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Monday, September 29, 2003

Just for the record

The Liberal Democrats are close to challenging the Conservatives as the main opposition party after their by-election success in Brent East and a publicity boost from their party conference. A YouGov poll for last Saturday's Telegraph shows the three main parties neck and neck - with only two points separating them. Although the Tories have held on to a slender lead over Labour, the Lib Dems are the main beneficiaries of the damage inflicted on the Government by the Hutton Inquiry and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The poll puts the Tories on 32 per cent (down five on last month), Labour 31 (down four) and the Lib Dems on 30 - up 10 points. Also, support for the Labour party has slumped in the key marginal seats it needs to defend at the next election, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today. But the survey also reveals that the Tories - who targeted these seats in 2001 as their most winnable - have failed to make any progress in the last two years. Their share of the vote has actually fallen by one point since the last election. Instead the Liberal Democrats have gained most - up eight points - in these key marginal seats. Sunday's News of the World put all three parties on level pegging at 31% with the Liberal Democrats gaining at the expense of both the Tories and Labour but importantly, the Liberal Democrats were seen as the most effective opposition party with 50% while the Conservatives polled only 34%.

A cosy life

For those of you who think being a politician is a cosy life I can recommend holding an impromptu public meeting with twenty constituents inside a cloud on the top of a mountain somewhere between Swansea and Ammanford without a coat. I had gone up there to see for myself the site of 23 proposed wind turbines and the impact they would have on the visual amenity of a very beautiful part of Wales. Unfortunately, I could not see beyond my own hand, though I am assured that on a clear day eight counties can be observed. Still, I learnt a lot about the 5,000 or so acres of common land on which I was standing and listened to the views of my constituents. The catch of course is that when the application for the wind farm comes in it will be determined not by the local Council or the Welsh Assembly but by the DTi. This is because applications to construct power generators over 50 mega watts are not devolved, unless they are off-shore. What nonsense!

I will not be posting for a few days as I will be away in Cardiff for meetings.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Cat Talk

Excellent piece about cats by Barbara Ellen in today's Observer Magazine.

"As for cats being men substitutes", she writes, "a truly great cat can be cute, arrogant, cuddly, self sufficient, smart, loving, vulnerable and interesting all at the same time, all in the same moment. If men were as much fun as that, women would spend all their time tickling their tummies too. It's very easy to deal with boyfriends who complain you treat your cat better than you do them. Just say: 'Once you've produced evidence that an ancient civilisation worshipped you, then perhaps we'll talk."

Swing low

The Wales on Sunday unveils an 'exclusive' about the Welsh Liberal Democrats. Under the headline "It's a Dem cheek!" it reveals "English anthem sung in Welsh Conference gaff". It is at times like these that I bury my head in my hands and mourn the death of good Welsh journalism and even the inability of journalists and sub-editors to write grammatically correct sentences. It seems that Welsh night at the Federal Conference featured as one of the last songs, a sing-a-long of "Swing low sweet chariot". Why everything has to be brought down to a tribal level in the Welsh press defeats me. Even delegates having a good time now have to be politically correct it seems. The fact that Welsh night has as one of its strengths the fact that it features all nationalities including the Scottish and the Irish and that undoubtedly their national songs were also sung as they have been every year, eludes the author of this sad and sorry tale. In this instance the offending sing-a-long was led by an English delegate and being the polite Welsh people we are, we joined in. So what? Having seen how effective a high quality Scottish media can be earlier this month I despair when I read page fillers like this. This sort of petty, narrow minded and misplaced nationalism just panders to the lowest common denominator. It is cheap and it is intellectually bankrupt.

A skewed vision?

The Wales on Sunday this morning has a huge article on page ten entitled "My vision for Wales' future by Peter Hain". I have a lot of respect for Peter Hain as a political operator and so naturally I was curious to see what the personal vision was that he wanted to share with us. The article however, turned out to be a legitimate and fairly accurate hatchet job on Plaid Cymru, the nationalist party of Wales. Mr. Hain quite rightly raised questions about the budget deficit that would have to be faced by an Independent Wales. He reported that Plaid themselves have estimated this black hole to be £1.5 billion, though I know that other commentators have come up with a figure three times as high.

He asked whether the money that has been earmarked for schools by the last Liberal Democrat-Labour Partnership Government would now be spent on overseas embassies and a seperate Welsh army. Well actually, he didn't mention us but even he cannot deny that the present Welsh Assembly budget is a joint affair. He didn't mention either that Rhodri Morgan is already spending £300,000 on overseas trade centres or embassies but then that would just be too inconvenient. I was surprised that although he referred to the cost of a separate Welsh Treasury, Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office, he did not pick up on the biggest expenditure that any independent Welsh Government would have to meet, namely that of social security.

Mr. Hain's alternative turned out to be the Welsh Labour manifesto for the Assembly elections. Investment in school buildings, school breakfasts and free prescriptions may form part of a programme for Government but they cannot be termed a "vision". He stated that "we will continue to transform Wales' NHS from a service that treats ill-health to a service that promotes and sustains better health, through investment in new hospitals and surgeries and thousands of extra nurses and doctors to join the 17,000 extra NHS staff since 1997." Now I don't want to pour cold water on good political sound-bites but firstly, the problem with the present NHS is that it is NOT treating ill-health very effectively at all. Despite thousands of dedicated and hard-working staff the system remains under-funded, under-resourced and under-equipped to do the job. That is why we have out-of-control waiting times. The investment in capacity that Hain refers to and which started under the Partnership Government is the right approach but it is a long term one, it is not yet the huge success that he portrays, not by a long way. Equally, that investment does not amount to a "service that promotes and sustains better health" as he states. It is a good and worthy aim but it is not one he seems to understand. If we are to promote better health then we need to prevent illness as well as treating it. That is about better housing, cleaner air, healthier eating, less drinking, good public transport and more exercise. None of that relates to investment in capacity, but to investment in Wales, something that Peter Hain does not refer to because, like a good machine politician, he is concentrating on the three core messages of education, health and crime, which all the focus groups say people want to hear about.

To be fair, Mr. Hain hits all the right buttons. It would make a good Conference speech. "Tough action is needed to tackle drug crime and the anti-social behaviour that blights communities", he says, but he does not provide the detail. That is because he knows that we have been embracing tough action on drug crime for decades and yet it increases day by day, with the result that I am now told that the street price of heroin in South Wales is falling, indicating that supply is outstripping demand. Yes, we need to target dealers but we need also to review our drugs laws so that the Police are able to better target their resources and we need to invest more in treatment, detox and rehabilitation to give drug users a chance to return to a normal life. And if being tough on anti-social behaviour involves criminalising innocent youngsters and giving the police powers that they know won't work then it is clear that Labour really has backed itself into a blind alley. Why are we not investing in facilities that will get our kids off the streets, like the excellent KPC youth centre in Pyle? If we had one of those in every community then many people would sleep sounder at night whilst the Police would be free to deal with the hardcore using Acceptable Behaviour Contracts and, as a last resort, Anti-Social behaviour Orders.

