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Sunday, October 31, 2004

Over and out in America

As state polls track an inexorable path to re-election for George Bush I have become resigned to more bad news every time I log onto this site. The latest prediction is that Bush will win with 280 electoral college votes to Kerry's 243.

Blogging from New York, James Wolcott seems to think that Kerry will enjoy a 10 per cent margin of victory on Tuesday. I wish I shared his optimism. The Observer today, certainly does not. They report that the broadcasting of a message from Osama bin Laden on al Jazeera has concentrated people's minds on security issues once more and that this has had the effect of boosting support for the incumbent. 'A Newsweek tracker poll published yesterday suggested the momentum may be moving in the incumbent's way. The poll predicted Bush to win by 50 per cent to Kerry's 44, compared with a 48-46 gap last week.'

This is all very disturbing. We can only hope that as people digest the significance of the tape they realise that the fact that bin Laden is still loose is due, in part, to the failure of the President to put enough troops into Afghanistan to track him down and that they will vote accordingly.

Nationalism and the Welsh language

Wales on Sunday this morning, reports that Welsh language extremists have launched their first direct action campaign for a decade. Cymdeithas yr Iaith members, they say, are prepared to break the law by targeting big names on the High Street until private companies are required by law to be bilingual. However, the Minister has said that he will not give in to such tactics, whilst other politicians have warned that these activists will put firms off from investing in Wales.

One of the biggest reasons for the decline of the Welsh language in its heartlands is economic. A low wage economy, a poor record of inward investment, and a shortage of jobs has led to people moving out from these areas in search of work. Those who are left find themselves priced out of the housing market as others move in. Important as bilingualism is therefore, surely the number one priority in protecting the Welsh language must be economic regeneration. That means working with firms not frightening them through direct action.

At the other end of the scale the Wales on Sunday also reports shocking violence and disrespect for the Welsh flag at football games last week. English football thugs allegedly burned the Welsh flag, hurled racist abuse at police and sexually harassed a heavily pregnant woman as they ran riot in Wrexham. This sort of behaviour is unacceptable and needs to be stamped out. Some would argue that it has nothing to do with nationalism and they would be right. However, an increasing awareness of national identity created by various movements and protests can add fuel to the tribalism that runs through much football rivalry. All it takes is for a group of thugs to latch onto this and abuse it. It is an excuse, not a reason, but it is no less disturbing for that.

Saturday, October 30, 2004


I have been in Bristol today for the Liberal Democrat Youth and Student Conference. I wish I could say that I was young enough to attend in my own right but I was a guest speaker, which I suppose is as establishment as you can get.

As it was a nice day and as I seem to have been working solidly throughout the half-term recess I took the rest of the day off to look around the very picturesque suburb of Clifton. This area boasts some very classy houses, lots of interesting scenery and some intriguing restaurants.

Although I was tempted by the restaurant specialising in reindeer sausages I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and moved onto an Algerian establishment instead. No doubt the good people of Usk would have been upset at the thought of the main feature of their annual winter parade being served up in this way. They may well have dispensed with using the animals due to a cost-cutting measure but I am sure they would have wanted them to remain safe nevertheless.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Another Health Service mess

The Labour AM for Bridgend and Assembly Environment Minister, Carwyn Jones, is absolutely right to criticise the GP out-of-hours provider, Primecare, for the way that they treated him and his family.

Mr Jones contacted the service after his two year old son was taken ill on Sunday. He was told that the local out-of-hours clinic was closed until 1700 hours, and he would have to wait for a doctor to telephone him with advice. He was not given any indication when the doctor would call back, and so decided to take his son to the local accident and emergency department.

"We could not get any sense out of Primecare and we were forced to take him to A&E," he said.

"No doctor could be provided, and Primecare couldn't even give me a time when they could ring back with advice.

"It is just not acceptable to be told there are no GPs available at all. That's not an out-of-hours service," he added.

Mr. Jones asserts in his statement that this is purely a local matter. The Health Minister also states that this is a matter for the local health board to resolve. However, these statements are attempts to shift the blame. Dr David Bailey, the deputy chairman of the British Medical Association's GP committee for Wales, sums it up when he says that the Assembly Government has not funded the health board sufficiently to provide a safe service.

By all means complain but please do not expect us to believe that this has nothing to do with the Labour Assembly Government. The local Health Board is appointed by the Government and funded by them. They are responsible directly to the Health Minister and the resource issues around the out-of-hours service that led to this incident and others arose because of decisions that the Assembly Government has taken.

If collective responsibility means anything then Carwyn Jones is as culpable as Jane Hutt for this mess. He should remember that others, who have also been badly treated, may not be as articulate nor have the same access to the media, the Health Board and the Health Minister as he does. Perhaps, instead of complaining to the Health Board, he should be exerting pressure within Government to sort the problem out.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

John Locke

Today is the 300th anniversary of the death of John Locke. These are extracts from an article by Martin Kettle for The Guardian about this great philosopher:

Locke certainly has his faults, and his critics, and it is important not to romanticise him. There is confusion, self-contradiction and much that is unresolved in his thinking. He was a man of the 17th century, and his advocacy of tolerance did not extend to Catholics or to atheists. His civil society of free, equal and rational men essentially excluded women and the labouring poor. Yet you do not have to be an enthusiast for Locke to recognise the sheer scale of his contribution to British life or his central position at the fountainhead of so much that came later.

Indeed, it is hard to think of anything important about societies in general, and our own in particular, on which Locke did not have something pertinent and lasting to say. He is the essential philosopher of consensual constitutional government, the key expounder of the notions of the social contract, the sovereignty of the people, majority rule, minority rights and the separation of powers. He is our leading defender of individual civil liberty, the greatest advocate in our history of religious and civic tolerance, and the first proponent of progressive educational methods, as well as the principal godfather of all those attitudes of common sense, reasonableness, kindness and politeness that later eras have so often thought of as essentially British.

He concludes:

...it is time to return to Locke and the tradition at whose head he still stands. Liberalism without social justice is not a political programme in the democratic age. But nor, we should have learned from the 20th-century experience, is social justice without liberalism. The things that Locke thought were important - government by consent, the parliamentary system, civil liberty, freedom of thought and religion, the rights of minorities, an education that is more than functional, the rule of law - have never seemed more modern than they do today. Disregard for these principles has marked every instance of the failed socialist experiment. And it is also perhaps the most lasting - and least excusable - of all New Labour's failings too. To the politics of the future, as of so much else, Locke still holds the key.

Anti-social behaviour

At the same time as the Government nominates the three Welsh cities as "action areas" in the latest crackdown on anti-social behaviour a second Chief Constable warns against an over-reliance on Anti-Social Behaviour Orders.

In pursuing this agenda the Government is determined to act and look tough in the hope of harvesting popularist votes at the next General Election. Anybody who questions their stance is branded as 'soft on yobs' and castigated in leaflets and the press. However, there must come a time when this gungho approach is actually evaluated to see if it is working and when the views of those who form the front line in the battle against lawlessness, the police, are listened to.

