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Thursday, September 30, 2004

Foxed again

Anybody who has ever been to a Conference will know that stallholders and exhibitors do everything they can to attract delegates to visit their stand. This often means providing goodies such as sweets and pens that can be taken away by the visitor. The stalls that offer the best gifts are always very popular.

This year the League Against Cruel Sports have pitched up offering fox glove puppets. Admittedly, they ask for a £3 donation, but this proved to be a powerful prize for those delegates determined to taunt the fox killers at the Liberal Democrat gathering. News however has reached me that these glove puppets have been banned from the Labour Conference. Now I would have expected this of the Tories, but Labour?

It seems that organisers were concerned that Labour delegates might use the glove puppets to taunt Countryside Alliance protestors outside the hall. This might be seen as provocative and risk inflaming the already-sensitive situation. However, as Nick Assinder says in his Conference Diary, "Leaving aside the fact that anyone who tried taunting the hunters with a glove puppet would risk getting their hands torn off by bloodthirsty hounds, this spectacular piece of "I'm only following orders" nonsense succeeded in winning the League the sort of publicity money can't buy."

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Labour apologise for racist leaflet

Welsh Labour have apologised for the disgraceful and unacceptable leaflet that they distributed in the Llanedeyrn and Pentwyn areas of Cardiff during the local election. The leaflet attacked the Liberal Democrats for supporting a site for travellers and Gypsies, even though there were no such proposals. In a statement, the Welsh Labour Party executive said the leaflets dealt with the issue of travellers sites in a totally inappropriate manner and should never have been given out. The CRE's Commissioner for Wales and leading Labour activist, Cherry Short, said: "This leaflet was a disgrace. It flew in the face of Labour's stated commitment to anti-racism."

I thought that Cherry Short's statement was a bit mealy-mouthed. It was almost as if it was choking her to be condemning the Labour Party. She concluded by stating that "Where it is appropriate CRE Wales will assist Welsh Labour with race equality training and advice. These are the kind of things all parties in Wales should be doing and the CRE will be putting points on these issues to the other Assembly parties in the coming months." Frankly, this attempt to spread the blame does not wash. It is Labour that have been caught red-handed. If these had been Welsh Liberal Democrat actvists they would at the very least be barred from being candidates and it is likely that they would be expelled..

What nobody has explained of course, is why the Wales Labour Party had to wait for a CRE ruling before condemning this leaflet. Surely it must have been evident to them months ago that it was inappropriate and that action needed to be taken against the individuals who were responsible for it. Yet the silence up to now has been deafening. Are Labour incapable of saying sorry without being prompted in this way? And when will they be apologising for the racist tone of the leaflets they issued in Birmingham Hodge Hill?

Update: Civil liberties pressure group Liberty and Law has reported the Labour leaflet to South Wales Police Chief Constable, Barbara Wilding, on the grounds that the action may have been in breach of the Race Relations Act.

A line is drawn

The following statement has now been issued by Lembit Opik:


Commenting on recent concerns raised by Peter Black AM about pro-hunting protests turning violent, Lembit Öpik, MP for Montgomeryshire and Leader of the Welsh Democrats, said:

"Given the Government's decision to push through this unjust piece of legislation I can well understand the sense of anger amongst the hunting community. In my view their freedoms and livelihoods are on the line.

Recent events have, however, raised the spectre of protests turning to violence. I would like to make it absolutely clear that violence has no place within our society. I have consistently argued that the best way to resolve the hunting debate is to use reasoned argument to find a solution that delivers the best outcome both in terms of animal welfare and the protection of individual freedoms. Violence cannot possibly help to deliver a lasting solution."

Peter Black was right to highlight the importance of elected politicians not supporting violence, as he did earlier this week. I hope I have made my position absolutely clear.



Milk continues to be a staple of Assemby debate:

Helen Mary Jones: I am sure that the milk industry will be grateful for your sympathy, but when it faces a situation whereby in the past eight years the price for consumers has increased by 11 per cent and the money that farmers receive has fallen by 30 per cent, it needs more action than sympathy. Your Minister keeps telling us that he hopes that milk prices will rise, but I think that he is living more in hope than in expectation. While we greatly welcome the concept of fair trade milk, will your Government reconsider the establishment of a milk ombudsman who could ensure transparency in pricing and recommend a fair pricing policy?

Will the Milk Ombudsman double up as a milk monitor?

The big gamble

We will not know until the early hours of Friday morning of course but the gamble of holding the Hartlepool by-election in the middle of the Labour Party Conference is looking more and more dodgy. Instead of a successful party of government the images and messages on the TV and this morning's papers have been of a party leader under siege. The Conference has put the Iraq war right back at the top of the headlines and that cannot be comfortable for a party leadership who knows how badly this plays in the country. It may be just enough to swing the by-election our way. We will see.

Oh dear!

