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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Great election slogans

Paul Walter reminisces about the last time there was an autumn election. It was October 1974 and as I relate elsewhere it was the start of my party political activism.

By a strange coincidence we were discussing the very same subject over dinner last night. We all thought it strange that it has been 33 years since a Prime Minister last took us to the polls at the beginning of a British winter.

The Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, Tom McNally, was the guest speaker at the dinner and he recounted his own unique perspective on election timing. Apparently, he was an advisor to Harold Wilson in 1970 when he went to the country early, and lost. Tom also advised Jim Callaghan in 1978/79 when Labour waited until they were forced to call an election at the last possible moment, and also lost.

Still, if we go to the polls on 1st November, as is now widely anticipated, at least the Liberal Democrats will be able to improve on their predecessor party's slogan in October 1974. At that time, having done well in February 1974 under Jeremy Thorpe, the Liberal Party were anticipating a breakthrough and urged upon everybody 'One more heave'.

Thank goodness that modern spin doctors would immediately see the dangers of such a by-line and veto it out of hand.

A crisis of leadership

This morning's newspapers are full of a number of leaderships in crisis. By far the most immediate is the position of Gareth Jenkins as Wales' coach, whose position has now become untenable after defeat at the hands of Fiji, 38-34, last night. The WRU have moved swiftly to resolve this particular issue and will now no doubt spend several months agonising over who will take over the top job.

The Wales' result was a bit of a blow on another level as well. I went to the combined Annual Dinner of Cardiff North, RCT and Vale of Glamorgan Liberal Democrats last night and donated a Welsh flag tie for the auction. Alas, by the time it came up for bidding it had lost a lot of its value and most of its appeal.

The other leadership crisis is playing out in Blackpool. An Observer poll tells us this morning that David Cameron is trailing badly on nearly every indicator of public opinion. They believe that the temptation to go to the country may prove almost irresistible after today's Observer/Ipsos MORI poll showed that Gordon Brown was opening up a clear lead over Cameron on a series of fronts:

Labour enjoys a seven-point lead over the Tories. Labour is on 41 per cent, the Conservatives on 34 per cent and the Lib Dems on 16 per cent. Labour's lead in today's poll is lower than its double-digit margin in some polls this weekend; however this will not alarm Brown, whose private polls are closer to Ipsos MORI's figures.

Brown is regarded as best able to handle a crisis by 60 per cent of voters, compared with 13 per cent for Cameron and 9 per cent for Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell. The Prime Minister even leads on the crisis issue among Tory supporters - by 37 per cent to 32 per cent.
Brown leads the most united team, according to 54 per cent of those asked. Cameron scores 12 per cent and Campbell scores 10 per cent.

Cameron falls behind Brown on one of the defining issues of his leadership. Just over a third of voters (34 per cent) say that Brown is best able to deal with the environment, compared with 22 per cent for Cameron and 17 per cent for Campbell.

Voters are also in no doubt that Labour is on course for victory at the next general election. More than two thirds (71 per cent) believe Labour will win a majority, with a mere 12 per cent believing Tories will win. Only 29 per cent of Tories think they will win the next election, and nearly half of Conservatives (48 per cent) think Labour will win.

It is not brilliant news for us either but we at least have the benefit of being united behind our leader and fully ready for an election. Activists in our key seats are working hard and there is a strong belief that as the campaign gets underway we will pick up support for both the substance of our policies and the experience and gravitas of our leader.

In contrast Cameron's problem is best summed up by a gaffe in the Independent a few weeks ago, as reported by Private Eye at the beginning of September:

'David Cameron has put party workers on alert for a snap October election and made the breakdown of British society a key plank in the Tory platform.'

Who said that Margaret Thatcher no longer had any influence with the Tory leadership?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Will he or won't he?

All the signs are that Gordon Brown will go to the Palace next week and ask for a General Election on 1st November, but will he? Michael White in the Guardian thinks not, and he quotes Brown's moral purpose and sense of honour in support of his argument:

In practical terms, it is surprising how few Labour insiders answer yes to the simple question, "Do you expect to emerge with a larger majority?'' It's currently 65-plus, but new boundaries will cost a dozen seats before they start. So the lame answer is usually, ''No, but ...''

MPs and ministers remain deeply divided; activists, too. One MP who has been quoted as supporting an election in public says he is privately aghast. ''The clocks go back on October 28. Our people don't like canvassing in the dark, and voters don't like being canvassed. The weather could be awful, not only in Scotland and the north,'' he explains.

The case for is that it will give Mr Brown his own post-Blair mandate for five years, and - much quoted - there will never be a better time for Labour: look how strong the polls are. But wise old head don't trust the polls; nor do I.

"I worked on recent byelections, and the Tories are certainly divided and hostile to Cameron. They're sitting on their hands. But an election is very tribal - they'll vote all right,'' one MP warned me at the seaside.

Dead right, they will think: we have lured Brown out of his citadel into open battle on the plain.

A problem with delay is that it could make it impossible to exercise the election option in 2008. That means one in 2009, after the conventional four-year interval, although Mr Brown could hang on until mid-2010.

A win on November 1 or 8 2007 would allow him to stay in power until December 2012 - in theory, though no election has been held in December since the budget crisis of 1910.

That's not much of an accumulated bet when set against the risk of having either a smaller majority than Iraq-damaged Blair or the shortest premiership since the Tory George Canning's 119 days in 1827. At least Canning had an excuse for going early: he died.

To be fair I get the impression that Mr. White is rehearsing arguments, the efficacy of which he is not entirely convinced of. We will have to wait and see.

The same old story

Green Party politician, Jake Griffiths, sums up:

“It was hoped that Plaid entering government would bring fresh thinking to transport planning in Wales and challenge Welsh Labour’s road building programme.

“Ieuan Wyn Jones’ support for the M4 Relief Road however has shown that Plaid is also committed to encouraging traffic growth with resulting greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and damage to natural habitats.”

"Ambitions to cut carbon emissions in Wales will not be realised unless the growth in car use is curtailed, he said.

“Wales is one of only three governments worldwide which must promote sustainable development as part of its statutory duty – this decision calls this into question.”

Friday, September 28, 2007

In the top hundred

According to Sanddef this blog is number 90 in Iain Dales list of the Top 500 UK Bloggers and is second only to Glyn Davies in that list amongst Welsh bloggers. I am greatly flattered.

Tom Wise on Alisher Usmanov

Tim Ireland on Bloggerheads has the link to the full official transcript of the speech made by Tom Wise MEP in the European Parliament about Alisher Usmanov. It is covered by Parliamentary privilege.

Tories retreat to core values

The Daily Telegraph reports today that David Cameron is to abandon his brave new world and retreat instead to the sort of core values on tax, marriage and crime that have failed his predecessors, Michael Howard and William Hague.

Green proposals that have proved to be unpopular with ordinary Tory voters will be scrapped. They include taxing people for parking at supermarkets and for taking more than one short flight a year. Instead they will borrow a Liberal Democrat proposal of taxing each flight made by an airline, though they will not adopt the full raft of our policies, leaving them open to the charge of tokenism.

