.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Saturday, June 30, 2012

World record attempt in #Bridgend

I am off to Bridgend this afternoon to take part in a march through town to commemorate Armed Forces Day. That is not all that will be happening though, as shortly after the march finishes the local Cat Protection Adoption Centre will be running a world record attempt in the town centre.

The attempt is to break the record for the largest gathering of people dressed as cats and there will also be a Moggytastic costume show for the best dressed cat about town. The current record stands at 800 people so they are looking to smash this. Find out more here or watch the video.

It certainly sounds like an entertaining day though I won't be dressing up.

Friday, June 29, 2012

A right royal mess

Plaid Cymru are looking just a bit shambolic today after one of their leading members indirectly criticised another member of his own group and his own leader for their attitude to the monarchy.

The BBC report that Plaid Cymru AM Lord Elis-Thomas has called on members of Wales' nationalist movement to show the same political maturity as Sinn Fein politicians when it comes to dealings with the royal family.

His fellow Plaid AM, Bethan Jenkins has recently taken a rest from Twitter after being criticised for describing Martin McGuinness as "naive" for agreeing to meet the Queen. Whilst, party leader Leanne Wood declined to attend a Diamond Jubilee cathedral service earlier this year.

The BBC quote former assembly presiding officer Lord Elis-Thomas as saying: "I'm not going to mention anyone specifically, but I think it's about time that we all grow up in our politics, and I think it's time for Welsh republicans to be at least as polite and sensible politically as Sinn Fein republicans.

"It's a very strange situation when Sinn Fein's policy on the unity of Ireland, and how that may happen, and their policy on the monarchy appears more reasonable than the attitude of some people in the nationalist movement in Wales."

Of course everybody is entitled to their views, but the way that this issue continues to resurface is beginning to look rather self-destructive. It is diverting Plaid Cymru from mainstream issues such as the economy, health and education, and raising questions about their focus and their relevance.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tweets unlimited

With one Welsh Assembly member abandoning Twitter after walking into controversy over her comments about Martin McGuinness meeting the Queen, I was interested in this report in today's Telegraph, in which Housing Minister Grant Shapps, who has notched up 50,000 followers on Twitter, says the social network has given him the edge over civil servants.

Mr. Shapps says that Civil Servants, most of whom are excellent, really do care that the Minister doesn't screw up and that they genuinely worry about the way their charges use language. However, Twitter has changed the rules of the game in Whitehall:

Ministers are no longer entirely reliant on the Departmental Press Office. And as a result Ministers have become ever so slightly harder to control.

I joined Twitter back in March 2008 and have sent Tweets most days since. In Opposition, where Shadow Spokesmen typically struggle to get their views across, Twitter provided me with direct access to the outside world. In Government, where the problem isn't getting coverage but ensuring that it's actually in your own words, Twitter enables me to bypass some of the excessive bureaucracy that goes with the Whitehall Government machine.

You see, even if I don't actually send that Tweet in my own words, Officials know that I could. So the balance of power is subtly shifted in favour of the Minister. No bad thing, given that we're the ones who are democratically elected and answerable to the public.

Yet the social media driven shift in Whitehall relationships isn't just confined to Ministers. The Civil Service itself has taken to it. Our Permanent Secretary, who is also the head of the Home Civil Service, can be found providing an insight into the formerly closed world of the mandarin on Twitter most days.

So one thing is for sure. The rules of the game in Whitehall have changed. And in my view, it's for the better.

That is the positive side to Twitter and why I, at least, am persisting with it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Extra help to tackle youth unemployment

The Government's programme to help tackle youth unemployment, which is being led by Nick Clegg, received a boost today when the Deputy Prime Minister announced that Wage subsidies for firms taking on young workers are to be brought forward in areas with the highest levels of long-term youth unemployment.

He announced that instead of coming in at nine months, the subsidy of £2,275 per person will start at six months:

The subsidy, equivalent to half the minimum wage, is part of the Government's £1 billion Youth Contract launched last autumn.

Mr Clegg will tell a CBI jobs summit in London today: "Three months can make all the difference.

"When you feel like your banging your head against a brick wall, when you live in an area where opportunities are already few and far between, another 12 weeks of rejection letters, of being cut off, of sitting at home waiting, worrying, that can seriously knock the stuffing out of you, making it extremely difficult to pick yourself up.

"So jobcentres will be able to make use of the subsidy before people are referred to the Work Programme, capitalising on their links with local employers, and they'll also intensify support, so more training, more regular coaching, spending more time with young people to knock a CV into shape or prep ahead of an interview."

This is a huge problem of course and not one that can be solved easily. However, the Government's programme at least kills the lie that the coalition is doing nothing to try and deal with it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Labour hoist by their own petard on regional benefits

Predictably, David Cameron's statement yesterday in which he suggested capping benefits on a regional basis made headline news in Wales with Welsh Labour spokespeople at the forefront of the critics.

This is not coalition policy of course, it is kite-flying for the 2015 Tory manifesto. Liberal Democrats have made it clear that they will fight any regionalisation of benefits. Labour, however do not have such a good track record.

