Another leek from Number 10

But this one's a vegetable.

The Number 10 website has an interesting little section on national holidays and customs within the UK. However, they seem to have little or no knowledge of the origins of Welsh cultural symbols.

Every Welshman knows that we sport the leek on March 1st because St David told his soldiers to wear one in order to identify themselves from the evil invading Saxons during a sixth century battle. Perhaps Downing Street overlook this tale because the Welsh so resoundingly won the fight.

The official UK government suggestion is that the leek's colours of "white over green, echo the ancient Welsh flag". That seems to me like a rubbish reason to be lumbered with an oversized root vegetable on a day of national celebration. If it was purely aesthetic, surely we'd have chosen something more practical!

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posted by Blamerbell @ 9:08 am, , links to this post

St David's Day should be a national holiday

In two days time Wales celebrates St David's Day, but the grind of daily life will go on as usual.

Despite this, all four political leaders in the assembly have called to make March 1st a bank holiday and 11,034 have signed a petition on the government's website demanding the same. That's almost double the amount of signatures in support of a national holiday on St George's Day.

In fact, it's quite rare for the assembly to agree on something so emphatically: seven years ago they voted unanimously in support of giving us a day off to celebrate our Welshness.

But this debate has really been a case, as with dear Dewi Sant, of the blind leading the blind. The assembly voted in the full knowledge that it didn't have the primary legislative powers needed to implement it. And the man who matters, aga-loving Welsh Secretary Peter Hain, remains unconvinced.

It may seem trivial, but giving St David's Day the status it deserves should be a priority for whoever inherits the assembly's new powers on May 4th (he is after all the only indigenous patron saint in the British Isles).

The UK currently celebrates only eight national holidays each year. That's compared to 10 in the USA, 13 in France and 20 in Japan. There's plenty of room for another day off. And if it means I can drink copious amounts of Brains and eat cheese on toast all day then I'll be happy.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 7:14 am, , links to this post

New blog - Mike Wood

New blog in the sidebar from Conservative Dwyfor Meirionydd candidate Mike Wood.

If I've missed your blog please do leave a note in the comments. And don't forget to link back to this site:)

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posted by Blamerbell @ 7:08 am, , links to this post

Labour surges ahead in opinion poll

Problem is it's the New South Wales Labour party, not the South Wales New Labour Party.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 8:19 pm, , links to this post

66 more days of handbags

The gloves are off, because as all good politicians know you can't sling mud if your hands are tied up.

So much for parties putting forward a positive future vision for Wales at this election. Labour spent their conference slagging off the Tories and inadvertently drawing attention to David Cameron's current popularity. Plaid kicked out at Labour, and the Tories, in turn, volleyed a few missiles back towards Rhodri Morgan.

Nobody really bothered to attack the Lib Dems, so Peter Black stepped up to attack Plaid for attacking Labour.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems claim they are whiter than white (or goldener than gold), but Alun Cairns reminds us that they fought the 2003 campaign on a misfiring 'Kick the Tories out' platform.

Soon, the twisting of facts and figures will go into overdrive, leaving voters disillusioned and confused. I've already received promotional literature from the Lib Dems asserting that Plaid 'betrayed students' and 'caved in' to help Labour 'sell out our students' over the assembly budget. Of course, Plaid would put it somewhat differently.

So, what's the answer? I'm afraid there isn't one. Negative politics is a cornerstone of modern electioneering. But parties should face up to it and stop claiming to be virtuous on the one hand while swinging the handbag with the other.

UPDATE: Apologies if you've seen a strange piece appear here about Nick Bourne. It's now deleted. The perils of using Google Reader...

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posted by Blamerbell @ 10:55 am, , links to this post

Plaid Cymru and the demise of Welsh rugby

Plaid release an opportunistic press statement on the eve of the six nations and then launch a rugby-themed attack on Labour.

Wales lose three on the bounce and look like a team lacking ideas.

I just hope they don't now jump on the Bluebirds' bandwagon. That could seriously derail our season.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 9:57 am, , links to this post

Blair factor sinks Labour conference

Tony Blair is renowned for his ability to rattle off speeches he's just seen as if they are a subject dear to his heart. We're often told he's one of the most convincing speakers ever to have graced the UK political stage. Some even blame our presence in Iraq on the prime minister's unique ability to orate.

So it was all the more surprising, therefore, that Tony Blair sounded completely unconvincing in his speech to the Welsh Labour conference yesterday. Full of umms and stutters and nervous glances back at the script, Blair sounded like a man talking about something he knows next to nothing about. That's because Welsh politics is about as important to the prime minister as remembering to buy loo roll: someone is usually around to take care of it on his behalf.

Yesterday's performance will do little to enhance Labour's electoral chances. It sounded like the speech of a man with his mind on other things. But as long as he sticks around those other things - Iraq, nuclear power, cash for peerages - might themselves have an impact on the Welsh election race.

Rhodri Morgan wants him out; yesterday you could almost see why.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 12:12 am, , links to this post

Whose rainbow is it anyway?

Just when it seemed that leprechauns and pots of golds were more plausible ideas than a rainbow coalition in the national assembly, it's popped back into the realm of the possible.

That's because Elfyn Llwyd, Plaid Cymru's leader in Westminster, re-ignited the possibility of a coalition with the Tories at the precise moment he was shoved on the BBC's Dragon's Eye programme in order to rule it out.

Plaid were threatening to sue Labour for continually suggesting they might serve in a Tory-led administration after the election on May 3rd. That, they claim, is a lie: 'We will never serve under a Conservative First Minister'.

But what about a Plaid-led rainbow coalition?

'We are keeping our options open,' was the reply.

