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Monday, May 31, 2004

Muslims organise against Labour

Things really are starting to get serious for Tony Blair and New Labour. The loss of support amongst Muslims has been quite dramatic (and traumatic) for Labour. According to one poll they have slipped from 75% of the Muslim vote to 38%. This does not bode well for them in the local and European Elections on June 10th nor for the impending by-election in Leicester South, which has a very high concentration of Muslim voters.

Rewriting the classics

I went to see "Troy" on Saturday. I had, of course, read all the reviews and was not expecting it to be any great shakes, however, despite this, I was taken aback by the serious re-write of Homer and their nerve in still referring to him in the credits. Brad Pitt's death scene has to be the most wooden in cinema history but the big question around it was what was he doing in the wooden horse in the first place. He was meant to be dead well before that point.

It may all be just entertainment at the end of the day but for more and more people the only knowledge they have of the classics is via the Cinema or TV screen. If the latest adaptations are not even going to attempt some chronological accuracy then the sum of human knowledge will be severely depleted and the classics sidelined to some dusty archive. Oh well, I suppose there is at least the third Harry Potter film to look forward to.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Lonely hearts

In America things are getting so intense that even the on-line lonely hearts sites are being run on political lines. This would be quite disturbing if one could actually discern any real political differences between the two parties and, in policy terms, the two main Presidential candidates. I favour Kerry because the Democrats are traditionally a party of the centre left and because at least he will not allow his personal animosities and family history to dictate his foreign policy.
Actually, I cannot think of any circumstances in which I would support a Republican for President but, if I were single, I would not let that get in the way of my personal life. Of course there are already very similar party political orientated dating forums in Britain anyway - Party Conferences.

Friday, May 28, 2004

The Electoral Commission - an apology?

It seems that the advice of the Electoral Commission that the history of the North West English European Region and the complexity of the elections there makes an all-postal ballot undesirable has been proved correct. Stories of chaos are rife already and the ballot papers have only just been despatched.

On Liberal Democrat forums stories predominate about the many disasters that this ballot is facing and it is not just the North West. One person writes about receiving "the ballot paper and envelope for Edgeley Cheadle Heath ward despite living in the normally safe Lib Dem ward of Bredbury and Woodley." In addition, some Stockport ballot papers have been delivered in Oldham and there have been other ward mix-ups as well. It is said that the instructions are over-complicated and involve folding the very large and difficult ballot paper in a specific way, not unlike origami. In some cases the wrong envelopes have been enclosed, in others the wrong declarations. Helplines are reportedly being inundated with calls and confusion abounds.

But all is OK because according to Peter Hain, "I reject entirely the charge that there is chaos in any of the postal vote regions." No apology there then.

Update: Stockport is having all 220,000 ballot packs re-printed and has to arrange their urgent delivery to households in time for people to send in their votes on the new papers.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Know a man who can?

Sometimes it is the noises off or the comments from a sedentary position that get the most attention.

Eleanor Burnham: I particularly welcome the community beat officers scheme, as I helped to launch it a few months ago in Llandudno Junction, when one of your MPs could not turn up due to snow. When it comes to public perception, according to the RAC, the proliferation of cameras is resulting in a widespread breakdown in trust between the police and the public. Furthermore, it states that cameras have failed to detect incidents of driving under the influence of drink or drugs. A recent RAC poll showed that 72 per cent of motorists thought that such cameras were more about raising revenue than safety. Do you not feel that we have a duty-and I have discussed this with North Wales Police-to re-engage with the public, because it is losing faith in the police? Do you think that, because of the growing cynicism and increasing antagonism, as cited in this RAC poll-

The Presiding Officer: Order. You asked about five questions there. This is not to do with the RAC.

At this point Tory Assembly Member, David Melding, suggested that perhaps the First Minister was with the AA, silencing even the Presiding Officer.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Whose justice?

The attack on the Prime Minister in the House of Commons with a condom full of flour was a stunt too far and has been rightly condemned by all and sundry. There is no justification for any direct action that amounts to an assault on another human being. By all means seek publicity but do so lawfully and without endangering anybody else.

