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Friday, November 30, 2012

Opposing the snooper's charter

Amongst all the controversy about Leveson and the Welsh Government seeking to censor Pobl y Cwm, another piece of important news slipped out yesterday that may have even greater repercussions for the future of the Coalition Government.

The Independent reports that controversial moves to give sweeping new powers to the police and security services to monitor phone, email and internet use are set to be opposed by Nick Clegg.

The paper says that the Deputy Prime Minister is expected to veto the draft Communications Data Bill, which has been denounced by critics as a “snooper’s charter”:

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, insists the moves are essential to keep track of terrorists and major criminals that are increasingly using Skype, email and social networks to evade the authorities. It wants the new powers to be in place by 2014.

But an all-party group of MPs and peers scrutinising the draft Bill will list a series of serious criticisms of the plans in a report next month. One Whitehall source said: “The committee is becoming more sceptical.”

It will accuse the Home Office of failing to make a “compelling case” for the proposals, which it warns could infringe civil liberties and create a pool of confidential information that could be open to abuse.

The committee will also warn of the potential cost to telecommunications companies and internet service providers from having to store the required data for 12 months.

Sources close to the committee are understood to believe the Bill cannot survive in its current form and may have to be dropped altogether.

Given the enthusiasm of the Home Office for this legislation this could lead to yet another confrontation behind the doors of number 10. And quite rightly so.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Malcolm Tucker comes to Cardiff Bay

As I was leaving the office for a meeting in Swansea this afternoon, I was delayed by one of the most remarkable stories yet to emerge from the Welsh Government spin machine. It was an unbelievable own goal.

The BBC explains how S4C has rejected a Welsh government call to scrap a repeat of last night's episode of soap opera Pobol y Cwm.

It seems that Ministers complained after a character on the BBC-produced TV series said the Welsh government "doesn't have the backbone" to cull badgers. There was in fact a balancing view expressed on the programme but that is hardly the point.

This is not an issue about the rights and wrongs of a badger cull, it is about freedom of expression and artistic integrity. On the day that Leveson called for independent scrutiny of the press underpinned by statute, the Welsh Government shows why politicians cannot be trusted to be included in such a process.

The Welsh Government are acting like old-style bullies, it is as if Malcolm Tucker from 'The thick of it' has decamped to Cardiff Bay."

Social media addiction

Useful as social media is I am sure that if I need to I could give it up. That does not appear to be the case though for Sally Bercow, who despite a fairly torrid experience has not just dipped her toe but dived head first back into the torrid waters of Twitter.

The Telegraph reports that she is back tweeting after she had previously closed her account due to facing legal action over false claims she had made on her profile. She then issued 64 tweets in 90 minutes, including a message accusing her critics of mysogyny.

At least Twitter will be entertaining once more.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Will the boundary changes rise from the ashes?

Today's Guardian contains a compelling account of much frantic behind-the-scenes activity to bring the nationalist parties within the UK Conservative Party's umbrella so as to get electorally important boundary changes through the House of Commons.

The paper says that David Cameron is still determined to force through the boundary changes next year so as to reduce both the number of seats in parliament and in particular the number of Labour MPs, (by about 30), in the face of opposition from Nick Clegg. They say that the Prime Minister appears to be promising more devolved powers to Northern Ireland and Wales but that the most significant development is the alliance he is forging with Alex Salmond in Scotland.

They add that driving what appears to be an emerging concordat between David Cameron and the SNP leader, Alex Salmond, is a belief that both sides stand to gain quite substantially from agreement over boundary changes in return for a "devolution max" that stops just short of full independence for Scotland. And that according to former Conservative MEP John Stevens, Cameron could announce shortly after the European elections in 2014 that the Scottish referendum would be a choice between "devo max" and full independence.