So as long as Plaid are the senior partner, the suggestion is that a rainbow coalition is still on the cards. Mixed news, then, for Nick Bourne who'll wonder what he's done to be so emphatically ruled out as a possible successor to Rhodri Morgan.

But what if the Conservatives win more seats than Plaid - do they not have the right to expect senior status in a coalition? What is Plaid Cymru's rationale for saying a coalition is an option only if they are in charge?

It seems that Plaid have taken the sting out of this issue only to then stick it in their eye. As it stands, the Conservatives can hang on to their hope of a pot of gold after May 3rd and Labour can still say 'Vote Plaid get Tory' with at least some justification. There's life in the old rainbow yet.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 9:00 am, , links to this post

Five issues Labour can't duck

The countdown to the Welsh assembly elections begins in earnest today as Labour meet in Llandudno for their spring conference. Here are five issues they'll have to address if those elections and their aftermath aren't to be an unmitigated disaster:

1. Worst case scenario

Will Rhodri Morgan resign if Labour net only 24 seats? And who will replace him?

2. National Health Shambles

Already committed to a controversial long-term plan and with little new money, how can Labour rescue the health service?

3. Enemy No.1

Election strategy: this week they've been painting it as a straight race with the Tories. But is it wise to overlook Plaid? Attacking the Tories might serve only to motivate their vote, while voters on the left float over to Plaid.

4. "Noises off" getting louder

Rhodri Morgan would rather Tony Blair kept his nose out of the Welsh assembly campaign. But guess who's making an appearance at the conference on Friday? Can Welsh Labour avoid being affected by the scandal and fatigue of the Westminster administration?

5. Said and not done

How can Labour convince people to believe their election promises after the debacle over the 2003 pledge to provide free personal care?

Please feel free to add your own Labour conundrums in the comments section.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 3:53 pm, , links to this post

Gibbons: NHS needs more managers

What's the best way to deal with the crumbling NHS in Wales?

Could it be employing more front-line staff? Supplying more beds? Investing in better equipment and training staff to use it? Providing patients with drugs and treatment they currently have to travel miles to receive?

No. Top of Health Minister Brian Gibbons' wish list is another tier of managers:

"We will be changing the structure of the health service in south-east Wales with more managers being employed and staff being used more effectively.

"Managers are being interviewed this week and we are hoping to get the right people into the right jobs."

Dr Gibbons also warned that it would take time to sort out deep-rooted problems in the NHS. After ten years of Labour government, patients waiting eleven hours in A&E or being driven there in a fire truck may wonder if employing yet more managers is the best solution.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 3:36 pm, , links to this post

Would Plaid kiss goodbye to Kate?

This woman, Kate Middleton, is electoral gold dust. Yesterday, she was voted the most naturally beautiful woman in the world.

As Prince William's girlfriend, she has a huge place in British public life. It would be a brave political party that proposed to get rid of her.

But, we're led to believe, that's exactly what Plaid Cymru would do if elected in May.

Back in August 2006, Plaid's director of elections Adam Price MP said:
"Next year it will be 700 years since Edward I created the title (The Prince of Wales). It has long been a symbol of subjection to the English throne. We must not be burdened by such historic humiliation. I propose we have a referendum to scrap it. The existing Prince of Wales should be the last, and I am sure that the majority of the people of Wales would vote in favour of looking forward confidently."

Since then we've heard nothing more.

Plaid have already announced four of their 7 4 07 key policy ideas for the forthcoming election. I doubt a referendum on the future of the monarchy will feature among the final three.

But with the parties positioned so close together on so many issues, this policy puts Plaid in a truly unique position. The question is, do they really want to be? And how much more will they dare tell us about their plan to ditch the 'world's most beautiful woman'?

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posted by Blamerbell @ 9:15 am, , links to this post

Welsh politicians unclear on nuclear

The nuclear issue is back. Much to the prime minister's annoyance he couldn't simply go ahead with a nuclear project which might leave future generations with a profound legacy of toxic waste: he's been told he has to actually consult with interested parties first.

So, what does this mean for Wales? Well, it means Welsh Labour are at odds with the UK government. The Environment Minister Carwyn Jones would prefer to cover Wales in wind farms.

The Tories appear to be pro-nuclear and despite remaining unconvinced about the waste issue Glyn Davies, chair of the assembly's environment committee, would rather see a new nuclear power station than a severn barrage. They seem to think that nuclear is perfectly green, but not green enough to feature as an energy solution along with biomass, tidal, and solar power in their vote blue go green pledge. Does 'vote blue go toxic' not have the same ring?

The Lib Dems are characteristically anti-nuclear, but Plaid Cymru are moving in different directions. Their policy is to pretend to be opposed to nuclear power while their leader is actually in favour. 'Plaid Cymru does not support nuclear power,' says the latest policy document. But Ieuan Wyn Jones supports extending the life of the nuclear power plant in his own back yard.

A decision on the future of nuclear power is likely to be made very soon. If the Lib Dems play it right they could embarrass the other parties, who each have their own contradictions on this issue. With Tony Blair and his likely successor both very much in favour it may not make much difference, but if the Lib Dems fail to command the political high ground on this they really do deserve to be hung out to dry. As they keep reminding us, Wales isn't short of high windy spots for them to do so.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 7:30 am, , links to this post

The Cherie on the Cardiff North cake

Yes, Cherie Blair is in town to put a gloss on Labour's campaign in marginal Cardiff North.

Floating voters are urged to take care when passing the Whitchurch area, reports have been received of people signing up to Labour at the mere sight of the prime minister's wife.

One member of the public said: 'I always vote Lib Dem but then I saw Cherie and changed my mind. She gave me a balloon.'

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posted by Blamerbell @ 1:06 pm, , links to this post

Can't wait for the Tory manifesto...

... because we'll get to find out if they have a policy on council tax.

