Tories must come clean on Tax
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Welsh Conservatives have been snarling at Labour over council tax for some time. Today, they revealed the full scale of the outrage that followed the controversial revaluation of homes in 2003. There were upwards of 30,000 appeals in total, with almost 20,000 resulting in a band change.
Council tax in Wales has risen a whopping 186% since 1993 - outpacing the increase in house prices by 7%. In England, meanwhile, council tax has risen only 121%.
It's an issue the Tories would be silly not to use to their advantage. But, sooner or later people will start demanding an alternative. And that's where the Conservatives could falter.
Let's take a look at their website. Not a word on alternative policies there. In fact, you have to go back to the 2005 election manifesto for a clear position:
The way in which a government allocates taxpayers' money demonstrates its values. By going to war on waste and ending ineffective public spending programmes, we will achieve these aims.
Is that still the case? If so, which public services would they cut?
Let them have their cake and eat it. Or give us another cake.
Dwi wedi ysgrifennu adolygiad o'r ffilm Babel ar gyfer wefan y BBC.
Cytuno ai peidio, croeso i chi adael sylwadau fan hyn.
Carwyn 'I'm the next First Minister Jones' has a blog.
I was talking to someone at Welsh Assembly Communications last week and not even they were aware of this.
Unfortunately, Carwyn blogs from the Alun Pugh school of tedium rather than the Glyn Davies school of controversy.
Yesterday, for example he blogged on the 'Warmer, Safer Homes Surgery'.
Meryl Streep's for Charlie PoW
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
It could all have been so different for the Prince of Wales.
No Princess Di and no Queen Camilla.
On the latest leg of Prince Charles' tour of the United States, filmstar Meryl Streep revealed that as a girl she'd always dreamt of marrying him.
The Prince said the comments "entirely made his year".
He must be expecting a pretty dull eleven months. He cerainly won't be watching a host of great films that were never made:
Out of Aberdare
The River Taff Wild
The Bridges of Newport County...
Are Assembly Members Ann Jones, Karen Sinclair and Glyn Davies right to table an amendment calling for Wales' smoking ban to come into force at the same time as in England?
Wales was due to break with the fags on April 2nd, but if the tar-happy triumvirate in the Senedd get their way the ban won't come into place until July.
They say businesses on the border will lose out as Welsh people shift their locals over to England.
Whatever happened to taking the lead and making England jealous?
Just one day more of cancer-fuelled fog in our pubs is a day too many.
UPDATE: The amendments were defeated and Wales will have its smoking ban on April 2nd.
But what on earth is Leanne Wood blogging about? She doesn't want to see 'smokers marginalised'. Well, Leanne, I don't want to see my lungs marginalised! Good job there was little support for your amendment, as you predicted.
Whatever celebrity BB winner Shilpa Shetty has done for India's image there remain a few basic facts about India:
- It is a nuclear power
- It has the world's second largest army
- It is at war in Kashmir and Assam and in nuclear tension with Pakistan
- It is stricken with poverty
A new one to add to the list is that increasing numbers of Indian fighter pilots are being trained in Wales.
Prime Minister Tony Blair famously courted a huge arms contract with India in 2002, a week after saying he hoped Britain could have a "calming influence" on the conflict between India and Pakistan. At the time, Britain was also supplying arms materials to Pakistan - effectively arming both sides in the battle.
Shilpa may be rich and beautiful, but she didn't manage to get across the fact that of its nearly 1 billion inhabitants, an estimated 400 million people in India live below the poverty line.
Meanwhile, in RAF Valley, Indian pilots train to use the 132 Hawk Jets bought by the Indian government at a cost of roughly £1 billion. That's the equivalent of ten years bilateral aid.
The truth is that India is engaged in conflict. Those endearing chaps who come to Wales and struggle with the language and the lack of vegetarian food may soon be shooting at people. And the cost of it all is diverting funds from those who are in desperate need. While India's glitzy celebs enjoy their moment in the British tabloids, let's spare a thought for the hundreds of millions who - thanks in part to an unforgiving global arms trade - don't think about anything beyond their next meal.
Source: The Hindu
Welsh Assembly trivia competition
Monday, January 29, 2007
Things you notice when you browse tedious Welsh political websites on a regular basis:
1. Jonathan Morgan AM has more initials than anyone who has ever stood as a candidate for the national assembly - J.B.R.W. Morgan. What on earth do they all stand for?
2. Only one constituency has had the same top three candidates in the previous two assembly elections. Without checking and web searching, can you name it?
3. And why oh why is Owen John Thomas the only AM with 'MA' after his name in the Assembly Members' biography index? Surely he's not the only politician with a half-decent academic record? After all, Nick Bourne's a professor and he's not shouting about it.
Labour announced its 250 assembly achievements this weekend. As predicted, the Tories went with the obvious "this could well be the shortest document in political history" retort. But how much padding was really going on?
I've taken one for the team and read all 250 of them. Consequently, I'm not going to go straight out and get an 'I love Labour' tattoo on my buttocks as the PR people might have hoped. Instead, I'm wondering more than ever what constitutes an achievement in political terms.
• Secured European Union regeneration aid for West Wales, the Valleys and most of North Wales between 2000 and 2006. Through this, more than £3 billion of investment has been allocated to more than 1,700 projects.
• Thanks to Labour’s negotiations in the European Union, a further round of £3 billion of investment has been secured for West Wales, the Valleys and most of North Wales to cover the period 2007 to the end of 2013.
I'm confused. Wales gets so much Objective 1 funding because large parts of it has GDP at less than 75% the EU average. Does 'secured regeneration aid' therefore mean we should be thanking the Labour government for creating the circumstances in which Wales lags behind the rest of Europe in economic terms?
Perhaps some of the money could be put towards free bus passes for bloggers. Everyone else seems to have one...
Sports journalists: idle and wrong
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Ever been to a game of football and then got home to read a match report bearing no resemblance to what you've just seen?
Frustrating, isn't it?
Cardiff had a pretty poor attendance of just 12,000 this weekend. And it seems that whatever our missing fans were doing, the contingent of sports journalists must have been there with them - because they certainly weren't at the game.
Those of us at Ninian Park saw an absolute stunner, thanks solely to Michael Chopra who scored a hat-trick of goals, each one of them struck into the top right-hand corner of the net. I'd be surprised if I ever witness such a beautiful threesome ever again.
The Guardian, however, called the third goal a "simple tap-in". It was actually a thunderbolt from outside the box.
The BBC fared no better, claiming Chopra's second was set up by a "slide-rule pass" from Joe Ledley. In reality, it was a perfectly weighted long ball from Stephen McPhail that put Cardiff's leading scorer through.
Even the laziest hack could simply have watched the goals played repeatedly on Sky Sports News last night to glean the most basic of facts about them. For some sports journalists, it seems, even that's too much to ask.
What a shame.
And an ex-Bluebird got the winner too!
A wasted trip across the width of the country, then, for Plaid's Ted Jones in his environmentally friendly Peugeot.
Wales and Scotland are "a fascinating world beyond the English shires," according to an Indonesian journalist who recently had the honour of discovering that there's more to Britain than London and Oxford.
She even had good things to say about our bruising climate: "The autumn Welsh weather was unforgiving; the wind was freezing and the rain came without warning. Yet, its fine days persuaded you to believe in the promise of unending sunshine."
Praise too for the good people of the North: "Shopkeepers, even in cities like Caernarfon, do not pester or cajole, though they keep their eyes on you as you browse." Probably because the locals are always nicking stuff:)
And by strange coincidence, the author happens to be called Dewi - a popular female name in Indonesia, meaning 'goddess'.
Source: Jakarta Post
Is there such a thing as a Welsh Unionist?
