) will be the debate on the floor of the Assembly. And I mean a decisive debate, tabled by the Coalition Government, proposing that the UK Government be asked to hold a referendum of the Welsh people to decide whether we should move to Part 4 of the 2006 Act. I've been 'chewing over' whether it would be sensible for an opposition party to use a 'Minority Debate', if there is no promise of an early Government debate. It would certainly cause political chaos, especially for Plaid Cymru. But its our constitution we're talking about here, and that's not a subject for political opportunism. It should be done properly. It could easily be that Labour will not support a decisive debate before the General Election, and it may well be that Plaid Cymru will accommodate this desire. This is not crucial.

But what if there is no 'decisive' debate by June, a date helpfully provided by Sir Emyr today? The Coalition Government must fall. Labour would have to limp on until the next Assembly election as a 'minority' Government, unless the Lib Dems stepped into the breach again. Labour's breach of trust would become Ieuan's new fig leaf. Whatever, following David Cameron's announcement last week that a Conservative Government at Westminster would not veto a referendum, I reckon that there will probably be a referendum in October. Another reason why I really really REALLY do want to be elected as the MP for Montgomeryshire.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tomorrow's another day.

I'm depressed. Not clinically depressed, or anything like that. Just depressed in a bored, p***ed off sort of way. And its not just the weather. Its politics. Can't seem to make enough difference. Everyone I've talked to today in the political world has been bored witless. I'm told that even today's budget debate in the National Assembly for Wales was boring. Well, its not really a budget - more a spending plan. Then there's the prospect of tomorrow's utterly pointless Queen's Speech. For once I can see a sort of half-sense in a Nick Clegg proposal - when he suggests that HRH should take the day off. All she's going to be required to read is a list of Labour ideas for embarrassing the Conservative Opposition, rather than what would be beneficial for the government of Britain. But Clegg makes his proposal utterly ridiculous when he suggests that the current Parliament should "clean up politics once and for all" for the next six months' rather than enact proposals in a Queen's Speech. He just does not 'get it' that the current Parliament has lost all credibility, and its only a new Parliament, elected after the people have had their say that can do the 'cleaning up'. There will no closure on 'expensesgate' until a General Election has been held.

But wait. Sir Emyr Jones Parry is speaking tomorrow. He's going to tell Rhodri Morgan that he believes the time is right for Assembly Members to ask the UK Parliament to hold a referendum on granting full law making powers to the National Assembly in all devolved policy areas. He might even suggest one or two further policy areas should be devolved, though I hope he doesn't confuse the two principles. Any referendum question will be difficult enough to explain as it is. I suppose there will be a 'Statement' from the First Minister next week, and I guess a debate in the New Year. Though I hear whispers that the Lib Dems might use 'Minority debate' time before Xmas. Never ones to miss the chance for a gimmick. Whatever, the proper debate should be fun - now that David Cameron has said that any request for a referendum will not be vetoed by a Conservative Government. Nick Bourne must be salivating at the prospect. Funny how just writing a post can help the mists of depression to lift.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Damaging row over the Welsh Language

Today's Western Mail has gone big on questions about Edwina Hart's suitability to serve as First Minister because of her inability to speak the Welsh Language. I'm really sorry to see this issue being raised. But Betty Williams, retiring Labour MP for Conwy has done so. Does she not realise that instigating this debate damages public support for bilingualism, and probably damages Carwyn Jones, the only Welsh speaker in the race to succeed Rhodri Morgan - the opposite of what she's reported to want. The best comment in the article comes from Menna Machreth Jones, Chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith (The Welsh Language Society) who's reported as saying "Speaking Welsh is an important skill for anyone, including the First Minister, but just as important, if not more so, is their attitude to the Language. Is that person committed to delivering the cross party vision of a truly bilingual country?" Spot on.

I have to admit that Edwina doesn't help herself by comparing the Welsh Language with Bengali or Chinese. What on earth was she thinking when she said that? When I was a young man, there was much division in Wales about the language. It was all deeply unpleasant, and reflected very badly on Wales. A few hotheads even set fire to houses of non-Welsh speakers. But over the years, wiser heads prevailed, and depoliticised the debate. They realised that if the language was to prosper, it needed the support of those who did not speak it, as well as those who did. Eventually, the now Lord Roberts of Conwy secured a successful future for the Welsh Language by means of adaption of the 1988 Education Reform Act to encompass the linguistic distinctiveness of Wales. It became part of the National Curriculum in Wales. This was the single most important development in the long battle which halted and then reversed the seemingly inevitable decline of Welsh.

Edwina's honesty sometimes gets her into trouble. She could so easily have said that she was going to learn, and arrange to have a few lessons. I know plenty of people who have done that, and then pretended that they can speak Welsh - when they can't. That's not Edwina Hart's style, and its to her credit. We do not want to see the future our Language being put at risk by stoking up an unnecessary row - if its all right with you Mrs Williams.

Abuse of the Elderly

Why do they always use photographs of people's hands. I truly hate this photograph which the BBC has given such prominence. And then there's this one, which I do not hate as much, but dislike because its hands again. Perhaps its because hands show wrinkles of age more prominently. It's the same when people who have suffered a terrible personal loss are being interviewed. So often the camera homes in on the hands of two distraught people trying to give each other some support. Personally, I regard it as offensive intrusion.

