Monday, April 30, 2007
Looking after the clerics
My favourite mistake however came in an Independent candidate's leaflet which popped through my door this morning. Amongst a lot of high-minded stuff about listening to local people and working in partnership there comes the pledge to provide 'support for the venerable and those with disabilities.' Later on he repeats the promise by telling us he wants to make sure that 'our communities are safe, for our elderly, disabled, the venerable and also our children.'
I am sure that the Archbishop will be gratified to receive such special attention.
Putting the BNP in their place
His conclusion is quite forceful:
You suggest that I may be concerned about being held to account by a BNP led local Council or Welsh Assembly. You are right – I am, but I assure you that I have not yet had cause to lose a moment’s sleep worrying about this prospect.
You also write about ‘so called positive discrimination’ … ‘advocated by a very misguided Lord Scarman’. It would appear that you have never read ‘The Scarman Report: The Brixton Disorders (1981)’. I can only suggest that you visit your local library and borrow the report before misrepresenting his views again. You may also wish to undertake some training so that you can understand the difference between positive action (both legal and desirable) and positive discrimination, which is neither.
To remove any remaining scintilla of doubt let me formally endorse the views of the Association of Chief Police Officers of England Wales and Northern Ireland, which in July 2004 unequivocally stated that ‘police officers and staff should face dismissal if they join the BNP’. Membership of, or support for, the BNP is completely incompatible with the honour of holding the Office of Constable.
In this instance, I am sure the Chief Constable has the support of all mainstream parties.
Hat-tip: UK Daily Pundit
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Chancellor dismisses the voters
In this morning's Observer the Chancellor of the Exchequer is already preparing his party for a drubbing. His assertion however, that "the only result that matters in the end is when it actually comes to a general election and people decide what they want to do", will not go down well with all of those people poised to decide the fate of the Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament and their local Council later this week.
Is our future Prime Minister telling us that he believes that the devolved bodies are irrelevant? Perhaps he should elucidate.
Hat-tip to Sanddef and Alwyn Ap Huw
Saturday, April 28, 2007
One for the sceptics
As the paper's source says: “It is really an admission of defeat when a meeting about transport in Wales has to be held in England, supposedly because it is the easiest place for people from North Wales and South Wales to come together.” He has a point.
Friday, April 27, 2007
On the seventh day...
It was first broken by Arsembly and then picked up on the blogosphere and in the media. I only heard about it at 1pm when Ciaran Jenkins interviewed me for ITV Wales on the subject. Alun Pugh, who was there remembers it clearly.The Tories have been denying that the remarks attributed to Mr Millar were in fact said by him. Their version of events is that he had merely pointed out that some religious texts called homosexuality a sin, like other things, such as gossip. (So that is the blogsphere damned to hell for eternity then.)
On the creationist issue, however, their officials said he had told the meeting that faith schools should have the flexibility to include creationism in the curriculum.
Mr Millar said: "I made it clear last night that I do not believe that anybody should be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation, and it would be untrue to suggest that I said anything to the contrary.
"I did not say that creationism should be taught in all Welsh schools.
"However, I do fully support the rights of school governors, parents, and teachers, to have flexibility in their curriculum. This should be a matter for them and not for politicians.
This amounts to much the same thing however and is still utter nonsense. Faith schools, many of which will be non-Christian, still have to teach the national curriculum. The idea that parents or school governors should be able to determine what is scientific fact and what is not in terms of what is taught to children is dangerous and irresponsible. Even when we look at the Tories version of events it is clear that they are fielding a candidate who is out of step with the vast majority of voters and even his own party. The Tory leadership should disown this man.
Update: A comment correctly identifies Vaughan Roderick as first with the news.
An unlikely alliance
Monmouth MP David Davies, who has been an AM for eight years and won the parliamentary seat in the general election two years ago, told the Western Mail that based on their current political standpoints, the Tories and Labour were probably better suited to a coalition:
“If you were a student of politics who has arrived in this country and merely looked at what the political parties stood for, you might be forgiven for coming to that conclusion. It’s obviously not going to happen because there is no way the Conservative and Labour parties could ever work with each other.
“And yet they are closer together than the Conservative Party and the Welsh Nationalist Party or the Conservative Party and the Independents like John Marek and Trish Law who are basically very old-Labour socialists.”
Nick Bourne and Glyn Davies will be tearing their hair out.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Moral High Ground
The Plaid Cymru freepost leaflet for Swansea East for example contains a blatant lie in an attempt to gain electoral advantage over the Morriston Neurosurgery issue. Their candidate, Danny Bowles, makes the claim that "When Plaid proposed a motion in the Assembly to keep the (neurosurgery) unit in Swansea, all members of the other parties voted against it".
In fact all the local representatives from Plaid, Labour, Conservative and Welsh Liberal Democrats supported this motion and many spoke in favour of retaining neurosurgery at Morriston hospital.
It is bad enough that Plaid Cymru are trying to hijack a genuine cross-party campaign without them now lying in their election literature about how I and other AMs voted in the Assembly debate. I personally am committed to the campaign to keep neurosurgery in Swansea and I will not let any other consideration get in the way of that commitment.
My concern about Plaid Cymru’s campaign is that they are turning the neurosurgery issue into a party political matter and that as such they will polarise views on it at a time when we need to persuade people elsewhere in Wales of the merits of our case. We must not let petty party politics get in the way of what is in the best interests of our local area.
The sun returns
Nevertheless, it was a surprise this morning when I joined Dai Lloyd, Tamsin Dunwoody and Mark Isherwood in a Wales Video Network debate in front of students on four or five different sites around the Country, to see myself reflected back on the TV screen as bright orange. For a moment I thought I had been cursed by Captain Beany, however an adjustment of the colour contrast soon put things right.
