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Monday, December 29, 2003

Goodbye Goldfinger

Maybe I have been watching too many Bond films, where the villain is sucked out of the pressurised cabin of a plane through a small bullet hole, to be comfortable with armed Marshalls on commercial flights. I am hoping to fly to America later this year and have mixed feelings about sharing my flight with such a person. I suppose it is a sign of the times we are living in but, 9/11 or not, one cannot help feeling that the actions of Bush and Blair have not contributed in anyway to our safety from terrorist attacks, rather the opposite appears to be true.

R.I.P. Alan Bates and Bob Monkhouse

To lose two such giants of the film and entertainment world in the space of a few days is very sad. I grew up watching Bob Monkhouse on the Golden Shot but as well as being an accomplished comedian and gameshow host he also had a career in films and was an authority on the cinema. He appeared in "Carry on Sergeant", "Dentist on the Job" and "Dentist in the Chair" and was also the voice of the Swinging Star Compere in the 1966 film "Thunderbirds are GO". He was also a longtime supporter of the Conservative Party. One quote of his I found on the web is "Growing old is compulsory - growing up is optional." Sir Alan Bates was also a star of a different class to others. I remember him in "Women in Love" with Oliver Reed, Glenda Jackson and Jennie Linden. I first saw that film at University where I was studying the book as part of my degree and it had a huge impression on me. His role in "Look back in Anger" made him a star, and launched a lifetime performing in works written by great modern playwrights -- Pinter, Gray, Storey, Bennett, Shaffer, Stoppard (as well as Chekhov, Ibsen, Strindberg, Shakespeare). His contribution to cinema was equally immense with roles in Laurence Olivier's adaptation of Chekhov's `The Three Sisters' and arguably his best film `A Day in the Death of Joe Egg' adding to a repetoire that included "The Entertainer", `Zorba the Greek' and `Georgy Girl' as well as `Whistle Down the Wind' and `A Kind of Loving'.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Direct Action

Just back from visiting my family in the Wirral. As I drove back through Wales it was trying desperately to snow. It was only on the higher ground between Newtown and Llandrindod Wells and through the Brecon Beacons that the snow stuck at all however. The beacons were, as usual for this time of the year, spectacularly white toothed ahead of us as we approached Brecon on the A470. Despite this I managed the journey in good time - three and a half hours from the Wirral to Swansea. More travelling later this week so blogging will remain light.

There were not many papers to read through when I got home of course but one letter in Saturday's Western Mail caught my eye. Wales has a large number of call-centre jobs, a lot of which seem to be threatened by the trend to outsource this activity to India. I was involved in fighting one such move earlier this year in relation to the HSBC call-centre in Swansea. It is said that call-centre workers in the Far East improve their English by watching soaps like Coronation Street and Eastenders. However, none of them would be able to cope with Welsh and I doubt if Pobol Y Cwm is on the viewing menu. That is why whatever they do most companies who respond to calls and correspondence in Welsh need to maintain a presence in Wales. The suggestion in the letter was simple therefore. If you can speak Welsh make a point of using the language whenever you ring up or write to any call centre. This will increase the number of contacts in Welsh and help to retain jobs here. I cannot speak Welsh but I will be encouraging all who can to do this.

Friday, December 26, 2003

An act of barbarism

It is Boxing Day and the hunts will already be out and about indulging in their traditional sport for this day. I am with Ralph Cook on this. He says in the Western Mail today that "Welsh hunts do not control fox numbers and Welsh lamb losses are mainly the result of the weather conditions and bad farming practice. The only difference between the English shire hunts and the Welsh 'workaday' hunt is that Welsh hunts cause more suffering." Hunting is barbaric and cruel. It is not even an efficient form of pest control. The sooner that this Government keeps to its promise and bans hunting with hounds the better.
Blogging will be very light between now and early January due to family commitments and travels.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Merry Christmas

A happy, joyful and fulfilling yuletide to you all. Oh and before, some wisecracking journalist comments on me posting on Christmas Day, I am not the only one. Stephen Pollard has some fascinating alternative and politically correct carols/songs on his blog that are well worth reading or even singing if you have the voice for it - I don't.

Come on Snoopy!

News is still awaited from that pesky Beagle. It has until the end of Boxing day before we give up hope.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Turkeys gobbling for Christmas

The question is how did the vegetarian react to this? I have a friend whose Grandparents used to run a turkey farm in Pembrokeshire. After visiting it she promptly went vegetarian. Could vegetarians bear to be in Wakefield town centre listening to the sound of turkeys being fattened in the knowledge that these birds will be on somebody's plate on Christmas day? It is enough to put fainter hearts off meat.

West Wing

If you watch "The West Wing", have not seen the final episode of series four yet and do not want to know what happens, then do not read on. I was fascinated last night at the casting. The Republican Speaker of the House, who became the stand-in President, was played by John Goodman. John Goodman is a very fine actor best remembered as Dan Conner in Roseanne and as Fred Flintstone in the 1994 movie, "The Flintstones". Was this an attempt at political irony? Yes, OK, I know, it is Christmas and I am running short of material.

Quiz Time

I reported on 2 December that the Assembly has been invited to enter a Members team onto University Challenge. The team is to be made up of an AM from each party. There is no news as yet on who will be in this team. The last I heard regarding the Welsh Liberal Democrat entry was that our Director of Communications was working his way around the group with test questions to see who achieved the highest score. The South Wales Echo picked up on my story and compiled its own team. Like me, the paper included First Minister and fount of all knowledge, Rhodri Morgan. They added Mick Bates from the Welsh Liberal Democrats on the grounds that he knows a lot about popular culture. Well, if you define popular culture as Bob Dylan, then that is true. David Melding, the knowledgeable and cultured Conservative Chair of Health and Social Services Committee was also on their team. Finally, they nominated Plaid Cymru's Dr. Dai Lloyd on the grounds that he has more letters after his name than he does in it. Well, they seem to have struck gold with Dai. In the Radio Wales Christmas Quiz today, he stormed ahead to win, beating Huw Irranca Davies MP, two-times winner and defending champion Mike German and Tory, Glyn Davies. Let us hope that when our four gallant champions, whoever they are, face up to Jeremy Paxman they do better than the record-breaking low score of the MPs on the same programme.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

New Assembly building, chapter two

I was in Cardiff Bay today so I thought I would check up on progress on the new Assembly Chamber. This is scheduled for completion at the end of 2005 with a formal opening around St. David's Day 2006. As you can see from the photograph the circle of the new Chamber is quite distinctive, whilst other rooms are starting to take shape.