Swansea Labour Party however, saw an opportunity to have a go at the Liberal Democrats. They singled out two of our candidates who have been associated with campaigns on behalf of fathers and tried to link them to the stunt. They came unstuck though when it transpired that one of the candidates referred to was involved with a different organisation and the other disassociated herself from the attack.

It is always the same with Labour in Swansea. They resort to gutter politics at the first opportunity and, instead of debating the issues, go for the person. They tried it with me last week when they tried to label me "two-jobs Peter" because I am restanding for the Council whilst remaining an AM. No wonder people are disillusioned with the political process, and even more so with Labour, if canvassing can be relied on.

Flying MPs

Well we all feel used now - myself, Francesca and all the other friends to whom Lembit denied point blank the rumours of his engagement to Sian Lloyd. All I can say is it had better be a bloody good wedding!

The reason for all the secrecy turns out to be the old fashoned one of not ruining somebody else's scoop. It seems that the news was broken in Hello magazine. This means that Lembit ignored another piece of my advice. I suggested that he would not go far wrong in following the example of Peter Hain and giving the exclusive to his local newspaper, especially with a General Election looming. They would love him forever and not print another bad word about him. Now, I suppose that as well as fighting the Tories next year, he will also be pitched against a jilted Shropshire Star.

According to the Guardian, Lembit proposed to Sian in a small plane at 3,000 feet above sea level. It beats the hot baths (of which decency forbids me to say another word) but it would have served him right if, at the moment he got down on one metaphorical knee, the plane hit turbulence and she threw up all over him!

Sunday, May 23, 2004


The pressure of 24 hour a day, seven days a week campaigning is beginning to tell on the amount of time I have to make entries on this blog. Nevertheless I will persevere. Entries may become more chronologically dispersed however. I have a huge backlog of press releases, articles and speeches to post as well. All in good time.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Tories come out

I meant to post this on Thursday but I forgot. It seems that in replacing the irrepressible David Davies as their Equal Opportunities Spokesperson the Tories have made a complete u-turn on the less-than-tolerant stance that he was taking.

Mark Isherwood: Will you join me in welcoming the Conservative Party summit in March, which was attended by representatives of lesbian, gay and bisexual groups from across Britain and which discussed strategies to tackle homophobic bullying, the role of Government and the importance of education in promoting a healthier lifestyle? For many, the summit was the first opportunity to tell Westminster policymakers about the issues that concern them most. As Tim Yeo stated, we believe in the individual, we believe in allowing people to live their lives as they choose-

Dreadful as David Davies was, at least when he pronounced on these subjects he was speaking from the heart. On Wednesday Mark Isherwood sounded like he was reading out an essay on what he did in his summer holidays.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

No more heroes

In every crisis there is always one individual who stands out because of his or her courage, vision, or ability to rise above the ordinary. Chris Bryant is that man. Talk about whinging for Wales.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

New Labour chemistry

There are times when the level of rhetoric and the quality of the imagery in the Assembly chamber transcends the subject matter. Yesterday was one of those times. The First Minister was defending his Government's record on the Health Service when something clearly went to his head:

One of the roles of the Audit Commission, as the health service auditor, is to consider how the essence of good practice-or outstanding practice, in some areas-to be found among the authorities at the top of that league can be bottled.

Presumably, he has had pharmaceutical training on the bottling of essences.

Thought provoking comment of the day

"Embryonic stem cell research is in its infancy." Labour MP on Radio Wales this morning.

How to win friends and influence people

David Davies, the irrepressible Assembly Member for Monmouth, was not at the Education Committee meeting this morning. He told me that he had a pressing engagement in his constituency campaigning with some Tory bigwig. As a result he missed the very interesting evidence that we took on school transport. After the meeting the Committee adjourned outside to look at a ground-breaking new bus for transporting school children. TV cameras were present, so the Minister was first there (though to be fair she did have another engagement). However, she was disappointed to discover that the television reporter did not want to interview her. Instead they had installed David Davies on the bus and were interviewing him instead. David had taken advantage of the fact that he was not in the Committee to get there first and ensure that his views would be the ones that were heard. There were some very uncharitable views being expressed about him by David's fellow Committee members.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Dorian Grey?