It is that moment that every football manager dreads. The team has not been doing so well of late and in addition he has committed the odd gaff. The press corner the chairman and ask him about his manager's future. In reply the chairman is unequivocal - "I have every confidence in my manager". Two days later the manager is out on his ear.

Tory leader Nick Bourne must wish it were that easy with his errant group member, Monmouth AM, David Davies. There was a lot of criticism in the chamber yesterday for David's remarks criticising Muslim MPs for opposing hunting whilst supporting the halal and kosher methods of preparing meat. However, all is well - according to Nick Bourne the Tory chief whip has spoken to David about what he said and advised him of the sensitivities.

On another note, David was threatening the First Minister in the chamber yesterday that he would be posting the answers he gave to questions on the internet. As I sit next to David I asked him if this meant he was going to start a blog. David said that he has been thinking about it. I think this should be encouraged and urge people to e-mail him at david.davies@wales.gov.uk to this effect. I am sure that like me he will also appreciate any technical advice that is going. In the meantime check out this latest Parliamentarian blogger, Tory MP, Boris Johnson.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Boys' Toys

One of the pleasures of Tuesday mornings is the feature on the back page of the Western Mail's women's supplement entitled "big boys' toys". As a member of the Smoking in Public Places Committee in the Welsh Assembly I was particularly interested in one item that was featured today. It is a coughing ashtray designed to drive home the anti-smoking message to even the most ardent abusers of the weed. For a mere £6.95 you can get a cool silver looking ashtray that coughs its lungs up each time you use it. The website the article refers us to contains this review - 'This is simply brilliant! A friend of mine is a heavy smoker, and also coughs a lot because of it. Last time he came round to my house I made sure this ashtray was on the table in front of TV, and when he ashed his cigarette, and the coughing sound was made, it almost gave him a heart attack! The look on his face was priceless, and all for less than £7. Thanks!! I think it is also a really good way to make people give up..... Brian Hamilton, Surbiton - Aug '04.'

A shoe-in

The press is full of Rhodri Morgan's shoe trick. How did he get his good pair of black shoes from Cardiff to Brighton in such quick time? Speculation is that he had them driven all that way but then that would be so against the Assembly's sustainability agenda it cannot be true. The First Minister has had to engage in nifty footwork to get where he is today, perhaps the secret of his success lies in his footwear.

Update: David Cornock and the BBC have got to the bottom of the Rhodri Morgan shoe mystery. Apparently, Health Minister, Jane Hutt, brought them down to Brighton with her.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Hanging by a thread

An e-mail arrives announcing that the Plaid Cymru Assembly Member, Helen Mary Jones, is to take part in the first "Zip Guide" (hanging from an overhead cable in the Great Dome of the Botanic National Gardens) to raise money for the Ty Hafan Appeal.

It is often said that even the greatest political career hangs from a thread, now we will learn the truth. Helen Mary of course has already taken part in a number of high wire acts, both in trying to hold her former Llanelli seat and in contesting the leadership of her party. Let us hope she survives this one intact as well.

If anybody wants to contribute please contact me and I will pass on the details.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

More McDonalds

Although the act of transferring this entire blog to another server and another format can be gruelling at times it does provide a different perspective on current events by reminding me of what has gone before. Thus, those of us who were fascinated by Tory AM, Glyn Davies' conversion to the nutritious value of McDonald's food, recorded by this blog on 2 September, might like to note comments by some of his Conservative colleagues on February 25th.

As a reminder Glyn wrote "McDonalds restaurants use 100 per cent British beef, are cutting back hugely on salt levels, are promoting salads in all of its restaurants, and are plastering its packaging with nutritional information." However, when the issue first aired the Welsh Conservative Health Spokesperson and the Welsh Tory Leader took a different view. Jonathan Morgan commented about Sport and Culture Minister, Alun Pugh - "He attacks the fast food industry for contributing to poor diets among children and yet is more than happy to accept a considerable amount of hospitality from them." Assembly Conservative leader Nick Bourne said, "Exactly how Alun Pugh thinks being wined and dined by McDonald's contributes to promoting a healthier lifestyle is beyond me."

The thrust of the story of course was Conservative hypocrisy in accusing the Minister of accepting McDonald's hospitality when there were two Tory AMs there as well. What was not clear at the time was the split in Conservative ranks on the nutritious quality of the fare served up in these fast food restaurants. Still, I suppose that is the problem when you write policy by press release.

Tough Liberalism

Mark Oaten's "Tough Liberalism" slogan starts to get a grip within the party.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Corporate hospitality merry-go-round

A recent e-mail conversation has caused me to reflect a bit more deeply than I might otherwise on the issue of corporate hospitality. All Assembly Members are used to receiving invitations from major corporate bodies seeking the pleasure of our company at some sporting or artistic event. In the early years I was known to accept one or two of these partly because I did not know any better, partly for the novelty value but also because it is accepted that this is the way that politicians interact with businesses, listen to their opinions and feed back advice and views.