I was listening to the "People's Assembly" programme on Radio Wales a few weeks ago when there was a discussion about this building. The £40 million or so that it is costing has been spent many times over by opponents of the project, who believe that they can solve all of Wales' problems with the money. However, it struck me that the good people of Usk, where the programme was being recorded, were very sceptical about the figures that they were offered as the cost ofthe Chamber. I am not surprised at this after the debacle of cost overruns on the Scottish Parliament Building and Portcullis House in Westminster. Nor must we forget the farce around the original costing of this building, with a number of wildly diverse figures being offered by different Ministers between 1999 and 2003, before the final contract was signed.

However, love it or loath it the fact is that this building is being built on a fixed price contract. There is therefore real certainty about what the final cost will be. This is exactly the method used to build the Millennium Stadium and the Wales Millennium Centre (the 'Mollusc' outside my office). Just to underline this I asked a question of the Finance Minister a few months ago seeking the expenditure profile on the project. She confirmed that " the projected construction cost expenditure profile for the new Assembly building is as follows:

2003-04 £10 million
2004-05 £28 million
2005-06 £1 million

5 per cent retention following defect period £2 million

TOTAL £41 million

This excludes value-added tax, art, client-supplied fixtures, fittings, furniture, ICT equipment, professional fees and further value engineering opportunities." So now we know or do we?
Posted by Hello

Monday, December 22, 2003

Christmas Chaos

Well the traffic in town is as bad as I can remember it, the shops are just mad and everybody is rushing around like headless turkeys. I, however, have finished my Christmas shopping and plan to blog right up to when I go away on Boxing Day.

We all had an e-mail this morning from the IT Protection Unit at the National Assembly. They told us that 'The National Grid' has expressed concerns that there is a possibility of intermittent electricity blackouts across the UK over the Christmas period. In an effort to reduce the potential risk of damage to Assembly servers, it has been agreed that BISD will instruct SBS to power down all OSIRIS servers across the whole of the Assembly estate. The power down will start on Christmas Eve and the servers will be started up again on Sunday 28 December in time for our return to the office the following day. All services will be affected.

I suspect that this caused quite a bit of consternation, not least for those staff working on Christmas Eve who would not be able to access their computers. I was a bit upset at being deprived of the opportunity of sending out a press release on Christmas Day but the biggest puzzle was the prediction of "intermittent electricity blackouts across the UK" - why? Has the bug that hit the USA earlier this year now infiltrated Britain? Surely, if we were going to have demand-led blackouts we would have had them by now just from the huge amount of electricity being consumed by the Christmas lights currently adorning every street in Britain (I blame the Coca Cola advert of a few years back for this trend of excessive lighting). Maybe the authorities are expecting terrorist attacks on our power supply. The whole thing is just too bizarre.

Anyway, precisely five hours and thirty minutes later a second e-mail wings it way around the Assembly. It now seems that we will have networked computers over Christmas after all. The servers are being allowed to run on because "after advice from the Chief Technology Officer it has been decided that the threat of the National Grid shutting down does not affect Wales." What?! Where does it affect then and why is Wales immune? Is an exercise planned over Christmas in countering a terrorist threat that is leading to these selective blackouts? Or am I just getting carried away with conspiracy theories and the whole thing one big cock-up? The more I think about it, the less sense it makes. Coming soon to you, an intermittent blackout, unless you live in Wales. It will be like 1972-3 and the three day week all over again. Ideas anybody?

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Mad World

No doubt you are thinking that this posting is to celebrate the fact that "Mad World" by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules is the Christmas number one, it is not. Instead I am posting about the new "political movement" started up by George Galloway. Earlier this week I received the following e-mail:

A new political movement is born

Dear Friend, As you will no doubt be aware I have been expelled from the Labour party for my views on the illegal war and occupation of Iraq. I am writing to inform you of the launch of a 'unity' coalition which I and others have formed and which will put up candidates throughout England and Wales at the forthcoming European and Greater London Authority elections in June. Among those who spoke at the launch last night were Ken Loach, the filmmaker; environmental activist George Monbiot; trade union leaders Bob Crow and Linda Smith; Salma Yaqoob of the Birmingham Muslim community and anti-war organiser John Rees.

I hope you will consider supporting this new movement. You can join it, you can financially contribute to it, or simply vote for it to register your protest at the policy of endless war, uncontrolled globalisation, environmental vandalism and privatisation of our public services, which are the hallmarks of Tony Blair's premiership. We are in the process of constructing a website at www.blairout.com where you can learn further details of what is certain to be massive popular movement. I will also be writing to you periodically (and as funds permit!) with updates on our progress. I would also welcome any comments or suggestions you have which may aid our fight for representative democracy in Britain and Europe.

Should you wish to make a donation to the movement - funds are urgently required - please make cheques payable to 'Unity political fund' and send them to me at the House of Commons, Westminster, London SW1 OAA. Membership applications should also be sent to me at the same address - annual subscription £10.

Yours sincerely, George Galloway MP

There are just so many things that I can say about this e-mail that I do not know where to start. The obvious starting point is that there is a large element of self-delusion in this. The idea of a rainbow coalition of the left has been an unattainable dream for some for decades or longer. It never works because firstly, there is no popular support for what such a coalition might stand for and secondly, left wing groups tend to break off into smaller and smaller factions rather than coalesce. It "is certain to be a massive popular movement" we are told - really? The idea that George Galloway might be the messiah around which such a coalition will gather has no more credibility than the proposal that Arthur Scargill should be the said messiah, as was being mooted some years ago. A good example of this is the two e-mails that arrived almost immediately afterwards. The first was from the chief spokesperson/druid for the Green Party in Wales. He wrote:

"There is already a movement that takes on board all of these issues it's called the Green Party"

A member of the Swansea Coalition against the war then contributed the following to the e-mail group:

Could we have some reference to a website/more info posted re: the Greens and Plaid platforms/policies? Martyn Shrewsbury's reply is certainly not enough to make a decision, and although the Plaid reply mentions that they already stand on all the platforms cited by Galloway, no further info is given re:, for example, halting the privatisation of public services, which would be one deciding factor for me. So would any parties on the list who are fielding candidates please give us a fuller picture of what policy issues they will be standing on at the elections?

They are in disarray already, even before the first meeting, with Greens, Plaid Cymru and George all competing for the same limited electorate.