One interesting aside on the Nationalist independence debate. The Wales on Sunday is full of letters from people defending the Plaid Cymru resolution. The classic one however is from an Edward Huw Evans from Abergavenny who quite rightly highlights the inadequacy of the Barnett formula. He says that an independent report by Nuffield College in Oxford showed that a fair settlement would give Wales another £625 million to spend from central govenment. What he doesn't explain is how independence would put that right. An independent Wales would not need a reformed Barnett formula as it would not get any money from Westminster. Doh! The nationalists can't have their cake and eat it.

Saturday, September 27, 2003


Having started this blog, I have naturally found myself pulled deeper into the world of blogging. This involves reading the collective wisdom of many other bloggers, some of whom (the Liberal Democrat ones, but that might change), I have hotlinked from this site. The ones that I read a lot of are the political ones and these cover most shades of opinion. So far I have only discovered three written by British Parliamentarians, my own, that of Richard Allan MP and the blog belonging to Labour MP, Tom Watson. The one blog that has impressed me most for its wit, the quality of the writing and its originality is that belonging to Liberal Democrat, Vivienne Raper. Check it out, it is very good. By the way, most blogs run up the page as they are easier to read. As somebody who was always taught to write from left to right, down the page, I have had difficulty adjusting to this convention. I will, however, conform once we get into October.

Karaoke Queen

Nooo! This goes beyond the pale! People are starting to accuse me of being obsessed with Lembit Opik. The truth is that once you have found him you cannot put him down. He keeps coming back with more and more outrageous and off-the-wall stunts. This week he is to be found on a new programme on HTV Wales called "Karaoke Queen". For those who cannot get enough of our Welsh leader this is being screened at 11.30pm on Thursday 2 October. If you cannot get Welsh TV then think yourself lucky! In this startling attempt at it-is-so-bad-it-is-good TV, Lembit stars as a karaoke pundit showcasing the talents of his own constituents from the Castle Vaults, one of Newtown's 23 pubs and yes, just in case you missed his fundraising appeal, he rounds off the evening by playing his harmonica. By the way if you are into music and want a good laugh then check out this site. My favourite is the Viking Kittens.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Dr. Who

News reaches us that BBC Wales has won the right to make new episodes of Dr. Who. I won't admit to knowing that it is the 40th anniversary of that programme or people might think that I am a bit of a science fiction nerd. Actually, I only know that as the chair of the Sunday night rally at Conference happened to mention it in his introductory remarks. The new series is to be written by Russell Davies who wrote "Queer as Folk". Already there have been suggestions that he might want to use Cardiff Bay and the Welsh Assembly as a location. If he brought the Tardis to Assembly House there would be long queue of politicians wanting to see the future or correct their past mistakes. At the head of that queue we might find the Education Minister and ELWa officials wanting to undo the mess they have made of the first few years of that Quango.

Lembit and Dave

It seems that whilst I was having withdrawal symptoms about not being at Conference the remaining Welsh representatives were squirming with embarrassment as Wales' answer to Chas and Dave took to the stage to busk for money. Apparently, Lembit Opik decided that the best way to conduct the annual appeal was to play his mouth organ and sing with his pal, a man with a beard and an accoustic guitar called Dave, in the hope that somebody would pay them to stop. The Western Mail reports that "Mr Opik and Dave sang about the Brent East victory" whilst "a senior aide stood in the wings and shook her head in horror". Somebody should tell him, we are really pleased about winning Brent East, but not that pleased!

Turn again Dick Whittington

I spent the morning visiting the washery at Onllwyn, a fascinating experience that built on my previous visit to the open cast site at Nant Helen. I am not of coal mining stock, my father was a banker, and so I cannot pretend to know much about the industry. I am though willing to learn. Of course when we try to promote South Wales as a tourist destination we try not to mention the coal mines and the open cast, those are the stereotypical images we are trying to overcome. We concentrate instead on the beautiful countryside and beaches, the culture and overall experience. Mining of course was for many years the mainstay of the economy. It still provides many jobs. The washery at Onllwyn employs 80 people and process coal from Nant Helen and Margam for the domestic market, Aberthaw power station and the concessionary coal scheme. The process is fully computerised and also very noisy. I came away with a souvenir piece of coal with a high carbon content that glitters like a diamond as a consequence. I don't think I will get away with giving it to my wife as a present in lieu of the real thing however.

On the way up I discussed with my regional manager the decision of the Conservative AM for Monmouth, David Davies, to seek election to Westminster. It seems that like Dick Whittington, he has turned around from the course he was set on and has decided to head back instead for the big City. David has said he will remain an AM until 2007 if he is elected. That is allowed of course but it does throw doubts on the willingness of the Tories to provide a proper opposition to Labour in Assembly. They have already given Labour its slim majority by effectively securing the election of Independent AM, John Marek, to be Deputy Presiding Officer. Now the Tories are going to keep their Assembly seats warm for two years without any guarantee that they will be there for key debates, thus allowing Labour to relax and do as they please in the knowledge that they can win votes comfortably.

Thursday, September 25, 2003


So where are the weapons of mass destruction? Did Saddam Hussein take them with him into hiding or is George Bush saving them up for a rainy day? Why did Blair and Bush really take us into a war in which thousands of people were killed and continue to be killed? Surely it is time for some truth and a full public inquiry.

More thumbs up for Lembit!

Good grief! Somebody has written a song for Lembit Opik! Mitch Benn has supposedly immortalised our beloved Welsh leader in lyrical terms after hearing his 2003 speech to a Conference fringe in which the MP advocated "blue skies" thinking about how safe drivers could one day be given their own personal speed limits. Mercifully, the Welsh newspapers spare us too many of the lyrics about the man who "looks like a weed" but "lives for speed". Mitch is quoted as describing Lembit as a "soldier of truth, a defender of youth and a potential savour of the earth". Somebody pass me an asteroid!

Food for Youth

The Western Mail reports that "School Meals can seriously damage your health". This is news how, exactly? Experts claim that a "cheap food culture and regulations that force local authorities to operate 'competitive' school meals services have eroded the nutritional value of school dinners". They used to have a nutritional value? Before I get a flood of complaints from hard-working cooks and dinner ladies, I should point out that I am only being flippant and that their hard work is valuable and valued. After all it is 25 years since I last had a school meal as a pupil. The catering staff do not control their own budgets and I really do marvel that they can produce anything worth eating at all for a budget of 35p per meal. Somebody should tell the journalist and the researchers however that Compulsory Competitive Tendering is as dead as the proverbial dead parrot. The buzz now is best value and that means that the restrictions of lowest price no longer applies. Instead Councils should look to quality as well as value for money. So that cannot be used as an excuse. It is right that local authorities and the Assembly should be promoting nutritional food. The Assembly, thanks to the Welsh Liberal Democrats, have already started on that with free school milk for infants and fruit tuck shops, whilst most schools now provide water for their pupils. There is a long way to go however and the authorities need to get their act together. We cannot continue to give our kids the junk food they want to eat, nor should we be relying so much on frozen pre-prepared and processed foods. Free school breakfasts are a start but there is no substitute for proper investment in a decent school meals service, using local producers for maximum freshness and nutrition.