UPDATE - The photograph which I hated has now disappeared as news moves on. But the general point remains.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Midnight Walk.


The brigade down at Welshpool Fire Station are a lot more than just fire fighters. They are a part of the social fabric of the town. Over the last few weeks they have organised a 'Midnight Walk' to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. The event took place last night, and the Mayor of the town asked me to join her to cut the ribbon through which the 451 walkers burst out of the Fire Station. It cost £12.00 to enter, and about 500 did - so a fair bit of money was raised for one of my favorite charities. I thought it was called Macmillans Cancer Relief, but the name was changed about two years ago to more accurately reflect the charity's work.
It was a beautiful evening. Most of us were dressed for less clement weather, and were sweating heavily as we approached the summit of Red Bank. Most of the walk was through Powis Castle Park, where there was no lighting other than that which we carried ourselves. As passing under the imposing silhouette of 'Castell Coch', one of the male walkers, suffering perhaps from a flabby prostate, felt the need to disappear into the darkness for a pee. Don't suppose he was expecting the 500 torches to be trained on him, along with our cheers and best wishes. Mrs D and I did not take any short cuts, and the walk took us about 1 hour 45 minutes.
Now, the photograph above is significant. The Editor of the local newspaper, Nick Knight was there, fully equipped with a backpack, his mother (who was walking with him), and a camera, which he failed to operate at all. So he used mine, and only took a couple of photographs before my battery expired. So this could be the only photograph of a quality suitable for newspapers available anywhere in the entire world. Before going home we enjoyed the hospitality of the fire fighters, in the form of a coffee and sausage roll. In bed by three.

Lack of Respect.

I usually have a look at what Spin Doctor in the Wales on Sunday has to say - mainly because he or she often writes about the mood changing qualities of the water in Montgomeryshire. Today the column informs us of a story about.....

'two Welsh politicians who were barracked by war veterans when they continued to loudly hold an unrelated conversation during a remembrance procession through their constituency last week? A British Legion veteran felt forced to yell at them, telling the pair "You're walking around like you're in Asda and you just carried on talking"! When one of the politicians attempted to reply, the elderly man shouted "Shut your bl***y mouth - just for once in your life and listen to someone else, and you may just learn something." The politician was left shaking, while the colleague was left to placate the veterans..'.

Please note that blame for the awful 'split infinitive' rests entirely with Spin Doctor. Not sure why there should be such coyness about naming the individuals concerned. I was told about this incident soon after it happened (though not the actual words supposedly used) - which was during the remembrance procession in Newtown, in Montgomeryshire. I'm told there were 300 people on the street at the time. I'd accepted an invitation to join the procession in Welshpool, or I might have witnessed the incident myself. I'd concluded that the story damaged the dignity of Remembrance Sunday, and had not repeated it to anyone - so I must admit to being a tad surprised to see it appearing in the WoS. I'm not going to allow any names to appear in comments.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Should 'Policing' be devolved?

This article about the devolution of policing to the National Assembly in today's Western Mail interests me a lot. Downside is that it does make discussion about a referendum on devolving greater law making powers to Wales more confusing - just five days before Sir Emyr Jones Parry recommends that the Assembly Government 'goes for it' as soon as possible. Or so we are led to believe. Any referendum would be about policy areas that are already devolved - not about devolving new powers such as policing. I'm not necessarily against extending the range of devolved powers, but its an issue separate from the now anticipated referendum.

A few years ago, I was asked to explain myself to our group leader in the Assembly after being quoted in the Western Mail as 'not being personally opposed to devolving policing to the Assembly". Actually, it was no more than a casual conversation, but there had been complaints. I wonder whether these comments by Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling have caused any similar ripples. They shouldn't - because what he's quoted as saying in very sensible, and the same as I've always thought.

The principle that matters here is how policing can most effectively be carried out. I would take a lot of convincing that total devolution would be sensible. As crime and terrorism have become more international and sophisticated, effective liaison across international borders becomes more important. There will be an important continuing role for the Home Office. But a lot of policing issues could perhaps be better delivered by the National Assembly. All other emergency services are already devolved. Chris Grayling is right to take the pragmatic approach.

This last week has been a very good week for those of us who believe the Conservative Party should become the party of effective devolution - driven by a commitment to a stable British constitution. One aspect of my conservatism is about allowing decisions to be taken at the nearest level to the community as is practical. Seems to me its just common sense. Its all very encouraging.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Peeing for Britain.

You've really got to hand it to the upper classes. The owners of our stately homes have come up with a genuinely practical way of saving the planet. Pee bales - bales of straw, strategically placed in secluded locations around the gardens. The idea is that when men and boys feel the need to urinate, they are encouraged to relieve themselves onto them. Well, that's the last time I sit down on a bale of straw that happens to be lying about any garden. Fairly common practice for a countryman to chew a stalk of straw as well. Never again.