Secondly, the philosophical basis of this coalition seems to be negative. There is a lot of what they are against - presumably because they can agree on that - but not much about what they are for - that is where the arguments start and any sympathetic members of the public begin to leave rapidly. Thus they are to exist to protest the "policy of endless war, uncontrolled globalisation, environmental vandalism and privatisation of our public services, which are the hallmarks of Tony Blair's premiership" but not to explain how they will realistically implement alternatives to these "evils". Even the website name is a negative, reminiscent of the anti-Maggie protests of the eighties. Somehow it is all getting a little personal.

Finally, is it ethical and above board to solicit party political funds to a House of Commons address? Is using the House of Commons as a base for a political party allowed under the rules? I think we should be told.

More Taxis

Those of you who read the entry for 14th December will know that my taxi crashed into the back of another vehicle whilst taking me to the Welsh Liberal Democrat Group and Support Staff Christmas Party. I left my name and address with the drivers of both vehicles but, although I understand the Police were involved, they have not contacted me to act as a witness to the unsafe way that the taxi driver was driving. I left the scene with a card from the taxi, thinking that it would contain contact details for the driver. It did not, and although I rang Dragon Taxis on the night, they refused to give me these details. I rang again on the Monday morning and spoke to the Manager. He also refused to give me details over the phone but said that if I wrote in then he would write back with the information I required. I posted the letter the next day but have not had a response and when I rang on Friday the Manager was not there.

Anyway, it seems that somebody read my account of this chain of events on this blog and contacted the Taxi Licensing Department at Cardiff County Council. When I went into the Assembly on Friday I had a letter waiting for me from them stating that they would be happy to investigate the matter if I can supply them with details of the driver. Alas I am still waiting for these details but I spoke to the licensing officer and have promised to copy him my letter to Dragon Taxis. Nice to know that not only is this blog read widely but that it can initiate action without me even trying.

Update: A member of Cardiff County Council's Licensing Committee has e-mailed me to say that it was he who referred the episode with the taxi to the relevant department at the Council. My grateful thanks.

Friday, December 19, 2003

A trivial affair

I reported on 20 November under the title "Open House" that a member of the House Committee had spoken against that body meeting in public on the grounds that "the press are not mature enough to properly report on our proceedings." It seems that this dislike of the fourth estate is infectious. Richard Hazlewood of the South Wales Echo sent me this today: "Hi Peter, Spotted this in the latest WAG cabinet minutes (October 20, 2003) and thought you might be interested. I notice they can't give us any examples to back up the claim. Perhaps they protest too much ... "

"Item 3: Communications and Media Items 3.1 Ministers raised concerns about the lack of serious balance between and trivial coverage of Assembly business by the media. This particularly appeared acute with daily newspapers in Wales."

Check it out yourself here. They really don't learn do they?

Incidentally, I should pay tribute to Richard here. He has most probably scribed his last bit of "trivia" for the Echo as he is moving on to new pastures. I was tempted to say better things but as he is leaving to be the Welsh Conservative Group Press Officer, I thought I would leave it at that. I understand that the main motivating factor is money but whatever the reason we will miss his wry comments on the day's events as well as his company at Party Conference. We will also miss a permanent presence from the South Wales Echo in the Assembly as Richard is not to be replaced. Adios, Richard and watch your back amongst those Tories!

BNP fail in their first Welsh contest

Radio Wales reports this morning that the BNP have failed in their first attempt to capture a Welsh Council seat. The by-election in Flintshire saw a win by the independent candidate. I do not have any more details as yet but it is reassuring that the BNP were not able to turn their rhetoric into victory. Of course this is not the end of the matter, it is just the beginning. The BNP are already establishing themselves in the North West of England and it is inevitable that there will be more BNP candidates in the all-out Welsh Council elections on 10th June. I fear that we have a long and arduous fight ahead of us.

Update: The ward that the by-election was held in was Aston. The result was Independent 281; Labour 274: Tory 118; BNP 116. Independent hold on a 29.7% turnout. Even though they came last the BNP still polled nearly 15% of the vote. My website has a section under Flashpoints where I have recorded every local Council by-election in Wales since 1999 and sought to keep a running total of party share.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

New blog

Another new Liberal Democrat blog from Jade Farrington. They are springing up daily.

New Year Resolution

I think one of my New Year resolutions will be to get more respectful staff. I return from a three hour meeting to discuss the closure and the future of Swansea Leisure Centre today to find an e-mail from my Research Assistant in Cardiff Bay. It reads "drunken and disorderly AMs are running around with awful ties. Where are you?" Name names Francesca, name names.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Plaid in disarray

David Cornock on his BBC blog records the displeasure of Plaid Cymru's MPs at the recent attempt by their Assembly Leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones, to lead from the front on tuition fees. David writes "Ieuan Wyn Jones announced recently that Plaid Cymru would only support the transfer of student funding powers from Westminster to Wales if it was accompanied by more money. Mr Jones did this without consulting his party's MPs, the only Plaid Cymru members who will get a vote on the legislation in the Commons. Parliamentary leader Elfyn Llwyd was furious. Mr Jones may be the party's assembly leader, but he was only expressing a personal view (albeit in a press release issued on behalf of Plaid Cymru). "Party policy is it should be devolved," said Mr Llwyd, "and party policy will be followed."

Interestingly, Ieuan Wyn Jones has just conducted a full u-turn on this issue. He justifies this on the grounds that the First Minister has now said that we will get the existing funding at the same time as the powers. The problem is that this has always been the position and had been made clear on a number of occasions by the Education Minister and the Finance Minister. Of course Ieuan's original objection has not been addressed - that is that we will not get any extra money to do our own thing on variable fees, but we should not let the facts get in the way of a good u-turn.

A hundred years and all that

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the first manned powered flight - bring back Concorde I say! It is welcome that the Government did not get too carried away with this anniversary. They have vetoed the possibility of a new international airport at Severnside and have said that Cardiff Airport must remain the central hub of international flights from South Wales. Cardiff, of course, is not the only airport in South Wales, and long may it remain so. However, this Government White Paper opens the way for substantial extra investment there that can only be good for the South Wales economy.

Meanwhile a new Liberal Democrat blogger hits the net - welcome Mark Ramsden. Will blogging still be around in a 100 years? I doubt it.

