Labour candidate concedes defeat, four days early

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it still the official Labour line to say 'we are the only party who can form a majority government'? That's certainly what Rhodri Morgan was banging on about during the leaders debate last night. In fact, I seem to recall him saying it was 'arrogant' of Ieuan Wyn Jones to suggest otherwise.

If that is the case, why is Labour's number one candidate on the North Wales regional list predicting they will fall four seats short of a majority?

Writing for the New Statesman online, Ken Skates says: "My forecast is that Labour in Wales will not do as badly as the national polls suggest. We’ll fall to 27 (down two) whereas the Tories will gain a handful."

And it gets worse. Those who follow the party line have no choice but to predict an increase in the Labour vote, since that's the only way they could possibly claw back a majority in the Senedd. Not so Mr Skates, who says "I reckon Carl Sargeant will be the only Labour AM to increase both the size and proportion of Labour’s vote."

Ken has clearly been thinking too much about his own political fortunes. As a list candidate he stands more chance of getting elected if Labour perform poorly in the constituencies. Still, as I'm sure the party's press people would be the first to tell him: you're not supposed to admit that just four days before an election!

UPDATE: After this story somehow came to the attention of the wider Welsh political community, Labour's press people apparently got in touch with Mr Skates and he in turn asked the New Statesman to remove his comments. It's now the top story on New Statesman online.

May 2 UPDATE: This story is now in the Western Mail. Labour are accused of 'control freakery' and refuse to comment.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 4:42 pm, , links to this post

Four days to go and...

Lib Dem leader Mike German is in Aberystwyth again. He might as well buy a second home there. That'll please Elin Jones. Still, he might need somewhere to lie low on election night. Can you really see Plaid making the same mistake twice?

Labour say it's all about partnership. Peter Hain and Rhodri Morgan are going to comb each other's hair for the press sometime this afternoon. Activists will be choking on their clear red water.

Plaid Cymru have finally persuaded some chap called Eurfyl ap Gwilym to come down from London to take the flak over their finance programme. Expect Labour and the Tories to sling the mud with venom. I fear for poor Eurfyl it's going to be like trying to volley it away with a tennis racket - much of it is going to splatter over the brave little soldier's face. And why do Plaid need to 'call in' an expert anyway? Can't any of their AMs do sums?

And the Tories have brought in a notorious vote winner to help them with the final push. Unfortunately, he wasn't available so they've got Michael Howard instead.

1540 UPDATE:
Just one measly sentence on the Welsh elections in the Guardian today. "Polls in Wales suggest Labour will remain the largest party but it is struggling to maintain its majority in the assembly." One measly sentence, and even that is bollocks.

Also, further proof that it's more exciting in Scotland. The Web 2.0 generation has politicised facebook by changing profile pictures to election slogans and writing political graffiti on friends' walls. More from Luke Pollard.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 10:48 am, , links to this post

Election 2007: The Debate

The leaders went head to head, but only after each giving a two minute pregeth to the nation. I have no idea why politicians insist on this kind of unrestricted airtime. Someone should tell them that debate programmes are about people holding them to account and speaking their minds, not sitting captive so they can be brainwashed. Anyway, since Martin Shipton has lifted the taboo on elaborate (and subjective) ranking features, I've come up with my own:

Rhodri Morgan (Labour)

'... And that's 500,000 reasons to vote Labour.' What, in two minutes? I was jotting them down and only got to number five by the time he started freestyling. Stumped by Mike German and Ieuan Wyn Jones and heckled by the audience. Not his finest hour.


Ieuan Wyn Jones (Plaid)

Yap. Yap. Yap. But less so than normal. Probably the audience's favourite with two heartening rounds of applause. Nick Bourne asked him if people really wanted Plaid's policy of a seat in the United Nations, to which he replied 'of course not'. Right, so why bovva then?


Nick Bourne (Tory)

Came out fighting after a tough week. Made the Conservative case very clearly and was untroubled by all that was thrown at him. Except that bloke wearing the patch at the end, but surely everyone thought he was a bit weird?


Mike German (Lib Dem)

Won the two minute spiel and was otherwise competent. Managed to avoid sounding too cocky about the fact he'll soon be leaving such events in a ministerial car. Also won the battle of the postures. A good night, will probably celebrate with a ryvita and some half-fat cream cheese.


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posted by Blamerbell @ 12:00 am, , links to this post

Secrets and lies (and cowards)

The car slows down. A head pops out the window.

"You F*cking C*nt," shouts the primitive idiot at the pedestrian.

The car pulls away.

We've all seen it. We all think it's lousy and stupid, but nevertheless an unfortunate sign of our times.

Now, thanks to the exciting world of the internet, you can be a gutless thug online. The practice of writing anonymous comments to slag people off is a strange one. Because clearly there are some people out there who are as bitter as they are cowardly. What on earth could you possibly gain as a human being by attempting to smear someone's good name while sniggering from beneath the cloak of anonymity?

This week has, in many ways, been a great one for the Welsh blogosphere. Not only were blogs used to break big news stories, but they also became a major melting pot for debate. Unfortunately, there is a side effect to that culture. And when it came to the controversy over the alleged homophobic remarks made by a Conservative candidate, some people could not resist. Indeed, there are certain sites where you can, if you wish, continue to defame and deride in equal measure. These sites are almost entirely sustained by comments of this kind, many of them penned by the authors themselves.

Anonymity makes you feel powerful. Bullying can give you a real kick. And what we're seeing in certain corners of the internet is the online equivalent of the Jade Goody Big Brother saga. It's fun to feel part of the club, isn't it? Well, it's no fun if you're on the receiving end.

Personally, I have no time for slurs about the sexuality or appearance of our politicians. Their private lives should remain private unless there is an overwhelming public interest to the contrary.

Yes, Dave, I've got my zing back. Blogs have already given this election campaign a new dimension - we've certainly showed Scotland a thing or two. And I have no doubt that blogging will do (and is already doing) great things for the worlds of politics and journalism.

But it absolutely must be about opening this business up, about reaching more people and not imploding into a closed world where the best we can do is laugh about who has called who a big gay c*nt today. It might feel like a hoot if you're sitting in the car doing the shouting. But outside on the street you just end up looking like a moron.

UPDATE: Need ideas for a leisurely Sunday activity? Blamerbell suggests taking in a sock puppet show. I've only been awake an hour and already they're everywhere. Enjoy!

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posted by Blamerbell @ 12:35 am, , links to this post

Don't know, don't care

Perhaps it's just because Cardiff City lost at home again. Or perhaps it's because I haven't been invited to any post-election parties yet... But I'm coming clean: this election is exciting nobody except those politicians and journos whose lives depend on it. There are others who are getting into the spirit, but their interest is the political equivalent of hanging around guiltily to watch a neighbour's house burn down.

Fair play to the Western Mail, they've given this election a right old bash. But their front page today - 'Election 2007: What you say'- should really have been followed by the line, 'Couldn't give a shit'.

The paper dedicated its first five pages to election coverage, headlining their exclusive poll. But time after time, the most voluminous answer came under 'Don't know/Don't care'.

And if we are really, truly and honestly talking about the 'reaction on the doorsteps', it is the same. I've had the privilege of going out with a few canvassers and watching/producing an awful lot of vox pops and debate programmes. The overwhelming reaction is that assembly members are simply not worth their £50,000 a year.

With just a few days left until the polls, I doubt very much that the mood will change. The manifestos and policy pledges are all in place. But they simply aren't exciting enough. Who knows (or cares) who their local AM is anyway? So, if turnout is up at this election (which I expect), politicians should not interpret this as a vote of confidence in the political system. A significant proportion of those who will vote will do so grudgingly.

There has been much talk recently about Martin Shipton's low ranking of female Labour AMs, with some suggesting women don't get a fair deal in the 'Western Male'. Perhaps that's an easy way of avoiding the reality that some of our politicians simply aren't engaging with the electorate in the way Wales deserves.

