Sunday, 31 October 2010

My Qatar Airlines Seal of Approval

I've seen today on the news that this bomb from Yemen that was contained within a printer, had previously travelled on passenger planes with Qatar Airlines.

That's quite a scary thought. Clearly there's great issues of security continuing to emanate from the Middle East with terror levels being increased back here in the UK as a result.

It's also a sobering thought for me because I've flown on Qatar Airlines in the past. Back in early 2008, I had the great fortune to fly by Qatar Airlines to and from Manchester to Thailand via Doha, in Qatar.

They were very long 7 or so hour flights either side of Doha for a combined flight time of some 14 hours. Combined with the return flight, that's around 28 hours of travel that I've experienced with Qatar Airlines.

I was fortunate to have received a good deal for my return flight as I was under 26 at the time and got a discount. As it was, it was in my experience (and I've flown around a fair bit in all fairness), the best in-flight experience that I've ever encountered.

The service was excellent and the facilities really were first class. The choice of TV channels and music channels that I had on my own individual TV were wide and I had no problem at all in keeping myself occupied for the long travel to and from Thailand.

So it saddens me to hear that one of these bombs from the last week, had travelled on Qatar Airlines. But credit must go to the authorities for intercepting the package when they did.

I for one would love to travel again on Qatar Airlines. Today's honest announcement wouldn't change that. They have my seal of approval.

Has Mark Webber Blown It?

I was worried to read recently, Australian F1 legend Jack Brabham say how Mark Webber has blown his chance at winning this year's F1 World Championship.

It's not that I necessarily disagree with him. It's just that if a fellow Australian has his grave concerns about Webber's chances and is willing to express them publicly at such a critical stage in the Championship, then all can not be resting easily in the Webber camp.

Australian F1 Genius
Jack Brabham in all fairness, has quite a platform to speak from. The first antipodean World Champion, he didn't just do so once, but 3 times - in 1959, 1960 and 1966. Significantly, his final Championship win in 1966 was the first ever, and only to date, by a driver in his own car. His New Zealand team-mate Denny Hulme won the title in 1967 with Brabham winning the constructors title in both years. Brabham as a team went on to win more drivers titles in 1981 and 1983 under the control of Nelson Piquet.

So Jack knows what he's talking about and at 84, is one of the statesman of motor sport.

The only other Australian F1 World Champion was Alan Jones in 1980 - giving Frank Williams his first ever drivers and constructors Championship wins.

Mark Webber - Formula One World Champion?
Will Mark Webber join his comapriots Brabham and Jones to become only the 3rd ever Australian Formula One World Champion?

After his human error in Korea, Jack Brabham can be forgiven for raising serious doubts. Ferrari and Alonso have clearly got the momentum whilst McLaren have fallen back in recent races.

The relief for Webber must be his team-mate Vettel's blown engine just laps away from victory in Korea which handed Alonso the win. That unfortunate development for his team-mate has guaranteed that Webber still has the in-team advantage. Had Vettel have won, Webber's chances would've been diminished even further.

Because as we know, Ferrari's entire support is going to Alonso. Whatever Jenson Button may say, only a mad man in McLaren now would not put their resources all behind Lewis Hamilton.

Red Bull Tactics
What then of Red Bull? Webber finds himself 11 points adrift of Alonso. Vettel however now finds himself 25 points adrift with only 50 left up for grabs.

It would be wise for Red Bull to consider putting all of their eggs into the Webber basket, but then I can't see Vettel buying that.

More than likely then that Red Bull will continue to play 100% fair to both of their men. This is laudible but ultimately, my hunch is that this will help to secure the title for Alonso.

Good Luck Mate
I personally hope that Webber does win it. For as Jack Brabham says, this really could be Webber's last chance to win the title. He's not getting younger and this is clearly his big chance. I was backing Barrichello all the way last year against Button for the same reason. I hope that Webber can finish the job where Barrichello failed and can land that 3rd Australian F1 World Championship.

But I worry increasingly that he won't and it would seem that I'm in good company in coming to this conclusion.

NB. A follow up blog piece which I wrote after Mark Webber did indeed miss out on the World Championship can be found and read here - A New F1 Bridesmaid - Mark Webber

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Proud to be a 'Ginger Rodent'

I've never really embraced what many would argue is my 'gingeriness'.

I'm more of an auburn, a rusty blonde as I'd see it.

Poor Show Harriet, Poor Show
But, I'm more than happy to embrace and join in with my ginger friends in defiance of that Labour rodent, Harriet Harman.

It's interesting to see a former Minister for Equalities, slamning the "ginger rodent", Danny Alexander in her speech today to the Scottish Labour Party Confernce. Not very fair and equal is it Harriet?

Fair play to Danny, his Twitter response was spot on. He stated that he was proud to be ginger and that "rodents do valuable work cleaning up mess others leave behind" before adding that the "Red squirrel deserves to survive, unlike Labour."

Same Old Labour
This just demonstrates just how pathetic Labour continue to be, even out of government.

It must be said that Harriet Harman has since apologised to Danny Alexander for her remark, admitting that it was "wrong".

I expect her speech was written by a member of staff who thought this a particularly amusing ruse that would go down well with the party faithful. Shame on Harriet then as a former Equalities Minister, for not thinking out the repercussions of her words.

 Power to the Gingers
So in support of my fellow gingers, I'm happy to join their cause against the failed ridicule of a Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.

I doubt that Harriet would be willing to call the likes of Prince Harry, Peter Black, Wilma Flintstone, Ariel the Mermaid, Queen Elizabeth I, Ginger Spice, Chuck Norris, Mick Hucknall, and Nicole Kidman a 'rodent', so she's rightly been derided for doing so to Danny Alexander in what was a cheap political stunt.

More power to the ginger elbow.

US Mid-Terms - Obama's Nadir or his Saviour?

It was not long ago that I asked the question on this blog, what went wrong for Obama? That was September 5th and now, almost 2 months later, the mid-terms are upon us.

Obama's hopes look as bleak now as they did then. For the reasons that I mentioned in that earlier post, it isn't really surprising.

However, I couldn't help but notice a comment that I made, that if as expected, the results go against the Democrats, then to quote Bachman-Turner Overdrive and to paraphrase D:ream, 'You ain't seen nothing yet' because 'Things can only get worse'.

Hope for Obama?
I hold by my belief that the Democrats should just narrowly hold on to the Senate but are unfortunately likely to lose the House.

But having read Rupert Cornwell's front page piece in yesterday's Independent, perhaps I should not be so pessimistic, even if this scenario is played out.

Now, Rupert Cornwell is one of the many reasons why I read The Independent. The paper has some excellent commentators and Rupert, with his wry but keen observational eye on north American politics and life in general, always delivers with his incisive comment.

He made the valid point yesterday that if Obama does lose control of Congress, it may not be the disaster that it looks at present. Of course, if the 'Tea Party' contingent pull the Republicans in the House of Representatives further to the right, then we could have a complete and utter dead-lock.

But having said that, running the House would suddenly give the Republicans responsibility. They won't suddenly be able to play the obstructionist card which they have done so effectively (and to America's great damage) ovet the past 2 years. If they did, then they should suffer at the hands of the electorate in 2 years time.

The Clinton Experience
I mentioned it in my earlier blog post and Rupert Cornwell also alluded to the Bill Clinton experience is such a circumstance.