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Not according to Wikipedia. It's hardly an authority, I know, but it does seem a bit odd that the page on unionism refers only to trade unionism, and then unionism in Ireland, Scotland, Romania and Moldova.
So why the glaring omission? Welsh Tories clearly see themselves as unionists. David Davies AM even insisted on being called by his party's full name - the Conservative and Unionist Party - during one plenary session last term. Other notable self-confessed unionists are Peter Hain and Leighton Andrews. Perhaps they should all club together and rustle up a page for Wikipedia. Even the nationalists have one of those.
Marginal and marginally marginal constituencies
Friday, January 26, 2007
Imagine a Senedd returned on May 3rd without Ieuan Wyn Jones, Helen Mary Jones, John Marek and Jonathan Morgan. It could happen, couldn't it?
Here's my list of marginal and marginally marginal constituencies for the next Assembly election. Have I missed anything? Or am I more than merely marginally off the mark? Do tell.
Ynys Mon, Ieuan Wyn Jones (Plaid)
Aberconwy, Denise Idris Jones (Labour)
Clwyd West, Alun Pugh (Labour)
Wrexham, John Marek (Independent)
Mid & West Wales
Preseli, Tamsin Dunwoody (Labour)
Carmarthen West, Christine Gwyther (Labour)
Llanelli, Catherine Thomas (Labour)
South Wales Central
Cardiff North, Sue Essex - Sophie Howe (Labour)
UPDATE: Thanks to the combined wisdom of Anonymous, Mr Gasyth, Seren, Andrew Davies' charisma (separated at birth) and ianjamesjohnson in the comments, we are now adding to the list:
The Vale of Glamorgan, seat of Jane 'Pizza' Hutt (Labour)
Ceredigion, Elin Jones (Plaid). Despite the fairly big majority, the Lib Dems did manage a 17% swing last time and took the seat at Westminster.
Caerphilly, Jeff Cuthbert (Labour), in case Ron the badger miraculously lets in Plaid.
Now, do you think Leighton Andrews will be losing any sleep about the prospect of coming up against Plaid's MEP Jill Evans in the Rhondda?
Ted Jones has become the latest Plaid Cymru man to blog on the economic case for independence. His spin on the figures follows efforts by Montgomeryshire candidate David Thomas and socialist republican Seren.
If Plaid candidates and 'boffins' really believe what they blog, they will surely be making room for these arguments in their manifesto for the upcoming election.
I look forward eagerly to 'Change for the Better Part II: The return of the i word'.
Go on, if independence is half as popular as you claim it is then you've nothing to worry about:)
The charge against Carl Sargeant
Thursday, January 25, 2007
I note that a few people have put a link to Carl Sargeant's blog in their sidebars.
But is he still blogging? On November 25th I pointed out that he'd been on a bit of a break since his inaugural three posts.
Then, on December 6th he told me: "I did recently create a blog site but to be honest , finding the time to update it is a nightmare."
The sort of nightmare in which you lose all access to computers perhaps?
Anyway, I'm removing Carl and Rhodri 'put your foot in it' Glyn Thomas from my blogroll if they don't get started by the end of the month.
Huw Lewis recently got back to his blog (albeit with a quip at one of his constituents), after I drew attention to his extended absence.
A blog is, after all, a conversation with potential voters. When someone visits a blog which hasn't been updated it's as if they've walked into a room with someone who's deliberately playing mute. Ignore the electorate at your peril.
Plaid's deputy leader Rhodri Glyn Thomas:
I believe a good working majority means at least 34 votes. If Labour were in coalition with Plaid after the election, it is possible that we could have 40 seats between us. But there would certainly be at least 34, freeing up Ministers to do their jobs without the handicap of being tied in to the Assembly for most of the week.
Perhaps they should just join forces *before* the election and be done with it. Anything else is just cheating Welsh voters, isn't it?
Is Eleanor Burnham racist?
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Labour are calling for the Lib Dems to kick out North Wales AM Eleanor Burnham after she used the word "Japs" in the chamber.
Mrs Burnham said: "Why not invest in the Maglev train that the Japs use to whizz through the countryside at about 320mph, rather than piddling around at 60mph as we do?"
Burn her! Burn her!
In her defence, Mrs Burnham claimed that British people are sometimes referred to as "Brits".
The problem with "Japs", however, is that it was a derogatory term used to stir-up racial hatred during the second world war. Japanese people were also commonly referred to as "Nips" and monkeys.
But Mrs Burnham has already apologised and clearly intended no offence. What more can you expect from a 'foul-mouthed gog'?
Who's the most popular Welsh political blogger? Well, it's impossible to tell as the internet still has no central database of blog rankings.
The next best thing is Technorati, which ranks blogs according to how they fit into a network of links. Problem is some blogs get a lot of links but perhaps not so many hits. This particularly applies to politicans who are linked to from all angles on account of their profile and status. So, don't be surprised if the following list is weighted heavily towards the elected politicians at the top.
Anyway, just for the hell of it I've put together a pecking order based on those Technorati scores. These are the political blogs that I know about and that I've linked to. If you're on this list please do link back here, then we can all be one big happy Welsh blogging community.
1. Peter Black
2. Glyn Davies
3. Leighton Andrews
4. David Davies
5. Tomos Livingstone
6. Nick Bourne
7. Blamerbell Briefs
8. Stephen Crabb
= Daniel Davies
11. Martin Eaglestone
12. Luke Young
13. Alun Pugh
14. Huw Lewis
= Dylan Jones-Evans
16. Alun Cairns
= Rob Newman
18. Emma Greenow
19. Bethan Jenkins
20. David Jones
= Ted Jones
22. James Skinner
23. Mark Young
= Steffan Lewis
= Wales Elects
27. Mark Jones
= Trefor Jones
= Richard Hazlewood
= David Thomas
Tory AM Alun Cairns has recently become convinced that the strange Iain Dale/Lembit Opik hybrid currently doing the rounds in the Welsh blogosphere is his inimitable colleague Glyn Davies.
The blog, posting under the pseudonym Chipen Dale, claims to be "the blog of Wales's top Lib Dem supporting male stripper, exotic dancer, flyer, political correspondent, thinker, and man well loved by his gorgeous Romanian girlfriend."
He's recently been forced to deny allegations that he's in any way realted to trousers down with sheep politician Glyn Davies.
Writing a comment on Alun Cairns' blog - and who other than a fellow Tory AM would do that?? - Chipen Dale remarks:
Hand on heart, I do not know this Glyn person. I am me: Chip Dale. And I’m fully aware that the more I claim not to be this Glyn, the more you will think I am him. But I’m not. If I think of a number between 1 and 100, it wouldn’t be the same number somebody called Glyn would think of. What more conclusive proof do you need?
Hanging around the same nightspots? The truth must be told.
What's your favourite Assembly achievement?
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
That's the question Labour are asking today, ahead of their "achievements document" to be launched on Friday. I suspect some readers of this blog will say it's likely to be quite a thin thesis.
Here are some handy hints from the Labour press office:
Is it your free bus pass, a community
centre which has been given a new lease of life thanks to Assembly
Government investment, or perhaps you've benefited from an initiative to
make Welsh homes more energy efficient.
Err, well none of those things really apply to me. In fact, all the Assembly has ever done is remind me quite how much I paid for everything when I lived in England: tuition fees, dentist costs, prescription charges...
So, what's my favourite Assembly achievement?
Certainly not the website, which is about as easy to navigate as the back-end of a pantomime horse.
My sense is, quite honestly, that as the Assembly and those inside it grow and mature, the best is yet to come. [Cue titles]
The Welsh political media has spent the day obsessing over the Welshness of Plaid's deceased donor Howel Vaughan Lewis.