Rosemary Hooper, of the Wimpole Estate is particularly enthusiastic about this practice. She has the job of 'master composter' and is encouraging the 20 male staff she works with to use the 'pee bales'. She is even inviting visitors to the gardens to join in. After a certain length of time , the 'pee bales' are added to the compost heap. Now, Rosemary is encouraging staff and visitors to "cut out the middle man" and pee straight onto the compost heap. It could even become a group activity - like when the bus stops on the side of the road on the way home from a rugby international. She says "Peeing on the compost heap activates the composting process, helping to produce a ready supply of lovely organic matter to add to add back to the garden. Adding a little pee just helps to get it all going. Its totally safe and a bit of fun too." I suppose it could become a Xmas party game!

And its not just men. I read that Baroness Young, whom I dined with last week in the House of Commons freely admits to peeing on the compost heap. And it seems that Cameron Diaz pees in the shower. I realise that there is absolutely no reason why not - but this news has shaken me to my roots.

I'm sure there will be many of the more genteel members of polite society who will frown on all this. But if it were to be widely adopted, it would save between four and nine litres of water at every stop. It could save the planet if everyone did it. Now none of this is at all noteworthy to the farming community. What do you do if you are ploughing a field a mile from the nearest relief station, or combining non-stop for 24 hours? Just think about it. And The National Trust is backing this new trend. Wonder if it will make it to any of the political party's manifestos.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Posing with a champion.

The historic occasion was the first sale of livestock through the new Welshpool Livestock Market today. The event was The British Charolais Cattle Society Ltd. (Welsh region ) Official Annual Show and Sale. This handsome fellow was declared the Show Champion. Today's judge was Mr John Williams of Caersws. The last time I saw John, I was judging him at a Strictly Come Dancing Evening in Tregeglwys!

This bull's name is Pedr Dougal and he is 16 months old. His sire's name is Brelack Tycoon, and his dam's name is Pedr Rhonwen. He was bred by Peter Howells of Llanybydder. Today he broke all records at Welshpool by attracting a bid of 8,300 guineas. He went to the noted Montgomeryshire producer, Ashtons of Belanddu. Although I'm wearing a suit, handling a bull is not an unusual experience for me. Until I sold my suckler herd around ten years ago, I always owned two bulls, or hired them in from today's judge.

Handling these creatures is not a job to be treated lightly. Just ask David Dimbleby. When the French Charolais was first imported into this country, the bulls were often a bit frisky - and not only when aroused by a cow or heifer in season. By today, this nasty streak has been largely bred out of them, and the Charolais is generally a gentle creature - for someone who knows what he or she is doing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Absence of integrity

The Liberal Democrats in Montgomeryshire are currently distributing a 'newspaper' which they call 'Montgomeryshire Mail'. Normally, I don't read other party's promotional material, but I was advised to read this. I was both surprised and disappointed by what I read. This 'newspaper' has been written without any sense of political integrity, or even decency. It is based on an attempt to deceive the reader.

The Montgomeryshire Conservatives are just about to begin distribution of a major promotional 'magazine' of our own. I've been involved in approving the text and photographs. Standard policy for us is not to include any photograph without the express permission of every individual in it. Several good photographs were ruled out. The Montgomeryshire Lib Dems totally ignore this basic principle. There's even a photograph of me in it! Two thirds of the front page is taken up with a photograph of a march in Llanidloes, where the local MP and AM are portraying themselves as leading what was a locally organised campaign. There are perhaps 100 local Llanidloes campaigners who have been used as political extras. I've talked to Llanidloes people who resent this. It may be legal, but its just not right.

The other third of the front page is based on comments by Shrewsbury's Conservative MP, Daniel Kawczynski concerning flood control in the Severn Valley. I've no argument with this, if they want to base their campaigning on attacking others. But the article includes the words "Kawczynski, a good friend of the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Montgomeryshire, said....described the farmland as mere scrubland." The clear intent is to create the impression that I take the same opinion as that credited to Daniel, who was quite upset when I let him know what had been written. The Lib Dems know this not to be true. They have used words that are not 'lying' but are deliberately designed to deceive. Those who wrote it, and approved it are deceitful people.

Over the page there is another headline which reads 'Assembly EID sheep-tagging DISGRACE'. Its important to understand the background. Every political party in the National Assembly opposed EID, a new electronic tagging system for identifying sheep. All worked together, with the farming unions to resist this crazy system. The Plaid Minister, Elin Jones has fought extremely hard. But the EU has been totally intransigent. In the end there was no alternative but for the Minister to agree. The farming unions understood this. Even the UK representative of Livestock Markets, who opened the new Livestock Market at Welshpool last Friday accepted the inevitability in his speech. In considering this issue, all Assembly Members know that the EU has the power to stop the Single Farm Payment. Mick Bates would have been involved in every discussion. He knows all this. He knows that in the National Assembly, no-one did more than Elin Jones, the Minister or Conservative AM, Brynle Williams. Yet, this 'newspaper' seeks to create the impression that it was only the Lib Dems who opposed EID. Again, there are no outright lies - just an attempt to deceive. Those who wrote this article, and those who approved it are deceitful people.

This particular issue of the Montgomeryshire Mail is an example of the very worst sort of politics - the sort that abandons decency and integrity. In my opinion it debases politics. Please someone tell me if I ever descend into behaving in anything like this deceitful way.