The Guardian quotes Conservative MEP John Stevens, as saying  that the devo max Cameron has in mind involves Scotland "no longer returning MPs to Westminster". Joint jurisdiction over defence and foreign affairs could be decided by ministers from both parliaments or representative Scottish MSPs coming to Westminster only when key defence or foreign affairs votes need to take place:

The government's commitment to set up a West Lothian commission gives credence to the discussions that Stevens says are going on behind the scenes. In January, the then leader of the House, Sir George Young, said the commission would look at a range of options such as only English and Welsh MPs voting on issues that affect only England and Wales. Young said: "In my view, that would be an appropriate rebalancing of the constitution to take account of the fact that in Scotland, they have their own parliament in which issues are resolved on which English MPs cannot vote. It seems somewhat perverse that Scottish MPs can vote on those very same issues when they apply only to England."

That "perversity" is what is driving some in the Tory party, who are described by some vexed colleagues as "south English separatists", to push for the creation of a standalone English parliament. Some of these so-called Tory separatists were behind demands for the West Lothian commission. They have little interest in Scotland remaining as part of the union and are often from the Eurosceptic wing of the party.

For those who find it difficult to imagine that David Cameron or Alex Salmond have much in common, still less could collude, recent memories of the once staunch enemies, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, as the re-christened "Chuckle brothers", is enough in itself to persuade many that some deeply serious brokering is not only possible, but is under way.

The SNP of course deny everything. This may be pure speculation. We will have to see what emerges next year.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Another UKIP own goal

If the UK Independence Party felt that it was riding the crest of a wave as a result of the decision by Rotherham Council to remove three young children from their foster parents because the couple were members of the party, then they would have come down to earth with a bump today.

The Guardian reports on comments by Winston McKenzie, Ukip's candidate for this week's byelection in Croydon North that it would not be "healthy" for children to be adopted by gay couples:

Winston McKenzie's comments were quoted by local media in the south London constituency days after his counterpart in the Rotherham byelection was given a boost on the back of publicity surrounding the local council's decision to remove three young children from their foster parents because the couple were members of the party.

"If you couldn't look after your child and you had to put them up for adoption, would you honestly want your child to be adopted by a gay couple?" McKenzie asked a reporter for the Croydon Advertiser. "Would you seriously want that or a heterosexual family? Which would be more healthy for the child?

"A caring loving home is a heterosexual or single family. I don't believe [a gay couple] is healthy for a child."

The newspaper added that the former boxer, who is Ukip's spokesman for culture, media and sport, claimed couples might raise the child to be gay.

McKenzie was also quoted by the Metro newspaper as claiming that placing children with gay or lesbian couples was "child abuse". "To say to a child, 'I am having you adopted by two men who kiss regularly but don't worry about it' – that is abuse. It is a violation of a child's human rights because that child has no opportunity to grow up under normal circumstances," he is reported to have said.

The decision in Rotherham appears to me to be bizarre. It did not take long though for UKip to show their true colours.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Another missed Welsh Labour target

This morning's Western Mail contains another example of the failing culture of government by targets that has been a hallmark of both the Welsh Labour Government and that of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in Westminster.

They report that the Welsh Government has admitted that its four-year campaign to get more people walking and cycling is failing, despite help from high petrol prices and squeezed household budgets:

New figures show that there has been little change in the proportion of people who walk and cycle to work, leaving the Welsh Government at risk of missing nearly all the targets it set itself in a widely-publicised 2009 action plan.

Of the six targets set for 2013, only one has been met and ministers are accused of failing to support their action plan with suitable funding.

The then environment minister Jane Davidson held a photocall outside the Wales Millennium Centre in February 2009 to launch the “ambitious” Walking and Cycling Action Plan. She pledged that the plan “will ease congestion, lower emissions and address growing obesity levels”.

The director of transport charity Sustrans Cymru, Lee Waters sums up the problem: “They [the Welsh Government] publish targets with a fanfare and don’t achieve them. Then they publish more targets.”

He told the Western Mail that the new Active Travel Bill’s success depends on the Welsh Government giving councils more money to implement traffic-free networks. But councils have already warned that the Bill could lead to disappointment, because it will compel them to publish maps of prioritised traffic-free networks but they are not promised any more funding to create the extra routes required.

Jane Davidson has since gone on to new pastures including the second incarnation of the Silk Commission, but she was renowned as the Minister who always insisted on evidence-based policy. Well the evidence here is clear, if you set a target and do not put the resources and legislation into place to meet it then it will fail. No doubt Paul Silk will take note.