On Wednesday, 1st February, Liam Byrne, the Shadow Work and Pemsions Secretary told the House of Commons:

"We have indeed had discussions with our colleagues in the Welsh Government, who accept the importance of introducing different arrangements for London and other parts of the country and of a solution that recognises the need to localise the benefits system."

That is a very different story to the one spun by the Welsh Government today. On 29th January 2012 he said:

‘What we’ve said is that we think a local cap would work much better.

‘Because what we want is a very clear signal in every part of the country that you are much better off in work than you are on benefits….

‘If you want to introduce the measure of a cap – which we think is a good idea… if you want to send a signal that you’re better off in work rather than on benefits… wouldn’t it make much more sense to have localised caps, different in different parts of the country because as we know there are different levels of housing benefit in different parts of the country.
‘…but remember, we already have this very big element of local differences in the benefit system. In fact we’ve had it now for nearly 70 years. If you go back to the Beveridge report, published in 1942, Beveridge recognised that there were big differences in housing costs in different parts of the country, which is why today we have different levels of housing benefit in different parts of the country.’
How is that different to what David Cameron was saying?

Monday, June 25, 2012

In defence of hip hop

The Guardian discusses hip-hop and the view of women it portrays:

While blatant examples of misogyny abound in hip-hop – a recent line from Jay-Z and Kayne West's That's My Bitch boasts "I paid for them titties, get your own" – there is space within the genre to challenge the sexism, according to dream hampton, co-author of Jay-Z's bestselling book Decoded. "Is mainstream hip-hop sexist? Absolutely," she said, in a phone interview from the US.

"But that is not the whole story – there are as many bitches and hos in the Bible as in hip-hop, but you can't have that conversation with a pastor. In hip-hop patriarchy can be discussed, confronted and laid bare, where others hide behind civil discourse and censure."


Labour abandon policy and principle - again!

This morning's Independent highlights once again how Labour's agenda is being dominated by opportunism and oppositionism rather than policy and principle with a report that Ed Miliband's party is planning to derail reform of the House of Lords at the earliest possible stage.

The paper says that Labour intend to join forces with Tory rebels in tabling a Commons procedural motion in an attempt to derail the bill at its first hurdle. They are expected to vote against a Commons timetable for the Bill, forcing every part of it to be debated by the whole house rather than in committee.

Labour of course, had reform of the House of Lords in their manifesto. However, instead of engaging in debate on what that reform should look like they seem more concerned with stopping it happening altogether.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Keeping the Government grounded

Anybody who has doubts as to the Liberal Democrats' influence on Government only needs to turn to today's Mail on Sunday where the Prime Minister sets out the welfare reforms he would want to bring in, if only the Tories had a majority and Nick Clegg's party was not holding them back.

Cameron tells the paper that he wants to:

  • Scrap most of the £1.8 billion in housing benefits paid to 380,000 under-25s, worth an average £90 a week, forcing them to support themselves or live with their parents.
  • Stop the £70-a-week dole money for the unemployed who refuse to try hard to find work or produce a CV.
  • Force a hardcore of workshy claimants to do community work after two years on the dole – or lose all their benefits.

  • The welfare reforms that the Government are being forced to introduce so as to reduce the deficit and incentivise people to find work are bad enough, but the impact of the Tories real policies would be devastating.

    It is a sign of what might have happened if the Liberal Democrats had turned their back on Govermment, as some in the Labour Party think they should have done, and let the Tories form a minority administration, inevitably followed by a General Election and a Tory majority months later.

    Saturday, June 23, 2012

    No referendum is good news

    I have written in the past that the main reason why referendums are held is to resolve inter-party squabbles on key issues, normally constitutional matters. That is why we are often required to vote on entirely esoteric matters as we did in March 2011 on Welsh Assembly powers, whilst important, economy-changing decisions such as our continued membership of an enlarged and entirely changed European Union or whether we should adopt the Euro are left to be decided by policy inertia.

    After all we live in a representative democracy and elect MPs, AMs etc to make these decisions on the basis of their manifesto pledges, in full knowledge of all the facts and after the sort of sophisticated debate and scrutiny that is not possible in a mass vote.

    That is why I welcome the decision by David Cameron that there will not be a referendum on Lords reform. After all it was in the manifesto of all the main parties at the last election, so the principle has already been decided. What we need to do now is to agree the detail.

    That is a matter for consultation and scrutiny of course and that is how it should be. In that spirit I will kick off the debate by saying that 300 members of an elected chamber is not enough and that such a diminuitive legislature will mean that small countries like Wales will be inadequately represented.

    The House of Lords should be more than a revising body, it should be a Federal chamber in which Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have a substantial presence so as to ensure that they retain a stake in the union and that their voice there is representative of their own electorate. For that to happen membership of the second chamber should be 400 as a minimum and possibly more.

    Of course there are more important things we need to concentrate on such as the economy. However, the issue of the House of Lords has remained unresolved for a century and more. If we are now going to sort it out, let's do it properly.

    Friday, June 22, 2012

    A taxing error

    It did not take long for David Cameron's condemnation of Jimmy Carr's tax arrangements to come back and bite him. Yesterday's Telegraph reports that the the Prime Minister is facing calls to repay cheap loans of £1.2 million to the Conservative Party from companies registered in tax havens.

