Wednesday, December 05, 2007
:: If you don't understand LCOs, the Lords' Committee on the Constitution includes a handy diagram in the back of its report on this "somewhat complex" procedure.
Friday, November 30, 2007
:: David Cameron has been meeting George Bush to re-establish the close ties between their Conservative and Republican parties. Interesting then that on his facebook page, Tory AM Jonathan Morgan declares his support for Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama. Perhaps this is because he thinks the eventual Republican nominee will find Senator Obama easier to beat than Hilary Clinton.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I'm not the only person who is frustrated by jargon, it seems.
During plenary, shadow health minister Jonathan Morgan poked fun at an NHS document called: "The all-Wales protocol for non-emergency patient transport eligibility criteria and the introduction of regional contact centres to manage the booking of patient transport in Wales." (You can read it here).
In her response, Health Minister Edwina Hart said: "It seems to be the trouble with the health service circulars, about the nature of the titles of them. I think once you've read the title you then don't go into the detail of circulars. That perhaps might explain why the health service doesn't always deliver according to instruction on policy then. So this might be a useful example for me in that particular area."
Top marks to the minister. Or nearly top marks. I'm deducting a point because she used the phrase "across the peace/piece/piste" in the Senedd this afternoon. Still, nine out of 10 ain't bad.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
LCOs are put forward by the Assembly's ministers, committees or private members to request that law-making powers in devolved fields are transferred to Cardiff Bay. For example, today's LCO from the Assembly Government on home care will allow the Assembly to legislate in that field ... for ever. Mr Jones's complaint was that some MPs were asking what specific legislation will flow from these LCOs.
That is impossible to answer beyond a certain point. No minister can say what measures the Assembly will pass 20 years hence. But when Welsh ministers ask for further powers to be transferred, is it not predictable that MPs will ask: "What do you want to do with these powers?"
It boils down to a pretty simple dichotomy: The Assembly wants all the power it can get, but not everyone thinks this is a good idea.
Those who criticise the apparently flawed Learner Travel Measure neglect its biggest drawback: it's name. What's wrong with School Transport Measure? Perhaps that was deemed inaccurate because the measure extends beyond schools to other places of learning. I guess the Assemblese word "learner" is accurate because it applies to school pupils and college students alike - provided they actually learn something.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
The truth is, there is no accurate way to describe the convention's work because no-one really knows what its work will be.
Sir Emyr Jones Parry this week said he would produce a report by the end of 2009. He could not, however, tell us what he will be writing about because his terms of reference have not been set. Everyone in the Bay seems content that he is the man for the job, even if they don't know what his job is.
Labour AM Alun Davies says in today's Western Mail that the convention must seek consensus on what sort of Assembly Wales wants, not merely identify whether there is consent for the institution envisioned in the 2006 Government of Wales Act.
This is quite a neat way of summing up the convention's primary political function - to tie the One Wales coalition together. There are those who want it to slow down the devolution project and there are those who want it to act as a surrogate Yes campaign. But at some point it will have to address the narrowly-defined question of "Can a referendum be won in 2011".
Rhodri Morgan says that what voters tell pollsters outside Marks and Spencer on a Saturday afternoon is not the same as what they do in the privacy of the polling booth. Sir Emyr, he says, must find out why this is so.
I await with interest to see if Sir Emyr can find a hitherto unknown way of measuring public opinion that will give a foolproof answer to the question of "Can a referendum be won in 2011".
Friday, November 23, 2007
Unfortunately, the ungainly Elco is nowhere near as graceful or as pleasurable to behold as a Brazilian footballer in full flight. In sporting terms, it is much more reminiscent of the hapless lock-forward who, isolated in his own 22, panics on finding himself in possession of the ball and unaccountably decides to kick it. Sadly he concedes a regrettable opposition line-out with a perpendicular left-foot slice that sends the ball squirting off into a crowd of exasperated home fans.
Ministers have repeatedly said that children work harder, behave better and concentrate for longer with a decent breakfast inside them. This is undoubtedly true.
So why does the scheme not affect education? Another finding suggests those same children were eating breakfast at home anyway. The study found "areas where pupils had previously had breakfast at home were more likely to take-up the free breakfast scheme".
I wonder if it is the case that the only kind of parent who will pressurise a school and local council into participating in the free breakfast scheme is the kind of parent who will make sure his or her child eats breakfast anyway.
Primary school breakfast clubs are great. Lots of schools have told me so. But am I wrong to suspect that a child who does not get fed in the morning at home is unlikely to have someone who will write to the school governors on their behalf asking for free breakfasts to be provided?
