Monday, March 26, 2007

The wrong trousers

:: Imagine driving to Caernarfon for Plaid's spring conference and realising half way there that your suit trousers and jacket don't match. If you can't imagine this, then ask the Plaid press office to describe it to you because it is an experience which befell one of its employees. Still, I suppose bringing the wrong trousers is better than forgetting to pack your pants, which is what one journalist is alleged to have done.

:: 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

Mugging up on Cymraeg

:: At the Plaid conference. Plaid says it is in the shape of its life. Ieuan Wyn Jones has this theme that they have changed the party. There is a professional backroom operation, a new image, more cash and an unprecedented propensity for candidates to be on message. You might say it's all superficial – where is the changed ideology?
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

Tuesday night fever

Were you in the Cardiff branch of 70s-themed nightspot Flares on Tuesday night? I wasn't, but I hear an incongruous cross-party group of AMs had a mid-week dance in there. If you saw them getting down to Abba and you want to tell us who they were, feel free to comment.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What is a pudding?

Feel free to add your definitions of "pudding" in the comments. I ask, because Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones has given them up (and wine, although he admits to having a glass of red to celebrate Saturday's rugby) for lent. What was being discussed in the Assembly's tea room last night? Not what would be the Barnett consequential of today's Budget. Not whether Sir Michael Lyons should reinvigorate local democracy by recommending the abolition of capping on councils. But whether Ieuan would break his pledge for lent if he scoffed a toasted teacake and butter.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Spin in the car

Went to hear Rhodri Morgan give the last in a series of keynote speeches at Swansea University last night. It was the Centre for Public Policy's annual public lecture. At the same occasion in 2002, Mr Morgan gave his “clear red water” speech. Except he didn't, as he reminded his audience last night.

"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

Designed ap Life

Isn't it quaint how the Assembly Government's health department names all its documents Designed for Something because they stem from that troublesome tome Designed for Life? It's reminiscent of the Welsh naming tradition of ap.

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

Economists baffled by five-day turnaround in Welsh economy

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

On the RoPs

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.
PO: Formally.
EH: I did say formally dear.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Tri as I might

Bloggers have noted how Assembly Cabinet ministers do not want Trident replaced, despite Captain Morgan's appeal for "noises off" not to cloud the election campaign.

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

Further news of Lib Demary

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

On the disproportional representation of obscure policy

I'm at the Welsh Lib Dem conference.

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

Pic of the day

Not blogging a lot at the moment – I'm all tired because of the conferences. Lib Dems this weekend. They have been publishing a policy every working day in their "Pick of the day campaign". Feel free to enter the Lib Dem-themed "pic" of the day caption competition below.

Isn't it a strange quirk of the Assembly's electoral system that the leader of the smallest group – Lib Dem chief Mike German – is the politician most likely to be in government after May?

1. Cops dramatically widen cash-for-honours probe

2. Mysterious upsurge in Lib Dem vote explained by ballot stuffing

3. "Hands up if you think Ming Campbell is a smashing leader"

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?