Saturday, 25 September 2010

Ed Miliband - Labour's Wrong Choice

Wow. That was an incredible result. For a while there I actually thought that David had held on but I had a feeling as they walked into the auditorium that his smile was false. Ed looked petrified. He looked like he'd just put a knife in his elder brother's back.

I was totalling up the figures instantly in my head and once David's final total came to 49.something, I knew straight away as the audience too realised what this meant, that Ed had 50.something.

The Unions decide, not the Members
What strikes me is that it is not the normal members of the Labour Party who have chosen their leader but the Trade Unions. David Miliband should have won this contest and indeed he led all of the way until the final ballot.

Indeed on the first ballot, the scores were as follows.

David M 37.78%
Ed M 34.33%
Balls 11.79%
Burnham 8.68%
Abbott 7.42%

Eventually, it was Ed Balls' votes that finally took Ed past his brother.

But David Miliband had the larger support of his fellow MPs and the membership at large. They clearly saw what the country would've seen in David Miliband - a Prime Minister in-waiting. His own MPs backed him in greater numbers than any other and the members of his own party also.

But that means nothing. To paraprhase the Sun in 1992, 'It was the Unions wot won it'. They've got their man, but it wasn't the man the Labour Party actually wanted. This brings into sharp focus the mess that is the electoral college that elects a Labour Party member. The Liberal Democrats vote their leader on a 'one member, one vote' basis and that's the democratic way in which it should work.

Labour's Left-ward march
I had great concern that David Miliband's wider, mass appeal would give him the edge. I worried that Labour would see the light and have the sense to pick the man who could bring them back to the centre.

But the Unions have pulled them back to the left. Of course, this will be very popular with many within the Labour Party but at a wider level, I see this as a back-ward step for Labour. A move to the left won't play well in the country as a whole.

This will be re-emphasised if Ed chooses Ed Balls as his Shadow Chancellor. It's very possible that he will. If he takes that decision, he will alienate yet more centrist, middle-of-the-road supporters.

Responsibility for past mistakes
What we must remember of course, is that like all of the other candidates (apart from Diane Abbott) Ed sat in the out-going Labour Cabinet. They took collective responsibility for decisions that led to the economic mess in which we now find ourselves. He will find it particularly difficult to speak against government policy from a left-leaning position, if he doesn't acknowledge this.

Good luck Labour - you're going to need it
Of course, good government depends on having a good opposition. Ed Miliband therefore has a great responsibility ahead of him.

However, since May, Labour have been anything but responsible. More people would listen to their protestations against coalition government policy, if they actually admitted to fouling up Britain's economy up in the first place, instead of bickering from the sidelines as if it was nothing to do with them.

Ed would do well to make this admission from the outset as leader. Somehow however, I doubt he will and if the Unions pull him left, then responsible opposition is not what we'll get.

The Labour Party Leadership Result in Full

1st Preference
David M 37.8%
Ed M 34.33%
Balls 11.8%
Burnham 8.7%
Abbott 7.4%

2nd Preference
David M 38.9%
Ed M 37.47%
Balls 13.2%
Burnham 10.4%

3rd Preference
David M 42.72%
Ed M 41.26%
Balls 16.02%

4th Preference
Ed M 50.65%%
David M 49.35%

Aberystwyth University - Best Years of My Life

With some amazement and inredulity, I find myself looking back on what has been a rather remarkable 10 years of my life.

It was on this Freshers weekend, back in September 2000, that I arrived in Aberystwyth University as a green, naïve and shy young, just turned 18 year old. Looking back over the past decade, there is no doubt that I owe Aberystwyth and its University a great debt of gratitude for helping me to become the not so green, naïve and shy man that I am today.

Pantycelyn, Freshers Week - September 2000
Over the years, some memories dim with age, but some continue to shine brightly as seminal moments in your life.

I can very clearly remember one of those as I arrived at Pantycelyn Halls of Residence on the Friday of Freshers weekend (10 years ago yesterday). I was very much walking into the unknown. I'd been a competent, pleasant and agreeable pupil in Whitland primary and secondary schools but going to Aberystwyth, with no-one from my year joining me, meant that I had to socialise and make new friends like never before.

Pantycelyn was definitely the best place to do so. As a Welsh language hall of residence, it had an in-built community which you wouldn't find in a Penrbyn, Cwrt Mawr or Rosser. I arrived with only 3 others on that Friday - Griff, Huw and Carl (I ended up becoming best mates with Huw over the years). But it was on the Saturday that everyone else arrived in force - that's over 250 arriving in one day when the 4 of us had decided to arrive a day earlier! I can remember a group of us met up in Room 199 which was being shared by Griff and Dai and after a number of 'bonding' drinks of vodka and orange juice, we all made our way down into town for our first proper night out in University. As Pantycelyn students, one of the central stops is of course 'Yr Hen Llew Du (the Black Lion) on Bridge St and I recall that we all suddenly left en masse for the next pub whilst Huw was still in the toilets - I don't think we saw him again that night!

The Pantycelyn Freshers Week was always an entertaining one and I half heartedly threw myself into it. I knew I needed to extend myself to meet new friends but I limited myself to some of their activities and nights out and not all of them - it was my way of keeping in control of myself.

Pantycelyn Life
I had the great fortune of living in Pantycelyn for 2 years. Firstly in Room 130 with Owen Ashton (we got up to some larks!) and then in a single Room 210 opposite Huw's in my second year. By this time I'd become friends with 'the boys' - the gang from Pontardawe, Ystalyfera & Gwaen Cau Gurwen with whom I catch up with to this day, as often as possible in between our respective, busy lives.

It was as a group of us that we moved into St Arvans, No.14 Llanbadarn Road in our 3rd year. After 2 years in Halls, we wanted the experience of living in town and it was the best year of my time in University.

Whilst many residents of Pantycelyn were more than happy to remain within the walls of the community that existed there, my feet always itched to do more.

I had joined the Liberal Democrats for the first time in that first September of University 10 years ago but I didn't get active until I delivered a solitary round of leaflets around Pantycelyn during the 2001 General Election (no mean feat in a Hall that is generally regarded as having a high level of enthusiasm and activity for Plaid Cymru!). I was still finding my feet and for that first year my only objective was to survive.

Nevertheless, my first year was very much a 'Pantycelyn' year where my studies were mixed with a social scene that centred exclusively around the Halls in which I was a resident.

Playing Pool
The one 'exception' to this first year rule, was my pool playing exploits. I remember vividly as if it were yesterday the day that Damian, Dai and I were walking down Penglais Hill from Pantycelyn into town and walked past this pub that had a bizzare looking, orange baized pool table. It was enough to lure us in for a look and a few frames.

That pub of course was the 'Weston Vaults' - a pub that I've always regarded as being my 'local' in the town ever since.

Now I've always been handy with a pool cue. No Ronnie O'Sullivan I'll grant you, but not bad all the same. But it was on that first, mid-afternoon visit, that I was given the encouragement to do something with it. Dai, Damian and I were playing a few frames and I remember noticing a chap sitting alone at the bar came, watching us. It was slightly un-nerving. Suddenly, he came over and challenged me to a game. I was rather non-plussed by this challenge but took it on and gamely lost a best of 3 encounter to him, 2-1. It was enough for him to recommend me to join the local pool team! So I did! I drafted Huw in alongside me for company (and I must admit, he was just a tad better than me) and we had a wonderfully enjoyable season on the pool circuit playing for the Weston's 'B' team - the 'student' team. Ironically, the student 'B' team had been promoted the year before and the 'A' team of locals had been relegated. So we were playing in the 2nd division of the Aberystwyth Pool League that winter and finished a highly credible 5th out of 9 whilst the 'A' team failed to get promotion back out of the 3rd division!

For that year, Tuesday night was 'pool' night. My pool playing exploits gradually declined as the years went on and other activities took more of my time but in that first yet, as a rare outlet to Pantycelyn living, it was immeasureably good fun and I met a great gang of mates along the way. The memories of beating the owner of the Fountain in Trefechan on his pool table and with his own pool cue will live long in the memory as will the 1-3 comeback to win 4-3 away to the Academy! The names Ed, Chad, Maggs, Trystan, Rob et al will always remind me of a happy period in my life.

Spreading the Wings...
Liberal Democrats (Part I)
It was in my second year that I began to find the confidence to truly expand my social horizons. Initially, it was becoming active in the Liberal Democrats that got me going. I recall making the decision in the first week of term in 2001 to go to a meeting of the re-launched student group. I remember looking at the e-mail list and noticing that there were 30-40 recipients of the e-mail with the details to that first meeting. I naïvely presumed therefore that there'd be 30-40 odd people at that meeting! It was only on walking into the Varsity and walking up to the balcony there that I was greeted with the slightly less spectacular sight of 8-10 members. Of course the irony is that Andrew Falconer, who was the first student group President, had a much more worldy knowledge of how many to expect at a political gathering of students and he in contrast, was delighted with the turnout!