Clinton went from seeing a Democratic control of both Houses of Congress evaporate within 2 years of his election as Newt Gingrich's Republicans swept the board in 1994. Yet it didn't play against Clinton's chances when his re-election came around in 1996.

Clinton moved to the centre and worked constructively with the new Congress and it was to his credit. Suddenly, he was not soley to blame for the country's ills. The 'Republican Congress' also had to take it's fair share of the blame for the nation's discontent.

Republican intrasigence whilst leading the House will not play in their favour. At least it shouldn't do.

The Mid-Terms - Obama's Nadir or his Saviour?
So perhaps, losing outright control of Congree might make it easier for the Democrats to share the blame in the years ahead and help Obama in his re-election in 2012.

Having said that, it goes without saying that I'd much prefer the Democrats to retain overall control of Congress. No doubt I'll report back when my predictions have been blown apart this coming week.

I Hate Halloween

For a blog post title, it does exactly what it says on the tin really doesn't it.

It's Halloween weekend and it's one of the times of year that I really detest.

Why such an unveiled contempt when many enjoy the celebrations? Maybe it's because I was born in a part of south Pembrokeshire that was sparsely populated of immediate houses near-by. I never lived in a town or village so the whole concept of 'trick-or-treating' never really took off for me as a child as there was hardly anyone near-by to 'trick or treat'!

Having said that, that isn't a reason in itself to hate Halloween. That was only a reason to not be actively involved in it.

Remember, Remember, the 5th of November (not October 31st)
Really, I can't stand it, because I don't see the point in it. For me, it's a complete waste of time with no redeeming features. Wind the clock forward a few days however to November 5th and as a child, you'd always see me with a sparkler in my hand, no doubt near-by a Bonfire. Because actually, for all that Bonfire Night in itself is also a rather fanciful day of activities, it does at least actually represent something. It represents the failed attempts of Guy Fawkes to blow up King and Parliament in 1605. There's actually a bit of history behind it and as a historian, that always won be over. Also, Bonfire Night is a bloody good laugh.

Halloween though? Call me simplistic, but it's just an American fad. Now don't get me wrong, I love America. I've been there many times and have lapped up it's wonderful sense of self. My brother-in-law is also American and my eldest niece was born there, in Florida on the day of Diana's funeral in September 1997.

So it's nothing against the country, it's just this particular concept, which is naturally an alien one to this country. For me, America can happily keep Halloween. It isn't needed here.

What I do know as a local Councillor, is that I will be getting e-mails and phone calls over the next 48 hours from anxious residents who will have suffered from the pelting of eggs and flour on their windows. That's not very nice is it and yet it predominantly happens at exactly this time of year.

So, call me Scrooge if you like. I don't care. I'll bah humbug the lot of you 'cos I hate Halloween, always have and always will.

Friday, 29 October 2010

The Cole Family's Royal Connection

Last Tuesday, I was delighted to get on a bus to Windsor with friends and family for what was a pretty special day out.

In a twist on the Dick Whittington story, we all went to see the formal debut of our family horse Dyfed Celt as a member of the Queen's Household Cavalry.

As a family, Shire Horses are in the blood. My grandfather John Rees Lewis (or J.R as he was known) worked the land at Carnhuan, Eglwyswrw, with the Shires and latterly showed them with help up until his death in 1991. Our family, not wanting to sell his wonderful legacy, decided to diversify and open the farm to the public as the Dyfed Shire Horse Farm in 1994. We've sold horses to Germany and to the USA over the years, but never, until now, to the Royal Family.

It seems like an age ago when the BBC Wales cameras reported on Celt's new adventure in London, away from his Eglwyswrw home in west Wales.

Now, exactly 2 years later, we've gone full circle.

Eglwyswrw to London
As the report above shows, we as a family saw an advertisement for a Drum Horse in the Heavy Horse World and got in touch with the powers that be.

For only a young 3 year old, we knew his attitude and tempremant would be what was required. We weren't disappointed when the offer was made to purchase him for the Household Cavalry.

But that didn't mean that he'd make the grade and for the past 2 years he's been living in the underground Kensington Barracks in London and grazing in Hyde Park whilst undertaking the training required for him to be officially welcomed into the Cavalry.

The regiment have been excellent in communicating with us Celt's progress and last summer, the family and friends had a bus trip to Kensington to see Celt in his new surroundings. I was unfortunately unable to make it - being on holiday in France at the time.

Windsor & the Emir of Qatar
So I was really pleased to have a second opportunity this week to have a trip to the bigger smoke to see Celt at work. Now, 2 years on, it wasn't just a matter of seeing him in training, but actually seeing him in action.

The Emir of Qatar and his entourage were due to arrive on an official visit and were to be met by the Queen, Prince Phillip and the family.

We arrived in good time and found a place en-route just a 100 or so yards from the main welcoming platform. In the light drizzle, some 50 of us waited attentively for the star of the day to arrive - no, not the Emir or the Queen, but Celt!

See here a slideshow of photos taken by BBC Berkshire of the day and in particular, photo 6 of our gang, manning the barricades! As the caption says, the bus left west Wales at around 4am - but I think the locals must've been bemused as to why we were there in the first place!

The reason arrived at the head of the procession just after 11am. Celt, 2nd in line of some 200 horses of the Household Cavalry, passed us in his full regalia, carrying those solid silver drums and the musician on top.

He behaved very well throughout the short welcoming ceremony and we could see him in the distance, at the heart of the action, as the respective anthems were played.

The Household Cavalry's Mounted Regiment Training Wing
We were then fortunate enough to be given a tour around Celt's home for the day at the regiments' near-by training wing. There, we saw him back in the stable after the exertions of his day out on formal parade.

We were told that this was the Queen's first opportunity to see him in action and in a matter of days it is expected, we shall hopefully find out what his new formal, Roman name will be. His stable name however will remain Dyfed Celt which will remind all of his roots. He will also be given the rank of a Major - not bad going for a West Walian!

He will next be on parade at the Lord Mayor's Parade in London in a few weeks time and next year there's a very good chance that he'll be on Horseguards Parade in the Trooping of the Colour.

It really was great to see one of our family's horses taking his place, centre stage, in the Queen's Household Cavalry. It was great in addition, that this was witnessed by a wide community of family and friends who had willingly paid the £20 coach fare and got up ridiculously early, to see a real 'one-off' occasion in the flesh.

More Media Coverage
Just as before when he left for the bright lights of the city, the Welsh media have again been enthusiastic in their interest of Celt's progress.

S4C's 'Ffermio' programme recorded the proceedings and will be transmitting the footage this coming Monday at 8.25pm. Meanwhile, my oldest brother Huw, who did a great job in organising the trip, went live on BBC Radio Wales' Jamie Owen and Louise Elliott programme on Wednesday morning. This clip on iplayer is only retrieveable for the next few days. Wind forward to 2:30:30 for an 8 minute interview with Huw.

It's a lovely story and one, that as a family and a community, we are rightly very proud.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

My Desert Island Discs Choice of 8 (in solidarity with Nick Clegg)

I was reading the Independent on Sunday (a regular vice I can't quite shake off) last Sunday (obviously) and found myself getting rather annoyed when I read this article by Andrew Martin about Nick Clegg's impending 'turn' on Desert Island Discs.