I have now made it a general policy to decline such invitations. I am sure that there may be occasions when I will make an exception to that rule but so far I have not come across such circumstances. I have come to the opinion that in many instances the company or body dishing out the largesse do so because they believe that they can influence the politicians concerned. I do not believe that there is anything ethical in that process. If somebody wants to pitch a point of view to me then they should come to my office in working hours.

One of the most prodigious purveyors of corporate hospitality is BT. This is largely because they own or have a substantial mortgage on the Millennium Stadium so they have more opportunities than most. They have always been very keen to cultivate elected politicians, briefing us on broadband initiatives and other matters of general policy where they have commercial interests. In return they have found that the Assembly has been a good body to do business with, though I hasten to add that this has nothing to do with their hospitality.

As BT is a body that places so much store in its relationship with elected politicians I rather foolishly expect a higher standard of service from them when I am taking up an issue on behalf of my constituents. I was astonished therefore that when they decided to remove 42 public payphone boxes from the streets of Swansea that they failed to notify the elected politicians of the details of their decision. Instead they wrote to local councils and left it to these bodies to consult with their Councillors, AMs and MPs. This has left us in a difficult situation as by the time we got the details half of the time alloted for consultation had passed. This meant that any consultation which we might wish to carry out with affected communities has also been curtailed.

I met the man in charge of BT's payphones in the Assembly on Thursday. They supplied lunch though I was unaware of this until I got into the room. I made my displeasure at being left out of the loop very clear and later that day received all the details of proposed closures across my region by e-mail. Useful as this is, as I only have a week in which to respond there is not a great deal I can do with the information at this stage.

In my other role as a local Councillor I had already obtained the information on the four phone boxes that are to be removed in my ward and lodged an objection with the Council and with BT. Today I received an e-mail from BT telling me that my views are irrelevant. They do not want any direct representations from any elected official or individual member of the community. Instead we must pass our views onto the local council who are expected to collate them and then come to their own view on which ones to pass onto BT. This is astonishing. I have dealt with a number of public bodies over the years and I have always been dealt with courteously. I have never encountered such arrogant disregard for the democratic process. The question has to be asked therefore, as BT spends so much on wining and dining politicians does that mean that they believe that they have a right to treat us with contempt? Is that what they think they are getting for their money?

Hunting for crassness

For once I am almost lost for words. The sheer crassness of Tory Monmouth AM, David Davies, in comparing hunting with halal and kosher meat (during Yom Kippur as well) has left me struggling for an adequate response. Halal and kosher meat form part of long-standing religious practice, whereas hunting with dogs is a sport pursued for pleasure.

The idea that hunting could be considered part of a religion as this article suggests is absurd. The Free Church of Country Sports has as much relevance to religious faith as Karl Marx had to Conservatism. Organisers are apparently satisfied that 'those who take part in country sports are sufficiently culturally different to be considered a social group with an ethnic identity.' That is not the definition of a religion even with the ritual sacrifice. Most of them have no idea what an ethnic identity is.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Sorry is the hardest word

Rhodri Morgan apologises for not attending the 60th anniversary commemoration of D-Day. We all make mistakes and the ability to own up to those errors and apologise for them is to be admired. Not enough politicians do it. However, in this instance the row blew up before the event. The Scottish First Minister changed his mind and went after all. It was clear what form the commemoration would take in advance. Despite all of that Rhodri Morgan stubbornly stuck to his guns and refused to alter his diary. In these circumstances his apologies ring hollow.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Clear red water

Rhodri Morgan has made much of the distinctive agenda that he is allegedly carving out for the Wales Labour Party. Famously, he declared that there was "clear red water" between Wales and New Labour. However, as Jenny Randerson pointed out yesterday, that red water has turned into a flood. At least that is what I think she was saying:

Jenny Randerson: We sympathise with the workers of St. Athan, but they do not want tea and sympathy; they want jobs. This is an interesting statement because it is a clear example of the red water that exists between the Assembly Government and the Westminster Government - this tide of water has now engulfed the workforce of St. Athan.

Thank goodness it is not yellow water!

Tuesday, September 21, 2004


After three and a half hours on the road I arrived back in the Welsh Assembly to a huge pile of correspondence, 160 e-mails and a mass of preparation work for today's Plenary. The big debate was on Clywch, although the Welsh Liberal Democrats also had a significant amendment down to regulations to determine the formula by which schools are funded. We want to introduce a three year funding scheme with the objective of introducing stability for schools so that they can plan ahead better. However, despite us putting up a detailed argument, the Tories abstained on the grounds that they didn't understand the amendment, whilst Labour moaned about us not having brought the matter up 18 months ago and voted against without putting up a single substantive reason for doing so. The other issue was this and I did a number of interviews on the subject of school transport and the Education and Lifelong Learning Committee's review of the subject. A sad incident but a subject on which we can hopefully make a difference as an Assembly.