During that year, there was a group of 4-5 of us who were active within the group - Andrew, Stuart, Richard, Griff and myself. Suddenly, I started going to constituency dinners (my first being a Lord Geraint Howells dinner in the Marine Hotel that autumn) and to external conferences (Manchester and Llandudno in the spring of '02). As a result of becoming politically active, I got involved in Union politics and stood in the spring of '02 in the annual Students Union elections. I was elected unopposed to the non-sabbatical position of Environmental Officer.

As a result of being a student in the excellent International Politics Department in the University, I had the opportunity to go on its 'Parliamentary Placement' scheme in the summer of '02 at the end of my second year. 5 weeks in the Welsh Assembly working as an intern for the Liberal Democrats opened doors of opportunity for me by getting me involved with the party at a higher level and as a result, on advice from our then Welsh Chief Executive Chris Lines, I stood as a Lib Dem Youth and Students representative on the Welsh Lib Dem Executive Committee and the Welsh Lib Dem Campaigns Committee the following year, 2003.

What was greatly fortunate though was that I had come to University town where the liberal tradition was strong. Between 1874-1966 and again between 1974-1992, it was A Liberal / Liberal Democrat MP that had been in residence. So the opportunites for me as a liberal were instantly much greater for me here than they may have been in other University towns.

Final Year Madness
As against the normal way of things, my busiest and most active year of University was actually my final year. Amidst the undergradutate studies and dissertation work that was of paramount importance, my growing self-confidence led me to get involved with more activities. In 2002-03, I was now the Secretary of the student Liberal Democrat branch, I was a non-sabbatical member of the Student Union Executive and I also became Treasurer of the History Society.

History Society
The latter development was very much a 'coup' led by myself and good history student friend Caroline. We'd both decided that the current history society was rather bland and un-inspiring and took it over in the annual elections as Treasurer and President respectively to liven it up somewhat. Our weekly 'History' socials became a highlight of my week as we sought to make history more 'fun' and we made many good new friends from across the departmental spectrum that year (although the departmental chiefs may not have been so amused!).

Union Politics
I was an active Environmental Officer and decided to make 'Environmental Week' in the spring of '03 actually that. In years gone by, it was merely a 'day' of promoting environmental awareness around the University but I wanted to make more of it. I launched an 'Environmental Sub-Committee' of willing enthusiasts to help me in my task and was rather delighted when the vast majority of those who showed an interest happened to be women! Again, we had some great nights out as a group and in total there must have been about a dozen or so of us who had gotten to know each other. The week itself was a real success and at the end of it, on April 1st of all days, I announced my resignation from the Guild Executive after what had been a productive and enjoyable year to allow my replacement Martin Kohring to take over earlier than planned and also to allow me to concentrate my efforts on concluding my dissertation (yes, I was still studying despite all of this!).

Liberal Democrats (Part II)
I also needed time to concentrate on the up-coming Welsh Assembly elections. By the end of my final year as an undergraduate, I was by now well emersed in liberal politics. A member of Welsh Lib Dem committees and one of the active leaders in the student group, we now had an election to fight and John Davies was our new but willing candidate.

In fact, my role during the month of April itself was to telephone canvass voters from across the Mid & West Wales region. That was 40 hours a week telehpone canvassing for 4 weeks. I was being paid to do so but still, it was quite an exercise. I did so out of our regional organiser Anders Hanson's flat in Penmorfa, North Road. But I also had a 12,000 word History dissertation to write.

So for that one crazy month, my routine which I will never forget, revolved around me getting up and leaving Llanbadarn Road and making my way up to the National Library after 8am to spend each morning there until lunchtime, researching for my dissertation. Then by 1pm, I'd be stationed in Anders' flat, ready for a day of telephone canvassing. I finished at 9pm (with a small break to watch Countdown in between!) and would go the office on North Parade to give Anders my daily data. A month later, we had an excellent result in Ceredigion in which we reduced a Plaid majority from over 10,000 down to 4,500.

I also managed to score a First in my dissertation with a 70% score on my way to an eventual high 2:1 degree. The key to that was choosing a dissertation topic for which I enjoyed doing the researching and groundwork. Of course, politics was involved and I still take great pleasure in my work revolving around the 1963 Conservative leadership crisis.

MA & Beyond...
Despite the sudden death of my father which I blogged about here, I returned to Aberystwyth to study my Masters in History in the fall of '04 and was now Chair of the student Liberal Democrat group. I was also on the Steering and Elections Committee in the Student Union and was nominated as one of 4 delegates to attend the annual NUS Conference in Blackpool's Winter Gardens in the spring of '04 (in the politically amusing company of Tory (losing Colchester 2010 candidate) Will Quince, future Plaid Cymru AM Bethan Jenkins and enthusiastic environmental activist Lydia Bulmer).

Having by now attended numerous Welsh and Federal Liberal Democrat conferences, my first visit to a 5 day autumn conference in Brighton '03 opened the doors up to my future as Chris Lines sought my views on standing to be a new Constituency Organiser for the Ceredigion Liberal Democrats. The following spring, it came to pass and from there I decided to stand for local government and was elected at the same time (a 'veritable double-whammy' as Charles Kennedy called it in a hand-written letter he sent to me after the event) to both Aberystwyth Town Council and Ceredigion County Council as a Cardigan County Councillor, in June '04. Working on the wonderful 2005 election win for Mark Williams, his stupendous re-election 5 years later and my working for him and being a Councillor and also Mayor of Cardigan in my own right in between, all flowed from there.

What If?
So I really have an unbelievable debt of gratitude towards Aberystwyth University.

Indeed, I sometimes wonder what may have been had I have decided to take up one of my other UCAS options. My reserve choice was the University of Glamorgan. What would've become of me had I have gone there? Would I have become politically active locally and had the opportunity to intern in Cardiff Bay? Would my confidence levels have increased there as much as they did in Aberystwyth?

I'll never know of course. But what I do know is that where I am now and all that I have achieved during the past 10 years must be dedicated to the decision to study in Aberystwyth University in the first place.

Good Luck to the Class of 2010
So, in mulling over in this written format, what has been an incredible period in my life (and the scarcely believable fact that 10 years has flown by so quickly), there is only two more things left for me to do. To raise a glass of gratitude to my old alumni and to wish the best of luck to all those who are this very weekend, making that great jump into unchartered waters that I made myself, 10 years ago.

Thank you Aberystwyth University and good luck to the Freshers of 2010 - you made a sound choice to come to Aberystwyth. That decision changed my life around for the good and I hope it does the same to you.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Conference Blog: Day 6 (Wednesday - Goodbye)

The last day of a conference has always felt like a wake for me. After days of enjoyment in great company and contributing to the future well-being of my party, it really is a sad feeling to have to tear myself away from what I see as my extended family.

Vince Cable
The day began with the obligatory packing which automatically puts you into 'Goodbye' mode. After leaving my bags in the hotel storage, I made my way to the conference auditorium in the Echo Arena for the final time to hear Vince Cable's key note speech as Secretary of State for Business.

Vince gave a sharp, sombre but very well received oration which brought the conference to an excellent conclusion.

In fact, the conference continued until 4pm but I was to leave at lunchtime to get back home in good time. So Vince Cable's speech was my final piece of the action in Liverpool '10 and it was a good way to leave it. I then bought a few books at the Lib Dem History Group stand before a final walk around the Jury Inn conference bar to say my goodbyes. In particular, I bumped into the Chief Executive of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Martin Haymer and the Leader of Portsmouth City Council Gerald Vernon-Jackson.

Lib Dem MP Bingo
As I left, I noticed two more MPs who had avaded me throughout the week. This brought my 'Lib Dem MP Bingo' final tally to what I think is a very respectable 46 out of 57. For the record, the 11 MPs I did not see during the conference week were Stephen Williams, Don Foster, David Laws, Gordon Birtwistle, David Ward, Charles Kennedy, John Thurso, Robin Smith, Mike Hancock, Mike Crockart and Adrian Sanders. Of these, I know that Don Foster was there - indeed he was to give a speech to conference after I left. Charles Kennedy had also been spotted at conference early on. Gordon Birtwistle, David Ward and Mike Crockart were probably there but as new MPs, I don't know what they look like! I'm pretty sure I saw John Thurso but if it was him then he's shaven off his moustache which threw me. The only MPs which I gather definitely did not make conference this year were Stephen Williams, Mike Hanock and David Laws.