Plaid laid down the gauntlet this morning by challenging all the other political parties to draw their finances only from Wales in the forthcoming election campaign.
Hacked off Tories, Lib Dems and Labour politicians responded by accusing Plaid of hypocrisy: Mr Vaughan Lewis was a businessman who lived in London nearly all his life.
It's unrealistic that the big parties will turn off their UK revenue taps. They are, after all, parties committed to unionism, or at least federalism.
Why couldn't Plaid boast about its own promise to bankroll its campaign using Welsh money, rather than dragging the other parties into a bitter and, in the end, somewhat tedious row?
Later today Plaid launch their election campaign. So far they haven't launched anything except a vitriolic attack on Labour. Plaid are trying to hit Labour where it hurts: at the coalface.
Labour, historically the party of miners, accepted a £2m donation from mining and steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal just last week. Back in 2001, Tony Blair got into all sorts of trouble for allegedly intervening in a contractual issue on Mittal's behalf. This week, it has emerged Blair will consider honouring Mittal - Britain's richest man. Someone should tell Mr Blair that courting more honours controversy at this moment is about as sensible as Jade Goody putting a pillowcase on her head and dancing around her garden.
So, what's all this got to do with Borat and Wales? Well, Plaid are asking Welsh Labour to promise not to spend a penny of Mittal's money on their election campaign. Why? Because Wales still cares about mining, even if Thatcher put a stop to it, and Mittal is blamed for miners' deaths in Kazakhstan and Ukraine. Dariga Nazarbaeva, the Kazakh President's daughter and powerful media tycoon, is said to hold Mittal responsible for the deaths of 80 Kazakh coal miners in the past three years.
Could Labour possibly get away with funding an election campaign on the blood of dead miners? No, well not if they died in Aberavon. But they didn't, and so far there's no proof of Mittal's culpability anyway. Plaid have got their headline and that will probably be the end of it. Unless they can persuade Borat to endorse them...
Nationalist funding hypocrisy exposed?
Monday, January 22, 2007
This week's political punchbag is Plaid Cymru. They're launching their election campaign tomorrow, so it's no surprise the other parties should want to embarrass them. And that's exactly what Labour think they've done:
Nationalists in Wales faced ridicule today after it was revealed that they were receiving the majority of its money for the Assembly campaign from England.
Apart from some confusion over personal pronouns, an interesting story...
The revelation came within minutes of Plaid Cymru calling on Welsh political parties to fight the Assembly campaign "using only finance, staff
and resources from Wales".
Plaid Cymru was left a legacy of £330,000 by Howel Vaughan Lewis, of south
London, which it will use to bankroll its Assembly campaign.
Ouch! Now for the attack dog:
Labour Mid and West Wales candidate ALUN DAVIES said:
"Labour is proud to be a British party. We believe in the strength of the
union and that Wales works best as part of the United Kingdom.
"Plaid Cymru's hypocrisy has been exposed by this latest cheap publicity
stunt. Before issuing press releases challenging political parties to use
money directly from Wales, it should check the sources of its own funds."
So, over-egging from Labour, or egg on the face for Plaid? One thing I'll guarantee: this won't be the first Wales v Britain tiff of the election campaign.
UPDATE: It seems the Plaid press release in question was embargoed for tomorrow. Labour are getting their defence in early.
Rhyfedd iawn yw llwytho wefan y pleidiau Llafur neu Ceidwadol a gweld diffyg llwyr defnydd o'r iaith Gymraeg, ac eleni yn blwyddyn etholiad holl bwysig. Tydy pleidleisiau siaradwyr Cymraeg gwerth dim iddyn nhw?
Ar safle'r blaid Lafur does dim hyd yn oed opsiwn i lwytho'r tudalen yn y Gymraeg; mae'r holl beth yn Saesneg. Dyw wefan y Ceidwadwyr ddim llawer gwell. Er i Glyn Davies honni mae'r Toriaid yw plaid yr iaith rhagor, dim ond un adran bach ar amcanion y blaid sydd i'w gael yn Gymraeg. Mor belled ac dwi'n gweld does dim modd cyfieithu nodweddion arall y safle chwaith. Dyna agwedd od i 'blaid yr iaith' gweithredu.
Chwarae teg i'r Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, mae opsiwn ganddyn nhw ar waelod y sgrin i gyfieithu'r holl beth i'r Gymraeg. Serch hynny, y ffordd tecach yw i adael i ddarllenwyr penderfynnu pa iaith sydd orau ganddyn nhw cyn mynd at unrhyw gynnwys. Dyna'r sefyllfa efo Plaid Cymru, sydd a wefan hollol gytbwys (ond plis trowch y fflipin jingl 'na bant!).
Yn y cyfamser, mae pob ymgais gan Llafur a'r Toriaid i ennill pleidleisiau ar sail eu agwedd at faterion yn ymwneud a'r iaith Gymraeg yn hollol rhagrithiol tra eu bod nhw'n cynnal wefannau mor unllygeidiog.
(Dwi'n ymwybodol nad oes llawer o gynnwys Cymraeg ar y blog yma chwaith! Sori, mae mwy i ddod yn yr wythnosau nesaf - ond dyw hon ddim yn blog i Gymry yn unig, ac dyw Cymraeg Blamerbell ddim llawer well na'i Japanese.)
And, for English-speaking readers wondering what the hell is going on... The homepages of both Labour and the Conservatives in Wales contain little or no use of the Welsh language. This despite the Tories' Glyn Davies wanting the party to become the natural choice for Welsh speakers. It's shocking that in an election year, better provisions have not been made.
Support for independence up to a third
Sunday, January 21, 2007
A staggering one in three Welsh people want independence, according to a poll in today's Wales on Sunday. Earlier this week 20% told a somewhat strangely worded Newsnight poll that they favour the break-up of the union. Both results are a huge increase on the mere 9.9% that backed separation in 1999.
This surge in support for independence has caught politicians by surprise. Plaid are used to watering down their secret separatist urges; now they'll have to reconcile the comeback of former leader Dafydd Wigley in this election campaign with newfound support for going alone. Wigley led Plaid into their best ever election performance in 1999 on a 'nationalists don't want independence' ticket. He's still on message, even if others in the party aren't so afraid of the 'i word' anymore.
Is it viable for Plaid's most popular politician to be at odds with the leadership (and now one third of the public) on the party's raison d'etre?
The poll leaves Labour in a pickle too. Each attack on Plaid as a threat to the union might actually send more voters over to the nationalists.
Wales now seems ready to at least talk about independence, even though politicians haven't yet been part of the conversation. Then again, a poll for the same newspaper recorded 52% support for independence in July last year. Should we not be discussing a 20% collapse in support for independence instead?
Wales' new nationalists
Saturday, January 20, 2007
A vocal minority of Welsh nationalists want to talk about independence, and they want to talk about it now. The nationalist party, Plaid Cymru, doesn't want to talk about it for another ten years.
A new blog, Welsh Independence, has been set up to force the issue. They write:
The British Labour Party, the majority party and government of Wales, has for far too long used propaganda, scaremongering and British nationalism to persuade our people that Wales cannot make it on her own and that Britishness and the Union Jack is our redemption. This view has never been challenged. Until now.
Do they represent a broader sentiment in the nationalist community, or are they simply a couple of crackpots with a computer?
hat tip Seren
An MEP is sitting in Brussels, and thinks to his or herself, "What can I do about product placement in television programmes?" The answer he or she comes up with is to flash a warning across the screen every 20 minutes whenever product placement is used. A few months later, this idea is being voted on in the European parliament. Only Conservative MEP Syed Kamall worked out that warning signs and alarm bells would probably draw more not less attention to the product.
