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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Foot in the door

This morning's news on Radio Wales reports that Prince William is to become a royal vice-patron of the Welsh Rugby Union - cue lots of gushing tributes and assertions that this will be good for Welsh rugby, attract more young people etc etc.

Personally, I have nothing against Prince William. He seems a very likeable lad and no doubt will do well if he decides to stand for election to become head of state in the new Republic of the United Kingdom. There are some issues around this appointment that need to be considered however.

The first is whether he will now tell his brother that it is bad form to go to the Rugby World Cup as a representative of the Monarch of Great Britain and then wear an England Rugby shirt to a quarter final game against Wales? To be fair this is not a faux pas that can be attributed to William, but it does give an insight into the mindset of the Royal family.

The second far more substantive point is that already people are talking about this appointment as a prelude to William's assumption of the title of Prince of Wales. No doubt he was advised to accept the role on this basis.

I am not one of those people who are opposed to this title on the basis that it is an obstacle to an independent Wales, far from it. However, Wales is a very different place to what it was when Edward I created the role as a means of both appeasing and subduing the Welsh. There is also a very different political climate to the one on 1 July 1969 when Prince Charles was invested in this role.

We now have a democratically elected National Assembly, which is shortly to assume more powers and a greater role in Welsh life. The question has to be asked therefore if it is appropriate for a new Prince of Wales to be created and if so what his role should be. That debate must be had publicly before any assumptions or decisions are made about William.

In the meantime I hope that the Prince enjoys the rugby and that he turns up to our Grand Slam decider with England at the Millennium Stadium on 17 March 2007 wearing a Welsh rugby shirt.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


The Western Mail identifies a new economic indicator for Wales, the quality of women's knickers. Dr Molly Scott Cato, a senior lecturer in social policy at the University of Wales Institute Cardiff, illustrates one of her main arguments against globalisation by talking of her experience buying knickers:

"I have created a special underwear test. This involves holding your underwear up to a source of light to check the strength of the weave. You will be shocked by the result. We are living with knickers our grandmothers would have rejected as shoddy and worthy only of cleaning windows.

"Nonclassical economics would suggest that there is a market opportunity here for somebody who produced a decent pair of underwear. I would certainly pay a premium price. But instead, all suppliers of these items are competing on price, outsourcing production to Vietnam or the Philippines, using only the cheapest materials, so that knickers are see-through and fall apart within months. This is the way the best profits are made, and the best knickers are no longer of any concern."

She adds, "On a more serious note, this is an inevitable consequence of the concentration on shareholder value. M&S has come under pressure from shareholders, in part because it was one of the companies which tried to show commitment to an indigenous workforce in the UK.

"Shareholder value forces managers to squeeze the last penny out of the production cycle, sacrificing quality to profits."

On the other hand she could just be going to the wrong shops. This observed phenomenon could equally be attributed to the growth of a consumer-led throwaway society and have nothing to do with globalisation at all.

Spin doctors unlimited

Just as Rhodri Morgan's Government appoints a new spin doctor in chief, it emerges the appointee is part of a growing trend in Britain. This morning's Telegraph reveals that Government spending on spin has trebled under Labour and taxpayers are now supporting an army of more than 3,200 press officers:

A total of 1,815 press officers and other public relations staff works in Whitehall departments. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, has three press officers, despite no longer having a department.

A further 1,444 are employed by a bewildering array of more than 200 quangos and agencies that are paid for out of the public purse, bringing the total number of press officers to 3,259.

When Labour came to power in 1997, just over 300 fully-fledged press officers were working in Whitehall, although that figure excluded a small number of other public relations staff.

The amount being spent on Government advertising, marketing and public relations has risen three-fold since Mr Blair entered No 10.

The Central Office of Information's PR, advertising and marketing budget has soared from £111 million in 1997 to £322 million last year. Much of the money has been spent on advertising flagship policies, including tax credits and extra help for pensioners.

Some might say that without all these press officers newspapers like the Telegraph would have nothing to write about. The Government response however is more illuminating:

The Central Office of Information defended the increased spending, saying that Labour was "a radical and reforming Government" and that it had a duty to explain its policies, decisions and actions and to inform members of the public about their rights and liabilities.

Yeah, right!


The last thing that any political party needs is a grassroots revolt against their elected members in the run-up to an election. In Labour's case the MPs are able to indulge themselves because they do not have to face the electorate again for three years or so. The Scottish Conservatives have no such excuse.

I originally missed this story as I was away on holiday, but luckily Conservativehome.com are not shy in recording their party's problems. According to The Scotsman Tory activists north of the border have called for all of the party's 17 MSPs to be de-selected in a damaging internal rebellion that threatens to derail Tory chances of making gains at next year's Holyrood elections.

One Tory candidate is quoted as saying: "Many Conservatives believe that our MSPs have failed in their duty to highlight the enormous costs, and now the generally accepted uselessness, of the Scottish Parliament, which the Conservatives so accurately predicted prior to devolution."

I suspect that there are Conservatives in Wales that feel the same way but that they are confined to a very small corner of the country and are largely being sat upon by central office. Nevertheless, it does bring the spotlight to bear once more on the fact that for all the noises they make about being pro-devolution, the Tories instinctively remain opposed to it and its benefits.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

When Lawyers revolt

Who would have thought that a government minister would be heckled by a group of lawyers? This is not the usual approach of such a well-behaved group of people. The Guardian reports thus:

Plans to cut legal aid fees for barristers and solicitors defending vulnerable children are to be reviewed after a minister faced heckling from angry lawyers at consultation meetings.

Vera Baird, a junior minister at the Department for Constitutional Affairs, has decided to look again at the proposals after meeting what a department spokesman admitted was "a robust response" from lawyers in meetings from Brighton to Nottingham.

She is facing severe criticism from the legal profession over plans for a radical overhaul of legal aid from next April recommended by Lord Carter of Coles - a Labour donor and former chairman of a private healthcare group - including a restructuring of fees paid to lawyers.

Personally, I prefer to think that their anger was directed at the government on behalf of their clients rather than their bank balances. After all there are many dedicated and principled legal aid lawyers with a strong sense of justice who would consider the changes being proposed by the Government to pose a threat to the most vulnerable in our society. As Alistair MacDonald, the joint chair of the Association of Lawyers for Children says:

"A payment scheme that reduces the number of specialist solicitors able to run economically viable practices representing children and families is an entirely false economy, is bad for children, bad for society and bad for the country as a whole."

"If you take short cuts on the foundations, you cannot complain when the house falls down."

"Further undermining the family justice system in this way will lead directly to increased expenditure in the fields of youth justice, criminal justice and mental health, which expenditure too often has to pick up the pieces left by an under-resourced and under-prioritised child protection and family justice system."

So much for Labour standing up for the under-privileged and weakest in our society.

Outdoor disasters

Forget the recent spate of illegal raves, according to Matt Withers yesterday, the event to avoid this summer is the BNP's annual Red, White and Blue festival, outside Burnley, the highlight of which was apparently a concert by folk musician Lee Haggan, performing songs written by the BNP's leader Nick Griffin and including such ditties as British Revolution and Our Towns Will Be Our Own.

If you are already feeling queasy at the prospect and need cheering up then consider this tale from the BNP website of two activists who set out to raise funds:

The valiant attempt by two dedicated BNP activists to raise desperately needed funds for the party has ended after injury, bad weather and incidents which make life hell for decent folk in Blair’s Britain.

The first blow to the attempt by North Yorkshire duo Tom Linden and Steve King to paddle a canoe along the 127 mile Liverpool-Leeds Canal came on Sunday when the support caravan supplied by Steve, the BNP Liverpool Organiser was broken into and items stolen including all of Tom’s clothes, digital camera, binoculars, multi-tool, mobile phone charger and other items including the donation of over £70, a sum raised in the Liverpool pub the night before the duo set off. The mini-DVD player belonging to fellow canoeist Steve was also stolen.

Despite this set back the two carried on for two days through heavy rain and strong head winds. The day ended on a tragic note however, not only did Steve sustain an injury to his back after slipping on the canal bank but the support caravan was stolen from the pub cark-park where it had been parked.

It could not have happened to a nicer group of people. Surely it is a bit much though, even in today's political climate, to seek to pin the blame for bad weather on Tony Blair.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The long hard road back

The big topic on Liberal Democrat blogs over the weekend has been Charles Kennedy, his speech to Conference and the biography of our former leader by Greg Hurst, which is to be published in time for Conference.