Changes at Powys Council

It seems that a new 'coalition' (or is it administration) could be running Powys County Council. I've not seen anything official though, There have been rumours for a while that the Powys Independent Alliance and the Liberal Democrats were going to form an informal coalition. Between them they have the numbers to run the Council. Well it looks as if the deal could have been done. I do think they should tell us exactly whats going on.

Reason to believe that a coalition has been formed was the way that Lib Dem leader, Cllr. Les Davies voted at today's meeting of the Executive Board. A decision was taken to open discussion with every primary school in Powys with under 35 pupils about school closure. One Lib Dem Councillor had told me before the meeting that the group were very unhappy about this proposal and that Les was going to oppose it - but he voted for it. I suppose this could be the price of 'Collective Responsibility'. Perhaps my informants are reading too much into it. Whatever, I wonder what the instinctive 'conservative' Independents in the 'PIA' think of all this. Perhaps they don't know! Well, they do now!

Another change is that Cllr. David Jones has taken over the leadership of the 'Shires' Independent Group from Cllr. Barry Thomas. It seems that Barry has decided that his new responsibility to the whole Council, as its new Vice Chairman, rendered his position as leader of a group as untenable. Makes Barry look rather 'noble'. The two Vice-Chairmen are Cllr. Graham Brown and Cllr. Gary Price. Gary's only been a member for 5 minutes and he's in one of the big chairs already.

Rampant Rabbits

Researchers at the Institute of Regenerative Research at Wake Forest University in North Carolina have developed an implant that can transform an impotent rabbit into a rampant buck in less than 60 seconds. Out of every 100 disinterested males treated with this new implant, 83 perk up on sight of a female, and succeed in mating within one minute. Bearing in mind the rate at which rabbits multiply at Cil farm, I can imagine no research project more pointless.

But its not pointless. There are incidental benefits. Professor Antony Atala, the study leader, said the results "suggest that the technology has considerable potential for patients who need penile reconstruction." This article in today's telegraph just appealed to my sense of the ridiculous - but I can see that the technique promises genuine health benefits.

But let's try and think of other potential uses for this scientific breakthrough. For example, could an 'implant' bomb have an offensive military use? Imagine the chaos if an 'implant' scatter bomb was exploded above an enemy city. All our forces would have to do is wait for 60 seconds before just walking in and taking control while 83% of the enemy were otherwise distracted. Any other suggestions (within reason) are welcome.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Tina has arrived.

Today the UK Government announced that it intends to go ahead and build 10 new nuclear power stations. Every effort will have been made to give the appearance that this was a carefully planned decision, taken after due consideration of all the alternatives etc. etc.. B*****ks. It was a momentous decision taken in a state of panic. And to add to the sense of headlong rush, a new quango has been established to obliterate the rights of the British people to make any meaningful objection. The reality was that we had passed the point of no return.. The Big Dipper was in free fall. We had thrown ourselves off the bridge with an elastic rope tied to our ankles. Just don't be fooled into thinking this was a 'decision'. Gordon Brown had no bl***y choice.

I became a (reluctant) supporter of new nuclear power generation about 5/6 years ago. Previously, I'd been an anti. Now, it wasn't as if I thought any of my concerns had been assuaged. Ironically, my conversion took place during a period when my main concern was reinforced. Opposition had been based primarily on there being no realistic method of radioactive waste disposal. Around that time, the Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee of the National Assembly, which I chaired, entered into discussion with a Commission established by Tony Blair to look at future methods of disposal. Looking back, I can see that it was a softening up process to prepare the British people for today. The Commission came forward with no practical answer (except deep burial in 40 years time, which is no answer at all). The new big idea was to bribe some part of the country to allow a very deep hole to be dug into which to tip it - at some unspecified time in the future.

It was during the evidence taking and self briefing that I liked to prepare myself with, that realisation dawned. Was it Pythagoras who leapt out of the bath shouting 'Eureka'? Well, rather less dramatically, I concluded 'Tina'. There is no alternative. As I've watched the pathetic displacement activity involving wind turbines and barrages, I've known that 'Tina' would visit us one day soon. She arrived today. I just pray that during the wasted years of indecision, at least some effort has been made to plan for what happens next. It may well be inevitable, but I do not have to like it.

The Last Baaa

OK, so I didn't see any tears being shed, but today was an emotional day down at Welshpool's Livestock Market. After more than a century of the buying and selling of the finest livestock in Mid Wales, the gavel fell for the last time. The biggest one day livestock market in Europe is being elbowed aside by Tesco, and is moving a mile down the road to the splendid new site, that was officially opened last Friday. And what an opening it was. I left mid afternoon, when a few of my country cousins were just beginning to do justice to the free bar. There were a fair few Landrovers still in the car park on Saturday morning, and one perched at a jaunty angle in the lorry wash. I have the names. Anyway this is the classic Welshpool Livestock Market photograph. Jonathon is selling, and no-one sells more. Perhaps it should have been John Jones, just for today. Richard is checking the lamb's condition, and no-one buys more. My guess is that there were about 8,000 fat lambs there today. No tears, but then farmers are real men, who don't cry.