So it was refreshing, this afternoon, to see Plaid Cymru's Cardiff West and Cardiff South candidates leafleting outside Ninian Park. Never mind if it was a tad opportunistic (they were having a dig at Sports Minister Alun Pugh for snubbing a recent UEFA event in Cardiff). Statistically, there can't be many votes in a football crowd, but you've got to get at people however you can in these crucial closing stages. Believe it or not, this is the first time I've seen candidates campaigning in a non-media staged event.

I'm sure all you politicians will rush to contradict me - 'we've been here and there and even all the way up the hill to Pen-y-celwydd and the doorsteps have been saying the most wonderful things'. But ordinary people know that's simply not true. And depending on the result of the election, things could get even worse. When the assembly reconvenes sometime before May 11th, it may be without some of its best performers; people like Glyn Davies, Jonathan Morgan and Helen Mary Jones. And the new blood may not include those heavyweight figures - Dafydd Wigley and Ron Davies - who could give the place the boost it so desperately needs.

Whatever happens, there will be a new intake and the assembly will have new powers (if Peter Hain permits). Hopefully, there can be a renewal both in terms of political personnel and their relationship, through the media, with the public. Because if 'Don't know/Don't care' is the prevailing attitude of 2011, the third assembly term will be as much of a failure as the previous two.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 8:15 pm, , links to this post

For Christ's sake, don't cock it up!

The Tories are polling badly. But it’s OK. Priority marginals like Clwyd West are going well. Just make sure the candidate doesn’t say anything stupid…. Damn!

Up steps Darren 'my evangelicalism won’t effect my campaign' Millar with a couple of gems at a hustings last night.

According to the Labour party (so we only have one side of the story so far), the Conservative candidate for Clwyd West said that "creationism should be taught in Welsh science lessons" and "homosexuality is a sin".

In the interests of proper journalism, I’ve checked the manifesto. But I can’t seem to find the 'in God’s name we shall purify' section.

David Cameron, renowned for taking a hard line on the politically incorrect, will not be best pleased.

UPDATE: The Tories say the remarks about homosexuality were not Mr Millar's own and that he merely referred to texts which said that homosexuality was a sin. His comments about creationism being taught in schools were (apparently) in the context of faith schools. My understanding, however, is that faith schools are as obliged as any other to follow the national curriculum. Even the Archibishop of Canterbury is against teaching creationism in schools!

UPDATE: Some people may have mistaken this as a place where you can post anonymous comments about people's private lives. It's not. I have absolutely no time for anyone who insults/smears another person while themselves remaining comfortably anonymous. It is gutless and callous. If you'd like to email me with your name and telephone number, I'd be more than happy to discuss this personally with you:)

UPDATE: Jane Davidson has entered the row, calling Darren Millar a 'mad evangelist'.

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

Latest poll shows Plaid surge as Tories falter #2

The Western Mail has now published its poll. And to the delight of Plaid and the dismay of almost everyone else, the results reinforce yesterday's ITV poll. Can we now call this a trend? Even if - given our idiosyncratic electoral system - the science is a bit dodgy, is there not a pattern emerging?

UPDATE: William Hill puts the Tories much closer to Plaid than the great Welsh public (or at least a contentiosuly drawn sample of them). Worth a bet?

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posted by Blamerbell @ 9:54 am, , links to this post

Latest poll shows Plaid surge as Tories falter

Could you detect a hint of smugness as the Tories reacted to the first poll of the campaign earlier this month, putting them in second place ahead of Plaid Cymru? 'Corporal Jones tells Plaid: don't panic' scoffed Nick Bourne (via the press officer). Others were slightly more cagey. Not so Glyn Davies, who insisted the poll was "precisely the same as I've been predicting for months. Which is rather good news for the Conservatives."

Well, Glyn, I bet you haven't been predicting this:

Constituency vote %:
Labour 32 (-8)
Plaid 26 (+5)
Con 19 (-1)
Lib Dem 15 (+1)
Others 8 (+4)

Regional vote %:
Labour 34 (-3)
Plaid 24 (+4)
Con 18 (-2)
Lib Dem 15 (+2)
Others 9 (-3)

Seat prediction:
Labour 25 (-4)
Plaid 15 (+3)
Con 10 (-1)
Lib Dem 8 (+2)
Independent 2 (=)

As before, these results need to be taken with a McDonald's chip servery-sized pinch of salt. Last time, some Tories went large and now look a bit silly. It is, of course, still worth remembering that the way the poll data is gathered and the way the predictions are calculated provide a far from definitive picture of how Wales will vote on May 3rd. But there are feelers here which indicate certain trends, perhaps the most surprising of which is the strength of UKIP.

As I suggested earlier this month, UKIP could well pick up votes from Tory discontents. They are now the only party who oppose devolution. And there are an awful lot of voters who oppose devolution too. This poll puts them on a whopping 5% in the regional vote. That's 5% that could cost the Tories dearly on the lists, even if they pick up a couple of constituencies.

Of course, the most obvious reading of this poll is that Labour voters appear to be disembarking en masse and getting off at the big flowery platform marked 'Plaid Cymru'.

So what's the big picture? Well, it's a sort of Monet landscape at present - it does reflect what appears to be going on (Labour plummeting, Plaid picking up, Tories struggling to motivate their core vote) but it's still very blurry. Expect Plaid to denounce this poll as they did the previous less favourable one (what else can they do without losing face?). The Lib Dems will become quite excitable at the prospect of doubling the amount of seat(s) they expected to win and UKIP will shout very very loudly at anyone who is unfortunate enough to be within a three-mile radius of their Barber-clad candidates.

This poll is a wake up call for the Conservatives. It also fails to provide any statistical artillery for the Labour voices who continue to insist a vote for Plaid is a vote for a Tory first minister.

But if this is the result our caffeine stung eyes are confronted with on May 4th, I'll eat my pants.

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

Presiding over before the game begins?

Forgive me please, just this one 'what if'. I need it...

Unless Labour pull off a big shock in this election, we expect a hung assembly on May 4th. The first business of that assembly is to elect a presiding officer. Whoever is bestowed that privilege will be politically impotent during their tenure, except in casting the decisive vote on those occasions where there is a tie. This makes the presiding officer feel terribly important. This and a plentiful supply of both blue and red bottles of Ty Nant mineral water, so his Lordship can have bubbles if that is what his Lordship doth wish.

Anyway, this happens within seven days of the election and the assembly then has a further 28 days to nominate a First Minister, who on this occasion will be appointed by the Queen (if he can be bothered to turn up).

So what's my point? Well, if it's tight (and there's every chance it could be tighter than a badger's anus), then the political affiliation of the presiding officer could determine which parties are able to form a government. In other words, it may well be that there is but a week for coalitions and/or agreements to be battered out after the election. There's also every chance that the parties will fail to agree on a way forward in that time, meaning that the election of a presiding officer could become quite a highly charged and controversial affair.

Of course, this is speculative twonk. But I wouldn't completely rule out someone other than Dafydd Elis Thomas getting their hands on the presiding officer's fizz next year.

Disclaimer: This is based on a nocturnal scamper through the assembly's standing orders (yes, I need a girlfriend). If you spot something fishy, let me know.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 12:07 am, , links to this post

Wigley or won't he?

I can't believe I've been writing this blog for six months without asking the question, what the hell is Dafydd Wigley playing at?

He is the nearest thing Wales has to a statesman. He was a consummate parliamentarian and continues to be respected across party political boundaries. And yet he is standing for election second on the North Wales regional list.

Now, at the moment Plaid have one list member in that region. To get another they'd have to do pretty poorly at constituency level. But in reality, they're in the hunt for two gains in North Wales: Aberconwy and Clwyd West. This would be great news for Plaid, but catastrophic for Dafydd Wigley who would be flung into the political wilderness (possibly accompanied by Janet Ryder).

So what's his game?