Monday, September 20, 2004


I notice from Labour Watch that roadworks on the routes into Brighton are to be cleared so as to facilitate the arrival of Labour delegates into the town for their Conference. I noticed also on Saturday that delegates to this conference in Bournemouth did not enjoy the same privilege. I am driving back to Cardiff first thing tomorrow morning to attend the new Assembly session. I am still hopeful that my journey will be facilitated by a munificent local council.


Each day of Federal Conference traditionally starts with a press conference as the party seeks to promote the current messages in the hope of influencing the media. The Welsh party joins in this feeding exercise as a matter of course so as to ensure that journalists who have travelled here from Wales have something to write about. So it was that I sat in on the first of these events to see what was what.

I did not suspect that our spin doctors had put on a special photo opportunity to reinforce their message and that as the BBC wanted to interview me at the same time I had to tag along. The event took on place on a windswept beach below the conference centre. Two of our employees had built sand castles near one of the groynes. The objective was to identify each one with a Labour constituency, a citadel, and then watch as the Liberal Democrat tide came in and washed them away. Yes, I know, it sounds naff but actually it worked quite well for the cameras.

The problem was that rather than offer shelter from the wind the groyne was faciltating a sandstorm around the whole area. When we got there the two employees looked like they had been rolling in the sand, they were covered in the stuff. As the prospective parliamentary candidates rolled up their trousers and worked on the sand castles for the cameras, standing ankle deep in the sea, non-essential personnel such as myself retreated from the constant stream of sand and grit to take shelter on the promenade. I am still cleaning the stuff off 12 hours later.

The unacceptable in pursuit of the uneatable

As I was waking up this morning I caught half a report on the television that Prince Charles has said that he will carry on hunting in defiance of a ban. If this report is correct and if the Prince of Wales makes good on his threat then he should be the first to be prosecuted. The Government cannot allow an anachronism to undermine the democratically elected House of Commons in this way. Perhaps then the Hooray Henrys, who stormed the chamber in Westminster, will realise that the process of Government is not some public school game.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

That Lembit controversy

I am in the process of transferring the contents of this blog onto a proper moveable type site. In the course of this gruelling, but necessary task I have noticed that I write a lot of things about Lembit Opik. This could be because Lembit is, in fact, one of the few interesting features of a rather dull Welsh political scene. His words and his actions are very bloggable. Anyway my views on his indiscretion over predicting a violent reaction to a fox-hunting ban seem to have had an impact in the wider party. I have had people congratulate me (including other MPs), I have been told that I should resolve these dispute in private (I will when Lembit keeps these sorts of views private!) and I have had spin doctors sigh resignedly at me as if I am a lost cause (I am!).

I have also had a loud and very public stand-up row with Lembit today, the consequence of which is that he has told me that he intends to clarify his views in a statement. Apparently, he has spent some time discussing my blog entry on a number of media outlets. Nice to know that these blogs can make a difference.

Orange Book

The Orange Book is, of course, the one that is causing all the controversy. It is the book in which some of our MPs have floated ideas already rejected by the Party in an attempt to stimulate debate. The "young turks" as Menzies Campbell described them, dominate this book although there are some mainstream contributions as well. Menzies Campbell also made the pointed remark that these MPs need to learn that policy is made at Conference not through publishing books. Anyway I bought myself a copy to see what all the fuss was about. Sales were in fact brisk, presumably for the same reason. Nothing like a controversy to sell a book. I also bought a book by Party stalwart Donnachadh McCarthy called "Saving the Planet without costing the Earth". This is one book I can heartily recommend especially if you wish to live what you preach in terms of green living.

In the summertime

I suppose that the most controversial proposal on today's agenda is the suggestion that we introduce double British Summertime, moving the clocks forward by two hours rather than one so as to allow better use of sunlight hours and thus boosting tourism revenues by an estimated £1 billion per annum. I am not quite sure how that figure was arrived at as even with two hours of extra sunlight the average tourist can only stay awake so long and most people have a finite amount of money to spend on holiday anyway. Further to that it seems to me that income gained from daylight activities will be balanced out by expenditure lost in nightclubs etc. The whole exercise is more likely to be revenue-neutral.

British summertime was introduced to help farmers, not tourists. It can cause major inconvenience to a lot of people, especially if, like me, you forget to change your clocks. I do not believe that doubling it will go down that well with the populace nor that it will have any tangible benefits. I will therefore be voting to reject this particular measure. But hey, at least we are throwing up ideas for debate!