Plain English

A friend of mine who has an allotment received a letter recently from the Association for Public Service Excellence seeking to explain the changes in the law on the storing of pesticides. Unfortunately, the writer forgot that he was communicating with laymen and laced his missive with unintelligible jargon. When my friend asked the local Council for guidance the experts there could not translate all of the instructions. I do not have a copy of the original letter but I do have my friend's reply which is duplicated below:

Association for Public Service Excellence
2nd Floor, Washbrook House
Lancastrian Office Centre
32, Talbot Road
Old Trafford
Manchester M32 OFP

(What an excellently long address)

cc Mr Andrew Lewis, Technical Services, Neath Port Talbot Borough Council

Dear Mr Marsh,

As an ordinary allotment holder, I have received a copy of your list of banned pesticides/ Unfortunately, I only speak English and I cannot understand the preamble to the list of chemicals and their suppliers. I would be extremely grateful if you would translate some of the phrases and sentences you used in your letter.

What is an APSE Briefing (Especially one numbered 40/03)?

Where would read Directive 91/414/EEC? (Presuming as an allotment holder there is some reason for reading it)

What does the phrase Products with unsupported active substances mean?

Can you actually give me information and details of a down wind period?

I notice that the expiry dates of the products is available in All Approved letter 18 and All Approved Holder letter 25. What is an Approved Letter? As far as I know I have never received one, if I get one will I get more than one?

Regarding the Approved Essential Uses: The following essential uses continue to be permissible under the Long Term Arrangements for Extension of Use - You quote that we may continue to use sodiumm monochloracetes on collard. What the hell is Collard - no-one grows it on our allotment - Should we now grow it so that we may put sodium monochloracetes on it.
Products with Off-Label Essential Uses: I understand what a Product with an Essential Use is - but what is an off-label essential use?

Plant Protection Uses Only Withdrawn: Presumably all these chemicals are used either to feed (assist) a plant or kill the plant - does this mean that previously you could protect a plant with the chemical Armillatox, but now you use the same chemical to kill it?

Jeyes Fluid - on the same theme, I do understand.

Yours, respectfully.

PS - Just as a matter of interest were you awarded the name Association for Public Service Excellence after years of Excellence in Public Service or was the name just chosen at random

To be fair Mr. Marsh replied in equal good humour. If I can get hold of that letter I will post it as well.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Politically correct

For once David Davies AM may have a point!

Sixth forms

Proposals by ELWa, the Post-16 training and education Quango for Wales, to introduce a unified funding system across Wales has led to fears for the future of sixth forms. That is because it is cheaper to provide A-level education at FE colleges and the clear thrust of the proposals are to move to that sort of provision. At the same time new regulations are being proposed that will give ELWa the same powers as local Councils to reorganise or close down sixth forms. The Welsh Assembly Government say that there is no hidden agenda and have accused me of misunderstanding the proposals because local Councils will still be able to reorganise their own sixth form provision if they wish. The fact is that this is irrelevant. Once these regulations are in force, ELWa will have the means to implement their own funding system by ordering schools to stop putting on A-level tuition and they will be able to do this independently of the Local Education Authority even though they have not been elected by anybody. Sometimes the boring and seemingly innocuous regulations we are asked to vote on at the Assembly do have a sting in the tale.

Hidden Gold

Reports today that some Councils who have voted to pay out the £20,000 Golden Goodbye are refusing to publish the names of the Councillors who have applied for it. I know that my local Councils of Swansea and Neath Port Talbot have published the names. What on earth do the other Councils think they can gain from this secrecy? All they are doing is demonstrating how really stupid they can be if they try.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

The Dragon crashes

The Wales on Sunday today carries a big feature about how Christmas revellers are putting a huge strain on the emergency services. However, it is possible to contribute to this burden even when one is being sensible. On Friday the Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Staff and AMs had their Christmas Party. It was a meal at the Chapter Arts Centre in Canton. I drove to Cardiff straight after my surgeries in Port Talbot and Porthcawl and then checked into a hotel. I asked the hotel to get me a taxi, which they subsequently did. The taxi firm involved was one of the main Cardiff companies called Dragon Taxis. The driver took me from my hotel to Canton in appalling weather. As we got to Canton Cross, the lights by the Tesco Extra changed, but rather than stop my taxi driver accelerated through them on amber and slammed into the vehicle in front, which had stopped for the next set of lights. Fortunately, I was wearing my seat belt and although shocked, was able to continue my journey on foot. I later rang the cab company to get the details of the driver in the event that I might need to take the matter further but they refused to co-operate. I intend to pursue the issue on Monday morning but I will not be using that taxi company again. The point is that if we cannot rely on taxi drivers to get us safely to our destination during Christmas festivities then no wonder the emergency services are hard-pressed. Equally, we should expect that the taxi companies would be more co-operative. The people I spoke to seemed more concerned with the drivers' insurance premium than with the well-being of the passenger whose life had been put at risk by their driver's recklessness.

Saturday, December 13, 2003


Swansea's branch of the Green Party must be kicking themselves. There they were, faced with an important by-election for a City Council seat less than six months before their biggest electoral test yet, the all-out elections for Swansea Council. It seems however, that they did not have a candidate, an organisation or the resources to fight the by-election effectively and were in severe danger of being humiliated at the polls, thus undermining any credibility they might have on 10 June. A solution was at hand however. A popularist bandwagon was getting underway to try and stop the Council closing the Swansea Leisure Centre after years of scandalous neglect. The Green Party in Swansea are used to jumping on such single issue bandwagons so they quickly grabbed this opportunity with both hands. They announced that they would not be standing in the by-election but instead would be supporting the pro-Leisure Centre candidate. Shortly afterwards, the name of that candidate emerged. It is to be Gerald Murphy, a former Labour Council leader who was imprisioned for corruption in the 1970s and whose past record shows little, or no affection for the heady idealism of Green Party policies. As if to heap further humiliation onto the Green Party, the mainstream parties have announced that they will be standing in the by-election as well and that they are intent on ensuring that the whole record of Labour-run Swansea is up for scrutiny, not just the Leisure Centre. Within a few days a putative public relations coup on the part of the Green Party has turned into a rout. They have locked themselves into supporting a 74 year old former jailbird who so far shows no signs of supporting their policies or principles and whether he wins or loses, they will get no benefit from his candidature. So much for the brave new politics of the future.

Independent Brains

Beer company, Brains, have launched a new poster to promote positive thinking and cheer us all up. They have put up a map of the Carribean with Wales slap bang in the middle as an island. Given that one of the symbols of Plaid Cymru's proposals for an independent Wales was a seat for "Cymru" in the United Nations, next to Cuba, I thought it was particularly ironic that Cuba is prominent on the poster near to Wales. Or is it that Brains have a hidden agenda and are trying to promote a more acceptable view of independence on the part of the nationalists?. I think we should be told.