    They say that the Conservative Party accepted the two loans on favourable terms from companies in known tax havens before the last election. One £250,000 loan came from Juniper Trading, registered in the British Virgin Islands. It was given in 2004 at 0.25 per cent below the base rate, to be repaid in 2029.

    Another £950,000 loan was made by the Medlina Foundation, based in Liechtenstein, at the base rate plus 1 per cent in the same year.

    The Tories say that these are historic loans from before David Cameron was Conservative Party leader. They add that the Conservative Party no longer accepts loans from non-UK trading companies;. However, we just know that this is the start of the probing. Expect more revelations soon.

    Thursday, June 21, 2012

    Now is the time to seek an independent Welsh Civil Service

    Dame Gillian Morgan announced yetserday that she is retiring as permanent secretary to the Welsh Government after four years in the post.

    During her time in the post she has had to suffer accusations from one former Minister that her civil servants were obsessed with process and had effectively prevented him from doing his job properly. She has also clashed with departments in the UK Government, suggesting that they do not understand devolution.

    It strikes me that Dame Gillian's departure is an opportune moment to review the position of the Welsh Government's civil service, which I believe employs around 6,000 people.  It makes no sense to me that despite having our own Government and the ability to pass our own laws, those responsible for developing policy, administering our budget and writing legislation are answerable through the Permanent Secretary to a Westminster-based civil service.

    It could be argued that this link is symbolic but that appears to be far from the case. The Permanent Secretary is a member of the Home Civil Service, and therefore takes part in the Permanent Secretaries Management Group of the UK Civil Service and is answerable to the most senior civil servant in the UK, the head of the Civil Service, for her professional conduct. She remains, however, at the direction of the Welsh Ministers.

    I believe that the appointment is made by the UK Civil Service also, though the First Minister will be consulted on this. That should change. The Permanent Secretary of the Welsh Government should be appointed by them and answerable to them.

    Dr. Strangelove

    Yesterday's Plenary meeting left no clues as to why the First Minister had suddenly announced that he will be seeking the relocation of the Trident missile base from Faslane to Milford Haven in the event of a positive independence vote in Scotland, despite the tabling of an urgent question by Plaid Cymru AMs.

    Questions as to whether this had been a cabinet decision, if a risk assessment had been carried out and whether discussions had already taken place with the UK Government were stonewalled and we moved on to the next item none the wiser.

    On reflection, I regret not asking him whether he expected to be given the launch codes as well.

    Wednesday, June 20, 2012

    Paying taxes

    Today's Telegraph highlights the latest celebrities to be revealed as taking advantage of tax avoidance schemes.  They claim that members of pop group Take That have invested at least £26m in a scheme believed by HMRC to be a method of avoiding tax. In this regard they join nearly 1,000 other wealthy individuals.

    This follows earlier claims that the comedian Jimmy Carr has also been linked to a tax avoidance scheme.

    There is no suggestion that the scheme used by members of Take That is illegal but HMRC have indicated they will be challenging it in a tribunal in November.  A spokesperson for HMRC told the paper that his organisation is extremely effective at shutting down tax avoidance schemes fast and effectively.

    "The avoidance “industry” has been seriously undermined by HMRC’s focus on tackling avoidance – preventing billions of pounds of tax being diverted from the Exchequer.

    “In our 2010 spending review the Government made £917m available to us to tackle avoidance, evasion and fraud. This is being used to ensure a level playing field for all taxpayers.”

    There cannot be one rule for the rich and another for the rest within the tax system. Tax avoidance needs to be stamped out and as consumers of the material produced by these celebrities we should be clear that we do not agree with their actions, if necessary by boycotting them and their merchandise.

    Tuesday, June 19, 2012

    Local Government delivery plans - nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition

    The Local Government Minister made a statement in Assembly Plenary earlier today on Integrated Planning and Delivery in Local Government. During the course of his speech he announced that "Change must happen more quickly. My watchwords are priorities, pace and performance"

    For some reason, his manner of speaking conjured up a memory of the Monty Python Spanish Inquisition sketch:

    "Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as: fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms"

    Carl Sargeant dressed as a Spanish Cardinal. Now there is an image to conjure with.

    Influencing the UK Government on Regional Pay

    The Independent reports that Downing Street has signalled a U-turn over controversial plans by the Chancellor George Osborne to bring in local pay agreements throughout the public sector:.

    David Cameron's official spokeswoman said yesterday: "Our case is, unless there is strong evidence to support it – and there is a rational case for it – then it won't change." She was responding to a report in The Independent that Nick Clegg is preparing to veto the idea amid growing opposition from Liberal Democrats, who fear it would widen the North-South divide and spark a political backlash.

    Downing Street's statement marks yet another retreat from the measures announced in the Budget in March, when Mr Osborne said: "We're looking to see whether we can make public sector pay more responsive to local pay rates... So we should see what we can do to make our public services more responsive, and help our private sector to grow and create jobs."

    As I have reported previously it is not just Liberal Democrats who are opposed to this measure. A number of Tory MPs have also spoken out against it. But it is no coincidence that influential blogs and newspapers are quoting the opposition from Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader, Kirsty Williams and her party as key opponents of local pay, who have helped to push the Government towards a possible u-turn. I just wish so much of the pushing was not so uphill.

