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Friday, July 23, 2004

And so to Hartlepool

I am being forced to disconnect myself from this blog for a bit to go on a 'politics-free' holiday. Keep watching this space though. On my return it looks like I will be spending some time campaigning in Hartlepool.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Welsh Assembly blog

A new blog on the Welsh Assembly has been drawn to my attention. Highlight so far is the real top ten in the 100 Welsh Heroes poll. Yes, Tom Jones won it, whilst Ivor the Engine was in an honourable tenth place. Not too sure about "My granny" though.

Royal Welsh Show

I do enjoy the Royal Welsh Show. Even the one hour wait for parking in a traffic jam yesterday did not dampen my spirits, nor did the rain in the afternoon. The highlight of the day had to be the water buffalos, brought to the show from their home on the Teifi Estuary. This was closely followed by the Buffalo ice cream and strawberries though I refused to try buffalo meat. This was not because of any principled stand, but because one of the water buffalos was watching me at the time.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Nervous travellers

Typical, I am just steeling myself for a flight out of Heathrow when some government department releases a guide to terrorists on the best place to site rocket launchers to shoot at the planes.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

A lot of books

I am going away for a few weeks shortly so I decided to gather together all the books I have not had time to read. It turns out that the last time I tried to read any of them was during my holiday last year. In some cases I started them the year before that. There are some very weighty volumes there but I am determined to make some progress.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

No more heroes ( a reprise)

It seems that Aneurin Bevan may not have won the poll of 100 Welsh Heroes run by Culturenet Cymru after all. Clearly an explanation is due. I wonder how one gets to be a "senior AM"?

Friday, July 16, 2004


Congratulations to Parmjit Singh Gill on an outstanding result in Leicester South. He now becomes the Liberal Democrats' 55th MP and our first from an ethnic minority. Commiserations to Nicola Davies, who narrowly missed out in Birmingham Hodge Hill in an otherwise excellent result. I have to say that Labour did not deserve to win this particular by-election. Notwithstanding Oliver Kamm's views below, Labour's negative, personal and, at times, near-racist campaign was a disgrace and plumbed new depths in British political campaigning by a mainstream party. All those Labour activists around the Country who like to enjoy the moral high ground on campaigning issues, especially in relation to asylum seekers, have had it washed away from underneath their feet by their party's behaviour in Hodge Hill.

Party pooper

The resignation of Graham Hawker as Chief Executive of the WDA has spoilt Labour's party a bit in celebrating their decision to abolish Wales' three biggest Quangos. His decision does not invalidate the policy in any way but it does show that there is considerable unease at the potential loss of independence of the WDA and a fear that it will lose its edge and business acumen. Above all his resignation underlines the job that the Assembly Committee and the opposition have in carefully scrutinising this decision and ensuring that the advantages that the WDA now enjoys in selling Wales and in creating jobs and an entrepreneurial culture are not lost if it is at all possible.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Quangos no more

The announcement by the First Minister yesterday that the three big Quangos in Wales, namely the WDA, Wales Tourist Board and ELWa, will cease to exist and be subsumed in the Assembly caused a bit of a stir. For a start it was unexpected, but also it at last showed that the Government were listening to the opposition. Personally, I support the move unreservedly and so I was disappointed that some opposition members, who I would have expected better of, were only prepared to give it a "cautious welcome". Needless to say we have yet to see the detail so I have already taken steps to try and ensure that the Education and Lifelong Learning Committee have ample time to question the Minister in the Autumn Term on how she plans to implement these proposals with regards to ELWa.

The questioning on the First Minister's statement was lively as you would expect for the last day of term. There was much talk of Damascus and of the rather over-the-top enthusiasm shown by the Labour Group. The First Minister was on particularly good form in responding to Plaid Cymru Leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones:-

The First Minister: The people of Wales measure not whether you talk the talk, but on whether you have done something, and that is what we are doing today. The people will look at when we sought the abolition of the five health authorities. Who were the main defenders and who tried to save those quangos? It was Plaid Cymru. [Interruption.] You are standing there, trying to talk the talk, but I can see the Llangefni to Damascus return bus ticket sticking up out of your top pocket, Ieuan. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer: Order. I ask that we listen in an orderly manner to the First Minister's replies to questions from the leader of the opposition.