Well, apparently 'Dafydd's done his Maths', the implication being that he's got it all worked out because he is Dafydd Wigley and you absolutely have to trust that big boomy voice. I'm not convinced. Wigley is re-energised, that's for sure, but did he ever have his eyes on a political re-birth or was this always going to be a cameo appearance designed to give Plaid an election time lift? It is, perhaps, the political equivalent of taking one for the team - like the plucky midfielder who charges down a free kick only to get the ball lodged between his bollocks.

Dafydd Wigley is doing strange things to this election, not least because the list system makes psephology a whole lot of fun. Labour's Arfon candidate is reminding people to 'Vote Eaglestone Get Wigley', while the prospect of Plaid's leader losing his Ynys Mon seat to let Wigley in on the list would possibly even beat Rhodri Morgan's train journey as the most ironic moment of the campaign.

But I suspect that after all the hoo-ha on May 3rd not much will have changed. Except that Dafydd Wigley is likely to be holding his groin with some satisfaction, knowing that he hasn't let the team down.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 12:15 pm, , links to this post

Alan Johnson backs Plaid candidate

Alan Johnson (or whichever loon does his IT) has sent a letter of support to a Plaid Cymru candidate.

Carolyn Edwards, who is fourth on the South Wales West regional list, was shocked when she received an email from the aspiring deputy prime minister entitled 'Good Luck in Neath & Port Talbot':

With the elections just around the corner I wanted to email and wish you well.

Just like you, I'll be spending a few extra quid on shoe leather over the next week or so and will share with you the unenviable delight of aching feet at the end of each day between now and May 3 rd. But never lose sight of why we do this. We do it because we're the ones with the ideas and policies that make a real difference to the lives of millions of people in this country.

As Secretary of State I know that we have successfully driven standards forward in education throughout every region. We could only do that with unprecedented investment and an unfaltering belief that every child should reach their full potential. More than most, that is an achievement that I'm immensely proud of.

I know the amount of hard work that goes into your campaign. Over the next couple of weeks I'll be out and about matching that effort up and down the country. If you can think of anything that I can do to help the election campaign in your area – no matter how small - then please let me know and I'll try and help.

Yesterday, rumours were rife about a possible Plaid-Labour partnership after May 3rd. Although I'd still say it was a little premature for the Education Secretary to be actively endorsing Plaid candidates! Perhaps Alan Johnson has the same sources as Vaughan Roderick?

(hat tip Bethan Jenkins)

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posted by Blamerbell @ 9:30 am, , links to this post

Deal or no deal?

Right, that’s the day over. Time to reflect. (For background see HERE)

My initial reaction to this story was that we could nit pick our way out of it. What’s the difference between a deal and a coalition, I wondered. Isn't this just a story about semantics? Some blogs and news bulletins evidently wondered this too, because that's also the line they took.

But if we go back to Labour’s denial, what they say is that “this story is rubbish from start to finish”.

So, is it?

Is it rubbish that senior labour politicians (note that the report calls them politicians and not sources) are understood by the BBC to be “prepared to make major policy concessions in return for the party's support in votes of confidence and on issues such as the assembly budget”?

Is it rubbish that “prominent Labour figures have said they are considering a deal with Plaid”?

Is it? Is it? Eh?

If it is rubbish, then someone has made it up. Surely Labour aren’t accusing the BBC of that?

But let’s imagine it isn’t rubbish. The sound of cava/asti/lambrusco corks popping/unscrewing echoed around Ty Gwynfor today (they’re saving the good stuff for election night). Plaid think Labour are in meltdown. And they’re optimistic. This sort of ‘deal’ would see their programme of government implemented. They almost seem proud that they wouldn’t get any cabinet ministers.

But what would be the point of a deal like that? If Plaid argue that the current administration is incompetent – why keep it in power? And if Plaid value their seven election pledges so much – why trust a Labour government they so frequently decry to implement them? Why forfeit the chance to have real influence?

As far as tactics go, this is akin to political castration. Some very senior figures favour this sort of ‘agreement’ with Labour, but I’m not entirely sure that anyone is looking that far ahead. For the time being, it is serving a much more important purpose in electoral strategy: it undermines the Vote Plaid Get Tory line, it forces Labour into coalition territory (rather than talking about earning a majority) and it draws out the divides between the nationalists and unionists in the Labour party.

This may be talk best saved for May 4th. But it’s having an impact now.

UPDATE: I didn't hear Good Evening Wales (helpfully transcribed by Ted Jones), but apparently your mammoth debate in the comments section of my previous post got a mention from Labour's devilishly loyal Merthyr AM Huw Lewis:

"We have been upended in our campaign today by this individual or individuals. That combined actually with very damaging internet speculation which is going on at the moment I think has been a bad day for Labour and it needn't have been…"

I hope you're proud of yourselves!

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posted by Blamerbell @ 7:01 pm, , links to this post

Kick Labour into touch?

Plaid Cymru are going to need some new posters.

1230 UPDATE: This is fast turning into a game of semantics. Just the sort of thing that will turn ordinary people off as much as it turns us anoraks on.

Labour rule out a coalition with Plaid, who in turn rule out 'propping up' Labour. But that doesn't rule out an 'agreement'. Which is just what Labour are accusing Plaid of patching together with the Tories. At least nobody now has the moral high ground on making amorous advances. They're all at it.

1245 UPDATE: Have talks, official or otherwise, already taken place?

1345 UPDATE: Leighton Andrews insists the source is not a senior figure: "The BBC may have found someone in the Labour Party to say what the BBC is reporting - but they are certainly not anyone with any authority to say anything about Welsh Labour strategy pre- or post-election." But the BBC's Vaughan Roderick claims it is someone 'high up in the party'. It's hardly surprising that Labour's unionist wing are issuing such strenuous denials. But what about the so-called nationalists in the Welsh Labour camp?

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posted by Blamerbell @ 8:57 am, , links to this post

Redwood's rottweiler bites again

Nick Bourne's been having quite an easy time of it as late. Admittedly, Labour piped up last week and accused him of being scared to leave his air-conditioned office, but that's about as heated as it's got.

Enter Rod Richards, his predecessor as Tory leader.

"I regret the fact that these days all politicians from all parties are basically cardboard cut-outs," said Richards, obviously taking this photo (left) a little too seriously.

"As for the Conservative group leader Nick Bourne I have no regard for him whatsoever.

"I will not be voting in the assembly elections because nobody standing represents me or my views and I have taken a positive decision to abstain which shows my disdain for the way the assembly is operating. I certainly won't be voting Conservative because they don't deserve it and have no credibility in my view".

So the Tories are one vote down already. But it's no surprise that Richards, one of John Redwood's former enforcers, isn't a big fan of Nick Bourne. After all, he blames him for no less than his political downfall.

There was a time, you see, when Rod Richards was leader of the Welsh Conservatives. He was influential, respected and had first dibs on all the buffet lunches. But then he became embroiled in strange nocturnal activities and had to step down. Nick Bourne was the beneficiary and even when Richards was cleared, refused to give him back the whip. And so, an enemy was Bourne, with Richards branding him a "complete prat".

The relationship now seems much as it was then, except these days the Tories are in much better shape. It's hard to believe that just six years ago people were writing articles wondering if they'd ever win a Westminster seat in Wales again. It's also hard to believe that the man who was once the face of Conservatism in Wales is still so bitter about his political demise.

So, do Richards' views reflect those of other disillusioned Tories, or are they just the sole bitter fruit of an ancient feud? I suspect their impact will be minimal. For Bourne, this may simply be a case of vote lost, battle won.

A full version of Rod Richard's interview appears in the latest version of Parliamentary Motion magazine.

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

Assembly election for dummies

Or should I say, 'Assembly election for Guardian readers'. Not that I want to insult their intelligence. A few of them may even have strayed into this depraved corner of cyberspace.

Anyway, here's my latest bit for Comment is Free. Shame the buggers have put me in the graveyard slot.

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


Tonight, the BNP will get a chunk of airtime for their party political broadcast. And there's a concerted campaign going on to stop it. (So far supported by the National Union of Journalists, the Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union, Unite Against Fascism and Respect).