Sunday morning at a Federal Conference is always strange. People are still arriving, stands in the exhibition area are still being set up whilst last minute tests are carried out in the main hall prior to the start of business at 2.15pm. The media will of course be looking for headlines in Monday's papers so the Conference Committee has arranged an exciting, action packed three hours, 45 minutes discussing party business, sport, tourism and personal debt. This means that journalists will be forced to cast around amongst the fringe meetings, bars and stands for the sort of controversy that they need. Either that or they will make it up as usual. Who says that the Liberal Democrats stage manage their Conference? If we did then we would certainly have found something to occupy the hacks other than gossip.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The thugs make a bid to run the asylum

The fact that Alun Michael has had to cancel an engagement because of the threat of violence from elements in the Countryside Alliance is appalling. It seems that this grouping is determined to make the countryside a no-go area for Ministers even though support for a hunting ban is as strong there as it is in the Cities.

There is a world of difference between peaceful protest and the sort of threatening behaviour now being demonstrated. This bunch of thugs want to undemine our Parliamentary democracy. I am still waiting for those MPs who issued press releases warning of such behaviour, and by implication encouraging it, to put out statements condemning this latest development and calling for calm. I will not hold my breath.

Big Blunkett

Is there no end to worthy blogs that I need to read on a regular basis? Yes, I suppose I could just go and get a life. However, before you follow that advice check out Big Blunkett, found courtesy of Jonathan Calder.

Friday, September 17, 2004

A conundrum within a conundrum

The Assembly's Presiding Officer and Plaid Cymru AM, Dafydd Elis-Thomas, says his nationalist party has betrayed its core supporters by following a nationalist agenda. Confused? So am I.

Thursday, September 16, 2004


This is one of those Private Eye "are they related?" features in which I show you two images and you decide if there is any connection between them. We will start off with this one. Now look at this and let me know what you think. Scary eh?

Time to condemn the violence

Somebody from the BBC is obviously reading this blog judging by this story on their website. Lembit Opik seems puzzled by my comments even though his prediction has already come true. He says that I should have contacted him if I had a problem with what he said. The fact is that I did e-mail him and waited some time for a reply before posting the 9 September entry that forms the basis of the BBC's piece. I am still waiting.

Lembit is quoted as saying "I'm not quite sure what he's asking me to withdraw." Well he could start by publicly condemning this sort of violence.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Behind the scenes at the DNC

Margaret Mason publishes a fascinating article from the point of view of a 'visibility whip', about how the Democrat National Convention is stage managed.

The fox is shot

Well so much for improved security at the House of Commons. The quote of the week has to be from an irate fox hunter on Radio Wales shortly after the storming of the chamber. Screaming down the microphone he stated that he thought we lived in a democracy. "What right," he wanted to know, "do the House of Commons have to overrule the Lords?" Back to school there then!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


For once the Western Mail has got the tone exactly right. That the Children's Society is seeking to raise money in Wales just two and a half years after pulling out of all its projects here, and leaving staff and children in the lurch, is a damned cheek. I recall the way that the Welsh Assembly Government and Assembly Members had to work to find replacement funding and put adequate long term arrangements in place to guarantee the independent future of these projects. If you want to support Welsh children then visit this site. The Church of England Children's Society showed what it thought of Wales in 2002, it should now confine its attentions and its fundraising efforts to England and stop trying to undermine our alternative.

Monday, September 13, 2004


As the storming of Buckingham Palace by a man dressed as Batman is beyond parody I thought that you might like to try this instead. John Kerry fights back. In the meantime can somebody have a word with Batgirl about all the alimony she is pursuing? (Thanks to Nick Barlow or the link)

Evil war

It may be that it is early in the morning but I am still trying to get my head around this comment by Plaid Cymru MP, Adam Price:

"This Government more than any other has given war a bad name. It should have a bad name and be used only as a last resort."

I think I know what he is trying to say but I am not sure if he does.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Desparate Labour grasp at straws

Back, tired but happy, after a near-800 mile round trip to Hartlepool. The only other time I have been to this very pleasant town was in 1984 when I travelled up by train via London in the middle of my Council election campaign, shortly before I was elected to Swansea City Council for the first time.

It was a sad occasion, A very good friend of mine, a former President of Lampeter University College Students Union and an active Young Liberal, had just died in his twenties from cancer. My journey was to attend his funeral. I remember afterwards I went to the town centre shop that had just been opened by the Liberal Party as part of the campaign that led to them winning their first seats on Hartlepool Council. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, including a brief period when the Liberal Democrats ran Hartlepool in coalition with others.

One thing that has changed of course is the way that political parties campaign. It has also become more difficult for politicians to speak their mind, simply because whatever is said is often taken out of context and used against them. The result is that we are all required to stick to the party line and follow the spin doctors. Well that is what the spin doctors think anyway.

The political blog is an effective antidote to that but even then it seems that those intent on negative campaigning will seize on any opportunity to pick passages out of context and use them to launch personal attacks. Whatever happened to debates on policy? No wonder people are disillusioned with politics.