At the time of going to press, Andrew Martin was only allowed to mention 3 of Nick's 8 choices but he instantly took against the choices that he offered from the 8 - that were the rock songs "Life on Mars" by David Bowie, "The Cross" by Prince, and "Street Spirit" by Radiohead.

In particular, he made this mind-numbingly annoying statement:

"I believe Clegg made a mistake in not choosing eight classical pieces. In a dumbed-down world, we admire people who like complicated things".

Now, I love my classical music, but he clearly feels here that politicians in particular, shouldn't try and 'get down with the kids'. Clearly, it's an error for anyone to try and pretend that they like something that they don't simply to look popular - they'll always get found out for such a sloppy error. But at the same time, I don't want choices made because it's the 'safe choice'.

I'm sorry Mr Martin, but actually, I rather like and indeed 'admire' people who in this 'dumbed-down' world, have an eclectic taste in music and are willing to make the case for their different choices. Why the hell should Nick Clegg be expected to only like classical music, simply because he's a politician? What a load of pompous old tosh!

Nick Clegg's Desert Island Discs Choice of 8 were:

1. Chopin's Waltz in A Minor played by Idil Biret
2. Johnny Cash - Sunday Morning Coming Down
3. Prince - The Cross
4. Cesaria Evora - Petit Pays
5. Radiohead - Street Spirit
6. David Bowie - Life on Mars
7. Shakira and Waka Waka the theme to the 2010 World Cup
8. Schubert's Impromptu No.3 in G Flat Major played by Alfred Brendel

So that there is a pretty eclectic taste in music. I have no reason to doubt that Nick Clegg is telling the truth about this range of interest of his. I'm pleased to see such a diverse taste in music. Very little of it is to my particular taste but that isn't the point. The point is that we get much more from this world by enhancing our listening experiences with a wide range of music.

Mark Cole's Desert Island Discs Choice of 8:
I'm never going to end up on Radio 4 myself to give my own personal choice to the world, so I may as well do so here to show my solidarity with Nick's eclectic taste in music.

Now, I love my music - and I mean love it. Music can well portray a feeling, a sense of time, an emotion. I have, as anyone who knows me will testify, a wide taste in music. No matter what my mood, I'll always have a CD or a particular song in my collection at home that will chime with that feeling.

As it happens, I put together a 'Desert Island Discs compilation' of songs long ago. I've altered it on one occasion but here below is my long since settled choice of 8...
You'll find two instrumentals. I love the piano in particular and I love rag-time and I personally find Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag a much better tune than it's more famous big brother, 'The Entertainer'.

Also, there is no better instrumental in the world in my book than Apache by the Shadows. A close second would be Fleetwood Mac's 'Albatross', but it just misses out here.

I love Queen. They're the best band of all time. Freddie Mercury is one of the most mercurial of singers ever to have graced this Earth. A showman and an absolute musical genius. For me, his Barcelona duet with Montserrat Cabelle blows me away every time. The first time I heard it was after he had died when I was aged 10, when the BBC used it as the opening theme to their 1992 coverage of the Olympics. It's not even a power ballad - it's much, much bigger than that. It's just awesome.

This includes the wonderful opening instrumental.

Elvis Presley is simply, The King. I only became a fan at the ripe old age of 20 when the 'celebrations' for the 25th anniversary of his death sent 'A Little Less Conversation' to No.1 in the charts. Before I knew it I was buying videos about him, CDs, the lot. But if I were to pick one of my 8 here to be played at my funeral, this would be it - 'If I Can Dream'. It is the most hopeful, heartful, soulful, wordly optimistic song that there is and I absolutely adore it!

From his ''68 Comeback Special', ladies and gentlemen. It's Elvis.

A few choices from modern pop. My 'interest' and 'enthusiasm' in modern pop music hit a big buffer in about 1996 after the age of Brit-pop. Anything since has struggled to make my radar. I'm a big fan of Oasis, Blur and Pulp and the latter has really grown on me in recent years. Pulp's 'A Different Class' album is one of the best of modern times and I could easily choose 'Disco 2000', 'Common People' or 'Something Changed' for this list but I've got to go with 'Mis-Shapes'. It just rocks.

Then, there's a good old ballad from that awesome song-writer Billy Joel. Again, I could choose one of the many of his hits and right up there would have to be 'Goodnight Saigon' but for me, the great 'Scenes from an Italian Restaurant' steals in at the end.

I love classical music. It calms me and more often than not, my bed-side radio is tuned in to Classic FM. I could easily pick 8 classical compositions here but if I had to pick one (and it is so difficult to narrow it down to one), then it would have to Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. In its entirety, it is just absolutely superb. The four movements are all wonderful on their own but if I have to choose one of those four, I would go with the 2nd - the Allegretto. Its deep, dark, haunting sense reminds me of the Fall of the Berlin Wall and moves me every time.

Finally, but most movingly for me, there's nothing that combines so haunting, so moving, and so majestic a feeling than the sound of a Welsh Male Voice Choir. I'm Welsh and I'm proud of it and when I hear such a choir sing a traditional Welsh song, it sends shivers down my spine. None more than when the strains of Myfanwy can be heard. The word 'Hiraeth' for me, means the kind of feeling for my homeland that I feel when I hear this song.

Here it is being sang by Pendyrus Male Voice Choir in memory of those killed in Welsh mining disasters but particularly to the 116 children killed at Aberfan on October 21st 1966.

So, a re-cap, my Desert Island Discs 8 are...
  1. Scott Joplin - Maple Leaf Rag
  2. The Shadows - Apache
  3. Freddie Mercury & Montserrat Cabelle - Barcelona
  4. Elvis Presely - If I Can Dream
  5. Pulp - Mis-Shapes
  6. Billy Joel - Scenes from an Italian Restaurant
  7. Beethoven - 7th Symphony (2nd Movement)
  8. Myfanwy
If ever I was stranded on a Desert Island, I'd want to make sure that I'd have with me, a range of music that covers the whole range of this love of my life - my love of music.

For the record, which book would I take with me? Well, it would be one of two. Either Nelson Mandela's autobiography 'A Long Walk to Freedom' or Harper Lee's wondrous 'To Kill a Mockingbird'.

Luxury item? Pah, I don't know. Possibly my largest and cosiest duvet.

So to hell with Andrew Martin. I'm a much better and rounded individual for having a love for all these different musical genres and to that point, so too is Nick Clegg.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

A Welsh Lib Dem Assembly Candidate!

I've deliberately kept away from blogging about my recent campaign as a Welsh Liberal Democrat candidate for the Welsh Assembly's Mid & West Wales regional list until now, because it may have been construed as an active campaigning tool.

But now it's all over, I can blog about it!

4 Candidates, 4 Hustings!
I decided to stand for the party on the list as the Mid & West Wales region as it encompasses the entirety of my life. I was born and bred in Pembrokeshire, educated in Carmarthenshire and have been living for the past 10 years in Ceredigion since originally going to Aberystwyth to study as a student.

I've been a Councillor now for 6 years but this is the first time I've put my name forward as a candidate for the Welsh Assembly. It took in 4 hustings across the region - in Builth Wells, Newtown, Narberth and Aberaeron. There were 4 candidates - myself, Bill Powell, Ed Wilson and Steffan John.

The hustings were well attended and were certainly something slightly new to me! A quick 5 minute pitch from each of the candidates seperately was then followed by a Q&A session between all the candidates. I felt the level of debate and engagement was excellent and the four of us did the party proud during the entire process.

