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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

More University Challenge

I thought that this comment in yesterday's Plenary by Carl Sergeant, the Labour Assembly Member for Alyn and Deeside, was a trifle partisan and unfair. Although Huw Lewis got a few good interventions in early on I thought that nobody really stood out from the team of four AMs as exceptional in the way that Carl is implying.

"If you can find time in the future, Business Minister, may we have a discussion about the use of the word 'wrong' and the selection process for attending game shows? I thank my colleague, Huw Lewis, for bailing out his opposition colleagues on University Challenge yesterday."

The green green grass of home

It is clearly a slow news day in the Western Mail. However, at least if Tim Henman wins today we will know that it was the Welsh grass wot dun it.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004


I really enjoyed writing this letter to the South Wales Evening Post:

Sir, it has been refreshing in recent weeks to read in your columns discussion about the legitimacy of the Swansea Administration of Welsh Liberal Democrats, Independents and Tories in relation to the percentage of the vote they secured during the elections on June 10th.

Welsh Liberal Democrats have been arguing for some time that the outcome of elections for Councils should better reflect the way that people voted. That is why we argue so strongly against first past the post with a view to replacing it with a fair voting system.

Just to put your mind at rest my calculation, based on the highest vote secured by each party in each Council ward, indicates that the new administation actually polled 55.54% of the vote on June 10th. This contrasts quite starkly with the 35.8% of the vote secured by Labour in 1999, which gave them 65.3% of the seats. It is strange that we did not see comment in your paper on the legitimacy of the Labour administration during the period 1999-2004 given this unjust outcome.

Finally, I noted a letter from a Plaid Cymru Councillor a few days ago questioning the wisdom of standing young candidates for election. His premise was that as these young candidates matured they tended to become Tories. As the youngest Councillor on Swansea Council is, in fact, a Plaid Cymru Councillor, I think he needs to speak to his party officers straight away so that action can be taken to avoid such an evolution of views.


Councillor Peter Black AM
Welsh Liberal Democrats

Monday, June 28, 2004

A challenge too far?

It seems that today is the day when we find out officially how our brave representatives fared under the withering gaze of Jeremy Paxman in a special edition of University Challenge. The Team of four AMs, Nick Bourne, Eleanor Burnham, Jocelyn Davies and Huw Lewis are going head to head with an all party team of MSPs. Although the programme was filmed before the publication of the Richard Commission Report into the powers of the Assembly it will be interesting to see if there are any questions on Primary Law-making powers. I suspect that u-turns will not be on this programme's agenda even though they are flavour of the week in the Assembly.

Update: OK, so the Welsh Assembly lost but 70 points to the Scottish Parliament's 115 was fairly respectable.

Learning how to win the hard way

If there is one thing that the new ruling group on Swansea Council should learn it is how to be magnaminous in victory. The rant by the new Labour opposition leader was effectively a piece of theatre and should not be taken seriously. If anything it made him look ridiculous. Reporting him to the Ombudsman gives him credibility, whilst using the new Standards regime for the purpose of political point scoring once more just devalues it further. Everybody just needs to calm down and get on with the job of running Swansea.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Labour hypocrisy

The Labour Party's hypocrisy and opportunism in Hodge Hill continues to take my breath away. Nicola Davies works as a middle-ranking employee for a mobile phone company and does not set the policies of her employer. There are many other ordinary, Labour voting employees of this and other mobile phone companies whose job involves erecting these masts and maintaining them. Yet, I can see no sign of legislation to enable them to exercise their conscience in relation to the siting of these masts and keep their jobs. Are Labour condemning these workers for their occupation? No, they are not.

The fact remains that the Labour Party in Government has created an atmosphere whereby mobile phone companies work in a largely free-market economy. In doing so they have encouraged them to seek to maximise their profits regardless of the ethics of their activity, whilst Labour Government Ministers continue to insist that mobile phone masts are safe (in stark contrast to the literature put out by the Labour Party in Hodge Hill). In fact Labour have sold new generation licences to mobile phone companies in return for billions of pounds in the full knowledge that the new technology will mean a tripling of phone masts and that the companies will be forced to seek unsuitable sites for them in an attempt to maximise market share and recover their outlay.

