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Saturday, November 11, 2006


As politicians we often have privileged access to people, places and events that others do not. Naturally, this can lead to envy and resentment, particularly if a politician acquires a prime seat at an international game for free and has hospitality thrown in to boot. As I have said previously, I tend not to take up the vast majority of these opportunities. This, though is not a general rule for others. If it were then the offers would dry up.

Politicians are also expected to have some grasp of popular culture, even though they may not have the time or inclination for this. Many will work very hard to master a basic knowledge of the sort of things that helps the tabloids to sell newspapers, even though their understanding of the genre remains cursory. I still have fond memories for example, of the senior politician who spent an afternoon during an election campaign learning the names of the Spice Girls by rote so that he would not be caught out at a press conference. Others do not try to pretend at all.

The Conservative AM, David Melding, is at least refreshingly honest in these matters, as he demonstrated in questions to the Enterprise Minister on Wednesday:

David Melding: As someone who for many years thought that Ant and Dec was one person, I am not brilliant on popular culture, but Torchwood has made Cardiff into a great star—we already had Dr Who—and it is attracting many tourists. Cardiff, in general, is appearing in the popularity charts of UK and European cities. It is important that we market Cardiff aggressively to attract more tourists, and, on the back of that, see the links to promoting tourism in Wales in general.

Andrew Davies: Yes, very much so. I was delighted to open BBC Wales’s new drama complex in Treforest earlier this year, where much of the Dr Who series and the new Torchwood series were filmed; I was delighted that I was able to open the Tardis set, and meet Dr Who in person. [Interruption.] I had a sonic screwdriver, which did not actually do anything. I am delighted that Dr Who is written by Swansea-born Russell T Davies. The programme has done a great job in terms of promoting Wales, particularly Swansea and Cardiff and the beautiful surrounding countryside, and Torchwood is doing the same. The creative industries are important to us, not only in terms of developing Welsh talent, but also as a way of promoting all that is best about Wales. I have been in discussions with all the broadcasters in Wales, as well as the independent television producers, to get as much of the filming of Welsh products as possible done in Wales.

This exchange was of course a delight for many of us in the chamber, not just for David Melding's frank admission that he had once though Ant and Dec to be one person, but also for Andrew Davies' almost starstruck tone as he informed us breathlessly that he had been on the Dr. Who set and that he had met the great man himself, a statement that he later repeated just to underline the achievement.

Many of us were left pondering what would have happened if the Minister had got his hands on the Tardis. How things might have been different in the Welsh Assembly. The disaster of Alun Michael's leadership might have been avoided and Labour may have secured a majority in the Assembly in 1999, Labour might have supported Peter Law for Deputy Presiding Officer and prevented losing their majority last year, whilst Rhodri Morgan may have decided to go to Normandy for the D-Day commemoration instead of attending a Ryder Cup event, thus saving himself a lot of grief. It is flights of fancy like this that gets us through the day.

Later on things became a little more serious with an exchange during the Business Statement that began to rehearse some of the arguments that will be used in the forthcoming Welsh General Election. Welsh Liberal Democrat Business Manager Kirsty Williams had a small run in with the Presiding Officer as she sought to capitalise on Plaid Cymru's u-turn over the demand for a statement on the Wales Screen Commission by referring to their Deputy Leader's preference for a Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition after the next election:

Kirsty Williams: As Lisa has just said, the basis on which we voted against the business statement yesterday, and the reason why it failed, was because of the absence of an oral statement on the Wales Screen Commission. Therefore, the Minister can hardly be surprised today that not including it in her business statement has not somehow elicited the support of Assembly Members. I do not know what Plaid Cymru is doing. It did not support the business statement yesterday because of the absence of that statement, so I do not know why it feels that it can support the revised business statement today, but then that is a matter for—

The Presiding Officer: Order. The Business Minister has no responsibility for Plaid Cymru.

Kirsty Williams: Not yet. I accept that, at this precise instance, the Business Minister does not have any say-so over the goings-on in Plaid Cymru—and you would know more than most what that is like, Presiding Officer.

The Presiding Officer: Order. As Assembly Members know well, I play very little part in the affairs of Plaid Cymru, and certainly none when I am sitting here.

Kirsty Williams: I could not agree more, Presiding Officer.

The Business Minister, therefore, cannot be surprised that we are not supporting the revised business statement today. The Minister for Enterprise, Innovation and Networks answered some questions this afternoon, but that is no substitute for an opportunity to clearly examine the issues involved. In fact, his performance this afternoon raised more questions than were answered. Therefore, we are not able to support this statement.

Helen Mary Jones: I have no idea what we have done to make Kirsty Williams so grumpy; I am sorry that she is in such a bad mood. I reiterate your point, Presiding Officer, that there are three opposition parties, as well as independent Members, in the Chamber, and we are under no obligation always to act in accord, particularly when we happen not to agree.

We share the regret that there is no statement on the Wales Screen Commission and I further feel—

Kirsty Williams rose—

Helen Mary Jones: As far as I am aware, Presiding Officer, it is not possible to make interventions in these situations.

The Presiding Officer: Was someone trying to make one?

Helen Mary Jones: Yes, the Liberal Democrats’ slightly grumpy business manager. [Laughter.]

The Presiding Officer: Then she should sit down forthwith.

Helen Mary Jones: I would happily give way to her, but, as I understand it, I am not allowed to do that.

Nobody has ever accused Helen Mary Jones of being starstruck.
Where is the evidence that Dr Who is promoting any aspect of Wales internationally? On the contrary it is promoted as a British/English production and BBC Wales is well aware of that fact.

Are opposition AM's to star struck of Andrew Davies to challenge him?
Perhaps by having two episodes explicitly set in Cardiff?
Will, I am glad that you know Cardiff is in Wales, but how do viewers abroad know?

The marketing they get about Dr Who is that it is a British/English show.

How many episodes have been set in London?
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