The video conference debate was a technological triumph. The WVN managed to join up eight different sites, with myself and Dai in Swansea, Tamsin in Pembrokeshire, Mark in Denbigh and the chair in Aberystwyth. Students participated from Bridgend, Ebbw Vale, Pembrokeshire, Wrexham and Ysgol Dyffryn Ogwen. It was a very positive experience and an example of how the technology can work sometimes despite experiences to the contrary.
As I left, disaster struck, one of my key leafletters texted to say he was in Accident and Emergency with a strained ankle. He apparently fell off a step in Caemawr Road, Morriston and is now out of the campaign for the duration. Fortunately, I was able to draft in replacements but it means a bit more exposure to the sun for all of us over the next six days.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
On the campaign trail
I have always been sceptical when watching Superman films as to how it is that people never identify Clark Kent with his alter ego. It does seem obvious after all. However, yesterday I had a better understanding when I bumped into Barry Kirk in Port Talbot and failed to recognise him as the better known Captain Beany. This is despite the fact that I have been locked in a cage with him in an effort to raise money for the RSPCA. My excuse is that I was distracted by the presence of Amanda Protheroe Thomas and Cyril the Swan.
Barry has just completed the London Marathon and was too knackered to do any campaigning for his own election as the AM for Aberavon yesterday. He produced pictures of his run, in full costume complete with a giant inflatable baked bean can. If you want to help disabled children take part in sport by providing specialist sports wheelchairs, sports grants and year round support then go to the link above and pledge your money.
One in three voters have turned their backs on Labour and the Conservatives and now back the Lib Dems or a smaller party such as the Greens or the SNP. Support for Labour is down one point on last month, at 30%. The Conservatives have dropped four points to 37%.
The Liberal Democrats, campaigning hard to defend half their council seats on May 3, rise three points to 21%. Other smaller parties climb to 12%, including 2% each for the Greens and Ukip.
Yesterday's Independent showed the Liberal Democrats up two points to 22% whilst Labour were down to 1983 levels. How this will translate in the Assembly elections is difficult to measure, however evidence on the doorstep is that the Labour vote is now starting to collapse and that a great many of their traditional supporters will either stay at home or switch their support to other parties.
The Western Mail also has a poll but for now they are concentrating on the options available to the parties after the elections are over. They tell us that the combination that has most support is a Liberal Democrat-Labour coalition, backed by 19.3% of respondents, followed closely by a link-up between Plaid and Labour (17.7%). They also reveal that Labour have been doing their own work on possible options.
None of this is very surprising, though if they had polled party members and activists they would have got some very different results. Nevertheless, all of this is just idle speculation. The poll that really matters takes place on 3rd May. What happens after that is up to voters.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
The other skeleton in the cupboard
Admittedly this is not as colourful as Rod Richards' Golwg article but it is still good stuff. Rod Richards said he had "no regard whatsover" for his successor and that he would not be voting for any other party instead: "I certainly won't be voting Conservative because they don't deserve it and have no credibility in my view."
Tory Press Officer, Richard Hazlewood, must be relieved that so much else was going on today and that Rod's words of wisdom have accordingly disappeared down a large black hole.
Cat among the pigeons
This immediately led to a spate of denials from, amongst others, the First Minister and the Secretary of State for Wales. I am not sure that Plaid Cymru were too amused either, but surely there must have been some talks to get to this position.
It seems to me that such an arrangement would be the worst of all worlds. Plaid would get some of their policies enacted but because they would not be in the Cabinet with advisors to help them track policy development they would find it impossible to influence the way that these measures were introduced. Nor would Plaid be able to have any say on important executive issues such as the future of Adult Neurosurgery in Swansea, even though they would take the blame for an unpopular decision because they were propping Labour up in the first place. If Labour were to secure such a deal they would be laughing all the way to the 2011 polls.
All in all this underlines what I have said previously about trying to second guess the wishes of the electorate. Labour are clearly in disarray. They are struggling to run a coherent campaign, much like their muddled management of Wales over the last four years. Whilst Plaid and Labour indulge in this clumsy courtship through the media, the Welsh Liberal Democrats remain focused on the policies that matter.
We are continuing to focus on our positive message of smaller class sizes, more police officers on the beat and healthcare when and where it’s needed. These are the policies that are hitting home on the doorstep, and will hopefully lead to more Welsh Liberal Democrat AMs in the next Assembly.
Monday, April 23, 2007
The devolution dividend
Nevertheless, Labour has tried it today with a breathtaking claim that a "representative family" is £5,000 richer with the "devolution dividend" and that this is entirely down to them. There are a whole series of questions about what is a 'representative family' and how the figure of £5,000 has been reached, but like others I will just concentrate on who is responsible for the policies that makes up this basket of measures.
To say that the devolution dividend is down to Labour really is stretching things: Free bus passes come from the Partnership agreement; Free museum entry was a Welsh Liberal Democrat policy introduced by a Welsh Liberal Democrat minister - Jenny Randerson;. Baby bonds are a Westminster policy which would have come to Wales regardless of who runs the Assembly; Opposition to top-up fees and the final settlement for Welsh students in Welsh HEIs was something Labour had be forced in to by the other parties.
Of course alongside the obvious benefits of devolution, people should consider the Labour let-downs: the broken promise on home care for disabled people; the failure to tackle the crisis in NHS dentistry, the U-turn on smaller class sizes.
Devolution does have enormous potential for Wales but if we are to achieve that we need to have ambition and that is something Labour has been lacking so far.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
On the fence (Part Two)
However, reading his interview with Matt Withers in the today's Wales on Sunday all became clear. In that piece Ieuan spells out the three caveats for his support for a replacement for Wylfa. These are (1) that he likes the kind of reactor that is to be used; (2) he believes that it is worthwhile in employment terms; and (3) he is satisfied about how the waste will be disposed of.