We all got on as well. Kirsty Williams AM, our party leader, appeared in the audience during the first hustings (as if we weren't nervous enough!) and made the good point at the end, that it's an odd and difficult experience when standing against fellow party colleagues who most often than not, are good friends. She's quite right.

The Result
After weeks of campaigning and canvassing members around the region, we got our result on Monday. I was pleased to have finished a strong second behind Brecon & Radnor Powys Councillor, Bill Powell. Bill was our lead candidate for the region the last time in 2007 and I look forward to campaigning alongside him and all of my colleagues in the months to come.

It was a fantastic experience and I would recommend those who want to have their voice heard to do so and to put their name forward to stand - be it a local government, or national level.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Round 2 - Nadine Dorries Vs 'Socialist Scorned'

I must admit that I'm highly amused to have been referred to as a 'Socialist Scorned' after my rant yesterday against Nadine Dorries - A Blogging Hypocrite.

The highly amusing accusation was made of me by Conservative blog

To just casually label me as a 'socialist' because I happen to have made some comments against a Tory MP really is typical of the right-wingers out there.

'If in doubt, label them the 'loony left' as it were.

My points were more than valid and I stand by them and indeed, if I'm beginning to rile the ringht-wing blogosphere then I must be doing something right!

But, just as an added piece of 'Tory-baiting', I was sent the link to this clip my a resident of Mid Bedfordshire from the election campaign last May. Now, I don't know who Tim Ireland is but he clearly has it in for Nadine.

Having said that, he's absolutely certain that he's above rapproach and accuses Nadine Dorries of some very serious allegations. Whether he's since taken legal advice I don't know.

But, as the local resident who sent me this link said of Nadine: "She's well renowned for being rather self obsessed".


This is probably a case of 6 of one and half a dozen of the other but whatever the underlying issues are here, Nadine Dorries really doesn't help herself. She seems to be her own worst enemy.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Ian Holloway's Rooney Rant - Spot On.

Ian Holloway is a colourful footballing man. Indeed, we'd be the poorer without this intrepid breed of individual.

Today, he's outshone himself with his own inimitable take on the Rooneygate saga.

Holloway I feel, speaks for many of us, normal and run-of-the-mill football fans when he rants off about the situation.

I'm an Aston Villa fan. I could quite easily say two hoots to Manchester United and laugh at their predicament.

But I'm also a a football man and I dislike intensly the way that the game has been taken over by the money men in recent years. The increasing power of the agent is scarring the game. But having said that, ultimately it's the football player that makes the decision on what he wants to do.

The Shameful Wayne Rooney
So Wayne Rooney should rightly hang his head in shame at this moment in time. Manchester United are not ambitious? Are you joking or just stupid Wayne? Whatever is said of him, no-one can honestly take away from Sir Alex Ferguson all that he has achieved in the game. He will go down in football history in the same breath as Paisley, Shankly and Busby. Rightly so too - in this modern world of merry-go-round football management, the fact that he has remained at the same club for 24 years and counting is extraordinary.

So to see him looking completely bewildered at the press conference a few days ago was pretty sad. Rooney should be bloody well thankful for what he has been given by Sir Alex and Manchester United over the years. He's been paid a six-figure sum on a weely basis to play for one of the best and biggest teams in the world. I hear that there's figures of £300,000 a week being bandied about by the likes of Manchester City to entice him over.

This is incredulous. Quite frankly, if Wayne Rooney, or indeed any player can be so greedy as to want to play for the club who can pay the most, then the likes of Manchester United are better off without.

Am I being too simplistic in my thinking? Is Ian Holloway an out-dated relic of a bygone footballing age? Well if we are, what about Ryan Giggs?

The Ultimate Football Professional - Ryan Giggs
Ryan Giggs has played his entire career for one club - the same Manchester United as Wayne Rooney. An unprecedented near 850 appearances over 20 years. He was won more league titles than any other in the history of the game, two European Cups and countless other domestic trophies.

Yet, off the pitch, he has been an exemplar of good behaviour. Now married with a young family, you'll only see him on the back pages for his exploits on the pitch, not on the front pages of the tabloids for his exploits in a club or in someone's bed.

For any aspiring young footballer, for dedication and commitment on the pitch and for a level-headedness off it, they need look no further than Ryan Giggs.

Partly for the reasons that Ian Holloway pronounced in his rant earlier today, and for others, Wayne Rooney should certainly not be held up as a footballing role model to youngsters.

Well done to Ian Holloway for saying it as it is.

If this is what Wayne Rooney is all about, then Manchester United are better off without him. Sir Alex - sell him. Get rid of him. He's an idiot and doesn't deserve to play for a club like Manchester United (and this from an Aston Villa fan).

Football needs more Ryan Giggs's and less Wayne Rooney's.

Nadine Dorries - A Blogging Hypocrite

I've heard much about Nadine Dorries (Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire) - and none of it good. But I've never had much reason to bother looking into it.

Until today that is when this BBC news article caught my attention - MP Nadine Dorries says her blog is '70% fiction'.

It reports that she told the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, John Lyon that:

"My blog is 70% fiction and 30% fact.

"It is written as a tool to enable my constituents to know me better and to reassure them of my commitment to Mid Bedfordshire.

"I rely heavily on poetic licence and frequently replace one place name/event/fact with another.

"In the light of the bullying onslaught of the Daily Telegraph (which reported the claims about her expenses) I used my blog to its best effect in reassuring my constituents of my commitment to Mid Beds. My commitment is absolute and is always my first consideration regardless of where I sleep at night.

"However, I have always been aware that should my personal domestic arrangements become the knowledge of my political opponents, they would be able to exaggerate that to good effect. Hence the reason for my blog and my need to reassure my constituents."

The Bare Faced Cheek!
This is quite incredible. "I rely heavily on poetic licence and frequently replace one place name/event/fact with another"? Oh, so you mean you lie then Nadine? Clearly the controversy of her not living in her own constituency has come back home (pun intended) to roost.

But it gets worse!

On October 10th, she had the bare faced audacity to write a blog post accusing a Labour opponent of writing fiction! I kid you not! See the damning post here - Nadine Dorries Blog

She accuses a local Labour party candidate Sue Cullen of on-line fibbing about her journalistic credentials. Nadine even goes as far to say the line, "Conned blog readers?"

Yes Nadine! Yes! Conned indeed!

What a blogging hypocrite!
If Nadine Dorries wants to reassure her constituents that she is commited to Mid Bedfordshire, then she should blogging well move there. That's commitment - not empty and downright misleading words on an on-line blog.

If you're not in your constituency because you can't be bothered to Nadine, then don't try pulling the wool over the eyes of your constituents by pretending that you are. As Abraham Lincoln more eloquantly put it:
"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt".

Oh and whilst you're at it Nadine, don't throw stones from your glass house. It looks very ugly and demeans all others who are in public service. You might as well be throwing a boomerang 'cos it'll always come back and hit you. The problem is, it hits the rest of us with it.

Here endeth the lesson.

The Aberfan Perspective

I type this post at around 9.30am-10am.

At this time, 44 years ago today, Britain and Wales in particular, experienced one of the most heart-breaking disasters in living memory - the Aberfan Disaster. 144 people were killed. Of these, 5 were teachers and 116 were pupils aged between 7-10 which accounted for almost half of Pantglas Junior School.