Furthermore, it is a Labour Government who has insisted on choosing the rather dodgy Tetra communication system above the safer Tetrapol version for the emergency forces. Tetra masts are considered by some to be far more dangerous than an ordinary mobile phone mast, yet they too are being erected in local communities under Government contract. If anybody's record on phone masts deserves scrutiny then it is Labour's.

Labour have also drawn attention to the fact that the Liberal Democrat campaign in Hodge Hill has set up shop in a former video rental outlet and they have used this fact to draw attention to Liberal Democrat policy on lowering the age of consent for those wishing to view pornography so that it comes into line with the age by which heterosexuals can legally have sex. In doing so they have failed to mention their own record on this issue. As Labour Watch point out it is Labour who have received donations from Richard Desmond, the publisher of the Express, Star and Spunk Loving Sluts.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Labour's dirty tricks

I have just got back from helping Liberal Democrat candidate, Nicola Davies, at the Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election. Rather unsurprisingly Labour are up to their usual dirty tricks, focussing their campaign on our candidate instead of the issues. The attempted smears are even cruder than usual. Because Nicola works in public relations for a mobile phone company they allege that she is in favour of placing masts next to schools and hospitals, an act only possible in the first place because Labour will not amend the law to require the full planning procedure to apply to all masts regardless of size. This process of personal vilification devalues the political process and puts people off politics. It also shows that, despite claims by prominent Labour MPs that the Liberal Democrats are underhanded, when it comes to getting the gloves off and really fighting dirty there is no matching the Labour Party.

The other thing that frankly shocked me whilst going around the Hodge Hill constituency was the way that the Labour Party are wrapping themselves in the English flag during the European Football Championship. Now, there is nothing wrong with a proper expression of national pride, but is it really appropriate to distribute postcard sized posters of the Flag of St. George stamped with a red Labour logo in a ward where there is severe pressure from the BNP? This crude appeal to narrow-minded nationalism is playing the BNP at its own game. It legitimises the BNP's tactics and it makes the Labour Party in that part of Birmingham as culpable as them in appealing to baser sentiments on crucial issues such as asylum and British sovereignty. It is also the kind of tactic that Labour in Wales would be the first to condemn if Plaid Cyrmu attempted it with the Welsh flag.

Friday, June 25, 2004

A Devil's cabal?

Labour's new leader on Swansea Council says what he thinks! I wonder what he would say if confronted with real extremists such as the BNP. As for being there "just for the money", who was it who hiked up allowances to astronomical levels and introduced £20,000 Golden Goodbyes for retiring Labour Councillors? Oh, it was Labour. I am looking forward to this new Council if this is how it is going to pan out.

Sinking in clear red water

There must come a point when the creaking Welsh NHS will start to sink into the ideological clear red water that the First Minister has established between himself and Tony Blair. It is not so much that I disagree with Rhodri Morgan on the choice issue, it is just that the whole debate is artificial and seems to have been crafted so as to hide the Welsh Labour Government's incompetence in the way that it is running the Health Service.

The end of the world?

Now this is serious! If the chocolate starts to run out then we know that the human race is in trouble.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Scary thoughts

An unsubstantiated rumour is doing the rounds that a senior male opposition Assembly Member has been asked to pose nude for a charity calendar. If I can confirm the rumour as true then I will name names but really, it does not bear thinking about.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004


Things are on a knife-edge in Bridgend. Who will end up in control? The AGM is this morning so we will not have long to wait.

Update: Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader, Cheryl Green, was elected as Council Leader by 27 votes to 25. This is not the end of this saga of course because there is a deferred election in Sarn. However, it seems that Labour's dominance of this Council has been ended for the next four years at least.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Sexing it up with Labour

Never let it be said that Wales lags behind the rest of the UK when it comes to our engagement with current affairs. Shortly after the BBC was being accused of sexing up its coverage of the dossier on Iraq's so-called "weapons of mass destruction", the Labour Assembly Government were borrowing the same phrase to put BBC Wales on the spot. This time Ministers had civil servants accuse the normally harmless "Good Morning Wales" of sexing up its coverage of a row over Objective One funding. The fact that the issue went over most people's heads seems to have escaped them. They were determined to have their two-pennyworth and they despatched their own exocet regardless. Now that it has all come out in the Western Mail it all seems a bit ridiculous, but was it an appropriate thing for civil servants to be told to do? We have asked but they won't let us debate it. Honestly, the games that politicians play!