No blogging yesterday as I was in London for a meeting and still haven't yet got home. As I was a bit early I decided to pass the odd half an hour camping out in Lembit Opik's office. Having got past the armed police I flopped down in a very comfortable armchair in the luxurious Portcullis House office. MPs offices there are a bit small in comparison to those occupied by AMs but they do have the compensation of an impressive view of the River Thames and County Hall. As I took in the scene my eyes alighted on a near-full-size portrait of Lembit leaning against the wall. Apparently, it had been painted by a constituent as a thank you for some assistance from her local MP. It was not the best likeness but Lembit was clearly recognisable in it. He was wearing a purple shirt and matching tie sitting in a green chair with a crimson background - the sort of colour scheme I might choose for a tie in fact. At first I thought it had been put there to keep his staff in order, a sort of "Big Brother is watching" effect, but then it occurred to me. People often ask how Lembit finds his energy and continues to look so youthful. The answer lies in Oscar Wilde's novel, 'Dorian Grey'. This is Lembit's equivalent of the painting in the attic. It will age and wither while he thrives. All politicians should have one.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Moment of madness

The Wales on Sunday reports that notorious Welsh band, 'The Declan Swans', have added to their repetoire of controversial singles with another "scandal friendly tune" aimed at Forward Wales candidate and former Welsh Secretary, Ron Davies. The band, whose last single was 'Meet the Kilshaws', are now to release 'Moments of Madness', which, we are told, documents Ron's badger spotting walk at Tog Hill services last year. Apparently, the timing of the release, to coincide with Ron Davies return to the political fray as a Euro Candidate, is not an accident. Side B of the single includes songs about the Rio Ferdinand drugs case and Posh and Becks' reported marital problems. Who says satire is dead?

Saturday, May 15, 2004


Astonishing! I am being taken to Bristol to see The Vines and will miss Eurovision! I am gutted!

Update: Colston Hall is an extraordinary venue for a rock concert. Quite apart from the fact that they announce each band over the loudspeaker in the traditional method of the theatre - "please take your seats as the band will be on stage in three minutes" - they also serve ice cream between acts, try to prevent smoking in the main hall and won't let you take drinks out of the bar area into the concert. It is the sort of place you can safely send your sons and daughters to watch some over-the-top, degenerate rock star perform. This is just as well as tonight's concert was full of school children. So, who won Eurovision?

Friday, May 14, 2004

More Lembit

Yes, I know it is getting boring but I thought that I should just clear up the engagement rumours once and for all. I asked Lembit outright last night and he told me that he is not engaged. However, if he does get married he has promised to invite me to the wedding and it will be either in Estonia or Mid Wales. I suspect it will be Mid Wales. Sigh! I didn't have the nerve to ask about the hot baths!

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Answer that phone!

Don't you just hate it when your mobile phone goes off at the most inappropriate time?

Peter Black: I welcome this statement. The action plan on which you are consulting at present will be valuable in terms of skilling-up the workforce, enabling them to take the opportunities that, hopefully, will become available to them. The points made by David Davies and Janet Ryder on ELWa are valid. We are relying on ELWa to deliver large parts of this action plan, and, to do so, it will need adequate funding; it will have to get its act together on work-based-[Interruption.] I do not know if the First Minister wants to answer the phone-

The Presiding Officer: It is out of order for electronic equipment to go off in the Chamber, and it is even more out of order to draw attention to it.

Peter Black: I apologise, I did not mean to draw attention to the fact that the First Minister's phone had gone off. [Laughter.]

Financial Rollercoaster

Today was the monthly meeting of the Assembly's House Committee. This Committee grows ever more curiouser each time it meets. I suppose that is the problem with a body that is responsible for every aspect of the Parliamentary Estate. Today for example we moved from a discussion on the price of tea in the restaurant to approving the Assembly Parliamentary Service's £30 million budget.