The verdict of residents in Wildmill, Bridgend, where an 'action area' has been in force for a year now, is particularly telling. This is from the BBC article:

The Wildmill estate in Bridgend is one area which has been running the scheme for a year. Many of the windows in homes there are boarded-up and there is glass on the streets where windows or telephone boxes have been smashed.

Local shop worker Ali has been there for eight months and thinks things have got worse, not better.

"From time to time we get some trouble, people stealing from the shop and problems outside.

"People drink and they leave rubbish on the floor. There is no respect to the customer, no respect to the business," he said.

Across the road, a local chip shop owner agreed there were big problems on the estate.

"It really annoys me. The damage I have seen is the phone boxes, the windows being smashed.

"Kids are going to come and play. They are going to fall down get injured."

The article continues:

A local resident, who did not want to be named, added: "I don't think there is anything being done about the anti-social behaviour.

"The kids totally destroyed all my flat. They graffitied it. There hasn't been a difference, no difference at all."

Another said: "You can see it's a mess. There is glass everywhere.

"Kids from as young as four years to 16 or 17 are lighting fires.

"The Asbos are not working.

"David Blunkett may be saying in interviews that these Asbos are working and everything's going well, but I haven't seen any evidence of that whatsoever."

The Chief Constable of South Wales in her evidence to the Welsh affairs Select Committee yesterday said ASBOs should only be viewed as a weapon of last resort and she detailed South Wales' model five-stage approach to tackling bad behaviour. Previously, the Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys had asserted that excessive use of ASBOs risked unfairly targeting youngsters for acting like children. Both Chief Constables agreed that there is a real danger of "demonising" the young in the anti-social behaviour crackdown.

I think that there is a real danger in this debate that dogmatism and rhetoric will triumph over what actually works. There is another angle here as well. If you talk to a police officer involved in this issue they will acknowledge that anti-social behaviour is a major part of their workload. However, they will also tell you that often they seek to move kids on but that all they are doing is transferring the problem elsewhere. Kids have nowhere to go at night and at weekends.

If the Government were combining their drive against anti-social behaviour with a massive investment in community facilities that would take youngsters off the streets then I would have a great deal more respect for their policy. However, this is not happening. Over-reliance on the big stick will not work alone.

There are many examples of how positive action can help a community that is suffering from anti-social behaviour not least the KPC Youth Centre in Pyle, Bridgend. Why then are the Government not taking this best practise and rolling it out across the Country? Let us have some real investment in our communities to complement the anti-social behaviour initiatives already in force.

Fox hunters turn violent

One is always tempted in these situations to start off with the assertion that the Government Minister concerned has been left with egg on his face again. However, the spectacle of fox hunters throwing eggs at Peter Hain and punching his aide is not funny nor should it be taken lightly. These people appear to have given up on the democratic process and decided that violence is the only way to advance their cause. That decision will lose them what public support and sympathy they had left. It seems that a sport that demands cruelty and barbarism from its participants is also capable of producing thugs incapable of acting in a civilised way in advancing their cause.

Dorian Gray?

I know that I should be flattered but why does the South Wales Evening Post insist on using a photograph of me that is nine years old and which no longer looks like me? They did it again yesterday to illustrate a story on homelessness. I did not see it myself as it was in the early edition but when I arrived at the launch of the Dylan Thomas Prize for literature last night people were lining up to tell me about it.

I have given up trying to get any newspaper to use only up-to-date photographs of me. There is one in particular of me in mid-sentence during a speech in 1999 that sits in the Evening Post's archive. It makes me look like a pregnant fish gasping for air. At one stage I thought I had persuaded a journalist to delete it from the paper's computer records only to see it re-emerge a year later twice as big and twice as ugly.

I suppose the youthful look is an improvement. However, if I tried to use it on an election leaflet I would be accused of seeking to bamboozle the electorate into thinking I am younger than I am. You just cannot win!

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

A gamble too far for Hain

The Secretary of State for Wales and Leader of the House of Commons, Peter Hain, says that "Casinos coming to Wales would provide an opportunity for families to go out and eat, have some entertainment and still be able to indulge in some leisure gambling in an adult fashion."

I have been puzzling over this statement for most of the day. Certainly, people phoning into Radio Wales this lunchtime thought he had lost his bearings. Most seemed to think that a licensed casino was not the sort of place one would want to take the kids.

Perhaps somebody could enlighten me as to what exactly Mr. Hain has in mind.

Down and out in Swansea and Cardiff

No, the homeless crisis does not just affect the cities of Swansea and Cardiff, but judging by the attitude of some local Councils you would think that it did. The heading was in fact a feeble attempt at a literary allusion, especially for fans of George Orwell. The situation however is a great deal more serious than that.

As expected and as the Western mail reports today, "There has been a 50% increase in the number of households accepted as homeless in Wales in the last year. Almost half of these are families with children who have fallen victim to the surge in house prices across Wales. Many are now living in cramped one-room accommodation in unsuitable bed and breakfasts as local authorities struggle to find suitable homes for the 9,147 households who have found themselves unintentionally homeless." They blame the housing boom for the problem: "High mortgage and rent payments fuelled by the housing boom in Wales has forced thousands of families out of their homes and on to the streets."

I have produced a number of press releases in the last week or two on this subject, calling in particular for Councils to cease using bed and breakfast accommodation, especially when there are children involved. When I was Deputy Minister for Local Government and Housing I chaired a Homelessness Commission that made a number of key recommendations. Amongst those was that the Assembly Government should draw up a National Homelessness Strategy. This they have done and of course, the amount of money available for homelessness projects has increased eightfold since 1999. We also widened the categories of people entitled to priority rehousing so as to prevent groups falling through the safety net.

We were very clear in commenting on the problem of homelessness that local solutions need to be found to deal with local problems and that the role of the Welsh Assembly Government is to facilitate that process. That is why we were pleased that the UK Government brought in a legal requirement for all Councils to have a local homeless strategy. However, this duty does not seem to have made much difference.

Many of the Welsh local strategies fail to address the issues or grasp the nettle as to the real practical things that need to be done. There does not appear to be any external pressure on the Welsh Assembly Government to provide additional capital and revenue funding for temporary facilities such as those that might avert the use of bed and breakfast. Meanwhile the amount of capital monies available to build new social housing is not increasing sufficiently and continues to be underspent each year. The Assembly Government itself has failed to grasp the enormity of the crisis it now faces and in doing so, has not been firm enough in telling local Councils to get their act together nor has it taken a sufficently strong lead in trying to find solutions.

I have won the draw for the short debate on Wednesday 3 November. This is a half hour debate without a vote in which the proposer speaks for 15 minutes. A Government Minister then responds for another 15 minutes. I have chosen homelessness as my theme. We will see what comes out of that discussion.

Another sad death

John Peel is dead. I did not meet him nor did I listen to him much on the radio. However, I feel instinctively that the world will be a worse place without him.