Will the current Transport Minister learn the lessons of her failure and that of her successors?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

An Unexpected Briefing #airnzhobbit

I am not sure if this is the right time to post this video given yesterday's rugby international result, but as the new hobbit movie is about to hit the cinemas I thought it worth showing how New Zealand is seeking to cash-in.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

From Russia with love - the Rhondda MP and the alleged smear campaign

Yesterday's Telegraph contains one of the more bizarre political stories I have seen for a some time. The paper says that Rhondda MP, Chris Bryant, the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Russia and a frequent critic of Vladimir Putin's regime, has accused the Russian Embassy in London of initiating a critical online post which featured a picture of him in his underpants.

He believes that the Embassy was determined to remove him as chair of the group and had consequently masterminded the article by the Conservative Friends of Russia, which criticised his chairmanship and said the group could be disbanded after failing to hold an annual general meeting:

Mr Bryant, who is homosexual, claimed the Conservative group posted the crude "smear" to discredit him on behalf of the Embassy. The article was originally illustrated with a "suggestive" picture of Mr Bryant naked apart from a pair of white y-fronts, which the MP had posted nine years ago on a homosexual dating website. The images later appeared in a tabloid newspaper.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary, resigned as honorary president of the group over the affair on Friday afternoon. A spokesman for Sir Malcolm said he was "very unhappy" about the article and it was the "final straw", adding to long-held concerns about the way the group was being run. He said the article was a "personal attack over a trivial matter" but said Mr Bryant's suggestion of links between the group and the Russian Embassy were a "slightly childish counter-accusation".

Conservative Friends of Russia insisted it received no funding from the Russian state and was acting independently.

The MP is convinced that there is more to it than this:

Mr Bryant has long been critical of Mr Putin's leadership, attacking the administration's stance on homosexual rights and its "disgraceful intransigence" over Syria.

He told The Telegraph: "Using that charming, beautiful photo of me from way back when and saying something like 'he knows how to enjoy himself' was puerile, verging on homophobic, and not really what you would expect of an organisation that has a former foreign secretary as its honorary president.

"I think it was intended to be taking the mickey out of me on the basis of my sexuality."

He said the "definite smear" was part of a wider campaign by the Russian Embassy. "I've been told by two Tory MPs that the Russian ambassador has suggested to them that they should get rid of me as chair of the group because I'm gay," he said. "Vladimir Putin's regime has been very aggressive on LGBT rights."

This row could run and run.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Separate parties with different values

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The history and the struggle

As a follow-up to yesterday's post on the vote against women bishops in the Church of England, the BBC have a fascinating article regarding the history of this issue:

In 1920, no fewer than nine motions concerning "The Position of Women in the Councils and Ministrations of the Church" came before the Lambeth conference, the international gathering of Anglican leaders.

"The time has come..." opens one of the resolutions in the Lambeth conference archive, reflecting the on-going campaign of the suffragettes to gain equal rights for women including the vote.

But the Lambeth measures go no further than to permit women to become deaconesses, an office that fell short of full ministry or ordination to the priesthood.

It was another 50 years before the Anglican Church passed a motion favouring women's ordination.

The absurdity of the no vote is highlighted by the fact that women make up a third of the Anglican clergy in England. Although Ireland and Scotland both allow female bishops that does not mean that there are none within the Anglican communion:

Just a few days before the Synod vote, Swaziland consecrated its first female Anglican bishop - the Right Reverend Ellinah Wamukoya.

Her appointment was seen as a significant move for women's rights in a country which has often been accused of having a patriarchal philosophy.

"I am going to try to represent the mother attribute of God," Bishop Wamukoya told reporters.

The 61-year-old added: "A mother is a caring person but at the same time, a mother can be firm in doing whatever she is doing."

The first female bishop ordained in the Anglican Communion was Barbara Harris in 1989. Her ordination as Suffragan Bishop for Massachusetts, in the USA, caused outrage among conservative Episcopalians (another name for Anglicans) but since then over a dozen women have been elected to the episcopate in America.

In 2006 the Episcopalian Church in the United States became the first province of the Anglican Communion to elect a woman to the role of Primate (a senior bishop - the equivalent of an archbishop) - the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori.