This shift in direction is the clearest sign yet that the Conservatives are expecting an election within the next six weeks and have given up all hope of winning it. With the Shadow Chancellor now embracing Margaret Thatcher as one of 'the great prime ministers of British of the only radical green alternative to Labour. The main topic of conversation with regards to the Tories now must be who is to succeed Cameron as their leader.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The education dilemma

Today's newspaper coverage about missing education cash is wearily familiar. In fact we have spent much of the last eight years in the Assembly talking about the 'funding fog' in school funding, a phenomenon in which money allegedly allocated for education by the Minister fails to find its way to schools without anybody knowing why.

That is not to say that the views expressed by Teachers' Unions are not legitimate ones, they are. Although I understand that there is some dispute as to whether the figures in the media are accurate or not and that the Indicator-based Assessment used to make the comparison is at best a crude and unreliable statistical tool. The concern is that the debate itself forms part of the fog, in that it carries with it assumptions that are contrary to our present constitution.

Those assumptions can be best summed up by the thesis that now we have an elected Welsh Government they should be funding schools directly so as to ensure that money gets to the front line.

The problems with this suggestion are many. Firstly, it means that the many central education services provided by local Councils are starved of funds; secondly it assumes that there are universal needs across Wales;, thirdly it prevents parents, teachers, and voters having any influence on spending priorities locally; and fourthly, it means that other Council services are squeezed with consequent demands for them to be funded directly as well. Effectively, it is the start of a process that would see the abolition of local democracy.

The basis of our governmental system is that schools are funded by democratically elected Councils and that they are the ones who should be accountable to their electorate for the decisions they take on funding. Of course if we are to achieve this ideal there needs to be changes to the local democratic process itself. Firstly, there needs to be high quality, high profile and independent information so that voters are able to make informed judgements and secondly there needs to be a system in place that enables the way people cast their vote to be reflected in the results.

There are other reforms that can be put in place as well that are consistent with a local democratic process. These were all addressed by a cross-party committee during the last Assembly which took wide-ranging evidence over a period of nearly a year and unanimously recommended a number of changes that may help to deal with the concerns of unions. The full report can be found here.

Amongst this committee's recommendations were that the Welsh Government should
should require all local authorities to issue concise annual summaries to schools in their area, showing the factors that have led to changes in school budgets, that these annual budget summaries are comparable across local government boundaries and that clear, consistent audit trails are set up and monitored.

The committee also suggested that rather than relying on historic funding patterns to establish what money schools get, the Welsh Government should establish and publish minimum common basic funding requirements for school staffing, accommodation and equipment and that this information should be used to benchmark and inform decision-making at national and local levels on school funding. The Welsh Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning should report regularly to the Education committee on progress towards establishing a minimum common basis funding requirement for schools. In addition the Welsh Government should require authorities to report annually on any difference between the funding they allocate to schools and the minimum common basic funding requirement published by the Welsh Government.

Above all the Committee recommended that the Welsh Government considers amending the guidance on local education authority funding formulae to ensure greater consistency across Wales and to dampen year to year changes in funding arising from variation in pupil numbers and that a three year funding regime would be introduced for schools so as to give them certainty and the ability to plan.

There are many other recommendations, but I would argue that before we start returning to where we were eight years ago as current coverage is tending to do, we should push for the implementation of this report first and see where that leaves us.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The barrier to more powers

Nerys Evans gave the game away earlier on today in the chamber when she confirmed that the Environment Legislative Competence Order (LCO) is encountering problems in Westminster with regards to the breadth of the powers which the Welsh Government are seeking to draw down. This was in stark contrast to the First Minister's claims that all were well yesterday.

Although a wrangle over who approves any new nuclear power stations is part of this row, one of the sources of the problem lies in the Government of Wales Act 2006 itself. Section 95 (2) states that:

An Order in Council under this section does not have effect to amend Part 1 of Schedule 5 by adding a field if, at the time when the amendment comes into force, no functions in the field are exercisable by the Welsh Ministers, the First Minister or the Counsel General.

Part One of Schedule Five sets out the matters on which the Assembly is deemed to have legislative competence. We are only allowed to draw down additional powers within the constraints of this list of functions. If we seek to cast our net too widely and aspire to powers not within those listed then Westminster is likely to rule our LCO out of order. The obvious solution is to approve an LCO and then to pass a further Transfer of Powers but that does not seem to be an acceptable way forward for the UK Government.

One example of a manifesto commitment put forward by all four political parties that may fall into this twilight zone is the proposal to take responsibility for building regulations so as deliver more accessible and energy efficient housing. It has been suggested that this area is not covered by Schedule Five and as such the government will not be able to deliver on this promise by using the LCO route.

The second Government of Wales Act may have been sold as a route to a full Parliament through the gradual accumulation of powers but in reality it is proving more of an obstacle to that outcome, restricting the freedom of the Welsh Government to act and frustrating its manifesto objectives.

Reprieve for Remploy

It is difficult to evaluate whether Peter Hain's pronouncements yesterday on Remploy and their plans to close factories is good news or not. It certainly succeeded in heading off an embarrassing Conference defeat for the Labour Government, but does it offer renewed hope for workers as some think?

Mr. Hain says that it is now the government, rather than Remploy, which will decide on the future of these factories. So far so good, but it was the Labour government that was leading this agenda in the first place.

He says that there will be no compulsory redundancies for disabled workers at the 42 factories across the UK, including six in Wales, but that was already the public position of the Remploy board and it does not address the issue of travel for those workers who have been transferred to another site, nor the long term loss of job opportunities for future generations of disabled people.

Finally, he says that every effort will be made to ensure Remploy "could stay within budget, modernise, get extra work... and move forward into a promising future." That is very much the view of the Remploy Board as well and without details it is difficult to know how Peter Hain's words differ from those of management.

Still, we have to accept that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is being sincere and that he genuinely wants to reach a compromise that is acceptable to all sides. In that respect we will wait and see what emerges from this process over the next few weeks.

A perverse decision

The decision by the Commission for Racial Equality to take legal action under the Race Relations Act against a local resident who collected 953 signatures on a petition against a possible official travellers’ site near his home is one of the most bizarre I have come across for some time. It just flies in the face of commonsense.

In a press statement yesterday the CRE confirmed that they are considering prosecuting Carl Lewis, who organised the petition, under Section 31 of the Race Relations Act, which makes it lawful to bring pressure on someone to act in a discriminatory way. They have argued that Mr. Lewis’ actions are preventing people from ‘understanding how proper solutions to the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers are to the benefit of all and can build positive relations between the settled and travelling members of local communities’.

As far as I am aware there are no plans to put a second travellers’ site in this area. There is already one official encampment, which has wide acceptance in the local community, but an illegal occupation of a Council car park is causing a number of problems for residents. The Council is taking legal action to evict a number of individuals from this site and is currently discussing how it will meet its statutory obligations to them. I have checked on the wording of the petition and it is straightforward referring only to an 'itinerant travellers site'. This intervention by the CRE in my view is a perverse and unwelcome intrusion on this process.

Whatever one’s views on this matter, the prosecution of local residents who are using legitimate and democratic means to bring their concerns to the attention of the local Council, will set a dangerous and unwelcome precedent. If for example the Council were to proceed with an official site and lodged a planning application would the CRE determine that anybody who objected to it, and any Councillor who spoke against it, were acting in breach of the Race Relations Act?