'Television without frontiers' is the EU blueprint for television in the 21st century. We're all familiar with fishing quotas emanating from Brussels, but now the EU is interfering in TV too.
New plans would limit the amount of non-EU television we consume. They would also restrict ad breaks to programmes at least thirty minutes in length - without considering how this would affect shorter online transmissions - and control internet television to the extent that some media companies are threatening to re-locate outside the EU and beam back to Britain.
It's a set of proposals based very much on a continental model of timetabled television consumption. But TV doesn't work like that anymore. Contemporary viewing culture is fluid, disloyal and consumed across multiple-platforms. The EU needs to beware that it's not drafting analogue legislation for a digital age.
Wolves should open its doors to Cardiff fans
Friday, January 19, 2007
A little while back, I wrote that Wolves were right to ban Cardiff fans from attending Molineux tomorrow. I was writing in anger at the trumped-up little turds who were setting off flares and then throwing missiles (unprovoked) at police during and after the Tottenham game.
I wanted the sizable minority of City fans to be told in no uncertain terms that their actions were juvenile and idiotic. Perhaps banning supporters from the Wolves game would cause the Bluebirds to self-reflect, to escape its obsession with victimhood and kick-out the crap from its ranks.
I still believe that Cardiff is in for a tough slog if it's to shake off its yobbish image. But loyal away fans don't tend to be the same people as the spotty mock-Burberry delinquents who cause trouble at home. Moreover, Wolves' decision to lock-out City fans sets a dangerous precedent.
It's good to see politicians such as Leighton Andrews and now, the Sports Minister Alun Pugh backing the Cardiff cause. Who knows, we may still get in. It aint ova till da fat lady sings...
UPDATE: Cariff have just won the game 2-1. Good riddance! How ironic that we win for the first time since November and our fans aren't there to see it.
Apart from Edwina Curry brandishing the Big Brother three as "slags" on Question Time, the highlight of last night's political television was Plaid's Deputy Leader, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, squirming under pressure from Rhun ap Iorwerth over his party's alleged lack of ambition.
As we've been discussing here lately, Plaid seem reluctant to spell out their attitude on independence as part of their election campaign, much to the irritation of some of their own activists, who think the recent poll showing 20% support for separation should have had the party shouting a little louder.
The electorate is notoriously sceptical about a lack of political frankness - it's the reason why Labour are in freefall over Iraq, and why the Lib Dems have failed to properly recover from the messy removal of Charles Kennedy. Fact is, there's a real tension between increasing powers of governance for Wales, and nationalist attitudes towards independence.
Just this week, Plaid "welcomed" the contract to build a super military academy in St Athan. But in an independent Wales, those 5,000 jobs and £14 billion pounds of investment would surely not be welcomed by a Plaid government, whose defence policy would lean towards establishing a non-interventionist Europe-wide force. And with every giant military academy in Wales, the prospect of independence is weakened and the infrastructure of union strengthened.
In today's Wales there's a fine balance between the Welsh and British aspects of our governance and identity. It's not yet clear whether Plaid are willing to take the short-term risks that could tip the scales in their favour in the long-term.
Peter the Great or Peter Vain? You decide...
Thursday, January 18, 2007
What is it about Welsh Secretaries that keeps them in the headlines? I mean Secretaries of State of course, except in the case of William Hague, when he was effectively dating his job title.
This week, the current incumbent, Peter Hain, accelerated his bid to become Deputy Prime Minister. Firstly, by scaremongering over the future of the union, and secondly by stumbling into a criticism of U.S. foreign policy as a "failure wherever it's been tried," forgetting perhaps that his government has backed it all the way.
The blogosphere went straight on the attack:
Tory Press Officer Richard Hazlewood is scathing of the 'blethering' Welsh Secretary.
Peter Black, friend of the fox community, wonders who Peter Hain thinks he's fooling.
Newboy Chanticleer goes with 'The US of Hain', while Ted Jones just doesn't get the hero-worshipping of Peter Hain amongst Welsh journalists.
Finally, advert-hating Bethan Jenkins pulls no punches on 'Hain the hypocrite'.
Opinion on the blogs is, for once, united.
Anyone prepared to stand up for the chap?
In December 2001, Alun Pugh AM made a speech to the Federal Union, which called for a law-making Welsh parliament:
Differently from our fellow workers in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Assembly was not given essential powers to make basic laws. The ability to legislate in this way is a characteristic of regional governments throughout the world. It is used very effectively in the United States, the Länder of Germany and the provinces of Canada and Australia.
I want to see a Parliament for Wales.
In the course of a surprisingly fluent argument, Mr Pugh highlights the tensions between Westminster and the Assembly arising from the Government of Wales Act 1998:
Ticking away quietly at the heart of the devolution settlement is a constitutional time bomb. It is timed to go off shortly after the election of two different parties to Government in London and Cardiff.
Although you could have endless fun with different permutations, the most likely scenario is a Conservative Government in Westminster and a Labour one in Cardiff. This is not fantasy politics. Indeed such an outcome would have been the norm for much of the second half of the 20th century had we had an assembly then.
Requests for Welsh legislation would receive a polite - or a not so polite - rebuff and as the formula based budget of the Assembly operates in such a way as the Assembly's only real discretion is deciding where the inevitable Tory cuts in public expenditure would go. Hardly an inviting prospect.
He makes some good points, and most importantly, good points which still apply, with Peter Hain retaining the power of Viceroy in the latest Government of Wales Act.
The Assembly and the Government of Wales operate under the Government of Wales Act of 1998. That Act was the product of a compromise within the Labour Party -between enthusiastic supporters of devolution and colleagues who were less enthusiastic.
The compromise was to transfer the powers exercised by the Secretary of State to the Assembly. Neat at first glance - but flawed in practice.
Soon, the Assembly will operate under the Government of Wales Act 2006 - the product of another compromise, and still flawed.
Merthyr AM Huw Lewis entered the blogosphere in October. Since then, we've had 11 posts, the most recent on December 6th.
Huw's first post goes like this:
"I’m hoping this blog is going to make it easier for people across Merthyr & Rhymney to keep track of my work on your behalf, and to ask questions about local and national issues. Being completely new to blogging, I’m happy to hear any suggestions for the site."
Here's a suggestion: use it.
The Sun thought it had the Lib Dems by the balls yesterday after it apparently caught the respective education spokespeople in England and Wales singing from different hymn sheets over extending the school age.
Sarah Teather (in Westminster) said, "I welcome this important reform as a constructive proposal from Alan Johnson," while our own Peter Black said, "This sort of compulsion will just cause resentment and disaffection amongst youngsters who are ready to leave school."
The Lib Dem defence was that Sarah and Peter were indeed singing from different hymn sheets, but since hymn sheets are a devolved issue it is perfectly acceptable for different ones to be used in England and Wales.
This is much the same as the Tories' excuse for their divergent views on top-up fees. David Cameron has recently come out as a proponent, while Welsh Tories continue to lead the charge against them.
But a 'devolved matter' is rarely as simple as that. A number of Westminster policies will directly impact Wales, whether or not Wales is drafted as part of the legislation or not. In the case of top-up fees, if David Cameron were to lift the cap as prime minister in 2010, the funding gap between Welsh and English universities would become astronomical and urgent action would be needed here.
Devolution shouldn't mean the end of complementary politics between England and Wales. There's nothing wrong with singing from different hymn sheets, but singing in the same key would probably help.
hat tip Iain Dale for being bothered to read the Sun
Lib Dems willing to shelve PR
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
If you asked people what the Lib Dems stood for, most would probably draw a blank. But for the minority who take an interest in these things, the Lib Dems are the party of proportional representation.