    Monday, June 18, 2012

    Why looks do matter

    Just when you thought that political life was becoming one of substance again, the Guardian reports that looks and people's physical impressions of a candidate may be more important that what they stand for.

    The paper says that many people vote along party lines, but many others don't, and instead they ponder the data on both candidates before making a decision. They add that studies have found that although voters are usually unaware of factoring appearance into their decision, it may often be a deciding factor:

    In one experiment conducted at the University of California, researchers asked several groups of subjects to examine political flyers describing two candidates who were supposedly running in a nearby congressional election. Each flyer included a candidate photo, but the researchers varied the photos shown to the different groups in order to study the effect of a more-or-less-competent appearance.

    The researchers found that the effect of a more competent look amounted to a vote swing of 13%. What's more, when the subjects were later asked about their reasons for voting as they did, they denied having taken the candidates' appearance into account. They may have consciously registered the candidates' appearance, but felt – wrongly – that they could disregard that, and make a purely rational decision based solely on the substance of the candidates' positions.

    A pair of scientists at Princeton University took that line of research from the laboratory to the real world. They gathered black-and-white headshots of all the Democratic and Republican candidates in dozens of US Senate and gubernatorial races. They then recruited a group of volunteers to assess, in each case, which candidate looked more "competent". Finally, the scientists took a bold step: they predicted the outcome of each race based solely on the candidates' appearance. They were strikingly accurate: the candidate voted as more competent-looking went on to win in 69% of the gubernatorial races and 72% of the Senate races.

    Now where did I put the number of that plastic surgeon?

    Sunday, June 17, 2012

    Another premature conclusion on Trident

    I do not know whether the Liberal Democrats will be able to stop the renewal of the Trident missile system or not. However, what I do know is that suggestions that recent decisions make it a done-deal are premature and wildly inaccurate. Yesterday's Daily Telegraph has joined in the hysteria.

    They say that a deal to be announced by Defence Secretary, Phillip Hammond, ordering nuclear reactors for a new class of submarines to replace the current Vanguard fleet, which carries Britain’s Trident nuclear arsenal, is the most public statement yet that the Government is committed to a full-scale replacement of Trident. They add that the contract will create 300 jobs and many more in the supply chain of a Rolls-Royce plant at Raynesway, in Derby.

    Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrats defence minister, is leading a review into cheaper ways to maintain the nuclear deterrent and wants to abandon the so-called “Moscow criterion”, which recommends Britain retains an arsenal capable of destroying the Russian capital. And that is the best clue yet to the fact that the paper is jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions.

    An even bigger clue that the Telegraph has got it wrong is this article, written by Nick Harvey himself. He says that in reality the final decision for Trident replacement is still years away:

    Until 2016’s Main Gate decision, the ‘point of no return’ at which contracts are finalised and billions of pounds committed, there are still important questions to be asked about the future of the UK’s nuclear deterrent.

    And if it wasn’t for Liberal Democrat influence in this Government, this simply would not be the case. It is because we are in this Government that Trident is being properly scrutinised to see if it is the right and most responsible deterrent the UK should have.

    The Coalition Agreement set out the joint position: that the nuclear deterrent will be maintained, but at the same time the process of renewing Trident would be scrutinised for value for money. The Value for Money study of the Trident system took place in the summer of 2010, identifying changes to the programme by reducing the number of warheads on each submarine from 48 to 40 – as well as substantial savings to the tune of £3.2bn over 10 years.

    Crucially, the Value for Money study scrutinised the timing of the Main Gate decision, the ‘point of no return’, and identified 2016 – rather than late 2014 or early 2015 – as the point at which a decision would be needed. Extending the timetable for the final decision in this way has opened the space for a rational debate on the future of Trident before the next election.

    The Coalition Agreement also stated that the Lib Dems would continue to advocate alternatives to like-for-like replacement. The ongoing Trident Alternatives review, which I am overseeing, is doing just that, while asking searching questions about the relevance and cost-effectiveness of the posture of Continuous At Sea Deterrence (CASD). This is the long-sought after and non-prejudiced study necessary to inform the full and proper debate that Tony Blair promised and failed to deliver in 2006 and 2007. The study’s timescales are still on track and it will report to the PM and DPM at the end of this year.

    For the time being, the Government’s assumption is to move ahead with like-for-like replacement of Trident. This is what the Coalition Agreement commits us to. However, the contracts announced today – the first Assessment Phase Design contracts and Collaborative Agreement – are part of the package of work announced last May at the Initial Gate decision. While the announcement will be seen by some commentators as the Government pressing ahead with NEW financial and contractual commitments to the Trident successor despite Lib Dem pressure to the contrary, this is just not the case. Out of everything announced today, there is nothing new.

    So though these design phase contracts are being signed, the final decision as to whether to proceed with the new generation of Trident submarines – the Main Gate decision – will not take place until 2016 after the next General Election.

    The Liberal Democrats remain the only mainstream UK Party committed to stopping the renewal of Trident, which makes it a bit of an uphill battle. However, the cause is by no means lost and nor should commentators assume it is.