There are fundamental freedom of speech issues here that are not helped by the CRE’s own inconsistency. They are not for example prosecuting the Labour Party, who put out a leaflet in the by-election calling on people to vote for them so as to get rid of the gypsy site. Nor are they prosecuting the BNP who also put out dubious literature during the recent by-election.

What this prosecution will do is to harden attitudes within the local community when a more conciliatory approach might have got better results. If local politicians are playing politics with this issue then so are the CRE. We need solutions not recriminations.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Top 100 Liberal Democrat blogs

I am gratified to note today that I have retained my fifth place in Iain Dale's latest list of the top 100 Liberal Democrat blogs. This follows on from my fourth place in Iain's list of the top 20 Welsh blogs. Given the very high quality of those I am in competition with for this accolade I am very flattered indeed by these placings.

Clear red water

Eluned Morgan's comments at the Labour Party Conference are part of a wide-ranging debate that is well underway within Wales Labour about what went wrong in May and where they go from here.

In as much as this is an internal Labour debate it is of course none of my business, though clearly the outcome of these discussions have direct relevance to both Welsh politics and how other parties respond to them. The fact that the discussion is being conducted partly in public makes it a matter of interest both to myself and anybody else with a stake in the future of Wales.

I will limit myself to the observation therefore that the change of direction being mooted by Eluned Morgan became inevitable once Tony Blair stood down and was succeeded by Gordon Brown. Up until that handover the fact remained that most people in Wales were naturally suspicious of Blairism and New Labour, now they are undergoing a re-evaluation of their views.

In the circumstances, the creation of Welsh Labour (or Classic Labour as Rhodri Morgan would have it) and clear red water helped to inure traditional Labour voters to the increasingly unpleasant choice facing them. When that fell apart in May Labour had further to fall in Wales than elsewhere as levels of support dropped to those in England.

As Gordon Brown is more in tune with the views and aptitude of his party's voters in Wales, the need for distancing is not so acute. However, the corollary to all of this is that Labour support in future Welsh Assembly elections will be far more easily influenced by UK trends.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Viceroy speaks

Radio Wales is reporting this morning that Rhodri Morgan and Peter Hain are using the Labour Party Conference to emphasis the role of Wales within the UK so as to reassure jittery Labour MPs.

There is no doubt in my mind that there are clear benefits for Wales in remaining within a increasingly devolved United Kingdom. However, such a settlement needs to involve the creation of a full-law-making Parliament here and elsewhere so that those decisions that are best taken at a local level remain there.

The premise of the second Government of Wales Act is that the National Assembly for Wales will take on additional powers over a period of time until, having proved it is ready, the people of Wales will be asked to vote on a final transfer of responsibility that will have the effect of creating such a Parliament.

The problem, as I have outlined here and elsewhere on a number of occasions, is that the powers reserved to the Secretary of State for Wales and the UK Parliament enables them to dictate the pace of change and to restrict our natural development. In effect it makes Peter Hain into a Viceroy, overseeing the Assembly.

This morning's Western Mail justifies our fears about this Act though I do not believe that anybody envisaged the UK Government flexing its muscles so early nor on a Legislative Competence Order straight out of the Labour manifesto, put forward by a Labour Minister in what was then a minority Labour Government.

The paper reveals that a major constitutional row could be on the horizon as the UK Government seeks to limit the National Assembly’s powers to combat climate change. Apparently, officials in Cardiff Bay have been told by their counterparts in London that proposals to protect the environment and crack down on pollution are unacceptable in their present form:

Ms Davidson said the LCO aimed to address a major cross-cutting issue, with environmental problems being linked to a fear of crime, as well as inhibiting job creation and tourism. Cabinet colleague Carwyn Jones has mooted the idea of banning supermarkets from giving out plastic bags.

But an Assembly source told us, “Whitehall thinks the terms of the LCO as currently drafted are too broad and should be narrowed. It could be that they don’t want to set a precedent by giving the Assembly wide powers to make its own laws. There could also be policy considerations, with Whitehall not wanting Wales to go further than England in cracking down on pollution. Perhaps they don’t want to upset the business lobby.”

If a modest and quite frankly conservative proposal such as this LCO can be filleted by MPs and Government Ministers, then what chance do some of the more ambitious proposals in the One Wales document have? Rhodri Glyn Thomas for example has told people that his proposed Welsh language LCO will be as far-reaching as possible. Will Civil Servants, MPs and UK Ministers allow him to get away with this? What are the chances that the Welsh Government will be given the powers it needs to deal with the issue of affordable housing?

It seems that having failed to stop the Labour-Plaid deal, Westminster based forces are seeking to undermine it in other ways. For the sake of the devolution process Rhodri Morgan needs to put his foot down now and persuade Peter Hain to stop his officials fooling around with our future.

Local Income Tax

Plaid Cymru Assembly Member, Dai Lloyd has a letter in this morning's Western Mail in which he attempts to defend his party against my claim that it ditched its principles in voting against an inquiry into Local Income Tax last week.

He repeats Plaid Cymru policy in favour of such a reform, claims that they are already implementing it by adopting Conservative proposals to give Council tax relief to pensioners in the One Wales agreement and argues that he and his fellow AMs voted against our motion to Plenary because they want the review to be carried out by the Assembly's Finance Committee instead.

Putting aside the dubious claim that tinkering with the existing system amounts to an effective reform, I think that Dai might might have more credibility if he gave all the facts.

His claim that the All-Wales Accord, subscribed to by both the Welsh Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru as part of the abortive Rainbow Coalition, did not mention scrapping Council Tax is correct. However, what it did propose was a review of local government finance, building on the recommendations of the Lyons Report.

That was precisely the thrust of the motion proposed by the Welsh Liberal Democrats to Plenary on Wednesday 18th September, which Plaid Cymru voted against. In that regard it is they who are performing the u-turn not us.

Dai's suggestion that Plaid Cymru wants to carry forward this review as part of the work of an Assembly Scrutiny Committee is interesting. What he is saying is that despite being part of a government with two thirds of the votes in the Chamber, Plaid want the opposition to do their job for them in developing government policy. That is hardly the independent and expert investigation that was envisaged in the All-Wales Accord. In fact it is a cop-out. Is this an indication of how little influence Plaid Cymru really have in the new government?

Furthermore, if that was Plaid Cymru's position then why did they not put down an amendment to that effect in Plenary when the matter was debated? Instead they contented themselves with supporting Labour's wrecking amendment, including deleting key passages of a motion setting out the case for a policy they are meant to support.

In the circumstances my claim that Plaid has ditched it principles seems to have some merit. Faced with a coherent, united and principled stance from the Welsh Liberal Democrats, it is they who have been caught grandstanding, not us.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

First political memory meme

Sanddef has tagged me to talk about my first political memory. I don't usually do memes but I will make an exception in this case simply because it is one that I find interesting.

The memory that stands out for me from my childhood is undoubtedly the three day week in 1973. With the exception of budget day, when my father expected us to be able to tell him what the Chancellor had done with tax allowances on his return home from work, it was the one single event that raised my awareness of politics and the perils of governance.