But the moral of the story is? To do it again next year! It's nothing other than an interesting side-line during the course of the week!

Goodbye to an excellent conference
So we set off at 1.30pm and so, sadly, came to an end what I would say is one of the best conference I've been too. It was bigger, more professional and of course attracted more attention from the outside world. Being in Government suddenly made it a totally different beast and we'll be getting used to it over the next few years. It was all very accessible and the weather even improved as the week went on.

As for Liverpool - I was greatly impressed (I should be, it's run by a Lib Dem council!). The problem with conference is that there's so much to do, you're always in that bubble for the duration of the gathering. As a result I didn't have time to get around to see Liverpool properly. But I'd be keen to go back and spend some days there to see it all properly. I'm sure that I speak for many who were this week who would be very happy if conference were to go back to Liverpool in the future.

But what makes the conference most of all for me and what therefore by definition makes it so difficult to leave, is the bumping into old and making new friends there. The next conference is a weekend affair in Sheffield in March before the autumn gathering this time next year in Birmingham. It's very likely that I won't see many of the faces that I saw during these past 6 days for 12 months. It's a sad thought but then, in a way, it's what makes conference such an enjoyable experience.

If we had it every month it would lose its charm and would destory the bank balance so it's probably right that we hold them as regularly as we do...probably!

The 2010 Liverpool Liberal Democrat Conference has come and gone and will now form a part of my memory bank of happy recollections of conferences past.

Now it's time to sleep.

Conference Blog: Day 5 (Tuesday)

It's usual for the conference to end with the leaders speech but because Nick Clegg had to fly to the UN to represent Britain, we had that conference highlight 2 days earlier than normal. So yesterday had a slightly odd feeling to it as the conference continued towards a different to normal conclusion.

I had planned to attend the Equal Marriage debate and listen to Simon Hughes' speech. Unfortunately I missed them but I gather the debate went through successfully to give the Liberal Democrats yet another distinctive policy position from that of our coalition colleagues.

I've barely had time to walk around the exhibition hall and look in at the myriad of stalls that are present. I put this right yesterday by spending my afternoon in the conference centre. I renewed by lapsed membershup of the Liberal Democrat History Group and had a chat with the Parliamentary Candidates Association stall. Lib Dem Image is always an useful stall to look around and this time was selling a handful of books. Usually there's an entire stall dedicated to political books but to to my disappointment, not this year. Mind you, that's probably a good thing for my bank balance!

There's a much greater array of external stalls this year with charities and organisations wanting to sell their wares to us members. In all, its been a diverse and interesting exhibition this year.

Secretary of State Chris Huhne MP
In between my stall hopping, I went into the auditorium to listen to Chris Huhne give his speach. He gave a forthright, no-nonsense statement on what he plans to do as a Cabinet Member for Climate Change. There was a good crowd there to listen to him and he was well received.

Paddy Ashdown Observor Interview
At 6pm, I got into the large queue for the Andrew Rawnsley interview with former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown.

It was an excellent hour+ in the company of a well loved, charismatic, fascinating individual. He's led a remarkable life from his time at MI6 to leading the newly merged Liberal Democrat party for 11 years to being High Commissioner in Bosnia. He backs the coalition entirely and had some terse exchanges with Rawnsley about the current political situation near the end of the interview.

A Final Supper
A good contingent of Ceredigion members (and friends!) then had an Italian as a final night meal in the Albert Docks. It was nice to get a good group of us together for the final evening of what has been an excellent conference.

Glee Club!
But no final evening conference is complete without the traditional end of week Glee Club.

Now, Glee Club is like Marmite. You love it or you hate it. When I first attended an autumn conference in 2003 I was told by the Liberal Youthers to avoid Gee Club, so I did. A year later in Bournemouth, I did go and I've never looked back.

Glee Club for me is the vocal equivalent of 'Have I Got New For You'. It's satire set to music where we mix traditional songs with comic compositions that laugh out loud at ourselves as Liberals but also at others.

I spent much of it this time round in the excellent company of Laura Gilmore and with another 500 or so friends. The majority there were lapping up such iconic Glee Club hits such as 'The Land','Letterboxes' and 'Losing Deposits'. There were some looking on in contrast in a mixture of incredulity and bemusement. Good friend of mine from Birmingham Mike Dixon was one of them as he told me beforehand that even after many years as a member of the party, he still doesn't 'get' Glee Club! You really do hate it or love it.

Paddy Ashdown made his annual visit with his 20 odd year old 'Two Tribes' joke which everyone lapped up and Tim Farron made a second fantastic rendition of his own take of the Ting Ting's 'That's Not My Name'. Simon Hughes led his London gang and friends in renditions of 'Bermondsey' and 'Simon Hughes' (to the tune of Postman Pat!), We also had 'turns' from new MPs such as Tessa Munt and Julian Huppert and also an amusing (if not quite in tune) rendition of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' by Liberal Youth - quite apt as we are in Liverpool!

I got involved in the action on stage too as is my usual wont. The English always sing 'Jerusalem', the Scots (led by Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael) Flower of Scotland and likewise the Cornish and Yorkshiremen also sing their own local traitional songs. The Welsh contingent led Glee Club in 'Cwm Rhondda' (Bread of Heaven) in tribute to Richard Livsey and later on, I took the microphone to lead in 'Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau' (all 3 verses!).

It was great to see good friends Paul Pettinger and Naomi Smith sitting there whilst I was leading in our anthem and I caught up with them afterwards having not had time to talk to them throughout conference to date.

Having began at about 10.15pm, amidst a large ensemble, Glee Club came to an organised and apt end at 1.45am. We finished with 'Auld Land Syne' but in typical Glee Club fashion, we demanded more. Those of us left invaded the stage for an impromptu 3rd and final rendition of 'The Land' - certainly the right way to bring Glee Club to an end!

Apart from the heat (it was baking in there all evening), I'd almost go so far to say that this was one of the best Glee Club's I've been too, to date. It was a packed Glee Club throughout and there was a real positive atmosphere where the Glee Clubbers were more than enthusiastic in leading the evening on stage instead of just leaving it to the compares to do so. We had an excellent mix of songs and satire with all of my personal favourites having been sang (including my favourite 'Shirl in the World') and we didn't have an over-reliance on any one in particular. For example, a few years back, we had what I felt was a poor Glee Club (Brighton '06 I think it was) because it was poorly managed and ended up having far too many drunken renditions of Jerusalem - thank you but two is more than enough!

A Final Conference Bar Goodbye
The night came to an end with a final drink to say goodbye to friends old and new at the conference bar in case we don't see each other in the morning.

Glee Club night is always an odd one. It's a great evening but its very being means that it's almost time to go home. The end is in sight on what has been another excellent, Liberal Democrat conference.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Conference Blog: Day 4 (Monday)

We've been in government now for just over 4 months. In a way, we've got used to this very quickly. As a party and as members we've had to get ourselves into this new mindset and we have done so. So much so in fact, that, and particularly to newer members who know little else, we almost take the fact that we're in this position with a pinch of salt and just get on with it. But, taking a step back, yesterday was actually an incredibly historic day for our party. Monday 21st September 2010 was the day that Nick Clegg MP, Liberal Democrat leader, first addressed his conference as the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdon of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Really? After all these years of opposition, of mergers, of false dawns and dashed hopes, we're actually there. In goverment. In control. It really is an amazing thing.

Morning Media Mayhem!
I got up early at 6.40am to get to the media centre in the Echo Arena to hive a few interviews on Welsh Radio. On arriving I realised that I'd left my security badge back in the hotel room but thought that they'd probably be relaxed enough about it and just let me in. Not now that we're in government! All change! I had to dash back to the hotel, then dash back knowing full well that I may now miss the live slot. As it happens, when I came dashing into the media centre, Oliver Hides the Radio Wales presenter was introducing the package on the Lib Dem conference and Jenny Randerson AM who was being interviewd with me, frantically pointed in my direction behing Oliver's back to let him know that I was in the building! He was barely 30 odd seconds away from introudcing us when I took my seat! Never a dull moment! The interview went well and at 7.45am I repeated it with another in Welsh for Radio Cymru alongside Myrddin Edwards.