Blogging from prison

This is an interesting angle on the elections taking place in the United States next week. It is the story of America's 'toughest sheriff'. Sheriff Joe Arpaio forces inmates to wear pink underpants, puts women on chain gangs and brags that it costs more to feed the guard dogs than the prisoners he oversees. Naturally, it looks like he will be re-elected. Check out Jon's Jail Journal here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Strike averted in Swansea

The news that a planned series of one days strikes by Swansea Council workers has been called off is very welcome. Unison members had voted for the action in an attempt to obtain assurances that the Council will never ever privatise any service and that it will not make anybody redundant. It was pointed out to officials that this was an unreasonable request and that it was not one that any employer could give. However, a policy statement was offered to the union and it was accepted.

In his statement Swansea Unison organiser, Jeff Baker, was I thought, a little ungenerous. He said, "While we welcome this new statement from the council the process has been unnecessarily long. It has come after three years of failure to respond to Unison and other unions plus an eight week strike by IT staff. If the council had given us the assurances in writing we were asking for there would have been no need for any action or threats of action."

Given that the statement offered to the unions is long-standing Council policy, Mr. Baker's comments speak volumes for the state of industrial relations under the previous Labour administration. It has taken a new Liberal Democrat-led coalition to actually initiate a meaningful dialogue with the unions.

It is only a shame that Unison could not wait for this policy statement before initiating their strike ballot. It is regrettable too that they failed to make allowances for changes in policy and approach when conducting talks with us, treating the last three years as a continuum when it was anything but. It is because of this inflexible attitude that many have considered their readiness to take industrial action after the change in political control on 10th June, but not before it, as party political.

Golden Domes

Having written a piece about the 'mollusc' otherwise known as the Wales Millennium Centre I thought that it was only fair to allow my non-Cardiff based readers to see what their taxpayers money has been spent on. This is a bit of a snatched shot but hopefully it gives some idea of the large golden dome that is the centrepiece of the new centre. The Queen is opening it on the 28 November I understand.

Posted by Hello

Monday, October 25, 2004

Who would you vote for in the USA?

This site gets better and better. Click here to find a simple guide to voting in the US President elections.

Spinning the budget

This is not a sentence I envisage using too often but David Davies, the Tory AM for Monmouth, is absolutely right. The way that the Labour Assembly Government has sought to spin their budget is blatant and outrageous.

By flat-lining all forward budgets last year and then using these as the base budget for each of the next three years they have made increases look bigger than they are and have effectively double-counted and triple-counted the same money. Furthermore, whilst the increases in cash for subjects such as early-years learning are to be welcomed it should not be overlooked that some major budget lines (over half of them in fact) have no increase at all over the three year period, effectively delivering a real-term cut.

The Education Minister is currently accusing the AUT of misrepresenting her budget for Higher Education on the basis that she has an unallocated and unspecified sum in the reserves for use in 2007-8 to deal with the top-up fees issue. The point she is missing is that in the two intervening years HE institutions will be competing with their English counterparts for staff without the resources they need to do this. What is worse is that because the English HEIs have certainty about the income they will get from top-up fees they are able to speculate accordingly. The Welsh HEIs have none of that certainty and no extra cash to make up for it. Thus Welsh Higher Education loses out on both counts.


Sunday, October 24, 2004

A privatisation nightmare

I have never been comfortable with privatisation, least of all when it comes to running the country's prisons. I have visited the privately run Parc Prison in Bridgend and can accept that it is largely well-run. It has had its moments however and it is likely that it would be equally well-run within the public sector and that the problems that were associated with its first year or so of operation would not have come about if the State had been in charge.

Now we discover that the American prison company whose director set up Iraq's infamous Abu Ghraib jail for use by the US military is bidding to run a number of prisons in Britain. Surely there are limits, even for the present Home Secretary.

Gambling with regeneration?

Reports in today's Observer that senior Cabinet ministers have joined forces to derail plans to open up to 250 super-casinos across Britain may have huge implications for my region.

Although, I have reservations about these proposals I am aware that one of the super casinos is planned for Swansea as part of phase two of the Wind Street/Salubrious Place development. It is obviously too early to tell as yet, especially as the responsible Cabinet Minister is vigorously defending her position, but there is a real danger that killing off the bill could undermine the regeneration of this part of Swansea City Centre. We will all be watching to see what amendments are accepted as the legislation goes through Parliament.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Be prepared for Ralph Nader

For those who want a slightly off-beat view of Ralph Nader's bid for the Presidency try this.


A comment on this blog exhorts me to stop pretending that I am some sort of columnist. She goes on to assert that I am a politician, "even if only a second-rate one". Well I have always been aware of my own limitations but in this case I should say that this is my blog and I will write on it what I wish. If people want to assign labels to my views then that is their prerogative.

I will continue to comment about what interests me and what I believe may interest my readers, few as they are. There will always be a political slant to items on this blog but it is not intended to be a mouthpiece for my party or its policies. Indeed there are times when I will take a contrary view. If my views are not as fulsome or as clear as some people may wish then they may use the comments section to seek enlightenment. They may not get it but then that is my problem not theirs. What I will not stand for is abusive comments. If they overstep the mark then they will be removed.

In this vein I have two observations to make. The first is a follow-up to yesterday's October surprise piece. Further exploration of the U.S. electoral vote site I linked to then has unearthed a fascinating animated map that tracks the polls on a day by day basis from May 2004. Bush by the way is now ahead in the electoral college votes by 271 to 257, according to state opinion polls.

The second observation relates to Culturenet Cymru and the controversy about the 100 Welsh Heroes poll. Apart from the fact that this seems to have attracted a number of hits on this site from computers based in the National Library of Wales, there also seems to be a flurry of searches against key words like 'Culturenet Cymru', 'sacking', and 'David Jones' that have found this blog. Clearly, my interest in this matter and my persistence in trying to get at the truth has generated a lot of interest. I have no intention of giving up just yet.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Coals to Newcastle

Rhodri Morgan is reportedly spending today in the North East of England campaigning for a yes vote in their devolution referendum. The proposal they are voting on is for a 25-member assembly, with 15 elected from super constituencies on a first-past-the-post basis, and the remainder on a proportional representation regional list. The body would not control health or education.

The outcome is increasingly looking like a 'no' vote. This does not surprise me as the new regional assembly will be even more problematic than the Welsh Assembly. In addition to not controlling health and education it will not have the same powers on secondary legislation. Indeed it is difficult to see what it will be able to do or how it will be able to benefit the lives of those it will represent. Within months of a narrow 'yes' vote, if one were to come about, all the controversy about cost and the creation of 'overpaid professional politicians' that are thrown at the Welsh Assembly will be bandied about in spades. The only possible reason I can see for a 'yes' vote is that it might eventually get the powers and responsibilities it needs. I doubt if that will be enough.

Rather bizarrely Rhodri Morgan is arguing that any review of the Barnett formula, which determines how much money the Welsh Assembly has to spend, is dependent on the outcome of this vote. He is right of course, the pressure for reform will be much greater if there is regional government in England, as is proposed by the Liberal Democrats. The strange thing is that up until now the Labour Assembly Government has set its teeth firmly against arguing for such reform. Will we now see a u-turn from Rhodri Morgan and his Ministers on this issue?

October surprise

With the U.S. Presidential election poised on a knife edge (the latest state polls indicate a dead heat in the electoral college - 264 to 264 with the remaining votes too close to call) everybody is waiting for the October surprise, the event that will swing people behind the incumbent.