This last condition is intriquing, because Ieuan knows that there is no way that any authority will be able to dispose of the waste from a nuclear reactor safely and in a way that will satisfy those living near to wherever it is buried or stored. What the Plaid Cymru leader has done is to try to create the impression that he is in favour of a replacement for Wylfa whilst setting conditions that are likely to ensure it is never built.
His stance will upset the anti-nuclear lobby, who Plaid Cymru have assiduously courted for decades, whilst still leaving him open to charges of sitting on the fence in his own backyard. That is the problem when you try to run with the hares and with the hounds on such a fundamental policy issue, you lose all credibility with both sides.
On the fence
Like other parties in Wales, the Welsh Liberal Democrats find the ideas and values of the BNP to be abhorrent and we are giving support to the many cross-party groups that are springing up locally to fight them. The BNP are so out of touch that when they launched their election campaign recently they had to resort to a cloak and dagger treasure hunt for journalists to get them to the venue.
The UK Daily Pundit blog had a very interesting perspective on this news item and in particular on the comments of the Conservative Assembly Candidate for Swansea West. He pointed out that when asked for his views on Nick Griffin's Party, Harri Lloyd Davies said that "There is no way that anyone from the Conservative party would work with the BNP. The majority of their views and opinions are repulsive."
This leaves us with just two questions: "Is Harri suggesting that he agrees with some of the BNP's views and opinions? If so, which ones? Or is he simply saying that some of the BNP's views and opinions are less repulsive than others? If so, which ones?" I think a statement of clarification is needed.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Tale of the over-sensitive
Ieuan Wyn Jones' dramatic offer to hold talks with Labour to stop any prospect of the Conservatives entering government in Wales is a demonstration of hubris that his Parliamentary equivalent, Elfyn Llwyd, would be hard-pressed to match.
Ieuan is not just making assumptions about how people will vote but is telling voters that views do not matter. He is, in effect, telling his electors that however they vote on 3rd May, there is only one realistic outcome, a Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition. I predict that they will not be amused.
The bonus for us is that Plaid have allowed themselves to be blown off their own agenda by Labour's taunts. Labour have the nationalists in a corner where they want them and they will not let them escape very easily.
Friday, April 20, 2007
Greener than green
All the parties must of course canvass for elections which includes house to house leaflet distribution. Most of the main parties therefore have posted 1 general leaflet and 1 local candidate leaflet but the GREEN PARTY committed to saving resources have just posted 5 identical individual leaflets to the eligible voting family members at my address, multiply this with each household and the waste of time and material is unacceptable. I dread to think what's coming next from them.
Remember to recycle those election leaflets.
A coalition too far
Unfortunately, Labour still want to keep their options open and have disowned Mr. Austin's comments on S4C election programme Pawb A'i Farn that his party will not go into coalition with any other party under any circumstances.
Perhaps he and his party bosses might like to wait for the verdict of the voters before taking thier ball home.
The devil wears burberry
Thursday, April 19, 2007
In 1995, Paul Flynn MP (Newport West) said that the Midwich Cuckoos had possessed the Labour Party. He was refering to "New Labour" and its army of political footsoldiers who were creating a world that he neither understood nor liked. Paul Flynn has stuck by his original opinion.
Nobody could describe Rhodri Morgan as a cuckoo, nor Ieuan Wyn Jones either. But Nick Bourne is a cuckoo - the unelected leader of the Tories in the Assembly.He came into the limelight in the Conservative Party under the patronage of another cuckoo - William Hague MP. The fact that Bourne is an Englishman has no relevance.
What is relevant is the fact that years of his history are a mystery. Where was he? What was he doing during those years? Why was Hague so determined to promote his career? By now Bourne is laying eggs in the Green Party's nest, in Plaid Cymru's nest and indeed in any other place where someone is ready to raise his chicks. There is no nest he is not ready to make a home in.
Like every cuckoo Bourne has questions to answer before he can con his way into Welsh government.
It seems that it is not just the South Wales East Tories that Nick Bourne has to watch his back with these days.
Plaid misleading voters
These sorts of differences are inevitable in a fiercely fought election in which all sides are fighting for an advantage, no matter how small. They also underline how much some of the other parties feel threatened by our successes.
I was interested therefore in seeing a leaflet being circulated in the Ogmore constituency by Plaid Cymru. Inevitably, this leaflet has a bar chart on it which shows Labour at 36%, Plaid on 30% and the Tories and Liberal Democrats each on 14%. This bar chart is based on a supposed opinion poll conducted by Beaufort Research in March 2007. It should be noted that this is not the most recent available poll, which Plaid has conveniently rejected as inaccurate.
Many of their members have made the point that opinion polls consistently underestimate Plaid Cymru's vote and therefore they should be discounted. Apparently, that does not apply when the outcome of the poll is helpful to them. I hesitate to suggest that Plaid Cymru are trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the electorate, but they cannot have it both ways.
Much more interesting is the content of the leaflet. Their candidate tells us that "After talking to you - the people of Wales - Plaid Cymru have added new policy goals for the National Assembly elections. This is what you told us you wanted:
- Real patient power
- A better education system at all levels
- Policies to protect the environment and to stop global warming
- Better secure pensions"
Somehow Plaid Cymru have wrongly got it into their head that the Welsh Assembly will become responsible for pensions policy and that the next Welsh Government will be able to deliver from its limited resources the sort of pensions utopia that has eluded UK governments for decades. Such statements are misleading and irresponsible.