The Tories are doing all the running on exposing the injustice of council tax, but as Peter Black points out, they were the party that introduced it and they've yet to propose an alternative. Perhaps they'll persuade Michael Heseltine to come out of retirement and give them a hand?

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posted by Blamerbell @ 12:52 pm, , links to this post

Jill Evans and the train drain

Jill Evans MEP vows do to her bit for the environment:

Being a Euro MP inevitably means lots of travel, and in particular, air travel. So this year I decided to make a contribution in trying to reduce my carbon emissions, by vowing to make one journey in four from Brussels to Wales by train.

But why only one in four?

I've been to Brussels by train; it's both an affordable and pleasant journey. If you can make one in four, why not more?

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posted by Blamerbell @ 11:59 am, , links to this post

If you tolerate this your children will not vote

I am a concerned citizen. I want to know more about the way Wales is governed. Last night, I saw the Education Minister on telly, dressed as a giant teddy bear and giving out sweets to children while announcing her latest policy. I want to know how it affects me.

So, I go online. A google search for 'Department for Education' brings up a pretty swanky website. Must be England's. I qualify the search with 'Welsh Assembly' and up pops a dry, text-heavy site. I give up.

Next day, I hear about another new policy. This time it's about social justice. I know the website will be crap, so I search for some reaction in the papers instead. A similar policy in England has the full analytical weight of the English press to contend with. In Wales, though, Martin Shipton is writing about something else, so I give up.

And we wonder why the turnout for Assembly elections is so low. The support framework, which could do so much to provide political legitimacy, is almost non-existent. Add to this list the lack of key resources to keep tabs on AMs' voting habits and official speeches, such as theyworkforyou and Hansard, and it's a pretty sorry situation.

The opening of the Senedd did, however, breathe new life into Welsh politics. But when it is shown on telly, it's invariably only half-filled with AMs who look as if they're more interested in checking their myspace pages.

At the moment, Welsh people look at the Assembly in the same way a German might look at a vegetarian sausage. And people do not turn out to vote for vegetarian sausages.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 9:35 am, , links to this post

Mark Clattenburg is not fit to referee

I've just watched Cardiff City overcome a twelve-man Leeds United after having two players sent off. It was a quite amazing game - Michael Chopra scoring his third free-kick in as many home games to win the game for City on the stroke of half time.

But the match will be remembered for the worst officiating most fans will see in their lives. To be fair to the referee, Mark Clattenburg, he was weighed down somewhat by his enormous ego and tragic misconception of his own place in the world.

Almost every decision the referee made was incorrect. Crucially, he preferred to put his own pride before players' safety by booking players for making legitimate complaints about some horrendous fouls from a dirty Dennis Wise-inspired Leeds team.

Then, in the second half he gave Chopra a second yellow card for leading with his arms while jumping with the chap who had just elbowed him in the face.

Worse was to come. A Leeds defender did a turn as Gordon Banks, deliberately preventing a goal with his arm. Our hero, Mark Notvergoodenburg gave a penalty but didn't even give the defender a yellow card.

Shortly afterwards, Cardiff midfielder Simon Walton was pulled down midway through the Leeds half and... Mark Crapenburg sent him off for diving.

Cardiff down to nine men - Ninian Park became a fortress. Every City tackle was cheered and the players, buoyed by full back Kevin McNaughton's inspired performance at centre half, duly delivered.

Leeds, by contrast, were a sorry outfit, failing even to make the most of a three-man advantage. I was there when City beat a then top of the Premiership Leeds team in the FA cup five years ago. The mighty have truly fallen, and will probably continue to fall despite a massive helping hand from a man who should watch the match video and then never step foot on a football pitch again.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 6:54 pm, , links to this post

Welsh Tories work hardest in Westminster has had to tone down a bit in recent times because people were taking their rankings of politicians a little too seriously. And who could blame them when an MP could simply be labelled '404th for attendance' or '175th for lifting the toilet seat'?

Now, they only bracket politicians' performance in relation to the average for any given statistic. They're also careful to point out that "numbers do not measure quality... representatives may do other things not currently covered by this site."

Maybe so, but the numbers on the site are surely a measure of something. The fact that an MP, such as Blaenau Gwent's Dai Davies, has only spoken in one debate cannot have his constituents jumping for joy. And there's also the question of consistency: why is it that some MPs perform well across the board while others score poorly for everything?

With that in mind, I've translated some of the website's statistics into a score for each Westminster MP representing a Welsh constituency. Average gives a neutral score, with points added or subtracted for positive or negative tendencies.

And the winners are... the Tories! The two highest scoring MPs are both blue: David Jones (Clwyd West) and Stephen Crabb (Preseli) each with five points. The Tories also had the highest average score of 3.7.

Labour fared worst, with an average of -0.4. Although there were four MPs on four points, they were let down by a clutch in the low minuses. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) came bottom of the pile, having voted in barely half of parliamentary votes in the last year.

It may, of course, be the case that these politcians are unusually active in their constituency. Still, in terms of attendance to votes in particular, constituents have the right to expect that their member of parliament will be bothered to turn up to vote on their behalf, especially now that we know how generously we provide travel expenses for them to do so.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 12:10 pm, , links to this post

It's election time: these are our two 1st priorities

The Tories are playing a very clever trick in the run up to May's elections. Whatever issue is currently hot is suddenly their new first priority. The electorate, after all, has a short memory.

21 October 2006
, Party leader Nick Bourne: "Welsh Conservatives will back our NHS. It is our priority above all else. It's as simple and straightforward as that."

Hang on a second!

12 February 2007, Environment spokesman Brynle Williams: "Tackling climate change is our first priority. Wales must do its part to help Britain show global leadership on climate change."

So which is it - NHS or tackling climate change? Both noble causes indeed, but by definition only one can be a first priority.