    Saturday, June 16, 2012

    The fastest u-turn in local government history

    Liberal Democrat Voice reports on the swift u-turn by Argyll and Bute Council, who having tried to ban a nine year old girl from taking photographs of her school dinners and blogging about them, found themselves being tried by social media.

    The Never Seconds blog has received widespread publicity whilst, at the time of writing Martha Payne has managed to raise £44,574.86 for Mary’s Meals, an international movement that sets up school feeding projects in communities where poverty and hunger prevent children from gaining an education.

    The whole sorry saga is covered in detail here. It is difficult to know what Council officials thought they were doing treating a nine year old in such a cack-handed way.

    Friday, June 15, 2012

    Time to make a stand

    Having now established the idea that Liberal Democrats in Government are not bound by the normal conventions of collective responsibility, the perfect opportunity has presented itself for the party to make a stand and force a change in government policy.

    It is possible of course that we can do it the conventional way, in private in the hallowed corridors of power, but if that proves to be impractical then I believe that the party has a duty to oppose Home Secretary, Therese May's plans to require companies to hold details of phone and internet use for 12 months.

    The Independent points out that taxpayers will face a bill of up to £2.5bn for this so-called “snoopers charter” giving police, the security services and tax officials the power to track emails, website visits and mobile phone calls.

    Cambridge Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert, certainly has “lots of concerns” about the draft Bill:

    He said: “It allows data collection exercises that are perfectly reasonable – but would also allow pervasive black boxes that would monitor every online information flow; an idea which is clearly unacceptable. This must be tightened up urgently.”

    As a Liberal my every instinct tells me that this is a wrong approach to the issue. Surely the party's MPs feel the same way. It really is time to make a stand. After all, if we can do it on Jeremy Hunt then we can do it here.

    Thursday, June 14, 2012

    Same old Tories?

    Inevitably, Iain Duncan Smith's call today, for families to embrace work as the best way out of poverty will be portrayed as yet another insensitive 'on-your-bike' type comment. However, a closer look at what the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will say, indicates a more sophisticated analysis.

    Mr. Duncan Smith believes that Labour’s strategy to spend more than £150 billion in extra benefit payments for poor families failed to stop child poverty. This is underlined by figures which are to be published today and are expected to show that the Government failed to meet its statutory target to halve the problem by 2010:

    Mr Duncan Smith will unveil a new analysis which will show that hundreds of thousands of children will be lifted out of poverty if at least one of their parents works 35 hours a week earning the minimum wage.

    The introduction of the universal credit, under the Government’s welfare reforms, will mean that people returning to work from benefits will continue to receive some state support. Mr Duncan Smith will also set out plans to change the definition of child poverty so that a more sophisticated analysis is used.

    Any child living in a household which earns less than 60 per cent of the typical income is defined as living in poverty. This is likely to be changed so that children living in workless households or those with drug-dependent parents are highlighted. 

    The Telegraph says that  Mr Duncan Smith will indicate that Labour wasted large amounts of public funds as it failed to halve child poverty. “The last Government spoke about the need to tackle poverty, and poured vast amounts of money into the pursuit of this ambition — £150 billion was spent on tax credits alone between 2004 and 2010. 

     “Overall, the welfare bill increased by some 40 percent in real terms, even in a decade of rising growth and rising employment.”

    In that he is evidentially right. What is worrying is that Labour politicians continue to persist with the misapprehension that if you throw enough money at a problem it will go away. In terms of child poverty all the evidence shows that this is not correct.

    Of course the real job of government now is to create the jobs that will enable people to find work.

    Wednesday, June 13, 2012

    The Clegg dilemma

    Collective responsibility is an essential part of any government. If you cannot get your Ministers all singing from the same song sheet then you have no chance of implementing a programme for government, let alone whipping all those rebellious backbenchers into supporting contentious legislation.

    That principle applies to coalition government as much as one-party rule, though in a coalition one would expect a lot more open debate between ministers as each party seeks to protect its own brand.

    Collective responsibility is also a convenient shield within a coalition for Ministers. Compromise is not easy to sell to voters but it is an essential part of government, especially when there is more than one party involved.

    Thus, Tory Ministers will accept that supporting gay marriage is the price they have to pay for bringing the Liberal Democrats into government. In return the Liberal Democrats may swallow hard and sign up to reform of the health service.

    But what happens when collective responsibility is breached, as it was today on the vote to investigate Jeremy Hunt? The Liberal Democrats have quite rightly made their point but these things work both ways. Let's hope we don't need reciprocal support for one of our Ministers.

    Nick Clegg has made his point, but has he opened up a pandora's box by dumping collective responsibility in this way?

    Tuesday, June 12, 2012

    Tory MP comes out against regional pay

    Yesterday's Telegraph reports that Guy Opperman, the only Tory MP in the north-east of England, has come out against regional pay, arguing that the Chancellor’s proposals will be unfair on public sector staff and will not help the UK economy.

    They say that Mr Opperman told the Newcastle Journal that public sector workers are already contributing to the Coalition’s deficit reduction programme through pay freezes and job losses:

    “I see no economic argument for introducing regional pay. Our current pay system, which sets a base pay rate, already allows for adjustments in high cost areas like London,” he said.