It puts the absurdity of the General Synod vote into context.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Looking for the 21st Century

The decision yesterday by the General Synod of the Church of England not to allow women bishops, albeit by a narrow margin, is a huge set back for those who might want to modernise that institution. Even David Cameron, a Conservative Prime Minister, is appalled by the outcome of the vote. I cannot imagine many of his Tory predecessors taking a similar view.

The fact is that the Church of England and the Church in Wales before it, are out of step with the twenty first century. If we can have women priests then why not bishops? The case for disestablishment is even stronger.

It is bad enough having an unreformed second chamber without having to put up with an all-male constituency within it. And goodness knows what the female head of the Church of England thinks of the decision.

David Cameron says that it is time for the Church of England to "get on with it" and reverse its decision to reject female bishops. Perhaps it is time for him to consider changing the constitutional status of that church.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tackling the energy companies

Reports in the Independent and other media that Enery Secretary, Ed Davey will today outline proposals to ensure all households are on the cheapest energy tariffs is very welcome.

The paper says that Mr. Davey is expected to announce that energy companies must end complicated competing tariffs, reducing the maximum number on offer to four. Energy companies will also be required to automatically move customers on to the cheapest available tariff, although customers will be able to opt out and go with a tariff they feel is better suited.

They add that experts say that the current difference between the cheapest and most expensive deals available was about £300 a year at some energy companies.

Change is long overdue, thank goodness that one Minister at least is prepared to do something to put things right.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Labour's creeping privatisation of the NHS

Labour figures have long railed against the way that the National Health Service in England is succumbing to the private sector. It turns out that they are right.

According to today's Guardian private firms now treat almost one in five NHS patients with certain conditions..

In fact the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) say in a report.that private firms have made such inroads that independent sector treatment centres, facilities set up to treat NHS patients, now carry out 17% of hip replacements (11,500 operations), 17% of hernia repairs (9,000) and 6% of gall bladder removals (3,000) annually in England. They add that the share of NHS patients being treated by these centres grew rapidly between 2006-07 and 2010-11 due to the promotion of patient choice:

By 2010-11 private providers also handled 8% of patients' first attendances in relation to orthopaedics or trauma, such as a broken limb; 4.8% of such attendances for gastroenterological problems; and 2.3% of attendances for sight problems.

In 2006, GPs typically referred patients to an average of 12 different healthcare providers a year, mainly in the NHS. By 2010 that had risen to 18, mainly because they were encouraged to offer patients a wider list of places to be treated.

And why has this happened? Because the last Labour government embraced competition and patient choice. I am not saying that they were wrong to do this, after all outcomes in England are significantly better than in Wales, but really, if you are going to throw stones please don't stand in glass houses.

Sleepwalking with Ed

The BBC report that the Labour Leader will give a speech to the CBI later today in which he will say that Britain is "sleepwalking" into leaving the EU, which would undermine the UK's economy and leave it "voiceless and powerless."

This is the same Ed Miliband who joined with Euro sceptics a few weeks ago to defeat the Government on the EU budget, effectively taking a stance that would deprive Wales of valuable European funds.

In the circumstances I think any reasoned observer could be forgiven for suggesting to Mr. Miliband that he needs to get his act together and find a consistent message.

There is no better way to sleep walk into a position you do not wish to hold than allowing your actions to be determined by political opportunism.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

An electoral disaster?

The Financial Times suggests that the low turnout in Thursday's Police and Crime Commissioner elections are a massive kick in the teeth for David Cameron, who championed the contests at every stage.

They say that his hope that Britain would embrace his vision of US-style elected police chiefs lies in tatters as the public turned its back on his latest attempt to change the way the country is run.

The idea being put about by the Prime Minister's spin doctors that it was all the fault of the London-based national media for failing to cover the police campaign properly is just desperation to be frank. There was good coverage in local media, but the lack of investment by the UK Government in a freepost mailing meant that most people did not know enough about the candidates and consequently many did not venture out to vote.

There was also a strong feeling amongst voters that we should not be politicising our police force that contributed to absenteeism and spoilt ballot papers. Other factors include the timing of the elections and that the Government had not made the case for change.