The book seeks to pin down who in the Parliamentary Party was to blame for wielding the knife against Kennedy and for forcing him out. In reality it appears to just recycle old rumours, many of them published at the time. Like everybody else I will no doubt buy the book out of curiosity but all of us have moved on, including I believe, Charles Kennedy.

Both Rob Fenwick and Jonathan Calder take the view that having Kennedy address Conference is a mistake. Rob says that the event 'invites a direct comparison between him and Campbell, dramatically upping the odds for Ming, and re-opening old wounds for MPs and activists alike.' Stephen Tall takes the view that journalists have already written their coverage of Conference and that they will run with their view irrespective of whether it reflects actual events. He quite accurately concludes that most representatives will have other things on their mind, such as policy debates for example.

In yesterday's Observer Charles Kennedy is reported to have set out the likely timetable for his return to the centre-stage of politics. This includes 'a major speech on domestic and foreign affairs at next month's Liberal Democrat conference, followed by an end to his self-imposed silence in Commons debates and a possible front-bench role by late next year.'

Many people might consider this to be a threat to Ming's leadership. Others may think that it will distract us from the progress that he has made as leader of the party so far and prevent him using Conference to consolidate his position. I disagree.

The return of Charles Kennedy to a front bench role has the potential to close what fissures there remain following his departure and the subsequent leadership contest. An expression of unconditional support for Ming in Kennedy's speech, followed by an offer to Kennedy of a major high profile job could send a message of unity to the outside world which would put one of Britain's most popular and talented politicians back centre stage, whilst enabling us to get our message across to a bigger audience.

Events have moved on since I wrote on 27 July that it was time for Ming to shape up. A number of people put my comments down to jitters over poll ratings. That was never it. My concerns then were based on style of leadership, Ming's performance both in the House of Commons and elsewhere and concern about the philosophical direction of the party, centred in particular on the Tax Commission.

As I explained in this post on August 13th I am much happier with our tax proposals now that I have seen all the details and, equally importantly, we have a convincing narrative to sell them to the electorate. The proposals will lift two million people out of tax, whilst tackling climate change by taxing pollution. They will make our tax system both fairer and greener.

My view of Ming is beginning to evolve as well. As Toby Philpott implies in this post Ming has started to play to his strengths on foreign affairs and is leading the Liberal Democrats into clear and principled positions on Iraq and Lebanon. Toby believes that this had a significant influence on the forty seven Labour Party members in Derby South who recently defected to us from Labour.

He may well be right, though whether he is or not is immaterial. People are starting to appreciate Ming's strengths, which are at last showing through, and because of that he is able to get his voice heard on other issues as well. This has been reflected in recent polls but, as I argued earlier this is not the main indicator here. My sense is that the tone of debate has swung in our favour and that people are prepared to give Ming a chance to prove himself. Next month's Conference is the opportunity to do that.

A good Conference performance by Ming is still a prerequisite, and I am confident that he has it in him. However, there are opportunities to build on that still further and a genuine and public rapprochment with Kennedy is the key. In saying this I am not implying that the two are at war, indeed I believe that they are on good terms, but that there is a chance for both men to put to rest any remaining public perceptions of division by co-ordinating their speeches and by Ming bringing Kennedy back to the front bench.

There are of course many other scenarios but the key is strong policies, good tactical positioning, courage, an adherence to principle and honesty of opinion and if we stick to that combination then the Liberal Democrats should be able to build on their present position. I cannot help feeling though that the return of Charles Kennedy to frontline politics is a good thing and can only enhance that growth.

Update: Having read through the article in The Times this morning I stand by everything that I have written above. Greg Hurst's book is history, we have all moved on, including Kennedy, who has publicly admitted his illness and is receiving treatment for it. I have no doubt that Charles is more than capable of taking on a front bench job in the same way as other recovering alcoholics have gone on to do jobs that carry great responsibility.

The Times, and others, may hope that this serialisation will do the Liberal Democrats some damage but despite the fact that his alcoholism has been public knowledge for some considerable time, opinion polls show that Kennedy is as popular as ever. It is also the case that despite his illness Kennedy showed better judgement on issues such as Iraq than either the Prime Minister or most of the Conservative Party.

A gesture too far

Back from Prague, complete with Franz Kafka teeshirt, I find myself with a whole host of issues to blog about. The one that wound me up whilst I was away was this story about Celtic goalkeeper, Artur Boruc, who has been cautioned by Police for crossing himself in front of Rangers' fans at the local derby match.

I saw an interview with Ruth Kelly on BBC on Sunday morning in which she claimed to have no knowledge of the incident and refused to be drawn in condemning the Police for suppressing freedom of expression.

As usual with such incidents however, there is another side to the story. According to Mr Eugenides, it is possible that the police caution may have had a lot more to do with the gesture that followed the sign of the cross rather than the crossing itself.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Bring back Pluto

In a few hours I will be en-route to my summer break in Prague*. As I arrive the 2,500 scientists who are attending the International Astronomical Union General Assembly will be leaving. They will be getting on their planes having turned our known universe upside-down.

For as long as I can remember our solar system has had nine planets, now we have eight and four halves. Poor Pluto. I just hope that they told Mickey and Minnie before they downgraded him.

*That means blogging will be non-existent for a few days by the way.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A clean fight?

Martin Eaglestone actually covered this story yesterday, when he quite reasonably pointed out that Plaid Cymru's commitment to only using money from Wales showed a lack of understanding of the way in which many parties are part of a bigger whole, and strength is drawn from the inter relationships of the many parts. Plaid have recently received a large legacy which, Martin Eaglestone believes, came from property sales in England.

Personally, I believe that the electorate has long moved on from this sort of "I am more Welsh than you" politics, as is evidenced by the decline in the Plaid Cymru vote since 1999. This type of message is increasingly addressed only to the party's core voters and is failing to resonate with the wider electorate. Most people are more concerned with what the Welsh Assembly is going to do with its new powers than they are with the purity of its Welshness.

I thought that the comment by the Welsh Liberal Democrat Spokesperson was also apposite. He said: "Welsh Liberal Democrats are always happy to talk to other parties about positive campaigning. However, Plaid Cymru's attempt at negotiation by press release has betrayed their real intentions - an easy headline on a slow news day, rather than meaningful reform."

"Serious political parties work to achieve cross-party agreement by negotiation around a table - not through a megaphone to the nearest news outlet."

Blogging Tony

I think that Recess Monkey doesn't actually believe that this Tony Blair MP blog is the real thing. Now if it had been John Prescott........

Liberal Democrat blog of the year

The first Liberal Democrat 'Blog of the Year' award will be announced at the autumn conference in Brighton next month. In a two hour fringe meeting the award will be given to the blog that has done the most to promote liberalism in the last year.

Whether or not this blog should be nominated depends rather on whether the judges are looking for somebody who promotes liberalism or a blogger who is promoting the Liberal Democrats. I try to do both of course but sometimes my party colleagues do not see it that way.

Still, what exactly are we going to do for two hours? If it involves selective readings from Liberal Democrat blogs then there had better be a bar.

Favourite to win the prize has to be Liberal England, but do not take my word for it. Nominate your favourite here.

Update: I have been e-mailed by somebody who has nominated this blog for the award. In her nomination she says: Peter's blog is always entertaining, even when it makes you cringe! It is compulsory reading if only to see who he is arguing with at any given time. Where else do you find such a mixture - deep political debate interspersed with pictures of his cat! His blog is like his collection of ties - always colourful, drawn from a wide variety of sources, often interesting, and definitely unique.

Faint praise indeed!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Fisking Wayne

The Labour MP for Caerphilly, Wayne David was all over Radio Wales this morning criticising Cardiff and Ceredigion Councils for resolving not to co-operate with the introduction of ID cards. Quite why these two Councils were singled out is not clear as I am aware that Swansea has also passed a similar resolution and no doubt other Councils have too.

What is more the National Assembly for Wales has also voted to reject the use of ID cards to access services paid for out of the Welsh block grant. They did so in June 2005 and Wayne's Labour colleagues abstained on the motion. Perhaps this latest tirade is a cry for help, after all he must be feeling a bit isolated in his own party on this issue judging by the lack of enthusiasm for the measure amongst Labour AMs in Cardiff Bay.

Wayne's argument on the radio was that ID cards are essential for national security and the fight against terrorism and that they will assist people in accessing public services. This is of course contrary to the view expressed by Home Office Minister, Tony McNulty, in August last year. At that time he said:

"Perhaps in the past the government in its enthusiasm oversold the advantages of identity cards. We did suggest, or at least implied, that they may well be a panacea for identity fraud, benefit fraud, terrorism, and entitlement and access to public services."