You can read all about the legislation and guidelines relating to the party political broadcasts HERE.

Needless to say, there are those who are asking broadcasters to censor. I suppose it's simply a question of whether that is necessary, or whether the public can decide for themselves.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 12:02 am, , links to this post

It's not over till the fat lady commentates

The presence of a female commentator on Match of the Day this weekend has caused quite a stir. As usual with this sort of thing, the chaps who aren't wholly keen on the idea are denounced as short-sighted misogynists. That's because their arguments are usually short-sighted and misogynistic.

But for me as an absolutely obsessive football fan (do not even think about telling me the scores before MOTD is over thank you very much) there's a much more obvious reason why the female voice isn't suited to football commentary.

"People talk about technicalities like the range of voice," says Clare Balding in this week's Guardian, "but that's nonsense. It's the same as saying that women can't sing."

Err, no it's not. But it is the same as saying a lone female soprano wouldn't blend terribly well with a muscly male chorus (and by the way, the male voice does indeed have a greater range than its female equivalent).

Quite simply, your average football crowd is an overwhelmingly baritone affair. It is the surge of this bass clef roar which is accountable for the atmosphere a football stadium produces. That's why international friendlies brimful of high-pitched children and those bloody kazoos are such spiritless occasions.

The commentator's voice emerges from football's unique tessitura. It is a natural extension of the roar itself which, let's face it, remains and looks set to remain predominantly male. As long as this is the case, the female commentator's voice will sound alien to the occasion it is supposed to be bringing to life. Suddenly the action doesn't seem so real, the descriptions more laboured. The best commentary should achieve quite the opposite.

None of this is sexist. It is fair to say that Jacqui Oatley may indeed be more eloquent than some of her male colleagues. But in this particular profession, eloquence in itself does not suffice.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 12:59 am, , links to this post

Honest John: Wood fires off final answers

Here it is, the last Honest John post. Jonathan Morgan, Mick Bates and Huw Lewis have been and gone. After this I'll have to start writing this blog myself again, which frankly sounds a lot more trouble than getting you lot to ask the questions and persuading some gullible politicians to answer them.

Last up is Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales Central. Leanne has hit the headlines for her role in the anti-Trident protests in Faslane Naval base, in which she was arrested. She is one of those politicians whom we lazily tend to prefix 'outspoken'. Let's see if it's justified...

Are alcoholism and drug dependency offences that should be punishable orillnesses that should be cured? (Sion Gwilym)
Before I was elected I worked as a probation officer. I take the view that substance dependency is an illness, often triggered by traumatic events - undealt with childhood abuse and bereavement being commontriggers. It depends on the offence and the circumstances - a drug dependent murderer should be punished. But to continually send people to prison who commit offences like possession, or crimes to fund their addictions, or who are violent after drinking, without time for meaningful rehabilitation work, makes no sense unless there is a break from or some form of management of the dependency. That means being prepared to deal with the reasons for the addiction, and it means that the person concerned has to be motivated to make big life changes. In that sense, the addiction should be treated as an illness. I think the solution for the long term lies in helping children deal with trauma. We're not good at doing that.

Who is your political hero and why? (Marcus Warner)
I don't have any heroes. People who have influenced my politics include Malcolm X, Annie Powell, Gwyn Alf Williams, Maya Angelou and many other people who are not famous. All for different reasons - Malcolm X and Maya Angelou for their resistance to oppression. Gwyn Alf for giving me a history I can relate to as valleys Welsh. Annie was a communist councillor for Penygraig, the ward I later represented for Plaid. She was highly respected for her work in the community, her campaigning and known for sticking to her principles.

Do you believe that taking part, (and getting arrested) in the anti-trident campaign in Scotland has helped the cause of Plaid Cymru? (penddu)

I don't know, but furthering the cause of Plaid was not the aim. The Faslane 365 campaign has been running since last October, and there have been 730 arrests so far. The campaign has raised awareness and challenged the existence of Trident and its replacement. We have no say on Trident replacement in the Assembly. People in Wales have no say on this, despite the fact they'll have to pay their share of its estimated £76bn cost. I'm passionately opposed to nuclear weapons, and felt I had to do something to register that opposition.

We never know whether protests have any effect. I do know though, that doing nothing is guaranteed to have no effect.

What is your favourite album of all time? (Marcus Warner)
I don't have one. There are a few and they change over time. Favourites include Catatonia's International Velvet, Bob Marley and the Wailers' Catch A fire, Pulp's We Love Life and Miles Davis' A Kind of Blue.

Please explain, in detail, how Plaid Cymru would fund, in an Independent Wales, all the current services provided by the Welsh Assembly Government at current and projected spending levels PLUS the welfare state, pensions, defence (something Dai Lloyd has yet to be able to give me an answer to via the letters page of the Western Mail), policing and security, foreign affairs, international trade relations, S4C and Broadcasting in general, and all other reserved matters. (Martyn Williams)
Via taxation, the way all countries do. Six member states of the European Union are smaller than Wales. Eight of the ten richest countries in the world have a population of less than 10 million, including all 5 Nordic countries. An independent Wales could clearly pay its own way. I believe the people of Wales are no less talented than the people of Ireland and that we could successfully run our own affairs. An independent Wales would have the option of reducing the defence budget, re-prioritising public services.

What have you done as a party or an individual to help engage young people in politics? (Marcus Warner)
Plaid has a strong youth movement, which keeps all elected members on our toes. Working with them involves attending freshers' fayres and public meetings and I did a tour of universities with Dafydd Iwan, putting the case for independence. When I was first elected I wrote to all secondary schools in the region asking to be invited to speak to the students about politics, in a non partisan way. That resulted in many invitations, and some schools continue to organise something regularly. I find through discussions with groups of young people that they are mostly not apathetic towards politics, but they don't know what to believe from politicians as they see so much spin. So I try to talk straight. The aim of the schools visits is to try to get the students to think about how they can change things, not just by voting, but by writing to politicians, asking questions of parties, and generally getting active in campaigning work.

What would you do for places like Pontypridd and Blaenavon which are being used by the Utility companies as training grounds? Most streets in both towns have in excess of 400 dig patches each per street. (ianp)
I would take the utilities back into public ownership so that that necessary digging could be co-ordinated and reduced.

Do you believe that the Welsh language should be given official status in Wales? (hedd)

Do you believe that the people of Wales should have the Right to Services in Welsh? (hedd)

Do you believe that the people of Wales should have the right to work through the medium of Welsh? (hedd)

How would you like to see the assembly develop in the future? (der)
I would like it to become an independent parliament.

What are you going to do to encourage a more comprehensive coverage of Welsh politics in the media? (sanddef)
I can't do much to change the way the media work. We can't blame the media for not covering assembly debates and committees if they are boring.

Ultimately, the reason that Westminster is taken more seriously is because it’s seen to be making more serious decisions. Until the Assembly makes the big decisions (taxation, defence, war, criminal law etc) the media's coverage of Welsh politics will be inferior to UK wide politics. Getting the London based media to take Wales' stories seriously is difficult, unless there is a perceived threat to British institutions e.g. the monarchy or the armed forces. So to answer the question - I'll try to be more interesting!

And that concludes our trawl through the souls of the people desperate for your vote on May 3rd. So was it McCain's straight cut oven chips or Birdseye potato waffle? You decide.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 4:17 pm, , links to this post

Only in my backyard

I blogged recently on the fact that for the first time in well over decade, Plaid Cymru currently have no policy on nuclear energy.

But there are two things we know for certain. One is that Plaid's leader Ieuan Wyn Jones backs a new nuclear power station in his own backyard, the other is that Plaid's pre-manifesto (released in March this year) categorically states: "Plaid Cymru does not support nuclear power."

There's an obvious tension between these two positions. You can't be for and against something at the same time. The solution? Pretend you were never against it.

At a local level, at least, Ieuan Wyn Jones now appears to be using the absence of a policy on nuclear energy in Plaid's manifesto to justify his support for the replacement of the Wylfa plant in Ynys Mon.

