Monday, February 26, 2007

Don't go to Llandudno without a thong

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

Strange goings on in Llandudno

Well, here we are in Llandudno for the Welsh Labour annual conference, where lots of people are slagging off the Tories because of some vote or other on May 3. Llandudno is like Wales's Bournemouth, but not as nice.

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.”

Is it?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

How soon is now?

Half term this week, so I’m giving the blog a rest until the Labour Party kicks off the Welsh conference season in Llandudno on Thursday.

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.

Seven wonders

Rhodri Morgan marked his seventh year in the job last week. You probably read the piece in the Western Mail with the picture of him making his sandwiches. I Ioved the anecdote about him falling over on his way into The Grange (not his first episode of pub ingress difficulty).

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

Seize the initiative

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

The Spaniards are coming

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

Jenkins rings the changes after Murrayfield fiasco

Wales boss's judgement questioned after shock Davies call-up

"I'm not afraid of Chabal," insists Environment Committee chairman

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Brings a Tir to my eye

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

Rhodri Mor-gone

I must have misheard Rhodri Morgan on Waterfront last night.
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

Tie-ger tales

Bizarre moment in the chamber today when Enterprise Minister Andrew Davies suddenly let rip on Plaid Cymru and its position on defence. He even got in a mention of Saunders Lewis's 1936 arson at Penyberth bombing school.

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.