    “I am very concerned that regional pay would lead to a reduction in the pay packets of some public sector workers in the North East.

    “I do not believe reducing public sector pay will help stimulate private economic growth.”

    “What will grow our private sector here in the North East is continued investment in manufacturing, exports and apprenticeships. That’s what the Government has done so far and that’s what we should stick with.”

    Mr Opperman's views are very much in line with those of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, who like the Welsh Tories are strongly opposed to regional or local pay. We were dismayed when the Western Mail published details of correspondence from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to the Welsh Government urging them to adopt a local pay approach.

    There is substantial evidence that regional pay will hit public sector workers very hard in Wales and undermine economic policies designed to pull us out of recession. We have been heartened by supportive comments from Nick Clegg and Vince Cable that have indicated that Liberal Democrats in Government are resisting this development and understand that behind the scenes this is certainly the case. That is why Danny Alexander's intervention was both unhelpful and puzzling.

    We will continue to fight the case for retaining national pay settlements in the public sector and put pressure on UK Government Ministers to look on that argument favourably.

    Update: Danny Alexander gave a speech to the GMB this afternoon, during which he clarified his position on local pay. The relevant section is below:

    There are two significant further areas where I would welcome more engagement between Government and the Trades Unions.

    Where by working together, I believe we can get a better outcome for workers and employers.

    And a better outcome for jobs, growth and the quality of our public services.

    The first is on local market facing pay.

    As you will know, the Government has invited the independent Pay Review Bodies to consider whether there is evidence for making public sector pay more responsive to local labour markets.

    The Pay Review Bodies will report back next month.

    At the moment, while private sector pay is set in accordance with local labour markets, public sector pay is set on a national basis.

    So it’s right that we should look at the evidence.

    Despite some of the more excited press reporting, the only thing we have decided is to look at the evidence.

    So, let me be clear on this.

    This is not about introducing regional pay.

    It is not about ending national pay bargaining.

    It is not about cutting anyone’s pay.

    And it is not about making further savings.

    And, before we decide anything, we want to hear from everyone with a contribution to make to this debate – employers, academics and, yes of course, the Trades Unions.

    There will be no change unless there is strong evidence to support it and a rational case for proceeding.

    Monday, June 11, 2012

    Mobile Homes Bill continued

    Really busy day today packed with meetings, so much so that it is only now that I am sitting down to look at the blog. The highlight had to be the Consumer Focus Wales-organised conference with Local Authority licensing officers to discuss the detail behind my private members bill on park homes. This was a very constructive session in which we thrashed out details as to how the Assembly should approach this issue. A number of suggestions and issues were raised that I will need to take into account when drafting the bill. Progress is good and I believe that the consultation document is receiving a good response in all parts of Wales.

    Sunday, June 10, 2012

    An occasional round-up of Welsh blogposts Part One

    I have been meaning to do this for a bit but have not really had time. This selection of stuff that has caught my eye may not appear that often but I will endeavour to do it more than once.

    First up is Glyn Davies MP who explains why, despite being opposed to the Euro he wants Britain to remain within the European Union: This issue has often been the basis of discussions I have enjoyed with my Ukip friends in mid Wales. The Euro is an issue we generally agree about. But where I disagree is that I'm not in favour of withdrawing from the European Union - at this stage anyway. Though I do think the consequences of the fight to save the Euro in its present form could seriously threaten the long term existence of the EU altogether.

    Frank Little has reservations about the appointment of Tom Winsor as Chief Inspector of Constabulary: First, he was the author of a report which, while receiving a cautious welcome by politicians, has been largely condemned by the Police Federation. This is not going to make relations between politicians and police easy, as we move in to an era of elected police commissioners. Secondly, the Home Secretary had not thought fit to inform the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee of her decision in advance of the media release. Considering that the committee had been due to interview the preferred candidate next Tuesday (Independent report), this is disrespectful at best.

    If you are in Cardiff anytime between no and 2 July pop down to the Waterloo Gardens Teahouse in Roath where the community project that is We Are Cardiff is staging its first ever hyperlocal exhibition. There are more details on Helia Phoenix's blog here.

    Paul Flynn MP is his usual blunt self when he declares that the Prime Ministers' failure to report Jeremy Hunt for investigation due to a possible breach of the ministerial code has led to the rebirth of Parliamentary sleaze: On the Ministerial Code, Cameron is the judge, jury and sole prosecutor. Hunt had no control over his Special Adviser more than 500 times - a blatant breach of the code.

    Mark Cole celebrates becoming the new chair of Ceredigion County Council at the tender age of 29.

    Finally, Plaid Wrecsam questions the claim by Ceidiog Hughes, managing director of Ceidiog PR who estimates that taking the olympic torch to the summit of Snowden generated about £10m worth of free publicity for Wales: So where did Ceidiog Hughes get the £10 million quid come from? Is there a scientific basis for it and what exactly does it mean, does it mean that Visit Wales would need to spend £10 million to generate similar publicity or is it just a magical figure pulled out of thin air to create a headline for the Daily Post?