The Bangor & Anglesey Mail reports that during a recent hustings on the island, Conservative candidate James Roach accused Plaid Cymru of double standards. He said: "It's interesting that within their manifesto Plaid Cymru disagree with nuclear power apart from on Anglesey and although I do congratulate Mr Jones' dedication to the island, I think that's plain hypocrisy."

To which Ieuan Wyn responded: "There's no mention of this in our manifeto." Adding, "I support Wylfa B on certain conditions."

It is an odd tactic, I must confess. Plaid clearly hope that they can be vague and non-comittal on the national stage while allowing their leader free rein at a local level. But this is just the sort of thing Plaid accuse the other parties of doing.

Of course, politics in Wales is such that anti-nuclear voters in the Valleys neither know nor care what's being said in a hustings in Ynys Mon. Politicians and their bods are all too aware of this. And as long as they can get away with it they'll continue to fight this election campaign on multiple fronts. After all, as one insider told me recently, "there's nothing wrong with telling people what they want to hear."

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posted by Blamerbell @ 4:39 pm, , links to this post

Honest John: Huw Lewis defends his corner

Huw Lewis is Labour's assembly member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. He has a hefty majority and ambition to match. As a politician loyal to the Blair agenda, he'll be monitoring developments in the Labour party closely as Rhodri Morgan's tenure as leader comes to an end. I'll keep the introduction short because the questions and answers are plentiful...

Would you be prepared to PUBLICLY have your fingerprints and DNA taken for your new ID Card, before the election? (ianp)

It would be a pretty boring thing to do PUBLICLY. I remain to be convinced about the need for ID cards, and would want some firmer guarantees about cost before committing one way or the other. But if your implication is that I have a criminal past, I have no fears there!

Where in your opinion does the clear red water lie within your manifesto and London Labour's? (Marcus Warner)

I don't think we should get too hung about the idea of "clear, red water", we should never look to do things differently for the sake of it - but only when it makes sense to our set of circumstances in Wales. There are a number of issues like the Mobile Mammas childcare scheme and like the Welsh baby bond dividend which I have been lobbying for - that show we will go our on way when it makes sense to do so.

Are alcoholism and drug dependency offences that should be punishable or illnesses that should be cured? (Sion Gwilym)
Clearly there is a difference to be drawn between alcohol consumption and drug use - one is legal - the other is not. However, addiction to either is incredibly damaging for the individual and can tear families apart - you need a balanced approach, treatment for the individual, but punishment for drug peddlers. I would be happy to see a grown up conversation between all parties after May about our approach to drug dependency and treatment.

There's a housing crisis in many parts of Wales. What would you do to redress it or are market forces above all other considerations? (der)
I think building more affordable housing is the key - and I'm glad to see some innovative solutions being introduced in Wales to that end.

What is your favourite album of all time? (Marcus Warner)
Astral Weeks, Van Morrison.

Can you tell me where you stand on the following issues. (che gra-vara)
1. The decision to go to war in Iraq
I supported the war in Iraq - and rather than rehearse all the same arguments again, I would point people to the recent book from Observer writer, Nick Cohen, on the subject which runs through in great detail the social progressive's case for war. However, I would also say that much of the handling of post-War Iraq, has been disastrous. Not least the American decision to send home the entire Iraqi army.
2. The decision to renew Trident
I think it will be some time before Assembly Members have a decision to make on this, but I backed the decision to renew Trident. Aside from the arguments on deterrent, consider the hard nosed rules of foreign policy. Those who argue on one side that the USA dictates too much on foreign affairs, then want us to disband our armed forces and downgrade our deterrent don't understand how the world works.
3. Cuts to PCS jobs
I don't think any party is arguing against the notion of reorganising the civil service, if it means we can spend more on front line services. Or are they? What I would say, as I did in the Assembly debate on the matter, let's look at this in the round - we don't want to be shifting HMRC jobs from the Valleys to Cardiff for example.

What have you done as a party or an individual to help engage young people in politics? (Marcus Warner)
On a personal level I engage very closely with all the schools in Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney and we get as many kids down to the Assembly as possible.

What would you do for places like Pontypridd and Blaenavon which are being used by the Utility companies as training grounds? Most streets in both villages have in excess of 400 dig patches each per street. (ianp)
I'm sure they are not digging up the streets for the fun of it. I'd rather have some temporary roadworks than a gas explosion to deal with - but I'm quirky like that. Blaenavon has received massive grants from the Assembly and associated bodies to develop the fabric of the town, and links to the World Heritage Site. Ponty is also benefiting from huge investment in both roads and rail.

You've identified yourself with the child poverty initiative, hoping doubtless to garner much profile. Please tell why, given that Labour has just admitted it's failed its own Child poverty target this time around, we should believe you this time? Is that why you've been a little silent lately... ? (Dave Rodway)
Child poverty under the Tories - up by 100,000 a year. Child Poverty under Labour - down by (rough average) 60,000 a year. Plaid Cymru say Independence first. Take your pick.

Who is your political hero and why? (Marcus Warner)
Clement Attlee - everyone knows why, or doesn't know enough history.

Do you believe that the Welsh language should be given official status in Wales? Do you believe that the people of Wales should have the Right to Services in Welsh? Do you believe that the people of Wales should have the right to work through the medium of Welsh? (hedd)
As far as is practical, everyone in Wales should be able to communicate in whichever language they choose in their day-to-day life. But, whichever way you cut it, 80% of people in Wales can't speak Welsh - are you suggesting that we select our future workforce only from the 20% who can?

You mention "services" - does that include business? I would be in favour of businesses, where they can, offering support for workers to take Welsh lessons. I don't favour compulsion on the Welsh language, and I think I'm right in saying that the Welsh Language Board doesn't either. I'm nervous about a rights based approach - but that doesn't mean I'm somehow against the language, I just wish my own attempts at learning had gone better!

What are you going to do to encourage a more comprehensive coverage of Welsh politics in the media? (sanddef)
Am I allowed to agree with Jonathan Morgan? It is not up to us to dictate to the Welsh media what they cover and what they don't. I do think it is a shame that we in Wales don't reap more benefits of having a world class School of Journalism in Cardiff - but perhaps that will come with time.

How would you like to see the assembly develop in the future? (der)
I'm excited about the post-May Assembly. I think we will end up with a much more democratic system, with individual AMs, subject committees - and the public (through a Petitions Committee) - having a say on new legislation in addition to the party or parties of Government. In short - we are facing big changes, let's see how they go before thinking about further development.

How may of the 500 jobs you claimed when the assembly came to Merthyr were real jobs? - ie how many people moved up with the assembly and how may jobs were filled from Merthyr when they arrived *and what other than cleaning jobs were they)? Also, why did you move your family out of the valleys? (valleys mam)
They are all "real jobs", but they are jobs that have moved with the department of Social Justice. Nobody, least of all me, claimed these were 500 new jobs for people in Merthyr - I can send you a copy of the piece I did for the Merthyr Express on this if you don't believe me. But don't be so short-sighted. What kind of impact on the local economy are 500 extra workers going to have? With staff turnover, there will be plenty of opportunities for local people to get work in the new offices - I think, roughly 50 local people already have jobs there. This will be a permanent local employer for people in Merthyr that simply wasn't there before.

And I haven't moved my family out of the Valleys.

Blimey. That was a session. Huw had by far the most questions to answer of all our brave politicians. So what's the verdict? Is it more Mother Teresa than Jeffery Archer? You decide.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 5:15 pm, , links to this post

We'll keep a welcome in the hillside (well hidden)

UEFA hold a ceremony to announce who will host the 2012 European Championships. It is one of the biggest sporting events in the world. Press from all over the globe are gathered. At the time of writing Google News has 353 articles on the subject from India to New York, South Africa and Malaysia. It is being held in City Hall Cardiff.