And yet, three days later...

15 February 2007
, Party leader Nick Bourne: "I have made it quite clear that the Welsh Conservatives’ number one priority is our cherished NHS."

Yes, about as clear as the murky sea water that will surely rise to wash away the palm trees on the all new climate change enhanced Welsh riviera.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 1:10 pm, , links to this post

Three's a crowd: too much political telly

Why must all the Welsh political television programmes be broadcast on the same evening?

I've often wondered why certain types of shops clutch together, so you end up with whole streets specialising in offal, clothes pegs or industrial lubricants. The justification for this is that competition is healthy for niche markets. But that surely doesn't apply to television. Where's the sense in splitting what must already be a small and dedicated audience?

The head of news at ITV Wales joked recently that their flagship current affairs programme, Waterfront, is watched by just sixty viewers. No prizes for guessing who they are.

And so it is that my Thursday evening inevitably becomes the television viewing equivalent of eating an entire pack of Jacob's crackers without taking a glass of water.

First there's Dragon's Bite on the BBC, then over to Pawb a'i Farn on S4C and finally, if I haven't yet gouged out my eyeballs and put them on a cocktail stick with a piece of pineapple, there's Waterfront on ITV. And by that time even the most ardent political junkie has had enough.

Next Thursday, I'm going out for a pint.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 4:26 am, , links to this post

A Valentine's message to Rhodri Morgan from the Conservative Party

Tory MP David Jones has come out as a closet fan of the First Minister Rhodri Morgan.

While the official Conservative line is to brand him the 'Clown Prince of Wales', Mr Jones blogs rather more honestly about his views on the man known affectionately by his first name, Rhodri.

"I have to admit that I rather like Rhodri Morgan. I know he’s on the other side of the fence and all that, but he contributes immensely to the gaiety of national life," he writes.

Mr Jones couldn't resist, however, a quick swipe at the First Minister's infamous comments on the benefits of climate change. But he still concludes that, despite it all, Rhodri ain't so bad.

"Rhodri Morgan is a nice man. In his own way, he has meant well and, from time to time, he has succeeded in entertaining us."

So, what do the Tories really think of Rhodri Morgan: Clown Prince or nice guy? I suspect they'll be emphasising the former rather than the latter in the run up to May's elections. Unless, of course, they surprise us all with a uniquely positive campaign which proposes to flatter their opponents into defeat.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 1:05 pm, , links to this post

7 4 '07 - but have u heard it b4?

September 2006: Plaid announce two key policies to coincide with their Autumn conference. They promise to give first time buyers £5000 towards a new home and to help students with their graduate debt.

January 2007: Plaid launch Change for the Better, a policy document which sets out their aim to "introduce first time buyers' grants" and "help reduce the debt burden of graduates".

February 2007: Plaid launch 7 4 '07, seven key policy ideas "to transform Wales". Party leader Ieuan Wyn Jones announces the first two policies at a press conference in Cardiff. "These are a "First home grant" and "Drop the debt". To help first time buyers Plaid would offer a grant of up to £5000 to help save towards a deposit on a home. To fight student debt a Plaid government would support students from Welsh universities and Colleges who live and work in Wales for five years by paying their student loan repayments during that period."

With 77 days until the assembly elections, how many more times can Plaid 'announce' these same two policies I wonder?

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posted by Blamerbell @ 10:04 am, , links to this post

Two new tools for Welsh political junkies

The Wales Yearbook 2007

I picked this up in WH Smith and it almost took my arms off.

A hefty volume of all that's political and quangofied in Wales this year. However, most of the information contained in the book is already available from other sources, particularly online. Also, its dead tree format means that it will not be kept up to date unless you scribble in the latest updates yourself.

So, if you're looking for a comprehensive list of candidates for the forthcoming assembly election you'll be disappointed. And at £57.50 you might be better off bribing party officials and getting the info first hand.

Positif Politics 2007 Election Website

It exists, apparently, because we "need support from the experts".

This is a website run by public affairs consultants, one of whom is a regular and intelligent contributor to this blog. It's online and so, I presume, bang up to date. The site aims to keep subscribers informed about all that's going on in this year's Welsh assembly election race.

You'll get manifesto analysis, candidate profiles and, for all those without degrees in quantum physics, an explanation of how the electoral system works. They've kept quiet about the actual fee, but in order to keep all those PR gurus kitted out with the latest Habitat wall hangings, I'm guessing it's not cheap.

Blamerbell can barely afford new underwear, so he'll be sticking with the non-toll roads on the information superhighway. As with the beer and curries, though, freebies are always welcome:)

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posted by Blamerbell @ 1:41 pm, , links to this post

Internal polling predicts dark days for Labour

The BBC's Vaughan Roderick has seen private polling from two of the political parties which, he claims, say much the same thing: it looks very bad for Labour while there's much for Plaid and the Tories to be cheerful about ahead of May's Assembly elections.

There's no mention of the Lib Dems - I presume we all expect them to plateau on six seats.

Roderick made the remarks in his latest blog entry, but stops short of going into detail. Perhaps he could share with us whose polls he has seen and what exactly was predicted. Otherwise, it's a bit like lending someone a book having torn out half the pages.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 5:12 pm, , links to this post

Are you reading THIS or the Western Mail?

Blogs are as popular as regional newspaper websites as online sources of local news.

That's the somewhat surprising finding of Ofcom in their latest research into the future of news, which has not yet been published in full.

Here in Wales, the massed ranks of politicians who have been so sceptical about blogs might wish to review their position. Something of a blog revolution has occurred in recent months - you need only move your eyes slightly to the left and examine the links in my sidebar as testament to that.

When I last counted in December, 12 AMs kept a blog. Now it's around 15. But the real blossoming has occurred among Assembly candidates and other interested observers.