This is a photograph of Richard Evans selling the 'dairies'. That's the first auctioneer's box I ever stood in. When I was a lad, my father used to put me in the box so that he could bid the price up from the crowd. My job was to nudge the auctioneer, to cover my father's bid, if he was caught out, buying his own animals.

And this is a photograph of the store cattle. Mid Wales is known throughout the UK as a good source of store cattle. Buyers come to Welshpool from all over Britain. there weren't that many there today. Well there won't ever be any more. I'm told that the grand old market will be flattened by Xmas, and the work will start on the new Tesco in the new year. By next July, I'll be able to relax with a cappuccino on the site where I bartered with the late Mal Edwards, argued ferociously with the fat lamb graders, sighed dejectedly on poor trades and suppressed a joyous sense of victory on good ones. To most people its just an area of old stock pens and buildings past there best, but most of the men (and its mainly men) took a wealth of memories home with them from Welshpool today.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Reflections on EU Policy.

Been reflecting on the weekend media's response to David Cameron's policy statement following the decision of the Czech President, Vaclav Klaus to complete the Lisbon Treaty's ratification process. Not sure what to think. Best column, in my opinion, was William Rees Mogg in the Mail on Sunday. Like me, he thinks the sheer deception which has been employed by the EU to avoid any sort of democratic approval for its 'constitutional' treaty has done great damage to the EU. People like me, who might have described themselves as 'moderately' Eurosceptic have been pushed into a deep suspicion of the whole EU enterprise. If the Conservatives do win the General Election, the UK will have a deeply Eurosceptic government. And Euroscepticism is going to gain ground across Europe.

I was very disappointed in Christopher Booker's article in the Telegraph. He states with authority 'Of course, David Cameron never wanted a referendum' etc.. He has no grounds for writing that sentence and for this reader has sacrificed his credibility. I cannot see how anyone can say that David did not want a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. None of the leaders of the EU thought that, which is why they pulled every trick in the book to get it ratified before the Conservatives could stop it. A Conservative Government could never have reneged as Labour and the Liberal Democrats did - even if the leadership wanted to. Mr Booker has written bilge today.

The most encouraging article I've read has been written by Janet Daley in the Telegraph. They do not come much more Eurosceptic than she is, but she's a realist. She knows the difference between making a noise, and making a difference. Like many of us, she does not like our being denied a meaningful referendum, but unlike Ukip supporters, she puts the blame where it should properly be put - on Labour and the Lib Dems. Sometime over the next few days I want to post about integrity in politics - asking whether 'deception' is a legitimate strategy. A recent leaflet distributed by the Lib Dems in Montgomeryshire is a blatant attempt to deceive, which upset some of my supporters. "We stay out of the gutter", is my response. "The voters are not stupid and will see through the deception". And I do not think they are daft enough to go along with Ukip's strategy of preventing a Conservative Government being elected either. It just cannot make any sense to a genuine Eurosceptic. After reflection, I think I'm quite encouraged by the weekend's media.

Remembrance.


Today there were thousands of Remembrance Services around the world. I joined the people of Welshpool at their Parish Church of St Mary for what the Order of Service referred to as the 70th Anniversary of the start of World War 2. St Mary's is the Church where we were married.
It's always an impressive event. Begins at the Town Hall at around 10.30, where the Procession is formed. Really good turnout along Broad St and Church St to watch. The Mayor of the Town had invited me to join in, so I tagged along at the back. But when the procession reached the Church, I peeled off and didn't take one of the reserved seats. Prefer to be in the midst of the congregation, unless on official representation duties. She's a big church. And she was full. After the service it was another procession back to the Town Hall for more ceremony, and then inside to enjoy the Mayor's hospitality. That was full as well.
Biggest crowd anyone could remember for the Annual Service of Remembrance and Dedication. And many were young, with their young. Recent casualties in the war in Afghanistan gave this day special significance. Highlight, as always was the Act of Remembrance itself - The Last Post, The Silence, The Reveille, John Gwillt's sure-footed Exhortation and equally sure-footed Harold Jones's Kohima Epitaph. And it all ended with the Marching Song of the Republic. After it was all over, I went back to the War Memorial and took a photograph of where hundreds had been 30 minutes before. The Church door was closed. It was as silent as the grave.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Very Big Week in Welsh Politics.

I do not believe that many commentators on Welsh politics have acknowledged the significance of David Cameron's statement last Friday that a Conservative Government led by him would not veto a formal request for a referendum on extra powers for the National Assembly for Wales. The 6th of November, 2009 was a very big day for Welsh politics. Since it delivered one of the main objectives behind my decision to seek selection as a Parliamentary candidate, please forgive me for seeming pleased. The churlishness of those who wish the Conservative Party ill only adds to my pleasure. The current Secretary of State, Peter Hain (and none come more churlish than he) has made himself look very silly indeed. The best that most of them can throw at us is the literally incredible suggestion Cameron will not keep this promise. Ah well. Bit like Warren Gatland moaning about the referee.