Cold Turkey

Listening to Good Morning Wales on the radio today I started to have severe withdrawal symptoms for Party Conference. The programme had relocated itself to Brighton for the day and was discussing the leader's speech and of course last night's Glee Club. The Glee Club is a huge sing song and get together that over the years has achieved a notoriety of its own. Happy as I am to be home I do feel a bit of resentment at being unceremoniously dragged out of this environment and being denied the opportunity to take part in important policy discussions that could impact on Wales. It was made worse by the fact that despite the efforts of the Welsh Liberal Democrats to ensure that all six of our AMs were present for the entirety of the two Plenary sessions this week so as to keep Labour on their toes, the other parties did not appear to have bothered. Labour had their full quota of 30 AMs there as I would expect but the Tories were three down and all the Plaid AMs were not present for every vote. The Tories even tried to oppose the Business statement but did not get any support as we took the view that if they couldn't be bothered to act like an opposition and make the effort then they did not deserve our help. I don't go to Conference for a good time, I go to work but that does not stop me enjoying my work. Do the BBC really have to parade all my friends and colleagues at Conference across the airwaves so as to rub it in?

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Fear of tunnels

Sometimes taking evidence in an Assembly Committee can produce an unusual insight. The Social Justice Committee of the National Assembly spent an hour and a half today having a very useful and interesting discussion with the three Welsh fire brigades and the fire brigade unions about the proposal to devolve powers and responsibilities for fire to Wales. At one point the Chair of the South Wales Fire Authority intervened to inform us that there is half a million pounds of equipment sitting at the Welsh end of the Severn tunnel to rescue us if something goes wrong. He continued "We don't think about it but when I travel through the Severn tunnel I think about it all the time!". Does he have an insight into the operations of our railways that we don't?

Those George Bush polls

The opinion polls referred to yesterday showing George Bush struggling against Wesley Clark, can be found here. It is better than I thought. Not only is Wesley Clark three points ahead of Bush with 49% to the Presidents' 46% but Kerry is also ahead whilst Lieberman, Dean and Gephardt are within striking distance.


Having spent last night in a hotel in Cardiff I am now back and able to upload my latest caricature. These are done by a Llanelli artist on the Shaw Trust stand and are very popular. I like to think that this latest one is me surfing the web as I have never engaged in the other sort of surfing activity in my life. Luckily the Hotel has E4 so I was able to watch "West Wing".
Posted by Hello

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Bare faced cheek

An e-mail arrives from the otherwise very pleasant Tory AM, Laura Ann Jones. She has tabled a statement of opinion (the Assembly's version of the House of Commons' early day motion). The statement reads that "This Assembly regrets that Labour introduced tuition fees, thereby breaking a promise to the electorate; regrets that student debt has more than doubled since 1997; calls for functions over student funding to be devolved to the Assembly to allow the Assembly to rule out top-up fees in Wales; calls on the Welsh Assembly Government to scrap all tuition fees for higher education students; calls on the Labour Government in Westminster to abandon plans for top-up fees." Laura is in her early twenties and therefore will not remember the devastation wrought on the education system by her party between 1979 and 1997. Nevertheless, the tabled text is audacious if not downright cheeky. I have now tabled an amendment and invited AMs to sign both it and the main motion. The amendment reads: "And in doing so notes that high levels of student debt has its origins in Conservative Government measures between 1979 and 1997 to reduce the value of the grant, to take away the right of students to state benefits and to introduce student loans. The Assembly notes further that Conservative MPs have voted twice in favour of top-up fees in Committee in Westminster."

It may be a blip, but it is our blip!

The inevitable rise in our opinion poll rating after the Brent East by-election has happened. The Guardian published its monthly ICM poll of voting intentions today showing us increasing our share of popular support by six points to 28%. We are now only two per cent behind the Tories, who are in turn lagging five points behind Labour. No doubt we will slip back but each time we do so we gain ground on where we were before. The Hutton inquiry has obviously taken its toll with a marked swing against the war. The Guardian very kindly writes that the poll "confirms that it has been Charles Kennedy's party rather than the Tories who are benefitting the most from the government's troubles." Tellingly, the poll records that the Labour Party's reputation for economic competence, which has been crucial to its landslide election successes since 1997, is showing signs of erosion. Further signs that we have arrived as a major force in British politics is a two page article in The Sun seeking to brand the Liberal Democrats as reds under the bed and personally attacking Charles Kennedy. It is nice to have a major tabloid paper publish all our main policy planks even if their motives are to rubbish rather than promote them.

More good poll news emerges even as I type this. The television news reports that George Bush's poll ratings are also declining and that the newly declared Democrat candidate, Wesley Clark, is now in a potentially winning position. There is long way to go in both Countries of course but who can blame me for enjoying the good news.

"You have mail"

As I was in last Friday the mailbag was not too horrendous. There were the usual clutch of invitations, some reports and agendas, replies to casework correspondence and a black face mask. This latter item naturally attracted my attention. It was accompanied by a message on an A4 piece of paper written in cut out letters from newspaper headlines. The message said "One bird two stones, a new plan has been hatched...who is behind the demon eyed stare?" This was naturally puzzling but then I get a lot of crazy mail. Later on in the chamber one of the AMs told me that all of the Swansea based members had received the same thing. She informed me that some had considered it as threatening mail and had referred it to the Police. I queried this with my Research Assistant, who dug out an article in the Western Mail about a "mysterious advertising campaign featuring a proliferation of Venetian mask-type symbols across the Swansea and Neath area". The article reported that businesses have been sent paper masks by mail and that a black symbol of the mask has appeared in Swansea's Castle Square and a similar one has been painted onto Neath's main bus station. Large banners have also been placed on Swansea's BT Tower and hundreds of stickers stuck to buildings across the region. The message was clearly not a threat but I nevertheless checked with the Assembly's police officer dealing with the case in the in-house Police Station. This is where being away from home for four days puts one at a disadvantage. She produced a number of news reports that confirmed that this was an advertising campaign on behalf of the Ospreys, the new regional rugby team that has been formed out of the Swansea and Neath teams. Who says nothing exciting ever happens in the Assembly?

Back in harness

On the road by 8am and a three and a half hour journey to Cardiff. So many people gave me advice on which route to take to avoid the rush hour traffic on the M25 that my head was spinning. I checked the map briefly before setting off. The other alternative seemed to be the M27 via Southampton but it looked really convoluted and not much shorter. In the end I gritted my teeth and opted for the familiar route. The M25 was not too bad but in parts it was slow enough to make a mockery of the flashy signs highlighting the variable speed limits. I pulled into the Assembly's underground carpark just in time for my group meeting at 11.30am. My speculation that perhaps the work on the new entrance to the Assembly building might not be ready proved to be ill-founded. The atrium has been converted into an open space with posh ceramic tiles and expensive looking wooden desks. There is a scanner for members of the public to pass through before entering the building. Staff and AMs use a number of pens with a swipe access gate.There was even an e-mail to tell us how to use them. It looks a bit like the ticket hall in an London underground tube station. Work has also started on installing the glass panelling that will separate the public gallery from the chamber. The metal frame has been put in but as yet there is no glass The creation of the zoo is only a matter of time.