Personally, I think that this piece in the Daily Mail's Black Dog column sums up one of the problems with the new posts:

Anyone who believes new police commissioners will go round, Wyatt Earp-style, rounding up outlaws, can forget it.

Speaking with all the gun-toting swagger of the balding Tory chartered accountant he is, Britain’s first elected top cop, Wiltshire’s Angus Macpherson, spluttered less than chillingly: ‘Voters liked my skill-sets – I’m drawing up a crime plan with stakeholders.’

The villains of Wilts must be trembling in their lairs. ‘Oi, Mugsy, the game’s up. We’re surrounded by stakeholders armed to the teeth with skill-sets.’

People want more bobbies on the beat, not bureaucrats.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

An omnishambles

No, not the Police and Crime Commissioner elections though there is a case that can be made for that accolade, but this article in the Guardian explaining how the word had grown into common usage following its first airing on "The Thick of it".

The paper says that this week, the word "omnishambles" was named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries. They add that it emerged as part of a script edit for episode 1, series 3 of The Thick of It:

Malcolm Tucker is in the middle of lambasting new minister Nicola Murray. He gets in a lift, expecting her to get in with him just so he can keep shouting at her. She doesn't. When Malcolm asks why, she tells him it's because she's claustrophobic. It's the last straw for Malcolm. "Jesus Christ, you're a fucking omnishambles – that's what you are."

They continue:

That episode of The Thick of It went out in 2009. Earlier this year Ed Miliband used the word omnishambles in prime minister's questions to describe the government's budget. Since then it has mutated. Mitt Romney's disastrous overseas trip during his doomed presidential campaign was dubbed a Romneyshambles; the Independent ran a front-page story on the miscalculation of university fees under the headline Unishambles; Alex Salmond is apparently involved in a Scomnishambles (a Scottish omnishambles); and the coalition's reversal of policy on its proposed badger cull (blamed on bad weather, the Olympics and getting the number of badgers wrong) was called Omnivoreshambles. There have been some omniscandals too. Right now someone is probably starting a company offering multi-directional Westminster walking tours called Omnirambles. Omnishambles is omnieverywhere.

My personal favourite of course is omnivoreshambles. I wonder if we could get the word into use in the Welsh Assembly. Perhaps Ambishambles to describe the Welsh Government's mismanagement of the Welsh Ambulance Service. We will see.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Blue moon - a charity appeal with oomph!

Here is a blogpost with a local angle. The Llangynwyd Community Association, who are situated within my region, are trying to raise more than £100,000 to plug a leaky roof and carry out a range of refurbishments to turn the rundown former St Stephen’s Church into a modern community hub for the village.

As the Glamorgan Gazette points out, rather than turn to the conventional collection buckets and coffee mornings to stump up the funds, the group has filmed a wacky musical medley which it hopes will grow into the next YouTube internet hit.

The film, which reworks the lyrics of the classic Billie Holiday and Elvis Presley hit Blue Moon into a New Roof parody – went live this week after receiving confirmation from record giants EMI that they could use the famous tune:

“We thought it would be a good idea because there isn’t enough money in the village to fund the work needed to the hall,” said fundraiser Lesley Grantham-Brooks.

“We want everyone in Wales to see it and spread it further.

“We want 100,000 hits and 100,000 £1 donations or even more.”

Dungaree-clad LCA trustees Tony Kinsbury and Talfyn Harries take the lead in the wacky film, which was shot in one take in a madcap day of filming in September.

The pair are singing the reworked version of Blue Moon while cleaning the floor of the St Stephen’s hall as rain pours in from the leaky roof.

Maesteg and District Male Voice Choir provide the musical backdrop, singing the New Roof lyrics penned by Mrs Grantham-Brooks’ husband Mark Brooks.

The video ends with an appeal for donations towards the new community hub.

To donate £1 text ROOF01 £1 to 70070 or visit here to donate more.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mobile Homes Bill in Committee

This is the evidence I gave to the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee yesterday on the Mobile Homes (Wales) Bill.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Litter or comedy?