The best piece of spin is left for the end however. Plaid tell their readers that Brodawel residents are suffering unfairly with a massive embankment built right behind their bungalows. "Who put it there?" they ask. The answer is Labour-controlled Bridgend Council in 2003. They then ask "Who is failing to take it away?" and tell us that the responsibility for inaction rests with "The present Liberal Democrat controlled council."
Presumably, that will be the same Liberal Democrat led Coalition which includes Plaid Cymru as a member of the Administration.
Whilst Plaid Cymru are circulating misleading literature like this it is difficult to take them seriously when they start taking the moral high ground with other party's leaflets.
Update: Just to be clear for the benefit of Vaughan Roderick (translation here - thanks Sanddef), that this post is not seeking to be critical of Plaid Cymru for using a bar chart or even for their choice of poll. In my view that is a perfectly legitimate tactic and assists voters in understanding the issues and the politics of a particular constituency. What I am seeking to do here is to point out that despite Plaid's own complaints about Welsh Liberal Democrat tactics, they deploy the same techniques and, in the case of this leaflet, go much further in an attempt to win votes. They should vacate the moral high ground, they have no place there.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
I was at the Swansea CBI event this morning in which two Plaid Cymru and two Welsh Liberal Democrats were joined on the top table by one Tory and the Labour Enterprise Minister. Both the Tories and Labour had only sent one representative when two were requested. Would this fifty per cent representation also constitute a 'snub'?
Surely, Welsh businesses are capable of drawing their own conclusions from both the contributions made to these events and the attendance of the various political parties at them. As for the Tories, I don't think they should take for granted that all business people will be supporting them. That is far from the case.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Run rabbit, run
"Five thousand rabbits blocked a Hungarian motorway yesterday, after the truck that was carrying them crashed.
The animals escaped after the truck - which was heading to the slaughterhouse - collided with another vehicle and overturned.
The M1 motorway, the main road between Budapest and the Austrian capital, Vienna, was closed for several hours.
Both drivers were unharmed in the accident, but some 500 rabbits were killed.
By midday, 4,400 rabbits had been collected and taken away from the scene, while 100 were still roaming the fields surrounding the motorway.
"These 100 are free to go. We will not collect them," a motorway patrol spokeswoman said."
And we think we have problems when a few sheep get on the M4?
Going to war
How this will pan out in Wales has yet to be seen. Although the Labour vote is soft and a great many of them will stay at home on 3rd May, my experience on the doorstep is that their core vote remains fairly solid and that they will do better here than across the border.
Part of the reason for this is the sheer size of the Labour vote across much of South Wales in particular and the history it is rooted in. There are signs that these roots are shifting and that people are starting to move away from Labour, but that is a slow process and it will take time to work its way through. I do not believe for a moment that it will become a sudden, earth-moving event.
The other reason is that Labour are once more being rather canny in the way that they campaign. They are playing it safe, playing the anti-Tory card and doing all that they can to innoculate themselves from the Blair effect. They will still lose seats but it will not be as bad as it could be.
Of course all of this could change over the next two weeks if Labour abandon their chosen course and make mistakes. Blamerbell has already blogged today on the top five campaign car crashes, and four of them involve the Labour campaign. Admittedly, most of these 'car crashes' are of more interest to copywriters and sub-editors than to ordinary voters, but they do set a mood. Of far more significance is Rhodri Morgan himself and his latest faux pas.
Having sat on the Question Time panel last year, tortuously and painfully avoiding answering a straight question about his views on the Iraq war, he has suddenly chosen a Radio Wales phone-in programme, just two weeks before polls, to give us an opinion. Now, he tells us that he would 'probably' have voted against the war if he had been an MP. This is fair enough but why couldn't he have said so at the time?
The whole episode has the appearance of a drowning man grasping at straws. He is trying to put to rest a difficult and embarrassing controversy about his leadership but instead he has raised more questions about his judgement and his ability to connect with public opinion. It reminds me of the ill-judged decision to go to a meeting about the Ryder Cup instead of representing Wales at a gathering of Normandy Veterans in France. It is his failure to deal with the bigger picture because of his obsession with other considerations.
What this episode has done as well is to put the Iraq war back onto the agenda in the Welsh election. Labour have been desperately trying to avoid talking about the war, arguing that it is irrelevant to the functions of the Assembly. However, the cost of that conflict does have an impact on public services, whilst there are Welsh servicemen and women being killed out there.
This war is a subject which Welsh political leaders need to talk about, irrespective of their actual responsibilities, and we need to be putting pressure on the UK Government and the International community to resolve it quickly. For that reason it is an election issue and now that we finally know where the First Minister stands we should be seeking a consensus for a means of resolution.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Plaid kicked into touch
Plaid paid £6,000 for the hoardings and are rather miffed that the broadcaster has seen through their little ploy to get around broadcast rules. They have written to the BBC Controller in Wales, Menna Richards to demand that the BBC acknowledges it has no right to order the removal of the posters and that assurances be given to the clubs that the adverts can be replaced.
For their part the BBC say that their rules are quite clear:
"In the UK, there are legal restrictions imposed on broadcasters to ensure that where controversial subjects are covered, for example elections, such coverage is presented with due accuracy and impartiality.
"I think the purpose of such restrictions is clear - it is to ensure fairness. In this context, this means fairness as between political parties. The BBC is under a legal obligation to comply with these restrictions - they are not optional.
"During an election period, the requirement of due impartiality as between political parties arguably becomes even more important. The BBC goes to great lengths to ensure that it meets its obligations of due impartiality during election periods.
"The inclusion of political advertising within sports programming places the BBC in a difficult position. We do not want to interfere with a political party's ability to advertise. At the same time, we have to operate in accordance with the law, and treat parties in this context with due impartiality. It is for this reason that we do not at present believe that we would be able to broadcast matches where there is the prospect of your party's advertisements being featured to any significant degree.