Another interesting comment is that of the former head of MI5, Dame Stella Rimington. On 16 November 2005 she told the Association of Colleges' annual conference in Birmingham that "ID cards have possibly some purpose. But I don't think that anybody in the intelligence services, particularly in my former service, would be pressing for ID cards.

"My angle on ID cards is that they may be of some use but only if they can be made unforgeable - and all our other documentation is quite easy to forge. If we have ID cards at vast expense and people can go into a back room and forge them they are going to be absolutely useless. "ID cards may be helpful in all kinds of things but I don't think they are necessarily going to make us any safer."

Similarly, the Government's official reviewer and overseer of the Country's anti-terror laws had this to say last January:

"I can't think of many terrorist incidents, in fact I can think of very few... that ID cards would have brought to an earlier end."

".......ID cards could be of some value in the fight against terrorism but they are probably of quite limited value. They would be an advantage but that advantage has to be judged against the disadvantages which Parliament may see in ID cards."

"I certainly don't think the absence of ID cards could possibly have any connection with the events of last July."

The Government has claimed that entitlement cards will help to combat terrorism, fraud and crime. The 9/11 terrorists carried valid ID cards; most benefit fraud involves people who misrepresent their circumstances rather than their identity; and the difficulty in clearing up crime is almost always that the criminals are not caught, rather than not identified.

It is also likely that members of ethnic minority groups will be stopped and asked for their ID cards much more often than white people are. This could lead to a serious deterioration in relations between ethnic minorities and the police and other sections of the community.

To add to this injustice requiring the ID card to be used to access public services will rapidly lead to a situation whereby the card is voluntary for most of the articulate middle classes and compulsory for those who use public services and/or can’t argue and resist the need for the card.

The London School of Economics in May 2005 estimated that the cost of an ID card could be as much as £300. If individuals are to be told that they have to pay to hold one and that they cannot access certain services without it then the outcome is that many public services will be unavailable to the poorest and the most economically deprived members of our society. They could find themselves barred from using GPs, hospitals, educational establishments or even from receiving benefits.

Wayne David is whistling in the wind on this issue.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

News or entertainment?

You have to give it to the Swedes, they certainly know how to get people tuning into their news bulletins. The BBC report that Swedish state broadcaster SVT has admitted a "huge blunder" after a porn film was accidentally shown in the background of a news bulletin. A five-minute news update shown at the weekend included explicit scenes from a Czech porn movie on a monitor behind the anchor Peter Dahlgren.

The error is explained thus:

Usually, the monitor shows the output of other news channels - but the workers had changed it to watch a sports event on cable channel Canal Plus.

However, they did not remember to change the channel back - which, because Canal Plus shows adult content after midnight, resulted in the error.

A producer quickly spotted the sex scenes and ran into the control room and turned off the monitor, news director Mr Yng said.

"One monitor in the background, behind the newsreader, was showing some porn scenes," he said.

"It lasted no more than 30 seconds - only during the first item on the midnight news on Saturday."

While no viewers complained about the incident, he admitted there had been "enormous interest from media."

The show, called Rapport, has been renamed "Rapporn" by Swedish tabloids.

Apparently, there are no plans to repeat the experiment. However, if Teres Kirpikli, a Christian Democrat candidate in Sweden's 2002 General Election, had her way such scenes would have become commonplace by now. She called for pornography to be broadcast on television every Saturday to encourage people to have more sex.

Inexplicably, her party, the conservative Christian Democrats, reacted by asking her to leave its women's association and withdraw her candidacy from the election. It seems that the Christian Democrats spent that election actively fighting pornography and called for a complete ban in all media.

Ms Kirpikli said she had wanted to "start a debate on how to get more children". She added that she understood the party was "mad" at her because she had gone against the official line. Sweden has a negative natural growth rate, with more deaths than births now registered every year.

It may be four years too late, but it seems that Ms Kirpikli is now getting her way.

The cost of websites

The Institute of Welsh Affairs latest Assembly Monitoring report, New Powers - New beginning, reports that the new Welsh Assembly Government website cost £2.7 million.

They say that the website is being redeveloped to take in many recent changes, such as the merger of former quangos. It had been intended that the new site should be operational by April 2006 but it had been delayed. The original estimate had been £1.5m but this has now gone up and the final bill will now be at least £2.7m.

Not having had much experience of commissioning websites I was staggered by this cost. After all you could build a small housing estate for that amount of money. I note also that it is not just landmark buildings that run over budget.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Losing the inheritance

According to today's Guardian even the Blairites think that Stephen Byers has lost the plot in his call to abolish inheritance tax. There may well be a need to carry out some reforms to modernise it but its abolition will both deprive the Treasury of £3 billion a year in income that will need to be replaced elsewhere and allow those who have wealth to pass it on without penalty, a situation that is both inequitable and inconsistent with most of Europe.

What is interesting is the assumption in Byers' proposal that Labour have to out-Tory the Tories to remain electable. That is certainly how they have behaved over the last nine years, the problem is that the voters have now found them out.

Gut feeling

Today is the start of National Gut Week. According to a radio programme I have just caught on the subject 2.5 million weddings each year are disrupted by gut problems. No news on how many stag and hen nights are affected by this condition however.

It is only a game show

Tryst Williams in the Western Mail reflects my views in his article on Rhodri Morgan's praise of Big Brother's Glyn Wise:

In fairness to Glyn, he used his platform in the BB house to raise awareness of Wales at every available opportunity, either by speaking Welsh, wearing Welsh rugby tops or even by declaring that his favourite dish was Welsh lamb (what else?). And there's no denying that he was more recognisably "Welsh" than the show's previous "Welsh" contingent, dippy characters who might as well have come from Milton Keynes or Midlothian, were it not for their accents (just how Welsh is "I like blinking?")

But it probably says more about Rhodri than Glyn that he has been lauded in such a way by the First Minister.

It's difficult to imagine Tony Blair making a comparative official statement praising a Big Brother contestant every bit as British as Glyn was Welsh.

Still no indication though of whether Rhodri watched the show or actually voted for Glyn.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

John Prescott: film star

Trawling through the internet sites of the main British newspapers this morning I stumbled upon this article in the Mail on Sunday about a spoof on-line video bulletin, which reports that the Deputy Prime Minister is quitting politics to star in a Yorkshire version of the hit movie Brokeback Mountain.

It was produced by Heavy.com after it asked British readers which public figure should star in a new section on their website devoted to deserving targets throughout the world. John Prescott came top of the poll with 68 per cent of the votes. The paper states that in the film, Prescott is interviewed about his forthcoming role as one of the main gay cowboy characters in "Brokeback Mounting", in tribute to his visit to Anschutz’s ranch and professed love of all things to do with the Wild West.

Catch the video here whilst it is still on-line.

Meanwhile the Sunday Times offers a more serious story on John Prescott. They say that the Deputy Prime Minister is facing calls for a parliamentary inquiry after it emerged that his eldest son has been cashing in on the housebuilding boom planned by his father. Most of the details in the story seem circumstantial and involve a fair bit of innuendo but the paper has nevertheless put one more weapon into the hands of those seeking Prescott's resignation.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


The downside to Glyn's promotion of all things Welsh during his stay in the Big Brother house is the return of some stereotypical attitudes towards the Country. This morning's Western Mail features an outraged Max Boyce hitting out at the return of the demeaning phrase 'Boyo'.

This slang term has been much in evidence in the London press to describe popular Big Brother contestant Glyn Wise. He has been labelled "wonder-boyo" and "boyo-Glyn" and shown support with "let's hear it for the boyo!"

Quite reasonably Max Boyce, who of course never dealt in stereotypes in his act, believes that the phrase is outdated, irritating and demeaning and he disputes the idea that Welsh people use the term. He says that the only reference he has seen to it is in Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood, where there's a character called Nogood Boyo. The paper quotes literary expert Peter Finch as saying that "boyo" was once in common use, probably more in Swansea and Carmarthenshire than elsewhere.

I may be misremembering but I seem to recall that the Welsh maths and science teacher, Mr. Price, played by Richard Davies in the 1960s sit-com 'Please Sir' using the phrase all the time. Of course this was done to underline the stereotype but it was there nevertheless.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Oldest Record Store for sale

The oldest record shop in the world is for sale. Spillers Record Shop, on the Hayes, has been the centre of attention for music fans since 1894. But now the 112-year-old shop has been put on the market and the owner says that if it is not sold by next March then he might close it.