I was not born at the time, but it is an event that scars the Welsh psyche - and mine. I have myself however, paid a visit to the Garden of Remembrance and it proved to be one of the most over-powering experiences of my life.

'A terrifying tale of bungling ineptitude'
This was one of the conclusions laid bare in the 1967 Davies Inquiry. For this was a cruel disaster. Not only shouldn't it have happened in the first place - it was a damning legacy of National Coal Board negligence as Davies rightly pointed out, but it was also a stroke of awful misfortune for those that lay beneath the Aberfan tip that fateful morning.

It was early morning and the children had only just arrived for school. It was also the last day before half-term. Events could so easily have conspired to have saved these lives. Just an hour earlier, or a day later, and these children would not have been at school at the time of the slide.

In total, some 150,000 cubic metres of water-saturated debris broke away and flowed down the hillside at high speed. Some 40,000 cubic metres of this slide went into the village in a slurry some 40 feet deep. The slide destroyed a farm and twenty terraced houses along Moy Road and slammed into the northern side of the Junior school.

Through the morning fog of that sunny morning 44 years ago, with visibility no more than some 50 metres, the children were leaving Assembly having just sang 'All Thing Bright and Beautiful'. They couldn't see what was coming, but they could hear it coming down the hillside towards them.

Gaynor Minett, a then 8-year old survivor of the tragedy said:

"It was a tremendous rumbling sound and all the school went dead. You could hear a pin drop. Everyone just froze in their seats. I just managed to get up and I reached the end of my desk when the sound got louder and nearer, until I could see the black out of the window. I can't remember any more but I woke up to find that a horrible nightmare had just begun in front of my eyes."

Please read these 'Witness' statements from the BBC website. They're also very moving and heart-breaking.

A Welsh Tragedy - A Personal Pilgrimage
It must have been 6 or 7 years ago now when, along with Anders Hanson, we happened to be going to-and-from Cardiff from Aberystwyth. We happened to be passing Merthyr on the A470 and with time to spare, asked Anders if he'd be willing to detour into Aberfan.

Because, as a Welsh child, this disaster has been indelibly marked in my mind. As a child of history but more importantly, as a child, this awful story resonated with me a young boy more than any other. For at the end of the day, as the proverb goes, 'There but for the grace of God go I'. I was a school child attending class and attending morning Assembly like any other in Wales. My school happened to be in Whitland, 20-25 years later but for these poor children and their familes, their's just happened to be Aberfan's Pantglas Junior School on the morning of October 21st 1966.

So it was with this morbid sense of 'belonging' almost, that I felt a responsibility to pay my respects at the Garden of Remembrance that now stands on the site of the old school. As mentioned above, it was one of the most harrowing and emotional moments of my life. Seeing the plaque as you enter, coldly state the facts of the number of deaths that had occurred on that site all those years before, sent a cold cold shiver down my spine. I'm pretty sure I shed a few quiet tears of grief.

I didn't go to the cemetary. I couldn't have coped with that. The Garden was enough.

The Aberfan Perspective
Because, and this is the thing, these children were innocent. They weren't 33 Chilean miners who voluntarily risked their lives by going down a mine. They were just happy-go-lucky young folk who were looking forwards to half-term. Far too many of them, never got their holidays.

This gives you perspective - real perspective. When the country cowers at the news that emanated from Parliament yesterday with the biggest public spending cuts seen since the 1970s, it's easy for us to get embroiled in the problems and challanges of today. But just looking back into history at some of the much greater challenges that our forefathers have had to contend with, puts 2010 into its rightful perspective.

We are very fortunate. As a human race, we more often than not learn from our mistakes - it's what we call 'progress'. It's why we've not had another 'Aberfan' in the ensuing 44 years.

It's a tragedy though and an indictment of the human race itself, that 'Aberfan' ever happened in the first place.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

My CSR Response

Well, there we have it. The coalition has given it's detailed response to the financial predicament in which it, and the country finds itself in.

I can't say that I'm happy with it in its entirety. Quite frankly, if you can find a single person who is happy with it in its entirety, then you will have found a mad man.

That's the point. This isn't nice. This isn't pleasant. This isn't easy. But what it is, is necessary.

Labour planned undetailed cuts of 20% (£48 billion). Today the Coalition announced cuts of 19% (£47 billion) with details on savings and investments.

I must say, that after all of the scare-mongering of recent days and weeks, I feel much more at ease with the overall package than I thought I may be. Indeed, as much as it will be derided by members of the opposition, I feel that there is a sense of 'fairness' running through what we have heard today.

The Good Points (in no particular order)
  1. As mentioned above, the average percentage cut for departmental budgets over the next 4 years at 19% is much lower than the expected 25% cuts that were expected. 
  2. Universal benefits for pensioners will be retained and the temporary increase in the cold weather payment will be made permanent.
  3. Winter fuel allowance, free bus passes and TV licences for 75-year-olds are protected.
  4. There'll be funding for 75,000 adult apprenticeships.
  5. The science budget will be frozen and not cut as had been expected.
  6. The Monarchy will have to pull their belts like the rest of us and stomach a 14% cut.
  7. Free Museum entry will remain.
  8. The BBC license fee is to be frozen for the 6 years.
  9. The decision on renewing Trident is to be put back to the next Parliament.
  10. Confirmed £2.5bn "pupil premium" for teaching for disadvantaged pupils and a real-terms increase in funding for schools in England from £35bn to £39bn.
  11. The NHS in England will see a real-terms increase in funding every year, budget to rise to £114bn by 2015. New cancer drug fund to be provided. But £20bn in efficiency and productivity savings sought by 2014. An extra £2bn for social care by 2014-15.
  12. This support for health and education should pass down to Wales via the (albeit discredited) Barnett Formula
  13. £1bn for green investment bank.
  14. A doubling from the expected £3bn to £6bn of cuts emanating from Whitehall.
  15. A cut of 3,000 Prison places expected by 2015 and plans for a new 1,500-place prison have been dropped.
  16. The Bank Levy to become permanent.
  17. £1.5bn in compensation to Equitable Life policyholders hit by its near collapse.
  18. £900m to target tax evasion that is hoped to bring back £7bn to the Treasury.
  19. Cuts to child benefit for higher rate taxpayers to generate £2.5bn.
  20. £2bn investment in a new universal credit.
  21. Weekly child element on child tax credit to rise by £30 in 2012 and £50 by 2012.
The Worrying Points
  1. The Severn Barrage scrapped on cost grounds. Many environmentalists will indeed welcome this but I see it as an opportunity missed.
  2. The scrapping of the planned £14bn defence academy at St Athan.
  3. Police cuts of 4% a year. This however wasn't as bad as I had feared and there should be enough scope to cut bureacracy within the service to ensure that front-line numbers aren't affected.
  4. The 18% cut for the Business Department which will have a knock-on effect on University funding.
  5. Ring-fencing of local authority revenue grants to end and with a 7% annual vut in budgets.
  6. The aim to built 150,000 new affordable homes is welcome but what of the redefinition of social housing and changed terms for new rental agreements?
  7. The BBC's funding of S4C. However this works out, S4C must be ensured that it's editorial independence continues. What does irk me particularly here isn't so much the decision which has merits, but the way it was done with apparently no discussion with S4C before it was leaked on the BBC last night. Sorry, but that's not good enough. S4C are apparently this evening to launch a judicial review against the decision. It'll be interesting to see what happens with that.
  8. £1bn for green investment bank - it had been hoped that there'd be more available than this.
  9. Cuts in the Justice Department threaten local justice with the possible closure of Magistrates Courts.
  10. The added welfare cuts are tough but hopefully will act as an incentive to work.
The Cole Analysis
There's still more details coming out as I type this evening, but this review has passed a number of the hurdles of 'fairness' that I wanted to see and which I feel shows the strength of having Liberal Democrats in government.