The First Minister: It is true that you have raised the issue of quangos frequently during the last three months, and I have replied that I did not believe that it was right to bring in a huge amount of further institutional churn in the first Assembly. I think that I used the phrase 'corddi sefydliadol' when answering your questions. There is a maximum amount of institutional churn that you can tolerate. During the first Assembly period, Wales saw more institutional churn in setting up the Assembly than it had seen since the time of Owain Glyndwr. We thought that we should let the Assembly settle down.

Tory Leader, Nick Bourne made a point of highlighting the triumphalism of the Labour Group:

The reception that you received from your side of the Chamber indicated that there was some foreknowledge. It reminded me a little of one of those eastern European rallies. Looking around, some of you probably took part in eastern European rallies because you probably had to practice.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

A dedicated follower of fashion

Recognition at last:-

David Melding: Would the First Minister make a statement on the measures he has taken to promote the Welsh fashion industry? (OAQ36900)

The First Minister: What can I say? [Laughter.] The first line in my brief says 'as a beacon of sartorial elegance', but I think that refers to you, David, rather than to me. We provide the resources and policy framework within which the Welsh Development Agency, Wales Trade International, Design Wales, and Education and Learning Wales have supported several projects and initiatives of benefit to the Welsh fashion industry. I will write to you with further details, because I do not think that the Presiding Officer would allow me the time to read them all out.

The Presiding Officer: Order. It is not a matter of the Presiding Officer allowing time for Ministers to read out answers, but of ensuring that Assembly Members have the opportunity to ask a series of questions.

David Melding: I do not expect us all to wear Welsh kilts or ties like those Peter Black wears, but I am sure that you would agree that we all have a part to play in promoting Welsh fashion.

Smoking gun

Tomorrow sees the first meeting of the 'Smoking in Public Places Committee'. This body has been charged with investigating the practicality of a ban on smoking in public places in Wales. It is a bit of a fruitless exercise in many ways as we do not really have the powers to carry out a ban, however at least it will add to the sum of knowledge for that time in the future when we do have the powers to implement it. Things are already starting to get out of hand however. The BMA for example have clearly employed a spin doctor or something as they want to set up camp in the Assembly before the meeting so as to engage members of the Committee in a photo stunt of some kind. I would happily go along to this (I am a politician after all) except that I have a Voluntary Sector Partnership Council Meeting at the same time. However, the following e-mail from the clerk to the Committee does indicate that perhaps certain Assembly Members are getting a bit carried away with their new role:

"The Chair will be very happy to accept the letters from the BMA, but has asked me to remind you that it would not be appropriate for Members to engage in any activity (such as jumping on a giant cigarette packet) that might be construed as pre-judging the issues that the Comittee will be taking evidence on in the coming months."

As this Committee does not have a semi-judicial role of any kind then I think that the fears of the Chair are both unreasonable and unfounded. If I want to jump on a giant cigarette packet then I will do so. I am also happy to pre-judge the issues. As far as I am concerned this Committee exists to determine how we can implement a ban not to see whether one should be introduced.

Gordon Brown hands Wales back

Somebody has obviously explained to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that if he starts making announcements on behalf of the Labour Assembly Government then he might have to take responsibility for running it and for the state of the Welsh NHS. Naturally, he has immediately backtracked. This is a shame. As I said to Rhodri Morgan in Plenary yesterday, perhaps if Gordon Brown was going to be running the Labour Assembly Government from now on he might also want to take responsibility for offering some political leadership in promoting the outcome of the Richard Commission. After all, Rhodri Morgan himself, no longer seems interested in that role.