A star-studded audience holds its breath as the announcement is made. This is a heavyweight crowd. Literally. Ex-boxing champion Vitali Klitschko is backing the Ukraine bid along with Chelsea striker Andrei Shevchenko. Oh, and the President happens to be there too. Not to mention the Prime Ministers of Croatia and Hungary.

But Sports Minister Alun Pugh decides it makes more sense to pull out at the last minute rather than represent the government at this prestigious event. He's fighting a marginal seat and for him, that is what's important. Turns out First Minister Rhodri Morgan can't make it either so they send Deputy Health Minister John Griffiths instead.

So it's sporting legends, heads of state, the world's media and... John Griffiths.

The opposition parties are calling it an 'embarrassment'. For Labour, it's more of a sacrifice. I wonder if the voters of Clwyd West will reward Alun Pugh at the polls?

I'm off to Cambridge tomorrow for an old boys dinner. Posting will be sporadic and alcohol induced. So much the same as normal.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 12:40 am, , links to this post

Honest John: Bates passes clear yellow water

The second politician to rise to Blamerbell's Honest John challenge is the Lib Dems' Mick Bates. The bar has been set relatively high after the performance of the Conservatives' Jonathan Morgan.

'Chwarae teg (Fair play) to JM for a pretty clear set of answers' said Aran, while Plaid-supporting Sanddef said he'd even consider voting for him under the right conditions. Valleys Mam was less impressed, arguing that people would always remember the way the Tories treated the miners.

Today's victim politician has been assembly member for Montgomeryshire since 1999, but in the 2003 election his majority was halved by the outspoken Conservative contender Glyn Davies. Funnily enough, if the swings of four years ago were to be repeated on May 3rd Mick would lose his seat and so, in all probability, would the man who narrowed the gap last time around, confined as he is to the vagaries of the regional list.

But Mick is evidently campaigning hard to hang on. That's the only explanation I can come up with for the monosyllabic replies he has given to your questions. So rather than present this one in a Q+A style I'll just tell you what he thinks as concisely as possible...

Mick believes 31 seats would be a success for the Lib Dems in this election. He thinks alcoholism and drug dependency are illnesses to be cured and not offences. He works very closely with the Lib Dems at Westminster, but he won't tell us if there's any clear yellow water between them. Some people drink their own clear yellow water, apparently it's good for your health.

Also good for your health is laughter. So it's just as well Mick thinks his old rival Glyn Davies' attempt to smear his name is 'funny'. (I told you the answers were monosyllabic).

Mick talks to young people 'all the time'. This is to get them more interested in politics. He doesn't tell us if it's working or not but I met a young Lib Dem activist in the street the other day and there was real fatigue in his eyes. I think he'd been got at.

When Mick isn't talking to young people (which of course is never) he's listening to his favourite album, Dark Side of the Moon, or plotting a revolution of the Welsh political media. He will achieve this by 'sending out more Focuses'. Because the world needs more Focuses.

Mick's political hero is Lloyd George. Mick subtitles this answer 'Visionary for Wales', which sounds like a second-draft of the Lib Dem manifesto. In which you will read, incidentally, that Lib Dems think that the Welsh language should have official status. Mick agrees and also believes that people should have the right to services in and the right to work through the Welsh language.

Finally, Mick would like to see the assembly develop in future by having 'less strategies and more action'. The word 'strategy' appears 36 times in the Liberal Democrat manifesto.

So, there we are. Are you satisfied or have you lost control of your saliva glands with rage? Tomorrow: Labour's Huw Lewis.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 3:08 pm, , links to this post

I want Socialist Equality for Wales!

When the list of candidates for May 3rd was finalised last week, the inclusion of the Socialist Equality Party on the South Wales Central list turned a few heads.

Actually, that's not true. It didn't turn any heads. They might as well be the the People's Front of Judea as far as most people are concerned. But it did turn my head ever so slightly - a fraction of a movement, like the sort you'd make if you happened to be balancing a pint of battery acid on the tip of your nose.

I've always reserved a degree of admiration for the plucky underdog parties, contesting elections against the odds. But I've also wondered why they bother, especially when it comes to standing in Wales. Resources may be thin, finances steep, supporters virtually non-existent, but if you're going to stand in the Welsh Assembly election surely you should be, well, just a little bit Welsh?

Not so the Socialist Equality Party, it seems, who are so committed to equality they've given Scotland and Wales the same manifesto. That's just about fair enough, you might think, not everyone's got a pocket David Melding to hand. But the SEP aren't even fielding any vaguely Welsh candidates: Chris Talbot is from Cheshire and works in Huddersfield, David O'Sullivan is a London Underground worker, Stuart Nolan is a train conductor from Birmingham and Poopalasingam Thillaivarothayan is not just a mouthful but also a mature student in England.

During the formative years of my political consciousness (so pre-school!) I met more Welsh socialists than most. In fact, I've probably met all four of them at some time or other. But they are out there. They may be a little bit odd (with a penchant for poetry and hemp clothing) but they most definitely exist.

So here it is, my plea for socialist equality in Wales. Justice for the Welsh socialist minority. If they could rouse themselves from their copies of Das Kapital, they'd be with me:)

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

Honest John: Morgan calls for referendum on new powers

Jonathan Morgan is stepping down from a comfortable regional seat to fight Cardiff North for the Tories. He's tried twice before, and failed. If he fails this time, he's out of a job.

Jonathan, then, has more reasons than most to watch his back. But he's still the first politician to get his Honest John answers in. The challenge: to be as upfront as possible.

So here it is, and there's some interesting stuff. Despite not having a favourite album (what kind of person doesn't have a favourite album?) Jonathan hits out at the media and finds common ground yet again with Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats: he'd like a referendum on Scottish-style powers for the assembly.

Introducing, You versus Jonathan Morgan...

What have you done as a party or an individual to help engage young people in politics? (Marcus Warner)

In 1999 we had the youngest group in the Assembly. We have a young team of county councillors and candidates. Young people get on in our party.

Are alcoholism and drug dependency offences that should be punishable or illnesses that should be cured? (Sion Gwilym)
Clearly treatment is important. Drug dependency leads in many cases to dealing drugs and theft to fund the habit. This cannot be ignored by the criminal justice system.

What is your favourite album of all time? (Marcus Warner)
I don't have one.

What are you going to do to encourage a more comprehensive coverage of Welsh politics in the media? (Sanddef)
Nothing. It's up to the media to decide what to print or broadcast. I am fed up with being told that it's our job to get the voters out, especially when ITV/BBC put their Assembly programmes on so late at night that only bored shift workers get to see them!

Do many of the 'older' Tories feel a bit confused by the direction that David Cameron is taking? Many (not you) seem to disagree with his 'direction' but are happy to bask in his new media glory and I wonder if that is a problem? (Marcus Warner)
No problem at all. Overwhelming numbers know that we needed to change, however difficult that change is.

Is it true, as suggested by Dr Non Gwilym of StrataMatrix in Y Cymro last week, that you are seriously worried that you'll lose crucial votes to Sir Dai? (Sanddef)
No. I don't know where Non got her information from but there is no sign of UKIP. The anti-Assembly feeling is not an issue as it has been in the past.

Do you believe that the Welsh language should be given official status in Wales? (Hedd)

Do you believe that the people of Wales should have the Right to Services in Welsh? (Hedd)
Yes, although as someone who lives in the real world there would be huge implications for how this could be achieved.

Do you believe that the people of Wales should have the right to work through the medium of Welsh? (Hedd)
Where possible yes, although I can imagine a series of examples of where this would not be practical.

Who is your political hero and why? (Marcus Warner)
Churchill, for being the best of British! A great leader who approached life with vigour.

How would you like to see the assembly develop in the future? (der)
I would like to see a referendum after 2011. Four years of the new Assembly measures should give ample opportunity to see if the new system works. I would campaign for a yes vote for Scottish-style powers in a referendum.

So, how does he do? Are you jumping up and down in the corridors of your depraved imaginations, exalting with joy at actually getting a politician to answer some of your questions? Or is it just the same old story?