They've realised, I presume, that a great number of people are completely turned-off politics the way it is presented through the traditional media. Statistically, those people are most likely to be 16-24. And by no coincidence, that same group are also the most avid consumers of news through the internet: over one in three young people now use the web as their prime source of news.

Significantly, these findings only show what percentage of people use blogs as a source of news. But blogs are about much more than that (when they're written properly) and it's reasonable to infer, therefore, that the actual number of readers is much greater.

Of course, blogs are no threat to the Western Mail's rather polished website (though the search function is useless). But politicians and editors alike would be wise not to underestimate their potential for getting at an audience unreached by the traditional media.

After all, if you search for 'Welsh Assembly Election 2007' in Google, you don't get the local paper, neither do you get the government's website or any of the party spin. What you get is Wikipedia, followed by this blog.

[I have the flu so posting may be light over the next couple of days.]

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posted by Blamerbell @ 12:20 pm, , links to this post

Hallelujah! Rhodri blogs

Plaid's Rhodri Glyn Thomas has clearly been very busy in the past three months. He has, however, had time to bark at Peter Hain. He's had time to bring Adam Price MP to the verge of a heart attack. And he's even had time to completely forget why he was so angry at Labour and talk instead about how they're the perfect partners for government.

But he hasn't had time to blog, until now.

Welcome back.

What next, a New Year message from Alun Davies?

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posted by Blamerbell @ 6:17 pm, , links to this post

Women clear their desks at the Assembly

If, as expected, Labour lose seats in Mays' Assembly elections, one consequence will be an upheaval in the gender balance of the Senedd.

The Welsh Assembly has, until now, prided itself on being one of the few elected national bodies in the world with an equal number of women to men. In fact, there are currently more females than males in the chamber. But the predictable Labour defeats will change all that.

With the exception of Llanelli, it is men who are in the best position to step up in each of the key marginal constituencies. Indeed, on a truly disastrous night for the government, the number of women in the Assembly could fall to 26.

As it stands, the Tories are by far the least balanced party, while Labour have the highest percentage of women. Tory gains will only exacerbate the situation. And their crop of candidates for 2007 only perpetuates the trend: just 13 of the 55 candidates already announced are female.

Regardless of the new Cameron spin, in the Assembly at least, the Conservatives are still predominantly a party of men in suits.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 9:53 am, , links to this post

Conservative Assembly Members Exposed

There's something very contrived about the way the Conservatives' website tries to portray Tory Assembly Members. The top line of each bio reeks of the sort of false chumminess more commonly heard on Saturday night TV.

Here's what they have to say about their current crop of AMs. I'm sure we can do better...

Glyn Davies
Tories say: Glyn provides the link between politics and rural Wales.
Blamerbell says: Glyn provides the link between politics and fantasy.

Mark Isherwood
Tories say: Mark brings a new meaning to the phrase 'hard work'.
Blamerbell says: Mark brings a new meaning to the phrase 'nice mustache'.

Laura Anne Jones
Tories say: Laura joined the Welsh Conservative Party in 1996 and from 2000 to 2002 was the Conservative Future area chairman for South Wales East.
Blamerbell says: Laura didn't have a proper job before getting elected.

David Melding
Tories say: David gives politicians a good name.
Blamerbell says: David gives politicians a tekkie name. Melding is computer jargon for a concurrent, object-oriented, dataflow, modular and fault-tolerant language.

Jonathan Morgan
Tories say: Jonathan boasts ability beyond his years.
Blamerbell says: Jonathan doesn't clean behind his ears.

Brynle Williams
Tories say: Brynle is one of those people who has made a name for himself organising a pressure group.
Blamerbell says: Brynle is one of those people who drives his tractor along country roads and refuses to pull over.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 9:10 am, , links to this post

Matt Withers: ignorant, thoughtless poison

That's the verdict of Merthyr AM Huw Lewis.

Huw grew up in Aberfan and is very proud to have secured £2m for the upkeep of the graveyard which commemorates victims of the terrible tragedy of four decades ago.

But Matt Withers, from the Wales on Sunday, suggested there may have been an ulterior motive for the donation:

In September, Wales on Sunday reported how survivors were being forced to apply for Lotto money to pay for the upkeep of the graves. On the eve of the 40th anniversary of Wales' worst disaster, it emerged villagers needed £60,000 to preserve the cemetery for future generations.

... This year - and three months before the nation goes to the polls - the Assembly Government suddenly found a spare £2m for the village to offer as "final closure" for the tragedy.

Sometimes you need the light of an imminent election to make things seem a bit clearer.

Today, Huw Lewis issued a scathing response on his blog:

This is not a journalist being cynical or street savvy. Its just ignorant, thoughtless poison... If you see evil in people trying their hardest to do the right thing, its time to be asking questions of yourself, not the politicians.

So, thoughtless poison or cynical electioneering? The journalist in me is in serious conflict with my Merthyr roots on this one. It's highly likely that Labour have a pot of cash set back for election sweetners. But I'd like to think that it would be kept a million miles from an issue as sensitive as Aberfan.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 9:31 pm, , links to this post

National (School) Assembly for Wales

Over on the Croydonian blog there's an 'epic undertaking' going on to work out what each and every MP did before entering parliament. They expect to find that almost everyone in the Commons has at some time practiced law. What a wonderfully diverse bunch.

But what about the Senedd? Is that brimming with barristers too?

Well, no. The professional breakdown of the Assembly is a rather nice little indicator of quite how different the place is from the whips and wigs of Westminster.

One in three Assembly Members formerly worked in the education sector: 14 in schools or further education colleges and six as lecturers. No wonder plenary sessions often take on an unbearably preachy quality.

I also found some basis for the accusation that the Assembly is no more than a glorified council meeting: 25 AMs served or continue to serve as councillors.