And so to Cardiff

It is 9pm on Monday, four of the six AMs have already set out to travel back to Cardiff. The rain is falling softly and threatening to turn into a full flown torrent. I have just come back from the statutory BBC Wales reception, which actually always surprises me as I never fail to enjoy it. The Conference passed a motion today on GM crops that was very much in line with what we have been doing in Wales. It was based on the concept of choice, of ensuring that we protect crops from contamination and cross fertilisation by continuing the moratorium on the commercial planting of all GM crops and allowing all states and regions of the European Union to declare themselves a GM commercial crop free zone. This is in contrast to the reports in the papers today that speculated that the British Government is about to capitulate to US demands to unlease its GM products and seeds on to the UK.

All that is left now is Welsh night. For some reason we are to divide into teams and play games such as composing limericks about Welsh AMs and MPs. There will also be singing, which is the whole point of Welsh night. I will be up early tomorrow morning to drive to Cardiff so as to start the new Assembly term. It has been a short conference.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Reshuffle blues

One of the most sort after items at Conference is a pack of cards starring each of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party, rather like the cards produced by the Americans to help their troops find the most wanted Iraqis. I have bought a pack to auction as part of our fund-raising effort. I was in the Parliamentary Office when I heard a number of MPs discuss this novelty. One of them commented that at least it would make it easier for Charles Kennedy to reshuffle his spokespersons.

More of what the Tory press is saying

Today's Daily Express reports that the Home Secretary does not have a clue how many illegal immigrants are living in Britain. I would have thought that this was self-evident. As they are here illegally it is unlikely that they will be queuing up for a census count. The Express goes on to link this to an "asylum shambles". Presumably this is defined by the fact that the Express does not run immigration control and that people who are fleeing tyranny and poverty are not being shot as they disembark from channel ferries. Labour are equally culpable in this. They are using the language of the tabloids too by referring consistently to "bogus" asylum seekers. They are playing to middle England when they should be managing the claims and processing them better and when they should be putting the whole issue into context in terms of the small number of asylum seekers who actually come to this Country. The Express also reports alarm bells ringing in Whitehall at prospective civil unrest over large Council Tax increases and a proposed 5p a gallon hike in petrol duty next month. Both of these crises arise from the failure of Labour to get to grips with its own agenda. If they had included the replacement of Council Tax by a local income tax based on the ability to pay as part of their modernising agenda and if they had treated pensioners with respect instead of heaping derisory pension rises on them then they would not have people, especially older citzens, struggling to make ends meet and in real poverty because of the fiscal voraciousnss of local services. Equally, if they had reformed the voting system for local government and introduced the election of Councillors by the single transferable vote system then they would have had more representative and responsive local Councils with a chance of achieving some credibility with the local electorate. Finally, if they had not presided over a shambles on the railways and had invested properly in public transport then they would not find such unrest about fuel prices. The fact is that they failed on all these counts and must face the consequences. My only note of sympathy is that I find it as unpalatable as them seeing the Express crowing over it when they have no solutions to these problems either and their alternative is the widely discredited Iain Duncan Smith.

More Receptions

It seems that there is a Bloomberg reception but I have not been invited. Either that or I have mislaid the invitation. C'est la vie. It clashes with Welsh night anyway.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Sex and licensing

My one participating event at Conference was a fringe meeting at which I was asked to address the issue of the licensing of sex shops. Until I had this invitation I hadn't really given much thought to this issue. The Welsh press of course turned up hoping to get a story. It is too early to know whether they did or not. I took the view that the licensing of sex shops was becoming increasingly problematic not least because goods that would normally be sold by them are now being sold by other shops as well. In addition, if a sex shop keeps the percentage of sex related goods below a certain level then it does not need a licence at all. I felt that it was right that local Councils retain the ability to licence but that the target should not be the establishment but the goods that they sell. This would get around the various loopholes, reduce the cost to the establishment, as the inspection regime would not be so onerous, but also enable accountability and some local control, taking into account the nature of the area, appropriate number of shops etc. It was an intelligent and reasoned discussion between consenting adults that will hopefully belie tabloid style headlines, but we will see.

God save the Queen?

The Conference debated a motion today on whether we should promote a referendum on the abolition of the monarchy. The motion was moved very ably by Vivienne Raper, who also writes a Blog and who was speaking at Conference for the first time. Another speaker in favour was 16 year old Judi Bernstein, who did work experience in my Swansea office last year. I was happy to vote for the motion but it was defeated.This saved the party some embarrassment of course, especially as the Parliamentary Party appeared to have been whipped into voting against it. Somebody commented that they thought that the Queen was largely harmless. We used to say this about Lembit Opik and it may well be true but that is no reason not to pursue important democratic principles.


One of the joys of Conference is the number of exhibitors and the various goodies they dispense each year. I always get my year's supply of pens from these bodies. Bloomsberg are a particularly popular exhibitor if only because of the rather lavish reception they put on each year and the goody bag they dispense to representatives. Alas, this year there is no sign of them and the number of stands seems much thinner than usual. One group who are exhibiting but who have managed to avoid the fees charged to others is the Socialist Party of Great Britain. They have set up a stand covered with literature on the pavement outside the Conference Centre. But, why? Do they believe that they will find converts amongst the thousands of Liberal Democrats who have gathered in Brighton? Are they trying to make a point and if so what is it? I suspect we will never know. One of the exhibitors was the Shaw Trust who once again featured the caricariturist from Llanelli who produced the drawing on the front of this website. I have now had another one done and may well feature it at some point here. This time he has shown me surfing, an activity I have never embarked upon in my life. However, I will interpret this as surfing the net.

Where Wales leads...

The Conference is to debate a motion on Wednesday proposing the abolition of all health service charges. This will include prescription charges, dental and eye check-ups, spectacles, hearing aids, false limbs and long term nursing care for the elderly. The £4 billion cost will be met by raising the top rate of income tax to 50% for earnings over £100,000. Wales already set the trend of course under the Liberal Democrat driven Partnership Government. At our instigation the Welsh Assembly Government abolished Prescription, dental and eye-check up charges for some groups and froze the cost of prescriptions for all. Labour picked up on this during the Assembly elections with a proposal to abolish prescription charges altogether. In doing so they ignored a resolution of the Assembly, tabled by Welsh Liberal Democrat AM, Kirsty Williams, to give free medicines to the long term ill. As far as we are concerned that measure should be the first stage towards complete abolition but the indications are that the Health Minister will not go down that route. Calamity Jane, we believe, is proposing to knock a pound off this year and subsequent years until she reaches zero. In doing so she will benefit the rich and the poor equally whilst leaving those with large medicine bills due to their medical condition still struggling to pay the cost. They will only benefit properly at the end of the process. So much for caring-Labour.

Will the Tories pay the price for Brent East?