Regular visitors will know that this blog has been totally committed to campaigning for the transfer to the National Assembly for Wales of law making powers in all currently devolved policy areas since its birth. Its one of the reasons I started it. They will also know that this blog has been deeply frustrated by the prevarication and lack of purpose in the Assembly's governing parties. They will also know that I've thought the reason for this is that both Labour and Plaid Cymru have planned to call for the referendum when the decision to grant it would fall to Conservative Government. At least some of the individual elected representatives of the two parties did not want a referendum, and hoped they could 'blame' the Conservatives for not agreeing to it. Well all that nonsense has been buried. The ball is right back in the Labour and Plaid's court. The importance of Sir Emyr Jones Parry's statement on the 18th promises to make it a real red letter day for Wales. If he says "Go for it", there'll be more squirming on the top floor of the National Assembly than at a lap dancing club - as new delaying tactics are searched for. Nick Bourne can look forwards to a series of long hops and open goals.

Must admit I'm really pleased. I'm no 'nationalist' but across the political world, its the right-of-centre parties that have championed the cause of regionalism, and promoted minority languages. For some reason this is not the case in Wales - despite the brilliance (in a downplayed subtle sort of way) of Lord Roberts of Conwy. There is just one further point I want to make before ending this post. It relates to the assumption, by some who should know better, that if there is a referendum under a Conservative Government, it will be a case of Conservative AMs campaigning for a Yes, and MPs campaigning for a No. Dear readers, it depends who is elected, and how influential those individual MPs will be. Interesting times ahead!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Will Lloyd Williams MBE.

Will is a man with a pen. He's never without it - or a piece of paper upon which to write down an order from whoever he might meet - a turkey, or faggots, or some bones for the dog. (not sure whether today's health and safety laws allow this now). Today, Will went to Buckingham Palace to collect his 'gong' and his pen was at the ready. He knows that nothing but the best will do for Her Majesty, and that's what he sells. Just imagine is she had wanted to order a leg of lamb, and Will had left his pen at home! He'd never have forgiven himself.

Will Lloyd Williams' butcher's shop is the heart of Machynlleth. Along with Dai Wyn Davies' table at the Bowling Club, it serves the same purpose as the Parthenon did in Ancient Athens. You see, Will and Dai are philosophers as well. If I want to know what the people of Machynlleth think, I telephone Will and Dai, and County Councillor Michael Williams to ask. I told a few people in Welshpool about this practice of mine today. Tesco was under discussion - because of the opening of the new Livestock Market, which creates a site on which Tesco will be building one of its environmental stores (to be open for business by next July). There has been a bit of a disagreement about the benefit or otherwise that a similar environmental Tesco will bring to Machynlleth. The S4C programme, Y Byd ar Bedwar was being recorded to go out next week in Welshpool today. The opposition in Machynlleth has been led by the environmentalist, George Monbiot and the local MP, Lembit Opik. But my three 'advisors' told me that the vast majority of Machynlleth people are in favour. And now Will has an MBE as well. How can I do anything else but take notice of these three wise men. I hope S4C spoke to them as well.

Anyway, its hearty congratulations to Will. He has worked very hard to build a family run abattoir and shop in Machynlleth. He's also put a huge amount of voluntary effort into the town. He is a great man - just the sort of man I imagine Owain Glyndwr to have been. And he set up his Parliament just a few yards from Will's shop. This was one occasion when the award went to someone who truly deserved it - and Will should write than down with his pen. Because I'm not usually so complimentary.

Big Day for Welsh Agriculture

A new livestock market was officially opened in Welshpool today. Its reported to have cost £13 million to build. The project is the first part of a much bigger redevelopment of the town, the main feature of which is the construction of a new Tesco supermarket on the old livestock market. The new market was built by J Ross Developments, part of the Pickstock Group, the headquarters of which is in Oswestry. I can say that I was deeply impressed. My family have been users of Welshpool's livestock market since it first began operating in the 19th century. This is a big deal for me, and I'll be taking photographs on the last day's trading at the old site next Monday, and the first day's trading in this magnificent new development next Thursday.

I added this photograph to give you some idea of the scale of it. Richard Edwards' lorry at the far end looks like a dinky toy. In Wales M. E. Edwards lorries are as common as Eddie Stobarts. The new market covers 149,000 sqr. ft. Its massive.

This photograph gives you some idea of the interest there is in this new market. There had been an official opening this morning when perhaps 200 invited guests were present. This huge crowd turned up this afternoon just to look around - and enjoy a hog roast and a free bar!! It demonstrates how much this new market means to Central Wales.


And this final photograph is a personal one. Its the scanned front page of a supplement (in the Welsh Farming News) published in 1961. It was published as a celebration, the last time Welshpool Livestock Market was redeveloped. In 1961, it was owned by the local council. The man holding the gavel is the late Mr Austen Roberts, my father-in-law, who for decades was the principal of Harry Ray and Co. In 1961, he sold the pigs and barren cows. Harry Ray himself, who established the company, was Mrs D's grandfather. The first time I went to market would have been as soon as I could walk. It was what farmer's sons did in those days. And my mother would have spent the day in Welshpool as well - as all farmer's wives did. No driving licences and no two car families. For decades, Welshpool Livestock Market has been the largest one day livestock market in Europe. Today means that this record is likely to continue for many years to come.