The Western Mail reports that it is in the Guiness Book of Records and has been the subject of a question on Radio One. Former customers include Will Young and Robbie Williams. It seems that a lot of people go there to buy Led Zeppelin records.

Big Brother ends

Today is the end of a 14 week marathon. It is the last night of Big Brother. It cannot have come too soon. What exactly Channel Four is going to put in its place has yet to be seen but surely any replacement cannot surpass this in exploiting some very vulnerable people and in manipulating its audience.

All the media in Wales are rooting for Glyn. Even the Welsh editions of The Sun have been urging people to vote for him - yn Gymraeg.

It cannot be denied that Glyn has briefly mainstreamed the Welsh language for a lot of people all over the U.K. even more than the recent Eisteddfod, but I cannot bring myself to join in the enthusiasm this side of the border that he should take home the one hundred thousand pound first prize. It beats working ones way through University to pay ones fees I suppose.

In my view his promotion of Wales and Welsh is more than cancelled out by his embarrassing behaviour in the house. For me it is anybody but Glynn as long as it is not Nikki.

Maybe my problem is that I am just too old to be watching this programme. Now where did I put those books I started four months ago?

Update: Glyn has come second and Rhodri Morgan sent him a message of congratulation. I hope that the First Minister put his votes where his mouth is. No doubt he was texting right up to the last minute. I wonder if that is a legitimate question at First Minister's Question Time.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Funding Tony

An interesting article in today's Guardian reports that Labour are seeking to tackle their deficit by reducing and controlling party spending across the board on campaigning activities and getting the state to pay for security whenever the Prime Minister attends party events. At present the bill for this is picked up by the Labour Party.

I had not realised that the two major political parties receive a special grant to cover the cost of security at their annual autumn party conferences. According to the paper, last year the Home Office paid £3.69m and £1.4m for the Labour and Tory party conferences respectively under Section 48 of the Police Act 1996, which gives the home secretary the power to make additional payments in order to safeguard national security.

If this is not ingraining the two party system through state subsidy then I do not know what is. If the present climate means that all national politicians are targets then all political parties should be entitled to subsidy as well.

The other issue of course is who actually picks up the tab. In the past Police Authorities have been left to meet the cost of a party conference being held in their area with a subsequent reduction in their other budgets. This can also happen with visiting dignitaries as Paula Keaveney makes clear in her blog. When Condeleeza Rice visited North West England the Government picked up the bill for security and policing in Blackburn but expected the Merseyside Police Authority to pay for the same provision during her visit to Liverpool. They have now relented.

The lesson is that if this sort of security is to be paid for by government then it should come out of their central budgets and not those of the local police authority. That is the only way to ensure that a visit from the Prime Minister does not lead to a subsequent direct reduction in community policing.

Plain Speaking John

The Independent leads on a curious lack of diplomacy by the Deputy Prime Minister in which he is alleged to have summed up the Bush Administration with a single word. How Tony will react to having the U.S. President and his close friend described as 'crap', we can only guess at. But thank goodness we have a politician in office who calls a spade a spade, despite all his many other faults.

Perhaps this one indiscretion will redeem John Prescott in the eyes of the British public and the Parliamentary Labour Party. Chances are it will not be enough. Nevertheless, his office is not denying he used the phrase, which immediately gives rise to the suspicion that they leaked the story themselves as part of a re-branding exercise. Mr. Prescott is in charge after all and he doesn't give a crap what anybody else thinks on that subject.

Update: The Deputy Prime Minister has now denied this report altogether. He has also said that he did not call the US President a "cowboy with his Stetson on". Shame, they would have had so much in common.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Land of the free

An intriquing and very disturbing letter in the Western Mail this morning from a Christopher Wood, who describes himself as an Attorney at Law, (US Federal Law), and who is based in Arlington, Virginia (in the DC metro area). He writes:

I was astonished to read Swansea University Professor Sheehan's diatribe in the Western Mail ("Britain and US seen by Muslims to have failed the Islamic world", August 14).

By these statements Swansea University is actually justifying future terrorist acts on Welsh and British soil, an astonishing and disgusting position for Swansea University to adopt.

In the absence of immediate clarification, this position taken by Swansea University will have devastating repercussions and will reverberate around the world.

As a Welshman and as a US citizen, I am disgusted by Swansea's University's stance in justifying past and future terrorist acts.

In the absence of immediate clarification I intend to take this matter up with Senators and Members of Congress to demand Swansea University's position as a participating institution in the US government federal loan program is anything but.

Swansea University has, In the absence of immediate clarification, rendered itself a pariah in the fight against international terrorism.

My first reaction was to ask whether in the sanctions he was suggesting Mr. Wood was confusing my home university with Swansea, Massachusetts or Swansea, South Carolina. It turns out however that Swansea University is signed up to the US Government Federal Loan programme, presumably for the benefit of the few American students who come over here to study. It is strange that somebody would seek to restrict educational opportunities for fellow countrymen and women because he disagrees with the views of one Professor.

In fact the tone of the whole letter is bizarre. I thought America was the place where freedom of speech is enshrined in the constitution. Nowadays that only seems to be the case if you agree with the neo-cons. As an Attorney at Law Mr. Wood should also be aware that one employee cannot set policy for an institution in the way he implies, especially when that person is giving a professional view based on years of research and experience.

What is even stranger is the interpretation of Professor Sheehan's comments, which can be found here. His thesis is that the phenomenon of British Muslims prepared to carry out attacks on their own soil is the result of British foreign policy which has alienated the Arab world. He does not make excuses for their actions nor does he seek to justify them. His sole purpose is to try to explain and in doing so shed some light on recent events.

Professor Sheehan, who is also head of the university's Callaghan Centre for Conflict Studies, said, "It's not a rejection of British society as such but a rejection of British foreign policy. Britain is on the sharp end because it's seen to have failed the Islamic world in terms of its slavish support of Israel and failure to support Palestine. That's created a major dislike of the West, and specifically the UK and the US, because they are seen to be most associated with Israeli interests.

"There's a sense that the West isn't really interested in the Arab world - apart from oil - and, when it does have an interest, it favours Israel.

"The invasion of Lebanon has reinforced the feeling that it's one rule for Israel and another for the rest of the Arab states in the Middle East.

"As long as you have got that feeling, there will be some people who will be prepared to take violent action against the West."

Although some have linked the rise of Islamic extremism among young British Muslims to divided communities, failed assimilation and lack of a shared concept of Britishness, Professor Sheehan disagrees. He links the growth of organisations, such as al-Qaeda and groups linked to it, to the "march of fundamentalism" fuelled over the past 20 years by the rise of anti-West powers in some countries within the Middle East and the retreat of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, which he said convinced many of the conquering power of Islam. Such religious fundamentalism, rather than a lack of British identity, is to blame, he said.

"I think the people who are arguing have misunderstood the situation. They have over-reacted to the events of last summer and come out with this idea before they knew about the groups and the people connected with them," he said.

"People come to Britain because it's an attractive place to come to. It was a refuge from the horrors they were fleeing. You wouldn't go to a country if you hated it.

"But, as long as you are part of an immigrant community, you will continue to have a connection with the home country."

This is a reasonable analysis, but even if you disagree with it that is no reason to seek to suppress it. We need to have this debate simply because we must accept that the World situation is very complex and that there are no black and white solutions. All sides have committed acts that can be questioned. If we are to find answers then we need to understand how people arrived at the positions they are at and then work to resolve differences.

The sort of head-in-the-sand, knee-jerk censorship being advocated by Christopher Wood is both anti-democratic and contrary to the principles of free speech championed by his country's founding fathers. His views are a sad reflection of the bunker mentality that some Americans, including the President, have got themselves into.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Lost in Translation

One of the hazards of living in a bi-lingual society is that sometimes the translation can go very badly wrong. This is what appears to have happened with this sign in the Vale of Glamorgan where, according to Owain Sgiv, an officer for the Welsh language campaign group Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, the phrase 'Cyclists dismount' has been roughly translated as 'bladder disease has returned'.

My wife, who is a Welsh translator, offers an explanation as to how this error occured. She and her colleague believe that translation software has been used and that somehow the person responsible sought the Welsh for 'cystitis' instead of 'cyclist'. Easy to do I suppose.