For a hotel putting up representatives attending the Liberal Democrat Conference to give us all a Sunday Express to read over breakfast seems to be a small miscalculation. However, it did give us an opportunity to assess the reaction of the Tory press to Brent East. There was the predictable discussion about the impact on Labour and how Tony Blair's sheen of invincibility has now become tarnished. By far the best part however was the analysis of how the result will affect the Conservative Party. The most bizarre assessment of course was that of Iain Duncan Smith. He told his party's Scottish Conference that the Liberal Democrats had made a strategic blunder by winning the by-election. Even his own MPs laughed at that. The fact is that the Liberal Democrats have the sort of broad appeal that the Tories can only dream about. Our problem has always been convincing people that we can win. The events of the last few years and by-election successes such as Brent East are all painting a picture of success and credibility that is closing that gap in perception. Not only do we have experience of government in Scotland and Wales but we continue to make advances at local Council level and with 54 MPs and growing we can now be seen as a potential alternative government in waiting.

The Express reinforced that impression with an "Exclusive Poll" that forecasts "oblivion for top Tories". They had looked at the swing to the Liberal Democrats in Brent East and then analysed the popularity of the parties and individual candidates and the turnout in every constituency in the Country. They then calculated the significance of the Brent East result for each seat. They concluded that the Tories would be ousted as the official opposition and 13 members of the Shadow Cabinet would be out of a job including Oliver Letwin, Michael Howard, David Davis, Theresa May, Michael Ancram and David Willetts. Tim Yeo, Liam Fox, Nigel Evans, Tim Collins, David Maclean, David Liddington and Eric Pickles would also lose their seats. The Liberal Democrats would gain 91 seats, putting them on 143, two ahead of the Tories and Labour would just hold on with a majority of 33.

This sort of fantasy politics is fun of course and can give one a warm feeling every morning for a few weeks. The reality is that there is a lot of work still to do to make it happen. I have no doubt that we can claim the scalps of a few of those named if not the vast majority of them, but a lot of water has yet to pass under the bridge and we should not get carried away with the consequences of a mid-term by-election gain just yet. The opportunity is there, it is up to us to grasp it and run with it over the next few years.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Thumbs up for Lembit!

It is amazing what gossip one picks up at Conference and very very sad that I cannot repeat it on this site. The biggest cheer of the night for the Welsh Liberal Democrats came when Lembit Opik and Eleanor Burnham arrived in the curry house having travelled to London by car and then caught a train to Brighton. I was told that this was because Lembit felt he would not find somewhere to park in Brighton. Conference was buzzing as expected as tired but jubilant Liberal Democrats arrived for a massive celebration of last Thursday's win. People were still a bit subdued today but I expect things to really start livening up tomorrow when our newest MP takes centre stage. For the Welsh Liberal Democrat contingent all the talk is about forthcoming internal party elections. Nominations close at our Welsh Conference in October for Welsh Party President and Assembly Leader. We await developments with baited breath.

Friday, September 19, 2003


I am off to Brighton for a few days tomorrow for the Liberal Democrat Conference. It promises to be electric after the events of last night. No doubt Sarah Teather will get a massive reception. I am taking my laptop so hopefully I will be able to continue to post to this blog.

That Quiz

And so to the Radio Wales quiz. As expected I performed disastrously, polling nul points on Welsh history. As I said previously I have a good excuse as I was educated in England. Labour AM John Griffiths from Newport also scored no points, whilst the winner was the class swot, David Melding, a Tory AM originally from Neath. Next time somebody else can do it, perhaps Jenny Randerson who used to teach Welsh history, for example!

Brent East

Well, we did it! In the end Sarah Teather emerged from a hard fought campaign to record an historic victory. The first Labour by-election defeat for 15 years and a 29% swing as well. By-elections are always difficult to extrapolate from of course and many of them prove to be a false dawn. However, the significance of this one was its context. It forms part of a sustained increase in support for the Liberal Democrats in the UK that has us consistently scoring opinion poll ratings of 20% or more following on from a General Election where we recorded another high water mark. There is every reason to feel optimistic for the future, mid term Labour blues or not.

The last by-election Labour lost to us was Greenwich, which was taken by the SDP's Rosie Barnes. She was later notorious for the fluffy bunny party election broadcast in the 1987 General Election, which must go down in history as the worst PEB ever recorded. If I remember rightly they showed it twice during that election just to demonstrate how devoid of ideas the Alliance parties were at that time. When she stayed with the Owenites after merger there was a huge feeling of betrayal amongst Liberal activists who had invested massive resources, time and effort into her election. Perhaps it is better therefore to remember Labour's previous by-election loss to the Liberal Democrats when Simon Hughes took Southwark and Bermondsey on 24 February 1983. Simon is still the MP after 20 years and must have a very good shot at becoming Mayor of London when Londoners vote next year on the basis of this by-election result.

Of course the other parties were trying to find excuses for their poor performance. A number of politicians highlighted a pink A5 leaflet distributed by the Liberal Democrats that carried a picture of Bush and Blair with the legend, "These men need your help...You can show your full support for them by electing a Labour MP who will just do what Tony Blair says." Personally, I think this leaflet is fair comment and it is nowhere near as bad as some of the stuff put out by Labour and the Tories. However, just to confirm my instincts I have an additional endorsement for the leaflet. Lembit Opik who is becoming well known for his charter of fair play in elections has admitted to me that he delivered it. It must have been OK then!

And so to Brent!

It is 11.24pm and no news on the Brent East by-election result. I cant stay up for it as I have to leave to drive to Cardiff at 7.30am tomorrow. I rather foolishly agreed to appear on a Radio Wales quiz at 8.50am in their Llandaff studio. This is the result of a debate in the Plaid Cymru Conference today in which the Nationalists discussed the way that history is taught in Welsh schools. A view was expressed that history is taught from an English Imperialist perspective and that the National Curriculum should be changed so as to redress the balance, that is teach Welsh history only. This is an idea that Mussolini would have embraced if he were Welsh. It was defeated.

Radio Wales had the bright idea that they would get four politicians, one from each party, into their studio and ask them ten questions on Welsh history. I was nominated by my party's Chief Executive as I have a degree in English and History. However, I grew up and went to school in England and my degree did not contain any study of the Country in which I graduated. I am going to be annihilated! :-((

Thursday, September 18, 2003

More on Bush

At a time when the death toll continues to mount in Iraq it is perhaps inappropriate to make fun of the President of the United States. The proper response is to vote him out. I note that General Wesley Clark has now thrown his hat in the ring as a candidate for the Democratic nominee. Obviously we will have to see who ends up the winner of the Primary process.

However, do we really need to opt for a career soldier, even a sound liberal one, to beat Bush? The danger is that when it comes to the crunch debates and the last few days of the election he will not have the experience or the firepower to outgun the President. If I had a vote I would still be backing Howard Dean. As I havent then I will content myself with some classic bumper sticker slogans. Sometimes it is the humour and the sarcasm that has the best impact.