Update: I have been told that the Assembly press officer who signed the letter to the BBC moved on to other things a few months ago. Apparently, he has taken up a more strategic role within the Assembly based in Cathays Park. I presume that this role does not involve acting as the front man to the media on behalf of irate Ministers.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Waiting times

It is nice to know that Wales has the edge over England with regards to some waiting lists. If you want to take your driving test in London then you must wait between 17 and 20 weeks, whereas in Swansea and Wrexham the wait is only 7 weeks, 8 weeks if you are in Cardiff. Having driven in London I am not entirely sure if all the additional practice that their drivers get in before taking the test does them any good. However, for those English drivers crossing the border to take their test in Wales, I have one word of advice - do not think you can fit in an NHS appointment whilst you are here! When it comes to your health you will definitely be quicker getting treatment in England.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Step aside ET

It seems that all kinds of creatures are being urged to embrace the telecommunications revolution. What is next? Internet access for Dolphins?

Friday, June 18, 2004

Student debt

New research shows that thousands of graduates still earn less than £20,000 by the age of 30. This is no surprise to most of us. The question is that, given the shortage of graduates and the vital role that they have in economic growth, why is the Labour Government so determined to put people off going to University in the first place and to saddle those who do attend with thousands of pounds of crippling debts?

Man of the cloth

Former Cardiff County Council Leader, Russell Goodway, is thinking of becoming a vicar. You could not make it up. Good luck to him. Politics can be all-consuming so when someone has a chance to start all over again and put the past behind them then they should follow their heart. The one word of caution I would offer to the Church in Wales is that if he does follow this course then they should not put Councillor Goodway in charge of public relations.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Bitter and twisted

Having attempted to browbeat Swansea and Gower Liberal Democrats into a coalition with Labour through the news pages of the South Wales Evening Post, the current Labour Leader of that Council has taken the rejection of his overtures very badly. he has got one more thing very badly wrong. There was no spite in the decision. He should not mistake the internal politics of his own party for those of others. It is, perhaps, because of such a failure to understand the opposition that he lost power in the first place.

The big issue

All the fuss in the chamber on Tuesday was about appropriate forms of dress. Uproar broke out on the Tory benches when the Labour Minister for Culture, Welsh Language and Sport, Alun Pugh, turned up to Plenary without a tie. I immediately offered to lend him one, only to be rebuffed. He e-mailed back to me that he was getting enough stick as it was without wearing one of my ties. Puzzled as I was at this comment I let it go. Some of the Tories were not being so generous:

David Melding: I am slightly disconcerted that a member of your Cabinet seems to be engaged in a game of strip poker. I hope that he does not make too dramatic a progress. With regard to the disposal of NHS estates, it is important that we have value for money and that we ensure that facilities remain in the locality whenever possible so that we take the local community with us. Are you convinced that that will happen in this case?

The First Minister: You must explain the rules of strip poker to me sometime, David, as I am unfamiliar with that sport.

This was followed up by a rather ungenerous point of order by the Conservative AM for South Wales West:

Alun Cairns: I raise this point of order under Standing Order No. 7, which relates to Members' conduct in the Chamber. I seek your guidance on the appropriate dress code for gentlemen Members in particular.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I thank Alun for giving me notice of this point of order, as we have been able to research it. The Presiding Officer has ruled that Members should appear in normal dress. He suggested that normal dress would include suits and ties for male Members, but I am aware that those standards of dress have not always been upheld. It is important that all Members should uphold the dignity of the Assembly as required by Standing Order No. 7. If I consider that somebody is not suitably dressed, they will not catch my eye and will therefore not be called to speak.

Peter Law: Further to that point of order, I wondered whether suitable dress encompasses the Liberal Democrat group. We remember Mick Bates coming into the Chamber dressed as Father Christmas. Is that normal dress in the Liberal Democrat Party?