The Welsh Language pressure group, Cymuned, have called on us to drop the name Wales and to henceforth refer to our nation as Cymru. Their reasoning is that as Wales derives from a latin root meaning foreigner it should no longer be used to designate our nation. They have also called for all English place names to be scrapped. Henceforward, we must find our way around the Land of our Fathers using only the Welsh version of our destination. Thus, a trip from Swansea to Brecon will now become a journey between Abertawe and Aberhonddu. This is all quite barking mad of course but a good fun article to kick off the summer silly season. Rumours that this trend of dropping inconvenient names and replacing them with a more appropriate alternative have been denied. A spokesperson for New Labour said "We have no plans at the moment to rebrand ourselves as 'The New Tories'."

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

New words

One of the joys of scrutinising secondary legislation in detail is the new words that I come across. This morning for example we were looking at The Common Agricultural Policy (Wine)(Wales)(Amendment) Regulations 2004 when the phrase 'organoleptic assessment panels' crossed my field of vision. Some careful thought quickly established that these are wine tasting sessions. I challenge anybody to try and say it after a few glasses of Welsh wine. And then this afternoon in Plenary the First Minister responded to questions on the Chancellor's civil service job-cutting targets for Wales by asserting that these are merely "aggregated asymmetric figures". If he is not careful this phrase may well become the Welsh version of "neo-classical endogenous growth theory".

Monday, July 12, 2004

Brown abolishes devolution

The most bizarre part of Gordon Brown's Comprehensive Spending Review Statement was the claim that he is to cut "20,000 (civil service jobs) from English councils and the devolved Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland authorities." Gordon Brown has no jurisdiction over the devolved administrations and as the money we get from the Treasury is calculated through a formula based on population he cannot attach conditions to it. In Wales the Finance Minister has been conducting her own review but has not yet made any statement as to its outcome. Did Gordon Brown have a sneak preview of the results and did he incorporate them into his statement? Or is his claim that he is to abolish jobs under the control of the Welsh Assembly just a huge confidence trick designed to make him appear more macho than he is? Has a secret deal been hatched between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the First Minister or has Gordon Brown just abolished devolution and forgotten to tell us? I predict an interesting day tomorrow.

A big week

The last week of term for the Assembly and everybody will be vying to get a piece of us. It is actually a very busy week, what with the Comprehensive Spending Review being announced today, the first meeting of the Smoking in Public Places Sub Committee on Thursday, two Parliamentary by-elections on Thursday plus numerous other Committees, fringe meetings and receptions. I will need a short holiday by Friday.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Birmingham again

I have just come back from Birmingham Hodge Hill where the Liberal Democrat campaign is steaming ahead. I spent the afternoon canvassing and can report that the Labour vote is collapsing, the Conservative vote is non-existent and that Liberal Democrat candidate, Nicola Davies, is looking increasingly like she can win it. I still believe that it will be close but there is everything to play for.

The Birmingham tradition of political parties hanging their posters on lamp posts has really given a feel to the campaign. In every street each lamp post is festooned with at least three posters, all from different parties. In the face of such strong competition the use of dayglo orange diamond shaped posters by the Liberal Democrats give us a distinctive edge in the visibility stakes.

As for the other parties, the literature I saw from both Labour and the Conservatives today has plumbed new depths in deeply personal negative campaigning. They really have brought the politics of the gutter to this campaign with direct copies of the sort of attack ads played out daily in American election literature and broadcasts. The one consoling factor is that it seems to be counting against them. People are opting for the more constructive, issue-led campaigning of the Liberal Democrats. However, if this is how British political campaigning is to evolve then we will find more and more people put off the political process and turnout will continue to decline.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Hard choices

It has been a very difficult decision. Shall I put my dinner jacket on and go to the Swansea Lord Mayor's Ball or shall I stay in my jeans and t-shirt and go to Cardiff to see 'Hope of the States'? Alas the gig gets the vote. I must have some time to myself.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Raiders of the lost canal

Having done the Llangollen Canal holiday thing about 14 years ago I can heartily recommend it. There is lots of spectacular scenery, at least one very scary aquaduct and some really good canal side pubs. Now there is the added bonus of celeb-spotting. This week Indiana Jones and Ally McBeal, next week...who knows!