Backward Wales

It is reported that John Marek's new socialist alternative, "Forward Wales", is eyeing up the discredited former Assembly Member and Secretary of State for Wales, Ron Davies, to head up its list for the European elections on 10 June. This new party is rapidly beginning to look like a collection of Labour rejects. It is rumoured, for example, that Peter Law will also be offered safe haven if he decides to oppose the official Labour Candidate in Blaenau Gwent at the next General Election. Perhaps it should be renamed "Backwards Wales". One thing is for certain, if Ron Davies does stand, he will not attract much support from Swansea after the way that he treated this City during the competition to find a home for the Welsh Assembly.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Mollusc anybody?

Rowan Moore of the London-based Architecture Foundation causes outrage by describing the Millennium Stadium as a "hideous mating of DIY superstore and suspension bridge" and the Wales Millennium Centre as a "giant mollusc." Personally, I have been descibing the Millennium Centre as a giant mollusc since I first saw the designs. It is truly the ugliest building in Cardiff and on a Wales-wide basis is beaten only by the new Swansea Central Police Station, the main feature of which is a wall covered with blue tiles from a public lavatory. However, in defence of the Millennium Stadium, it is obvious that Mr. Moore has never been to a big game there. As a stadium it is awe-inspiring, as a piece of architecture it dominates the Cardiff skyline and gives that City a distinctive and attractive look. I suppose that it is just as well that the new Assembly Chamber building is not yet complete. However, just in case Mr. Moore comes back at the end of 2006 and is lost for words, he should know that the model looks like a giant petrol station.

Blaenau Gwent crisis comes to a head

The selection of Labour NEC member, Maggie Jones last night, as the Labour candidate for Blaenau Gwent at the next General Election has brought the crisis in Welsh Labour about all-women shortlists to a head. Those opposed to an all-women shortlist include the AM, Peter Law and the local MP, Llew Smith. They will now meet to decide whether they will stand against her. If they do their canidate could be Peter Law and the Labour majority in the Welsh Assembly wll disappear. Their objection is that the all-women shortlist has been imposed as a way of forcing a Blairite candidate onto Blaenau Gwent. Interesting times are ahead.

Final die cast in Golden Goodbye saga

The final Welsh Council has now voted whether to implement the Labour Assembly Government's Golden Goodbye scheme for retiring Councils. Eight Councils are implementing this scheme with 14 against.The eight Councils whose Councillors can claim between £15,000 and £20,000 to stand down are Vale of Glamorgan, Carmarthen, Ceredigion, Newport, Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, Torfaen and Flintshire.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

A very nice man!

South Wales Evening Post Political Editor, Brian Walters, is a very nice man. It is just a shame that there are no hotlinks on his newspaper's website to his column. In last night's paper he describes my website as "highly readable and, in part, quite entertaining." He particularly likes this blog. "The website is certainly worth a visit," he says. Cheers Brian, and Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

School's out

Today was the last Plenary Session of the Autumn term. It has been a long one and a lot of us are very tired after weeks of late nights and early mornings. This does not mean that we can put our feet up of course. I have six meetings tomorrow alone, little time to do any Christmas shopping and my first time off is the afternoon of Christmas Eve. What makes the last week of term more hectic is Christmas cards. I must have signed over 600 in the last two days and AM support staff everywhere are wandering around the corridors muttering about the number they have had to stuff into envelopes, label and stick stamps on. Still there are always the carol services, not to mention the carols piped into the Assembly chamber before each session, department store-style. Is it any wonder that we are all delighted to get back to our constituencies and get down to work with the people we represent once more?

Too high a price

Peter Hain's advocacy of a toll road to relieve the M4 around Newport met with a frosty reception in the Assembly where private finance initiatives are not flavour of the month. I suspect that it will also attract resistance from anti-road campaigners as well, concerned at the loss of five SSSIs and the disruption to several communities. The problem with new roads is that they fill up with vehicles very quickly and then attract demands for more new roads to relieve them of congestion. I can remember when the M25 was relatively quiet, now they are extending parts of it into 5 or 6 lanes. I can also remember the joy of using the link road from junction 33 of the M4 to Cardiff Bay before it became jam packed with commuters. When the former Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan, was given the freedom of Swansea City he told us about his involvement with the old Briton Ferry bridge on the A48. When that was opened, he said, engineers were predicting that it would meet the traffic needs of South West Wales well into the twenty first century. Within a decade it was a major bottleneck and the M4 missing link was being planned. Clearly, our senior politicians learn nothing from history.

Rent-a-quote speaks out again

Meanwhile, Mr Hain has also been vociferous about the decision of the Electoral Commission not to allow an all-Wales postal ballot on June 10 for elections to County and Community Councils and the European Parliament. The Commission have argued, quite rightly in my view, that the complexity of holding three elections on one day made the use of an all-postal ballot unsafe and increased the chances of abuse. This is not enough for Mr. Hain, who has launched an attack on Welsh local authorities, accusing them of "letting down" the Country by arguing against all-postal ballots next year. There were some who believed that the pressure to have postal voting was designed to maximise the Labour vote next June so as to get more Labour MEPs elected. Such a motive is hardly a noble experiment in the extension of political rights. Clearly, Mr. Hain does not like losing an argument, still less having a Government Quango defy his settled will. It seems that the "strong recommendation of Rhodri Morgan and myself" is reason enough for such a change despite the risks. These are quite extraordinary comments from a democrat and a Government Minister. They show a breathtaking lack of understanding of the electoral process. Elections are not there to elect the Labour Party Peter, they are there so that people can make unhindered choices in a fair and impartial process, based on their judgement of the policies that they are presented with. Still, at least he sent me a Christmas card this year. Don't suppose I will get one again once he reads this.

Peter who?

It seems that it was not just the Assembly's voting system that had a glitch yesterday. When the Western Mail cannot distinguish between the Labour AM for Blaenau Gwent, Peter Law, and me then there is clearly something wrong. If you read down the hotlinked article you will see that it is Peter Black (Labour, Blaenau Gwent) who said: "As we descend into farce on world television, perhaps we can use the lobbies that are here." not Peter Law who actually said it, who is obviously a greater technophobe than me and clearly has ambitions to go to Westminster, which I don't.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Dog mess

There was sadness in the Welsh Assembly chamber this afternoon as the Business Manager withdrew regulations on dog fouling for technical reasons. They will come back to us in the new year. Lorraine Barrett, who understands scrutiny better than some of her Labour colleagues, could not contain her disappointment. "I have been waiting since 1978 when I was elected to Penarth Town Council to be able to vote on these regulations", she told the gathered AMs. It did not stop her voting for the business statement of course. Presumably, she did not want to put her foot in it with the Labour whips.