I recall following the dispute between Ted Heath and the National Union of Mineworkers in the newspapers in intimate detail. I remember the inexorable rise of the price of petrol until it broke the £1 a gallon mark for the first time ever (those were the days!) and the various OPEC conferences as the oil producing countries of the Middle East started to use the power of the cartel to force up the cost of oil, using embargoes to make their point.

Wikipedia records that to reduce electricity consumption, and thus conserve coal stocks, a series of measures were announced by Heath, including the "Three-Day Work Order", more commonly known as the Three-Day Week, which was to come into force at midnight on 31 December 1973. Commercial consumption of electricity would be limited to three consecutive days each week. The Prime Minister's objective was business continuity and survival. Rather than risk a total shutdown, working time was reduced with the intent of prolonging the life of available fuel stocks.

Living in a house without central heating and reliant on an electric storage heater in the bedroom I shared with my brother, I recall that early 1974 was a very cold winter. Fortunately, we had a gas cooker so our meals were not affected, however for my siblings and I, there was huge excitement that we now had to go about our daily business in candlelight and take a torch to bed if we wanted to read. Government advice to take a bath with a friend was largely ignored in our household, though I am sure it spiced up life elsewhere.

The result of this conflict was that, with the exception of Muhammed Ali and the lead up to the Rumble in the Jungle on 30th October 1974, politics was a major topic of conversation between lessons in my school. At least two of the teachers were active members of the Liberal Party and as a result of widespread interest they facilitated regular leafleting sessions for some of my classmates and me in the Eastham Ward of Wirral Council, a Liberal Democrat stronghold for decades now. By the 1974 General Election I found myself canvassing for the Liberal candidate in the Bebington and Ellesmere Port constituency at the tender age of 14. I recall being warned very sternly by my father of the consequences if a Liberal poster were to appear in my bedroom window at the time.

Although I continued to be active in working for the Liberals and remained politically aware, I did not join properly until my first year of University. I did take some part in the 1975 referendum in support of remaining in Europe but my actual immersion into politics started with the 1979 Devolution referendum. By 1984 I was the only Liberal Swansea City Councillor. By 2004 the Liberal Democrats were leading the Council.

Having dredged up all those political memories it is time others join in. I therefore tag Frank Little of the Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrat blog, David Peter, Betsan Powys, David Cornock, and Stephen Tall.

Usmanov once more

The main stream media has now picked up on the unprecedented outrage at the actions of Alisher Usmanov and his lawyers. With thanks to Duncan Borrowman for drawing my attention to the video.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Marriage of convenience

So now we know. The Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition is a marriage of convenience, an open relationship in which either side is free to go off and sow their political oats.

According to Peter Hain in a pamphlet, co-authored with the First Minister, Labour are still keen to keep Plaid Cymru at arms length:

On relations with Plaid, Mr Hain said, “The coalition was in order to get stable government, pure and simple. It doesn’t represent a fusion of nationalist policy and Labour policy at all.”

The Secretary of State for Wales continues by making the case for keeping Wales as part of the United Kingdom:

The pamphlet, Partnership for Progress, uses the idea of “shared risks” to argue that Wales does better from being politically unified with a bigger, richer neighbour.

It says, “Through National Insurance we each contribute to a system of social protection against sickness, incapacity and bereavement for any insured family or citizen in every part of the UK. This is only made possible by sharing risks across a UK population of 60 million and is a far more effective way of combating poverty and securing social justice than sharing risks among just three million people in Wales.”

It goes on to argue that Wales has no equivalent phrase to Scotland’s “south of the border”.

“That is not to say that there is no such thing as clear Welsh identity – there obviously is. It is just different,” the pamphlet says. “Modern Wales combines a deep respect for its ancient language, literature, eisteddfodic traditions and heritage, with strong pride in its early industrialisation and absorption of globalised trade and cultures.”

He quite rightly identifies the need for nationalists to make a convincing case for independence and in particular to address the question of the higher levels of public spending per head in Wales, roughly £1,000 a year, and how that would be possible in an independent country.

The next few months could prove to be very interesting.

What Usmanov did next.

I am happy to join over 150 other bloggers in unreservedly condemning the actions of Alisher Usmanov in using lawyers to effectively close down the blogs of Craig Murray, Tim Ireland, Bob Piper and Boris Johnson amongst others.

Mr, Usmanov is an Uzbeki tycoon with a chequered past. He has bought a huge block of shares in Arsenal Football Club and it is rumoured that he has further ambitions there. That is causing considerable unease amongst Arsenal fans.

The Guardian has some of the story here. The full blow-by-blow account is on Chicken Yoghurt. Sanddef has a number of interesting articles on this saga and even reproduces the full offending passage. I have copied below Nich Starling's list of links to 120 of the 150 plus bloggers who have already written about this story. This is the blogosphere at its best.

The 120 are Curious Hamster, Pickled Politics, Harry’s Place, Tim Worstall, Dizzy, Iain Dale, Ten Percent, Blairwatch, Davide Simonetti, Earthquake Cove, Turbulent Cleric, Mike Power, Jailhouse Lawyer, Suesam, Devil’s Kitchen, The Cartoonist, Falco, Casualty Monitor, Forever Expat, Arseblog, Drink-soaked Trots (and another), Pitch Invasion, Wonko’s World, Roll A Monkey, Caroline Hunt, Westminster Wisdom, Chris K, Anorak, Mediawatchwatch, Norfolk Blogger, Chris Paul, Indymedia, Obsolete, Tom Watson, Cynical Chatter, Reactionary Snob, Mr Eugenides, Matthew Sinclair, The Select Society, Liberal England, Davblog, Peter Gasston Pitch Perfect, Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe, Lunartalks, Tygerland, The Crossed Pond, Our Kingdom, Big Daddy Merk, Daily Mail Watch, Graeme’s, Random Thoughts, Nosemonkey, Matt Wardman, Politics in the Zeros, Love and Garbage, The Huntsman, Conservative Party Reptile, Ellee Seymour, Sabretache, Not A Sheep, Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion, The People’s Republic Of Newport, Life, the Universe & Everything, Arsenal Transfer Rumour Mill, The Green Ribbon, Blood & Treasure, The Last Ditch, Areopagitica, Football in Finland, An Englishman’s Castle, Freeborn John, Eursoc, The Back Four, Rebellion Suck!, Ministry of Truth, ModernityBlog, Beau Bo D’Or, Scots and Independent, The Splund, Bill Cameron, Podnosh, Dodgeblogium, Moving Target, Serious Golmal, Goonerholic, The Spine, Zero Point Nine, Lenin’s Tomb, The Durruti Column, The Bristol Blogger, ArseNews, David Lindsay, Quaequam Blog!, On A Quiet Day…, Kathz’s Blog, England Expects, Theo Spark, Duncan Borrowman, Senn’s Blog, Katykins, Jewcy, Kevin Maguire, Stumbling and Mumbling, Famous for 15 megapixels, Ordovicius, Tom Morris, AOL Fanhouse, Doctor Vee, The Curmudgeonly, The Poor Mouth, 1820, Hangbitch, Crooked Timber, ArseNole, Identity Unknown, Liberty Alone, Amused Cynicism, Clairwil, The Lone Voice, Tampon Teabag, Unoriginalname38, Special/Blown It, The Remittance Man, 18 Doughty Street

Update: As of 11am on Sunday 23 September 192 bloggers have joined in this campaign. The full list is on the Chicken Yoghurt site. I am sure it will continue to grow.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Lembit performs

Tempted as I was to put this video on my blog I could not bring myself to do it. I have a reputation to defend you know.