Is red tape stifling creativity. That is certainly the implication of this article in today's Telegraph. They say that comedy nights, arts festivals and local music venues are being driven out of business by councils demanding hefty fees for the right to hand out leaflets.
Al Murray, the comedian, and Harvey Goldsmith, the entertainment promoter, are among more than 100 signatories to a letter in the paper campaigning for a change in the law.

The paper says that about one in three councils restrict leafleting, with charges running to hundreds of pounds per day. They add that enforcement is so stringent that a Hertfordshire branch of the Women’s Institute was threatened with an £80 fine for advertising a local charity exhibition without seeking an official licence:

“These rules have been catastrophic for local organisations such as theatres, village halls, comedy clubs and small nightclubs, which rely on leafleting to build an audience but cannot afford such fees,” the letter says.
It points out that a licence to hand out flyers in Basildon on a Saturday costs £350.

The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 allows local authorities to designate areas “where it is satisfied that the land is being defaced by the discarding of free printed matter”.

The legislation was brought in to prevent littering, but opponents claim charges are “prohibitively expensive” and beyond the pockets of promoters staging small-scale events.

According to the campaign, several West End comedy nights have collapsed - and audiences for others have been drastically reduced - after Westminster Council introduced rules on leafleting.

The paper reports that Lord Clement-Jones, the Lib Dem peer, is planning to bring a private member’s bill requesting an exemption from leafleting restrictions for small-scale cultural and community events.

He said: “The Act already provides exemption for political and religious leafleting, or leafleting on behalf of a charity.

“A wider exemption would avoid the unnecessary penalisation of small-scale events that are so valuable to community life.”

I have not come across this issue in Wales so it is new to me. However, if it is having the effect cited then a rethink is clearly needed.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Living by the sword

In the old days, Kings and/or Governments who lived by the sword, often died by the sword. In modern times, the sword has been replaced by ICT systems.

Thus the report in Sunday's Independent that the Government's flagship reform of Britain's welfare system has been placed on a Treasury list of projects in crisis because of problems with the ICT comes as no surprise.

The paper says that despite assurances from the Department for Work and Pensions that universal credit will be rolled out on time and on budget, its national launch, scheduled for October next year, will now be limited to small regional projects. They report that sources within the DWP have said that a realistic national roll-out, regardless of the department's public assurances, is already a year behind schedule amid fears that "technical issues over computer software" could push that back further:

A government adviser on information technology said: "IDS, like other ministers before him, has been hypnotised by promises of what an online system can deliver. Warnings were given to him more than a year ago. They were ignored."

Universal credit has a development budget of £2bn. It is supposed to be a paperless online IT system for claimants that would bridge the DWP's data with the Treasury. Six separate benefits are to be combined into one payment.

However, the project, according to senior Whitehall sources, is already suffering a £100m overrun. There are also concerns that a further £300m is being hidden by rising costs reallocated to child support payments.

A reorganisation of the complex IT system, following the departure this month of key senior civil servants in charge of universal credit, could mean an overrun of £500m by next spring.

It is a familiar story. When will government learn that ICT projects such as this are often more trouble than they are worth?

Monday, November 12, 2012

First Assembly Bill becomes law, shame it wasn't a government bill

The BBC report that the first bill passed by the Welsh assembly since last year's referendum on its powers became law today at a ceremony in Cardiff.

 They say that First Minister Carwyn Jones fixed an official seal to documents signed by the Queen giving Royal Assent to the Official Languages Bill. It is the first time the ceremony has happened since the Assembly acquired direct law-making powers in March 2011.

It has taken 18 months to get this far and yet this bill was not even one put forward by the Government, it was an Assembly Commission bill. The one and only Government bill brought forward in this period is caught up in the Supreme Court.

 That says a lot about the effectiveness of the Welsh Labour Government.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Taking responsibility

I think everybody was shocked last night at the decision of BBC Director General, George Entwhistle to resign over the botched Newsnight handling of sex abuse allegations. Mr. Entwhistle went despite the fact that he apparently had little or no knowledge of the Newsnight investigation or of the fact that the programme was to apologise for wrongfully implicating a senior Tory in the affair.