Wales is to take responsibility for deciding whether we add fluoride to drinking water. Good! Let us hope we throw out this illiberal measure at the first opportunity.

The cost of devolution

The Tories have once more raised the cost of the Assembly. They tell us that we are now employing 1,000 more "pen-pushers" than three years ago and this is costing £31.5m more than in 1999. This is despite the fact that as a proportion of the Assembly's budget the total cost of administration amounts to 0.8%, the same as in 1999. They have even provided a breakdown of where the extra civil servants are based. Of course democracy costs money. We have taken into the Assembly some quangos and set up new bodies such as the Care Standards Inspectorate, with Tory support, to deal with devolved functions. We now have a policy making function whereas before we left it to Westminster. We also have a larger budget to administer. The Tories like to pose as the guardians of public money but what they are actually doing is attacking the devolution process by proxy. They have to decide, are they for the Welsh Assembly or against it? If they are against it then why do they sit in it and benefit from their membership?

Old Labour versus New on Post Offices

The Western Mail labelled it as "Old Labour slates New over closure of urban post offices" but the air of hypocrisy on this issue was acrid. The MP for Blaenau Gwent, Llew Smith and his colleague, Peter Law AM, led a delegation to Cardiff to meet the Secretary of State for Wales to seek his support in the fight to stop seven Post Offices in their constituency from closing. There was a lot of talk of fat cat Post Office Executives and lack of consultation but very little about the real reasons why these Post Offices are going - Labour Government policy. The payment of pensions and benefits directly into bank accounts has effectively wiped out 40% of the income of most Post Offices. Is it no wonder that many postmasters are taking voluntary retirement rather than struggle against these odds? The closures in Llanelli and Blaenau Gwent are just the tip of the iceberg. More will be announced in the next few months in other areas of Wales. Meanwhile the Secretary of State, a member of the Government that has nearly bankrupted the Post Office, told the dynamic duo of Llew and Peter that those campaigning to save the post offices had an "unanswerable" case. Well that is OK then. Perhaps he will go back to Westminster and tell Tony to reverse Government policy now. I think not.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Postal Vote decision

Commonsense has prevailed and the Electoral Commission has rejected the bid by the Welsh Assembly Government to hold the combined European, Local and Community Council elections on June 10th by way of an all-postal ballot. This shameless attempt at gerrymandering was too much even for the Electoral Commission to stomach it seems

Mother knows best

Don't you just hate it when your mother is proved right about the unsuitability of your boyfriend? Yes, I know, this is nobody else's business either!

Call my bluff

Will Labour MPs call Tony Blair's bluff and take their opposition to top-up fees right to the point of the Prime Minister's resignation? 157 MPs have now signed the early day motion against these fees including 17 or 18 Welsh Labour MPs. It only requires 82 to vote against this measure to defeat it. The Prime Minister has hinted that he will resign if he loses, yet I doubt he will need to fulfill that threat, though it will be close. I am sure that many of the rebels are signing the EDM so as to get concessions, others will abstain, but there will still be a significant number who will vote against. It certainly makes for interesting politics, but there is a serious issue at stake here. That issue is not the future of the Prime Minister but that of our higher education system. Let us hope that the rebels will prevail.

Homophobia continues

The press just cannot leave it alone. More revelations about Rhondda MP, Chris Bryant in the Mail on Sunday that tell us more about the homophobic attitude of the journalists concerned than about the MP himself. This has nothing to do with the issues of decency or illegal public acts they are determined to hound him out because he is openly gay. A yougov poll reports that 69% of the public back Chris Bryant's right to privacy. Perhaps the press should take note of this and act accordingly.

Expansion or consolidation?

The campaign to stop the expansion of Swansea Airport has been a dishonest one from the start. Campaigners have made a number of outrageous and inaccurate claims to give the impression that the airport is to start receiving Jumbo jets, that it is to expand into the area of outstanding natural beauty and destroy at least one SSSI, and that it is to become a major rival to the International Airport at Cardiff. If they have made the effort to find out the real facts then they have given no indication that they have done so in their statements. From my discussions it is clear that there are no plans to expand the airport outside of its present boundaries. To do so would require planning permission, which would not be forthcoming specifically because of the AONB and the SSSI. If the airport cannot be expanded in this way then there is no way that the larger jets can ever land there - another myth exploded. It is also true to say that the airport as it presently exists needs upgrading to meet Civil Aviation Authority guidelines on health and safety. Hence, the closing of one runway and the shortening of another, the building of new facilities and a process of consolidation to make the airport an attractive proposition to passengers. I am not opposed to air travel but I do not want to see a major airport in Gower. It is right that if we were starting again then Swansea Arport would be situated elsewhere, but that is not a practical or cost-effective option. Neither is closing the present airport. Over 100 jobs are dependent on this airport, it is a major contributor to the local economy, the new routes are key to attracting businesses to the Swansea area and it is increasingly putting the City on the map. And yet still those protesting against it continue to mislead. Their latest stunt is to link up with protestors against the expansion of Heathrow airport. In doing this they are perpetuating the big lie that their whole campaign is based on, that the present owners of Swansea Airport plan to turn it into something much bigger that will swamp Gower. They really must think we were born yesterday, but will the owners of Swansea Airport please join in this debate and start to correct the propoaganda? Some of us are tiring of defending them without their assistance.

Sunday, December 07, 2003


Wonderful quiz on the newest Liberal Democrat Blog - Topical Fish - if only because it came up with the right answer for me. Apparently, I am "a woolly reformist liberal. You always wear flowers in your hair, dangly earrings, and badges protesting against New Labour, pollution, nuclear power, etc. You usually read the Guardian, but recently decided to boycott it due to its Blairite sympathies and now buy the Independent as a mark of protest. You spend your spare time playing the guitar, making jewellery, writing poetry, inventing amusing captions to accompany photos of Iain Duncan Smith, and delivering leaflets for the Liberal Democrats. People may make fun of your tolerant and progressive outlook, but just like your belief that Iraqs weapons of mass destruction are totally non-existent, you will eventually be proved right. In the meantime, carry on spreading the love. We need more people like you." OK, only some of it is true but what the hell. Try it.