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Monday, November 19, 2007
Welsh Lib Dem supremo Mike German today told us at his weekly press briefing that there are three cashpoints in his village, and the only one which is free to use is the machine at the local post office which he "opened". By "opened" I assume he meant cutting a ceremonial ribbon with some scissors, not opening it up with a crow bar.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Furthermore, the definition of a prescription seems vague. If doctors can prescribe Vaseline, then what can't they prescribe? I asked two recently-qualified doctors this question and they did not know the answer. Were I to spend too long in the Assembly's dining facilities, would my GP be able to prescribe me a free gym membership?
:: You may know that the Assembly has abandoned paper towels as a lavatorial eco-experiment.
A notice by the hand dryers (which run on "green electricity") from AM Lorraine Barrett, the "Assembly Commissioner for the Sustainable Assembly", says the convenience of a paper towel must be foregone if the Assembly is to be an "exemplar in sustainability". Although using a hand dryer may take longer, "what's 30 seconds when time is running out for our planet?", she asks.
Fair enough. But this all means that when I spilt my coffee yesterday I had to try and mop it up with a highly unsatisfactory fistful of toilet paper. And what is one to do when the hand dryer stops working in the fourth-floor gents, as it did for a short time this week? Perhaps pop down to the Senedd, where paper towels are still dispensed in the toilets opposite the debating chamber. The impeccably green Senedd building apparently has no hand dryers.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
"Well, it appears that Brown has gone blue in his fashion colours. There was a red space!" replied Mr Cairns by email.
I thought modern Tories weren't supposed to wear ties.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
I'm always unsettled by the word "obviously". People too often use it in relation to things which are not at all obvious.
For example, Finance Minister Andrew Davies said this in the Senedd chamber today while answering questions about the Assembly's budget:
"Our complaint with the Treasury was that obviously they were using the baseline reduction in terms of calculating the percentage increase into the spending review consequentials that would arise from that."
Of course. It's obvious.
Nothing about the Assembly's budget is obvious, as others have commented. My favourite aspect of it is the fact that responsibility for match funding has gone from the Economy Minister - Mr Davies's old job - to the Finance Minister. So Mr Davies used to be in charge of this big spending responsibility in his old job, and now he's in charge of it in his new job.
This decision - enabling him to be associated with favourable press coverage in local papers every time match funding is used to build a new bridge - was taken by the Labour-only administration before the election. Obviously.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
It is interesting, however, that his answer is not to roll back devolution - "Abolition of the devolved institutions is not currently saleable" - but more devolution. He advocates a law-making body for England, perhaps with its own First Minister.
Even if they don't all agree on the way forward, it seems all Conservatives can at least agree that some form of devolution is here to stay.
We are running a caption competition to raise funds for Children in Need on 16th November.
You are invited to print the photo, think of a suitable caption, write it on the back and return it to me (Sarah Sharpe, at DM's office), together with £1 donation for each entry.
There will be a prize for the winner!
Good luck and many thanks in anticipation of your support.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Friday, October 19, 2007
"But AMs' offices are in Cardiff Bay," I said.
"Yes, but the switchboard is in Colwyn Bay."
Having been transferred to Colwyn Bay, a lady with a north Walian accent said: "This is the information line and booking line."
It's all a bit frightening.
PS. The person I actually wanted wasn't in.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Government spending, you see, is a relative concept.
First out of the starting blocks is the Wales Office proclaiming that Wales is getting a 2.4% spending increase, which means an extra £4.3 billion from the Treasury, which means we have never had it so good.
Then comes the opposition with its claims that this is the worst settlement since devolution, that actual growth is much slower than the Treasury claims and that Wales is going to be worse off because the Government is massaging the figures.
Last but not least comes the Assembly Government with a "don't panic" message. It's "very challenging", says Finance Minister Andrew Davies. But he knew it would be and remains confident he will be able to pay for all the One Wales promises.
His budget will grow from £14 billion this year to £16 billion by the time of the next election. To put that into perspective, in its first eight years the Assembly's annual budget doubled from £7 billion. Good deal? Bad deal? The Treasury pays your money and you takes your choice.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
For some reason Health Minister Edwina Hart declined to respond at the Assembly Government's weekly press briefing today.
So it's worth recalling what the First Minister said before the election to put all this in context. Back in March he said he was not out to convince Tory voters to switch to Labour.
"That's one in 1,000 at the very most," he said. "Our job is to get the Labour vote out and overcome apathy, and that's the reason for my appeal to the foot-sloggers."