It is possible that Tony Blair and his New Labour Government provided that moment yesterday. Their decision to send 850 service personnel from the Black Watch to support the American forces has given succour to George Bush and enabled him to contest allegations from the Democrats that America is isolated over his policy on Iraq and that American troops are taking all the hits on behalf of the coalition. If Bush now starts to edge ahead of Kerry and ultimately wins next month then he will owe a great personal debt to Tony Blair. It is no wonder that Labour backbenchers are restless.

Thursday, October 21, 2004


It is often said that the Assembly can resemble a school playground. I am not going to argue. However, there are times when it can be educational. On Tuesday for example I learnt yet another useful agricultural fact, doubling my knowledge of rural issues (only joking). It was just a shame that the explanation as to what a hefted flock is then degenerated into predictable knockabout.

Helen Mary Jones: .............Concerns were raised about the effect of whole-flock genotyping, and of removing less-resistant genotypes, on local and rare breeds and organic and hefted flocks in Wales—hefted flocks are not as much of a problem in Wales as they are in parts of England and Scotland, but the issue remains. The Minister will also be aware that there are concerns that the—[Interruption.] Sorry, Presiding Officer, I was distracted momentarily by the First Minister, who was asking what a hefted flock was.
The Presiding Officer: Order. If the First Minister wishes to meet any hefted flocks, he can visit Meirionnydd at any state of the tide. I will see him up on the Mignaint.
Helen Mary Jones: I am sure that that would prove educational for the First Minister and help to ensure that his Government understands as much as possible about the needs of rural Wales.

Mick Bates: On a point of information, a hefted flock usually stays in its place without thinking or straying—just look behind you, First Minister. [Laughter.]

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Too many Milburns

From yesterday's statement on public services, the First Minister at his most irritatingly best:

The First Minister: Two out of three of the opposition party leaders have now indulged in the Titanic cliché fetish that they seem to have at the moment. Let us be clear and correct a few of your errors, Mike. First, on the name Millburn, there are three famous Millburns—Alan Milburn, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Colin Milburn, to whom you referred, the swashbuckling batsman for Durham, and Jackie Milburn, the Newcastle United player, and the uncle of Bobby and Jackie Charlton. You were trying to refer to Alan Milburn, but you got overexcited.


Reports in the media today indicate that the Home Office have agreed not to send any more asylum seekers to Swansea because of the advice of local police and the Swansea Bay Racial Equality Council. It is said that this decision has been taken so as to reassure local communities after the recent alleged murder of an Iraqi Kurd. It seems that there are capacity issues in coping with any additional asylum seekers.

In many ways this raises huge questions about the Government's dispersal policy. In particular whether or not their original promises about locating asylum seekers to areas where there are existing communities and about funding adequate support were met. I believe not. However, my concern as a local politician is to ensure that this decision does not send the wrong signal about Swansea. My home City is not racist nor does it have the sort of racial tensions implied by this story. It is a friendly and ethnically diverse City with a long history of welcoming visitors and refugees. Long may it continue.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


I had a moment of clarity during today's Welsh Assembly plenary session. There has been a lot of media attention recently concerning the supposed sightings of a kangeroo or wallaby in the Lisvane area of Cardiff. One Sunday tabloid newspaper even published an upside-down appeal to the aforesaid creature on page three requesting that it give itself up. It is now thought that the animal is, in fact, a dog but we cannot be sure.

Cardiff North, of course, is a Tory-Labour marginal and has to be won by the Conservatives if they are to have even a sniff at power. Clearly, it must be subject of many visits by the great and the good from Central Office. When I read therefore that the Tories' new election chief is an Australian it all came together. Is he missing any pets? We should be told.

Update: It turns out that the kangaroo was in fact a severely ill and injured fox. It has now been caught and put down. Does this mean that Lynton Crosby has not been to Cardiff after all.

Musical Chairs

Yet another row blows up about a senior appointment in a Welsh Quango. This time the Tories are complaining that the new Chief Executive of the WDA was appointed by a process that breached the Nolan Principles on standards in public life.

Welsh Conservatives championing openness, accountability and transparency in the appointment of quangocrats is a bit like King Herod advocating more child care. Their record in office does not bear scrutiny. However, I will be charitable and allow them the benefit of the doubt this once. I await their proof with interest.

Distinct legislation?

The making of secondary legislation in the Welsh Assembly is a precise science, largely because there are so many limitations on what we can and cannot do. In many instances the orders we pass are identical to those in England simply because Whitehall are doing something and we need to keep up so as not to disadvantage Wales. On other occasions we need to table statutory orders so as to comply with European legislation. Occasionally, a piece of legislation comes forward that is unique to Wales.

All of these orders are classified and monitored so that we can report to the public at large on our activities. These classifications are labels such as 'Matching Whitehall', 'Wales only' etc. This morning a new classification came to light, 'Implementing distinct Welsh policy'!

Further scrutiny of this piece of legislation however, revealed that it reflected changes also being carried out in England and therefore should have been classified 'Matching Whitehall'. Obviously the world of spin and good law-making do not always mix well. In the meantime we are all waiting for legislation to come forward labelled as 'Implementing indistinct Welsh policy'.


I was in London yesterday for a meeting in the House of Commons. Having read Sandra Gidley's blog and spoken to people who were there last week I was expecting a virtual police state, but it was not that bad. There was undoubtedly more police officers about, a lot of guns and quite a few sirens and Police motorbikes in a hurry but things seemed to have settled down. Everybody was good humoured and friendly and getting in was not too bad. The defence of democracy is very important but it would be nice if we had this sort of police resource to put into local communities as well (without the guns obviously).

Monday, October 18, 2004

Culturenet sacking on the web

The man who sparked the row about the alleged rigging of the 100 Welsh Heroes internet poll strikes again. This time David Jones is co-operating with a web-based venture that involves posting all the documents compiled for consideration in his dismissal for 'gross misconduct'.

You may recall that when I raised this in Plenary the First Minister hid behind David Jones' sacking so as to rubbish his allegations. This is despite the fact that the Welsh Assembly Government has failed to adequately refute these claims by the publication of a proper independent scrutiny of the database.

As far as I am aware David Jones' actions in publishing these documents is unprecedented. They will assist in evaluating whether his sacking was justified or not. However, for my part this remains a side issue. My concern remains the proper use of public money. I continue to seek a definite answer as to whether Culturenet failed in their duty of care in administering this poll or not.

Going private

With Unison officials becoming increasingly militant in Swansea on the issue of privatisation I wonder what they will think of this.

Labour-controlled Newport City Council has circulated to all its staff details of a private health plan. The literature highlights the shortcomings of the NHS and encourages staff to sign up so as to make provision for the serious eventualities in life. I hope they sent one to Jane Hutt.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Gender balance

I have spent the weekend at the Welsh Liberal Democrat Conference in Llandrindod Wells where the big issue for the press and the representatives was a debate on introducing positive discrimination into the party so as to get more women elected.