Update: I have now edited this post to remove the point about the meaning of the word 'Dymchwelyd' as it is clearly in dispute and was distracting from the main point which is in the final paragraph. I have also deleted all the comments as they no longer refer to anything in this post.

Football with McDonalds

Labour blogger, Kerron Cross, reports that the Scottish Parliament team won the UK Parliamentary Charity Shield for the third year running. He also records that Cardiff West MP, Kevin Brennan was sent off whilst playing for the Welsh Assembly side, after a piece of play-acting that might have made Ronaldo blush.

The only other details I have are those on Kerron's blog, namely that the Welsh Assembly side lost to the MPs 1-0. I take it that the dearth of news on the Assembly's e-mail system is directly related to a very poor showing by our side. Sorry I was unable to make it but I was fruitfully engaged elsewhere.

Nevertheless, I am sure that all the participants enjoyed McDonald's hospitality and also watching Liverpool's 2-1 defeat of Chelsea.

Monday, August 14, 2006


Can a Liberal Democrat MP ever scale such heights again? I have just put the television on in time to hear Lembit Öpik become the subject of a question on University Challenge.

Jeremy Paxton asked with which astronomical cause is Lembit associated? Naturally, UCL got it right, though they did say meteorites rather than asteroids. Either way, Paxman gave it to them. After this Lembit just has to be the next party leader.

Too much booze

A BBC Radio One poll reveals that nearly a third of 16 to 24-year-olds lost their virginity below the age of consent, 43% of young people have had at least five sexual partners, with one in five having more than 10, whilst over half - 57% - claim to have had a one-night stand.

Some 38% of young people do not always use a condom with a new partner, with being too drunk cited as one of the most common reasons. Alcohol was also strongly linked to a young person's first experience of sex, with 37% saying they had had a drink before having sex for the first time.

There is clearly an education issue here and the Government needs to face up to it. Ministers however should know that just confiscating the alcohol will not help. Perhaps it is time that they gave back the 35,000 bottles of wine, beer and spirits worth around £647,000, that they currently hold for 'hospitality purposes'.

Walking in a discourteous manner

When I first read the Western Mail headline 'Plaid leader's 'discourteous' walk' I automatically thought of the famous Monty Python Ministry of Silly Walks. It turns out however that the story is much more mundane.

Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones has been ticked off by National Assembly Presiding Officer Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas after failing to inform local AMs that he was walking through their constituencies in his recent 'Wales-wide walk'.

The original complaint came from Leighton Andrews who asked whether there is some kind of protocol regarding visits to constituencies by AMs who have no representational role there. It turns out that there isn't but that the Presiding Officer believes that one should exist.

The paper reports that Mr. Jones passed through his own constituency of Ynys Mon, as well as Conwy, Caernarfon, Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, Aberystwyth, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Preseli Pembrokeshire, Rhondda, Caerphilly, Newport East, Newport West, Llanelli and Swansea East. Only one of these areas is in my region and I did not receive notification either. However, it should be noted that if Ieuan Wyn Jones did walk through Swansea East he left behind no trace of his presence whatsoever.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Taxing the polluter

The Observer reports that the Tories are to propose a radical programme for steep tax rises on air travel and gas-guzzling cars offset by cuts in council tax, VAT and national insurance. Where the Liberal Democrats lead then the others follow.

The problem is that the Tory proposals do not make the tax system any fairer, nor do they add up to a coherent tax policy that helps poorer members of our society whilst penalising excessive wealth. In fact I can well imagine the Tory backwoodsmen spluttering over the cornflakes at even the very limited nature of their party's proposals, especially after the way that conservative politicians have defended the car in recent years in the face of congestion charges and parking taxes.

Presumably the only way that they can off-set green taxes against Council Tax will be to reduce the amount of money raised locally by increasing revenue support grant and capping local Councils. That will effectively increase the gearing effect and push up percentage Council Tax rises to unacceptable levels. Because Council Tax is regressive, then the Tories must consider replacing it with something fairer or they will penalise local Council Tax payers.

A few weeks ago I wrote of the Liberal Democrat tax proposals that "worthy as they are, these proposals seem unfocussed and lack a clear narrative. It is my hope that once we see the full details that will change." Having now seen the document I am much happier that it does address many of my concerns. In particular the party has found a narrative for the changes around the concept of fairer and greener taxes.

The proposals will lift two million people out of tax, whilst tackling climate change by taxing pollution. Vince Cable is quite right when he says that the current system of taxation is not fair. The bottom 20% of households pay proportionately more of their income in tax than the richest 20%. I hope that these plans will start to tackle that.

Clearly, there will be a debate around the 50p in the pound tax rate for the highest earners, but if we can achieve our objects of redistributing wealth and helping the poorest people in society without that rate then we should not be wedded to it. In fact the present proposals raise three times as much money from the well-off than the 50p rate proposed in our last manifesto. Equally, there is an argument for some form of property tax and that will be debated at the Liberal Democrat Conference as well. I am becoming more convinced of that particular argument and will be interested in what is said in Brighton on the subject.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Ban the blog

There is a tendency nowadays to react to views that one disagrees with by calling for them to be censored or banned. This is especially so when a high ranking civil servant is the source of these thoughts. It is almost as if these people are not entitled to personal opinions of their own or the right to express them. Personally, I deplore such a reaction. It is my view that policy can only be developed through open and honest debate and that those who have an expertise in a subject should not be barred from participating in that discussion or even initiating it.

The reason I put forward this view is an e-mail I received yesterday from a group who style themselves as the British Motorcycle Federation. They have taken exception to a suggestion posted on the North Wales Police Authority's blog. However, the culprit is not outspoken Chief Constable, Richard Brunstrom, this time but his his deputy, Clive Wolfendale.

In his posting on 8th August, Mr. Wolfendale recalls a trip that he and his wife took to the Lake District. The story continues:

The area has many delights and sailing a traditional lake boat on Ullswater is certainly one of them. Drifting on the breeze, with the ochre sail set against grey waters and green fell, it was hard to imagine that some 12 million tourists a year visit the area. The only detriment to this earthly paradise was the inescapable whine of motorcycles on the A592. Revving in frustration at the snaking traffic and inconvenient speed limits, the machines seemed wholly incompatible with the otherwise pristine scene. I reflected on the statutory duty of Park Authorities to“conserve and enhance natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage” and was reminded that Snowdonia suffers the same high pitched affliction. Most riders are responsible and courteous. North Wales Police has worked hard with partner organisations to cut the amount of motorcycle carnage on our routes. This does not begin to address, however, the environmental imposition. Only on the highest peaks (I just about managed it on a misty Helvellyn) is it possible to escape the grand prix ambience. In Germany, some states have banned the use of motorcycles at the weekend in certain areas. Is it now time to banish motorcycles completely from our National Parks?

The British Motorcycle Federation's response to this is to accuse Mr. Wolfendale of breaching the Police code of conduct. They even go so far as to question whether senior Police Officers should be allowed to express personal views at all:

Personal comments by senior police officers in web logs on official police websites, go against the Police Code of Conduct say the BMF in a letter to the North Wales Police Authority, questioning the use of such personal web logs.

This follows comments made by the Deputy Chief Constable of the North Wales Police, Mr Clive Wolfendale's personal blog on the North Wales Police website in which he floated the idea of banishing motorcycles from National Parks.

In the BMF's letter, which has also been sent to Mr Tony McNaulty MP, Secretary of State with responsibility for Policing, and to the Association of Chief Police Officers' (ACPO) Portfolio Holder for Police Standards, Mr Paul Scoot Lee, (Chief Constable of West Midlands Police), the BMF point out that the Mr Wolfendale's web log for the weekend of August 5th contained a number of remarks that appear to conflict with the Police Code of Conduct i.e.: 'Police officers have a particular responsibility to act with fairness and impartiality in all their dealings with the public and their colleagues.'

In what is obviously a personal blog, the BMF have asked if it is appropriate that the North Wales Police budget is used to fund the publication of a Senior Officers' personal opinions when Mr Wolfendale's comments on motorcycles in National Parks appear to be far from impartial.

On the subject matter of noise from motorcycles, the BMF does not deny that there is a problem, but as DCC Wolfendale comments; 'most riders are responsible and courteous'. This say the BMF is at odds with his postulating on if it:- 'Is it now time to banish motorcycles completely from our National Parks?'

Inconsiderate owners fitting their machines with non-standard illegal exhaust systems cause noise nuisance and it is this issue that should be tackled, not the banning of all motorcyclists say the BMF.