In particular, the elderly have been protected. By retaining their universal benefits and ensuring that their winter fuel allowance, free bus passes and TV licences (for 75-year-olds)  are maintained, I feel that we've really done a good thing. The increase in the retirement age to 66 by 2020 is noticeable particularly as it included both women and men. That's quite a jump.

The benefits squeeze is going to be a challenge but I see nothing wrong in incentivising those on benefits to work. For once, and it seems go be a given across political lines, there's a sense that Ian Duncan-Smith has really made some significant progress with his radical, progressive reforms. Indeed Steph Ashley puts it much better in her blog some months ago - Dib Lemming: You know when Nick Clegg said that this was going ...:

I'm pleased to see that the Government is going to take a much greater hit in Whitehall too. Does this mean job losses? Undoubtedly. But then who in their right mind can put forward a deficit reducing plan that doesn't involve job losses? I've not seen one yet. If some of those losses are in the city, then in my book it reduces the losses that will be felt in the regions and here in rural Wales particularly.

In the 'fairness' stakes, I'm happy to see cuts to child benefit for higher rate taxpayers. It just sounds like common sense to me.

I'm also pleased to see, for the first time in a generation, a Government announce that it expects prison numbers to fall. There's far to many people going to jail for minor offences who are better placed paying their debts to the community, in the community.

Tough decisions will need to be made by the governments in the devolved parliaments of the UK but I was pleased to hear George Osbourne make the point that the Barnet Formula will indeed be reviewed - we need it to ensuire fair funding for Wales. The Welsh Assembly Government has cuts of around £450m a year to deal with which in % terms is closely comparable to the kind of cuts that Scotland and Northern Ireland will have to deal with.

It would've been much worse
Had the Liberal Democrats not been a part of this coalition, there's no doubt that it would've looked a lot worse with a Tory-only led Government. There's some good stuff in here and whilst there's much that I'm not happy with, I feel it's much better than it could well and indeed looked like being only days ago.

Ceredigion's Recycling Revolution

I attended a very useful meeting last night alongside fellow Cardigan area County Councillors, with officers from the Council's Highways and Environmental Health departments to discuss the new refuge collection system which hits our streets on November 15th.

We've had so many consultations of this new scheme, I feel as if I almost know it blindfolded as the saying goes, but it was worthwhile to see the new lorries in the flesh and to be reminded one last time of the big changes that are about to descend on us all.

Recyling par-excellence
Now, Ceredigion already has an excellent record when it comes to recyling and composting. In league table after league table, be it Welsh or UK wide, you'll always find us right near if not at the top. Some 80% or so of households currently have access to the 'clear bag' recycling scheme which enables residents to recycle their plastics/cans/paper/cardboard (glass has and will remain seperate and can be recycled in the many bottle banks around the county) on a weekly basis alongside the normal black refuge bags. Since this scheme came into play a few years ago, Ceredigion's record has increased impressively. But that doesn't mean we can be complacent.

Indeed, over recent years, Ceredigion's recycling and composting figures have begun to flat-line at around 46%-47%. It's clear that under the current collection system, we've reached saturation point.

So what's new?
So, change is needed and that change, after much discussion and information, is about to be rolled out.

As of November 15th, Ceredigion will be beginning a new weekly recycling/food waste/garden waste scheme which will be rolled out to the entire county.

Last night, we saw at first glance the new breed of lorries that will be required for this task. On a weekly basis, the recycling bags, as before will be collected. In addition now, food waste will also be collected and along with garden waste will be deposited in a seperate compartment within the lorry. In recent years, many residents have queried whether the recycling really is happening as the black and 'clear' recycling bags would be thrown into the back of the lorry together. Now, they'll be seperate for all to see which should hopefully improve the perception of the scheme. The new lorries will also be a distinctive orange colour which will mark them out from their white 'black bags' lorry alternative.

Food waste bins or 'caddies' have been delivered to each and every household throughout Ceredigion in recent weeks with information on the change and the new refuse collection times. One smaller 'caddie' will be for use in the kitchen, which will then be tipped into a larger 'caddie' on a weekly basis for collection.

Fornightly Black Bags Collection
With the reduction of food waste going into the old black bags, the latter will now be collected on a fortnightly cycle. This will be contentious in areas such as Aberystwyth where there's a high number of HMOs but on the whole, there has been little objection to the scheme.

There are issues with blocks of flats with old fashioned shutes for their rubbish and there's also concerns about the disposal of non-degradable items such as nappies. The Council are looking for solutions to these issues and anyone with concerns should call the County Council in Aberaeron on 01545 570881.

The Need to Look Ahead
The impetus to change comes from the desire to avoid paying any landfill tax in the future. It also comes with the need to conform with the Welsh Assembly's 'Towards Zero Waste' target of recycling and composting 70% of our household waste by 2025.

It's a real challenge but here in Ceredigion, we need to grasp the initiative and continue to drive ourselves to even higher standards. We have a willing and enthusiastic public who have taken to the concept of recycling in great number. We now need to utilise that support by extending that concept to include the recylcing of food waste.

A new era in Ceredigion's Recycling Revolution is about to begin. There are challenges ahead but I'm enthused at the fantastic potential that we are hopefully just about to unleash.

Let's go to it.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Ariel Sharon - Israel's Lost & Forgotten Saviour?

I read in today's Independent of a sculpture of former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon, lying in a coma, which has been unveiled in Israel.

I can't quite believe that it has now almost been 5 years since he had the stroke that brought on this coma in January 2006. Time flies but in the middle east, sadly, some things never change.

For a fierce old right-winger, he had really raised eyebrows during his time as Prime Minister when he withdrew the Israeli military and some 8,000 Israeli settlers from Gaza. He even left his right-wing Likud Party, and boldly set-up his own Kadima Party, whilst at the top.

I recall thinking that maybe, here was a battle-scarred old leader from the Israeli right who, similar to Ian Paisley Snr in Northern Ireland, could see that a new policy of engagement with the enemy was required to benefit his own hand.

Of course, we'll never know what would've happened had Sharon have continued as Prime Minister. Would he have led Israel into the disastrous war that his successor Ehud Olmert did with the Lebanon? How would he have reacted to Hamas in Gaza?

We can't answer these questions, but under Olmert, the peace process failed to move forward. Indeed, accusations of corruption against him did nothing for his authority and Tzipi Livni took over as head of the Kadima Party at the end of 2008. She lost out to Benjamin Netanyahu in the elections in the spring of '09 and so did the hope of taking forward a Sharon-like policy in the middle east.