Four More Wars! Bush/Cheney '04:
Assimilate. Resistance is Futile.
Bush/Cheney '04: Apocalypse Now!
BU__ SH__! Bush/Cheney '04:
Because the truth just isn't good enough. Bush/Cheney '04:
Compassionate Colonialism Bush/Cheney '04:
Leave no billionaire behind Bush/Cheney '04:
Over a billion Whoppers served. Bush/Cheney '04:
Putting the "con" in conservatism Bush/Cheney '04:
Thanks for not paying attention. Bush/Cheney '04:
The last vote you'll ever have to cast. Bush/Cheney '04:
This time, elect us! Bush/Cheney '04:
We're Gooder! Bush/Cheney:
Asses of Evil Don't think. Vote Bush!
George W. Bush: A brainwave away from the presidency
George W. Bush: It takes a village idiot God Save the King!
Let them eat yellowcake! Vote Bush!
Peace & Prosperity Suck -- Big-Time Vote Bush in '04:
"I Has Incumbentory Advantitude" Vote Bush in '04:
"Because every vote counts -- for me!" Vote Bush in '04:
Because dictatorship is easier Vote Bush in '04:
It's a no-brainer! Vote for Bush & You Get Dick!
Who would Jesus Bomb?
Bush/Cheney '04: "Leave no child a dime!"

Wednesday, September 17, 2003


I am always on the look out for new websites of interest so when my researcher, Francesca, told me that she has one of her own I naturally clicked on to have a look. It is very interesting but I am not sure if the following passage in the biography is grounds for disciplinary action or not:

"I am currently working for Peter Black. He is a Liberal Democrat Member of the National Assembly for Wales (Welsh Government)and democratically elected King of Cwmbwrla (his ward). Appropriately renamed Ginger because of his hair (and just to tease him really), he is the most organised and hardest working politician ever which means more work for me! You can find him leafleting in Morriston pretty much at any time. The best part of working for him is that he's a real lefty and has enough sense of humour to let you take the piss out of him, something that Nick (Regional Manager and Swansea Councillor) and I enjoy greatly!"

Clearly, I am a soft touch as an employer.

Building Work

Another visit to the Assembly to clear my desk. Work on renovating the main entrance is still on-going but does not seem to be making much progress. Doubts are being expressed that it will be finished in time for the return of AMs next Tuesday. Was it meant to be ready for then? I suspect so. I can't see the great and the good being too chuffed at trooping into the chamber over a load of dust sheets and the sound of tile cutters. As for the Wales Millennium Centre I noticed today the appearance of what looks like a large garden shed on the roof. It was suggested that this was where the opera singers would sneak off too for a quick fag. However, I think it could be a rooftop sauna.

Brent East

The situation in Brent East is looking even more interesting. I spoke to some journalists today who on the basis of conversations with on-the-spot colleagues seemed to think that the Liberal Democrats had a very good chance of winning. Still, doesn't do to count chickens too early.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Incinerator bosses get their hands burnt

News that the management of the controversial incinerator in Crymlyn Burrows is to be changed on the orders of Neath Port Talbot Council. This follows a fire at the plant that revealed a number of health and safety concerns as well as causing some significant pollution to the surrounding environment. Nothing like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. Although the recycling part of this plant is welcome the incinerator is not. It is old technology and should be closed down forthwith. There are many alternative ways to dispose of waste apart from landfill and incineration.

Keeping abreast of Mumbles

Yesterday Swansea Housing Association had the official opening of its new housing development on the site of the old Mermaid pub on the front in Mumbles. This pub was a favourite haunt of Dylan Thomas but alas, it is long gone, the victim of an unfortunate fire whilst it was sitting derelict. The new development is flats with a ground floor restaurant. Its main feature is two mermaid statues revealing their full "Double D-cup glory" to the passing world. Dylan would have approved. The Lord Mayor was called upon to unveil these two pairs of breasts but no AMs or MPs were invited. Presumably, we were deemed too unworldly and sensitive for such an event.

A new Leader too far!

Jo Moore, the Government spin doctor who, famously suggested that September 11th was a good day to publish bad news, would no doubt have approved of the timing of the announcement of the Plaid Cymru leadership election results. As it is I suspect that it was a fortunate coincidence for Plaid that the re-election of Ieuan Wyn Jones as their Assembly leader clashed with the publication of one of the most damning reports into a Government Quango that I have ever read. After a summer of thin news the media at last have something really meaty to get their teeth into. The problem is that after months of feeding on an insubstantial diet many outlets and newspapers found that the food was a bit too rich and had been served up in too large a quantity. There were some severe cases of gluttony, no doubt to be followed by a bad bout of indigestion. At times like these however, we do miss the Welsh Mirror.

The report into the funding of the Pop Factory in Rhondda Cynon Taff by ELWa , published today, was a real shock to the system. The description of the way that public money was abused and put at risk and standard compliance procedures ignored left me breathless. The report by the Auditor General for Wales, Sir John Bourne, concentrates on the £4 million of public money given by ELWa to a new media and technology centre next to the Pop factory in Porth, Rhondda. It reveals that inadequate controls were applied during the application and approval process and that there was no thorough project risk assessment or option appraisal. In addition, millions of pounds of public money were paid out in advance to this project and other providers, apparently to prevent the Assembly clawing the money back at the end of the financial year.

ELWa have issued a statement accepting that there were serious deficiencies in the operation of the organisation’s financial and management control systems but so far we have heard nothing from the Education Minister. Her officials also expressed concerns about the Pop factory scheme but it seems they did not pursue them strongly enough to prevent this happening. Clearly, there has a been a failure of political control that needs to be answered. In the meantime the Assembly's Audit Committee will be dissecting the report all day on Thursday whilst on Wednesday 24 September the Education and Lifelong Learning Committee, which I chair, will be scrutinising ELWa's action plan to put things right. From discussions I have had, I have no doubt that if ELWa had been allowed to have a shadow year then a lot of this could have been avoided, but I can't help feeling that this was not just an organisational failure.

My instincts and my reading of the report tell me that there was a well-intentioned but misguided agenda within ELWa to protect the resources they had from being clawed back by the Assembly and that rules were broken with that aim in mind. The Chair and the Chief Executive may have moved on but I am not convinced that the malaise has been fully rooted out even with the action plan in place. There are still strong representations being made for a change in the rules and an unhealthy contempt for the oversight role of the Assembly within ELWa. Perhaps the time has come not just to reform this Quango but to take away its independence and pull it into the Assembly altogether. That is something that will have to be seriously considered.

Monday, September 15, 2003


Following on my little rant about Lembit Opik's Campaign Charter to clean up politics the following bit of knocking copy has come to my attention from the US of A. Clearly there is a need for a Charter in American politics.