Paddy Ashdown is even said to have persuaded Tony Blair to back the idea as a pre-condition to coalition in secret talks leading up to the 1997 general election. It's about the nearest thing the Liberals have to a raison d'etre.
And so, it was widely understood that PR in local government would be a key demand in any coalition talks involving the Lib Dems after the Welsh Assembly election, as was the case in Scotland.
Yesterday, however, the Western Mail reported that, "the party's Assembly leader Mike German said all the party's manifesto commitments would be up for discussion in any negotiations that may follow May's election," leading to accusations on opposition blogs that the Lib Dems had "sold out".
He said: "There are no markers as to which (policy) is more important than any others. Anybody who thinks they can talk to us must talk to us about our whole programme, which includes that issue (local elections). What matters is the full programme."
Given that no coalition partner would ever agree to implementing the whole Lib Dem programme, it does indeed suggest that certain policies can be weeded out. For the Lib Dems, PR is no longer special.
Over the years, the Lib Dems have taken more than a few hits from the political flip-flop charge. But on PR they were always clear. And for good reason too - it plays well with voters of most persuasions.
Until this week, the Welsh electorate knew what they'd get from a Lib Dem coalition. Not anymore.
Acrobat finished searching my document. The find item was not found.
The document was Plaid's pre-manifesto, Change for the better; the find item was "independence".
In fairness, the word "independent" does feature twice:
"We will promote and maintain independent living for disabled people."
"We will establish an independent National Commission on the Governance of Wales... releasing resources from bureaucracy for frontline services."
Not quite the pledges die-hard Plaid supporters would've been hoping for.
Yesterday, the independence debate went national, with the BBC's Newsnight hosting a more full and frank discussion on the subject than I've ever heard on mainstream TV. The 'Welsh question' was notable only by its absence.
In this week of constitutional argument and self-reflection, Plaid have kicked separatism into touch, while the SNP have it written in warpaint across their foreheads. Welsh nationalists may wonder if it's been a missed opportunity.
Plaid's leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones, was forced to clarify his position in the Western Mail. He said: "We have always understood that while the long-term aim of the party is independence, we want to see constitutional change taking place incrementally."
So why isn't this in the pre-manifesto, in black and white? The document sets out Plaid's aims for a decade, including a referendum on a Scottish-style parliament by 2011. Are we to assume, then, that independence isn't a Plaid priority for at least another ten years?
If you're still eating your porridge, you might want to wait a minute before reading THIS.
Plaid Cymru's Maldwyn candidate, David Thomas, has written a heavy exposition on the economic case for independence. He's got his work cut out - only 14% of Welsh people agree with him.
Plaid AM's u-turn on blogging
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Not so long ago I did a bit of research on Welsh Assembly blogging patterns. After two or three emails, most of the AMs got back to me.
I'm very grateful for all the responses, particularly this one from Plaid Ceredigion AM Elin Jones. She said: "I don’t blog because I haven’t the time... I don’t think they are effective for communicating with voters – they are only effective within the political elite."
Strange, then, that Elin has just started a blog at elinjones.com. It's heavy on politics and light on personality, but a blog's a blog.
Perhaps she's woken up to the fact that there's a big whopping university in her constituency. Last time round, at the general election, an orange brigade of students helped secure a Lib Dem victory. The sitting MP, Plaid's Simon Thomas, lost his seat despite being among the first politicians to blog.
Anyway, Elin, welcome to the 'political elite'.
Talk of coalitions just won't go away.
Labour Chair Hazel Blears is in Cardiff today to give the Welsh wing of the party a kick up the backside.
She's going to have a natter for a while on anti-=social behaviour (what else?) before moving on to attack what she calls the "growing coalition of nonsense" developing around Tory, Lib Dem and Plaid tiffs and talks.
Are we to presume, then, that Labour will not enter into coalition after May 3rd?
Tory defections a slap in the face
Monday, January 15, 2007
The Welsh Conservatives didn't choose the best day to welcome a former senior Labour councillor into their ranks.
It was supposed to be a kick in the teeth for Labour, as the shadow Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox, greeted the Tories' latest convert - Giles Howard (previously a cabinet member for Labour on Monmouthshire county council).
But the event has been somewhat overshadowed by the announcement of two major party figures that they will defect to UKIP unless the Conservatives change their attitude towards Europe.
Stuart Wheeler has thrown money at the Tories in the past, and Lord Kalms is a former party treasurer. Today, they both revealed they'd consider voting UKIP.
It makes little sense for the Tories to trumpet defections in the present climate, as they obviously have no guarantee over the loyalty of their own followers. Just last week two peers, Lord Pearson of Rannoch and Lord Willoughby de Broke, also switched allegiance to UKIP.
Meanwhile, a leading think tank has renewed its calls for a cap on donations to political parties in response to today's events. Director of Unlock Democracy Peter Facey said:
"The implication to the Conservatives of Stuart Wheeler and Lord Kalms switching allegiance is clear: they will lose a major source of income and possibly see a political rival boosted by millions of pounds in extra revenue. This is a transparent attempt by a couple of rich individuals to use their chequebooks to influence the policy of a political party."
It's not quite 'Save the Pound' in terms of a last minute, jingoistic whip-round, but it's close.
Only Labour will preserve the United Kingdom, says Peter Hain today.
"Our shared values and interests are now under threat as never before from an opportunistic coalition of myopic Tories and the narrow separatists of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalists. The Tories, despite once priding themselves as 'the party of the Union', now place selfish party advantage ahead of national interest. By trying to whip up and then harness nationalist sentiment in England, they risk unleashing forces which can lead to only one thing: the Balkanisation of Britain."
In a bizarre move, the Welsh Secretary also cites the BBC's Doctor Who to back-up his faith in the Union; another case of Wales underselling itself as the plucky lower league outfit, punching somewhere near its weight.
In which other country would a slightly above average television drama be used as evidence of political prosperity? Does Tony Blair make speeches hailing Eastenders' contribution to showcasing England on the British stage?
To finish off, Hain contracts a century of history into a simple win-win formula:
"The Union has shaped every aspect of our lives, in Wales just as much as in Scotland and England. The contribution of Wales to the industrial development of Britain was enormous, helping to create prosperity and to turn us into a world power."
Nothing to do with the Empire then, Peter?
Plaid's Faslane critics
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Labour blogger Rob Newman, research assistant to Julie Morgan MP, has hit out at Plaid Cymru for 'infringing on the rights of Scottish people to be protected by police in their communities'.
He cites a Daily Record article which details the weakening of police resources in parts of Scotland in order to deal with the stream of protests against Trident at the Faslane Naval base.
And who does Rob blame for the soaring costs of policing in Scotland? None other than Plaid's Leanne Wood AM, arrested at the scene on Monday, together with a clutch of politicians from Scotland and abroad.
Rob concludes that "the right to protest should be exercised responsibly and not abused," thus opening a can of worms to munch upon while he ponders the question: who decides what constitutes an 'abuse'?
It is surely a subjective assessment. The million-strong Iraq protest in London must have guzzled pretty greedily from the local policing pot - was that irresponsible too?
As with most protests on issues of great significance, it is the eventual justice or injustice of the cause which determines whether opposition - via direction action or otherwise - was 'worth it'. Of course, the Trident debate is split down the middle, and even if Britain were hit by a nucelar bomb tomorrow, those arguing in favour of a deterrent would be just as numerous as those arguing againt (if they were still alive, that is). But at least that's a debate centering upon the issue, and that is, after all, what most of the protesters seem to want.
Welsh Conservative leader Nick Bourne is right to be wary of election time gimmicks. They are rarely what they seem.
But are his alternatives weighty enough to get people out of bed on polling day?