"The Welsh Rugby Union is under a contractual obligation to the BBC to ensure that any advertisements in relevant venues do not infringe the BBC's Charter and Agreement or our Editorial Guidelines. These requirements were included so that our broadcasts do not breach our legal obligations."
I suppose it was worth Plaid trying it on, especially as they can afford it.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Hitting the rails
Yesterday, there was a steam engine running from Swansea to Llanelli. It certainly got people out of their houses to watch, but it also made an important statement about the condition of our railways since privatisation.
This morning's Observer reports that plans by the Conservatives to put things right have hit the rails. It seems that their plans to cut rail journey times and tackle train overcrowding have been thrown into confusion after leaked emails revealed that David Cameron is 'not allowed' to say how his party will pay for them. The paper says that:
The leak is embarrassing coming just days before Cameron was due to launch the transport plan, intended as a centrepiece of the Tory local election campaign. Anger at slow and over-crowded commuter trains affects many marginal seats in the south east of England.
Cameron is due to present rail as a 'greener' answer to transport, shedding his party's image of closeness to the motoring lobby. A copy of his draft speech attached to the memo reveals Cameron was planning to promise that the Tories would not only finish any rail improvements started by Labour but 'explore ways of adding additional capacity improvements' on top. Cameron was to identify trans-Pennine links between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Hull as well as commuter routes around Birmingham and into the West Country as future priorities.
As you would expect Labour are rubbing their hands in glee at this leak but then their record is hardly covered in glory either. No doubt we will need to re-open this debate when all the manifestos are published for the next General Election, complete with costings.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
The art of polling
Vaughan refers to a strange apology that appeared in the Western Mail on Monday 9th April in which they sought to clarify the outcome of the poll: "In our analysis of an NOP opinion poll for ITV Wales on voting intention at the National Assembly election, we incorrectly suggested that a predicted 3.5% swing from Labour to the Conservatives would result in a Conservative gain from Labour at Carmarthen West and Pembrokeshire South. In fact, the seat would be won by Plaid Cymru"
Vaughan argues that the raw statistics actually show Plaid Cymru marginally ahead of the Tories on the constituency vote (182 preferences to 180) and that the position is reversed only when the figures are adjusted for propensity to vote. He believes that there are two interpretations that can be placed on the poll and that Plaid Cymru have been harshly treated.
Although, I have concerns with this poll, these centre more on how it is being applied rather than the published outcome itself. I believe for example that it is common practise to weight polls so as to give more precedence to the views of those likely to vote. Accordingly, I am much more inclined to accept the weighted outcome than the raw figures as an accurate indication of people's preferences. I also believe that the larger sample helps in dealing with the particular circumstances of Wales, an issue that has led to larger margins of error on more standard data sets.
It is my also view that the attempt to turn the polling figures into seats is fatally flawed. Although the data set is large enough to provide a snapshot of opinion across Wales, it cannot hope to do the same for an individual constituency, especially one as large and as diverse as Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire. Applying standard swings is all very well, but these sort of standard swings do not tend to happen anymore, and in very marginal seats, especially three-way marginals, there are many other factors that need to be considered that can only be accounted for in an individual poll aimed at that seat. If there is one lesson that we can pick up from the 2005 General Election it is that voting has become more regionalised and localised, with some trends being confined to certain constituencies or groups of constituencies.
Secondly, the application of the poll to the regional list seems to have gone awry in the north. I find it difficult to believe for example that on the stated level of support in the poll, that the Tories can win two constituencies AND two lists seats in the North Wales region. That outcome is both unlikely and too convenient in supporting the notion that the Tories will be the second largest party for my liking.
The fact remains though that whichever set of figures one looks at this poll is a disappointment for Plaid Cymru. It puts them at a level of support well below their own claims. It leaves them struggling to maintain their status as second party and it makes some of their current seats more vulnerable, most notably Ceredigion. Arguing around the margins in interpreting the figures does not change that.
But, the real problem with this poll lies in its isolation. It is a snapshot in time and we have already moved on. There are no other polls to compare it with so as to give us perspective. There is no way of measuring trends. The danger is that we will set it in stone and leave it in a field as a monument to political punditry when actually we need a lot more information both to awaken people's interest in this election and to generate an edge that will get some real debate going.
I would argue that this is the media's responsibility. They are the only body of people who are sufficently independent to produce credible polls. They should also recognise that regular polling will assist them in their duty to inform and interpret the news. In Scotland there is a real buzz because regular polls have set challenges to all the parties and caused them to raise their game.
Without the same here we will muddle along but we will not set the world on fire. We will debate the issues in a worthy and dutiful manner and 40% or so of the electors will come out and vote. The challenge will be to secure differential turnout, not to change the course of a nation. Politicians have a duty here as well, but our job is made so much easier if there is regular polling and an air of expectation and excitement as to the outcome.
Instead of quibbling over figures journalists and broadcasters need to start taking the temperature of the nation more frequently and in a way that informs and interests ordinary people. If this election is quiet or dull it is because they have not been doing that. In these circumstances a low turnout becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and that cannot be good for democracy.
Friday, April 13, 2007
The vision to transform Wales
This is the Welsh Liberal Democrats' Party Political broadcast for the Assembly elections.
Letting the train take the strain
Unfortunately, his timing was appalling, especially for those commuters trying to get from Swansea to all points east by train. Work on the Cardiff to Swansea line has overrun from the bank holiday weekend, forcing up to 22,000 rail passengers on to replacement buses for the whole week.