The evidence in front of us indicated that the party is dominated by men at all levels and yet the problem seemed to be not that women were being rejected but that they are failing to put themselves forward for election as candidates or as party officers. I argued therefore that the solution was not the creation of positive discrimination but action to encourage and train more women for these posts and the introduction of adequate support and mentoring mechanisms for all. Fortunately, in a highly charged but first class debate in which the quality of the contributions was outstanding, the Conference agreed with me.

The whole weekend in fact was first rate. There is a buzz about the Welsh Liberal Democrats at the moment. We are attracting a large number of new, mostly younger members, we are still flush from the electoral successes of June 10th and we are very much looking forward to the General Election when it comes. There was a feeling that we are on the up and that was reflected in the speeches and the conversations in the bar afterwards.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Rattling one's jewellery

It seems that where Rhodri Glyn Thomas goes royalty follows. It is reported this morning that the Duchess of York is also to pose in the nude for a charity calendar. She be wearing only some Cartier jewels and a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes. There are some fads that are best discouraged. This is one of them. Those members of the Women’s Institute who started this all off have a lot to answer for.

Hunting for a democratic debate

The Western Mail reports that the hunting lobby has set up a website to track Rural Affairs Minister, Alun Michael, around the Country. The objective appears to be to facilitate the sort of protests and intimidation that has already led Mr. Michael to cancel a number of engagements. I am not going to provide a link to that site, as I do not wish to encourage people to participate in these disreputable tactics.

I have commented in the past about the personalisation of politics. The danger is that if you focus your arguments and your campaign on one person who you consider responsible for an injustice, then you are failing to engage in the democratic process.

Democracy at its best is about engaging in discussion around strongly held beliefs and winning a majority for your views. At its worst it is about the sort of intimidation and bully-boy tactics now being adopted by the pro-hunting lobby, tactics previously pioneered by some very dodgy organisations indeed.

I am not saying that there is no place for strongly lobbying the particular Minister or individual who is responsible for making a decision, that is a legitimate means of getting one’s case across. However, in this case, the House of Commons have made the decision on a free vote, not Alun Michael. The debate has now moved into the House of Lords and if the pro-hunting lobby wish to participate in it then they need to lobby members of that House.

It is of course perfectly reasonable to make representations to the Minister about the use of the Parliament Act, as that seems to be an important part of the process. But that lobbying must be done peacefully and depend on the force of argument not the force of numbers.

It may well be that those who have set up this website want to facilitate reasonable approaches to the Rural Affairs Minister on this issue. That is certainly what they say. However, they are fully aware that there are a number of hotheads and unreasonable people in their movement who will use it as an opportunity to overstep the mark. These people are not naïve that is why they are irresponsible. They must step back from the intention to drive the Minister from the countryside and engage instead in the democratic process.

One person who does seem to be increasingly naïve in this whole sorry affair is Lembit Opik MP (and for the avoidance of doubt I have spoken to him before posting this). He is quoted in the article as saying, “the website should be treated lightly provided they stressed non-violent forms of protest.” Incredibly he goes on to add, “Alun has Peter Hain to thank for this new website. Peter Hain on Any Questions last week said direct action was perfectly legitimate. I agree that violence is not acceptable and I trust the organisers of this website will stress the importance of non-violence in whatever they plan to do.”

Lembit has resumed the high wire act of a few weeks ago. Inappropriate as this analogy is given his previous history in the air, Lembit is flying too close to the sun and is in danger of getting his wings burned. I hope that he knows what he is doing.

Friday, October 15, 2004

The price of democracy

The Welsh Assembly has published the cost of maintaining 60 AMs for the first time. In the last financial year it was £6.2 million. I have been pressing for some time for this information to be published. After all we are a public body committed to transparency and we should have nothing to hide.

The size of the figure may shock some people but it shouldn't. This is not money that has been pocketed by AMs. Much of it is used to employ staff, to run offices and to reimburse legitimate, documented expenses. It is the price of having a democracy. I am sure that a dictatorship may be cheaper but then dictators do have a habit of opening Swiss bank accounts and squirrelling away large chunks of state assets for their own use.

This figure will be put into perspective of course, by the publication today of the cost of MPs. This is also a first and already the Leader of the House of Commons is calling for understanding. This is the last thing he is going to get, though there is no reason why he should not seek it. I predict that MPs will prove to be significantly more expensive than AMs.

The Welsh Assembly has been under the magnifying glass since it was formed. We have not been able to burp without the act making headlines. By comparison the MPs, many of whose practices we have mirrored, have got off lightly. All that may change today and that is how it should be. If we are to scrutinise the cost of democracy in public then all bodies and all elected representatives should be included. Perhaps then we might be able to have a rational debate about the advantages of giving the Assembly real powers to justify its existence, subsequently reducing the number of MPs as in Scotland, and giving the public some value for money through the consequent savings.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

R.I.P. Conrad Russell

Liberal Democrat peer Conrad Russell has died at the age of 67. He will be greatly missed. A man of superb intellect he was viewed with awe and affection by anybody who met him. I have lost count of the number of times I watched him hypnotise a Liberal Democrat Conference with his wisdom, his erudition and his radicalism.

I served with him for six months on the Party's Public Services Policy Working Group and saw him at work first hand. Part of his magic was that no matter how much he outclassed us in the intelligence stakes, he was always willing to acknowledge a valid point of view and take it on board. He was never stuffy and never arrogant. He was a humane caring man and the world will be poorer for having lost him.

Strange creatures

If there is one thing that the Welsh Assembly is good at it is taking threatened species to heart, protecting them and nurturing them. Thus it was with the Welsh Tories, who regained a foothold in Wales thanks to the system of proportional representation introduced along with devolution.

Recently, we have been talking a lot about the red squirrel, which has retreated to the fastness of Anglesey in an effort to fend off the unwanted attentions of its alien grey cousin. There has been a conference to discuss this rather retiring creature plus many other events and references to it in the chamber. Yesterday was no exception, this time however, the Conservative AM for Monmouth, David Davies, decided to introduce a new factor, the Thwaite Shad.

The Minister for the Environment, Planning and Countryside (Carwyn Jones): .......When the Assembly Government issues TANs, it expects them to be followed. It is as simple as that, regardless of what the local planning authority is. In terms of the red squirrel, no land has been sold recently on Anglesey, as far as I am aware. Land has been put up for potential sale at Pentraeth and I have met with the Forestry Commission to discuss the red squirrel situation there. There is no commitment yet to sell the land. I am monitoring this and I have spoken to the red squirrel group on Anglesey several times and I am committed to ensuring that the red squirrel has as sustainable a future as possible on Anglesey.

David Davies: You talk about support for the red squirrel. What about the Thwaite Shad—of which you may not have heard—which is threatened by the possibility of large-scale gravel extraction throughout the Usk valley? The Thwaite Shad is an unusual fish found in the river Usk.

Carwyn Jones: I know what a Shad is and it is not threatened by anything, because there are no applications for sand-gravel extraction in the Usk valley.

Never let it be said that we lack compassion in Cardiff Bay.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Culturenet Cymru and those 100 Welsh heroes

The controversy surrounding the 100 Welsh Heroes Internet poll continues to trundle on. After protracted correspondence and having tabled a number of questions I received the first acknowledgement yesterday that the Welsh Assembly Government is taking the issue seriously.