This passage from the blog of Hartlepool Liberal Democrats Candidate, Jody Dunn, is a perfect illustration of this phenomenon. The blog is meant to give a daily and very personal view of what it is to be a candidate in a major by-election. Jody religiously records the low spots as well as the high points and of course there are times when campaigning in the pouring rain and nobody wants to speak to you is downright miserable and there are other times when the sun is shining and you are being greeted as a long lost friend. Thus canvassing one street in Hartlepool Jody records:

And it didn't just rain last night either. It poured. In fact the evening became one of the more farcical moments of the campaign.

We'd picked what appeared at first to be a fairly standard row of houses. As time went on however, we began to realise that everyone we met was either drunk, flanked by an angry dog or undressed; and in some cases two or more of the above. Simon (Hughes) gave me his coat in an attempt to keep off the rain, but I still ended up looking more like Worzel Gummidge than a serious by-election candidate.

The latest Labour leaflet has seized on this passage with glee and in a perfect representation of mock outrage has termed this as a major insult to the whole town. This nasty A3 sized piece of vitriol fails to tell anybody what the Labour candidate's policies are, neglects to comment on the major issues of the day and has nothing to say of any note whatsoever. It is negative campaigning at its worse, based on half-truths and smears. Labour really must be desperate to be clutching at such straws so early on.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

And so to Hartlepool..

A very generous offer and some nice words about this blog from the author of morfablog. He has even gone to the trouble of writing the piece in English so I can read it. The gesture is appreciated.

I will not be blogging for the next few days (though I might get something in on Friday morning) as I am going to Hartlepool straight after my surgeries tomorrow. I promise however, that I will respond to the offer of help in making this blog more accessible when I get back. In the meantime, a reminder, if you e-mail me comments I will try and post them.

Labour talk to their own navel

The rather sad pre-occupation of this weekend's Welsh Labour Conference on the way that opposition AMs are elected shows just how bankrupt Labour's ambitions for Wales have become. Instead of addressing the needs of the people of Wales and the issue of how to get an Assembly with meaningful powers that is representative of the way that people voted, they have become obsessed with how to keep their own seats and how to preserve their own power. Even their metaphors are tired.

Intimations of a violent future

The reported comments of Lembit Opik in today's Western Mail are a disgrace and he should withdraw them. Although Lembit condemns violence and illegal acts his warning that civil unrest and even targeted violence will follow a ban on hunting with hounds effectively amounts to an explicit threat on behalf of the fox-killers. It is not a position that any responsible politician should take.

I personally do not believe that 'young men would resort to violence if "the only way of life they know" is criminalised while others would risk imprisonment or heavy fines to defy the ban', but in saying that he believes that such a thing could happen, Lembit has got off the fence and effectively issued a call to arms. He is not speaking on behalf of the Welsh Liberal Democrats or me on this issue.

All-out strike in Swansea?

It appears that Unison have taken a leaf out of Custer's book and are holding their last stand against privatisation, PFI etc in Swansea, even though the Council has no intention of committing itself to doing any of these things. Do you think it is a coincidence that all of this has happened after Labour lost control and a Welsh Liberal Democrat-led Administration took over?

Counsel General

The row over the non-appointment of a new Counsel General for the Welsh Assembly has blown up again with the Presiding Officer making clear his view that he will not co-operate with anyone appointed to be the body's top legal adviser. This goes to the heart of the disastrous mess that is the Government of Wales Act, in which the then Secretary of State for Wales, Ron Davies, created a hybrid body and then forced corporate status onto it. Most of the last four years have been spent trying to unpick this arrangement so as to get a workable Government and Opposition.

The other issue is Labour paternalism and the unconscious echoing of Charles I in their belief that they have a divine right to rule Wales and thus fill important positions with their own placemen and women. First, the Counsel General, then the Welsh Language Board, what is next?

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Missed catches

NASA demonstrates that science has still not worked out how to catch a sunbeam.

More abuses of the English language

It seems that the proposal to close Mayals School in Swansea and open a Welsh medium school on the site instead has moved on from "ethnic cleansing" to become "social terrorism". As I said yesterday, regardless of the case for or against this proposal, please get some perspective and stop devaluing the English language in this way. If this is "terrorism" then how do we then describe the act that led to the outrage and tragedy in Beslan or that in New York three years ago?

Tuesday, September 07, 2004


A proposal by the City and County of Swansea to close down Mayals Primary School and replace it with a Welsh Medium Primary School makes the front page of the Western Mail.

The school is situated geographically close to two other Primary Schools and there are 450 surplus places amongst the three of them. The council believe that a rationalisation of that position is needed. In addition a temporary Welsh Medium Primary School is rapidly outgrowing its temporary accomodation and needs to be found a permanent location. There is a great deal of opposition. One parent describes the situation as "ethnic cleansing".