According to the First Minister there has been a £400 million investment in Welsh railways. Those who travel by train regularly would be hard-pressed to say exactly where all that money has gone, even when things are running normally. On this issue I think that there is general consensus that both the UK and the Welsh governments can do better.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
In the news
Somehow the newspaper of liberal middle England has managed to notice that there are significant events going on this side of the Severn Bridge. However, they only did so after the Prime Minister himself came here and even then, there is nothing in the article to suggest that its writer did anything more than cobble together a few words from the comfort of his or her London desk.
Of more interest, at least to Welsh Liberal Democrats, is this article by Russell Deacon in the party's radical magazine, Liberator. Writing before the publication of our Assembly manifesto, Russell argues that Welsh Liberal radicalism is being suffocated by the consensus politics of the Assembly. He concludes:
The Welsh Assembly election will show that the Welsh Liberal Democrats have sound and well thought out policies. Yes, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have produced some excellent ideas to try to deal with some of Wales’s major problems. Yes, their ideas are better than the other mainstream parties’ in Wales but are they radical enough? Not at the moment, they still need to stretch further.
It is an interesting challenge and hopefully, one that we have met head-on in the actual manifesto. As he is a Welsh Liberal Democrat himself, I look forward to Russell coming to future conferences with some more of the radical ideas he wants us to espouse.
However, what has topped all of this is the news in today's Guardian that Cheetah, the original chimpanzee star of the Tarzan movies, is still alive and 75 years old this week. Cheetah is living a sugar-free existence in his retirement home in Palm Springs, California and according to the Guiness Book of Records is the world's oldest primate. Outstanding!
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Tory dirty tricks
He has reproduced on his blog the photo on the left taken from Welsh Liberal Democrat campaign literature and made the ludicrous claim that it has been doctored so as to remove the Tory candidate from the picture.
I have enlarged the part of the photograph containing Lembit Őpik and Mick Bates below. Tory candidate Dan Mumford's feet can
be seen behind those of Mick Bates' but I can see no evidence of the photo having been doctored nor the 'blue pixel residue' and yellow 'bleed' into Mick's collar that Glyn alleges is there. Indeed from the way that Dan Mumford's feet are arranged it is clear that in this shot his body and head are fully obscured by Mick. He is in his rightful place, behind the Welsh Liberal Democrats.
Perhaps Glyn Davies should be a bit more circumspect in future before throwing allegations around. He will know that accusing your opponents of cheating is the worst kind of dirty trick and sometimes the most effective one. We only have to look at Richard Nixon to see how effective.
Update: As if to confirm that the photograph has not been doctored a comment on Glyn Davies' blog tells us that it is identical to the one on the official UNISON/Hospital Calendar. Time for an apology I think Glyn.
Life on Mars
Suspect: I want a lawyer.
Gene Hunt: I wanna hump Britt Ekland, what are we gonna do?
Hunt: There will never be a woman prime minister as long as I have a hole in my a***.
Hunt: Now is not the time to have a one-night stand with your conscience.
Hunt: I think you've forgotten who you're talking to.
Tyler: An overweight, over-the-hill, nicotine-stained, borderline-alcoholic homophobe with a superiority complex and an unhealthy obsession with male bonding?
Hunt: You make that sound like a bad thing.
(Questioning a suspect in a cold store) Hunt: My friend is going to ask you some questions. Personally I hope you don't answer them because I want you to die in here and end up inside a pork pie.
Hunt: Don't move, you are surrounded by armed b*****ds.
Sam Tyler: Woman in her 20s, dead.
Hunt: Well I didn't think she was sunbathing, did I?
Hunt: He's got fingers in more pies than a leper on a cookery course.
Hunt: She's as nervous as a very small nun at a penguin shoot.
Pure genius. I can't wait for 'Ashes to Ashes', the sequel in which Gene Hunt is placed in the 1980s with a politically correct single mother detective.
Ron points out that the Secretary of State for Wales will be able to use a veto to stop law-making proposals made by the Assembly, when new powers take effect next month. He gives five examples of when Mr. Hain is likely to do this:
Making St David's Day a Bank Holiday;
Extending the Children's Commissioner's remit to cover children held in custody;
Extending the Welsh Language Act into the private sector;
Cutting corporation tax;
Protecting the marine environment in Cardigan Bay.
For his part Mr. Hain agrees that in these cases he would be likely to step in to block the proposals:
"Most of those are not Order in Council territory. Orders in Council would cover areas that are already devolved, in which the objective would be to give the Assembly greater policy and law-making discretion than it has now.
"There's no question of the Secretary of State vetoing requests from the Welsh Assembly Government. Obviously the Secretary of State would have to put them to Parliament and would have to get clearance through the Government to do so.
"St David's Day and corporation tax - neither of those are reserved matters. So this is not Order in Council territory. Bank holidays are Treasury matters, corporation tax is a UK-wide matter. So the Assembly wouldn't have any discretion over those areas in any case."
It could have been so very different, if only Ron Davies had had the courage of his convictions in 1998 and given us these powers in the first Government of Wales Act, which he steered through Parliament.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
You got 12 right!
Excellent: are you an assembly member, by any chance?
Er, yes! Does that mean I shouldn't have tried it?
An important manifesto
The Manifesto contains five pledges:
1. Welcome people seeking safety from persecution
2. Empower refugees to rebuild their lives
3. Provide fair and equal access to services
4. Protect children and young people
5. Develop a strong evidence base so as to plan services effectively for refugees and asylum
seekers and to evaluate the effectiveness of policies.
As I understand it, parents and teachers will be able to access information about sex offenders in their neighbourhoods. Single mothers will be able to ask police about the risk posed by new partners, and headteachers will be told about dangerous offenders in their communities. Except that they won't. Instead they will be told how many sex offenders live in their area but not who they are or where they live.