Clearly, some people hold a lot of store by the simple neck-tie. Still, at least one Tory had not lost his bearings, though by the end of his contribution we were all a bit puzzled as to which axis was which. How do you answer (or indeed follow) this?:

Mark Isherwood: Concerns have been raised by both the North Wales economic forum and the North Wales further education and higher education sector colleges that, in economic terms, North Wales is not in Wales because it has vertical political access, but horizontal economic access. When will you take urgent action to deliver sustainable economic development that links north, mid and south Wales? If you do not, and it remains in a west-east axis, what you say will amount to words, not delivery.

Monday, June 14, 2004

New beginnings

It seems that two of the three Councils in my Assembly region will now be run by Welsh Liberal Democrat coalitions. How things change.

European Elections

It is strange how these results are spun. The Liberal Democrats have increased their vote share by over 2% and gained two MEPs and yet all the media want to talk about is how humiliated we must be to have come fourth behind UKIP. The fact is that UKIP only did so well because the Tories and Labour did so disastrously. The two main parties saw their votes leach away to UKIP whilst the Liberal Democrats gained ground - the only mainstream party to do so. If this is humiliation then we need some more of it - bring it on!

Meanwhile, those seeking greater integration may find a salutary warning in England's opening game in the European Championship. As UKIP may say, 'we are not going to play ball until Europe learns to let England win again!' Only kidding.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

The General Election beckons

Meanwhile, Peter Hain is already trying desperately to bring Britain back to two-party politics. Labour have woken up to the threat posed by the Liberal Democrats, not just as a protest vote but as a coherent opposition party of the centre-left. His analysis is that the Tories may get in the back door. The reality is that we are likely to continue to take more Tory seats than Labour ones and that even with a rise in our vote in Labour seats, Tony Blair will get his third term, albeit with a reduced majority.

Results for anoraks

In the absence of the Western Mail's usual comprehensive listing of every Council ward in Wales I have had to resort to Council websites for information. They are a very mixed bag indeed. I have already commented on the excellent Swansea site however Cardiff must win the award for most annoying results service of all time. You start to read it and the screen changes automatically - twice. The "Life-is-too-short" award goes to Pembrokeshire who rather than provide an easily accessible summary in html insist on a separate pdf document for each ward. Even with broadband it is hardly worth someone who wants an overview visiting this site unless that person has a great deal of time and patience. It seems that many Welsh Councils still have a lot of work to do on their e-democracy presence.

Update: I have just tried to find the Monmouthshire results and they have not even posted them on their website that I can see. A request to see who represents each ward throws up the pre-June 10th list! The last item on the current news articles is dated 24 March 2004.

Friday, June 11, 2004

The morning after the night before

I am back! I have had two hours sleep and I am exhausted but I am happy. Swansea went to no overall control last night, the last result being declared at 5.30am. We did not win everything we wanted to but then you never do. More Councils are being counted today and in Wales it looks like we will be able to consolidate largest party status on Cardiff Council and may even get no overall control in Bridgend in my region.

I have spent the last hour putting together a spreadsheet analysis of the Swansea results but the excellent interactive Swansea website keeps crashing so it is taking me longer than expected. The reality for us now is that we have to consider constructing some sort of rainbow coalition on Swansea Council and hold it together. This will not be an easy job and it will take much discussion as to whether we even want to attempt it. Nobody has a real mandate. On a personal note, all three of my staff are now Welsh Liberal Democrat Councillors.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Postal Voting

A sign of the times in the North West. Chester Council have insisted that all staff opening the returned postal voting ballot packs wear surgical gloves. Allegedly in case there is a nasty substance enclosed.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Odds and ends

Devon and Cornwall Police finally catch the big fish from South Wales. Meanwhile, the latest blog to expose an up-and-coming political party surfaces. Written by a former insider, UKIP uncovered, discovered via Mark Ramsden, reminds us that the darlings of YouGov are riddled with warts. Interestingly, a Daily Mirror article hotlinked on the UKIP uncovered site indicates that the Party is gaining support at the expense of the Conservatives. If this is the case then June 10th will not be the unmitigated disaster for the Prime Minister that we are all expecting and Michael Howard will have a lot of thinking to do. Finally, the question that everybody is asking in France (and most of Wales for that matter) - where is Rhodri Morgan?