I had a letter from the Minister for Culture, Welsh Language and Sport in which he assured me that he has "taken the allegations made against Culturenet Cymru very seriously." He went on: "I should point out that at no time have I said that I am not prepared to investigate these matters; rather I said that because Culturenet Cymru was taking legal advice, it would be inappropriate for me to offer any further comment at that stage."

"From the outset my officials have been in contact with the Chair of Culturenet Cymru to establish whether there was any truth behind the allegations, to seek assurances that proper procedures were followed in conducting its business and that public money was spent in an appropriate way. Officials monitor the body’s financial activities on a monthly basis."

"Since I last wrote to you, officials have sought further clarification from the Chair of Culturenet as to the basis on which he had given assurances that the allegations made against Culturenet were without foundation."

"The Chair set out clearly the nature of the legal advice received. Culturenet Cymru received legal advice that articles in the press could be regarded as defamatory, but that Culturenet Cymru’s resources, which are derived from public funds, should not be spent on legal action unless there was no choice. Since it is possible that further claims may be made in public in future, Culturenet Cymru reserves the right to take legal advice again."

"The Chair has also set out the process he followed to assure himself that the accusations that the 100 Welsh Heroes poll was manipulated were unfounded, and that Culturenet Cymru had not misused public funds."

"The Assembly’s Internal Audit Department has been involved and is satisfied that no further investigation is required. I share that view."

I have now written back to the Minister asking to see the assurances given to him by the Chair so that I can make my own judgement. I am still awaiting a copy of all correspondence, e-mails and notes of phone calls between officials and Culturenet Cymru on this issue.

Although the Minister now seems to be responding more rationally to my enquiries the same cannot be said of the First Minister yesterday:

Peter Black: As you know, serious accusations have been made that the 100 Welsh heroes poll was fixed to ensure that Aneurin Bevan won. A total of £150,000 of public money was spent on the poll and yet, thus far, Culturenet Cymru has hidden behind legal threats to avoid scrutiny. Do you believe that that is the proper way for a publicly funded body to behave? Will you undertake today to publish in full the details of all the investigations carried out by the Minister for Culture, Welsh Language and Sport into the allegations so that we can make our own judgment on them?

The First Minister: That is so over the top that I think that you will be deeply ashamed when you read the Record tomorrow. The only evidence that any of us is aware of regarding attempts to fix the Culturenet Cymru 100 Welsh heroes poll is the admission by a prominent member of the pro-Owain-Glyndwr campaign, who worked in the public sector for the National Museums and Galleries of Wales, as I recall, that he e-mailed all his friends—and it was a public sector e-mail, as I recall—telling them that Owain Glyndwr was behind Aneurin Bevan and asking them get their vote, or multiple votes, in for him. That is the only evidence that we have.

You will be aware that an information technology manager sacked for gross misconduct has made many allegations. However, that is not uncommon after someone has been sacked for that reason. There is no basis for saying anything other than that Culturenet Cymru has received legal advice and has been told that some of the allegations are potentially defamatory but that pursuing them would be a waste of public money.

Rhodri Morgan’s answer was so off the wall that it is untrue. He seems to believe that this issue is being used as a stick to beat his Government with. Nothing could be further from the truth. As far as I am concerned these accusations have nothing to do with the conduct of Ministers. Indeed if the Assembly Government stepped in and publicly sorted it out then they should gain nothing but credit from those actions.

If however, Ministers start to obstruct the process of getting at the truth then they do become implicated. That has not happened yet but I am prepared to involve the National Audit Office if need be to ensure that these allegations are fully and publicly answered.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The mollusc

The editor of the architect's magazine 'Touchstone' pleads for us to give the Wales Millennium Centre a chance and to judge it by its interior rather than what it looks like on the outside.

He says that using terms like 'the bump', 'the slug', (both new ones on me) or 'the armadillo' could become terms of abuse and lead to the building being dismissed as insignificant.

Of course nobody could term the £110 million this monstrosity cost as 'insignificant' but he is right to say that it should judged on its interior and its performance as an arts venue. If its appearance were the only factor then in my biased and entirely subjective view we would have wasted a lot of public cash.

Monday, October 11, 2004


The Western Mail reports that National Assembly officials have found a new way to relieve the stress induced by working for a cutting-edge legislature - whacking each other with branches at a spa in the Brecon Beacons. This is a cue for the Assembly's best rent-a-quote politicians to have their say.

Tory Monmouth AM, David Davies, wades in by demonstrating how liberal he really is: "If senior Welsh Assembly officials wish to spend their time running around in the buff beating each other with twigs, then that's a matter for them. But I think it's a hobby they should pursue outside of working hours. I'm not quite sure why the Assembly has paid for this."

However, Plaid Cymru's Deputy Leader Rhodri Glyn Thomas (who is not averse to removing his clothes for a good cause himself), takes things a little too seriously: "It's a strange thing for the Assembly to pay for. There's only one way it could be justified - if the officials concerned could be made to stop thinking of themselves as affiliated to Whitehall, and start thinking of themselves as part of a genuinely Welsh civil service."

Any employer who has to bear the cost of long term sick leave will fully understand the reasons why civil servants are being sent on this course. Stress is a big factor in sick absences and it is good practise to assist staff who are suffering from it. It can also save public money in the long run. There are though, less eccentric ways of achieving this aim.

The language of politics

I have discussed previously the use of language as part of political discourse and have gone on at length about keeping things in context so as to avoid devaluing certain concepts. It is with regret therefore that I have come across another example, courtesy of the Welsh Assembly blog, of such abuse, and by somebody who, in my opinion, should know better.

The decision last July to finally ignite the bonfire of the Quangos has brought about intensive lobbying and jockeying for position by a number of such bodies. One such is the National Library for Wales, who are anxious to retain their independence. Library chiefs have warned Culture Minister Alun Pugh that any attempts to bring it under governmental control would threaten its effectiveness. They have also warned that the library's charitable status could be eroded or destroyed by any change.

Jumping in to the fray in their defence is the chair of the Welsh Academy, author Harri Pritchard Jones. He is forthright in his views stating that "The Assembly does not have a track record. But more importantly, I am against totalitarianism where the government takes care of things they know nothing about."

Now, I do not know about others but when I did my history degree I tended to work with a completely different definition of totalitarianism. I would have found it hard to include in that definition the act of a democratically elected institution subsuming an unelected body. Generally, I tend to define a government taking care of things they know nothing about as ignorance, meddling or unwelcome interference. To class it as totalitarianism is not just out of context but it leaves us without an adequate description for such unacceptable regimes as that of Saddam Hussein, Hitler, Stalin and many others. How can we learn from the mistakes of the past if we fail to find the language to define them?

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Looking for an exit strategy

Doonesbury sums up George Bush's problem with Iraq. He doesn't read newspapers!

Update: Judging by this site, found via Linda Forbes, Bush needs to start looking for an exit strategy quickly. The map, as of 10 October, shows the latest polls for each state. It is too close to call. The best estimate they can give is 270 electoral college votes for Kerry, 248 votes for Bush and 20 exactly tied. The margins of error are such however, that it could easily turn out the other way.