It was the correct and honourable thing to do and his decision may have wider repercussions for other senior figures in the BBC, including its chair who, being a former politician, will not be used to having to take personal responsibility so far.

And this is the point. The last Government Minister I can recall taking responsibilty in this way and resigning was Lord Carrington over the invasion of the Falklands. Newspaper editors are no different. As has already been pointed out on Twitter there was no rush of tabloid Editors resigning over their wrongful vilification of an innocent man in a recent Bristol murder case.

And will this mean that Ministers will now have to take responsibility for the actions of their civil servants, even though they may not have been told what they were doing at the time? Will the Welsh Education Minister now have to resign because his officials agreed the new regime on GCSEs, which he later condemned and was forced to unpick by having exams re-marked? Will the Welsh Equalies Minister now have to be held accountable for a decade of failure on the part of civil servants with regards to AWEMA?

I am not holding my breath.

Let us not forget that amongst all this controversy, the real story is that of the victims of child abuse. We should not allow process issues and poor judgement on the part of journalists and managers to distract us from their suffering and the need to ensure that we get justice for them.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Embracing the ginger rodent

No-one can accuse the Chief Secretary to the Treasury of not having a sense of humour or even of being unable to laugh at himself. That is especially so after this article in yesterday's Independent that reports Danny Alexander's attendance at the launch of Ginger Rodent beer which shares the moniker fired at him as an insult by the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.

The paper says that Mr. Alexander attended the launch by Cairngorm Brewery in Aviemore and even promised to take a couple of bottles back to Westminster for Harriet Harman:

The red-haired Highland MP remains good-humoured about the nickname, previously posting on social networking site Twitter: "I am proud to be ginger and rodents do valuable work cleaning up mess others leave behind."

Sounds like we need to have a few bottles on sale at the next Liberal Democrats Conference as well. Will the Conference Hotel ship them in especially?

Friday, November 09, 2012

Plans to subsidise 'nightmare’ costs of child care

On a more serious note the announcement by Nick Clegg that he will be lobbying in Whitehall for more money to be spent on reducing the cost of nursery places is very welcome.

Childcare costs can be a major barrier to women returning to work. The Telegraph says that one policy likely to be considered is increasing the state-funded free child care allowance for three and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 25.

Currently, an estimated one million women who could work are not doing so, partly because child care costs in Britain are among the highest in Europe.

Parents are spending up to £15,000 a year on nursery fees, while part-time child care in London costs up to £130 a week, recent figures suggest.

This is long overdue. I hope that we can make some progress on it.

Meanwhile in the jungle

I promise that I will try and avoid blogging about Nadine Dorries again if I can but I could not resist highlighting this nonsense in today's Telegraph, where she claims that she deserves up to a month off as an MP to go on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, because a Foreign Office minister is away for 20 weeks a year:

Ms Dorries, who has been suspended by the Tory Party, said she should not be criticised for “neglecting” her constituents as she mostly works “seven days a week”.

As pictures emerged of her sunbathing in a luxury hotel, she told her local newspaper, the Bedford Times & Citizen: “Would they say that to Alistair Burt when he goes abroad each week? Being a minister and an MP is two jobs and he does them both very well. But do they say when he is in Qatar for weeks that he is neglecting his constituency?”

Seriously? The difference is that the Foreign Office Minister is representing the country. She is just seeking self-publicity.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Mobile Homes site statement in Plenary yesterday

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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Should Nadine stay in the jungle?

Tempting as it is to suggest that Australia keep Nadine Dorries, her absence from British politics, even for a short period, will actually leave quite a big hole.

Today's Independent carries a list of the Parliamentary business the MP for Mid Bedfordshire will be missing whilst she is in the jungle eating bugs. This includes the major show down over the EU budget, on 22 November, which was the cause of David Cameron’s Commons defeat last week. And if she is not one of the first to be voted off the programme then it will also include the Autumn Statement on 5 December, in which the Chancellor George Osborne will update the government spending plans, and the big occasion when David Cameron and Nick Clegg will launch the coalition’s revised mission statement.

Rather naively Ms Dorries seems to believe that she can use the jungle to sound off about abortion, little realising that any such views will be edited out. I seem to recall that George Galloway thought he could use Big Brother as a political platform too but instead he ended up dressed as a cat and petted by Rula Lenska.