The White House, USA

Accomplishments as President

* I attacked and took over two countries.
* I spent the U.S. surplus and bankrupted the Treasury.
* I shattered the record for biggest annual deficit in history.
* I set an economic record for most private bankruptcies filed in any 12-month period.
* I set all-time record for biggest drop in the history of the stock market.
* I am the first president in decades to execute a federal prisoner.
* I am the first president in US history to enter office with a criminal record.
* In my first year in office I set the all-time record for most days on vacation by any president in US history.
* After taking the entire month of August off for vacation, I presided over the worst security failure in US history.
* I set the record for most campaign fundraising trips by any president in US history.
* In my first two years in office over 2 million Americans lost their jobs. During that time the unemployment rate for college graduates has doubled.
* I cut unemployment benefits for more out-of-work Americans than any other president in US history.
* I set the all-time record for most foreclosures in a 12-month period.
* I appointed more convicted criminals to administration positions than any president in US history.
* I set the record for the fewest press conferences of any president since the advent of TV, while at the same time my voice, image and texts appeared almost coutinuously in the US and UK mass media.
* I signed more laws and executive orders amending the Constitution than any other president in US history.
I presided over the biggest energy crises in US history and refused to intervene when corruption was revealed.
* I presided over the highest gasoline prices in US history and refused to use the national reserves as past presidents have. * I cut over $10 billion in healthcare benefits for war veterans. * I set the all-time record for most people worldwide to simultaneously take to the streets to protest me (15 million people), shattering the record for protest against any person in the history of mankind.
* I dissolved more international treaties than any president in US history.
* I've made my presidency the most secretive and unaccountable of any in US history.
* Members of my cabinet are the richest of any administration in US history. (The 'poorest' multimillionaire, Condoleeza Rice, has a Chevron oil tanker named after her).
* I presided over the biggest corporate stock market fraud in any market in any country in the history of the world.
* I am the first president in US history to order a US attack and military occupation of a sovereign nation, and I did so against the will of the United Nations and the world community.
* I have created the largest government department bureaucracy in the history of the United States.
* I set the all-time record for biggest annual budget spending increases, more than any other president in US history.
* I am the first president in US history to have the United Nations remove the US from the Human Rights Commission.
* I am the first president in US history to have the United Nations remove the US from the Elections Monitoring Board.
* I removed more checks and balances, and have the least amount of Congressional oversight than any presidential administration in US history.
* I rendered the entire United Nations irrelevant.
* I withdrew from the World Court of Law.
* I refused to allow inspectors access to US prisoners of war and by default no longer abide by the Geneva Conventions.
* I am the first president in US history to refuse United Nations election inspectors access during the 2002 US elections.
* I am the all-time US (and world) record holder for most corporate campaign donations.
* The biggest lifetime contributor to my campaign, who is also one of my best friends, presided over one of the largest corporate bankruptcy frauds in world history (Kenneth Lay, former CEO of Enron Corporation).
*I spent more money on polls and focus groups than any president in US history.
* I am the first president to run and hide when the US came under attack (and then lied, saying the enemy had the code to Air Force 1).
* I am the first US president to establish a secret shadow government.
* I took the world's sympathy for the US after 911, and in less than a year made the US the most resented country in the world (possibly the biggest diplomatic failure in US and world history).
* I am the first US president in history to have a majority of the people of Europe(71%)view my presidency as the biggest threat to world peace and stability.
* I am the first US president in history to have the people of South Korea more threatened by the US than by their immediate neighbour, North Korea.
* I changed US policy to allow convicted criminals to be awarded government contracts.
* I set the all-time record for number of administration appointees who violated US law by not selling their huge investments in corporations bidding for gov't contracts.
* I have removed more freedoms and civil liberties for Americans than any other president in US history.
* In a little over two years I have created the most divided country in decades, possibly the most divided that the US has been since the civil war.
* I entered office with the strongest economy in US history and in less than two years turned every single economic category heading straight down, record unemployment being the most recent achievement..


* I have at least one conviction for drunk driving in Maine (Texas drug conviction has been erased and is not available).
* I was AWOL from the National Guard and deserted the military during a time of war.
* I refuse to take a drug test or even answer any questions about drug use.
* All records of my tenure as governor of Texas have been spirited away to my fathers library, sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public view.
* All records of any SEC investigations into my insider trading or bankrupt companies are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public view.
* All minutes of meetings of any public corporation for which I served on the board are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public view.
* Any records or minutes from meetings I (or my VP) attended regarding public energy policy are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public review.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Ignore Andrew Adonis

Out of the house and in the car at 8am to drive to the University of Glamorgan in Treforest to take part in an all-party panel in front of a Conference of Welsh student sabbatical officers at 9.30am! In my day respectable students did not surface much before 11am on the Sunday of a Welsh student conference and yet we have a two thirds turnout. Obviously today's student is a much hardier breed. I am handed a post card to send to Tony Blair asking him to abandon his policy of introducing top-up fees. There is a helpful postscript - "P.S. Ignore Andrew Adonis". This is a policy that many of us advocated when he was in the Liberal Democrats.


Saturday, September 13, 2003

Cosying up

The following arrives from Exiled Lib Dem - Martin J. Ball, PhD President, ICPLA Hawthorne-Regents' Distinguished Professor, Department of Communicative Disorders, University of Louisiana at Lafayette: "Here I am at 3.00am Central time, in deepest Louisiana - and at last I find the only site that has the Pentwyn result (Cardiff Council and even ALDC not yet updated)! Hurray - now I can get to sleep!!! What a great victory."

Meanwhile the growing strength of the Liberal Democrats is being recognised publicly in the most authorative of quarters. The New Labour newsletter for party activists for July and August 2003 states that "The Lib Dems are now a real threat even in towns without a strong Lib Dem tradition." This is further reinforced by the Labour campaign in Pentwyn. It seems that they are determined to bring the level of political debate right down to the gutter. A letter to voters from the subsequently defeated Labour candidate describes Liberal Democrat proposals to replace the Council Tax with a local income tax based on the ability to pay thus:

"Local residents also tell me that they are really worried about the Liberal Democrat proposal to introduce a new tax on individuals, similar to the Poll Tax. This would hit working people in the area really hard and lead to massive bills for families."

er..no! This is misrepresentation on a grand scale. Of course if we are talking about massive tax bills for families we only have to look at the 12% Council Tax increase imposed by Cardiff County Council but let us not get into that. It was quite clear which version two thirds of those who voted believed.

Other gems in the letter are the so-called "Liberal Democrat opposition to exciting schemes like the new stadium for Cardiff City Football Club.", a proposal that the Liberal Democrat group on Cardiff Council supported. In fact so keen were Labour to play this card that they even distributed an endorsement from Sam Hamman, the Chairman of that club, for the Labour candidate. Presumably, they were banking on his popularity wearing off but clearly they underestimated his appeal. What this tactic did do of course was to highlight the cosy love-in between the Cardiff Football Club Chairman and the ruling Labour group. Obviously they both get on very well.

The letter was full of such slurs. It amounted to a nasty piece of spite, innuendo and misrepresentation. That is the reality of fighting inner City Labour, a fact that the Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Lembit Opik needs to remember. He has relaunched his Campaign Charter to clean up politics in which he states that the Welsh Lib Dems will 'campaign on our positive record and proposals, drawing attention to the delivery failures and weaknesses of other parties' activities only 'where appropriate'. The Charter requires that we justify statements, claims and campaign techniques. "For example, it's OK to contrast our work in a competitive way, like adverts might do, but it's not OK to run other parties down for things we couldn't do better ourselves."