It will be interesting to see whether the next Welsh Labour leader will hold quite the same view of floating voters when he or she is desperately trying to regain seats like Cardiff North.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
You may have heard Matthew Parris's superb dissection of political jargon on Radio 4, 'Not my words, Mr Speaker'. It concluded last night with an examination of the apparently meaningless phrase "Across the piece". I have misheard it a number of times in the Assembly as "Across the piste" which I had assumed to be a skiing phrase. Turns out I am not the only one to make that mistake. Anyway, I have decided to include it - whatever it is and whatever it may mean - in my five least favourite phrases which one hears flogged to death on a seemingly daily basis in Cardiff Bay.
- Across the piste/piece.
- In terms of.
- Issues around.
- Service delivery.
No room for "clinician" (doctor) or "patient pathway" (seeing the doctor).
Friday, September 14, 2007
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
This is the same conference programme that arrived in my office in an un-stamped envelope, leaving me in debt to the Royal Mail by £1.60. Thanks Plaid.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Sunday, July 08, 2007
But could the "progressive consensus" in Wales further entrench New Labour? More power for Wales's Assembly and Scotland's Parliament will mean both nations send fewer MPs to Westminster. If the One Wales pact results in a lawmaking referendum - a pretty big 'if' according to Welsh Labour MPs - then it could further diminish safe Labour parliamentary seats, making middle England even more valuable at General Elections.
Saturday, July 07, 2007
Friday, July 06, 2007
:: Put Pontrhydfendigaid into Google maps for a laugh. This is where Plaid Cymru is having its national council tomorrow. It looks like Ieuan has closed his eyes and stuck a pin in a map. It's in a "shed", a party press officer just told me.
:: Here's an email exchange I had with a Labour AM during Plenary recently. I'm black, he's red.
13.04 sut oedd grwp bore 'ma?
13.05 Da iawn diolch. Ces i Earl Grey am change.
13.30 how "palatable"
14.51 Mae Earl Grey yn hynod o palatable. Yn arbennig gyda cacen siocled.
15.09 darn o hwn sy' isie arno ti
Thursday, May 03, 2007
"There's going to be a whopping turnout," I thought.
Then the lady at St Mary's Church Hall on Talbot Street told me they'd only had 35 voters in the first hour and I had to explain to the gentleman in the booth next to me why they had given him two pieces of paper.
"Perhaps not," I thought, on the way home.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Last day. Nearly there. Everyone's tired. Especially the Lib Dems. Their leader Mike German is today going back to his party's mid-Wales heartlands, campaigning with Mick Bates and Kirsty Williams. He's also knocking on doors in Wrexham. "Welsh Liberal Democrat campaign East Coast sweep," declares the press release. I'll let you spot the deliberate mistake there.
Friday, April 27, 2007
"This Boris is responding to my commands, rather like the other Boris," he said, as he scratched Boris's back with a big stone.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
The choice in front of the people of Wales could not be clearer - a vote for Rhodri Morgan and Welsh Labour, with a coherent and properly costed programme of government, or a vote for the others which could very well result in Tory Ministers in charge of our schools and hospitals in a Plaid-led coalition.
No mention of the "Tory-led coalition" we've heard so much about. Will Labour turn its sizeable guns on Plaid in the last few days of the campaign?
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Unsurprisingly, Labour politicians are apoplectic. The number of angry phone calls Peter Hain got from "parliamentary colleagues this morning has been quite phenomenal", I hear. One Labour AM told me that whoever has been speaking to BBC Wales can "crawl back under whatever stone they crawled out of".
Monday, April 23, 2007
One little boy had earned two stars in class that day. Labour's Cardiff North candidate Sophie Howe told him his parents would be very pleased with him.
“You might get an extra glass of milk”, Rhodri Morgan added. An extra glass of milk? Not an extra half an hour on your Xbox 360 or an extra £1 to spend on sweets and football stickers, but an extra glass of milk. I wish I lived in a world where children still considered two glasses of milk to be a treat.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
:: Wrote a story about minor parties today. Despite the BNP's manifesto striking a predictably displeased tone about the “influx” of “bogus asylum seekers” we are apparently experiencing, it contains a policy that would actually makes it easier to get into Wales – scrapping the toll on the Severn Bridge. Shurely shome mishtake.
:: Added a couple of new links today. The Echo has an election blog, with an interesting take on Alun Pugh's latest.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
In discussions about low voter turnout, one often hears that the media needs to “do its bit” and that getting more people to vote is a “challenge for all of us”. Declining turnout is a phenomenon across the democratised world, exacerbated at Assembly election time by the fact that so few people wanted devolution in the first place.