Benjamin Netanyahu - the new Ian Paisley?
I wondered during that closely fought Israeli election last year whether, against my better inclination, a Netanyahu victory may better focus middle eastern minds. In Northern Ireland, it took the extreme two wings of the debate to come together before a stable peace could be found. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement, brokered by the more moderate UUP and SDLP, stalled entirely within 5 years. But now, the 2007 accord agreed by bitterest rivals the DUP and Sinn Fein has ironically set Northern Ireland onto a true path for peace.

Could the Likud Party, back in goverment under a 2nd Netanyahu administration, provide a similar miracle with Fatah, and even Hamas?

Well, after 18 months, no it hasn't. Could it still? I very much doubt it.

Just days away from the 15th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination in November 1995, middle east peace looks no closer to coming to fruition than it has since those heady days of the Oslo Accords of 1993.

Would we be any closer now to a lasting peace had Sharon not had his stroke whilst at the height of his powers? Well, we wouldn't have been any further away from it, that's for sure.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

A Chilean Fairytale

I stayed up until 5am this morning to watch the start of the Chilean mining rescue mission. I'm so glad that I did and even in my small way here in Cardigan, in years to come when the world looks back at what is one of its greatest achievements, I'll be able to say 'I was there'.

Forget the talk of tuition fees, October 12th 2010 will go down in history throughout the world, and in Chile in particular, as the day when a great tragedy was turned around to become a human triumph for 33 men and for mankind.

Chile's Finest Hour
I've been memerised my this developing story ever since that face was seen pressed up against the camera that had been sent down to find signs of life after the mine collapse on August 5th. After 17 days of expecting the worse, suddenly, there was jubiliation at the knowledge that the miners were still alive. Since then, there's been the slow but gradual progress towards getting them back to safety.

I wasn't going to miss the start of this rescue operation so I've been awake all night, watching the excellent live coverage on BBC News 24. Its been a humbling, moving, emotional, wonderful experience.

Because this really does touch us all. Yes, they're miners and this is what they do, but no-one has ever survived being effectively buried alive in this way for such a length of time. When the final miners come up tomorrow, they'll have been down there, over 600m below ground in an air-less cavern, for 70 days.

A 19th century Disaster in a 21st century world
What has made this disaster turned fairytale something unique from past experiences of hope over adversary, is the fact that technological advances have meant that we've been far more in touch with the minutiae of developments. We've been able, for example, to watch the miners in their 'new' homely surroundings, deep underground during their incarceration. We've been able to see the messages that have been sent down to them below from loved ones. We have watched as the President held aloft to the camera for his father to see, the new born baby born above ground to a miner, half a mile below it. We have watched as a quiet Chilean corner has suddenly become the centre of the media universe. Has the South American continent ever seen anything like this level of world-wide coverage since the days of the Falklands War in 1982 or the days of Eva PerĂ³n in the immediate post-war days of the late 40's and early 50's?

This has surely put Chile on the map for the best of reasons. Not since the days of General Pinochet has this nation found itself caught in the glare of public interest. Thankfully, as opposed to those dark days of the 70's and 80's, this time it's there for the right reasons.

Florencio Avalos - A Name for the Ages
The sight of the first rescued miner, Florencio Avalos, making it back to the surface at 4am this morning in that tiny, remarkable capsule, Phoenix 2, was incredible. It was not just the arrival back of the first of the miners, but it was the knowledge that this feat of engineering had worked to rescue one of the miners and therefore gave the families waiting in 'Camp Hope', the confidence that it would do the same for the remaining 32.

Florencio looked so calm and physically strong on his return after such an ordeal. An incredible sight. But what we all wanted to see, was the happy reunion between father and family. We weren't let down and I for one have to admit to sheding quite some tears at this moment of ecstasy, joy and relief.

10 saved, 23 to go
We're not finished yet of course. At the time ot typing, 10 of the miners have been winched to safety. There's still another 23 underground as well as the technical and medical support down there. But each one is being greeted at the surface like a conquering hero - and rightly so.

It will be difficult for them to cope with the sudden media celebrity that they have unwittingly found themselves thrust into. They never planned for this - but this is what they'll have to deal with. Each individual is a human story in his own right and I can see Hollywood types rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of turning this event into a feel-good action movie. After all, who could have made this up? This is far better than fiction.

Well done BBC
Speaking of the media, I must say that the BBC coverage last night has been particularly impressive. It's been informative but also compassionate. I was particularly impressed at the abilitiy of its two reporters, Matt Fri and Tim Wilcox to interview family members and local names of note in their native Spanish tongue. This was certainly much more impressive than the crass 'Miners Rescued - 0 of 33' scorecard that has been displayed on Sky News which has irked me greatly.

Mankind's Finest Hour?
This is a human story without parallel. This has been the story of triumph over adversary. The story of everyday miners who through no fault of their own will now become worldwide celebrities. A story of human engineering ingenuity to beat unbelievable odds. A story of patience, courage and hope. A story of mankind at its best.

It has been a sobering few hours. When you stand back and realise what has been achieved here, it really does take the breath away. I'm a historian, so I do tend to look at global events such as this with the wider perspective of history. I can honestly say that in years to come, mankind will look back at this rescue mission with great pride as one of it's defining moments.

We went to the moon, we built the pyramids, we witnessed the works of Shakespeare and Schubert's Ave Maria, we developed modern medicine and vaccinations, we climbed Everest, we learnt how to fly and we learned with science through the likes of Aristotle, Newton and Einstein of the nature of human existence.

I feel that we can now proudly add to that list of achievements the fact that we, mankind, also managed to rescue miners, after 69 days of incarceration, from a living Chilean hell.

Well done Chile - this has been your finest hour.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

A Time for Lib Dem MP's to Rebel

Being in coalition means a need to compromise. When a coalition is required, it means that no one party has won the election outright. It means that no one party can lead a government unimpaired, with an ability to enact their policies as they see fit.

So it is with the Westminster coalition. There are many governmental initiatives that are Tory led which makes a number of us Lib Dems feel queasy. At the same time, watching the Tory conference last week in Birmingham, it's clear that their rank-and-file aren't at all happy at how some of their policies have been watered down to accommodate its more centrist partners. So we must be doing something right.

A joint agreement for government has been agreed by both parties, but that document can not and does not cover every eventuality.

A Fees Disaster
The agreement made in May for example could not account for the detail that was to be unveiled this morning in Lord Browne's review.
The rumours have been doing the rounds for days but we now know the recommendations - that the £3,290 cap on University fees be lifted with potential charges of up to £12,000 a year to be requested from students. The devil is in the detail of course and there are some notable recommendations that would allay some of the concerns - for example the raising of the threshold where repayments must be made from £15,000 to £21,000.

A Pledge is a Pledge
But, say what you like, the Liberal Democrat view on this has been loud and clear for many a year.

Indeed, over 500 Lib Dem parliamentary candidates signed a NUS pledge to vote against an increase in tuition fees for students before the election. There are times, when in government, where we must stand up for our core principles and remind the watching public, that when we say something, we mean it.

It'll be tough for those in the Executive to do any more than abstain, as the coalition agreement allows them to do - we do of course have that constraint of collective responsibility. But the likes of Nick Clegg, who said pre-election that “We will resist, vote against, campaign against, a rise in tuition fees" will have to seriously consider whether he can hold to that coalition agreement when in his own city lies the Universities of Sheffield and Hallam.

Bachench Backlash
For those Lib Dem MP's on the backbenches however, the constraint of collective responsibility holds less water. It will be interesting to see how they respond to the recommendations and the government line on these recommendations, once they are known to us all.