Scratching the surface

Monmouth MP David Davies has done it again. He has single-handedly dissed the consensus that was building up around the further devolution of powers to the Welsh Assembly and opened up a significant rift within the Welsh Conservative Party that may haunt them for years to come.

Having spent eight years learning his trade in the Welsh Assembly, David has finally and publicly made it clear that he was sitting there under false pretences. He had tried to make it work (really?) but at the end of the day he could never get past his view that it cost a vast amount of money, that it undermines the stability of the United Kingdom, and that it would be used as a stepping stone towards an independent Wales.

Alas, the only stepping stone involved was that which helped David into the UK Parliament. Maybe he should re-pay his wages to the taxpayer for those eight long years that he was made to suffer in an institution so alien to him that he can barely bring himself to utter its name without grabbing his taser.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Montgomeryshire Assembly Member, Mick Bates, is quite right when he says this morning that “David Davies’s remarks show the Conservatives haven’t changed. Scratch the surface and the old beliefs are still there. Behind the snake-charming rhetoric of Cameron and Bourne lies a party still in thrall to Thatcher’s legacy.

“The longer David Davies spends away from the Assembly, the more the truth of his feelings are exposed. Until the Tories are united on this issue, they cannot offer a credible voice in the ongoing debate about the constitution of Wales.

“David is right to say that the English question needs to be addressed, but that should not be allowed to hold back Wales with a settlement which ties the Assembly’s hands. He is in a shrinking minority if he thinks Wales wants to go back to the days when unaccountable MPs for English constituencies decided how Wales should be run.”

And where does this leave Nick Bourne? Apparently, his support for a full law-making Parliament is contrary to Conservative policy and was given entirely in a personal capacity. Like Cameron he finds himself out-of-step with his own party. With Tory MPs lined up on opposite sides of a barricade to their AMs, we are in for a very interesting General Election campaign here in Wales.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Socks the cat

The Guardian reports that the latest fake phone-in scandal centres on Socks the Blue Peter cat:

Richard Marson is said to have been sent home on Monday after it emerged that the wrong name had been chosen for the new Blue Peter cat in an online poll. It is understood that the name - Socks - chosen for the cat that joined the show on January 9 2006 was not the one that came out top in the online poll and the situation was not explained to viewers.

This is of course a national scandal and will shake the foundations on which the BBC is built, even if they are in the process of moving those foundations to Manchester. It is of course more serious than that. As the BBC source said:

"I think the feeling was that if we can't honestly name a Blue Peter cat, then really, that is perhaps the last straw in this whole fiasco. The feeling has always been that when alleged deception involves children it is a bit more serious."

Absolutely. In my view the cat does not have the colouring to be called 'Socks'. Perhaps they should tell us what name did win the poll so that we can judge for ourselves.

Welsh and the party

Sanddef performs an invaluable service once again when he offers a translation of Eleanor Burnham's contribution to this week's Golwg.

Eleanor's perspective is interesting however I disagree with it on a number of points, not least her assertion that the Welsh Liberal Democrats have become a party of monoglot English speakers with its roots planted firmly in South-East Wales. Her presence alone as a high profile bi-lingual politician based in North Wales contradicts this view, and of course she is not alone. There are many other bi-lingual members of the Welsh Liberal Democrats in prominent roles in the party scattered all around the country.

The Party President, Rob Humphreys, lives in Swansea, is from Montgomeryshire and can get by in Welsh. I understand that the Leader of Bridgend Council can converse in Welsh, whilst Wrexham Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader, Aled Roberts, Ceredigion Councillor Mark Cole, and Cardiff Environment Cabinet Member, Elgan Morgan are fluent. There are many others including Lord Roger Roberts, former Assembly Member Christine Humphreys in Conwy, former Deputy President Nick Bennett, Councillors Sylvia Lewis and Huw Lewis in Swansea, Councillor Aled Morris Jones in Ynys Mon and a host of other members and Councillors around Wales.

The party's record on the Welsh language is outstanding. The post of Minister for Culture, Sport and the Welsh Language was created because of our insistence during the first Assembly coalition talks. When Jenny Randerson occupied that position she drove forward the work on Iaith Pawb and presided over an unprecedented level of investment in the Welsh language and its development. In local authorities like Swansea the Welsh Liberal Democrats are responding to the demand for Welsh medium education with a new school and a clear investment strategy and the same is true in other Councils we have influence in.

This record is proof that irrespective of the linguistic status of our leader the party can engage with Welsh Wales, get our message across and deliver tangible improvements that will benefit the language.

The party has also always had an international perspective. Our current Assembly leader for example is an active member of the European Committee and has done a lot of work in helping to develop Lesotho. He is due to return there shortly to continue with that project. We also have an active presence in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

Where I agree with Eleanor is in her assertion that the Assembly Group has become too focussed on what happens in the Senedd rather than in Wales as a whole. It is vital that our Assembly Members up their game in providing a wider leadership to the party, engaging at a Wales-wide level with our activists and members in the many campaigns they are involved with in their own communities.

This process is about the rediscovery of our radical campaigning roots at one particular level. It is about changing the way we do things, not fundamentally altering the nature of the party. We can always do things better but we should not denigrate that which we are already doing well in making the case for improvement.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

An incentive for volunteering

I have heard about people being demob happy at the end of term but yesterday the Conservative Assembly Member for Clwyd West proved that there is such a thing as being too happy clappy at the beginning of term as well.

Darren Millar is a high-profile Christian, so much so that Labour tried to make an issue of it during the Assembly elections. It was all the more shocking therefore to see him stand up in the Assembly and start to talk about sex in the most gratuitous of ways:

Darren Millar: In the Home Office citizenship survey of 2005, 42 per cent ofrespondents indicated that they would volunteer if they were asked directly to do so. A further ICM survey in 2004 found that 9 per cent of men and 8 per cent of women said that volunteering had improved their sex life. Given this information, First Minister, what measures are being taken by the Welsh Assembly Government to ensure that people are made aware of the many local needs that they could meet and of the benefits that they may derive as a result?

Asking the First Minister how he is going to help people improve their sex lives is a novel approach but very effective. Congratulations are clearly due to Darren for waking us up on our first day back.

Canvassing support

Just when you thought it was safe another party leadership election gets underway - and a year early at that.

A question of tolerance

The Archbishop of Wales is absolutely right when he argues that the controversial “Anglican Covenant” – a peace plan to keep disparate elements of the Anglican church united – could leave Anglicans with different views on homosexuality no option but to leave the communion:

Dr Morgan said, “The original intention of a covenant to affirm the bonds of affection, was good. The indications now are that many see it as a contract, a means of ensuring a uniform view on human sexuality enforceable by the threat of exclusion from the Communion if one does not conform. I certainly do not want to sign up to that kind of covenant.”