Have I got a leader for you

The Observer moots the idea that if Michael Howard fails then he will be replaced as Tory leader by Boris Johnson as part of a 'Schwarzenegger solution'. One is tempted of course to echo Lloyd Bentsen and say that Boris Johnson is no Schwarzenegger but then who is and who would want to be? If this unlikely scenario comes about then we will have two party leaders who have starred on "Have I got news for you?" Whatever happened to building a political reputation on the floor of the House of Commons?

Uphill struggle

I refuse to be deterred by the comprehensive defeat suffered by Wales in Old Trafford yesterday. I do not think that there is any doubt that we were outclassed in all departments by a fairly subdued England side. The test of character now is if we can bounce back to beat Poland in the Millennium Stadium.

Alas I do not have a ticket to that game (and it seems that recent pronouncements have taken me off any corporate hospitality lists, which is good) but it seems clear by Poland's 3-1 thrashing of Austria away from home that they are not going to be a push-over by any stretch of the imagination.

If Wales do win I may not be fit to blog for some time!

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Going live!

It has taken weeks of work but at last I am ready to go live on this blogspot. From now on all new entries will be made here and, of course, I will welcome your comments. I do reserve the right to delete comments that I consider are extreme or out of line but generally I want to use this medium to generate debate and stir things up a bit.

My main website will continue as before. All I need to do now is to get the outstanding press releases and speeches onto that so that it becomes an up-to-date and current record. If you have linked to my blog before or bookmarked it then please amend your records.

Let battle commence!

With England and Wales squaring up this afternoon for a resumption of hostilities on the football front, the Welsh media is full of optimism and best wishes. Although I was born in England, I am rooting for Wales. I have lived here long enough to consider myself Welsh, and it is about time that we achieved the breakthrough we have been threatening for so long.

As if to celebrate the occasion, and so as to offer some compensation for our omission from the map of Europe earlier this week, the Guardian sends a reporter west of Offa's Dyke to find out if there really is life outside of London. Despite this peace offering, and the reporter's Welsh ancestry, they cannot quite bring themselves to break away from the metropolitan clichés that have enslaved their attitudes towards Cymru for so long. Equally, the piece contains some basic errors, indicating that either it was a rush job or that the Guardian does not care as much as they would like us to think. Just in case the reporter or his editor stumble across this blog here are the four most prominent mistakes and misconceptions:

1. The band, Mogwai, are Scottish, not Welsh.

2. The Welsh Assembly was established in 1999, not 1997.

3. Where do I start with the assertion that "the extraction of black gold from the South Wales valleys ended to be replaced by the ingestion of drugs as well as soaring unemployment"? Perhaps by pointing out that coal is still mined in South Wales; that we may have a drugs problem but it is nowhere near as bad as Bristol or some other English cities; that this is an insulting and patronising cliché that would not be recognised by the vast majority of people living in South Wales; or even that this area is not just about coal and industrialisation. South Wales boasts some of the most spectacular landscapes in Britain, as well as the Country's first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It has a growing business sector centred on ICT and new technology, growing employment and a skilled workforce.

4. The evidence of the last census does not support the assertion that the anglicisation of our towns and cities is dragging down the Welsh language. South Wales has a growing number of Welsh speakers, centred around Towns and Cities such as Newport, Cardiff and Bridgend as well as valley communities such as Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly. Even anglicised Monmouthshire can boast that 9% of its population can speak Welsh, up from 7% in 1991. 196,000 of Wales' half a million Welsh speakers live in industrial South Wales.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Open revolt

The secret plot against First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, has started to turn into open defiance by some of his AMs. Peter Law of course, counts as a usual suspect, however the fact he is prepared to come out so openly and say that Rhodri must go is either a sign that the tide has started to turn or that Peter, himself, is preparing to break his links with Welsh Labour and announce that he will be standing as a Forward Wales candidate in Blaenau Gwent at the next General Election. Whatever the reason I loved this analogy:

"Five years ago Rhodri Morgan was a folk hero. The problem is that he has ridden into the castle, pulled up the drawbridge and is now a baron."

Like most newspaper-manufactured leadership crises this one will disappear without trace. After all it is not as if Rhodri Morgan is in significant trouble with his own group. Most of the jitters belong to the 34 Labour MPs who have to defend Jane Hutt's health service on the doorsteps in the forthcoming General Election. That can be overcome if the First Minister finally bows to the inevitable and jettisons his Health Minister. I predict however, that he will not do so this side of a General Election.

Rhodri values loyalty very highly. He also does not like being told how to run his administration whether it be upstart MPs, the fourth estate or the opposition doing the telling. He will not want to give any of these the victory they crave and will seek to ensure that any reshuffle is on his terms and at a time of his choosing. Even then I would not be surprised if Jane Hutt remains Health Minister.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Knives are sharpened in Cardiff

The Western Mail reports that First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, is facing a secret plot to oust him by Labour Party figures including at least one close aide. Well it is not a secret anymore.

Second Liberal Democrat MP starts blog

Rather belatedly I have discovered another MP blogspot. This one belongs to Sandra Gidley, the MP for Romsey, who becomes the second Liberal Democrat MP to adopt this medium and the fifth Liberal Democrat Parliamentarian (i.e. including full time politicians in a regional or national assembly).

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Second class?

The Welsh Conservative Assembly Member for North Wales, Brynle Williams, is generally a softspoken, pleasant and well-mannered gentlemen, who belies his firebrand image as one of the leaders of the fuel dispute a few years ago. This is a direct contrast with his predecessor, Peter Rogers, of whom it was said that his constituents could hear his Assembly contributions a hundred miles away without needing to switch the TV on. Brynle does have a habit though of getting his words in a twist as happened yesterday:

Brynle Williams: When a constituent's wife telephoned NHS Direct for information about dental patient places in Wrexham, she was told that none were available in the NHS or privately. In light of your Government's promise in 1999 that everyone would have access to NHS dental care within two years, would you agree that the service is going backwards?

As innocent as this remark seemed it occurred to me that If it was a constituent's wife who telephoned Brynle then surely she was a constituent in her own right. Why is it that she has suddenly became a second class citizen in which her rights are tied into those of her husband?

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

25 things to make Wales even better

Just in case you are really depressed by our sudden disappearance from the map the Western Mail has an article on how we can make Wales even better. Their suggestions include Harvey Nicks, televised netball, a gallery of modern art or a centre for contemporary art, a premiership football team and a triumphant rugby team. I am not too sure about the cold lager in McDonalds but I can certainly recommend the microwave hot bunnies for those cold winter nights.

Missing in action

Plaid Cymru has long argued that Wales should be an independent state with its own representation on the European Council of MInisters and a seat in the United Nations next to Cuba. Today the European Union issued its response. The Eurostat Yearbook 2004 was published with a map on its front cover in which Wales was missing altogether. Perhaps this is not what Plaid Cymru meant. However, their enthusiasm for Europe may well be tempered by the incident. If we don't exist for the bureaucrats then the chances of our own seat around the table looks very remote indeed.