Academies Bill & the West Lothian Question
After a break back in the hotel, I made my way back to the conference centre and sat in on an excellent debate in the main hall about the Academies Bill. The party are against the policy and there's much discontent that the coalition have moved ahead on this issue even though it wasn't in the coalition agreement. So it was an unsurprisingly lively affair and I was rather pleased that the 'rebels' won and voted down what was seen by many as a 'wrecking amendment' put forward by the leadership. The motion was passed comfortably to the approval of many there. It certainly proves that conference can be as awkward as ever!
I actually decided not to use my vote at the end of the debate as the Academies Bill is only applicable to England and not Wales due to devolution. So, in the light of the 'West Lothian Question', I felt it right that I don't interfere as a Welsh member in a matter that only involves England. After all, I wouldn't want the English telling me what to do!

Kirsty Williams

We then had a barnstorming speech from Welsh Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams and we were all there as 'Welshies' to support her. It was very well received by conference and afterwards I was told by our media man Richard Thomas that her reference to Richard Livsey in her speech as a 'gently giant' came directly from my blog post that gave him that name. I was pleasantly surprised and pleased to have played a small part then, in what was an excellent performance by our Kirsty.

Lib Dem MP Bingo!

A gang of us decided on lunch at the Albert Docks and whilst we waited for our food, we decided to test oursevles on how many of the 57 Lib Dem MPs we could name without the aid of google or wikipedia. We actually did very well and named about 52/53 of them. I then decided to use this information and play 'Lib Dem MP Bingo' to see how many of thoe 57 I could spot in conference! I've spotted a good few of them in previous days of course but for the remainder of conference, I'm making a particular effort of keeping an eye out for those I have yet to see. I suddenly took great delight during the afternoon when I spotted such MPs as David Heath, Malcolm Bruce, Mark Hunter and John Leetch simply because it meant I could cross them off my list! I'm currently on 35 and would hope to extend that into the 40's before the end of play on Wednesday!

The Main Event - Nick Clegg's Speech
I've been to plenty of conferences in the past to know that you need to get your seat in early for the leaders speech.We arrived in good time yesterday but already the auditorium was filling up. It wasn't long, when, to my amazement, the whole room was full. In 15 UK-wide conferences, I have never seen delegates being turned away from the auditorium because there's no room left! Instead, they used an 'over-flow' room with a live link for other delegates to watch Nick's speech. I gather that even that was over half full!

So, indeed, here we were listening to the Deputy Prime Minister address us as our leader. We really have come a long way as liberals over the years.
His speech was surprisingly short at a little over 35 minutes (Charles Kennedy's speeches used to last for 50 minutes to an hour). But I thought it was a very well crafted affair and went down well with delegates in the hall. One of the biggest rounds of applause came when he reminded conference that the new coaltion goverment is scrapping ID cards - damned right! He also got a good yelp of approval when he maintained that the Iraq war was illegal. So it was a good speech and there's no doubt in my mind at least that it was well received by the members.

After changing into my evening attire back in the hotel, the rest of the day went by in a relaxed manner with the only desire being one of catching up with old friends around the conference bar (and tracking more faces to cross off on my Lib Dem MP Bingo of course!). After a very nice reception given by Park Printers, we went to the annual official Welsh Lib Dem Night at the Cornmarket in the city centre where I gave another clip (but this time pre-recorded) for Radio Cymru. I bumped into one of our Ceredigion supporters Kathy Bracy who was with friends in the city for a PCS Union gathering. It was good to catch up with them during the evening.

The Randomness of Lib Dem Conferences (No.1)
I do enjoy the quirky occurrences that often happen in Lib Dem conferences and the people you meet who have random associations with others! Well, back at the conference bar in the Jury Inn last night was no exception. I found myself talking for some time to a pleasant enough chap from Portsmouth. It turns out that his uncle was Ray Crawford who was a member of the Ipswich team that won the league title under Alf Ramsey in 1962, won 2 English Caps and scored 2 of the goals in the giant-killing FA Cup shock of 1971, when, now playing for Colchester, they beat Don Revie's Leeds United 3-2! I must admit, it tickled me!

I also had a real in depth conversation with a really nice guy about faith and human motivation. He's a Hindu and he had what I thought was an excellent outlook on life, despite having had some tough life experiences to deal with including losing his mother when he was just 18.

It was also great to catch up with Rhiannon Wadeson again in the conference bar and to remind ourselves of our fantastic birthday trip in Latvia back in 2008!

It's the mixture of the surreal and the profound which we find at conference like this that just makes it so unmissable!

The Randomness of Lib Dem Conferences (No.2)
I had the interesting experience also, after the Nick Clegg speech, of bumping into the Times journalists Daniel Finkelstein and Matthew Parris in the hotel lift and then at the conference bar in the evening, I bumped into Tory MP Nigel Evans in the toilets. These really are bizzare times in which we live!

Revenge on McDonalds
The bar finished relatively early I felt and before we knew it we were the last there (quite a fete in itself!). So an eclectic group of 5 of us decided to walk down to the nearby McDonalds for a 'drive-thru' early breakfast. With it being just a few hundred yards away for where I'm staying, this seemed ideal. So we walked into the drive-thru to make our order. There we were confronted by a rather embarassed young man who told us that he couldn't serve us. The reason? We weren't in a motorised vehicle! Apparently, on health and safety ground he couldn't serve us as the drive-thru was for those in 4 wheels only and not on two feet! We tried to make him realise that at 5.30am, there was no real danger of us being run over by an errant car whilst being served by him - but he stood his ground! He did seem pretty embarassed at the fact that he wasn't able to take our money for an order because of this technicality but not to worry, we had a cunning plan!

Nick Love decided to go to the main road and hail down a taxi. On doing so, we all went around the corner from the drive-thru jumped into the aforementioned taxi, drove back through the drive-thru, and ordered our meals from a dumbfounded young man! For the sake of paying the taxi driver the cost of driving through the drive-thru, it was worth it for the 5 of us just to get the reaction from the McDonalds staff!

Suffice to say the actual food itself was pretty hopeless, so with our hotel breakfast bar nearly open, Nick and I decided to wait until 6am to get a proper breakfast, before going to bed!

A historic day came to an end then with a characteristic liberal rebellion against authority!

Monday, 20 September 2010

Conference Blog: Day 3 (Sunday)

Never before in a Liberal Democrat conference have I ever felt let down by former F1 World Champion Damon Hill - until today!

The enjoyment levels of the night before at conference can usually be tested by whether I've been able to make breakfast the following morning. Well, yesterday morning I failed and the same can be said for my room mate Ali Goldsworthy. So we both put up a forceful show of unity in having a much needed lie-in!

Damon Hill Let Me Down!
I decided that my first main event of the day would be one that I've been looking forward too ever since the conference directory landed on my doorstep a few weeks ago - the Motor Sports Association fringe! It was in the Hilton Hotel so, along with Nick Love from York Central Lib Dems, we made our way through blustery rain and past the uninspiring group of demonstrating Union activists towards an event that was advertised as having both Damon Hill and Tony Jardine present. As a big F1 fan, this was exciting stuff! So imagine my disappointment, when, having arrived early to beat the expected masses, we found that neither were present! Admittedly we had the very fine replacement of 2 time Le Mans 24 hour winner Allan McNish to listen too but no mention at all of the fact that two of those who were in the original line-up weren't there - no apology or anything whatsoever! Perhaps in an odd way it was a good thing. As it turned out, only about 25-30 of us were there in total. Had we known that those originally promoted as being there wouldn't turn up, the figures could've been even worse!

Nick Clegg Q&A
It was a quick dash over to the Echo Arena for the first time in the day at 2.30pm for the afternoon session of conference and the Welsh Liberal Democrat presentation. There were a few technical glitches but what stood out for me was the excellent performance made by our Welsh Assembly candidate for Montgomeryshire Wyn Williams. It was the first time I've heard him speak at a conference and in front of such a large crowd, I thought he did a smashing job.

We then had the informal but popular, Nick Clegg Q&A Session. The autitorium was full and there were some good questions asked of Nick by members (and some bad ones). Notably, there were good questions asked about pensions, Pakistan and the future direction of the party - all of which Nick answered well. He was in feisty but amusing form and was very well received by delegates. It was good to see Nick also field questions from the audience that hadn't been pre-selected by the conference committee. One of those asked off-the-cuff was by one of our Aberystwyth students Rory Roberson who got a question to Nick about FE funding. He asked the same question of Vince Cable the night before so he's had a good and productive weekend fair play!

Lunching with the English Defence League
Having not eaten all day, I decided to join the student gang who had already gone over to our adopted 'local', the Baltic Fleet for a late afternoon lunch. I'd watched a BBC4 documentary about food in the North recently and noticed that the word 'Scouse' comes from a local dish served in these here parts. It's basically a kind of meat stew/broth/cawl with red cabbage and I decided that I wanted to try some whilst I was in Liverpool. Well, here was my chance, and it must be said, it went down very nicely indeed. Less so were the group of 20-30 or so members of the Merseyside branch of the English Defence League who were eating/drinking/generally making some noise in the room next to us. The police had been tipped off and were keeping an eye on the pub as we arrived. I hope they didn't think that we were with them!