Frankly, if anyone thinks newspapers can propel more people to the polling stations by reviving the tradition of verbatim accounts of proceedings, they're having a laugh.
All things considered, the space and time given to Assembly politics by Wales's media is pretty fair. Wales's election has barely registered in the national press, while Scotland's is generating a lot of coverage and discussion. That's not because the media are unwilling to do their bit in Wales. It's because the media go where the stories are and there is a better story going on in Scotland.
Monday, April 16, 2007
March 26. The WMC. Lib Dem official campaign launch. Where's Lembit?
April 5. The WMC. Lib Dem manifesto launch. Where's Lembit?
April 16. Found him! He's on holiday according to today's papers, wherein he is pictured playing table tennis with bikini-clad Gabriela in the sunshine. The Mirror quotes a "fellow holidaymaker in Majorca". But the Mail says its shots were taken "on an Easter break in the Canaries". Crikey! The boy gets about don't he? No wonder we couldn't find him.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
:: Yes, not blogged for a while. Not that you will have missed me as no-one is concerned with any blog other than Arsembly at present. He/she was, you will have seen, the subject of a piece in Golwg last week. Therein it was speculated that Arsembly's alter ego is an election candidate with a close friend who works for the BBC. One name immediately springs to mind. "It's not me," he tells me. The search goes on. I confess that I - like all of Arsembly's readers - am desperate to know the identify of the Clark Kent behind this blogging Superman.
:: See that story in the Western Mail recently about how to dress tidy in order to win votes? I hope for his sake a certain Cabinet minister did. A Labour PR asked him to take off his duffel coat before going on the telly on the campaign trail recently. "If it's good enough for Michael Foot ... " he said, as he reluctantly disrobed.
Monday, March 26, 2007
:: Update And if you've read this on Tomos Livingstone's blog, I would just like to say thanks to the RAC man who patched up the car so I could get back to Cardiff.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
There may not be a Clause IV moment, but don't underestimate the changes they have made. In preparing for this weekend, I had a little look at Plaid's 2003 pre-election conference on the PA text library. Shambles (the conference, not the library). RMT leader Bob Crow was supposed to show up and address the faithful – but, embarrassingly, he pulled out hours before the speech. Mr Jones had to address everyone outdoors after a power cut plunged them into darkness.
The contrast with this year's slick performance could not be greater. Plaid's big challenge is to encourage people to “get beyond” independence and listen to their policies on health, education and the rest of it. This, Plaid claims, it has finally managed to achieve.
:: Plaid's conference is in Caernarfon. I like Caernarfon. As I'm fond of telling people, you can get mugged in Welsh in Caernarfon. It's the only town of its size I have been to where Welsh runs right throughout all of society. I went to school in the countryside where lots of people speak Welsh, and now I live in the city where lots of people don't. But Caernarfon has a bit of both. Only in Caernarfon have I ever had to tell a begger I didn't have any change ... in Welsh.
:: I passed no shortage of local hospitals to be saved on the drive up here from Cardiff. But, as I approached Builth Wells, I passed a roadside public convenience with the slogan “Save Our Toilets” painted on the roof. Not sure what that says about a town, but I didn't stop and use them.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
"I ran out of time and never actually delivered the words 'clear red water' that were in the speech,” he said.
The catchphrase was so widely spun beforehand that everyone reported it anyway.
This series of speeches has been vintage Morgan: patriotic rejoicing (“Wales can do it”); digs at New Labour (“beginning to show more than a few signs of age”); confounding use of English (“If that is the kind of climate shift we cannot avoid having by 2050, it is hardly going to be unhelpful to Wales's competitive position”).
Last night he said his final political amibition was to put the Assembly's new powers to good and early use if re-elected.
“We have got a new car. We are certainly not going to leave it in the garage.”
If I can extend the metaphor, it just remains to be seen if, when the garage door is pulled up on May 4, there is one of these inside ...
... or one of these ...
Friday, March 16, 2007
A quick scan shows we've had Designed to Tackle Cancer, Designed for North Wales, Designed to Deliver, Designed to Comply and Designed for People with Chronic Conditions. My favourite is Designed to Work. As opposed to what? Designed not to Work? Oh.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
March 9, 2007: Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton in an interview with PA on why there are higher rates of unemployment and incapacity benefit claims in the Valleys:
It's a historic reflection of the mass unemployment of the mid-80s and early '90s. I think we are still suffering from the effect of that.