What utter nonsense. By all means engage in the debate and assist the Police in trying to tackle these nuisance bikers but do not seek to censor Police Officers who are using the medium of blogs to reach out to the people they police and provide some transparency and accountability into the way that force is run. This sort of knee jerk reaction by the BMF does nobody any good whatsoever and in fact acts against a free and open society.

As for Mr. Brunstrom, well he was made a druid today. The Western Mail puts this into context:

The North Wales chief constable, famed for his dislike of speeding drivers, will join an order of Welsh bards at the National Eisteddfod.

Membership of the Gorsedd of Bards is the highest honour bestowed by the annual Welsh language festival.

The druids dress in robes of green, blue or white to signify their standing in the order.

Mr Brunstrom, once described as "the godfather of the speed camera" by the Police Federation's official magazine, will wear a white robe – the Gorsedd's highest rank.

On his blog yesterday he wrote: "It's nearly impossible to explain to anyone who doesn't live in Wales just how important the Eisteddfod is to the Welsh national psyche.

"It's a fundamental part of the Welsh cultural identity, and being invited to join the Gorsedd of Bards is a significant honour – especially as an English-speaking incomer like me.

"I'm joining the white robes, the top but honorary rank; the closest equivalent is perhaps a knighthood though the analogy is very far from exact.

"The whole process is at once both deadly serious (it's one of the main reasons for the survival of Welsh language and culture) but also a bit tongue in cheek."

Other famous druids include the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

The order is sometimes wrongly thought to have ancient pagan origins. It was in fact invented on Primrose Hill, London, in 1792.

The ceremony takes place on the Eisteddfod field, near Swansea, at 11am.

Gorsedd members wear green, blue or white to denote their standing. As a member of the highest rank Mr Brunstrom got a white robe.

The honour is bestowed on people deemed to have made a significant contribution to Wales's language and culture.

It takes the Guardian however to find an irony in the proceedings:

Archdruid Selwyn Iolen, who presided at the ceremony, received a speeding ticket from North Wales police when he was rushing home to see a football match recently. "Forget the three points, that's what he told me," the archdruid said. "I don't think he meant it though, or he would get the sack."

Three points is a lot more than the Swans got today!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Radio Star?

I got to a Council meeting last night only to be handed a message to ring a journalist from Channel Four. Apparently, they wanted to do an interview with me on the Liberal Democrat Tax proposals. I rang back to discover that it was a radio interview.

Who knew that Channel Four has a radio station? I didn't. I really must get out less.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Football interlude

Wales are lined up to play Brazil on September 5th but the game will take place in Tottenham Hotspur's 38,000 capacity White Hart Lane Stadium. Why? What has White Hart Lane got that the Millennium Stadium has not? Perhaps the officials who organised this game need a geography lesson.

Praying for change

In an interview with e-politix the First Minister reiterates his view that Tony Blair must set a timetable for his resignation soon if Labour are not to lose the next General Election. Presumably, Rhodri Morgan is thinking about the Welsh General Election as well. No doubt his party workers are finding the same thing on the doorsteps as ours, a determination by lifelong Labour voters not to support the party again.

Morgan told ePolitix.com: "Split parties never win elections.

"If the electorate gets the feeling that there is interminable wrangling and division over the succession then that is very unhelpful in the run up to the Scottish and Welsh elections in May next year.

"We need clarity over the succession of some sort. It is now very much up to the prime minister because the cards are all in his hands and he won a working majority and it is up to him."

The first minister indicated that he is impatient for the situation to be resolved in the coming months, well before the May 2007 round of elections.

"Clarity is the key thing but we have to see what happens in the autumn and winter," he said.

The first minister added that the assembly and parliamentary elections had become a "giant" mid-term test for Labour.

"I am sure that the prime minister is very conscious of the fact that the key mid-term test for any Labour government now is not by-elections caused by the untimely death or resignation of an MP, it's the Welsh and Scottish elections. They are a giant mid-term test," he said.

"They are almost always at the mid-term difficult period, two years after a general election, 2007 is not going to be any different and they will be very tough for that reason.

"Almost all governments are unpopular mid-term and somehow or other we have to make sure Labour in Wales and Scotland are not too badly affected by that."

Clearly Rhodri is feeling particularly apprehensive as to whether he can hang onto his job after the May elections.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A political risk-taker

The Western Mail continues its love affair with Assembly Presiding Officer, Dafydd Elis-Thomas, this morning with this report of an article written by his biographer, former Plaid Cymru Candidate Laura McAllister. The piece is guaranteed to set Ieuan Wyn Jones' teeth on edge, particularly as it identifies two aspects of Lord Elis-Thomas' political form that are lacking in the leadership of the Party of Wales and which could account for its decline - a vision and the ability to take risks.

"Few other politicians of his generation are as intellectually interesting and politically challenging. Indeed, few of his contemporaries arouse as much emotion, at least within the political community. [He] has long sparked strong emotions, mainly because he pushes at the boundaries of our overwhelmingly conventional politics in Wales. In doing so, he often articulates what many of us are thinking.

"The truth is that his recent career has been a marvellous exemplification of saying aloud what many privately think. So, the Assembly is guilty of 'horrendous time-wasting', it has so far failed to 'capture the hearts and minds of the Welsh people', the old Assembly chamber was so poor that it was no surprise 'that the quality of debate sometimes gets a bit soporific', and plans to change the electoral system to ban dual candidatures were 'unnecessary and undemocratic, and quite possibly an infringement of candidates' human rights'.

"Many of us will nod in agreement and thank the lord for saying what we ourselves are thinking."

Ms McAllister gives six reasons why Dafydd Elis Thomas has been such a success in the role of Presiding Officer:

First, and fundamentally, he is relatively unusual in contemporary Welsh politics: intelligent, well read, tactical, experienced, personable, self-assured and charismatic, and most important of all, a political risk-taker, something that has proved especially crucial over the past seven years.

He understands the importance of strategies that involve both individuals and institutions.

He has shown something that is in short supply in Wales: a basic self-confidence. Our mostly docile acceptance of half-baked political schemes and flimsy promises comes from a certain submissiveness, a historically formed lack of self-belief and a persistently defeatist psyche.

Notwithstanding a few outbursts, he has been remarkably restrained since devolution, and especially by his own standards.

More controversially, he has bought into traditions, ceremonies and established protocols as a way of entrenching the Assembly's profile and status. The official opening of the Senedd in March 2006 was a perfect example. While it is tempting to criticise the extent of both royal and military involvement in the St Davids Day celebrations, it is hard to dispute that the establishment only really recognises and acknowledges as its own that which resembles itself in some way.

Despite his protestations, some will say that the Lord enjoyed it all a little too much for their liking, something that rightly grated with many. But perhaps a kind of expedient, "grin-and-bear-it" strategy is necessary at this point in our political development. That is to say, we should accept some necessary but uncomfortable compromises in order to have our embryonic state structure properly recognised.

He has mainly eschewed the idea of single political philosophy, strategy or approach. Instead, he has chosen different and seemingly contradictory tactics at different times as suits circumstances. Those searching for an overarching philosophy with inherent logic and links will be disappointed.

There is no doubt that many in Plaid Cymru would disagree with this analysis. However, even they must acknowledge that together with Rhodri Morgan, Dafydd Elis-Thomas has done more than anybody turn a fledgling democracy into the National Assembly we now have and to prepare it for the challenges that lie ahead after next May's elections.

An obscure Assembly Member

The fame of this blog continues to spread, so much so that apparently they have heard of its existence in the darker recesses of North Wales. Well, this letter in Monday's Daily Post seems to indicate that this is so:

For several weeks I challenged Labour’s opponents to tell your readers whether a coalition was likely to try and replace Rhodri Morgan and Welsh Labour after May 2007. My questions were met with silence from Plaid Cymru. However, it seems that Peter Black of the Lib Dems is not so shy and he now offers an insight to the campaign ahead. His web log has stated “Whoever wins (as Labour’s next leader) could well find themselves as leader of the opposition if various plots and sub-plots going on down in the Bay ever come to fruition.” A sniff of the truth that Plaid and the Tories see a route to power through coalition.

We await their manifestos with interest, and the chance of a campaign to flush out their real intentions for Wales after the Assembly election.

Martin Eaglestone, Prospective Assembly Candidate, Labour Party, Arfon Constituency.