Friday, June 04, 2004

Inciting race hatred

The Glamorgan Gazette reports that the BNP has been blamed for inciting racial hatred after a mosque was attacked with racist graffiti. The BNP's European leaflet is pinpointed for creating an atmosphere of hatred. Muslims going to prayers on Bank Holiday Monday found the mosque daubed in blue paint with words like 'kebab', 'KKK' and 'Self Pity' as well as references to the Iraq war. The sickest part of this whole incident however was the comment by a BNP spokesperson. He is reported as saying that Muslims themselves may be responsible in a bid to "discredit the BNP". I am still speechless.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Fighting prejudice

The four party leaders in the National Assembly have issued the following joint statement:

For the first time in any election in Wales, voters on 10 June are faced with a clear choice between those who peddle a message of race hatred and those who want to engage with the voters over genuine political choices and differences over policy.

No issue should be immune from political debate but the responsibility to offer electors a choice of answers to real problems and the right to exercise freedom of speech should not be abused to create an atmosphere of fear and prejudice which makes individuals the potential targets of violence and abuse, and which divides communities rather than enabling them to resolve their problems.

Wales values all its people, celebrates its diversity, sticks to its inclusive principles and provides a proper and safe refuge for those fleeing persecution in their homelands.

There can be no place in our democratic process for those who seek to incite or encourage, blatantly or covertly, racial hatred, prejudice and discrimination between others. Elected politicians must represent everyone, not pitch one group against another for short-term political or personal gain.

To this end we reaffirm our commitment to the agreement on the principles of good practice and conduct in elections, signed by the leaders of all parties represented in the National Assembly for Wales in 2001.

We urge members of the public to report to the police and relevant public authorities any instances of incitement to hatred that may occur in this election campaign, and to ensure that everyone in Wales is protected from abuse and expressions of prejudice.

Rhodri Morgan AM, First Minister for Wales and Leader of the Welsh Labour Party
Ieuan Wyn Jones AM, Leader of the Opposition and Plaid Cymru Group
Nick Bourne AM, Leader of the Welsh Conservatives
Mike German OBE AM, Leader, Welsh Liberal Democrats, National Assembly for Wales

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Cloud Cuckoo Land

The Labour Assembly Member for Caerphilly, Jeff Cuthbert, has resumed his letter writing career with a missive to the Western Mail that took my breath away. He wrote:

"The elections due on June 10 are nothing to do with Iraq. Councillors and MEPs have no remit whatsoever over the Government's foreign policy. Attempts by opposition parties to confuse the electorate are nothing more than a cynical and opportunist move to win support for their candidates through default"


"The people that I have met so far whilst campaigning in Caerphilly for the local government elections are far more concerned about issues such as education, social services and anti-social behaviour."


"If the opposition parties succeed in winning these elections by misleading arguments then they will have won on false pretences. I don't think this will happen."

It is an old trick - define your own battleground and then defy the opposition to fight you on your terms. The fact is that people are talking about Iraq on the doorsteps. They are also talking, as Jeff said, about education, health and anti-social behaviour. The verdict is that Labour has let them down on all these issues and that will not be voting for the Government party this time. As The Mirror said on 19 May 2004:

"IT COULD have paid for over three million heart bypass operations, trained over 70,000 nurses or built 280 badly-needed schools. It would have met the salaries of 154,000 new nurses or 132,000 police officers for a year.. Instead, £2.75 billion has been spent on war in Iraq which.. hasn't made the world a safer place."

Jeff's letter is astonishingly naive and artless, but it also misses the point rather spectacularly. He insults the intelligence of the electorate by suggesting that (a) they might be taken in by opposition party propaganda and (b) they might be taken in by his argument. That is the problem when politicians live in a glass bubble, they listen to what people say but then re-interpret it in their own language and politics so that the electorate no longer recognise what it is they have said.

More double speak

The Labour leaflet for Cwmbwrla ward flops onto my door mat. In it are several obtuse references to the fact that I am restanding for the Council. My favourite is "We believe that you cannot serve two masters, so we commit ourselves not to stand for election to any other level of Government whilst representing Cwmbwrla on the Council." This from candidates who have full time jobs and who give a large amount of their time to tenants' organisations, trade unions and a church. What they have missed however, is that the point is not to serve the body you are elected to but to serve the people who elect you. In that respect I may be a member of the Welsh Assembly and possibly a local Council, but I have only one master, the people I represent.

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