Back to the past

Rather than elect a new generation to lead it, with the promise of a brave new World, greater relevance and revived electoral fortunes, the Conservative Party has played safe and turned its face firmly towards the past and its period of greatest electoral success. That became glaringly obvious yesterday with the visit of new leader, Michael Howard, to Wales and his home town of Llanelli. I have to say that I had not appreciated the full significance of Ann Widdicombe's famous condemnation of Howard, that he has "something of the night" about him, until I discovered that his family are from Transylvania. Suddenly, a comment about the political ambitions and ability of a former Home Secretary has become symbolic of old-school Conservative mistrust of immigrant families. Howard though, continues to live in the past and in particular the Thatcher-past, and because of this it is clear that he can only take his party so far towards becoming a party of government again and no further. His job is to stop the rot, consolidate and motivate the core vote (most of whom also look back on Thatcher as a golden age), and to bring an aura of competence and authority to a party that was beginning to look like a rabble. That will not be enough to get him into power, but it may be sufficient to pave the way for newer blood later, someone who can take the party to the next stage from the solid base that Howard has left.

What prompts these musings is the crass comments of Howard yesterday about Maggie Thatcher's pit closure programme. The issue here is not whether Thatcher was right to do it (I happen to believe that she wasn't) but the fact that the new leader of the Conservative Party either does not understand that the world has moved on or does not care. Mr. Howard announced that the Conservative Party's policy of closing the mines, causing widespread unemployment, actually helped to revive communities. Well, Mr. Howard, you clearly did not visit much of Wales. There are still many communities struggling to come to terms with these closures. They have had to fight depopulation, dereliction, poverty, despair and rejection. Some have turned to drugs, drink, crime, anti-social behaviour or depression. There can be no excuses for any unlawful activity of course, but there are reasons and it is no coincidence that a lot of this originates from those with little hope or self-respect.

The strength of these communities have helped them and their members to survive. That strength did not come out of adversity, it was there already. The vast majority of people living in them are decent, hard-working and law-abiding. They were suddenly thrown on a scrap-heap by the mine closure programme. It is easy to say, as Howard did, that these Communities are reviving. Some of them are, others are starting to, but that is no thanks to Thatcher or her policies. What Mr. Howard and his party has to understand is the damage that previous Conservative Governments, of which he was a member, did to large parts of Wales. He does not of course and he does not have to. That is not his job. There will be no more apologies for the wrongs of past Conservative Governments under this leader. We really have travelled back to the eighties.

More echoes of the past

Another sign that things do not change are the Tory nominees for peerships. Apparently, one of the last acts of Iain Duncan Smith was to put forward three major party donors for the House of Lords. Stanley Kalms, Irvine Laidlaw and Leonard Steinberg have together donated £2.3 million to Tory party coffers since 2001. We know all about Tony's cronies, it seems that the Tories were good teachers. It may be that these nominations will stymie their criticism of Mr. Blair for some time to come.

Sweet sixteen

I am delighted that the Prime Minister is starting to see sense and consider reducing the voting age to 16. This is a commonsense measure that very much embraces the slogan of the American revolutionaries at the Boston tea party - "no taxation without representation". My only concern however, is whether Tony will go ahead with the measure when he sits down and considers the demographics. After all giving thousands of 16 year olds the vote whilst condemning them to years of future debt through the introduction of top-up fees, is not the best way to woo new voters.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Top up Fees

The big argument for top-up fees is that the Government needs to fund Universities to educate the huge numbers of students now going onto higher education. They argue that it is unfair for the taxpayer to do this as the vast majority of taxpayers will not benefit from this expenditure. Personally, I have never made use of Social Services but that does not stop me contributing to this service nor does it prevent me recognising that my money is being well spent in protecting children and helping the elderly and infirm etc. Nor does this argument recognise that the graduates of today are the managers, scientists, and the leaders of the future. The Country will directly benefit from the investment in their education and therefore there should be no objection to us paying for it from general taxation.

Universities argue that the Country can never afford the £9 billion that they estimate is needed to invest in higher education. They may be right. The problem with this argument is that top-up fees will never raise £9 billion. According to newspaper reports this morning of an Institute for Fiscal Studies report they will in fact raise about £1.4 billion and half of that will come directly from the public purse to cover those whose income prevents them being able to afford the fees. That leaces £700m that will be invested in Universities as the result of the imposition of top-up fees. The cost of that investment will be massively increased student debt, some of the brightest and best students being put off going to college and a two tier education system in which the better-off get a better education.

Given that the product of a 50% tax rate on those earning more than £100,000 would be in excess of this £700m I think the argument that the Country cannot afford to pay for this investment in higher education out of general taxation has been blown apart. Clearly, we can afford to put this amount of money into educating the leaders of the future and a lot more as well. The Government is cutting off its own nose to spite its face, the problem is that many others will suffer as a result of this hubris.


Hands free

Huge amount of publicity recently for the ban on using a hand-held mobile phone while driving. Any sensible person is installing a legal hands-free kit in case the phone rings whilst driving. I heard on the radio this morning that a woman in Ohio has been prosecuted for breast feeding her baby whilst driving at 65mph. Do they do hands-free kits for breast feeding?

Bananas in pyjamas

I know that this is an excessively self-indulgent allusion but it occurred to me the other day that at least one Assembly Member has a great deal in common with the MP for Rhondda. Both Chris Bryant and Mid and West Wales AM, Glyn Davies, have been featured in the press for public appearances in their underpants. Doesn't bear thinking about really.

Ban it?

Do these experts learn nothing from history? In the news today is a proposed solution to passive smoking. A group of experts have proposed outlawing smoking altogether. Now, I accept the argument that passive smoking can be as dangerous as smoking itself. I have never even taken a drag from a cigarette but over the years I have had to suffer the smoke of my friends and family. I avoid this whenever I can and if there is a choice of a non-smoking bar or restaurant I will always take it. I welcomed the opening of a non-smoking pub in Swansea's Wind Street and would like to see more. However, I also recognise the right of smokers to wreck their own health if they wish. That is why I supported the installation of a smoking room in the Assembly. Civil rights work both ways. I respect the right of people to smoke if they respect my right not to inhale theirs. The obvious solution therefore is to allow smoking in private and to cleanse public areas such as restaurants and pubs of the evil habit. This works very successfully in California and New York without any loss of custom to the respective businesses. It should be imposed in the UK as well.