March 14, 2007: Enterprise Minister Andrew Davies in an Assembly Government press release on the record high number of people working in Wales according to the Office for National Statistics:
With employment at a record high and a sharp fall in economic inactivity, these latest figures clearly show how we have removed the blight of mass unemployment which scarred our communities during the 1980s and 1990s.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
I love the Assembly's Record of Proceedings. If I wasn't a hack, I would like to have the job of compiling it.
Here's an exchange which was recorded on the live feed from Plenary last Wednesday, but I cannot find on the RoP. I fear Social Justice Minister Edwina Hart did not notice her microphone was on.
Presiding Officer: Item five, the motion to approve the home energy efficiency scheme. Minister, thank you.
Edwina Hart: Val [I think] can I have a couple of days off next week for canvassing ...
PO: Home energy? Minister?
EH: Yes, formally ... formally.
EH: I did say formally dear.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
On Sunday, I spoke to Education Minister Jane Davidson about her views. We had to carry out our telephone interview quickly because she was en route to the signal-less Brecon Beacons for a hike. We raced through the issues and after thanking her for her time she said a funny thing:
"And we actually got it through before I got to Lord Hereford's Knob."
If you are not familiar with the Black Mountains, then click here.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
I'm still at the Lib Dem conference.
:: The Lib Dems think the environment is the best thing ever and say we should all take public transport everywhere so we don't spew out horrible carbon dioxide with our ghastly cars.
That is unless you are going to the Welsh Lib Dem spring conference, which is in premises owned by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and is not on any public transport route. Delegates have complained about having to take taxis to get here as the site is serviced by neither bus nor train and is too far to walk or cycle from the city centre.
:: Some politicians speechify without notes. Some, like Rhodri Morgan, make very detailed notes but don't stick to them. Others have to have every dot and comma written out, complete with stage instructions, beforehand. Lib Dem Assembly leader Mike German appears to be one of these. Party PRs furnished us with copies of his address to conference before he took to the platform, wherein we noticed this passage:
"Plaid Cymru want 'free' lap-tops for school children. [roll eyes]"
I can confirm that Mike did indeed follow this pre-prepared piece of spontaneity to the letter.
Friday, March 09, 2007
I feel a bit sorry for the Lib Dems. They have got hundreds of whiz-bang policies which they say will make Wales a bloody better place. Except us in the media only want to talk about one - proportional representation. Which is a bit strange really. I mean, how many people in Wales's pubs are at this moment talking about proportional representation in local government elections? Probably none.
It is important because it could be a deal-breaker in coalition negotiations after May's election. Sir Menzies Campbell has received a bit of flack about it, with accusations that he could downgrade the policy so he can go into government with Gordon Brown in a hung parliament. No, says he. His commitment to it is "absolute".
The Welsh Lib Dems might have to drop it so they can do a deal with Rhodri Morgan in a hung Assembly. So their leader Mike German has come up with a form of words that is supposed to defuse the speculation. It is very important, but no more or less so than all those other blinding polices that will be in the Lib Dem manifesto, says he.
Except he is wrong. Kirsty Williams suggested it is less important when she addressed activists on Friday night. She said: "Not once has a constituent come up to me and said, 'Now then Kirsty Williams, when are we going to have fair votes for local elections?" Meanwhile on his blog, Peter Black says if a coalition deal was struck after May 3 that did not contain local PR "then the chances are that the deal would be rejected outright" by rank-and-file party members.
And that is the problem. Mike German cannot endorse a deal - he has to take it to the grass-roots who have the final say on coalitions. I'm convinced the reason why people join the Lib Dem party is simply because they can have a good old row about every aspect of party policy, unlike the corralled Labour and Tory foot soldiers ... unfortunately for Mr German and Sir Menzies.
More importantly, what has happened to my Lib Dem caption competition? The pictures have gone corrupt. I suspect foul play. I'm asking party officials and attendees here in Swansea if they are the responsible saboteur. So far I am yet to find the culprit.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Labour posted an interesting video attacking the Conservatives on YouTube today. Labour excitedly describes it as “too offensive for telly” and “a UK political first”.
The word “Labour” does not appear until the end, when viewers are asked to vote thus. Before that there is footage of striking miners, some of whom are carrying a big yellow Lib Dem banner.
An inadvertent sign of coalitions to come perhaps?
Monday, February 26, 2007
The multiplication of uncomplimentary placards noticed by Mr Lyon and Felix Holt was one of several signs that the days of nomination and election were approaching.
Felix Holt, The Radical – George Eliot
I am fascinated by the presence of the phrase “flip flop” in the political lexicon as a term of abuse.
Tony Blair used it in his speech to the Welsh Labour annual conference. He told delegates withdrawing from the European social chapter was the only issue on which David Cameron's Conservatives had not flip flopped.