He added, “The Lambeth quadrilateral of scripture, creeds, sacraments and historic episcopate are no longer sufficient credentials for being an Anglican. A particular view of human sexuality is also required.

“That devalues scripture by restricting its moral values simply to what it might be saying about sexual relationships and turns the Bible into a kind of rule book where texts can be wrestled out of context.”

Dr Morgan denied that the Bible could be taken at face value.

He said, “There is a difference between taking scripture seriously and taking it literally or as being inerrant or infallible. The books of the Bible are the inspired response to revelation, but the responses are fallible, and responses are not identical with the revelation for the ‘word of God comes to us through the words of men’ to quote one theologian.”

I am not a theologian, nor do I subscribe to the Anglican communion, however it seems self-evident to me that any church concerned with promoting the values of peace, inclusivity and social justice should not adopt a stance that excludes a large christian minority from its membership.

More importantly, the proposed covenant is at odds with the prevailing mores of our society. It sets the Anglican Church in conflict with the diverse and tolerant nature of our society and provides succour to those who would seek to disciminate against or inflict violence on people of a different sexual proclivity to themselves. It promotes misunderstanding when it should be preaching open-mindedness; it endorses exclusion when it should be embracing difference.

In short the covenant seems to me to be a very unchristian and illiberal document, out of touch with public opinion and the principles on which that particular church was founded on. It would be a very sad day indeed if it were to be adopted and progressives like Dr. Barry Morgan were forced out of the Anglican church.

New Statesman

My New Statesman Conference blog is here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Ten years on

Driving over the Severn Bridge this afternoon on the way back to the first Assembly session of the new term, I came over all nostalgic listening to Ron Davies, Dafydd Wigley, Nick Bourne and Richard Livsey talking on Radio Wales about devolution.

It is of course ten years to the day since that nail-biting ballot result and a great deal has changed, including increasing public support for the devolution project. The Welsh Liberal Democrats have played an important role in that process, not least in providing the stability the Assembly so needed in its first term, when we went into coalition with Labour.

As a result of our involvement in Government measures such as reducing class sizes, bringing back school milk, and making museum entry free amongst many others were brought in. We fully expect to make an equally important contribution in the future.

In his statement on the anniversary today the Welsh Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Mike German, made it clear that there is still a long road to be travelled:

"Devolution is not yet stable, and unfortunately, the road seems endless to reach a settled position. It's a great shame that the Richard Commission - established by the Welsh Liberal Democrats in Government - was then ignored by the Labour Party. That cross-party report offered a way forward which all parties could have united around and settled the constitutional question for a generation or more. Unfortunately, to preserve their own stability, Labour failed to make the bold steps needed."

The person who has undertaken the longest journey however, has to be Conservative leader, Nick Bourne. In the Daily Post this morning he is quoted as saying:

"With reflection I think the argument the ‘No’ campaign set out about the threat to the Union was, at very least, over done, possibly wrong.

Indeed I believe that we now have, in the United Kingdom, a system which can only work if we have proper powers for a Parliament in Wales."

If his words are in any way representative of the present mood of the Welsh Conservatives then the next referendum campaign may well be less problematic.

Monday, September 17, 2007


Only the Liberal Democrats would have a grouping called the Campaign for Gender Balance to take forward the cause of getting more women into Parliament. In actual fact it is a very worthy organisation that carries out training and mentoring for women and works with existing activists to identify potential female candidates. It was the Party's compromise solution to avoid introducing positive discrimination measures in candidate selection.

Tonight there is a fundraising auction to raise money for this cause. I intend to go along. It is hosted by Lembit Öpik who is very committed to equal opportunities within the party. One of the prizes on offer is a signed Cheeky Girl Album donated by Lembit himself. Speculation is rife as to whether Gabriela herself will make an appearance. I will let you know.

Update: There were no sign of the Cheeky Girls

A question of leadership

It is the question on everybody's lips but only the media and the bloggers are talking about it openly, what do we do with a problem like Ming?

Here we have a leader who is fostering a Team Ming approach by encouraging young talented MPs to come forward and show what they can do, who has refocussed the party's organisation to the extent that we are even paying Conference stewards this year (it is the small things that matter), and who has directed a fundamental policy review that is putting the party at the radical edge of debate on taxation, the environment and civil liberties. Despite all of that the public are still not warming to him and we continue to underperform in the polls.

If Sir Menzies Campbell is the wizened old magician, it is to Chris Rennard that the party will turn to pull our rabbits out of the hat. Under his direction the Liberal Democrats have consistently improved their performance at successive general elections, often winning additional seats despite the overall vote. What has been missing is a narrative that will help us in those seats where we are not pouring in mass resources and campaigning expertise so as to generate the target seats of the future. As James Graham notes, despite all the policy proposals, this is something that we have yet to fully develop, but we are getting there.

Just when you thought that all was lost for our beleagured leader along comes Tim Hames of The Times (of all papers) on a white charger to tell us to leave the boss alone. He quite rightly tells us that dumping Ming would not help:

The truth is that the difficulty for the Liberal Democrats is essentially strategic. There is no longer the political space available for them to hold the same share of the vote that they achieved at the past general election and they are simultaneously suffering from both an invisibility and an identity crisis. Their most profound need now is not a new leader but some new and memorable slogans.

It is the lot of a third party in the British system that it is always vulnerable, periodically endangered and occasionally (as the Liberal Party was in the 1950s) critically endangered. If Labour or the Conservatives find a fresh leader, shift their position on the ideological spectrum, or trumpet new policies, they can affect their standing with the electorate (if not always to their advantage). The same is hardly true for the Liberal Democrats. They are dependent on the actions of the other two parties.

Interesting as this I and many other activists will refuse to accept that we are the helpless victims of political currents. I think it is essentially right that Ming is blameless for our current be-calming mid-river and that events have left us in need of fresh impetus. If we can wrap our current policy revival around a convincing narrative and get out on doorsteps to sell it then it may well be possible to start paddling upstream once more, making Chris Rennard's conjuring trick far easier.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I am no mug

Most disturbing sight at Conference so far this year, mugs for sale bearing the photographs of various leading party members including yours truly.

An offer to buy the mug so as to get it off display is rebuffed. They can only be bought by mail order via the Liberal Democrat Image website. These are the same people who conspired with my staff two years ago to produce badges featuring a picture of me petting a goat (It is here if you want to better visualise this atrocity). Needless to say the badges sold out at the Welsh Party's Wrexham Conference, many of them bought by BBC journalists.

I am pondering whether to order one each of these mugs for my staff. On second thoughts maybe I will just buy one for my mother and have done with it.

Update: Good grief there are badges and fridge magnets as well. It is alleged that somebody even requested a 'Peter Black dartboard'. The BBC have the Mike German fridge magnet just in case there is anybody interested in acquiring it.

Sunshine in Brighton

The sun is shining on the Liberal Democrats in Brighton as we prepare to embark on yet another frenetic week of politicking and carousing. Unfortunately, I have to travel back to Cardiff first thing on Tuesday morning so as to debate the very important topic of affordable housing in the Senedd Chamber. My share of the fun therefore will be limited to just two days.