    Saturday, June 09, 2012

    Nixon and Watergate forty years on

    Over at the Washington Post site, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward reflect on the Watergate scandal, forty years after they first broke the story and how at that time they had only scraped at the tip of an iceberg of illegality at the heart of the Nixon administration.

    They say that 'at its most virulent, Watergate was a brazen and daring assault, led by Nixon himself, against the heart of American democracy: the Constitution, our system of free elections, the rule of law' and that 'In the course of his five-and-a-half-year presidency, beginning in 1969, Nixon launched and managed five successive and overlapping wars — against the anti-Vietnam War movement, the news media, the Democrats, the justice system and, finally, against history itself. All reflected a mind-set and a pattern of behavior that were uniquely and pervasively Nixon’s: a willingness to disregard the law for political advantage, and a quest for dirt and secrets about his opponents as an organizing principle of his presidency.'

    They argue that Nixon’s first war was against the anti-Vietnam War movement. He considered it subversive and thought it constrained his ability to prosecute the war in Southeast Asia on his terms: In 1970, he approved the top-secret Huston Plan, authorizing the CIA, the FBI and military intelligence units to intensify electronic surveillance of individuals identified as “domestic security threats.” The plan called for, among other things, intercepting mail and lifting restrictions on “surreptitious entry” — that is, break-ins or “black bag jobs.”

    NIxon also prosecuted a war against the news media using burglary as a means to get information on those he classed as his enemy. Woodward and Bernstein relate that Nixon often flew into rants and rages, recorded on his tapes, about selected enemies, the antiwar movement, the press, Jews, the American left and liberals in Congress, all of whom he conflated:

    Nixon’s anti-Semitic rages were well-known to those who worked most closely with him, including some aides who were Jewish. As we reported in our 1976 book, “The Final Days,” he would tell his deputies, including Kissinger, that “the Jewish cabal is out to get me.” In a July 3, 1971, conversation with Haldeman, he said: “The government is full of Jews. Second, most Jews are disloyal. You know what I mean? You have a Garment [White House counsel Leonard Garment] and a Kissinger and, frankly, a Safire [presidential speechwriter William Safire], and, by God, they’re exceptions. But Bob, generally speaking, you can’t trust the bastards. They turn on you.”

    The war against the Democrats of course sits at the heart of the Watergate break-in but it went beyond that basic act:

    According to the Senate Watergate report and Liddy’s 1980 autobiography, he used multicolored charts prepared by the CIA to describe elements of the plan. Operation Diamond would neutralize antiwar protesters with mugging squads and kidnapping teams; Operation Coal would funnel cash to Rep. Shirley Chisholm, a black congresswoman from Brooklyn seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, in an effort to sow racial and gender discord in the party; Operation Opal would use electronic surveillance against various targets, including the headquarters of Democratic presidential candidates Edmund Muskie and George McGovern; Operation Sapphire would station prostitutes on a yacht, wired for sound, off Miami Beach during the Democratic National Convention.

    I was quite taken by some of the other dirty tricks and how petty they got, including bogus news releases and allegations of sexual improprieties against other Democratic candidates, produced on counterfeit Muskie stationery. One, favored dirty trick, that caused havoc at campaign stops involved sweeping up the shoes that Muskie aides left in hotel hallways to be polished, and then depositing them in a dumpster. Nixon also ordered Ehrlichman to direct the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the tax returns of all the likely Democratic presidential candidates

    The two journalists say that Nixon’s final war, waged even to this day by some former aides and historical revisionists, aimed to play down the significance of Watergate and present it as a blip on the president’s record. They add that Nixon lived for 20 years after his resignation and worked tirelessly to minimize the scandal.

    They conclude: The Watergate that we wrote about in The Washington Post from 1972 to 1974 is not Watergate as we know it today. It was only a glimpse into something far worse. By the time he was forced to resign, Nixon had turned his White House, to a remarkable extent, into a criminal enterprise.

    On the day he left, Aug. 9, 1974, Nixon gave an emotional farewell speech in the East Room to his staff, his friends and his Cabinet. His family stood with him. Near the end of his remarks, he waved his arm, as if to highlight the most important thing he had to say.

    “Always remember,” he said, “others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”

    His hatred had brought about his downfall. Nixon apparently grasped this insight, but it was too late. He had already destroyed himself.

    Friday, June 08, 2012

    Lembit's latest project

    Good grief!!!

    Another day, another boycott

    With the European Championships due to start today, it is beginning to look as if the football will be overshadowed by the many controversies surrounding the host country.

    There is already apprehension about the racist reputation of some of the Ukrainian and Polish fans, now it seems that a number of Governments will be boycotting the event altogether because of Ukraine's human rights record.

    The Telegraph says no UK ministers will be attending group stage matches in Ukraine because of the treatment of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Other European countries including Germany and France are following suit:

    Tymoshenko was jailed for seven years last year after what his supporters claim was a show trial.

    The former prime minister staged a hunger strike in April after photos appeared showing bruises on her body. She has accused prison guards of assaulting her.

    A boycott is the right thing to do but surely this whole episode raises questions about the process of choosing host countries in the first place. Can footballing authorities continue to ignore valid human rights considerations in future?

    Thursday, June 07, 2012

    A Scottish dilemma

    Today's Independent reports on the result of an opinion poll that shows that only three in 10 people in England and Wales want to see Scotland break away from the United Kingdom.