I'm not going to get involved in the wisdom or otherwise of withdrawing from the European social chapter. Putting that to one side, if flip flopping means changing your mind, what is so virtuous about never changing your mind that it deserves to be rewarded with votes?
Frankly, people who embrace evidence to the contrary of what they previously believed are just as deserving of praise. In certain circumstances such people are often called scientists, or sensible. Even Tony Blair acknowledges that Labour has had to jettison some of what it once believed to find a place in the modern world. In the same speech, he said that despite the “Labour values” that “we believe in - always have and always will”, there were times “in an economic sense” when “we didn't appear to have the answers for the future”.
There must be lots of people in Britain who thought Iraq was, on balance, worth invading, but who now think it has proved to be an overwhelmingly bad idea. Isn't it a bit nasty to marginalise them as flip floppers?
Anyway, in Australia flip flops are called “thongs” and how much more fun would it be to hear politicians accuse each other of “thonging” on policy?
Also at the Welsh Labour conference, I heard Enterprise Minister Andrew Davies's abilities get a ringing endorsement from trade union leader Andy Richards. The two used to work together at Ford. At a fringe event on the importance of the unions to the Labour Party, Mr Richards said Mr Davies was responsible for a lot of hard ministerial graft that went unseen. The T&G boss said that when you are in a “ruck” with a global company, trying to persuade it to keep factories open in Wales, it is no place for “thespians or rock stars”. Was he referring to someone in particular?
Saturday, February 24, 2007
I've heard a lot of very, very strange things up here. One is “That'll be £16.20” when paying for three plates of fish and chips at Barnacles. (£16.20!)
But here are the two strangest things I've heard ...
The first came from Martin Eaglestone, Labour's Arfon candidate, when introducing Peter Hain at the conference platform: “He moves around quickly and achieves a lot.”
The second came from a little black box on a lamppost: “Caution. Llandudno is a secure town.”
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Before that, I’ve come back to Pembrokeshire for a weekend of recuperation and I thought I would share this with you.
The twin settlements of Fishguard and Goodwick have a long-running rivalry. Goodwickians have always been mystified, and not a little angry, that their harbour is called "Fishguard Harbour". Geographically speaking, you sail between Rosslare and Goodwick.
But good-natured Goodwickians let the slight pass, preferring instead to nobly express their superiority by fielding much better football teams than their much more numerous neighbours. Also, you can get a signal for your DAB digital radio in Goodwick, but not in Fishguard.
A repository of all things Fishguard and Goodwick is the County Echo and St Davids City Chronicle. I’m a particular fan of the letters page, where I read that L Evans - a pensioner, of Solva - has had a nasty trip on some loose pavement outside Fishguard rugby club.
He/she writes: "Fortunately I was wearing denims at the time and my injuries were grazed and bruised knees and elbows but, had I been wearing lighter clothing, I would probably have needed hospital treatment."
He/she adds: "This stupid kerb must be remedied at once, or sooner, if possible."
I know time passes more slowly here than it does in Cardiff Bay, but is it possible to do something sooner than "at once"? I came for a rest, but wrestling with this philosophical conundrum has overshadowed the entire weekend.
He invited journalists up to his fifth floor office for coffee, Welsh cakes and conversation, where he was asked if there was anything he particularly wanted to tell us. He mused on how, after the fiasco of Alun Michael's departure, he had to steady the ship. Provide strong leadership. Rally the demoralised civil servants (one of only two occasions when he felt "totally stressed-out"). Get devolution back on track.
You might think it’s not much of a story: "I’m a safe pair of hands" or "I’m not Alun Michael". But was Captain Morgan trying to tell us that having steadied the ship in 2000, he was ready to do it again seven years later? There are signs that it ain’t going to be pretty for Labour on May 3. Obviously the First Minister would not acknowledge this. But perhaps he was sending a subtle message to the crew that after a bloodbath, he was the one to nurse them back to health? He had already played the part of midwife who eased the "birth pangs of devolution" which "could not have been more problematic".
He wants to go in 2009, but says he won’t hang around if the people of Wales let him know it’s time to start looking for a memoir publisher before then. What he does not say is at what number of seats he will make that decision. If Labour slump to 27, 26, 25, 24 AMs, will he depart? I think if the maths allow him to govern (ie Labour + Lib Dems = majority) he will try to cling on. In the past, I have heard him talk about how difficult it was to negotiate the partnership government with the Lib Dems. If the same, or a similar deal, has to be struck this year, who better to strike it than someone who has done it all before?