As for those involved in law, the Senedd presents a mere four members, five fewer than the Croydonian has counted so far in parliament... and he hasn't even finished the Bs yet!

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posted by Blamerbell @ 6:53 am, , links to this post

What colour is Betsan Powys?

The personal is political; so goes the well-known phrase. But when the person is a political journalist, how important is it for us to know which party they secretly admire?

Not very, some would say, providing their reporting is accurate and fair. Problem is, journalists are humans and they'll never be able to completely hide their own beliefs and prejudices. And anyway, journalists do a lot more than talking to camera.

Day in day out they'll be communicating with party sources and politicians. In these situations, a journalist's political colours are imperative. Party bigwigs can often be heard muttering 'well that's because X is Labour/Plaid/Tory through and through' as unsympathetic broadcasts go to air. When X comes calling again the next week, he or she might not find sources quite so co-operative.

So, perhaps they should all come clean - tell us what they believe in and we can offset that against their journalism? Or do they already do a good job at putting their dogma on the ideological back burner? How many complaints are there, for instance, against the unashamedly Tory Nick Robinson?

For the record, my own politics are simple: I dislike undemocratic privilege in all its forms. And I abhor short-sighted political decisions that result in suffering, death or oppression elsewhere. I believe the world is a far too fractured place and that more should be done to emphasise what brings us together rather than what sets us apart. I feel no bond to anyone in particular - whichever party best serves these beliefs will get my vote.

Our political reporters will have a key role to play between now and May's elections. Can they possibly be whiter than white the whole time, or will the ideological undercoat inevitably begin to seep through?

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posted by Blamerbell @ 9:39 am, , links to this post

Welsh Politician of the Year 2007

Regardless of what happens in the next eleven months, the race for Welsh Politician of the Year should be over.

In 2007, two AMs will give the public reason to believe that politicians aren't just money-guzzling cowboys. Two AMs will show that politicians aren't just in the business of watching their own backs. And two AMs will put a guaranteed spark into an election campaign that may otherwise fail to excite voters.

That's because two AMs have risen to the Labour challenge set down in the Government of Wales Act and will surrender their regional seats in order to fight a constituency from second place.

They are Plaid's Helen Mary Jones and the Conservatives' Jonathan Morgan. Two of the Senedd's finest performers who'll be battling it out in Llanelli and Cardiff North respectively.

It's a huge political risk - one which could put their careers on ice for at least four years. But it gives voters a reason to trust politicians again. That alone may see them back in the Assembly in May and for me, wins them this award hands down.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 10:04 am, , links to this post

NHS: 'Designed for chaos'

Plaid yesterday called for the government's ten year NHS strategy to be scrapped.

They say the forward plan, called 'Designed for life', is unworkable, with 'peasant revolts' emerging all over the country against controversial hospital closures and mergers.

The plan, which is now almost two years old, sets out a ten-year vision for the NHS in Wales. However, it often reads more like a dreamy aspiration than a firm guiding document. For instance, by 2012 "the Health Gain Targets for Wales will be achieved," and by 2015 "Wales will have a world class health and social care service in a healthy, dynamic country."

...And children will dance and sing in the streets while they scatter rose petals in the sunshine.

On the ground, people see only wards closing and cost-cutting. Each 'reform' will be met with fierce opposition and Wales will stutter, not sprint, towards 2015.

The Tories have made the NHS their battleground for the Assembly election. Plaid waded in yesterday. Health Minister Brian Gibbons will be glad he's fighting a safe seat, because in the next few months, he's going to have his hands full.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 8:46 am, , links to this post

Gategate: Who stole the news?

I've spent the day chasing gates around South Wales.

Yes, apparently gating-up alleyways is the top news in Wales today.

The Assembly voted this afternoon to give councils the right to block public rights of way with sturdy gates, which can be opened only by approved local residents. This, they say, will cut crime.

It'll cost the government nothing: for a few seconds of Environment Minister Carwyn Jones' time at a somewhat subdued press call in Whitchurch, the day's news agenda was stolen.

That's the crux of the gategate scandal on the day when wrought iron hijacked the news.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 6:07 pm, , links to this post

Should David Melding be reaching for his P45?

A strong Conservative performance in May's Assembly election could spell the end of David Melding's political career.

I've had the Excel spreadsheets out again and it seems that if the Tories gain Cardiff North and the Vale of Glamorgan, Melding's days are numbered - he's relying on occupying the top berth in the South Wales Central regional list in order to get elected.

But even if the Tories gain only Cardiff North, the best dressed man in the Assembly could be making for the exit if the Lib Dems put in a slightly improved performance in the regional vote.

Intriguingly, a strong Tory performance could most benefit Plaid Cymru. Presuming the Conservatives take the Vale and Cardiff North and then calculating the distribution of regional seats using average votes won in 1999 and 2003, Plaid would win three of the four regional seats in South Wales Central.

These figures may be distorted, however, by Plaid's abnormally good performance in 1999. Using only the 2003 figures in this scenario would see Plaid win two and Labour and the Lib Dems win one top-up seat each.

Either way, the Tories are likely to cancel out every seat they win in the South Wales Central region. And this must give encouragement to Labour, who could pinch a regional seat here and in Mid & West Wales, thereby putting a gloss on what is likely to be an otherwise drab performance.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 7:50 am, , links to this post

Forward Wales going backwards

What a joke. Forward Wales only had four members to start with. Now, even they won't stand for the party.

Ron Davies will contest the Caerphilly seat, but not on a Forward Wales ticket. Neither will 'Party Leader' John Marek, by all accounts.

Makes a mockery of the party's motto "the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts." Not when the sum of the parts is zero.

Incidentally, Forward Wales' all-English website hasn't been updated since June 2006. Clearly a party going nowhere.