Thursday, November 05, 2009

Bob Davies 1940 - 2009

The Montgomeryshire County Times and the BBC are reporting today the death of Bob Davies last Sunday. Bob lived in Welshpool, Montgomeryshire, and was a journalist with the Farmer's Weekly for 44 years. He was hugely respected by all connected with the farming industry. He was also greatly respected by politicians who have taken an interest in rural affairs over the last half century. Throughout my years as a Councillor, 'quangocrat', and Assembly Member, Bob was one of the journalists I most respected. He was always informed, tough and straight. His questions were always to the point. He would truck no dodging of the issue. His death has been sudden, and this blog offers condolences to his family. Rest in peace.

Are we going to see a huge change in Welsh politics tomorrow?

I do not know what David Cameron is going to say about a Conservative Government's response to a request from the National Assembly for Wales that a referendum be held to grant law making powers to Cardiff Bay in all currently devolved areas. But I have read this blog post from Betsan Powys. Irritating for me to see her speculate in this way. I've just turned down the chance to discuss the issue on Good Morning Wales because I feel I should wait to hear what David actually says. Appearances on GMW are prized by me. I did talk to the outstanding David Williamson of the Western Mail though. He's prized as well.

But its worth you reading the post - and the comments. Churlish or what. For thirty months, we've watched the Coalition partners prevaricate and obfuscate. We've watched Peter Hain, the Labour Secretary of State for Wales determinedly oppose a referendum before 2011. I've sat on a panel with the Leader of Plaid Cymru when he said that there was no point in him telling us whether he was going to ask for the referendum unless David Cameron agreed beforehand to approve it. We all know that the reason Ieuan Wyn Jones gave to activists in justification for his decision to prop up Labour in office in 1997 was commitment to hold this referendum. Oh, how they've mocked.

I repeat, I do not know what David will say tomorrow. But if she's right, the whole dynamic of Welsh politics is changed. I'm going to book a posh restaurant for tomorrow night - just in case.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Kelly's Rule

Just been reading through Sir Christopher Kelly's Report on the terms and conditions of employment that will be available to MPs in future. Interesting stuff. But nothing unexpected. Most of it had been leaked already. BBC researcher asked me what I thought of it. Reality is that my opinion makes no difference. No-one else's matters much either.

I don't agree with all of Sir Christopher's proposals. But I cannot even see the point of outlining where I disagree. No-one is interested. Because of what has been going on over decades, there is no choice but accept the whole package. Too much dirty water has flowed under the bridge. Its what a large majority of the public want.

Its not easy to decide on appropriate reward for an MP. I've never thought it possible to properly compare the salary of an MP with other occupations. There should always be an unpaid element of commitment to public service. Anyone who believes the salary and support is not sufficient should go do something else. An MP is on a good salary, and even post-Kelly, the support regime is generous. Being an MP is a most wonderful privilege and responsibility. Time for quiet acceptance, a bit of humility, and a General Election to give voters the opportunity to express their opinion of how incumbents have behaved..

So its 'Never Again'.

I wanted the British people to decide whether the Lisbon Treaty should become a part of European Union law. I am disgusted that the Labour Government, aided and abetted by the Liberal Democrats have reneged on their manifesto commitments and deprived us of the promised referendum. They connived with what I think of as a 'Brussels mafia' to prevent us standing by our commitment. In short, they cheated the British people.

Now, I must admit that I'd hoped that it would have been possible to hold some sort of opportunity for the British people to express an opinion on the undemocratic all-consuming Leviathan that has been created in Brussels. But it seems that its not to be. Today, I listened to David Cameron's tell us what "not letting matters lie" means - and then read it as well. It was good enough for me. I still feel cheated, but only by Labour and the Lib Dems. I reckon David has done all he could reasonably have done.

Firstly, he has committed a Conservative Government to amending the 1972 European Communities Act to ensure than any future proposal to transfer power to the European Union would require a referendum. This matters because it would include entry into the Euro zone. And he has promised a UK Sovereignty Bill, to ensure sovereignty remains with the UK Parliament - though I need to read tomorrow's commentary on this to fully grasp its impact.

Secondly, he told us that the General Election will serve as a 'mandate' referendum to negotiate guarantees about how the Lisbon Treaty will be implemented, and to seek the return of powers to the UK Parliament. No suggestion that any of this will be easy. A European Policy Committee is to be established, to be chaired by William Hague to work up proposals in respect of the Fundamental Charter of Human Rights, our Criminal Justice System, and social and employment legislation. William is just the man - likable, tough and Euro sceptic.

None of this is anything like as good as the promised referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, but Labour and the Lib Dems cheated us out of that. In the circumstances, I reckon its as much as David Cameron could commit to - without declaring a desire to leave the EU. Today's statement won't satisfy those who want out, but I hope all Conservatives will back our new stance. And perhaps a few of those Labour and Lib Dem supporters who share my disgust at the way their parties have betrayed Great Britain over the Lisbon Treaty will come on over and join us.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Lisbon Treaty.