Friday, February 16, 2007
I've complained about the hateful presence of jargon in education before. And I'm not the first to do so. I was nearly reduced to tears when listening to Jane Davidson explain the aims of her “pedagogy initiative” this week.
The aim of the pedagogy initiative is to improve the outcomes for learners by enhancing the pedagogical skills, knowledge and practice of practitioners, creating an expectation that all practitioners in Wales will engage in the most effective teaching and learning.
Didn't she win communicator of the year?
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
After hearing Carwyn Jones tell AMs last week that they could not set Wales-only carbon-emission targets because not all the "levers" were in the Assembly's grasp, I was going to blog about how climate change will affect this year's election in a way it didn't affect the 2003 poll. I was going to mention that I cannot turn off the radiator in my office - a case of "levers" not being in my grasp - and how I found the experience of snow bucketing down on Cardiff Bay last week uncomfortably hot.
But then on Monday night I heard Rhodri Morgan make a speech about the Welsh economy in which he said if Wales acquires a Spanish-style climate thanks to global warming “it is hardly going to be unhelpful to Wales's competitive position”.
I think what Rhodri was trying to say was that if the whole of the world is going to be knackered because of global warming - and it is, say the scientists - then Wales might be a little bit less knackered than other places. In which case we have to extract what benefit we can from that.
The difficulty for politicians is that they can only say "what I meant was ... " a limited number of times. Like this. Or this. Or this.
If Wales is going to be like Spain and, in Rhodri's words, Spain is going to be like the Sahara, where are all the Spaniards going to go? With such difficult considerations bearing down upon us one might argue that the idea of "competitive position" needs to be completely re-evaluated.
Monday, February 12, 2007
Wales boss's judgement questioned after shock Davies call-up
"I'm not afraid of Chabal," insists Environment Committee chairman
Thursday, February 08, 2007
What is going on over at the Assembly's Environment Committee? I know I shouldn't ask. Glyn Davies is going to start leaving comments about voluntary modulation and obscure aspects of the EU subsidy regime. This incomprehensible row about Tir Mynydd nearly derailed last year's budget and it's still going on.
Brynle Williams says he has obtained “new figures” which need “urgent” consideration. (!?) Yesterday, Mick Bates sent a press release attacking Plaid and Labour over Tir Mynydd, and today Nick Tregoning, Lib Dem candidate for Gower, has sent one which quotes him saying the same thing as Mr Bates. Don't think about that for too long if you're of a post-modern inclination or you'll have a stroke.
Anyway, an early contender for the press release of the year award has arrived from the NFU on this very issue. It barracks two unnamed opposition parties in a communique entitled: “Committee's failure to reach decision amounts to 'psychological warfare'.”
I'm sorry, but the concept of a committee failing to reach a decision is one my Welsh mind simply cannot accommodate. It'll be snowing in February next.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
In the run up to May 3, Welsh Labour figures will be asked with increasing frequency about the likelihood of voters using polling day as a referendum on non-devolved matters - “noises off”, as Rhodri Morgan calls them.
Cash for honours, for example? Peter Hain says it is “demoralising”. Is Andrew Davies (he of the spotted tie (see below (he's got a matching blue one))) worried it will overshadow the election campaign? He told the Cabinet's weekly press briefing yesterday that he wasn't, and the only issue voters “spontaneously” raised with him on the doorstep was how well everyone had done in attracting the multi-billion pound defence academy to St Athan. Honest.
Could one of these “noises off” be gay adoption? It is rather a noisy issue in Scotland where it has been reported that Catholics will be urged not to vote Labour. The Catholic church in Wales declined to comment when I phoned to ask about its stance. Seems we are more at home with the concept of single-sex parenthood in the Land of My Fathers.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Ron Davies – or rather Forward Wales - got 2,169 votes in Caerphilly in the 2004 Euro elections. That tally would have put him in fourth place behind the Conservatives in the previous year's Assembly election.
I'm not familiar with Caerphilly, so I really don't know if there is a large untapped sea of sympathy for him in its fortified streets. And it is difficult to see what, if any, effect his presence will have on the Plaid and Labour votes this year.
But I was surprised by the difference in turnout. Labour got 22,161 votes in 2004. That's similar to Wayne David's vote in the 2005 General Election (22,190) but near double what Jeff “Sleeping Soundly” Cuthbert got (11,893) in 2003.
Perhaps Ron's supporters would say that the people of Caerphilly feel disinclined to vote in elections to the Assembly unless the man so often credited as its architect stands.