Next to the article on the front page is a story about a disabled Iraqi man who was murdered in a racially-motivated attack in Swansea's Kingsway. The news headlines for the last few days have been dominated by terrible slaughter in Beslan in southern Russia.

Ethnic cleansing and racism is a real issue in many parts of the World. It brings misery, suffering and death to thousands of people. I just think therefore that no matter how legitimate the cause, that when people comment on issues they should get a sense of perspective and use appropriate language.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Glamorgan make the record books!

I thought I would sign off for the day on a high note. Pure poetry! Next stop Division One.

Pensioned off

Pensions Secretary, Andrew Smith, has fallen on his sword before it was inserted between his shoulder blades. Labour Watch see a link between his departure and planned cuts in disability benefits. It suggests that the revived interest in banning fox hunting is to buy off Labour backbenchers who might rebel against such cuts.

Of course Mr. Smith hardly lit up the political firmament in his former role and many pension issues remain unresolved, not least how to guarantee pensioners a decent income in retirement. As Liberal Democrat MP, Steve Webb says, "Andrew Smith's period in office will be remembered as one when the crises in company pensions grew unchecked, where mass means-testing was the order of the day and the pensions system became more complicated than ever."

Oxford MP, Dr. Evan Harris has a simpler take however. "This may be the first time the Liberal Democrat threat has caused a cabinet reshuffle! Andrew Smith is right to be worried about losing his Oxford East constituency, where the Liberal Democrats are in a decent second place, and at the last local and European elections topped the poll for the first time across Oxford city - the bulk of which makes up Andrew Smith's constituency."

Do you think that Mr. Smith writes poetry?

A former Young Liberal speaks

Former Young Liberal and current Labour Secretary of State of State for Wales, Peter Hain, has warned that Labour supporters need a "serious wake up call" and must put Lib Dem policies under closer scrutiny. As long as it is our policies and not our poetry then that is OK.

Matthew Taylor MP, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Chairman, responded by saying: "Peter Hain has given the game away - Labour are running scared of the Liberal Democrats, not least in Hartlepool.

"It is Blair who has lost the trust of traditional Labour voters by moving to the right, by offering false choices in health and education, and by taking Britain to war in Iraq.

"In Labour's home territory, as well as the Tory heartlands, the Liberal Democrats are the party making gains, and the other two parties know it."

It is not exactly E.J. Thribb but it will do.

Never mind the quality...

The level of political debate in this country continues to deteriorate. It now appears that the fact that someone has written and published poetry in the past makes them a target. I speak from personal experience here of course. Perhaps we can get back to debating the issues now.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Tories exposed

Meanwhile in Cornwall the so-called 'inclusive Conservative Party' has been exposed for the bunch of bigots it really is.

Devolution deficit

The Observer gets it wrong again. Or is it the Government that has spun itself into a devolution-free muddle? Either way the report that Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, will announce a plan to make every primary school in the Country open between 8am and 6pm to help working parents and boost health is missing a vital ingredient. This is that the announcement will only apply to England. It is up to the Welsh and Scottish Education Ministers to decide whether this applies to their Country and in what form. Pay attention at the back of the class.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Meanwhile back in the U.S. of A

In a sort of Michael-Dukakis-moment, John Kerry has hit back at the smears and innuendo and not a moment too soon. He is quoted as saying:

"For the past week, they have attacked my patriotism and even my fitness to serve as commander in chief. Well, here is my answer to them. I will not have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could've and who misled America into Iraq.

"The vice president called me unfit for office last night. Well, I'm going to leave it up to the voters to decide whether five deferments make someone more qualified than two tours of duty.

"Let me tell you in no uncertain terms what makes someone unfit for office and unfit for duty. Misleading our nation into war in Iraq makes you unfit to lead our country. Doing nothing while this nation loses millions of jobs makes you unfit to lead this country. Letting 45 million Americans go without health care for four years makes you unfit to lead this country.

"Letting the Saudi royal family control the price of oil for Americans makes you unfit to lead this country. Handing out billions of dollars in government contracts without a bid to Halliburton while you're still on the payroll makes you unfit to lead this country."

The problem is that the agenda is still that of the incumbent President. He is talking mostly about leadership when he should be primarily focussing on the economy and Bush's domestic policy failures. At least the fightback is not as late as that led by Michael Dukakis on the 'l-word'. Let us hope that Kerry can sustain this tone up to the election.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Utterly shocking

The scenes on TV of this tragedy in Russia are truly shocking. It is difficult to believe that anybody could treat human life with so little regard. I am horrified.

Lonely Street

No this posting is not about the Tory candidate in Hartlepool, though now I come to think about it....