Not unnaturally for such a well-regarded publication as the Daily Post, this masterpiece of erudition elicited an immediate response. The very next day they published this:

Your letters page of August 7 (see letter below) sums up everything people need to know about politics in North Wales. Two letters from people worried about the spate of hospital closures and a letter from a Labour Assembly Candidate who prefers to pass on gossip from the website of an obscure Lib Dem from South Wales.

Plaid Cymru candidates have been taking a leading role in the fight against hospital closures. In the recent county council by-election in Llandrillo Yn Rhos, my colleague Phil Edwards was swept to victory by a tide of people determined to back our campaign to keep the hospitals open.

Your Labour correspondent Mr Eaglestone might point out to the handful of voters who care about possible coalitions after next year’s assembly elections (rather than real issues such as hospitals) that one way of reducing the influence of the Conservatives is for Labour inclined voters to use their regional list vote for Plaid thus electing Dafydd Wigley at the expense of a Tory regional AM.

Mark David Jones. Plaid Vale of Clwyd

Considering you are now reading the blog of an 'obscure Lib Dem from South Wales' (which is the real insult here, the obscurity or the geographical location?) it certainly seems to be attracting a lot of attention from these two correspondents, at least one of which reads my musings regularly. As both Martin Eaglestone and Mark David Jones have exhibited such poor political judgement in the analysis contained in their letters, one does have to question how they plan to lift themselves out of obscurity.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Eisteddfod Surfing

I have come to the conclusion that it is really not a good idea to bring a camera to events like the Royal Welsh Show and the National Eisteddfod.

Arriving at the Maes in Felindre today I made a beeline for the Swansea Council tent where a surf board simulator was on display. Naturally, I was prevailed upon to try it with predictable results.

This photograph was taken shortly before I fell off. I could swear that the people manipulating the controls made it especially bumpy for me.

The price of kinship

Daniel Davies of the Tiger Tales blog and the Press Association tells of his encounter with Rhodri Morgan's brother on the Maes yesterday. He is absolutely right when he describes Prys as a lovely chap, in fact Morgan senior is one of nature's true gentlemen.

I first encountered Prys Morgan when at University. He was one of my history tutors and I well recall that we always started each tutorial with a huge book list. When we complained Prys told us that he read a book a day as an undergraduate with the clear implication that we should be following suit.

In my first weeks at the Assembly I made a point of mentioning to Rhodri that his older brother had been my tutor at University. He responded along the lines of 'typical, people only ever know me through my brother!'

The media have been full of stories about the two reminiscing about the old days, growing up in the Swansea Valley. The Deputy Lord Mayor of Swansea told me today that he passed them in the Mayoral car whilst they were filming in some lane near Graigcefnparc, a van full of twenty police officers nearby. Whether this story is exaggerated or not I do not know but I cannot help wondering if they have any political memories together. Perhaps Rhodri was telling Prys that in the past you could fight an entire General Election for £113,000.

Deputy Dawg

According to today's Guardian my constituent and much-loved Neath MP, Peter Hain, is the favourite to succeed John Prescott as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.

Peter Hain has many strengths but unfortunately they may also count against him in any contest. He is undoubtedly a very talented minister and a good political fixer and organiser. His defusing of the miner's compensation row and his role in getting Alun Michael elected proves this. However, these qualities did not prove enough to retain Blaenau Gwent for Labour and it seemed that his tactics actually wound people up more and pushed them further into the Independent camp. He does not have the common touch.

Mr. Hain's main weakness is his own self-regard and the way that he happily parades it at every opportunity. This can wind people up and although he has ressurrected a moribund constituency organisation in Neath, I have been less than impressed by the way that he has handled some local issues and casework, some of which has come my way to sort out afterwards. People I have spoken to in Neath give me the impression that they believe that their MP main priorities are his own career and national issues.

His nickname is Peter Vain, largely because of his seemingly permanent tan and his obvious sense of his own self-importance. He clearly enjoys the trappings of office as is illustrated by this story. He projects an image of the principled politician but his main modus operandi is as an old-fashioned political fixer.

The Guardian says that he "has often caused controversy by frank speaking, including an admission that the government had lost support among traditional supporters. Three years ago while Commons leader, he was slapped down by Tony Blair after suggesting that high earners should pay more tax." What it does not say is that there is a view that these incursions were part of a calculated attempt to create an image within the Labour Party.

Peter Hain does not like people who stand up to him or challenge his assertions. His campaign against the Welsh Assembly's Regional List system has been a disgrace, based entirely on political expediency rather than principle. When I pointed out to him in the Assembly chamber that as he lives in my region he is my constituent he took extreme umbrage and slagged me off in a private press briefing. That is his right but it is hardly an honourable way to debate these matters.

All in all, the Labour Party will get the Deputy Leader that it deserves. Whether that person is Peter Hain has to be seen, but he does not strike me as the sort of politician who can inspire a mass membership in a ballot, nor one who sits comfortably with the party's traditions and concerns. Maybe that is why he has chosen to target union leaders, people he can do business with. It will be an interesting contest, all it needs is for John Prescott to fall on his own croquet mallet to spark it off properly. In the meantime, the behind-the-scenes manoeurving will continue.

Update: BBC Wales Parliamentary Correspondent, David Cornock, makes a welcome return with this insightful analysis of Peter Hain's prospects:

But for all his appeal as a left-wing "conscience of the party" deputy, Mr Hain will face questions from left-wing MPs over his unstinting support for the war in Iraq.

He also supports the retention of Britain's nuclear deterrent and has let his membership of CND lapse.

For all the talk of Blairites and Brownites, Hainite MPs have been less visible although the man himself believes he has enough private supporters to enter the race.

Mr Hain has nine years' experience as a government minister, with many more in a political career that began with his family's opposition to apartheid in their native south Africa.
He is one of the better communicators in politics, but has never run a large government department.

His political skills have steered through greater powers for the Welsh assembly despite scepticism from many Labour MPs, although his fingerprints can also be found at the scene of some of Welsh Labour's self-inflicted wounds in recent years.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Clamped of Cardiff

The Press Association have a good story out at the moment about the First Minister being clamped outside a pub in Cardiff. Apparently, Rhodri Morgan came out of the Pen and Wig only to find his car incapacitated by an over-zealous parking attendant.

Rhodri put his famed command of the English language into gear and managed to persuade them to unclamp him, explaining that he thought he had parked in the patrons' car park. To be fair, he was celebrating the birth of another grandchild that day, an event that could disorientate anybody.

Google search

There is something rather disturbing about the fact that somebody might find this site through a Google search against 'sian nude glyn davies'. To the best of my knowledge I have never made any reference here to Conservative AM, Glyn Davies, in a state of undress, not even when he was stopped by Police whilst driving with no trousers on.

Oops! I have now!

Blackburn blues

Liberal England draws attention to speculation in the Mail on Sunday that Jack Straw was sacked as Foreign Secretary because Condi Rice thought he was a bit suspect:

A US source told The Mail on Sunday: "Mr Straw's views did not find favour in the White House and its concerns were passed on to the British Government.

"It was revealed last week by a senior aide to media mogul Rupert Murdoch that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was shocked to learn of the influence of Muslims in Mr Straw's constituency when she visited Blackburn with him during a tour of Britain in April.

Four weeks after her visit, Mr Straw was mysteriously fired..."

The Bush team worried about the problems a British Foreign Minister faced when he depended for office on an electorate with a heavy Muslim component - something Rice noticed on her visit," said Mr Stelzer.

It is difficult to say if this is true or not of course, but it does capture the mood that Bush is fighting a religious crusade rather than a war against terrorism. In such a conflict there can be no mixed loyalties. Blair's adherence to this agenda is worrying and completely at odds with our liberal traditions.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Police state

If this story is true and Gordon Brown is proposing to share data from a national identity register with businesses then we really are heading for a surveillance state. It is bad enough that the state is being given the power to track our every movement and demand proof of our existence, without offering the same rights to the highest bidder.

This proposal may well help to pay for ID card technology but it will mitigate against wide acceptance of the scheme. Indeed, I suspect that even the dwindling band of people who still believe that ID cards have some validity for security reasons, will baulk at this latest development.


Flying Air Lembit

I had the rather surreal experience last night of being asked by Lembit Öpik to refer to him on my blog. Normally, he hates it when he gets a mention here.

Lembit has launched a new venture, an airline. Details can be found here. There is not a lot else I can add to this news.

Banquo at the feast

So what exactly was this Labour balloon doing at the wedding party of Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Leader, Mike German?