Don't get me wrong, I agree with the thrust of the Charter and have always tried to campaign along the lines set out by it. But Lembit needs to get real, get out of the cosy politics of Montgomeryshire and get involved in the big City where it really can get dirty and nasty. Politicians need to be truthful, honest and decent but people also expect them to be robust when required and to stand up for what they believe in. We have to be effective communicators and we have to let people know the truth about what they are being asked to vote for. That does not mean we have to get personal, snide or nasty but it does mean that we have to call it as it is. All Lembit will succeed in doing with this charter is to waste a lot of our time answering questions about perfectly sound and acceptable literature, distracting us from the real job of politics and raising unjustifiable doubts about individual campaigns and activists. He could have achieved his objective by dealing with this internally, instead he has set us up to be knocked down. I, for one do not need to be undermined by the Welsh Party leader in that way.

Friday, September 12, 2003

The Cool Lib Dems

Scary experience last night. I was helping out in the Pentwyn by-election in Cardiff and heard at least three teenagers hold up Welsh Liberal Democrat leaflets and describe us as "cool"! If we are becoming chic then we really have to worry. What happens when we go out of fashion?

The by-election was an outstanding success. Pentwyn is a four member ward with three Labour Councillors and one Welsh Liberal Democrat. Our Councillor had resigned as he is moving away for work reasons. In 1999 we got 42% of the vote so this was a difficult defence in a marginal ward. We held the seat with 66.6% of the vote. The swing from Labour to us was 24%. If that swing was repeated in May next year we would win control of the Council from Labour with 72 seats. The opposition would be one Plaid Cymru, one Conservative and one Independent! :-))

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Images of the Bay

Two images of the new Cardiff Bay. On the left work is on-going constructing the new Assembly Chamber (cost £55m). At last there is activity but what are the molehills in the centre of the picture?

On the right is the view from my office. I used to be able to see across Cardiff to the Millennium Stadium but now I have the £100m plus Welsh Millennium Centre in the way. To be precise I have a bland brick wall that would not look out of place as part of a penal institution. The front is ugly too but nothing like this. Where do the architects get their inspiration?
Posted by Hello

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Lembit Fans

An anonymous comment arrives on yesterday's posting. The commentator had looked at the Lembit Opik fan website and was surprised that no one had been brave enough to admit to viewing it by signing the visitor book. The most interesting page he thought was the Background page which tells us that "Lembit was born." Not even, "again," just "born." My commentator had always thought he impacted this planet.

Meanwhile at least one candidate for Governor of California knows how to make an impact. Georgy Russell has produced a range of merchandise announcing "Georgy for Governor". The most fetching of these is undoubtedly the thong. Nothing like reserving those political slogans for the most intimate of moments, but what if he turns out to like Terminator movies?

Tuesday, September 09, 2003


A trip to Cardiff to help out in the Pentwyn by-election for Cardiff County Council prompts me to reflect on the decline in the standards of spelling and grammar and how this is exemplified in political leaflets. A lot of it is due to typos and people trying to produce leaflets very quickly. There is also a school of thought that believes that one should always include them as it provides a talking point on each leaflet. Liberal Democrats are not immune of course. We produced a leaflet in Swansea last month that produced a letter from a constituent listing half a dozen glaring errors, a letter that underlined the point about putting in errors to seek a reaction, any reaction. Nevertheless, I prefer not to get that sort of correspondence. I am sure there was nothing deliberate about the spelling of "traffic speads" in the Cardiff Conservative leaflet I saw last night. How about a free proof-reading service for busy political activists?

I am going to get around to putting in links to other political blogs here soon. In the meantime check out this one from Liberal Democrat James Graham. He even has nice things to say about me, I think! Oh and good grief, what is this about? Is this the work of Lembit Opik himself or some poor misguided Powys constituent? We should be told.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Swansea Sex Shop murder

I have been stewing about this for a few weeks and feel it is time to get it off my chest. An article on the front page of the South Wales Evening Post from 29 August brings back memories of the Swansea Sex shop murder in 1984. I remember this vividly, not just because it was a particularly brutal and nasty murder, but because one of the first things I was involved in when I was elected to the Council that year was the application to licence this sex shop. Although I voted in favour of the licence the Committee determined by one vote that it would not be granted. Nevertheless the shop is open to this day, effectively getting around the need to obtain a licence by reducing the percentage of its stock that relates to the sex trade. When the murder happened the then Chair of the Public Protection Committee, who had opposed the licence, claimed that her stance had been justified. I followed the proceedings of the trial of the Darvell brothers closely and was astonished that they were found guilty. I was less surprised when the Court of Appeal freed them in 1991. Now the Evening Post report that the case is to be reviewed and already it has been discovered that a bloody handprint was found at the murder scene. The blood group does not match the Darvell borthers. It has already been established that the Darvell brothers were the victims of sloppy police work in which officers were eager to get a quick result. However, the publication of this latest news indicates that the injustice goes beyond sloppy. Even in the bad old days of the 1980s surely the existence of a substantive and contradictory piece of evidence such as this should have caused the officers concerned to pause and question the course of action on which they were engaged. There must be a full public explanation as to why this evidence was not taken into account at the time, an oversight that has meant that a murderer has been at large unchecked and unpunished in our community for nearly 20 years.

News today that another 3,000 British troops are to be sent to Iraq. In addition, George W. Bush is calling for more money and a committment from the United Nations to rebuild the country. Funny how he only pays attention to the UN when it suits him. This misconceived and unnecessary war has already cost enough lives. Now we have an effective admission that what we had already suspected is in fact correct, Bush and Blair committed us to war without any idea of what to do once they had won and without a proper assessment of the post-war scenario. We are paying the price for that act now and we will continue to do so for some time to come.

Sunday, September 07, 2003


Just back from a week in Scotland. I am amazed that it is possible to get Radio Wales from Ayr. Rather typically they rang me up halfway through my holiday to ask me to do an interview on Good Morning Wales. I declined. I had no intention of getting up that early on the one week I have had off this year. They most probably won't ask me again until the next time I am on holiday!

An e-mailed press release written in breathless terms informs me that my colleague Roger Williams MP has relaunched his website. Roger writes "I am just so excited about this new website that I can't wait for people to start using it. I have been asked many times by people what I have been doing on certain topics and now those questions can be answered from the comfort of people's homes. I am endeavouring to place all my important press releases and some of my pictures from constituency visits on the site. This new site will enable my constituents to contact me faster and easier and will help me deal with the issues that matter to them. I hope people enjoy using it as much as I do."

Blogs are becoming popular. Once more I am indebted to Tom Watson MP for drawing my attention to an article in The Sun on how they are becoming a spin-free zone for politicians. I keep returning to his blog even though he doesn't like Liberal Democrats at all. Then again he does support West Bromwich Albion so how can he judge? :-) One other politician who blogs is Liberal Democrat Richard Allan MP.

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