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posted by Blamerbell @ 11:03 am, , links to this post

Bloody Cheek?

I couldn't help but notice that Iain Dale linked to two Welsh blogs yesterday. One with a story about Lib Dems being perennially engaged in two-horse races, whatever the odds, and another about Plaid's Helen Mary Jones 'electioneering in a graveyard'. Cue the diatribe.

Except, of course, there's a very good explanation over at Sanddef's place:

Hedd Gwynfor said... is a website that I purchased to give my late Grandfather a lasting memorial on the web... I offered to build a website for Helen's campaign in Llanelli, and to host her site on my webspace. I purchased the domain to point to

My late Grandfather met Helen on numerous occasions before he died, and he was a great fan of hers. I know that my Grandfather would be extremely happy to be associated with Helen's campaign in Llanelli, and would want to help Helen's campaign in any way possible... Anyone who knew Gwynfor would understand that the only thing important to him was success for Plaid Cymru, to ensure freedom for Wales.

I hope that clears it up once and for all.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 12:19 am, , links to this post

Top 5 campaign car crashes

It's election time, so politicians everywhere are creeping out of their hovels and stepping into dodgy tracksuits, bin bags, go-karts... anything to get a picture in the local rag. But some moments have just been plain bizarre, and there's still over two weeks to go!

1. Rhodri Morgan's 'ironic' train journey on the day South Wales' trains ground to a halt. Cue headlines: First Minister running out of steam etc.

2. Rhodri on yet another mode of transport. This time it's a boat. He's donned his life jacket and is off out on a little jolly with Tony Blair. Cue headlines: Labour's sinking ship, Labour in need of a lifeline etc. Worse still, Rhodders and Tony get off the boat and embark on a steep uphill struggle back to base. They might as well just write their own scripts.

3. Dafydd Wigley squeezes into a shellsuit for the first time since 1983. This is to make old people feel better about exercising. But it just makes them feel better about not exercising in the same place as Dafydd Wigley.

4. Labour's manifesto launch is a treasure hunt for kids in oversized t-shirts. More than a week later and nobody's told Lib Dem leader Mike German that the competition is over.

5. Plaid's Adam Price MP and Labour's Arfon candidate Martin Eaglestone have a very public tiff in a North Wales car park. 'Sign my contract'. 'No, you sign my contract'. 'I asked first'. 'He wot smelt it dealt it' etc. They are suddenly interrupted when an electronic wheelchair pulls up and gets stuck into the action. Eaglestone then becomes embroiled in a Ricky Gervaisesque exchange with a very stubborn Plaid supporting disabled person. There is no exit strategy.

I apologise for the lack of balance in this item. Labour win the innovative press call hands down so it's inevitable a few will go a bit wonky.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 12:02 am, , links to this post

Minister's 'snub' to the Welsh Language

Staying with the Welsh language theme today, it's interesting to note which Labour candidates have submitted English-only registrations for the forthcoming national assembly elections.

There's plenty of talk in Cardiff Bay of a nationalist/unionist split in the Labour party. And this may become all the more pronounced after the election as the end of Rhodri Morgan's tenure as leader grows ever closer. While Carwyn Jones, perhaps unbeknownst to himself, heads up the nationalist wing, the two AMs widely considered the stalwarts of the unionist camp are Leighton Andrews and Andrew Davies.

So it's intriguing to discover that Enterprise Minister Andrew Davies has not submitted a bilingual registration for the May 3rd ballot, unlike most of his colleagues up and down the country who will stand on a 'Labour Party/Y Blaid Lafur' ticket.

Unfortunately, the Rhondda Electoral Office does not publish its list of candidates online, so at the time of writing it's not possible to tell if Leighton Andrews has overlooked the Welsh language in a similar fashion. What's certain is that for Andrew Davies there's no going back; nominations are now closed. And with pundits already pointing to his Swansea West constituency as a possible upset he'll be kicking himself if voters, when staring at this monolingual appearance on the ballot paper, decide that's enough to swing their vote.
Andrew Davies' name as it appears on the official Swansea West ballot.

The more common bilingual format, as used by Edwina Hart in the Gower.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 1:47 pm, , links to this post

Why won't Labour make Welsh an official language?

The Conservatives, Plaid and the Lib Dems all agree: Welsh should be an official language. It's there in black and white in each manifesto.

As it stands, Welsh is already a 'Language of Government' in Wales, but it does not have official language status (even though Jane Davidson seems to think that it does).

This matters because Welsh, at present, doesn't really exist. Despite being spoken by a now sizable proportion of the nation, Welsh lags way behind other minority languages in Europe. Irish is an official European language, while Basque, Catalan and Galician are 'approved' European languages. This means that EU correspondence and speeches can be translated into these languages if notice is given.

Meanwhile, Welsh has no such recognition. It is possible for MEPs to make speeches in Welsh in the European parliament, but they won't be translated so what's the point? It may amuse the Italians to see the remnants of Glenys Kinnock's lunch spat out in a mouthful of complex consonants, but it will achieve very little.

The opposition parties argue that earning official language status would go some way to putting Welsh on a par with other minority languages in Europe. Labour's manifesto appears to disagree.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 8:27 am, , links to this post

It's between Labour and the Lib Dems here

Haven't you heard? The whole of Cardiff is a two-horse race between Labour and the Lib Dems. At least that's what they will tell you.

Laughing in the face of the actual statistics, the Lib Dems argue with some gall that 'everyone knows the Conservatives and Plaid can't win here'. Well, it's news to me, and news to Tory candidate Jonathan Morgan too I'm sure; he'll be devastated to learn he has no chance in Cardiff North despite being 6,400 votes closer to Labour than his Lib Dem counterpart.

So, how do they do it? Surely it's not an outright lie? No, even for politicians that would be going too far. Instead, the Lib Dems cheekily use council election results to calculate their graphs, making it look as if they are in second place, whereas they are actually in third. But where they genuinely lead, as in Cardiff Central, suddenly the council election results are an irrelevance and assembly election history is of primary importance.

The most staggering thing about this ploy is that it's about as convincing as a Didier Drogba 'injury'. If you're motivated enough to vote you're probably curious enough to wonder why the Lib Dems are bragging about council seats in the middle of an assembly election campaign. Why bother?

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

German's scummy feet and Black's naughty blindfold

The BBC reliably inform us that Welsh Lib Dem leader Mike German is not recognised by 94% of the electorate. And his cause is certainly not helped by apparent anonymity in the online world, particulary in a Google image search. While the other party chiefs appear as the very first result, Mike German is usurped by this picture of a pair of manky feet.

It seems, if Google searches are anything to go by, the Lib Dems literally have an image problem. South Wales West AM Peter Black only just scrapes it into the top 20 results for his name. Confusingly, a blindfolded chap wearing Lib Dem gold and bearing more than a passing resemblance to the blogging Mr Black scores higher in the search.

Worse still, when Peter finally makes an appearance, his eyes are half-closed and he's got his hands shoved up a stuffed animal.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 12:35 am, , links to this post

Alun Davies is a radical socialist

Perched comfortably on top of the list for Labour in Mid & West Wales is a chap called Alun Davies. He's never been an elected assembly member but he has stood in elections before.

The only way to describe this man is hard left. He is a fierce opponent of privatisation and is keen to remind people that the prime minister has led the country to an illegal war in Iraq. He detests market forces and is demanding complete withdrawal from what he calls "the capitalist European Union".

He is, of course, standing for the Socialist Labour Party and should not be confused with the other Alun Davies, top of the list for Welsh Labour in the same region:)

Elsewhere, Glyn Davies has undergone another extreme political transformation. Not content with stealing the Welsh nationalists' clothes, Glyn is now donning the garb of the Trotskyites and standing first on the list for the Communists in North Wales.

Yes, you can have a lot of fun with the full official list of candidates for the forthcoming elections. And what an interesting bunch they are; not a single John Smith among the Poopalasingam Thillaivarothayans and Charles Bruce Farquharson Lawsons.