A ban of smoking in public is one thing. To ban it altogether would create a black market in tobacco similar to the prohibition era in the United States when alcohol was banned. It will actually lead to more people taking up the habit. These experts should learn, you cannot force choices onto people, you have to let them come to their own decisions. In the meantime, can all you smokers indulge in private in future so that I don't have to share it? Thank you.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

More on the MP in his underpants

Edwina Curry on Radio Wales just now makes a fair point about Chris Bryant MP and the posting of the "self-portrait in y-fronts" on the internet. She was astonished that an MP should not show more sense and discretion. After all, she commented, "it is not called the World Wide Web for nothing". I maintain that what Chris Bryant does in his private life is his own affair and nobody else's but accept that perhaps the use of some discretion and commonsense might give him a quieter life. Edwina went onto to wish that all these MPs would stop playing around and get on with running the country. Pots and kettles, Edwina, pots and kettles!

Democracy breaks out amongst the old fogeys

Actually, that heading is remarkably unfair, after all the Presiding Officer sits in the House of Lords and they do carry out an invaluable job in holding the Government to account. As his staff are bound to draw this posting to his attention I should make it clear that I do not class him as an old fogey. The Government's abandonment of their proposed democratisation and reform of the House of Lords has come back to haunt them The upper house voted last night to reject the proposals in the Queen's speech to get rid of the remaining hereditary peers. I have no love for the hereditary peers or the principle of inherited titles. The one exception is Conrad Russell, a Liberal Democrat peer and direct relation of Bertrand Russell. I make no exception for the Queen who should have announced her own abolition in the Queen's speech as far as I am concerned. Maybe now the Government will think again about their plans and actually try once more for an elected upper house. Perhaps they should also consider an elected Head of State.

Odds and ends

I am posting this at 8.30am. I stayed in Cardiff last night but for once actually got to see the "West Wing". I was shocked to see that they have recruited Chandler from "Friends" as the new Assistant Counsel. At the first sign of them drafting in Joey or Ross I am switching off! I was speaking to the Deputy Presiding Officer last night who said that one of the first things his staff do in the morning is to log onto this blog. Presumably, they are monitoring it for my many indiscreet remarks. So, good morning to you all. As it happens I have just downloaded the statistics for my website this morning. I am not sure if I have really got the hang of them but I was pleased to see that this blog had nearly 600 hits in November. The number of individual visitors to my website has hit a new record at over 1,500, whilst the site itself had over 9,000 hits. Clearly, this experiment in e-democracy is having an impact.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

A challenge too far

The Assembly has been invited to enter a team of AMs into University Challenge under the "professionals" category. I understand that the team of four is to be made up of a member from each party. I tried some of the test questions and swiftly concluded that the Welsh Liberal Democrat member should not be me. If we have the First Minister on the team then we must have a very good chance. He has encylopediac knowledge about most things. The problem is however, will any of the four politicians be able to give a straight answer?

Plain English

The Plain English Campaign's "Foot in Mouth" award threw up some classics this year. Personally, I prefer Arnold Schwarzenegger's quote to the eventual winner. "The idea that "gay marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman" appealed tremendously. I also liked Chris Patten's comment that the Conservative Party "was living to regret having committed political suicide." Shades of the undead there I think. Nevertheless Rumsfield's quote about there being "unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know" beautifully summed up the Bush Administration's Iraq policy.

Dr. Who meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer

It seems that the new Dr. Who is to have sassy, high-kicking female companion not unlike Buffy the Vampire Slayer. "A screaming girly companion is unacceptable now" according to the writer, Russell T. Davies. It also seems that the Daleks may be on the scrapheap. How times change.

Y fronts

I suppose that when an MP e-mails a picture of himself wearing just his underpants to a total stranger then it must be news. Indeed that is what the Mail on Sunday and the Western Mail thought when they were presented with such a self-portrait of Chriis Bryant, the Labour MP for Rhondda, together with some explicit e-mails. But is it any of their business? Chris Bryant may be an MP but his private life is his own affair. It may well have been unwise to send such a message to a stranger but so what? It is not as if he posted it on a website, it was a private e-mail which was published without the consent of the sender.

Actually, I thought the coverage in both papers was very homophobic. The Mail on Sunday concentrated in its headline on the fact that Chris Bryant had helped to scrap a ban on gay sex in public. The Western Mail decided to use a play on words in its headline alleging that the "Gay" MP faces being "outed from Rhondda". They also quoted some antidiluvian Labour Councillor, who actually lives in a different constituency, who expressed his "disgust" at the MP's actions. Clearly, this Councillor realises that Chris Bryant is human, gay, single and has needs. One can only conclude therefore that he disaproves of his sexuality. It was a lot of nonsense about nothing, but disturbing nevertheless that national newspapers feel that they have to play to prejudice in this way.

Monday, December 01, 2003

On the streets

I was up early this morning so as to be able to join the Swansea Shoreline Project on their breakfast run for the homeless. As always this is a sobering experience, made more so by the recent efforts by the Council and others to move rough sleepers on as much as possible. This is all very well but it does not solve the problem, just displaces it. In fact since the night shelter in the City closed down last year there hasn't been anywhere for rough sleepers to go. This is particularly bad at this time of the year due to the cold. There is also no day centre in Swansea so as well as the insecurity of the night, rough sleepers are also on the move during the day. The new anti-social behaviour legislation is being used against them, though to be fair the Police are trying to be helpful. In addition, from 1 January new bye-laws will outlaw drinking on the streets in the City Centre and that will inevitably impact on the homeless population.

I spoke to one rough sleeper who said that they had tried to sleep under a train parked in the station but had not been able to settle in case it moved off during the night. Others referred to the lack of facilities, to harrassment by the authorties or to physical assaults on their person and their anecdotes were backed up by the dedicated team of professionals who are employed to help them. It is not an easy situation by any means. The Welsh Assembly started with the aim that nobody need to sleep rough by 2003. That target was rightly abandoned simply because it was unachievable. There was neither the committment on the part of most Welsh Councils (or the recognition of a problem in many cases) nor the resources to do what needs to be done in terms of new facilities, tenancy support, rehab etc. The amount of money for homelessness grants has increased sevenfold since 1999 and much of it is now paid on a long term basis. But as with the NHS we have yet to see evidence of real changes on the ground, though hopefully they will come. The ruthless effort in England to get people off the streets has proved to be short-term and unsustainable even with the massive resources that were put into that initiative.

The fact is that in 2003 we have not really progressed beyond the Elizabethan Vagrancy laws of the 16th Century. People sleep rough for a variety of reasons but large numbers of them live chaotic life styles, have alcohol or drug dependency and/or mental health problems. They need support to get back on their feet. Those who are given tenancies often return to the streets. I have come to the conclusion that we will always have people sleeping rough. Our job must be to help them survive those stages of their life and to assist them in finding alternative and viable life choices. If we don't do that then we have failed as a civilised society.

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