The most bizarre moment was when one of the Assembly Members asked if we could put signs in the toilets requesting that people do not switch the light off without checking if it was occupied first. This prompted the response that the Assembly is installing movement detectors to control the lights throughout the building. If you have not come across these before, then they are the most annoying devices known to man. Essentially, they monitor movement in the room. If there has been none after a certain period of time then the assumption is made that the room is empty and the lights are switched off. The problem is that often the room is not empty at all but staff are working quietly at their desk. These staff then have to stand up and move their arms up and down beneath the detectors to get the lights back on again.

When we were given this information I made the comment that if they were to install these detectors in the toilets then they should make sure that they are placed above the cubicles. Yes, I know, you couldn't make it up!

Unfit for office?

One of David Davies' Constituents has taken extreme exception to his views on Gays adopting children.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Publicity Seekers

Arch self-publicist and Tory AM for Monmouth, David Davies, demonstrated yesterday that he is not above acknowledging the ability of other AMs to compete with him for attention:

David Davies: The Conservative Party is united in its astonishment that in the week that 45 lecturers were made redundant and hundreds of people discovered that their courses are to be severely disrupted and that they will have to travel by bus to attend any courses that may be running after a scythe has been taken to provision, we have not had one word from our normally loquacious Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning. She cannot normally resist the temptation to make a statement to the Assembly if someone in a school so much as opens a can of peaches. Why have we not had a debate or a statement on this issue?

No more thumbs

Alex Folkes' blog 'Thumbs up for Lembit' has fallen by the wayside. Perhaps he was downhearted at news that Lembit had got engaged. Well, as Francesca reports, these rumours are apparently untrue. Lembit and Sian remain a couple but without any formal attachment.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

A peek outside of Wales

If you are getting bored of Welsh politics then why not follow the London Mayoral Race from the comfort of your own virtual home - race4cityhall is recording the race blog style. Alternatively, you can sign up to the Donald Rumsfeld must go campaign. This on-line petition may work but I would have thought that throwing Bush out in November will be more effective. Both sites courtesy of Tom Watson MP.


Back in the Assembly after a hard weekend. I had a meeting with Swansea University AUT about a number of issues relating to the Governance of their College. This is all due to hit the news on Thursday when it is broadcast on "Dragon's Eye".

Plenary continues to throw up quirky moments, of which more tomorrow when I can copy it verbatim from the Record of Proceedings. We spent the last hour debating CAP reform, a discussion that was so full of impenetrable prose and jargon that they might as well have been debating Swedish meatball recipes. If anybody knows what a "hedge whacker" is then please e-mail me. The debate was, in fact, like watching ER - entertaining, but with only 50% of the dialogue in any form of recognisable English. I suggested this to one senior AM, who will remain nameless, and got the response - "what is ER?". I gave up after that.

Monday, May 10, 2004

A load of boules!

Tonight's South Wales Evening Post contains details of the sporting event of the year so far. Next weekend more than 100 players will converge on the pitch in the shadow of the landmark Captain Cat statue in Swansea Marina for the sixth Lord Mayor's Boules Tournament. Sixteen teams will slog it out to raise money for the Lord Mayor's Charities. One of those teams, as ever, will be a group of AMs. I am not so sure however, about the Evening Post's description of our performance in past competitions. They say, "AMs will be leaving the cares of high office behind as they try to put an end to their dismal record in the competition." My colleagues will no doubt be as outraged at this slur as I am. Everybody knows that our sole objective in these Boules' Tournaments is to collect as much money for charity as possible and then get knocked out early so we can go to the pub.