    They add that north of the border, according to a "poll of polls" by John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, who has analysed surveys taken since January, voters oppose independence by 60 per cent to 40.

    The real poll of course is what matters, but it cannot be denied that if Scotland does decide to go it alone then there will be a profound impact on the rest of the UK.

    I do not think that Scotland will vote 'yes' but should the decision be their's alone? If teh Act of Union is to be dismantled then all of those affected must have their say first and that includes England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

    Wednesday, June 06, 2012

    For Warsi read Hunt

    Admittedly I have been out of circulation for a few days due to a trip to the Hay Festival but I cannot see the logic in David Cameron asking for Baroness Warsi to be investigated for a possible breach of the ministerial code, but not Jeremy Hunt.

    Since regaining full internet access I have discovered that I am not alone in this view. The most authorative appears to be that of Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. According to today's Telegraph he has described the inconsistency as 'bizarre':

    Sir Alistair said: “The case is very strong. If there is found to be no substance to the allegation then that is fine, but at least people will have seen that in an important case that due process has been observed.”

    Mr Hunt’s special adviser, Adam Smith, quit last month over his contacts with executives from the Murdoch empire.

    The Ministerial Code says that ministers are responsible for the behaviour of their advisers. The Leveson Inquiry heard last week that Mr Hunt knew that Adam Smith was in regular contact with News Corporation during the company's bid to take over BskyB but gave his aide no clear guidelines about his conduct.

    Sir Alistair said that meant Mr Hunt’s potential breach of ministerial rules is much more serious than Lady Warsi’s.

    He said: “If in fact Hunt failed to properly supervise Adam Smith – there is a possibility that Hunt may have known what he was doing – that is not a technical breach, that is a serious breach of some substance.”

    Clearly Liberal Democrat Ministers will not be in a position to vote against this decision in the House of Commons but other Lib Dem MPs will, and Nick Clegg should make it clear to the Prime Minister that a proper investigation needs to be undertaken into this matter.

    Tuesday, June 05, 2012

    Has Lembit learnt his lesson?

    Nobody of a nervous or sensitive disposition should click on this link, which shows a 47 year old man, approximately six foot in height, and weighing around 13 stone, being hospitalised by a professional wrestler, standing 6 foot six inches tall, weighing about 20 stone and aged 25 years old.

    It is the sort of mismatch that professional wrestling bodies are created to prevent and it is little wonder that the wrestler, Kade Callous has been suspended for 30 days for his part in this farce.

    What is difficult to understand is what Lembit Őpik thought he was doing getting involved in this tag team wrestling match in the first place. Has he really lost the plot or is it yet another example of the poor judgement that has dogged his whole career?

    Anybody who is close to Lembit needs to have a quiet word and tell him to get his act together before he really is hurt badly. He has never understood that people were not laughing with him, but at him.

    Nowadays, we are not laughing at all.

    Monday, June 04, 2012

    Still at #hay25

    The rain has stopped and I am looking forward to listening to Jeanette Winterson this afternoon, followed later by Jo Caulfield. Salmam Rushdie yesterday was outstanding. All we need now is for O2 to get it's act together and give us some phone coverage.

    Sunday, June 03, 2012

    Long may it rain on us

    Despite the intermittent broadband and non-existent O2 signal I am determined to keep blogging from the Hay Festival if possible.

    Naturally, it is raining but many inhabitants of Mid Wales may take heart from the news in today's Observer that the Chancellor of the Exchequer plans to cut back wind farm subsidies.

    Whether that is retaliation for Nick Clegg refusing to back Jeremy Hunt is not clear, but it is very possible.

    Meanwhile, hours of entertainment are anticipated by the discovery of a local scandal rag called Hay-on-Wire, full of in-jokes and pseudo-scandal not fit for a blog of this nature.

    Saturday, June 02, 2012

    Will it be ice picks next?

    This morning's Western Mail has its second successive story about the internal workings of Plaid Cymru suggesting that all is not well with Leanne Wood's brave new world.

    Yesterday it was the failure of Bethan Jenkins AM to attend a couple of meetings at her taxpayer-funded trip to the British-Irish Council. Today it is a complaint about remarks made by the former Presiding Officer, Dafydd Elis Thomas at a private dinner in Brussels, in which he is alleged to have expressed concern at his new leader's decision to boycott a meeting with the Queen.

    It is claimed that another Plaid Cymru AM has lodged an official complaint and that this has been discussed twice at Plaid Cymru group meetings. Presumably this is a prelude to Plaid Cymru instituting a Ministry of Truth where all inconvenient and uncomfortable facts are removed from history and offenders sent to room 101?

    Suppressing freedom of speech and dissent is no way for a democratic party to behave. Leanne Wood needs to get a grip before it is too late and her party has disintegrated beneath her in a mess of infighting and recriminations.

    Friday, June 01, 2012

    Going Dark

    It is a rainy bank holiday weekend so it must be the Hay Literary Festival. Half of middle England will be descending on the Mid-Wales town, yet despite this the major mobile companies have failed to provide adequate phone coverage.

    It could be a few days before I post here again.

    This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?