Lots of speculation in the press about the future of Sir Menzies Campbell but a sense amongst representatives that this is yesterday's news. Ming himself makes it clear in an interview with the Observer that he intends to lead the Liberal Democrats into the next election and beyond and there is nobody here who will argue with him on that.

The party's organisation is in good shape, we have clear and radical policies to put to the electorate on freedom, the environment and social justice and we have a leader who, as Andrew Rawnsley describes it, is a civilised decent man with decades of experience and gravitas, an effective counterweight to the politics-lite approach of Cameron and capable of holding his own against the Prime Minister's own authority.

And so to Conference and what better way to enter the fray than in contemplation of the words of Jasper Gerard. Writing about the political conference season he says:

Daley Thompson called the decathlon the ultimate test of stamina.

Pah! He hasn't survived in the bar of Brighton's Grand until the cleaning lady comes round for her morning duties, knocking a hapless hack off the piano - or maybe he just falls, drunkenly, into a sleep.

For some, too, it's an excuse to stray: I still remember the look from Baroness Sear, then a doughty peer of advanced years, recounting how she had wandered into what she believed was her bedroom - to discover an orgy in full swing.

And as with the Olympics, some conference venues are harder pounding than others. Blackpool is our Seoul, a rebuke to our political elite that their vision of society bears no relation to the one they seek to govern.

I once requested the wine list in Blackpool's 'finest' eaterie, to be told 'the wine this week is red'.

As the marathon reaches its finish, what strikes you is how similar the conferences now are.

You won't find sandals at the Libs or pinstripes at the Tories or, indeed, socialists at Labour. So as you watch, remember that the political class, as Peter Oborne observes in his book Triumph of the Political Class, is a club.

The leadership of each party is united in loathing their activists.

It can make you wonder if the Tory-Labour election fight matters, because you'll end up with a bloke in a suit hogging the centre ground running the country.

Now where have I put those sandals?

Sabre rattling

Reading reports about Adam Price's extraordinary speech to his party's conference yesterday one is left wondering where exactly Plaid Cymru think they are going at a UK level. For some reason the text of the speech is not on the party's website nor that of Adam Price himself, however the gist of it seems to be that the nationalists are now setting themselves up as potential coalition partners with Labour at a UK level.

Mr. Price believes that the most likely outcome of the next General Election is a hung Parliament. He is a bit miffed that Gordon Brown has been poaching talent from other parties but has so far ignored the SNP and Plaid Cymru:

"There have been olive branches strewn across the political spectrum, offers of Cabinet seats to Ming Campbell, Tory grandees leading Government reviews.

"But so far nationalists need not apply. What is he afraid of?

"I've got a message for Gordon, pick up the phone.

"If you don't call us now you'll have to call us later if you don't want a Tory government".

Plaid Cymru's negotiating position is so steep that it is almost as if they know they will not get the call. They want a cut in corporation tax, £1bn to eradicate child and pensioner poverty and a transfer of justice and policing matters to Wales. Further demands will be for the assembly government to have a lead role on agricultural matters within the Council of Ministers in Europe, a high speed rail link between Wales and Europe and a fair share for Wales of £10bn Olympic investment.

Desirable as all of this is, it would be astonishing if any British Prime Minister would agree to the majority of these policies, even to stay in power. For a start it would provoke a revolt amongst MPs from the English regions, who would want similar treatment. There is the whiff of gesture politics in this speech, a tactical re-positioning that is perhaps too clever for its own good.

I believe that Price also told delegates that once justice and policing matters are devolved to Wales, it would be possible for Tony Blair to be prosecuted for his role in pursuing the Iraq War if he dared to take a single step over Offa's Dyke. Is this the sort of vindictiveness that Wales Labour wants to be associated with?

Blair's government may well have broken international law but singling out the former Prime Minister in this way will not change any of that. In fact it will achieve nothing except satisfy old scores and personal vendettas. Blair has gone, let us be content with that. Plaid Cymru are in government now, it is time their senior politicians started to behave accordingly. Personally, I am beginning to think that we had a lucky escape when Plaid walked away from the rainbow coalition.

I am not sure how this leaves Plaid Cymru at the next General Election. Having gone into government with Rhodri Morgan they are already going to have problems shaking off the mantle of Labour's little helpers in many constituencies. Taken with the fact that they are positioning themselves increasingly to the left this could make it difficult for them to attract conservative-minded voters in key marginals such as Ceredigion, Ynys Mon and Conwy.

Now that Plaid are openly courting Labour at a UK level, they will also find it hard to convincingly attack the present government on key swing issues such as the continuing presence of troops in Iraq. An attempt to find relevance at a UK level could backfire on them. Adam Price may well find that he is talking Plaid Cymru out of the very influence they so desire.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A question of leadership

It is going to be much quieter in here for a bit as I am leaving for the Liberal Democrat Federal Conference in an hour or so. However, scanning through the interweb I noticed a remarkable article by Tomos Livingstone in the Western Mail looking at the Assembly budget for the next few years.

Tomos tells us that there is speculation that the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), which covers the years 2008-11, will offer Ministers in Cardiff Bay a settlement as low as 1% above inflation. This will involve significant belt-tightening in comparison to previous reviews and cause some problems in funding the very ambitious but largely uncosted One Wales agreement.

I was fascinated with Tomos' conclusion:

Official Government policy has always been that there are no plans to review Barnett, now 30 years old. But Labour’s leader in Scotland, Wendy Alexander, caused a minor kerfuffle this week when she was quoted as saying there were concerns about the way the formula worked.

The Assembly is carrying out its own review of Barnett, but the thoughts of Ms Alexander, whose brother Douglas is writing the next Labour manifesto, may be of more significance.

A lower CSR settlement sweetened with a revamp of the Barnett formula? I think the Assembly Government could, just about, live with that.

The 1% figure is far from set in stone, and we’ll have to wait to see how bad – or good – the settlement is.

I cannot know what Tomos' contacts are telling him but this comes across as an attempt at positive spin so as to gloss over a very poor settlement for Wales. It is true that we are carrying out a review of Barnett but that is where it ends. There is no indication that the UK Government are even convinced of the need for change or whether any reform will even benefit Wales. There is also the question of timescale. My view is that the creation of a new funding formula will take us well into the next CSR and beyond.

The best we can hope for is that the outcome of our work is to our advantage and that we get a sympathetic ear in the Treasury. In the meantime it would benefit all of us if we were to keep our feet on the ground and deal with the settlement we get rather than the one we would like.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Number 10 welcomes Sybil the cat

At last an official government video I approve of. Does the cat have its own spin doctor?

Minister or not?

Rhodri Morgan has conducted a joint interview with his Counsel General and 'favoured' successor, Carwyn Jones, to defend charges that he is in breach of the second Government of Wales Act by combining the legal role with that of Leader of the House.

My view is that there is a clear breach of the spirit of the Act but that they have most probably done enough to have satisfied the letter of the law. Even so, one is left with the impression that this government is prepared to discard some of the peripheral constraints that are in place on the way that they exercise power if these barriers get in the way of political objectives.

I am expecting the first Plenary to be dominated by points of orders and requested rulings on this position after which I hope that we move on. Important as this constitutional matter is, we have other work to do that is higher up people's agenda including trying to resolve the issue of affordable housing, dealing with a foot and mouth outbreak and making sure that the health service is accessible to people and fit for purpose. I cannot wait to get back into the chamber.