UPDATE: I've just changed the title from 'Forward Wales in reverse' after realising BBC had gone with the same one. Blamerbell Briefs mug and t-shirt in the post to anyone who can come up with a better pun - I couldn't see beyond the blindingly obvious.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 5:34 pm, , links to this post

Introducing Dafydd Elis-Thomas: First Minister

Dafydd Elis-Thomas has been such a success at isolating himself from Plaid Cymru that he could lead a rainbow coalition government after May's Assembly election. That's the view of 'election pundit' Dr Denis Balsom as reported in today's Western Mail.

The idea is that after eight years as Presiding Officer, Dafydd El is considered to be above politics and could oversee a Plaid, Tory and Lib Dem coalition, with the three party leaders serving beneath him in the cabinet. Apparently this is the model of government used in Austria, Belgium and Switzerland. It's called a 'consociational democracy' - a term you may never come across again, so make the most of it.

But before Glyn Davies wets himself in eager anticipation, let's just reflect on the probability of this happening: near zero.

Dr Balsom admits he was merely speculating and considers a Lib-Lab coalition the most likely outcome. Lord Elis-Thomas has won few friends for his performances at the Senedd's throne. He's so far failed even to rise above a petty feud with his deputy John Marek - how would he cope with the mud-slinging of three competing leaders within his own cabinet? And then there's the already well-documented resistance of a number of key players within Plaid to any notion of a coalition with the Tories.

It's an interesting idea but in reality about as likely as Helen Mary Jones winning Miss Great Britain 2007.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 9:34 am, , links to this post

Electoral Commission shares stage with BNP 'racists' in North Wales

If there's one party this blog has so far neglected to scrutinise ahead of the next Assembly elections, it's the BNP.

Most people assume they're not much of a force in Wales. So the news that they are intending to put forward a record number of candidates on May 3rd is alarming.

Perhaps more worrying, though, is their claim to be solidifying their status as a political party in Wales. A news article from their website says that Heulyn Gwyn of the Electoral Commission recently gave 70 BNP members a special presentation, and that he told them it was the "best presentation he has ever given to so many people with so many intelligent and valid questions."

It's Sunday, so I haven't had the opportunity to check this out with the Electoral Commission, but it would be interesting to know the circumstances under which this event was held.

For instance, the article states that the Electoral Commission were followed that evening by a speech from Jonathan Bowden, BNP cultural officer, who received a standing ovation. Videos of Bowden addressing a BNP gathering in North Wales have since appeared on youtube. This is his RANT against immigration and this is his ATTACK on public sympathy for Big Brother star Shilpa Shetty.

On immigration he says: "I was in Handsworth recently in the middle of Birmingham. Handsworth is 99.7% non-white. And the only whites who are left are very elderly people who are going to die soon, the mentally ill and people who can't get out."

He then goes on to defend the Big Brother racists, saying: "An Indian millionairess has been slightly abused on a trashy TV programme and the media is convulsed with this for day after day... They're all milking it because it's yet another thing about which the indigenous community are made to feel 'guilty'... When in actual fact this crude 'bitchy' girl has the sort of attitudes, expressed in a vulgar way, which most people, including Indians, have about other groups."

It seems likely that the Electoral Commission were in fact addressing the same crowd later whipped-up by Jonathan Bowden - whose oratory style bears an ironic resemblance to that of Jade Goody herself.

I would like to know why they agreed to appear at the event in the first place, and whether they were aware of the nature of the speakers that followed them. Because on the surface, it's surely not helpful for a public body to associate with the BNP in this way.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 12:12 pm, , links to this post

Plaid candidate bored by independence

Lurking somewhere in a dusty corner of the interent is a blog called Welsh Independence.

It's trying to generate support for its mission by asking Plaid Cymru election candidates to put down their views on an independent Wales.

The latest entry, from Barry Shaw, candidate in the Vale of Glamorgan, is about as original as beans on toast. That's because he's lifted his 'personal doctrine' straight out of Plaid's pre-manifesto, Change for the Better.

The blog's authors are clearly so dedicated to the Plaid cause that they've completely failed to notice.

Side by side. A Plaid candidate tries to pass off a manifesto document as his own writing.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 3:18 pm, , links to this post

Cymuned and Plaid exploit Welsh rugby

I wonder if Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones will be singing 4 Wales this weekend?

Both Plaid Cymru and the Welsh pressure group Cymuned have sought to use the beginning of the six nations for their own benefit.

Ieuan Wyn Jones issued a press release urging 'the Welsh public to take pride in their national team and to get behind them in their quest for another momentous championship'. And Cymuned launched a website to teach Welsh people how to sing again.

I'm not convinced the Welsh public need 'urging' from Plaid Cymru to get behind their team. As far as I can see, Wales is about the only rugby-playing country on the planet that most definitely doesn't need this sort of encouragement.

As for Cymuned - do they really envisage pissed-up beer camels from the valleys logging on to their website and singing along with the harp videos just to get the tune right?

As Wales take on Ireland tomorrow, the nation will roar in support of the team whatever Ieuan Wyn Jones says. And the crowd will sing as badly as ever, despite Cymuned's interventions. Such is the uselessness of publicity stunts.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 12:06 pm, , links to this post

Roderick predicts a Labour capitulation

The BBC’s Vaughan Roderick blogs about as often as he has his hair cut (which is to say – not regularly!)

But when he does write, it’s usually an interesting read.

Last month, Vaughan posted his predictions for the way North Wales seats could fall in the next Assembly election. And he was prepared to go even further than our own discussion on marginal and marginally marginal constituencies on this blog, predicting that Labour could easily lose Delyn to the Tories, and maybe even the Vale of Clwyd and Clwyd South too.