Over the years I've trained myself not to be wound up by those who set out to antagonise me. My teenage response to provocation would not be considered appropriate for a mature aspiring MP. Must admit it was quite satisfying though. Anyway, all this rubbish being printed about David Cameron supposedly 'reneging' on a promise to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty is winding me up a bit. I wouldn't use the front page of today's Telegraph for chip paper. I can think of one appropriate use for it though - except that I'm an ostomate.

It isn't David Cameron who has 'reneged'. It was Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg who did that. Until Vaclav Klaus signed the Lisbon Treaty today, Conservative policy was to hold a referendum - which would almost certainly have resulted in a rejection, and demise of the Lisbon Treaty. Its because the policy of David Cameron was rock-solid, that there's been an orchestrated democracy-defying drive to ensure that the Treaty became EU law - before a General Election that the Conservatives may win. Now the Treaty's been signed off, what on earth is the point of holding a referendum. Like arguing about whether the stable door should have been bolted - after the horse has disappeared over the horizon.

Its what happens now that's interesting. The appalling way in which the EU undermines democracy, caring nought about democratic principles makes me more Eurosceptic by the day. I also think it has made the peoples of Europe more Eurosceptic. David Cameron will tell us what his phrase "not letting matters rest" means tomorrow. It could be a very significant statement for the future of our country.

I do find some of the comments of other politicians nauseating. I just do not know how Labour and Liberal Democrat spokesmen have the brass neck to criticise the Conservative position. They really are fit for anything - except to be taken seriously. With Ukip, my feelings are different. Its like when your best mate seduces your woman - when there are plenty of others available. This week's edition of our local County Times, here in Montgomeryshire, has a letter from the Ukip candidate at the next General Election, David Rowlands attacking the Conservatives. He's always attacking the Conservatives - despite his Conservative opponent (me) being 'Eurosceptic' and his other opponents being integrationist. National leader of Ukip, Nigel Farage is always doing the same. All of Ukip's efforts seem geared towards delivering the opposite of their avowed aims. I can report that just blogging on this issue is helping me to calm down. No need to resort to the direct action of teenage years after all.

Hain and Morgan being stupid - again.

Why do journalists take any notice of really stupid statements by politicians. Don't they realise it only encourages them. Today we have coverage given to comments made by Peter Hain and Rhodri Morgan suggesting that the number of Assembly Members would be cut from 60 to 45 if a Conservative Government is elected at Westminster. This is just plain stupid. Both Peter and Rhodri know its not true. No-one believes it. And yet this stupidity is given top billing. I shouldn't complain though. In the current climate any suggestion that the number of politicians be cut is likely to widely welcomed!

There is an issue about the number of MPs that will represent Welsh constituencies if a Conservative Government were to be elected. David Cameron has suggested that the total number of MPs should be cut by 10% - and that there should be equalisation of the voter/member ratio across the UK. Both suggestions carry a logic. How this would be implemented is genuine basis for a story - except that its been done so often already. It was part of the Conservative manifesto at the last General Election! Again, I'm not sure that many people are going to be upset by any proposed reduction in the number of MPs.

One point of interest to me. This article makes much of the idea that a 'new' constituency in Mid Wales would stretch from "the English borders to Cardigan Bay". I'm not sure that Montgomeryshire does not already do that. I think the 'Cross Wales Walk' was wholly within Montgomeryshire when I last did it. Whatever, its so close that it doesn't make much difference. Hope someone comments to tell us exactly where Cardigan Bay becomes the Dyfi Estuary.

Back at the keyboard.

Been away so long that it feels like starting to blog all over again. Arrived Holyhead late Sunday, after a week in Ireland. Spent four days in Cork and three in Dublin. Distance between these two cities in now a bit over 2 hours. Last time I was in the Emerald Isle for a few days, it was more like 4 hours. The investment in roads is amazing. It was my first drive through the new tunnel under Dublin - from the M50/ring road directly to Dublin Port. No wonder the Irish are so wedded to the European Union!

Failed to make it to my computer on Monday as well. Too much on. Party lunch in Meifod Village Hall, where the I was a speaker, alongside the world renowned Welsh Cob breeder and fuel protest leader, Brynle Williams, A.M. And then a dash for the train at Wolverhampton, en-route to a dinner in the House of Commons. As walking through the 'Great Hall' into the centre of the Palace of Westminster, I met Lembit Opik walking out. Hmmmm.

Dinner in Dining Room B was hosted by Lord Freeman. Discussion leader was Stephen O'Brien, Shadow Minister for Health. Subject under discussion was care of the elderly, with a particular emphasis on dementia. The more time I spend on this issue, the greater seems the gap (chasm) between 'need' and capacity to satisfy it. If I were ever to become an MP, care of the elderly would become one of my major interests. Stephen outlined Conservative ideas about setting up a scheme where individuals can buy entitlement to free long term care, if and when it becomes necessary, through committing a lump sum - I suppose its a sort of insurance scheme. Can't say more. Chatham House rules.

Managed to catch the 22.43 back to Wolverhampton. Must be the slowest train on the track. The 'voice' kept informing us that there were freight trains holding us up. Why is it that I never believe anything that's delivered by tannoy. I reckon Virgin was just saving fuel. Usual drunks on board, swearing for all of our benefits. Arrived home at 03.00. Too knackered to blog. Probably make up for it tonight.