'Brain dead' Labour?

Let us be clear about this. Contrary to the published views of Labour researcher, David Collins, the Welsh language is not 'brain dead' nor is it a 'dead language'. The fact is that it is very much a living language, spoken in communities throughout Wales and in the National Assembly. The number of Welsh speakers is growing and the demand for Welsh medium education, particularly from monoglot-English parents, is growing.

The devolution process has acted as a spur to help revive the language and to make it more relevant than ever. That phenomenon is building on the impact of the foundation of S4C in nurturing Welsh and in creating more interest in learning and speaking it. With some greater protection, for example for the right of people to use Welsh in their workplace without fear of penalty, it could flourish even more.

David Collins is of course entitled to his views, no matter how wrong he is. His employer, Ann Jones is also entitled to refuse to condemn him. David will shortly be seeking election to Cardiff Council. As an AM, Ann is subject to the judgement of her constituents. I do not believe that adopting the kneejerk reaction of calling for either of their resignation achieves anything. People now know what they stand for and can make their own minds up on their suitability as elected representatives.

Voters can also judge for themselves whether their views are representative of the Labour Party or not. In doing so they should be taking note of the many Labour politicians lining up to contradict and condemn them. Well, they would if there were any. Rhodri Morgan or his spokesperson has merely regurgitated existing policy. It is hardly a convincing response.

Perhaps Eleanor Burnham is right, she told the Western Mail that "these comments are typical of the appalling attitude of many Labour activists towards the Welsh language. Many of them resent the prominent and growing role that Welsh plays in Welsh life.

“That’s why they’ve opposed our calls for a new Welsh Language Act and to give greater rights to people wishing to use the language as part of their everyday life.

“Their antagonism – as illustrated by comments like these – is one of the reasons why Labour have largely been driven out of Welsh-speaking areas in all parts of the country."

I am sure that voters will take note and act accordingly.

Update: The actual comment is here. With thanks to Sanddef.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

What the Romans did for us

We have a right wing Labour government that:
To name but a few. However, do not fear. Things would be worse under the Conservatives. Nice to see that Peter Hain is eschewing political knock-about so as to debate the issues. Opposed as I am to another Conservative government, I am having problems spotting the difference.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Lord Bonkers

Liberal Democrat Voice has published a 17th Anniversary Special for Lord Bonkers' diary, a regular feature of the Liberator magazine. Speaking through his literary secretary, Jonathan Calder, the good Lord first introduces himself and then gives us some examples of his previous diary entries.

The full selection can be read on Lord Bonkers' website but here are two to whet your appetite. On the first gulf war:

Yesterday’s melancholy has abated and I am now determined to do something to end this dreadful war. Miss Fearn, with her warm heart, is knitting cosies “for the poor camels”, but I feel that I am yet capable of playing a larger part. However, one must take care not to tread on others’ toes - I recall the distinctly frosty reception I was given when I turned up at Greenham Common with my bell tent to lend my support to the ladies camping there. This is an injustice that still rankles, for I was always a staunch supporter of women’s suffrage. Was I not the first to salute the courage of Miss Emily Davison in throwing herself under the King’s horse at Epsom - even though I had managed to back the beast at distinctly favourable odds?

and on Paddy Ashdown:

I first met Paddy Ashtray in the library at Bonkers House in Belgrave Square. Shortly preceded by a stun grenade and an impressive quantity of smoke, he had burst in through the French windows. After I had picked myself off the floor, dusted down the butler and pointed out that he probably wanted the Embassy next door, he was all apologies. This, I reflected even then, was the sort of chap one could do with on one’s side in a closely fought by-election. His selection as candidate for Yeovil cheered me greatly, and I was not surprised when, aided by the famous slope, he captured the seat in 1983.


What's in a name?

The battle of names regarding the new Assembly coalition government has the potential to be an entertaining source of conflict over the next few months. Plaid Cymru members consistently refer to it as the One Wales' Government, whilst Labour AMs have reverted to their usual form in calling it a Labour-led Assembly Government as in this press release from Val Lloyd.

Val is claiming sole credit for Labour for extra money that has been given to carers even though her party is supposed to be in partnership with Plaid Cymru. Will this sort of behaviour be carried into the chamber as it was during the Liberal Democrat-Labour coalition? If so then it will be fascinating watching the reaction of some Plaid AMs. We may even join in.

Back in harness

At last all has become clear, Betsan Powys obviously spent her prolonged absence from the interweb talking to Welsh Liberal Democrats. Her latest analysis of the dilemmas facing various potential candidates for the leadership of our Assembly group is uncanny.

The only quibble I have with her post is that actually the Welsh Liberal Democrat group in the Assembly is far more disciplined and coherent a body that she gives us credit for.

I think Betsan really should go on holiday now.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Hat tip to Valleys Mam

What's the difference

Yesterday's Guardian carried a fascinating piece about scientific research which sought to find a link between political beliefs and brain patterns.

The paper tells us that Scientists have found that the brains of people calling themselves liberals are more able to handle conflicting and unexpected information than the brains of their conservative counterparts. The study points to a likely neurological basis for complex personality and behavioural traits. You don't say.

David Amodio, of New York University, writing in the journal Nature Neuroscience, says conservatives were found to be "more structured and persistent in their judgments"; in tests they had "higher average scores" on measures of the personal need for "order, structure and closure". Liberals showed "higher tolerance of ambiguity and complexity".

It is amazing what you can find out by pressing a few buttons.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Not so green

The Labour Government's environmental credentials have come under attack today with the revelation that green taxes have fallen for the past seven years and are at the lowest share of national income for a quarter of a century.

Using data from the Office for National Statistics, Liberal Democrat Shadow Environmental Secretary, Chris Huhne, has revealed that taxes such as fuel duty and air passenger duty account for only 2.7% of GDP, down from a peak of 3.6% in 1999 and the lowest since 1981, when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister.

The Guardian adds that the Labour government inherited the fuel duty "escalator" - whereby fuel duty went up by six percentage points over inflation each year - but abandoned it in 2000 after the fuel duty protests that almost brought the country to a standstill.

They say that the government is under fire over its policies on renewable energy and its handling of a consultation process over nuclear power. Labour has often claimed to be leading the world on climate change but figures have shown Britain to be well behind many other European countries in cutting emissions or the use of renewable energy.

It is difficult to disagree with Chris Huhne when he says: "Ever since the fuel duty protests in 2000, Gordon Brown has run scared of any tough decisions on the environment. Mr Brown has cut green taxes by a fifth even though they are crucial in changing behaviour away from fossil fuels."

"Sadly, all the evidence is that Mr Brown is not green and does not understand the key threat posed by climate chaos," Mr Huhne said. "Polluters must pay, and we should be shifting to tax pollution not people.

"He has cut flood defence and climate research budgets. He vetoed the plan to toll road freight, and he ditched the legal requirements on big companies to report their environmental impact in operating and financial reviews."

We have recently published a comprehensive strategy to combat climate change that includes increases in green taxes combined with cuts in income tax, in an attempt to change peoples' behaviour by encouraging them to use trains more and cars and planes less.

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