So, even if we don't get many upsets on election night there will still be plenty of cause to smirk at the counts. And if you look hard enough, you can find some pretty naughty names too. We've got two sets of Cox, not to mention Steve Gash or the situation with Robert Uprichard. Sounds like it could give you a Gerald Rowbottom. Still, if it really Jonathan Burns you could always use your David Hando to give it a bit of a Bobby Feeley, if you know what I mean...

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posted by Blamerbell @ 12:02 am, , links to this post

Vaughan y bwci - Vaughan the bookie

Mae Vaughan Roderick o'r BBC yn rhedeg eitem difyr dros ben ar ei flog yn yr wythnosau nesaf: betio gwleidyddol Cymraeg. Blog Vaughan yw'r unig man ym Mhrydain lle mae modd i chi osod betiau ar ganlyniadau etholaethol yr etholiad.

Dyna'r 'plug', Vaughan. Ga i swydd felly?
The BBC's Vaughan Roderick is offering odds on constituency seats for the forthcoming elections. He begins today with marginal Aberconwy. The odds are as follows:

Plaid 6-4
Con 7-4
Lab 7-4
Lib Dem 25-1

He then quotes 'expert pundit' Karl Williams, who says; "I think Plaid will take it because of the strength of their candidate and the row over Llandudno hospital. The constituency border changes have been particularly unfavourable to Labour and Denise doesn't have much of a majority even as it stands."

UPDATE: While we're plugging Vaughan we might also give him some credit for getting hold of some of the raw data that put the Tories in second place according to last week's NOP/ITV poll.

In fact, more people said they'd vote Plaid Cymru (182) than Conservative (180). But Dr Denis Balsom, acting as an election expert, made his predictions based only on how many people said they were absolutely certain to vote. I fear, however, that the damage has already been done. The UK media has gobbled up this rare poll as it was presented to them (see Iain Dale in the Telegraph today for example). As Vaughan says, Plaid have a right to feel a little aggrieved.

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

What floats your vote?

The sun is out, the memory of Cardiff City's ineptitude is beginning to fade and the frying pan burn I've inflicted on my face has healed just enough to allow me to suck on my first Cadbury's Creme Egg of the year. 'Tis truly a glorious day. And so, I've decided to be positive for once.

No trawling through other blogs looking for inconsistencies, no cruel lookalikes of Assembly Members and no smug analyses. Because today I'm beginning to decide who should get my vote on May 3rd and I want to make a decision for the best possible reasons.

The worst kind of floating voters in assembly elections float right on past their local polling stations. Thankfully, I'm not one of those. But I do have a float factor of about 60%. I suppose I'm more of an aero than a packet of quavers in that respect.

I'm a graduate, I've just acquired my first car and I'm in need of a job and somewhere to live. Nasty people want me to give them in excess of twelve grand just because I dared to get myself an education and I sort of feel Welsh, given that I sat through that 5-1 drubbing against Slovakia and still had the balls to go back for the next game.

I'm not going to rush into anything, but Plaid's £5,000 towards a first home is certainly the most eye-catching policy in the homecare department.* Still, the Tories have put forward a radical green agenda and I like the Lib Dems' apparent willingness to legislate in favour of our country's cultural wellbeing. As for Labour, I've had my doubts that they are truly a party for my generation, but they are starting to make the right noises. You just need to compare house prices with average incomes to know there's something seriously wrong there.

But for now I'm undecided. All this still floats my vote. And if by May 3rd none of them convince, I suppose there's always the New Millennium Bean Party...

*Diclaimer: While I would qualify for this (thanks Mr Gasyth), I wouldn't be eligible for Plaid's student debt relief because I had the audacity to get educated in England before returning to Wales.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 5:54 am, , links to this post

Good Morning Wales, 7.20ish

I'll be talking about the view from the blogs with Withers (which is what he now tells me to call him) on Radio Wales' Good Morning Wales tomorrow (Friday) at 7.20am.

Thought I should give you prior warning in case you wake up to the radio and start worrying that last night must have gone horibbly, horibbly wrong.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 11:40 pm, , links to this post

Helen Mary decapitated by rigor mortis copper

The Welsh blogosphere isn't all politics and persiflage. There's a good degree of perversion too.

In a post titled 'Female Politicians mmmmmm!!! =)', sleazy Aberavon blogger Panda Shaving Torture comes clean about his infatuation for the local Liberal Democrat candidate. Aidan, who describes himself as a 'self confessed sheep bigamist and full time uni student', then proceeds to run through his other smutty political turn-ons in the comments section. Bizarrely, this photograph (see below) is among them. What on earth is going on there?

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posted by Blamerbell @ 7:40 pm, , links to this post

The Guardian finally realises Wales exists and...

... in the very same utterance 'forgets' about us again.

"the Welsh election campaign has been almost completely ignored in England and has proved to be of limited interest even to voters allowed to take part in it."

Ignored, yes. By the Guardian and others, despite being the subject of today's leader.

"Talk of a Tory comeback suits Labour, which is encouraging it, fuelled by a recent poll putting the party in second place. Plaid, now in third, say that there is no chance of a deal."

No they don't.

"Wales has not found a united political identity."

They may be right there. But I guess we're working on it.

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

It's a spin free zone, so go get 'em

Four plucky politicians have stepped up to the brink and agreed to take part in Blamerbell's first 'Honest John' feature.

They know that people are sick of spin and soundbites. And in keeping with the spirit of the blogosphere, they've agreed to give frank and honest answers to your questions.

So, if you want an upfront response from Huw Lewis (Labour), Leanne Wood (Plaid), Jonathan Morgan (Tory) or Mick Bates (Lib Dem) then post your question in the comments section.*

Maybe you want to know what Mick eats for breakfast, or what Leanne thinks of a coalition with the Tories. Whatever.

I'll put the best to the politicians (along with a few of my own) and publish the results. Let's see if they play ball or if they're beaten yet again by the tired old urge to equivocate.

Go for it.

*Anonymous or offensive questions will be ignored.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 12:02 am, , links to this post

Barrett's blast from the past

Oh for the glory days. Nostalgia is all around us at the moment, from high street fashion to something called Life on Mars (haven't seen it, why bother when Desperate Housewives is still going strong?).

Never one to be left out of the latest fad, Labour's Cardiff South and Penarth candidate Lorraine Barrett has setup a 90s nostalgia website. It's a world where the assembly is still housed in that horrid brick building, and Alun Michael is First Minister. I know Labour are intending to stand on their record at this assembly election, but isn't that going a little too far?

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posted by Blamerbell @ 10:25 pm, , links to this post

Manifestos for dummies

Manifestos are to politics what play-acting is to football: manipulatory.

Before publishing manifestos, politicians can say 'I'm sorry, but you'll have to wait and see what's in our manifesto'. This means that they can get headlines out of all sorts of tosh that would never have made it in there in the first place.

After publishing manifestos, politicians can say 'I think you'll find it's in there somewhere'. And by the time even the most nimble-fingered journalist gets to the relevant part, they're confronted with some ambiguous sounding 'aspiration' and the moment has passed. Plaid's 2007 offering is an exception, but that's because it's been written by brainwashed seven year-olds (see picture).

Manifestos are always costed but then given out for free anyway. This time around, the four main parties have a whopping 17 manifestos between them. That's the equivalent of five table football pitches.

Politicians have special manifesto thesaurses, with an enormous section under vague implementing stuff type verbs. Consequently, manifestos are full of phrases like 'We will support the development of X' or 'We will develop the support of Y'.

And even though whole parties stand on the basis of their manifestos, they are often written by just one person. So if we do get a Tory government after May 3rd, it will be the nearest thing ever to a dictatorship under David Melding.

Or perhaps not, because most manifestos are forgotten until a week before the next election, when the government has to frantically try and deliver some of its promises. But that's OK, because nobody remembers them anyway. Much like medieval battle re-enactments, manifestos aren't meant for normal people.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 8:22 am, , links to this post