The Independent has spent some time talking to Nadine Dorries' constituents and unsurprisingly they would prefer her to be doing her job rather than chasing imaginary boomerangs. One suggests that she is more a celebrity than an MP, a career politician who is not interested in constituency work. After this she may not have much of a career left.

My point though is that Nadine Dorries represents a particular type of Tory politician whose views, no matter how much I disagree with them, should still be heard. Her absence from the House of Commons will make that place poorer and less varied. We need people like Nadine to remind us why Liberalism is so important.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Putting faith in ICT

I am always wary of anybody who comes to me with a proposal that relies on Information and Communications Technology and which they say will save money. That is especially so in the public sector.

I was interested therefore in reading in today's Telegraph that the UK Government plans to ensure that all websites offering services with 100,000 transactions or more, including tax and benefits payment sites, will be reviewed and redesigned to improve their efficiency.

This will affect the seven departments that handle the vast majority of all such services, including Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the Department for Transport and the Home Office. They will pick three systems to show what could be done. These could include existing systems for paying for car tax, completing tax returns or paying VAT.

The Government estimate that moving services from physical to digital channels may deliver them savings of around £1.7billion. Savings will apparently come from decreasing the time it takes for staff to deal with transactions, significantly reduced postage costs, and decreased costs for facilities and IT.

I am all in favour of improving access to these systems and making them easier to use, but as for savings, on past experience I will believe that when I see it.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Wishful thinking from Plaid Cymru

It never ceases to amaze me how the Western Mail continues to indulge the wildest fantasies of Plaid Cymru politicians. One gets the impression that some of these Plaid MPs spend most of their time dreaming up fantastic scenarios that will give them independence by the back door rather than having to make their case to the people.

Today the Western Mail reports that on the belief of Jonathan Edwards MP that demand for independence could soar if England votes to quit the EU in a future referendum but Wales and Scotland vote to stay in. he goes on to predict that eurosceptic Conservative MPs may have to choose between fighting to leave the EU or battling to hold the UK together. Really?

The number of leaps in imagination just to get to this point is startling, but yes, I have to admit it is one scenario that might have to be considered at some stage in the future, though I cannot see Welsh voters opting for independence even under those circumstances. The tern wishful thinking was invented for this piece.

You would think that Jonathan Edwards had nothing better to do with his time.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Mobile Home Bill to be introduced in the Senedd

Assembly Member launches Regulated Mobile Home Sites (Wales) Bill from Assembly Wales / Cynulliad Cymru on Vimeo.

On 25th October I formally launched my Mobile Homes Bill at a Consumer Focus Wales event in Llandrindod Wells. On Wednesday I will be introducing it into the Welsh Assembly.

The Bill is intended to modernise the licensing regime for park homes across Wales - giving local authorities the powers to award and monitor licenses and to ensure site owners pass a fit and proper persons test.

The Bill also offers protection to mobile home residents wishing to sell their homes without prior agreement with site owners. It can be viewed here.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Latin homework

I have a week's worth of e-mails to catch up on, not to mention some serious work preparing for my statement to Plenary on my Mobile Homes (Wales) Bill on Tuesday so this is just a cursory visit to announce that I am back and to leave you with a small appetiser until next time.

My eye was drawn earlier in the week to this item on David Cameron's failure to tell a US chat show host what Magna Carta meant. To be fair I did not know either, not without thinking about it for a bit anyway, but then I dropped out of Latin and did not attend public school.

The Daily Mail Black Dog column says that Dave's Latin fail could come back to haunt him in time for the next General Election:

An official committee set up to mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of the ‘Great Charter’ on Monday, June 15, 2015, has called for the day to be turned into a national Bank Holiday. 

Or time for a ‘dies festus’, as the Romans might say.

I assume that the Prime Minister does understand the significance of Magna Carta with respect to the over-concentration and centralisation of power, even if he cannot translate it.

Given that the great charter mostly just reinforced the power of the barons, I can think of more significant anniversaries to celebrate with a bank holiday, such as the abolition of slavery or the introduction of universal suffrage for example.

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