Awards from Nick Clegg
After a break back in the hotel, it was time for the annual Campaign Department's 'Oscars' awards ceremony. Every year the department gives awards out to local parties and campaign teams who have made a significant contribution during the year. Last year, I was delighted to receive an award on behalf of Ceredigion from Nick Clegg, and this year again, in front of our peers I was delighted to do so once more. Nick gave us a bottle of House of Commons champagne for having the best Poster/Stakeboard effort around the country (which I later found out at the bar annoyed our colleagues in Cornwall!). A group of around 15 of us huddled around Nick for a photo and it was great that the whole team that have made it here to conference could share in the event. It's very nice to be appreciated by your colleagues and this annual event is always a pleasant opportunity to celebrate the best practise of local parties the length and breath of the UK.

The Celtic Fringe (with Nick Clegg...again!)
Considering the fact that Nick Clegg will be going to the UN later this week and will be missing the end of conference, we really have been spolit rotten in having his company today! First there was the Q&A, then the much more intimate gathering of senior campaigners at the 'Oscars' ceremony and now, last thing at evening after a group of us 'Welshies' had had a Pizza Express evening meal, we had a joint Scotland/Wales social in the good company of the main man himself as well as Kirsty Williams AM and Tavish Scott MSP (kindly sponsored by the good people at ASDA). We've rarely had an opportunity to get together in such a way in conferences past in my memory so it was good to get the 'Celtic representatives' together in one room for an hour of bonhomie.

After an hour or so at the conference bar afterwards, I went back for an uncharacteristically early night at 1am to prepare for live radio interviews this morning. But as is ever the case, it was great to see some old and familiar faces during the evening. But there's still a few I haven't seen who I know are lurking around here somewhere so one of my mission's for these last few days will be to find them!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Conference Blog: Day 2 (Saturday)

It's been wet in Liverpool so far. In fact, I was taking to one of our students Richard Morgan-Ash last night and he said that in his recollections, he can't remember a wet autumn conference. Come to think of it, in the 7 odd years I've been conferencing, neither can I. Hopefully the weather will improve.

Yesterday was a good day though. A slow morning got going as we checked into conference and found our barings around the massive Echo Arena.

As we'd been warned, security here is much more intrusive than normal but we've just got to make do with it. The knack is to plan ahead and make sure you're in the arena comfortably before the debate you want to see starts - easier said than done! During one of my forays through security yesterday, I happened to find myself behind former Richmond Park MP and Lib Dem Presidential candidate Susan Kramer. On being frisked by the staff, Susan swept up her arms and gave me a good whack in the face! Possibly my come-uppance for backing Tim Farron MP in the contest!

Conference Launch
After a decent (but not hugely spectacular) lunch in the (absolutely spectacular) Albert Docks, I made my way over to the conference hall for the official opening of conference at 2.30pm. Baroness Walmsley made the opening and we then had some rather dry but neccesary reports to conference by the conference and policy committees. There was a decent number in the hall at that time although I had expected more for the opening even if it is merely a ceremonial affair.

Tim Farron 4 President!
An excellent piece of planning for this conference is that the conference hotel, the Jury Inn, is literally about 200 yards from the entrance to the Echo Arena. So there's much to-ing and fro-ing between the two as delegates go back and forth to training events or fringe meetings.

I went in mid-way through to Tim Farron's 'Westmorland & Lonsdale' training event which was well attended. From behind me I heard a question being asked by a recognisable voice. I turned round and there was the face of a very kind gentleman who has helped us out in Ceredigion on a few occasions 5 or so years ago. I caught up with him afterwards to say hello but I'm damned if I can remember his name!

We then had a gathering of Tim Farron supporters in a quiet nook of the conference bar for a pep-talk by the man himself on the launch of his Presidential bid. Tim really is an excellent and inspiring speaker and the 25-30 of us there were well psyched for the nominations signing and sticker stickings over the days ahead.

Indeed, just like with Ros Scott's successful campaign 2 years ago when conference was plastered in delegates wearing her campaign sticker ('I'm 4 Ros' I think it was), this conference has already taken on a distinctly 'Tim to Win' feel.

The rally which was being led by the Electoral Reform Society was packed out and inspired us all to go out and campaign for a positive 'YES' vote in next year's AV Referendum. Art Malik was excellent and highly amusing as compare and we had some excellent speeches. Notably for me, it was good to see former MP Martin Bell there weighing in with his support. I bought his autobiography 'An Accidental MP' many years ago and have always been a fan. Jo Swinson was unsurprisingly excellent and very infectious with her enthusiasm and then, Tim Farron appeared once more as a (very very very) last minute replacement for Charles Kennedy. As ever, he almost stole the show (but then maybe I'm being biased here!).

Finally, Nick Clegg spoke very well in that laid back, relaxed conference style of his and brought the rally to a close. The fireworks that marked the end of the rally was quite surreal - we're clearly now a party of government!

Fringe Troughing
Once a student, always a student as they say. So when we were given the nod by Cardiff's Rachael Hitchinson that Liberal Youth had a fringe event with free food and wine, we made a quick dash back to the Jury Inn to get in there quick. We were successful and indeed listened to an excellent fringe about HE Funding with Vince Cable, the main man on the panel. It finished with Q&As and an excellent question by a 14 year old school pupil - I'd never have had the guts to ask a Secretary of State a question in front of over 50 people when I was that age!

Lib Dem BOTY Awards
I've made a concerted attempt over recent weeks to get my blog 'up-and-active' and as a result, was keen to go, for the first time, to the Lib Dem 'Blog of the Year' Awards ceremony. I was interested to see the faces behind many of the names in the Lib Dem blogosphere and it was great to see such a diverse and eclectic bunch! It certainly made me feel as if 'I'm not alone' out here, blogging away! Congratulations to the winners of the 2010 BOTYs and particularly to Millennium Elephant for winning blog of the year! Hopefully the curse won't strike again and they'll all continue blogging into 2011!

Conference Bar
If Friday night was a calm, quiet affair, last night was anything but! As expected, most conference delegates arrived during the day and their presence was felt in an over-flowing conference bar. It was great to bump into a number of faces from around the country I was hoping to see. The York contingent were out in force with Nick Love, Billi Williams and the English Mark Cole (aka Tom Holvey) and it was good to see the likes of Sam Potts, Marie Jenkins, Mike and Veronica German, Amy Kitcher, Kev O'Connor and Bob Griffin there too.

An absolutely incredible development transpired during the late evening at the bar. As an over-flow mechanism, there's a smaller additional bar and they serve what I can only presume is a local beer called 'Cains'. Unbelievably, you can get a pint of it for just £2.45. That's 2 pints for a £5! It's unheard of generally nowadays but in a conference bar?! It's even nice to drink! Incredible!

I left the bar around 2.30am and there were still plenty there in my wake, soaking up the pretty unique atmosphere that is a Liberal Democrats conference bar in the early hours!

Conference has very much, 'come alive' now and it should be an excellent next few days ahead.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Conference Blog: Day 1 (Arrival)

We're in Liverpool for the Liberal Democrat conference and my laptop is usefully hooked up to the wi-fi here in our Hampton by Hilton Hotel which is usefully just a 5 minute walk from the conference centre.

I plan to blog where I can throughout the week to give a sample of life at a conference 'as it happens'.

I'm staying with a group of our students from Aberystwyth University at the Hampton and we all arrived yesterday mid-afternoon. After a 7 hour bus trip I was shattered and needed a break before setting off into town for the evening.

We happen to be next door to a well known Liverpool pub famed for its real ales called the 'Baltic Fleet' so we all happily went there for a few drinks at 6pm. Mike Dixon from Birmigham also called in for a drink and a catch up - was good to see him. Good also to see Emma Hall from ALDC again. Then, a catch up with the Cardiff Lib Dem contingent over an Italian at 'Ask!' in the city centre. A few drinks before a few of us, tired from a day of travelling, set back early for our hotel.

Having said that, I couldn't resist calling into the Conference Bar in the Jury Inn to see who was about.

Most delegates will be arriving today so it was rather calm last night at the conference bar. Still, it was good to catch up briefly with old friends such as Anders Hanson, Simon Wilson and Gerald Vernon-Jackson whilst there. For what felt like an 'early night' at a conference, 2am wasn't really that early!