I was in Porthcawl last night for a public meeting about the proposed off-shore wind farm at Scarweather Sands. After the meeting I was told about the three day Porthcawl Elvis Festival on 1st to 3rd October. The website is here, make sure you have your speakers switched on. Apparently, the Festival is to consist of performances by Elvie Nominees in many local pubs, Elvis memorabilia exhibition, a 24 Hour Elvis ‘Film-Fest’, the European Premiere of new Elvis movie, the Ultimate Elvis Trivia Quiz, an Elvis ‘Chapel of Love’ mass wedding blessings, Elvis weddings, an Open Elvis karaoke, photo and autograph opportunities with Elvis celebrities and a grand seaside promenade of Elvis tribute acts.

My favourite page though is the one detailing the latest news. This includes 'The Porthcawl Mayor and Mayoress announce that they will be renewing their marriage vows during the Festival in a recreation of the famous wedding scene from Blue Hawaii', that 'Linda Gail Lewis (Jerry Lee's sister) is going to close the Festival on the Sunday afternoon', and that 'the Brentwood Hotel announces that it will be changing its name to 'Heartbreak Hotel' The Town respond by changing the name of the road it's on to Lonely Street.'

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Where's the beef?

Brian Walters, writing in yesterday's South Wales Evening Post, draws my attention to an intriquing comment by the Tory AM for Mid and West Wales, Glyn Davies. I cannot find a link to the piece so I have copied it out below:

'I must confess, McDonalds never struck me as a symbol of nutritious food. But Tory AM Glyn Davies has been won over by its commitment to healthy eating. The keep-fit addict said: "McDonalds restaurants use 100 per cent British beef, are cutting back hugely on salt levels, are promoting salads in all of its restaurants, and are plastering its packaging with nutritional information." How perceptions can change!'

It seems that Glyn's experience of McDonalds is based on quality time spent with some of their top people. The latest register of members' interests reveals two entries under his name of hospitality he has received from the fast food chain. The first reveals that he enjoyed 'overnight accommodation in Marriott Hotel Cardiff for myself and wife. Hospitality and match tickets for Manchester Utd v Arsenal Community Shield Final football match for self and 3 guests provided by McDonald's Restaurants Ltd.' Whilst the second states that he followed this up with 'overnight accommodation in the Hilton Hotel Cardiff on 7 August 2004 for myself and wife. Hospitality and match tickets for Manchester Utd v Arsenal Community Shield Final football match for self and wife on 8 August 2004 provided by MacDonalds Restaurants Ltd.'

Glyn is not the only Assembly Member to have benefitted in this way. Entries in the register reveal that Leighton Andrews (Labour), Alun Cairns (Tory), Brian Gibbons (Labour), John Griffiths (Labour), Alun Pugh (Labour) and Rhodri Glyn Thomas (Plaid Cymru) have all enjoyed McDonalds' largesse. By far the most graphic entry comes from Rhondda AM, Leighton Andrews:

'Dinner for my wife and myself, lunch and ticket for myself for the 2004 Community Shield, plus 2 football kits and 4 mini footballs - all courtesy of MacDonalds.'

Labour caught out

I am grateful to Labour Watch for drawing my attention to this article in Private Eye the day before the postman delivered my copy to my door. I have reproduced it in full especially for my fellow bloggers Tom Watson MP and David Taylor, as a timely lesson in how fighting dirty can come back and bite you. There is also a Welsh connection of course in the person of Wales' first First Minister.

'Labour mercilessly (and successfully) mocked the Lib Dem candidate in the recent Birmingham Hodge Hill by election, calling her Nicola 'Nokia' Davies because of her day job working with the Mobile Phone Operators Association on planning regulations for mobile masts. But at its own conference environment minister Alun Michael is scheduled to speak about planning regulations and 'community consultation' on a platform paid for by..... the Mobile Phone Operators Association. The minister is sharing the platform with Mike Dolan, the association's executive director - and Nicola Davies' boss.'

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

El Presidente

Simon Hughes the MP for North Southwark and Bermondsey has won the election for President of the Liberal Democrats. It is the first time in my 24 year membership of the Party that I have been on the winning side in an internal election. As if to mark that occasion my spy at the count informed me that one particular spoilt ballot was great interest. Apparently, somebody had scribbled out the names of both Simon Hughes and Lembit Opik and written my name instead. They then scrawled a cross next to it. So not only am I on the winning side but it seems that I gained a vote even though I wasn't a candidate. I was quick to point out that the ballot paper was not mine but there is still that nagging doubt. Why only one write-in vote?

Day of reckoning

Today is the day of reckoning for the Council Tax in Wales. The Welsh Assembly Government has embarked on a massive re-banding exercise and combined it with a revaluation. From today people will learn how it affects them. A large number of Council taxpayers, especially on the M4 corridor, are going to be worse off. Any tax based on property values is going to hit people on fixed incomes badly. Pensioners in particular will find their pensions eaten up by bigger bills. This tinkering with a fundamentally unfair tax is in nobody's interest. There must be a change so that people pay according to their means.

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