Sunday, May 09, 2004


It seems that the BNP is to continue its attempt to rebrand itself by delivering a Party Election Broadcast through the medium of Welsh. Nick Griffin's 17 year old daughter, Jennifer, is to deliver the text of this broadcast. It does not matter what medium they chose to convey their message, it is still racist. However, this attempt to pass themselves off as a respectable party is worrying simply because I continue to find voters who are taken in by their rhetoric and their spin.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Football analogy

I do not have much time this weekend for long posts as I am very busy. However, I can not resist recommending to Cardiff City Football Club that if they are looking for a new defender with a penchant for scoring own goals then they should look no further than Sam Hamman's favourite politician, Russell Goodway.


I have been rumbled. Apparently, I was spotted enjoying the Keane Concert at Cardiff Students' Union last Sunday. I am not quite sure however what my correspondent meant by "middle of the road piano-led indie music". I may be a Liberal Democrat but I have never considered myself middle of the road.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Come on you black and whites!

Football terrace rivalries reach the Assembly chamber.

Mick Bates: I am sure that you are as proud as I am of our teams when they represent Wales in Europe. However, you will be aware that only Newtown Football Club in mid Wales reaches the European regulation standards. Are you prepared to assist football clubs such as Total Network Solutions, Llansantffraid or Aberystwyth to develop facilities that will allow them to take their place in Europe?

Alun Pugh: We all have strong personal opinions on football clubs. I know that Ann Jones has a strong opinion on the great success of Rhyl Football Club. However, it is an issue for clubs and for the FAW. As John Griffiths noted, a large amount of additional Sky money is now in the system.

Ann Jones: I congratulate Newtown Football Club for its hospitality last Monday when Rhyl won the league cup. The score was 4-0, and Andy Moran scored a hat trick. Johnny Hulse's black and white army marches on into Europe. Will you meet with FAW officials regarding looking for regional centres so that teams such as Rhyl, who successfully secured a place in Europe this year, can play their home games at home and not in other areas? They can then gain the financial benefits of home gates.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Stuck on you

Observers of the Welsh Assembly who thought we only ever discussed serious topics be warned - House Committee questions are back with a vengence. The previous low was an elaborate question about the way that the entrances to the toilets in the Assembly building were designed. Now, today, we had a Plaid Cymru member using valuable Plenary time complaining about the glue on the official Assembly envelopes. No wonder we struggle to maintain credibility.

Getting the hump

Speed humps are not the most popular traffic calming measure of course, so if you lived on the Sandfields Estate in Port Talbot where a rash of them have appeared, then I am sure you would create a website in protest as well.

Flying Lembits

For those of us who missed the last near miss of an asteroid and earth there is now a website with an animated account of it. Perhaps Lembit Opik will miss one of his late night baths and log on.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Leisure Centres

It seems that Leisure Centres all around Wales are being neglected. Millions of pounds of repairs are needed to be carried out on them or they will start to close one by one. In Swansea of course we have already lost our central Leisure Centre precisely because of that sort of neglect. A report in 1998 warned that if repairs are not carried out then the Leisure Centre will close. Surprise, surprise the Labour-led Council took no notice and the prediction came true almost to the day. That report has not been published and the Council are hiding behind an internal inquiry to ensure it does not see the light of day until after the elections. Can people really continue to tolerate such arrogance?

Monday, May 03, 2004

All fingers and thumbs

Now fancy that! How exactly did I miss this piece. It seems that Jade has a greater awareness of the latest Welsh news than I do. Perhaps she would like a job.

Congratulations then to Lembit and Sian, assuming that this latest rumour is true. Let us hope that they get everything that they would wish for and that I am invited to the wedding! Let us hope also that talk of late night baths does not feature in the speeches.

New Liberal Democrat blogger

Welcome to Rob Tiffen

Caged up

In the end the lock-in at Llys Nini animal centre proved to be immensely entertaining. The idea was to imprison various personalities and demand money for their release. Why exactly they chose a politician then defeats me. Even the Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Group failed to come up with cash to secure my freedom. Luckily I managed to get enough money in my collecting bucket from passers-by to justify them letting me out.