Apparently, it was a joke by the balloon supplier. When Mike and Veronica went to put their order in he told them that he had traditionally always supplied the balloons for Labour's Blaenau Gwent campaigns. However, this year Labour went to a different supplier, who was able to quote a lower price, and then they lost the by-elections.

The balloon vendor obviously has a good appreciation of irony as well a strong sense of poetic justice.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Who is in charge?

Hopefully, Liberal Democrat News will not mind me reproducing this cartoon from this week's edition. Blair has not yet gone on holiday of course, but when he does expect the media and bloggers like Guido Fawkes and Iain Dale to focus in on Prescott.

Golden arches

It is only a week to go to the McDonalds charity shield, featuring politicians from all around the UK. Included in the package of hard-fought football games is the opportunity for the said politicians to stay at the Hilton in Cardiff, courtesy of the fast food chain, including a drinks reception and the 2006 Parliamentary Shield Dinner. On the Sunday they will be whisked off to the Millennium Stadium for a drinks reception, lunch, entertainment, a chance to watch the real Charity Shield and then post-match hospitality. Anybody wishing to cheer on the Assembly Members who are participating in this event should show up at the Leckwith Stadium at 13.30 on Saturday 12th August.

None of this has anything to do of course with the rather bizarre story in today's Western Mail, which records that the McDonald's restaurant in Carmarthen has been given 'brown sign status.' This is a brown and white directional sign usually reserved for tourist destinations such as visitor centres, theme parks, historic buildings and natural attractions. Other 'brown signed' tourist facilities can include hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs, public houses, restaurants and holiday parks. In Carmarthen however, the distinctive golden arches of their local McDonald's restaurant has qualified and is signposted accordingly.

Julian Burrell, director of the Wales Tourism Alliance, said, "I'm sure there are lots of smaller attractions that have problems getting the brown signs that wouldn't agree with McDonald's getting one.

"We've had complaints before from people because they feel they deserve signs.

"The criteria can be pretty open to interpretation.

"It's a constant cause of discussion within the tourism industry.

"There are some small tourism organisations that find it difficult who wish they had one.

"It's a problem in that you have to be able to prove you have a certain number of people visiting.

"It's a catch-22 because you might not be able to get that number without one of the signs.

And making reference to the huge luminous golden arches displayed outside most McDonald's, he added, "One would have thought it is quite difficult to miss a McDonald's, and you could say that they could probably be found easily enough without the sign."

However he said the burger restaurant's contribution to tourism should not be disregarded.

We should not disregard their contribution to football either. Not too sure how they fare in the culinary stakes.

Who rules who?

Intriquing suggestion from J. Cyril Hughes in the letters page of today's Western Mail:

Given the success and punctuality of the completion of the Millennium Stadium and the Millennium Centre and the absolute chaos surrounding the Bath Spa and the ill-fated Wembley Stadium, surely the time has come for England to be ruled from Wales.

I offer no further comment.

A different world

In recent days I have woken up to the latest news of violent death and personal disaster in the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere and despaired. Like many people I am in a state of denial, trying not to come to terms with the huge global issues and problems facing all of us, for fear that I will fall into a deep depression about the future of the human race. Emma Brockes in today's Guardian just about sums it up:

When things started to deteriorate, it took a while to register. We are accustomed, as sophisticated consumers of the 24-hour news media, to taking a rolling approach to disaster, which means never regarding a story as finite, which means pretending that nothing has ultimate consequences, which means, if you want to go the whole philosophical hog, existing in a constant state of denial about death. Anyway. In news as in life, the way we deal with disturbing events is to wrap them in analytical packaging, an evasion that makes us feel more in control. If you don't have a position on war in the Middle East, you at least have an appreciation for the range of positions at your disposal and as long as Sky News keeps booking the experts and loading the graphics, there is no catastrophe too great or too strange to absorb.

September 11 was the exception to this. But without a single event to focus on, it has been relatively easy, since then, to relegate the daily drip of bad news to the top shelf of the brain. One night last week, the main item on the 10'clock news was Israel sending troops into Lebanon. It was accompanied by footage of tanks throwing up dust and people crawling out of bomb damaged housing. The second item was news of three British soldiers being killed in an ambush in southern Afghanistan and nine hundred more British troops being committed to the region, bringing the total to 4,500. The third item was that Corporal Matthew Cornish, a 29-year-old British soldier, husband and father of two young children, had died in a mortar attack in Basra, bringing the total number of deaths in Iraq that day to 60, which the reporter pointed out was slightly below average, and the death toll over the past two months to nearly 6,000.

At this stage, the shelf starts to buckle. Embedded in these stories was speculation about Iran's nuclear threat, a reminder that Gaza is still under siege, analysis of Tony Blair's fallout with his cabinet and footage of his joint press conference with George Bush, which when it was shown the first time round - Blair frowning powerfully, Bush sinisterly jocular - was a tipping point into despair for lots of people. The final item on the news that evening couldn't have been more symbolic if it had shown the ravens leaving the Tower of London. Fidel Castro, the one constant in all our lives, was on the blink. That's when I reached for the phone and -

"We're fucked."

Her analysis is spot on, right down to the conclusion:

You reassure yourself that, as in all cycles of history, this one will come to an end, too. Then you remember that the man in charge of writing the ending is George Bush, and you have to start again.

Amongst all this tragedy, it is helpful to have a some cause for hope, no matter how trivial. Tommy Sheridan's libel victory against the News of the World will have to do right now as such a moment. And what a triumph it was:

It took a jury just less than three hours to decide that the former leader of the Scottish Socialist party was not a serial adulterer with a predilection for champagne, swinging and orgies, but a Scrabble-loving, tea-drinking family man and the victim of what he had called "the mother of all stitch-ups".

No matter what one thinks about Sheridan, one has to admire anybody who can take on the big boys, conduct his own defence and emerge victorious against all the odds. The most bizarre moment in the trial, amongst many bizarre moments, was the insight provided by Mrs Sheridan into her husband's life, that was instrumental in swaying the jury:

At first, Gail Sheridan appeared to be playing the traditional role of a politician's wife in times of trouble: standing by her man, grinning and bearing it. Turning up at court in a different outfit and designer sunglasses each day prompted one wag to remark that if you must listen to claims that your husband is a coke-snorting swinger, you may as well look your best. But then she delivered a remarkable performance in the witness box which must have helped swing the jury.

"I certainly wouldn't be here giving evidence if you had been having affairs," she told him. "There is no way I would be here and neither would you. You would be in the Clyde with a piece of concrete tied round you and I would be in court for your murder." She described her husband as a rather boring man, who had an unappealing, hairy body.

The 42-year-old former air hostess has always admired Mr Sheridan, she told the court. "But I have never been more proud of you than I have been in the last four weeks. You're taking them on, the News of the World ... the legal establishment. I've never been more proud of you ..." At that point, Mr Sheridan wept.

The case has almost certainly destroyed the Scottish Socialist Party as a force in Scottish politics, not because of any fall-out for Mr. Sheridan, but because of the way that it was exposed during the case as an organisation riven by factionalism and bad blood, some of whose members could face perjury allegations as a result of their evidence. The case is a minor diversion from the horror going on all around us, but a welcome one at that.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Constitutional chaos

A leaked memo indicates that the Labour Government are proposing to allow hereditary peers to remain in the House of Lords until as late as 2050 even if a large element of the second chamber should be elected.

All-in-all it looks like the Government are still struggling to find a coherent way forward on this issue. Like many of their constitutional reforms they are playing it by ear without any clear idea of their final destination.

Keeping any of the hereditary peers is indefensible in my view. As the 'Elect the Lords' website says 'There is now a widespread consensus that the Lords should be replaced by a predominantly elected Second Chamber.' Sign up to the campaign today.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Courtroom strip

Socialist MSP, Tommy Sheridan has offered to strip in court to prove how hairy he is. Ths bizarre offer was made in an effort to prove that allegations of serial adultery are unfounded. The Scotsman has a wonderful quote:

Key quote "I have been made a source of ridicule for it but, hey, that's the breaks. I am like a hairy ape. I have excessive hair on my chest, my legs and my back. If that is challenged, let's have a derobing and let's prove that physical characteristic which I think is very important in this case" - Tommy Sheridan

The relevance of all this appears to be that in evidence, Mr. Sheridan's wife had revealed that the MSP had excessive body hair, but she pointed out that none of the women he allegedly bedded had mentioned the fact.

I always wondered why Jeffrey Archer did not make a similar offer a few years back when a prostitute alleged in court that he had a spotty back.

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