I've woken and fought my way through the crowds to get myself a 'self-service' breakfas here in the hotel. I personally can't stand them. I can see the advantage as it means you can pretty much within reason, eat as much as you like. But it's far too unorganised and chaotic and far too commcercial in its ways. Give me a good old-fashioned B&B style breakfast ordered and brought to my table any day.

Conference officially opens today at 2.30pm and I'm looking forward to some fringes and training during the course of the afternoon and evening.

Mostly, I'm looking forward to seeing an influx of friends arriving today and look forward to catching up with them later this evening.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Tim Farron MP for Lib Dem President

I've read yesterday that Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland & Lonsdale is to stand for the Presidency of the Liberal Democrats.

This follows the announcement by current President Ros Scott that she intends to stand down at the end of her 2 year term. This came as a great surprise as Ros has been a particularly popular President and as she would probably have been re-elected unopposed had she have stood. She'll be a particularly tough act to follow.

The choice of Ros' successor couldn't be more important. At a time when the party is being tested from all sides about being in government, as Ros herself put it, we need "a strong media performer and tough campaigner".

The Candidates?
I gather that former MP Susan Kramer is putting her name forward. There's also talk and much support for former MP Evan Harris. Both would make excellent Presidents but I believe Tim Farron is our best bet.

I don't subscribe to this argument that the new President must come from the rank-and-file membership. Firstly and above all, we need a passionate, articulate President who can positively lead the party against the attacks that will be thrown at us by the media.

We need a competent media operator and campaigner who can enthuse our troops and take the message out around the party and beyond.

President Tim Farron
Tim is our man. He's been an activist within the party and the original Liberal Party since his teens and is a liberal to the core. He's also more than adept at handling the media and I feel that this is an absolute prerequisite for any candidate for the post at this time.

He's also very popular - and rightly too. Not only has he increased his majority in a constituency that had been Tory Blue for 99 years from 200+ to 12,000+ (even managing to out-gun ourselves in Ceredigion!) but he's actually, just a bloody nice guy.

He's not of the 'Westminster Bubble'. He's very much his own man and I can tell you now, a week before the event, that he will be wearing his Blackburn Rovers top in the bar on the final night of conference in the run-up to Glee Club because it's what he does!

The best man to replace the fantastic Baroness Scott of Needham Market as our Party President, is undoubtedly, Tim Farron.

I won't be backward in coming forward this weekend in Liverpool in telling those who ask me who I'll be backing.

I'm backing Tim!

The Annual Liberal Democrat Family Reunion - Hello Conference!

I love Liberal Democrat conferences. There, I've said it.

Non-political friends of mine don't get it. Surely, what coluld be more tedious than watching people talk at a podium in detail about constitutional ammendments?! They couldn't be further from the truth!

It's now 9am on Friday morning and I'm all ready for a long road trip by bus to Liverpool and the autumn 5 day federal conference. I'll be travelling by bus from Cardigan to Aberystwyth, then to Dolgellau, then to Wrexham, then to Chester and then, finally, to Liverpool.

It's going to be a long day of travelling but it'll be worth it.

I've been going to Liberal Democrat conference now since I was 19 years old when I went to the 2002 spring conference in Manchester. But the autumn conference is a different kettle of fish entirely. The spring conference is a weekend affair and whilst I've been to many of them since 2002, I have missed the odd one along the way. The autumn conference though, very much a part of the 'political conference season', is a 5 day event and therefore a much bigger beast than it's younger spring brother. My first autumn conference was in Brighton in 2003 and I've never missed one since.

I can't remember looking forward to a conference as much as this one. There's many reasons for that...

Firstly, there's the location. I've only made a fleeting day-trip visit to Liverpool back in 2005 so this is a city that I want to explore! I want to go to 'The Cavern' and eat some 'scouse'! The party held a spring conference in Liverpool back in 2008 (I think) but it was one of those that I missed so I'm looking forward to seeing the new BT Echo Arena on the Albert Docks which is acting as the concference venue, in all of its newly finished glory.

It's going to need to be ready for us because, I gather, there will be 8000 delegates descending on conference this year. This is an unheard of number in the time that I've been an active member of the party. Around 7,000 of these are paid up members and there'll be a further 1,000 members of the media. Long gone are the days when 'The Sun' deliberately ignored our conference so to not give us the oxygen of publicity and credibility!!

I've also got the bonus of having booked my accommodation directly opposite from the conference centre and conference hotel (Jury Inn) at the Hampton by Hilton. One of the usual annoyances of conference is having to walk back and forward between hotel and conference venue - but not this year!

I'm also looking forward to travelling on the 'Ferry 'cross the Mersey' because I'm sentimental like that!

Meeting Old Friends and Making New Ones

I think this will be my 14th UK-wide Federal Liberal Democrat conference. Over the years, having worked for the party as the Constituency Organiser for Ceredigion and having attended training events and by-elections and of course these conferences, I've made many good friends in the party. For every additional conference I attend, there's more 'old faces' for me to greet and new opportunities for me to meet new ones. It's like a big, happy family reunion and I love it.

In most cases, like those distant living relatives who you only see at family weddings or funerals, these will be friends who I only meet at conference time. This means I may only see them once or twice a year depending on if they and I go to one or both of the yearly conferences. But with the particular advent of Facebook, communications between us all are much more regular so when we do finally meet again at conference time, we usually have a good idea of what each other has been up too over the preceding 6-12 months.

Policy Debates
As a party, the Liberal Democrats pride ourselves on being a democratic party. On a 'one member, one vote' basis, we debate party policy on the floor of conference and decide what our policies will be. This year is going to be particularly interesting as we are now, for the first time in 65 years at a national level, in Government. There's going to be some friction this year I'm sure but I'm looking forward to seeing more of this discussion, debating and disagreement than normal. There are some excellent policy debates this year and I'm ready to use my voting card!

Training & Fringes
For most of my time as a conference go-er, I've spent hours of my time in training events. This year however, now that I'm not working directly for the party, I'm looking forward to taking in more of the policy debates above and allow the younger members to get the teeth into the excellent training that is avbailable. Having said that, I have circled 2 training events that I plan to attend and they should be very useful.

The fringes are always one of my highlights. Always an opportunity to listen to some good speakers (and get some free food) on a topic of particular interest. I always attend the Liberal Democrat History Fringe meetings and pick others depending on the topic in question. I must admit this year to looking forward to going to the 'Motor Sports Association' Fringe. Yes, I'm a fan, but it's the draw of having former Formula 1 World Champion Damon Hill there which has won me over specifically!

Proper Planning Prevents P*** Poor Perfomance!
Planning ahead for the week is always a good plan. This time I really have excelled myself. I've actually gone through the Agenda and Directory and pencilled in a whole week's worth of activities 2 weeks in advance! So I'm feeling particularly prepared - for once!

A Sad Start
But I leave for Liverpool with a great sense of sadness after the news last night that Richard Livsey has passed away.

But we must carry on and continue the good work that Richard dedicated his life too - serving our communities. We'll do that by being good liberals and for the next 5 days we'll have the great comfort of being able to be in each other's company.

Richard Livsey, 'You'll Never Walk Alone'.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

RIP Richard Livsey - A liberal giant

I'm feeling pretty low this evening.

It has just been announced by the BBC that Lord Richard Livsey of Talgarth has passed away peacefully, aged 75.

Its come as a complete shock. Only 2 months ago I was having a drink with Richard, his successor as MP for Brecon & Radnor, Roger Williams and Mark Williams on the Terrace of the House of Commons with my mother on our visit to London to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party. Richard was on such great form and as ever, just great company.

A Liberal Giant
A true champion of rural Wales, Richard was an MP between 1985 after his famous by-election win and 1992 and again from 1997-2001 when he retired and went to the Lords. He was Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats on 2 occasions during this period and in 1997 he was at the forefront of the campaign for a 'Yes' vote in the referendum for an Assembly for Wales.

A Real Gentleman
But what I will always remember of Richard, as I became an active member of the Welsh party just after he retired from the Commons, was of a lovely gentleman who was liked by everyone who knew him. His popularity spread across party political lines because he was a genuine human being.

You could not, not like Richard Livsey. He was very simply, a gentle giant and a 'good' person.

A Liberal Loss
It so happens that Richard has left us on the eve of our Federal Conference in Liverpool. I was looking forward to going and seeing him again and  though I will indeed enjoy the week, it won't be the same. I knew Richard reasonably well as he was a good friend to us in Ceredigion, but certainly not as well as many of my older colleagues. I'm going to miss him - those who knew him better are really going to feel his loss. Conference will be that bit sadder without him.