The outcome it seems to me is that an atmosphere of suspicion and fear will be generated, that in turn could lead to vigilante patrols, indiscriminate attacks on people who are suspected of being the sex offenders referred to and those who are registered going underground and off the police radar, thus making them a greater threat to society. John Coughlan, the joint president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, adds another reservation, namely that the disclosure of police intelligence could generate a false sense of security by focusing attention on known offenders.
I suppose that the whole point of pilots is to flush out these sorts of problems and see if they can be overcome. We will wait and see therefore, but I do not hold out much hope that this initiative will turn out to be any more than a glorified PR exercise.
Monday, April 09, 2007
Misleading the voters
Labour are also hinting at the possibility that investment in our health service, free prescriptions and regeneration of poorer valley communities will come to an end (presumably along with all civilisation as we know it) if Rhodri Morgan ceases to be First Minister on 4th May.
One of the features of the Welsh Assembly is the level of consensus that has been achieved on all sides on the vast majority of its programme. This may change of course once proper law-making powers come into effect, but it is the case that nearly all the benefits Labour claim had the support of one or more of the other parties at the time. The only really contentious issue of those mentioned is free prescriptions and all of the main political parties have said that they will leave those in place, irrespective of how they voted at the time.
This leaves one with the conclusion that Labour are trying to frighten voters into supporting them. It is an interesting tactic, though not entirely an honest one. We shall see what people's reaction is to it in due course.
Sunday, April 08, 2007
Catch a fire
The film takes the Apartheid struggle in South Africa during the 1980s and looks at its impact on two families: one headed by a non-political family man who is wrongly accused of a crime by the security forces and leaves to join the ANC so as to put right the injustice that he, his wife and children have suffered; the other headed by a Security Service Colonel who is working to preserve his way of life, no matter what the cost.
In many ways it was a very idealised picture of the main protagonist and of the struggle he was part of and, I thought, a bit lame at the end, but it benefited from some excellent acting, a strong storyline and the fact that it is based on a real life person and the incidents that shaped his life.
All of this is my way of saying that I am not making any comment this morning on the Wales on Sunday piece on Lembit Őpik, except to say that I do not believe all this hype about his personal life impacting on his level of support in Montgomeryshire, no matter where or who it comes from.
Lembit is an asset to any party, he is personable, an excellent communicator and a serious politician who genuinely cares about people and about changing things for the better. Those who are seeking to do him down have their own agenda. I do not want any part of it.
Saturday, April 07, 2007
Blair to go - shock!
What is new is that Blair intends to devote most of his attention in his last few weeks to Scotland, where the Scottish Nationalist party is ahead in the polls and on current projections will become the largest party in the Edinburgh parliament. He plans at least three visits. This is a huge gamble but one that the Prime Minister believes is worth taking. After all Labour need to inject some charisma into their lacklustre campaign north of the border.
There is no indication as to whether Blair will be campaigning in Wales or indeed, if he will be welcome here. Rhodri Morgan has done everything he can to try and distance himself from the disastrous and unpopular policies of the UK Labour Government. I am sure that he will not want the Prime Minister tramping around the Welsh valleys undoing all of that work.
Friday, April 06, 2007
Ebbs and tides
With nominations closing on Wednesday, yesterday was the first proper campaigning period of the election and boy did it feel like it. The sun was beating down on us as we leafletted and canvassed, whilst far away in Cardiff the Welsh Liberal Democrats launched their manifesto. On Radio Wales Rhodri Morgan gave the first hint that things may not be going all his way when he indicated that he would retire if Labour does badly in the assembly election on May 3rd.
Rhodri had obviously been told about today's ITV Wales poll that showed his party slipping back badly from its 2003 position. On the lists they have dropped two points but it is in the constituencies where they hold all their seats that they suffer the most, falling back by four percent. The winners are the Conservatives and the Welsh Liberal Democrats - both are up and projected to gain seats. In contrast Plaid Cymru appears to have flatlined. All the hype about them making major advances has been shown up as so much Welsh mist.
HTV had a go at trying to turn these figures into seat projections but in some cases this did not ring true. For example they are suggesting that the Tories will win two constituencies in North Wales and still hold both their list seats. The Labour tally of 25 seats seems about right, as does the idea that the Tories will overtake Plaid in seats held.
In other news Plaid Cymru's leader declared his support for a new nuclear power station on Ynys Mon. I know things are looking desperately bad for the nationalists but is there really a need to press the nuclear button so early on in the campaign.
I did the ITV Wales election programme last night, where details of their opinion poll were released. At the end the cartoonist Mumph produced a sketch for each of the party leaders. He very kindly gave me the one on Mike German, but I do not intend to publish it here just yet, even though it is really quite amusing.
Update: Arsembly has produced a very funny live blog on this programme. Well worth a read.
Thursday, April 05, 2007
In his normal guise as a mild mannered Health Minister, Brian has consistently told Assembly Members that he is powerless to act. Hospitals and key services are at the mercy of Local Health Boards and the Trusts. It is their job to decide what survives and what does not, he has told us day in, day out in the Senedd. However, come the stroke of noon on April 4th, he pulls on his mask and a major transformation takes place.
Now, Buttonman is able to reassure us that Llandudno Hospital is safe, giving comfort and solace to distressed damsel, Denise Idris Jones. He has also flown to the aid of 'preachy' Jane Davidson and assured the future of the Royal Glamorgan Hospital.
Meanwhile we wait in Swansea and West Wales with bated breath. Will he also rescue Adult Neurosurgery from the clutches of evil Cardiffians? Will he pass a reprieve for Fairwood Hospital and Ward One of Hill House Hospital? Can Val Lloyd, Edwina Hart and Andrew Davies count on Buttonman to save them from oblivion? Watch this space for the next exciting episode.