For instance, take the Tories' pledge to "draw up a code of practice with supermarkets on devoting floor space to local food."
A worthy cause, perhaps, but there's nothing to stop them lobbying for this in opposition. I presume it would only be voluntary in any case, such is the Conservative mantra.
The ideal pledge is probably somewhere between promising the world and Preseli-grown parsnips. All the parties would do well to be a little more realistic in their promises this time around, since nobody is quite sure yet who will be in government to deliver them.
Wales - land of benevolent nationalism
Saturday, January 13, 2007
Ever since I came across the xenophobic English messageboard on Action Against Anglophobia, I've been scouring the net for a Welsh equivalent.
I searched in Welsh and English and followed links to places that were as dead as a former Iraqi tyrant - all to no avail.
There were some inflammatory comments on maes-e.com - the Welsh language discussion board - but these were usually silenced by other, more moderate voices. Even Cymuned, the Welsh nationalist activists, appear to have shaken-off the cloak of extremism with which they are so often associated in the media.
In fact, Cymuned seem to have multiplied, if not grown recently, and now have a ream of websites for their ongoing campaigns. One of these, notenglish.com, is markedly tame.
So what's the deal? Is it that even the most hardcore Welsh nationalism is lacking the hateful bite of its English equivalent, or does it exist, but not yet openly on the web? Perhaps it'll all change when broadband reaches the furthest corners of West and North Wales? Or maybe Welsh nationalists are just nicer?
[This is by no means a water-tight study. If you know of any racist websites from either side of the border, please do let us know in the comments.]
The Tory and the sheep
Friday, January 12, 2007
I was supposed to be doing something else this evening. But this, from Glyn Davies AM, has to be the best thing a politician has ever written on my blog, and it deserves a post all of its own:
"The reason that I was driving without my trousers on, with a load of sheep, was that I refused to give up after an accident on the farm. When I intend to do something, I am not easily put off."
Thanks for clearing that up, Glyn!
He was actually responding to a rather antagonistic post from another commenter and re-asserting the Tories' tactic going into the Assembly elections - to challenge the Lib Dems and Plaid to consider coalition or otherwise prop up what will most likely be a weakened Labour administration.
Everyone seems to be getting so tetchy about coalitions at the moment that it does rather beg the question - if they can't get on in opposition, how on earth would they run a country together?
Glyn Davies is undoubtedly a colourful politician and an imaginative thinker... which is probably why he keeps dreaming of rainbow coalitions.
He's at it again in today's Western Mail:
Asked about the hostility of some Plaid members to the idea of linking up with the Tories under any circumstances, Mr Davies said, "The challenge is for the Conservatives. At the moment there are a lot of people in Wales who think of the Conservatives as being an English party. They don't think we want to be part of the government of Wales. And we've got to change that perception. There are a lot of people in Plaid Cymru who see the Tories as being beyond the pale. But there are a lot of people in Plaid for whom the Tories are very much the second choice as well."
His optimism is commendable, but that still doesn't take into account the stubborn group of Plaid AMs who would veto a coalition with the Tories under any circumstances. With the Assembly's party groups in such small numbers, this is a sizable and influential obstacle that simply won't be overcome. As I wrote earlier this week, intelligent Tories such as Glyn Davies should be thinking of a Plan B.
Glyn's second goal is even more ambitious. "I'm very clear that I want a party that is clearly Welsh and clearly identifies itself as the party of culture and language and Welsh identity," he says.
Anyone who has seen a typical Welsh Tory voter will know that he has his work cut out. It's no coincidence that the Conservatives' only constituency seat at present is Monmouth - that bastion of Welshness on the English border.
Straight out of the 'Bluebirds sign new player' book of quotes - this time it's former Aston Villa 'star' Peter Whittingham:
"I had a meeting with the chairman and the manager and they basically sold the club to me," said Whittingham.
"They showed we what they want to do here and it looks amazing. For me this is a club that is going places and I really want to be a part of it.
"Big things are happening at Cardiff City, you just have to look at the new stadium and training ground plans. It looks exciting."
When will we sign a player who's a bit more honest?
"I had a meeting with the chairman and the manager and they basically told me a load of crap. I recognised the chairman as that bloke wot ruined Leeds United, but compared with Doug Ellis he don't seem that bad.
"They showed me what they wanted to do here, and I said they had no chance. But this is a club that's willing to let me get in the first team, and I want to be a part of it.
"Big things are happening at Cardiff City, you just have to look at the flare that was let off against Tottenham Hotspur - it was like being in the Bernabeu."
And so, in the end, Burberry checked-out of the Rhondda with a whimper, catching even its would-be saviour by surprise.
Is the move to China (at the cost of 300 jobs) in breach of their corporate responsibility code? Here's what they say on their website:
For Burberry, corporate social responsibility (“CSR”) involves considering those social, environmental and ethical issues that if managed improperly could pose a threat to the Group’s assets, reputation and the Burberry brand.
Probably not - it all revolves around brand recognition and profit margins in any case.
The closure of Burberry in the Rhondda is the rational extension of the socio-economic ball game we play here in Britain.
As a colleague said to me yesterday, '300 jobs lost to pay one Chief Executive's salary'.
Wales' big fat Oxbridge insecurity
Thursday, January 11, 2007
At a dinner in Westminster this week I met a Welsh language journalist whose academic career was almost the exact mirror of mine: same high school, same Cambridge college, same Japanese university, then returning to take the same course in Cardiff. Truly bizarre.
It was all the more odd, we noted, given that our school gave us no help whatsoever in getting a place at Oxbridge, the factor which kickstarted those other opportunities. In fact, the culture in our Welsh language school towards Oxbridge was positively negative.
I'd even say that, within the Welsh language community, there's a degree of antipathy towards English universities in general.
Look no further than Plaid Cymru's election pledge to help students pay off their graduate debt if they work in Wales. The catch is they must attend university in Wales first - effectively devaluing the contribution of those educated in England and treating them as second-class citizens.
Britain is blessed with two of the best universities in the world (2nd and 8th, I believe, at the last count), and many other great institutions too. Wales can only benefit from students of those universities coming to work in Wales, and should encourage more to do so. But the Welsh language community would much rather young people stayed in Wales for more of the same.
At the root of many Welsh sentiments about Oxbridge is an irrational fear of its 'Englishness' - academic excellence is ignored.
Plaid are a nationalist party and it's inevitable their policies will have a nationalist spin. In the coming months, they'll have to convince the electorate that such policies are for the benefit of Wales and not for the sake of a parochial ideology which should have no place in education.
Peter Black v Bethan Jenkins
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
King of the Welsh political blogosphere takes on the young rogue who, I know from experience, wouldn't accept a royal title even in this fictional context.
Peter Black is a Lib Dem regional member for South Wales West. After the next Assembly election, he and Bethan Jenkins will be colleagues of sorts, as she tops Plaid's regional list in the same area.
Up until now, they've been treading on each other's toes in the local press, and possibly on the streets of Swansea too. Today, they're battling it out in the blogosphere.
Bethan says Peter's exploiting student issues just because we're approaching an election. Peter asks if Plaid can pay for its tuition fee promises and proceeds to spam the comments with Lib Dem hyperlinks.
There are those in all parties who are extremely sceptical about political blogs. But, as long as the debate sticks firmly with policy I believe it's healthy that this sort of discussion is happening online, especially one relating to youth issues.
The danger is that arguments between politcians degenerate into the cattiness that characterises so many other blogs. It would not reflect very well on an already beleaguered political class.
In the meantime, why not use the internet as a battelground for the student vote? Students are, after all, more likely to read a blog than tune in to political TV.
