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Friday, June 23, 2006

A night at the opera

For some this picture may represent the hell of having to watch an Assembly Plenary session from the public gallery. For others however, it is a classic image from some of the more difficult operas, a part of Wagner's Ring Cycle.

Conservative AM, David Melding is a very cultured sort of fellow and enjoys displaying his encyclopedic knowledge and large cultural hinterland in the chamber. In doing so he often enlivens the sessions. Thus on Wednesday he posed a very tricky question to the Culture Minister:

Q5 David Melding: What measures are in place to support the development of opera in South Wales Central? OAQ0848(CWS)

Alun Pugh: The development of opera in Wales, including South Wales Central, is supported through a range of activities, from the internationally recognised Welsh National Opera to local operatic groups.

David Melding: Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Wales Millennium Centre for holding a whole Ring Cycle in November? I understand that the whole cycle sold out in a morning, which shows you what a wonderful initiative this is. I have signed up to that myself, so I declare an interest. Do you also agree that after the full rigours of a Ring Cycle, one might need to be soothed with a little more Mozart in future seasons.

Another Assembly Member who was seeking to enliven Wednesday's Plenary was Mick Bates, whose short debate on 'Supermarkets - Jolly Green Giants or Incredible Hulks' has been much trailed, not least on this blog.

I was tempted to quote the whole speech, so effective was it, but have settled for this passage:

For those who do not know, the Incredible Hulk is a raging creature with enormous strength, much like me. [Laughter.] Just as he caused destruction and carnage wherever he went, so can supermarkets be seen to cause destruction wherever they go. On the other hand, the Green Giant is a symbol for greenness and goodness. Although just as big, if not bigger than, the Incredible Hulk, he leaves no damage in his wake. Therefore, the vision is clear; we want to change supermarkets from incredible hulks to green giants, by encouraging them to see issues of recycling, local food and fair trade as a market advantage. I want to encourage them to compete with one another by establishing which one sells the most local food, which one is recycling the most waste and which one sells the most fair-trade products, but how do I achieve this?

So far, all efforts to turn supermarkets into green giants have failed. Many have tried. The Office of Fair Trading has produced a number of reports and, in May 2006, suggested that the power of the supermarket may have an adverse effect on consumers. Subsequently, the Competition Commission is carrying out a review of the adverse effects of supermarkets and their impact on the grocery market. That is not to mention the work of many lobby groups such as Friends of the Earth and Action Aid. We have all continually called for the supermarkets to clean up their act by selling more locally sourced food and fair-trade products and limiting the amount of packaging on their products. After all these reports and criticisms, why has there been no real action?

Significantly, Mick was not decrying the evils of globalism and multi-national retailers, instead he was arguing that supermarkets are in a unique position to use their size and purchasing power to reduce their environmental footprint by acting in greener way. In other words they can act like local shops, whilst still retaining the economies of scale that makes them so popular with consumers.
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