Disclaimer: This post was written rather early in the morning. It could well be changed substantially when I wake up. Elections do strange things to you!
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Man in a dress
As if to illustrate this premise the paper publishes a full length photo of Sir Dai wearing a big bushy moustache and a pink checked dress and boots. It could start a trend.
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Plaid fight dirty again
When I read this article in the Western Mail, I did have a lot of sympathy with the view being put by Adam Price that Derek Simpson was taking his union blindly into the campaign on the side of Labour, despite the fact that many of his members do not vote Labour and of those who do a large number will be sitting on their hands on May 3rd because of their disillusionment with Blair and others.
I can also see how this continual accusation that Plaid will join a Tory-led coalition might irritate them, after all a number of them are socialists who would rather eat fire than serve under a Conservative First Minister. I have sympathy with that viewpoint myself.
But what was Adam Price talking about when he alleged that the Liberal Democrats are 'anti-socialist and anti-Trade Union'? It seems that it is OK to throw negative and untrue accusations around when it is Plaid Cymru doing the throwing, but not when they are on the receiving end. They can't stand it up 'em as Corporal Jones might have said.
It is true that the Welsh Liberal Democrats are not socialists but we are a party of the left and are happy to work with other parties in the best interests of Wales. It is untrue to say that we are anti-Trade Union. In fact a great many of our members are Trade Unionists. I was one of the founding members of the all-party PCS group in the Assembly, working with the civil service unions of which I used to be a member in a previous life.
The more I analyse the language that Adam Price uses the more it seems that he believes himself to be some sort of class-warrior, occupying the principled high ground, whilst those around him fail to meet his high standards. He is a 1970s throwback who does not fit well into 21st Century Wales, happier on the picket line than exercising power for the good of his fellow citizens. He really needs to cool it and start fighting this campaign on the issues.
Monday, April 02, 2007
Cuckoo in the nest
This is complete nonsense of course. There is absolutely nothing to be gained for the Welsh Liberal Democrats in pre-empting the verdict of voters on 3rd May. For a start we expect to be in a stronger negotiating position by virtue of having many more seats. There are some who are even expecting us to be the second-largest party.
Secondly, if there are negotiations after the elections then I would expect them to follow last time's pattern, irrespective of who is involved in such talks. That means that who sits where in the cabinet would be the very last thing that is talked about. The first priority would be to get the policy agreement right and remember, in the Welsh Liberal Democrats case, we have to persuade our members to support whatever is agreed at a special conference before anybody is able to sign a partnership agreement.
Unfortunately, in the absence of any real policy debate at this stage of the campaign all of the press are having to resort to such stories to fill their pages. In many ways it is the most interesting thing about the election. However, such pieces are at best speculation based on wishful-thinking, at worst mischief-making.
How the Western Mail must wish it published on 1 April this year. Why else would they be forced to re-print April Fool jokes the day after?
Sunday, April 01, 2007
Eggs and packaging
85% OF EASTER EGGS ARE PACKAGING – SWINSON
Saturday 31st March 2007
The Liberal Democrats have released research showing that only 15% of an average Easter egg is made from chocolate.
The main findings are:
• The average volume of Easter eggs was approximately 15% of the total packaging volume, with the worst case being the Lindt egg, which took up just 9% of the volume of the total package.
• The average height of Easter eggs was approximately 60% of the height of packages.
• The average weight of Easter eggs was less than half of that of the average weight of the total egg packages.
• The majority of the Easter eggs were packaged using three separate layers of material – an egg wrapped in foil, in a plastic tray, inside a cardboard box.
• Most of the products also contained extra items within further packaging: chocolates, miniature eggs and chocolate bars.
• Of the 14 eggs measured, 4 gave no recycling information on the packaging, 8 used the standard logo to encourage recycling and in just two cases, both mentioned below, was further information related to recycling given on the packaging.
The serious point is that chocolate Easter eggs are a stand-out example of excess packaging. As Jo says:
“None of us can escape our environmental responsibilities. Consumers have a vital role to play in recycling, as do businesses and local authorities. However, this is a role that could be made far easier if producers reduced quantities of packaging, unburdening consumers of the excessive amounts of packaging that they take home with their shopping.
“Tougher action against excess packagers, extended commitments from supermarkets and producers to cut packaging and promotion of good practice among supermarkets must all be part of the Government’s plans in the future.”
Nevertheless one cannot help wondering who got to eat all that chocolate once the research was completed.
Regulating the politicians
Ciaran Jenkins on Blamerbell Briefs comments on the increasing use of Facebook by those who seek to serve and hints that perhaps we should act our age. His taunting rather reflects Glyn Davies' bewilderment at finding himself a member of this social network.
Ciaran tells us that 'Facebook is for writing crap banter on your mates' walls. It's for stalking attractive women in American colleges. And it's for posting embarrassing photos of drunken misdemeanours.' It seems that it is also now for politicians like Peter Hain, Sir Menzies Campbell and many others to reach out to a younger generation in an effort to get their message across.
Whilst they are there I don't feel too much like a fish out of water. Contrary to Ciaran's allegation of fakery, the interests I list on my facebook page are genuine and very much reflect the fact that I am a forty plus, aging rocker who just happens to like quirky science fiction programmes.
As politicians expand their usage of the interweb the more their activities will come to the attention of the Parliamentary authorities and so it has come to pass. When Assembly Members reconvene after the elections one of the many things they will be asked to vote on is a new protocol on how they should behave on-line. The Assembly authorities have decided that they want a piece of the action. They want to regulate what we can blog on and how our sites look. It will make for a very interesting debate.