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Virtual reality

For those of you who were wondering if the National Assembly for Wales is a real institution or not I offer you this extract from a speech yesterday by North Wales Tory AM, Mark Isherwood:

"..these regulations represent government by virtual reality, rather than by practical reality."

As this coincided with my laptop giving up the ghost due to a shortage of "virtual memory" I immediately pricked up my ears. Mark went on to perform a double act with Conservative colleague, David Davies:-

.......Headteachers across Wales have told me that the workload agreement reads like jackanory, it is excellent with the exception of the 'f'-word-funding-and it will not work.

Brian Gibbons: Will you explain 'jackanory' to David Davies the next time that you meet him?

Mark Isherwood: As you are a younger Member, David, I will explain that to you later.

David Davies: I assure Mark that I understand 'jackanory'-I saw it when I read the Labour Party's manifesto for the last election.

Mark Isherwood: David, I acknowledge that you think of facts rather than telling stories.

Cannon and Ball it was not. There wasn't a dry eye in the chamber.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Loneliness of the naked long distance runner

For those of you who are still pondering the identity of the AM referred to in this blog on 24 June as having been asked to pose naked for a charity calendar I can at last reveal all (or something like that anyway). I was told today that the AM in question was spotted jogging around Cardiff Bay at 7.30am this morning. When he was asked about his sudden lifestyle change he revealed that he was getting in shape for the forthcoming photo-shoot. I still believe that this is a wind-up but I will report nevertheless that when I asked the Plaid Cymru Assembly Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, directly if it was true, he said that it was. He also said that the photoshoot is imminent and that he expects the calendar to be available in the autumn. Watch this space - don't worry I won't reproduce any of the pictures.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

What money cannot buy

American Independence Day seems a good time to return to the race for the U.S. Presidency. I am heartened by reports in The Observer today that Kerry is matching George W. Bush dollar for dollar in the fundraising stakes. It is said that he has amassed a war chest of $180m compared to the President's $216m. However, as the paper points out, all that cash will not compensate for a lacklustre campaign. There has been a perception in recent years that people can win elections by outspending their opponents. In democracies such as those of America and Britain, spending power is very important. The electorate is media-hardened. They are used to the commercial hard sell and often it is necessary to repeat one's message over and over before it starts to get through. That costs money and creates a market in which the smaller parties cannot compete. The growth in support of the smaller parties though, shows that this is not the whole picture. Money cannot buy trust, nor can it assuage a general feeling of disenchantment and alienation with the poltical process. Increasingly, all of this expenditure is being targeted at a shrinking market, even if we do disregard the fact that most of it will be used to get messages across to a small group of swing voters anyway. The situation is not so dire in Britain where the use of television for campaigning is strictly controlled, but surely it is time we reined back this big spending for good and forced all parties to compete on a level playing field. Maybe we should consider the state funding of political parties to reduce the influence on policy of large donors. The use of commercial marketing and advertising techniques should be regulated and rationed so that money is no longer the determining factor. It is a pipe dream I know, but I would be interested in hearing what you have to say on the subject.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Blogging for beginners

The appearance of They work For You.com has spawned a whole new phenomena, a blog about MPs in which the MP has no input or, to put it differently, does not have to do any work! I am jealous already. The latest such offering concentrates on Romsey's Liberal Democrat MP, Sandra Gidley. The authors of Gidleywatch are currently campaigning for Sandra to be made the first female Defence Secretary on the basis that she looks better in army fatiques than the Lib Dem Defence Spokesperson, Paul Keetch. Can't argue there.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Welsh Liberal Democrats bring the roof down

Although this story appeared in the Bridgend edition of the South Wales Echo I cannot find a link to it on their website. It seems that the new Welsh Liberal Democrat-led Administration in Bridgend have taken seriously their pledge to open up the Council. Shortly before the first full Council meeting the roof collapsed in the Council chamber and the meeting had to be convened elsewhere. An unkind interpretation could be that this is the first of many unpleasant surprises left behind by the out-going Labour Administration. They have certainly left a few in Swansea

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