In total I was locked up with an NHS manager dressed in a blue rabbit costume. Sgorio presenter Amanda Protheroe-Thomas, Swansea City Football Club mascot, Cyril the Swan, All-Whites mascot, Fergal Sharkey, a local bank manager, the Wales Manager of the RSPCA and Captain Beany. Amanda Protheroe-Thomas was being promoted as Wales' sexiest woman, so it was very amusing when we were being led out two by two towards the cages. She was twinned with Cyril the Swan who announced to those listening that at last they had brought "two classy birds together". I suppose you had to be there.

Update: Apparently the RSPCA raised £3,500 altogether from this open day, including an anonymous donation of £2,000..

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Fighting the BNP

Now this is interesting research. It is a study into why people voted for the BNP in three crucial by-elections. The research, which was based on exit polls of 539 voters and focus groups, was carried out during local government elections in autumn 2003 in Burnley, Oldham and Calderdale - three areas where the BNP had potential or actual electoral success. The three wards studied were Mixenden in Calderdale, Lanehead in Burnley and Failsworth East in Oldham. All are around 95 per cent White areas. A BNP councillor was elected in Mixenden in January 2003 and another in Lanehead in May 2003.

"The study indicates that BNP voters are not, as often supposed, disgruntled, elderly people who are uncertain about a changing world. And, the rise of the BNP cannot be attributed to traditional Labour supporters, having grown frustrated with the current direction of their party. The evidence also suggests that those who vote for the BNP are not just being tactical but really do support the party's views. And the theory of BNP success resting on low turnouts does not hold water.

"The most startling revelation of the report, entitled 539 voters' views: a voting behaviour study in three northern towns, is that, in the areas studied, the younger one is the more likely one is to vote BNP. Around one in three of 18-25 year-olds said that they voted for the BNP. 46 per cent said they had voted for the BNP on a previous occasion. While the Labour Party had strong support among older age groups, hardly anyone in the 18-25 category voted Labour. In this age group, large numbers of young men have been attracted to the BNP's message - making it the only party whose support is predominantly male.

"The report suggests that other parties are failing to engage with this group of young men. In local elections, the research indicates that the main concerns of most voters, irrespective of geographical area or political allegiance, are local 'quality of life' issues: tackling anti-social behaviour, creating a cleaner environment, addressing low-level crime and providing more facilities for young people. Only three per cent of all voters thought that addressing asylum and immigration should be a councillor's first priority.

"But focus groups also suggested that many voters are ill-informed about immigration and asylum matters. An opportunity exists for other political parties to explain more clearly to residents that resources are being allocated on the basis of economic need rather than ethnicity and to counter the notion that asylum seekers are receiving an 'unfair advantage'.

"Only about ten per cent of BNP voters said their vote was tactical. These people wanted to protest against the Labour government or the local council. But roughly half of all BNP voters said that the party represented their views closely, a higher proportion than for any other party.

"More than a third of BNP voters might consider voting Conservative if that party had a stronger presence in the town and a quarter of BNP voters are ex-Labour voters. The study, though, offers no information about the class background of today's BNP supporters.

"But, at least in the wards studied, the real basis for the BNP's support was in a section of younger people who do not normally vote. The effect of the BNP standing in a local election was to bring out these people to support the BNP. (And another section of young people came out to vote, tactically, against the BNP.)

"The bad news for those opposed to the BNP is that support for the party is not based on apathy and general disgruntlement but positive endorsement for their policies among a core of young men. The good news is that hardly anyone thinks asylum and immigration are key issues in local government elections."

It is wise in politics to know ones enemy and to understand their appeal to the electorate. What this research suggests is that all the alliances growing up to stop the BNP on the basis of their appeal to deep-seated racism are wide of the mark. In fact people tend to react against such pressure as it gives the BNP greater legitimacy as a party fighting the establishment to get things done. There is no doubt in my mind that the BNP is a racist party hiding behind a community politics base to achieve electoral success. If we are to defeat them then we need to drive home the real nature of the BNP's politics whilst at the same time campaigning hard ourselves on the issues that are gaining the BNP votes - anti-social behaviour, crime, the neglect of basic services such as cleansing and more facilities for younger people.

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