We've lost one of the good guys today.

RIP Richard Livsey

The Pope and Me

I'm watching the Pope give mass in Glasgow. I must admit, it's quite a moving experience.

Now, on blogs and on twitter, on Facebook and on the news, all we have had heard in recent days is the coming of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK. It is after all, only the second visit to the UK of a Holy See since the Reformation in the 16th century following Pope John Paul II's visit in the year of my birth, 1982.

Much of the chatter has been negative. The cost to the taxpayer, the media faux pax's of his entourage and of course, the moralistic stand that he himself takes on behalf of his global family on some very controversial issues.

My Faith
I'm not a Catholic. I never will be. But I respect those who wish to be. Indeed, my sister and also one of my sisters-in-law's family are Catholics. Indeed, a nephew and niece of mine have been Christened in that faith. As a liberal, I'm happy for them to make their decision and to allow them to follow that chosen path.

I went to a Baptist Sunday School and was given my Bible on leaving at the age of 15. I have not yet been Baptised whereas some of my elder brother have been. I may well decide to go through the ritual of Baptism in the future - I may not. That decision is for the future and one I will keep my mind open too.

Above everything, I have always looked to keep an open mind on the issue of faith and to respect the views of others - even when I don't agree with those views. I believe that if everyone respected the right of others to hold their own views, it would be to the benefit of us all.

We should respect those who are in Glasgow right now. We should also respect those of other Christian faiths and also those of other faiths. As I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, we need to respect those of faiths that may appear different from the traditional ones of our own.

We must also repsect those who have no faith.

I keep my faith to myself. I don't believe that I should burden others with my beliefs and I don't believe that others should push their beliefs onto others either.

It's about respect, understanding and tolerance of one another and our views and beliefs.

Pope Benedict XVI
I therefore object to what his Holiness said this morning in Edinburgh when he compared atheists with the Nazis when he spoke of 'atheist extremism'.

I'm sorry, but I can not agree with him. Freedom to worship? Absolutely. But freedom to not worship? Absolutely again. There are plenty of people of faith down the ages who have done evil things. Likewise there have been plenty of people down the ages of no faith who have done good things.

I also can not agree with the Catholic stance against contraception and against the LGBT community.

For these reasons and others, I could never join with some of my kin in taking up this creed. It's not for me. But I will respect those who decide differently to myself.

Who Should Pay?
Should we be paying £12m of tax-payers money to help pay for this trip? Those who vitriolically oppose the choice of those who wish to preach the Catholic faith to do so, are screaming no. Those who do practise and follow the words of the Holy See, will say yes and point to the fact that he is in fact, like Elizabeth II both the Head of State and Head of their respective Churches.

I take a rather more practical view. I have no problem with the Pope coming to the UK. Indeed, it is a moving sight here right now to watch thousands in his company. For these who follow his words, he is central to their world. Who am I to say to them that he shouldn't be here? This is a free country with freedom to worship. But maybe, in the middle of a great economic downturn and in a time of great uncertainty for our nation, it may have been wiser for the Vatican to have paid that extra amount themselves on top of the remaining cost which they are paying anyway.

At a time when the Vatican have struggled with badly misfiring public relations gaffes, but particularly, have been under great scrutiny with the child abuse scandal, maybe here was an opportunity for them to win over sceptical public opinion in the UK by offering to pay for the entirety of the cost of the visit.

Let Me Live
Above all though, let's just live with each other and accept that we shall all be different. Let's make our views clear when we disagree and do our best, through the force of our arguement, to change views and opinions. But when the day draws to a close, whether those views have been changed through argument or not, let's remember that we all decide how we live our lives and should be allowed to do so.

Good luck to his Holiness. I hope he sees the light of the errors of his ways. But in the meantime, good luck to those who wish to celebrate their faith with him over the coming days.

The Ultimate Nightmare - Clothes Shopping

Alyson took me shopping the other day in Carmarthen.

Now, I don't mind shopping if it involves books or DVDs. But this wasn't any old shopping trip - this was clothes shopping.

Just the thought of it sends shivers down my spine. I know it's a stereotypical male response, but I really can't think of anything more excruciating.

Personally, I'm relaxed with what I wear. During the past 12 months in particular, I've been glued to my suit, shirt and tie -as Mayor, it goes with the territory. But then I'm a farmers boy and I rather like relaxing and 'dressing down' and given the opportunity, I will. Tracksuit bottoms, trainers and a hoodie? Yep, I'm happy with that!

I must admit and anyone who knows me will testify, I do rather like wearing one of my rather eclectic range of loose-fitting tops that I've bought on my travels. I admit, it really isn't a 'cool' look but then I'm not hurting anyone so what's the problem?!

Well, in fairness, Alyson thinks that I can look smarter and she's right - so off to Carmarthen we went!

Trendy Mr Cole circa 2003
Now, I've been here before and in my final year in University, one of my Lib Dem student friends Ruth Martin decided that I needed to be 'taken shopping'. So, to my total horrow I found myself being taken around 'trendy' shops in Aberystwyth. I spent a hell of a lot in Burtons that day I recall but actually, it was all good stuff and the clothes that I now owned were much better than what had gone before.

Trendy Mr Cole circa 2010?
Now I've gone full circle and with the expert eye of the lovely Alyson, I've now got a new generation of nice clothes.

Don't get me wrong, it isn't the clothes themselves that scare me - it's the process of buying them that sucks the life out of me! Fair play though, Alyson was on a mission and before I knew it we'd been in Marks & Spencer, Next, Top Man, Matalan, Peacocks and New Look. Considering the ground we covered in a relatively short space of time, it really wasn't that bad an experience.

But don't tell anyone, I'm in no hurry to go again! But, when the time will come again for another 'full on' clothes shopping experience, I'll know to take Alyson with me again. She made the whole nightmarish scenario a hell of a lot more bareable!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Coalition Delay Decision on Trident Beyond 2015?

James Lansdale has reported this evening on the BBC website and 10 o'clock news that Ministers are considering putting back the 'Main Gate' decision on renewing Trident beyond the current date of 2014.

Reports are that Ministers are considering delaying the decision to beyond 2015 - when the next general election will be held.

A replacement for Trident could cost £20bn and delaying the decision could save billions in the short-term at a time when the Coalition Government are considering how they're going to fill the £155bn financial void that Labour bequeathed the nation.

There is also of course, a political dimension as well as a financial one to such a possible decision. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats disagree on the very question of renewing Trident. It was one of the issues of disagreement that was not resolved in the coalition document.

We happen to be 2 days away from the Liberal Democrat conference in Liverpool where will there no doubt, be a number of murmerings against Government policy. Suddenly, there may be some political room for manouevere between the two parties if the decision is put back for the next government to take.

Members such as myself who do not agree with renewing Trident, will go to Liverpool with the hope that these rumours are well founded.

Who'd want to be a politician?

It's been a rather challenging day. The kind of day which make me wonder 'why do I bother?'

I expect that everyone involved in public service has such days and I'm no different. Having been an elected Councillor for 6 years since I was elected in 2004 at the age of 21, I've dealt with many kinds of situations, people, problems. It's what we're here to do - to represent our residents to the best of our ability.

Politicians generally get a pretty bad press and when confronted with the expenses scandal of last year, it certainly doesn't help. As with any profession, there will be some whose motivation must be questioned - but that doesn't mean that everyone should be tarred with the same brush of course.

In 6 years as a County Councillor, I have never claimed one penny in expenses. I've never felt the need to and I'm paid more than reasonably for the great privelege of being a Councillor so why claim more tax payers money?

We have to make tough decisions sometimes and as a member of the Independent-Liberal Democrat-Labour administration on Ceredigion County Council, I've had to make a few myself. But I consider them all carefully and when I felt that I had to support an increase in Council Tax by 5% in 2008, I felt that I needed to show leadership in tightening my belt as others, including the vulnerable would have to as well. So I decided to freeze my basic salary for the next 4 years and to donate the rise in my allowance to local worthy Cardigan charities. This I have done.

The Motivation
The reason I stood for election was to give residents in my ward in Cardigan a choice. They voted for me and I have since done my best to represent their concerns at whichever level necessary. I was elected in 2004 with a wafer-thin majority of 18 and was re-elected in 2008 with 86% of the vote. It was very pleasing as it gave me the confidence to know that my work-rate was appreciated by those who rely on me for support and representation.

But it's not plain sailing.

The Bad Times
There are times, indeed it a regular occurrence, when I feel as if I'm banging my head against a brick wall. It may be the bureaucracy that is resistant to change and to new ideas, or an inability of colleagues to debate sensibly and respectfully and to act moderately.