He suggested he'd resign if he failed to get the budget through. Then, he changed his mind.
So, what would it take for the First Minister to stand down?
In particular, how many seats is enough on May 3rd?
The line from Labour is that they'd plod on with just 27 seats. That in itself would be a very poor result. But there's every chance they could get as few as 26 or even 25.
There are candidates waiting in the wings - notably Carwyn Jones and Jane Davidson. What will it take for them to make a move?
Welsh politics isn't scrutinised half as much as it should be. All the parties (perhaps with the exception of the Tories) have reasons to be concerned with their leaders and in most other political climates this would be front page news.
There's no doubt there are those in Cardiff Bay brandishing knives.
When, and in what circumstances, will they wield them?
Just off the train from London - 45 minutes late due to an array of excuses I can't even be bothered to repeat.
I can no longer remember a time when I took a First Great Western train that wasn't late.
Despite this, fares continue to rise astronomically and timetables change against the will of the passengers who use the service.
Where's the accountability in that?
Labels: First Great Western
The truth behind Welsh fat
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Is there no end to the surveys saying that Welsh people are the fattest, unhealthiest, stupidest and perhaps even the ugliest in the UK?
Sure, they make great headlines, but the statistics are rarely scrutinised and so, for the sake of an easy story, mud sticks.
Take the BBC's lead last week: Wales top of Britain's sick list
This research was conducted by market research companies CACI and TNS. They target areas by postcode, using an array of official statistics and market data. Funnily enough, they also provide target analysis to supermarkets on localised consumer trends and activity.
According to their survey, Merthyr Tydfil is the most unhealthy town in Britain. And yet a new fast-food complex and giant Tesco store has just opened in the town, no doubt earmarked by some handy market research.
The data which the BBC used to get their top story is produced by CACI to be sold to health providers. No doubt such headlines are very useful to them.
Sometimes, 'Welsh people are fat' just isn't the whole story.
In the run up to Christmas, Plaid were the party on the receiving end of Tory attacks. But Labour is the party in power; that's where the big gains must come on May 3rd.
And Welsh Tories have an uncanny knack of digging up dirt when it matters. Over the winter break, the other parties sat on their hands watching rubbish TV, but the Conservatives exploited the slow news days to get out a big story on NHS funding in Wales being less than in England.
This time, they've gone for the jugular - tax.
Welsh Conservatives [yesterday] warned that the Labour Assembly Government is plotting to revalue homes every two years in a move which could force council tax bills even higher.
The party has obtained a previously unreported submission by the Labour administration to the Lyons Inquiry into council funding which supports the idea of bi-annual revaluations.
Households across Wales have already been subjected to revaluation as part of council tax re-banding in 2005.
In its submission the Assembly Government argues the case for bi-annual revaluations, admitting that such a move will be seen as “increases in tax revenue being the main driver”.
I suspect the Tories have a few more trumps like this up their sleeves before polling day.
With a rainbow coalition almost certainly off the cards, the big race in Wales is for second place. Both Plaid and the Tories will be looking to set a strong foundation this time around to have a real go at a weakened Labour in 2011.
The Conservatives can hint all they like about ousting Labour in May and governing with Plaid - it will not happen. Frankly, it's more likely that Lembit Opik will become a Benedictine monk.
Too many Plaid AMs are 100% against ANY potential alliance with the Tories. The fallout over the budget was simply the final nail in the rainbow.
So what next? The Tories are in a strategic pickle. They won't go near Labour, and Plaid won't go near them. They're like the clever but socially excluded kid at school - when it's time to pick teams, they are left until last each time.
Will the injustice of it all prove too much? Will they flip and turn nasty again?
I doubt it. Tories are far too friendly these days (though I don't think they'll be inviting Ieuan Wyn Jones over for tea just yet).
Perhaps they'll form a united front with the Lib Dems. Plaid are hardly disguising the fact that they're cosying up to Labour (in part just to sever ties with the Tories), but this could be risky, given Labour's current lack of popularity. Despite this, Plaid are tetchy about being branded 'Labour's little helpers'. Pushing this line will harm the nationalists, but is that really what they want?
At the minute, the only party gaining from coalition speculation and squabbling among the parties is Labour - Tories' enemy number one. If there is a Plan B it must surely take account of that.
UPDATE: I see that Leighton Andrews is still pedalling the Plaid-Tory coalition line, saying "there is a continuing and real threat of Wales stumbling into a Tory-led coalition after May."
Bethan is a blogger
Monday, January 08, 2007
Plaid Cymru have woken up, smelt the coffee, put the coffee down because they thought it would reveal too much to the opposition and it wasn't a great way of communicating with voters anyway, had second thoughts, smelt the coffee again and started blogging.
What that meandering metaphor is getting at is that blogging might just be a useful campaign tool for an aspiring young politician. Plaid Cymru election candidate Bethan Jenkins has started one over on bethanjenkins.blogspot.com and it looks set to be a lively addition to the Welsh blogosphere.
On sex and deliberately avoiding to write 'Britain' or the 'UK':
Part of the problem is that in many areas of Wales, Scotland, England, Ireland, there is nothing better to do than drink, take drugs and have sex.
On Welsh Assembly blogging:
I don't sit easy with complimenting Peter Black or Leighton Andrews, but on this occasion I will prove to be the exception I never thought I could be! I think that the fact that they blog as Politicians is positive and is a novel way of reaching out to people who perhaps don't read the papers or watch the news that often. To us politicians, that seems far fetched...but true!
On speaking for Leighton Andrews:
Leighton Andrews's comments in the Western Mail are a direct challenge to Rhodri Morgan's leadership. Where once their Tory/ Plaid line held water with the media and constituents alike, this strategy is now dead in the water. He knows this, and is telling Rhodri Morgan that he must act now or risk losing votes in May.
On mixed metaphors:
Get your socks on and blog more often! One blog every blue moon is a waste...
The BBC is reporting that at least two Plaid politicians have been arrested at the protest against renewing trident in Faslane submarine base, Scotland.
South Wales Central AM Leanne Wood, and MEP Jill Evans are understood to have been removed from the scene and arrested, along with a clutch of Greens and SNP politcians.
So, the nationalists are again doing the running on a huge issue. It's old style campaigning, and to be honest, it's quite refreshing. It harks back to a day when politicians cared enough to put their own heads on the line.
This should be Liberal Democrat election gold dust - but as with Iraq, the nationalists in Wales and Scotland have wrested the initiative.
Wales is a pretty poor country. The south, especially, has never really recovered from the industrial collapse of the 1980s. So, it's about time someone did something to turn it around.
Instead, significant chunks of the country have again qualified for Objective 1 European funding, with GDP in those areas less than 75% of the EU average. The investment is of course welcome, but it's a sign that successive governments have done little to arrest Wales' economic decline. The fact is, too few people still earn a decent wage.
Labour go into May's elections with a promise to eradicate child poverty, the Tories are prioritising the NHS 'above all else', and Plaid will buy young votes with cash incentives for students and people looking to purchase their first home. I'm not quite sure what the Lib Dems are promising yet - they only seem to make the entertainment news these days.
But it could all be so different. Wales goes to the polls in a few months with its two biggest parties claiming to be socialist - a fairly odd situation. Why not make Wales' tragic poverty an election issue? Here's how: if one of the socialist parties went into the election with a promise to accept only the average national income (still greater than what many Welsh people earn) they'd get swathes of positive coverage and do a great deal of good for politics.
Why can't a party say, 'we won't increase our earnings until we can do something about yours'? As election pledges are being drawn up, surely this is something the socialists in government and opposition should at least consider?
Never before has the political class been quite so removed from the electorate. It's going to take a fairly big gesture to bridge that divide, though my sense is it won't happen any time soon.