Kiss and Tell

There was no sign in the Assembly today of Tory AMs copying their party's shadow cabinet members and producing a video in which they discussed their first kiss. In a way this was a relief. People certainly deserve to know that their politicians are human but there must be limits surely. The danger of course is that such stunts produce some unsavoury skeletons such as this one in the Guardian. The revelation that "the sex life of Nicholas Soames has long been a source of fascination since an ex-girlfriend likened his lovemaking technique to a wardrobe falling over with its key sticking out" is going to take some time to recover from.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Tory absences threaten Scarweather debate

Tomorrow the Assembly will decide if it wishes to debate and vote on whether the off-shore wind farm at Scarweather, a few miles from Porthcawl, will go ahead. The history of this debate is long and complex but essentially it goes like this:

United Utilities applied to build 30 turbines, each over 440 feet tall, just over 3 miles from Sker Point. The turbines will occupy an area of four square miles. They chose to seek planning permission for this development through the little used Public Works Act. This meant that although the scheme will produce more than 50mw of electricity its future will be determined by the Welsh Assembly rather than the Dti.

The Assembly Government, faced with a huge public controversy just before the 2003 elections, appointed a planning inspector and determined that a public enquiry should be held. This took place over a period of three to four weeks in November 2003. At the end of this enquiry the inspector recommended that the application be refused as ‘the visual impact of a windfarm in the specific location of this proposal would be so prominent, when viewed from Porthcawl and its immediate area, that … the harmful effects on this view are sufficient to outweigh the benefits …’ The effect on Porthcawl, he said, would be ‘real and significant’.

His recommendation was then referred to a four person planning sub-committee, who overruled him and granted permission on the grounds that the ‘significant and harmful’ visual impact of the scheme would be outweighed by the ‘significant benefits arising from the development in terms of the production of renewable energy’. The committee gave no details as to what these benefits would be, but admitted that they had not visited the site.

It now falls to the Minister to make the order under the Transport and Works Act. She has given notice that she intends to do that but ten Assembly Members, including myself, have submitted a motion that the matter should be determined by the full Assembly instead. The debate on Tuesday is to decide whether that procedural motion is to be approved or not. If it is then a full debate will take place later this year, following which all 60 Assembly members will vote on the order. If the motion is defeated then the Minister will make the order herself and no further discussion or votes will be possible.

Tory AM, Alun Cairns, who has organised this motion, wrote in his column in the Glamorgan Gazette this week that the odds have been stacked against the success of the procedural motion as the debate has been timetabled to take place during the Conservative Party Conference. This means that many of the signatories to the motion will be be absent. He alleged, as have others, that this was a deliberate act by the Government to undermine the protestors' case.

We must be clear though as to why this has happened. Alun's assertion that "the Assembly Minister tabled this (the motion) in the full knowledge that some Conservative AMs would be absent on Tuesday" is disingenuous to say the least. The reason these AMs will be absent is because they will be at their Party Conference in Bournemouth. Two weeks previously the Assembly reconvened for its autumn term in the middle of the Liberal Democrat Conference. All six Liberal Democrat AMs made the effort to travel back to ensure that they were there at the start of the first session and they then stayed in Cardiff for the week. That is what we are paid to do. Perhaps the Conservatives can learn from that example.

Secondly, I am aware that an offer was made to defer the debate on the Scarweather motion until the week after the Conservative Conference. All that the Tories had to do was to agree to fill the allotted slot with another Conservative motion due to be discussed the following week. They turned down this offer.

So, if the motion to debate Scarweather is lost due to absentee Conservative votes then they only have themselves to blame. They may be able to live with that but the verdict of those fighting this development may not be so kind.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Soft on crime?

New Labour has become increasingly virulent of late in its accusations that other parties are soft on crime. They have introduced a whole raft of measures to try and improve the quality of people's lives. Some of the measures are illiberal, others less so. One of the tests, however, is the effectiveness of these policies, both in terms of results but also in how they protect the rights of individuals. I have to say that there does not appear to be any marked improvement in my own community. Low level anti-social behaviour continues unchecked whilst the profile and accessibility of the local police remains as poor as ever. If it wasn't for the statistics I would be tempted to think that the aggresive rhetoric of the Labour Party on this issue was designed to hide their failures.

Well, it seems that now the statistics themselves are being questioned. A report by the Crime and Society Foundation, a new criminal justice think-tank, has claimed that the official crime statistics are an unreliable measure of the true level of offences. They have pointed out that the government's measure, the British Crime Survey, which asks 37,000 householders about their experience of illegality, excludes sex offences, drug-dealing and using, murder and fraud. Yet even its estimate of 11.7 million crimes outstrips the 5.9 million recorded by the police. The Foundation argue that neither the British Crime Survey nor the Police statistics can be trusted as reliable. All this piece proves of course is that statistics can be used to prove anything you want them to.

More serious though is the claim that there is a £350 million funding black hole that is leaving local councils across the country unable to pay for the scores of new police and community support officers demanded by new anti-crime initiatives. Chief constables and the police authorities that employ the country's 140,000 police have warned ministers that councils will face the stark choice of cutting the number of police on the streets or raising council tax.
The Government's record is not as good as they would like us to believe. Surely the failure to put their money where their mouth is makes Labour as soft on crime as any party or individual who voted against measures that will not work and that would not be out of place in a police state. Perhaps the lesson here is that all this macho posturing and rhetoric is not actually achieving anything for communities and victims of crime. Is it any wonder that people do not believe or trust politicians when they talk the talk but fail to deliver on the ground.

Friday, October 01, 2004

That by-election result

Yes, it was disappointing not to win but a 19% swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats is significant. I will leave it to others to spin the result as they wish but two things are clear. Firstly, this is not a good result for Labour. Secondly it is an even worse result for the Tories. If they are the official opposition then our democracy really is in trouble.

Crass act of the night has to be the use of purple flour by the fathers for misogyny candidate. I cannot put it better than Guacamoleville:

Your high profile candidature garners a measly 139 votes, so what do you do? Throw purple powder over another losing candidate live on national television, thus ensuring any sympathy the public might have had for your cause evaporates before your very eyes. Smart move.

Nick Barlow puts it rather more succinctly whilst the comment from Backwood Dave to Nick's post provides further illumination on the activities of these neanderthals:

20 members of the F4J mob had surprised Iain Wright after he'd voted and frightened his daughter. According to the Guardian: "But there were ugly scenes as Mr Wright emerged from the polling station - the school he had attended as a youngster - when around 20 protesters from the Fathers4Justice group surrounded the candidate and heckled him with shouts of 'how come you can see your daughter, but because of your government, I can't see mine'." The answer being "because I'm not divorced on account of being a wife-beater, nor daft enough to scare small kids." They really are prats.

Angry as I am at the vile and negative Labour campaign, the brothers are angels compared to these people.


The electronic voting in the Assembly Chamber can be very confusing especially when your vote can make all the difference between the acceptance of the First Minister's Annual Report and its rejection:

The Finance Minister (Sue Essex): I am sorry; I voted the wrong way on the motion. I thought that we were still on the previous vote.

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