It's the 'work-life' balance that often suffers. With meetings galore to attend and case work to deal with to help local residents, I often forgot that I need to look after myself as well. This is not a 9-5 job! Over the years as I've got used to this rather surreal way of life, I've become much more appreciative of having some quality 'me' time, as well as spending time with my friends and my family.

I also get frustrated at the often unecessary political bickering that goes on. I know we live in a party system and disagreement will often be the order of the day, but there are times when party politics should be of secondary importance to local concerns. We should work together more on grass-roots issues and put party political differences to one side for the greater good. But many people are so intransigent in their partisan political ways that this will never happen. It's greatly frustrating.

The Good Times
But then, whenever I have one of these 'why do I bother' days when it feels as if I'm banging my head against that brick wall, I realise why I persevere and do it.

It is the fact that people want to stop me in the street and pleasantly say hello and ask how I am and feel that I am approachable to help with their problems. It is the fact that, to quote Flecther from Porridge, it's the 'little victories' that often mean the most. Just getting a street light fixed here or getting a park bench replaced there helps the quality of life of those who worry about these day-to-day issues.

It's the fact that last night, I came straight back from a shopping trip with Alyson in Carmarthen to chair a Neighbourhood Watch meeting. It's a 'Watch' that I started up 4+ years ago in response to concerns about anti-social behaviour in the Bro Teifi part of town. I wanted to bring the community back together to look out for each other and all these years later, we still get a good turnout of 20-30 residents come along on a quarterly basis to air their concerns. The success of this particular venture can be marked by the fact that the official PACT meetings, which has been going in Cardigan for 2 years or so now and which met today, rarely have more than 10 people present (today it was only 7 members of the public including myself). So I was able to put forward as the policing priorities today the concerns that had been raised by my local Neighbourhood Watch last night. Local representation in action I'd like to think. It also made me realise that those who decided to come to the Neighbourhood Watch meeting last night but not today's PACT meeting, must feel more comfortable in the surroundings which I have fostered. That's a heart-warming thought.

It's worthwhile because I hope I've been able to show that young people can get involved in politics too. I was particularly keen during my Mayoral year to be seen across as wide a spectrum of Cardigan society as possible so I could make this point.

Love to Hate You
But then I know, and this annoys me, that there are those who will never like me or want to like me just because of what I 'am'. Yes I'm a Liberal Democrat and proud of it but I'm more than just that. I'm a young 20 something (far to close to 30 for my liking) who is trying his best to get some positive results for people in Cardigan. I'm not one for making enemies. I am very much a 'people person' so I find it hard to comprehend when some people naturally take against me not because of 'who I am' but simply, 'what I am'. Aren't we better than that? Can't we agree to disagree when we need to do so but get on with each other amicably on a day-to-day basis?

Yes, my head is in the clouds and it always will be but at least, I'd like to think, I have a good, positive, 'glass half-full' outlook on life.

So, I carry on. There is no alternative but to keep going and to continue to do my best in what I do. I can't do more than that. The positives far outweigh the negatives but there are days when those negatives seem to loom larger than normal.

I'm glad that I have so many interests outside of politics, as indeed, this blog hopefully demonstrates. It keeps me and my interest in what I do fresh as they give me a 'release' from the pressurised life of being in the public eye.

I'd like to think that I'm a pretty 'normal', 'rounded' individual. Hopefully this makes me better at doing what I do.

It certainly helps me to get through days like today.

Monday, 13 September 2010

The Love of Laughter (Part II) Eric Morecambe

I mentioned in my earlier blog post, that of all of the comedic talents that I have come across, one stands head and shoulders above the rest.

I challenge anyone to name me a naturally funnier man than Eric Morecambe. I merely have to think of him and I'm smiling.

A normal family man who could make people laugh at the drop of a hat. Not a profanity in sight. None was needed. The look of his face was enough.

I've had to dedicate a whole blog post to this, the funniest of men, as there's too much to show to mix him in with the rest who follow in his wake.

Of course, Ernie Wise was half of the act. They worked so well together. The best of double acts bar none. But it was always Eric that made me smile the most.

We begin with the wonderful 'Andre Previn' sketch. The sight of the orchestra in the background falling around laughing is a treat.

He's "Playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order"...

The 'Tom Jones' sketch is indelibly marked in my memory. Tom Jones can barely contain his amusement at Eric and Ernie clowning around beside him.

Then there's the singing and dancing. The wonderful 'There is Nothing Like a Dame' routine with famous faces from the BBC accompanying in the background demonstrated that Eric and Ernie were not just a gag act but could do much on top.

Ernie was definitely the 'straight' man and Eric the 'funny' man. Their 'Singing in the Rain' sketch showed this perfectly.

The 'Stripper' Breakfast routine is comic perfection. They really don't do anything like this anymore do they? Absolute genius.

Then there's their scenes in the flat. Everyone who was anyone wanted to be on the Morecame & Wise Show and Cliff Richard was one of them. Here they are, with Cliff, with an amusing back mention to the Tom Jones sketch that went before.

But taking it all in and going back to the beginning, the reason why I love Eric Morecambe and by definition really, Ernie Wise also, is because they were just a simple force for good.

No malice. No hatred. No anger.

Just pure joy and an ambition to make others smile. What better person in the world is there than one who wants to make others laugh and be happy?

I close with two final clips that sum Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise up. If more people in this mixed up, confused old world in which we live followed their following advice, we would surely be living in a better place.

'Positive Thinking' is what they were all about and they 'Brought us Sunshine' with their gentle but irresistable humour.

Eric and Ernie, thank you.

What do think of it so far? Rubbish...

The Love of Laughter (Part I)

I'm currently reading a biography of David Jason. He's one my my many 'heroes'. As it happens, a number of others whom I also hold in extremely high regard are or also worked in the same field as him - making people laugh.

I am quite frankly in complete and utter awe at those people who can make others laugh. I've found throughout the years that it's something that I have always attempted. I can remember playing the fool even in primary school - deliberately falling off my chair whilst making it look genuine so to get some laughs. Is it a need for attention? A desire to make people like me? Whatever it is, I can understand why those who are much more proficient at this skill than me, do what they do.

I therefore have an enduring love of those laughter men and women through the ages who just have 'funny bones'.

Wasted Laughter
I don't mean smutty, blue comedians who will say anything for a laugh. There are those such as Jim Davidson, Russell Brand, Bernard Manning, Roy 'Chubby' Brown who will make me reach for the off button. Not my cup of tea. If you've been given a gift of being able to make others laugh (and it really is a gift) then why waste it on prejudices, racial stereotypes and derogatory remarks. Aren't we better than that?

Golden Laughter
Then there's real talent. Real comedy gold. Those entertainers who will echo down the ages and who, just the mention of their name, will raise a smile. You know who I mean. The giants are those such as David Jason himself, the 'Guv'nor Ronnie Barker, Tommy Cooper, Ken Dodd, Les Dawson, Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese, Michael Crawford, Dawn French, Victoria Wood, Arthur Lowe, Peter Kay, Kenneth Williams.

Everyday Excellence
For me there's two types of comedy that wins the day. There's the everyday, observational humour and then there's the good old-fashioned comedy routine laughter acts.

For me, the best comedians for everyday humour have got to be Peter Kay and Victoria Wood. It only dawned on me recently that they're almost a comedic brother and sister. Both northerners with a wonderful ability to make funny the run-of-the-mill, mundane things that we do and have to deal with. They have everyday language but they're well intentioned with it. They also have that added magical ability of being able to mix their comedy with music.

Everyone knows Victoria Wood's famous ode to 'Barry and Freda' so here's another of her belters, 'Reincanation'.

Then there's Peter Kay. Again, he just knows where the funny bone in. In this clip he demonstrates exactly what this writer used to do at weddings as a young boy - sliding on the dancefloor on my knees! I've also been known to do the 'Walking to the dancefloor dance'! I'm seeing him live in November in Cardiff. Can't wait!

The Cream of the Crop
But for me, at the top are Ronnie Barker and David Jason. They famously worked together on 'Open all Hours' but both were comic geniuses.

Indeed, Ronnie Barker was especially so as he wrote many of the sketches for 'The Two Ronnies'.

Here's a 'Greatest Hits' from the David Jason led Only Fools & Horses followed by that famous 'Two Ronnies' 'Fork Handles' sketch.

But all of the above and everyone else stands in the shadow of one giant who outshone them all. There is one man who for me epitomises what it means 'to be funny'.

That man is Eric Morecambe. He deserves a blog post all of his own and I shall therefore give him that deserved special treatment in The Love of Laughter (Part II).