Friday, February 02, 2007
When talking about the Assembly Government's programme he said, referring to 2009: "I might be gone by then, who knows?"
I thought he was referring to the end of 2009 and might therefore be reconsidering his plan of retiring during that year - mid-way through the next Assembly term, if he's still in his job - as a 70th birthday present to Wales.
But no. His spokeswoman told me: "He has not deviated from what he has said in the past."
Anyway, Gareth Hughes says Andrew Davies's entirely-spontaneous-and-not-in-any-way-scripted anti-Plaid outburst (see below) was an appeal to Labour MPs who are bending their minds towards the issue of Rhodri's successor. We wait with interest for a Carwyn counter strike.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
Anyway, I was chatting to a Plaid Cymru spin doctor afterwards who was telling me about his five-a-side antics. Made me think of this brilliant joke about a Plaid Cymru football team: 11 strikers ... no defence.
Congratulations to Kirsty Williams for guessing that the spotted tie below belongs to the very same fit-for-purpose Enterprise Minister. At least he wasn't wearing one of these.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
I'm prompted to write this after I heard Business Minister Jane Hutt say “in terms of terms of reference” (sic) in the Assembly chamber today.
Assembly time should be treated as a precious commodity and put to far better use - such as this contribution by Tory AM David Davies: “In my own local pub if you know the landlady well enough then you're perfectly welcome to go and serve yourself.”
He said this during a debate on banning smoking in public places which – as an ardent supporter of the forthcoming ban - I found thoroughly, thoroughly depressing. The Assembly wanted to do this four years ago but was unable to act until last year's Public Health Act went through Parliament. The only benefit Wales gets for its early adoption of the ambition to ban – and we can't even all agree on this – is to get the ban three months early and signs no-one understands.
Monday, January 29, 2007
I love this picture of Tory AM William Graham which he puts on all his press releases. It's the kind of pose an older David Hasselhoff might strike.
For some reason my computer has deemed emails from Mr Graham's office 'SPAM'.
His latest release notes his concern that from next year UCAS will ask university applicants if their parents have a degree. The UCAS form already has - or at least it did when I filled it out in 1998 - a question about the applicant's parents' occupation. I know someone who satisfied this query with the answer "peasant".
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Friday, January 19, 2007
In a piece on the health of the Union, the Times's Peter Riddell says that would “well suit” SNP leader Alex Salmond, allowing him to “play the part of the aggrieved victor”.
Depressing. Frankly dignity in opposition is a pretty crap consolation prize for floating voters - in this case floating voters who might, heaven forfend, back the SNP because they think it will give them better schools and hospitals.
With a charismatic leader at the helm - say an Alex Salmond or a Dafydd Wigley, who can unite the coalition of pragmatists and romantics identified here by Dafydd Elis Thomas – party members might temporarily overlook the power/independence dilemma.
Facing the electoral reality that there is no appetite for independence here in Wales, the Plaid leadership has kicked the issue into touch. Party leader Ieuan Wyn Jones wants to convince voters he has a plan for government and the ability to deliver it. There is no mention of the I word in Plaid's Change for the Better document, published this week. The document aligns itself with Aneurin Bevan and Lloyd George: radical, reforming politicians who got things done while in government.
I'm sure I am reading too much into the booklet's omission of Plaid icons like Gwynfor Evans. Plaid's Cardiff HQ – Ty Gwynfor – is named after him. But there is no mention of him when readers of Change for the Better are invited to send the party their policy ideas. They are told to direct their contributions to “The Policy Development unit, Plaid Cymru, 18 Park Grove”.
Plaid's two big hopes in the north – Dafydd Wigley on the list and Gareth Jones in Aberconwy – are former AMs.
David Davies is standing down in Monmouth to be replaced by Nick Ramsay. He probably spends more time in the Assembly than Mr Davies anyway because he works here.
As does Nerys Evans, who takes over from HMJ for Plaid in Mid and West Wales.
Gareth Hughes made a good point on Waterfront last night. With the outcome of May's Assembly election hinging on only a handful of seats, there will be very few new faces in the Assembly, even if there is a new government.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Does anyone think that this idea of policy proposals is cheating? Plaid and the Lib Dems were at it this week. It seems that if you don't like a policy idea then you can have it booted out of the manifesto like a loud-mouthed allegedly racist contestant on Celebrity Big Brother.
It used to be the case that if you didn't like a party's policies then you didn't vote for the party. It remains to be seen whether this attempt at participatory manifesto writing will reinvigorate our worryingly apathetic society, or whether the ever-earlier onset of election campaigning will prove to be the electoral equivalent of a very comfy bed.