These are all constituencies with Labour majorities around the 3,000 mark. But they’re still vulnerable and could well be lost.

Now, that really would be a disaster for Rhodri Morgan.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 3:23 pm, , links to this post

Tata Steel: philanthropists or murderers?

There was much rejoicing in South Wales this week when it was announced that India's Tata Steel had taken-over Corus for £6.2bn.

Watching BBC's Wales Today you'd have thought Corus had been bought by Father Christmas. Back in India, Tata looks after its staff, the reporter cooed. They work no more than eight hours per day and live in model villages, she added (sparking images of the world's tiniest heavy-industry workforce). Ebbw Vale's steel workers could only hope to be treated in the same way.

What she didn't tell you was that just last year a group of tribal villagers from Kalinganagar in the Orissa province held a small protest against moves by the giant Tata steel company to displace them.

They were unhappy at not being offered market prices for their land, and had assembled to prevent the bull-dozers from destroying their houses.

The police turned up and shot 13 dead, including three women.

Tata have refused to accept any responsibility for these deaths, and one year on, the protest continues.

If this had happened in Britain, there would be decades of outrage. The Welsh steel industry may now live a few more years, but that's no reason to throw balanced reporting out the window.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 6:06 am, , links to this post

The sentencing of Sargeant

Since that 'interesting week' of November 8th, Carl Sargeant AM has been more sleeping policeman than active blogger.

Last week, the charges against Sargeant were laid down.

He stood accused of the blogging crime known as ABH - that of being Absolutely Bloody Hopeless.

Not even a recent provocative post from Glyn Davies AM could rouse him from his lethargy.

The good people of Alyn and Deeside must by now be on tenterhooks, wondering whether Carl's life was also 'interesting' in November 15th, or any week subsequently.

But the Sargeant has banished his blog to solitary confinement.

And so, this Brief hearing finds Sargeant guilty of copping out on his commitment to the blogosphere, and by extension to his constituents.

He will be removed from the blogroll until such a time as he can find a gullible enough researcher/work experience kid to get his blog up and running again.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 10:53 am, , links to this post

Trench warfare backfires for Lib Dems

Who'd have thought Lib Dem sympathisers could be so sly? I had them down as socially awkward, largely ineloquent and perhaps even moderately intelligent - but not devious.

Yesterday's Western Mail reported how Ioan Richard, the independent councillor in line to become Swansea's next Lord Mayor, planned to create mischief in council committees to earn himself pots of tax payers cash.

The council had been Lib Dem-led since 2004, but when the Tory group broke ranks recently Lib Dem allies lost their positions as committee chairs and the accompanying salary bonuses.

Councillor Richard planned to exploit the absence of opposition members through "ill health" and "family funerals" to continually call elections for the position of Chair and Vice Chair on committees and thus 'claw back some of his allowance'.

Here is that leaked email in full (author's emphasis preserved):

From: Richard, Ioan (Councillor)
Sent: 25 January 2007 22:58
To: Councillors - Cabinet Members; Councillors - Independent Group; Councillors - Swansea Administration; Councillors - Liberal Democrat Group
Subject: TRENCH WARFARE - are you up for it? I am !!!!!!

TRENCH WARFARE - are you up for it? I am seriously in favour of it !!!! A couple of our colleagues have come up with an idea and I am pursuing it. They suggested that we print out dozens of Forms as below - see example Form below. They then suggest that at EVERY Committee one of our members completes the appropriate blanks and hands it to the Minute Clerk directly at the end of the meeting to be passed on to Georgie Thomas. See the Form below - it is self explanatory.

This will mean that at the very next Committee - and if we continue the process EVERY COMMITTEE THEREAFTER INTO THE FUTURE - will have on its AGENDA for the start of every meeting the "Election of Chairman and Vice Chairman". This has enormous implications of inconvenience to Labour and Tories and Plaid Cymru. It means they will have to muster up a MAJORITY at EVERY COMMITTEE. If not we take the Chair and Vice Chair back for a 3 or 4 weeks cycle.

If we succeed only once in five goes we will get 20% of their Special Responsibility Allowance eg 20% of a Chair's £9,000 is £1,800 - an amount not to be scoffed at, and it will really inconvenience the other lot and annoy them enormously.

They have:- several members in serious ill health; one Globetrotter on Local Government business; one the Ombudsman may soon suspend; several who cannot get time off work for every meeting; some who are just lazy; others who may be on holiday; some who may need to go on private business e.g. a family funeral; others may just be late in a traffic jam or just temporarily sick with nasty Flu bout etc... It really would cause them very serious havoc problems and give us back a couple of thousand £ pounds a year.

I know I am going to seriously miss my Chairman's Allowance as my pension is very small. I have discussed this briefly with David Daycock and he says he will have to check out the legality of it, BUT he said off the top of his head he saw nothing to prevent us doing it. I have already discussed it with several colleagues. Most think it's a brilliant idea, but a few thought it childish or not worth it.

Well I'm going to do it for the Licensing Committee - so let's all do it all the time until something big changes. Your opinions are needed urgently. We need David Daycock to give a serious legal opinion if this is a contitutional action we can take. I'm not interested in any boring comments from any "fuddy duddys" who say it would be childish. If I can inconvenience the new "cabal" and get paid for it that's OK by me. Your urgent opinions-please.

If I don't do this I'm going to go back part time Casual Supply teaching for £140 per day for a 5hour day - I am still fully Registered with the Teaching Council (Wales) as a Chemistry & Maths & Physics teacher - I could get plenty of work for those subjects and stay away from Council to do it - not that I want to do that - but if I cannot claw back some of my allowance I will have to get some extra money from somewhere. OK

I think that teaching job beckons (if they'll still have him)...

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posted by Blamerbell @ 9:43 am, , links to this post