Spot the article in today's paper written by the work experience boy:
Three elected representatives from Wales are to take part in a demonstration today at the gates of a nuclear weapons base in Scotland.
The Welsh elected representatives expected to attend are Hywel Williams MP, Leanne Wood AM and Janet Davies MEP, who is also chair of CND Cymru.
Janet Davies is an AM. Jill Evans is an MEP and chair of CND Cymru.
While we're on the subject, will none of the 'anti-trident' Liberals be joining them?
Cardiff City Football Violence
Sunday, January 07, 2007
A high-profile game at Ninian Park has again been spoiled by crowd trouble. As a game of football, Cardiff against Spurs was a fantastic spectacle. The behaviour of some of the supporters was just ugly.
It doesn't matter 'who started it'. We know that Spurs fans made a sudden rush towards the lower grandstand, and then a flare was let off in the Cardiff end. But after the game all sorts of things were being thrown at police outside the ground.
Anyone who goes to a football match for reasons other than enjoying the sport needs their head examined - although I suspect you wouldn't find much in there other than a penchant for imitation Burberry and cheap lager.
Wolves were right to ban Cardiff fans for the upcoming game at Molineux. I'm not usually a supporter of punishing the many for the actions of the few but Cardiff needs a kick up the backside to sort out its silly little yob culture.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
Iain Dale has tagged me to tell you five things you didn't know about me. This obviously depends on who you are. Some readers know far too much about me already.
1. I was principal 'cellist of the National Children's Orchestra of Great Britain and the National Youth Orchestra of Wales
2. Last February, the toenail came off both my big toes at the same time. What an excruciating coincidence
3. I'm a cleanliness freak - I don't think I've directly touched a toilet seat for some years
4. Next week, I'm having dinner with the Japanese Ambassador
5. I've been Cardiff City FC mascot three times, though a fourth appearance is unlikely
And as you digest those exciting revelations, I shall tag Chris Doidge, Croydonian, and a couple of politicians - Glyn Davies and Peter Black.
2006 was the year the Liberal Democrats turned into compulsive leadership plotters. They ousted Charles Kennedy, and now there are mutterings about his successor, Menzies Campbell.
And the Welsh party has also been scheming. Some have earmarked Kirsty Williams as a possible successor to Mike German in the Senedd, and today it was revealed that one third of their Assembly Members (admittedly there are only six in total) began collecting signatures to oust Lembit Opik as Welsh party leader before the party conference in October.
The Western Mail reports a party insider saying, "they pulled out when they were told it would create bad publicity in advance of the Assembly election."
A poor line if ever there was one. Surely, this would have occurred to Peter Black and Eleanor Burnham in any case? Were they warned off, threatened?
Perhaps the party big boys consider Lembit Opik too much of an asset. He may have certain Boris Johnson/John Prescott tendencies, but he is liked - a rare quality in a politician. They'd do well not to repeat in Wales what has caused them so many problems at UK level.
TOKYO, Japan (AP) -- Toyota Motor is developing a fail-safe system for cars that detects drunk drivers and automatically shuts the vehicle down if sensors pick up signs of excessive alcohol consumption, a news report said Wednesday.
Cars fitted with the detection system will not start if sweat sensors in the driving wheel detect high levels of alcohol in the driver's bloodstream, according to a report carried by the mass-circulation daily, Asahi Shimbun.
My sense is that Britain will probably avoid this latest Japanese innovation, even though there's a Toyota factory on our soil. The drink drive culture has pretty much evaporated in recent years. Young people in particular are very sensible about the issue.
In Japan, however, the masculine drinking culture has hardly been addressed at all. It remains perfectly normal to get drunk, grope women and vomit/piss in the street. Hopping into a car after a few drinks is still not the social taboo it needs to be.
Wobbly Wyn Jones
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones didn't give his best performance on Good Morning Wales this morning. Perhaps it was the early start? Or perhaps it was BBC Political Editor Betsan Powys's somewhat rib niggling introduction? Ieuan will be hoping that correspondents attribute use of the 'wobbly' nickname in future - these things can stick and there's surely no room for a Wigley and a Wobbly at the top of the party.
According to Bell Pottinger, the 'UK’s No 1 public relations group specialising in pr, design and corporate responsibility', this is the seventh most "influential" blog in terms something to do with Conservative party policy. (I don't understand so I daren't explain.)
They've devised a very complex system for working this out, which returns a graph that looks more like abstract art than information analysis. There's a key distinction to be made between "fame" and "influence", they say, with their research putting this blog below the likes of Iain Dale and Times Online in the influence ranking.
Apparently, I've now been identified as a Tory 'Power blogger'. This is, of course, not true. I am neither a Tory (my political flag awaits the colour of a cause), nor I doubt a very powerful blogger. But I shall enjoy my 15 seconds of fame, or influence, or whatever we're calling it.
Hat tip to Praguetory for the spot
Some people would say Wales already has 60 AMs too many. But there's surely little need for an extra 20 of them to cope with the 'extra workload' of new powers after the next election.
Here's a story from today's Western Mail:
One of Britain's leading constitutional experts has expressed serious concerns about the National Assembly's ability to cope with its new powers with the present number of AMs.
Alan Trench, an academic at University College London's Constitution Unit, believes it will be necessary to increase the number of Cardiff Bay politicians from 60 to 80 to ensure proposed laws receive proper scrutiny.
If there's a problem it is that the Assembly doesn't have the calibre of AMs to deal with the present workload. The answer is not more AMs, but better ones.
Of course, some AMs are politicians of the highest order. But there are also a number of glorified town councillors sitting in the Senedd. If they want more help, I suggest they do so on the condition that the overall wage fund is not increased. Welsh people barely know who their local Assembly member is - they won't want to pay for more of them.
Three cheers for selection
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
The former head of John Major's policy unit says the comprehensive school system isn't working:
Lord Blackwell argues that all children – and particularly those from poorer backgrounds – would benefit from a selective system. For recent research has shown that those few able children from poorer backgrounds who do attend grammar schools today do exceptionally well. Yet the vast majority of bright children in the 76% of LEAs without grammar schools have no or little chance of going to a selective school.
Pop music is encouraging a culture of passivity in Britain's youth according to THIS article over on the Guardian's Comment is free.
Not sure I agree with the article, but the author's got a pretty face:)
BNP's Burberry promise
Monday, January 01, 2007
Never mind Plaid and Labour vying to become Burberry's saviour, the BNP reckon they are the only party who could guarantee the 300 jobs in the Rhondda.
Their party newspaper says:
Only the BNP would save their jobs by levelling the playing field through import tariffs which would wipe out the advantage of using cheap Third World labour instead of British workers to produce the goods that are sold in our shops.
The long-running battle to save 300 jobs in Burberry's Rhondda factory has a rather unnecessary sub-plot - a struggle between Labour and Plaid Cymru to take the reins of the campaign.
The Keep Burberry British website is a Labour dominated affair, although that's not made explicit. It becomes obvious, however, in the contest for celebrity endorsement which is running between the two parties. Labour's most recent catches are Max Boyce and that strange looking bloke from BBC Wales. They are somewhat overshadowed by Plaid's latest messages of support from world-famous Welsh speakers Bryn Terfel and Rhys Ifans. This was the work of Plaid MEP Jill Evans, but the campaign website gives no indication of this.
It's as if the parties are running two separate campaigns. Plaid Cymru aren't hosting a special issue website for this, but if they were I'm sure they wouldn't be acknowledging Labour efforts either.
If there's a political consensus in favour of saving Burberry, surely it's better to emphasise that, rather than allow party politics to interfere.
Caption: You won't see this picture on the Keep Burberry British website