There is no doubt however that this will prove to be the first real test of the coalition's resolve. Whatever happens however, it won't bring the coalition to its knees - anyone who hopes that that may be the case, does not realise the deep sense of purpose that exists within the coalition ranks, of clearing up Labour's mess.

But there will always be tension and this will undoubtedly be one of them. For the sake of our credibilty on those issues in which we have shouted loud and proud, our MPs need to have the courage of their convictions and vote with their conscience.

This may well be an England-only issue in principle, but its impact has UK-wide repercussions.

So I'm pleased to see that our local Lib Dem MP Mark Williams has come out against a rise in fees and he has stated very simply, that he will vote against such a move in Parliament.

There's a time and a place for rebellion - particularly in government. This is most certainly one of them.

Parky eats Bacon for Lunch

I happened to come across this blog piece (A Lanson Boy: Parky sticks it to Richard Bacon) by Alex Folkes that emanated from a Radio 5 Live interview yesterday between Richard Bacon and Michael Parkinson on the subject of Russell Brand.

Whilst I'm not the biggest 'Parky' fan in the world, it's difficult to not hold much respect for a man who has a mamouth media history to his name having interviewed pretty much every 'big name' that there was to interview during his time at the top.

Richard Bacon on the other hand, I regard closer to a z-list media operator. I don't rate his interviewing technique and there's something about his manner which I find rather irksome.

Here, Parky has Bacon on the ropes on the whole 'Russell Brand-gate' affair when he called Andrew Sachs and left a rather ill-thought out (that's being diplomatic) message on his answering machine.

Parky is clearly revelling in the topic of conversation and the fact that he clearly has Bacon on the back-foot. There are times when Bacon looks incredibly defensive, sitting back in his chair, taking hit after hit from this aged media master.

It deserves to be seen again (and it is great actually being able to see a Radio interview as well as listen to it because the body language gives away so much extra to the tension of the interview) and again if only to exemplify how poor Richard Bacon is and to hear a good old fashioned take on what was in my opinion, a pretty disgraceful waste of my BBC License fee.

So, for the next 6 days, here it is. Well done Parky.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Labour's Big Fat NO to Wales

Welsh Labour will not be happy tonight. Not happy at all.

Labour's Shadow Cabinet elections have just been announced and not one of the 19 'winners' are Welsh MP's.

49 Labour MP's put their names forward for the 19 places directly available in Ed Miliband's Shadow Cabinet. Of those 49, 8 were Welsh MP's. But Labour's 258 MP's who voted for their top 19 candidates, decided against putting Peter Hain, Chris Bryant, Kevin Brennan, Wayne David, David Hanson, Huw Irranca-Davies, Ian Lucas and Alun Michael onto the front bench.

A Kick in the Teeth for Welsh Labour
This is a real kick in the teeth for Labour heavyweights such as Peter Hain and Alun Michael. Peter Hain remember was a former Secretary of State for Wales and held the same post in Northern Ireland when Tony Blair successfully oversaw the coming together of the DUP and Sinn Fein. He also ran for the Deputy Leadership of the Party (and it goes without saying, lost). Alun Michael was none less than Tony Blair's hand picked first 'First Minister' of Wales when devolution got underway with the Welsh Assembly in 1999.

But more than anything, this is a real red-faced moment for Red Ed and his Red Party.

Welsh Members Through the Back Door?
Ed Miliband still has the discretion of choosing 5 additional members to complete his Shadow Cabinet. If he has absolutely any sense at all, he'll make sure that one or two of those five come from Wales.

But in the meantime, I can already see tomorrow's Welsh media coverage. The Western Mail will jump on this 'snub' to Wales and it'll no doubt be a topic of discussion on Radio Cymru's weekly topical programme 'Dau O'r Bae'. Whoever's representing Welsh Labour on the panel tomorrow better get ready for some serious flack!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

A Proud British Piers Geek

Although situated in the opposite part of the country from where I type, I was distressed to read this morning that Hastings Pier has gone up in flames overnight and has caused some 95% damage to the upper structure.

For some unfathonable reason, I've got a rather geeky love of British Piers. Ok, well it probably is fathonable and like with many things in my life, I can lay the blame with the Liberal Democrats.

Over the past 8 years, I have travelled the length and breadth of Britain's seaside towns on my annual visit to the autumn 'seaside' Liberal Democrat conference. In fact, this month's conference in Liverpool broke quite a trend - it was the first since I began going to autumn conferences in 2003, which did not have a Pier stuck at the end of it.

2003 - Brighton
2004 - Bournemouth
2005 - Blackpool
2006 - Brighton
2007 - Brighton
2008 - Bournemouth
2009 - Bournemouth

Indeed, I've also been to Liberal Democrat spring conferences in Torquay (2003) and Southport (2004). We've also held Welsh Liberal Democrat Conferences in Llandudno (2002 & 2008).

What do they all have in common? They all have Piers.

So, over the years I've grown to have a great attachment to these 19th century, Victorian fetes of engineering. They remind me of happy, enjoyable days away with my extended liberal  family. They have almost entirely been trips that have been welcomed with wonderful weather which of course has added to the fond memories.

Brighton though for me, has always been a sad conference because looking out from the Grand Hotel on the sea front, is the ruin of it's west pier which was itself destroyed by fire in March 2003, just months before my first visit there.

Closer to home, Aberystwyth of course has a Pier allbeit a shortened one from the original opened in 1865 after a storm in 1938 destroyed half of it.

A Proud Pier Geek
So, bizzarely, I've found myself to have been surrounded by this idyllic image of the Pier and it's one I now know, which will always stay with me.

Indeed, I've been meaning too, but have not yet done, but will, join the National Piers Society.

It's the old romantic and the historian in me all rolled into one I think that has made me an oddly keen enthusiast for this rather eccentric piece of British heritage. Mind you, as this BBC interview from 2008 shows, I'm not the only one.

A Sad Day for Hastings
So it is with this in mind that I was particularly sad to find this morning that Hastings has overnight, associated itself with Weston-Super-Mare and Brighton as recent examples of piers that have fallen on particularly bad times.

There are in fact, or so says the National Piers Society website, 58 piers currently standing in the UK. Unless I'm mistaken, I've been/seen a poultry 11 or 12 of them. I must do better and visit more of those that we still have before they join the list of the 40 that have already disappeared.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

BBC Strike - Right in Principle, Wrong in Practise

I'm a fan of the BBC. There, I've said it.

In fact, I support the BBC License Fee. There, I've said that too.

I always have been a fan of the BBC and I'm happy to pay my license fee on an annual basis. Why? Well, I'm rather proud of this rather unique institution that we have which strives to provide us with good quality programming. A service which strives to deliver impartial, cutting edge political discourse.

You don't like paying the fee? You want to scrap it? Then that's fine. But just you remember that the alternative is a great risk. A very great risk. The alternative is an open market service that will be at the beck-and-call of it's owners and their own political and cultural agenda.

My News, Not their News
Do I want a Fox News based service here in the UK? No, I don't. Do I want a service ran by a small group of wealthy individuals such as Rupert Murdoch? No I don't.

Do I want a service which is designed for all and not for the few? Yes I do. Am I willing to pay for that privelege? Yes I am.

BBC Staff Strike
I've therefore been rather concerned to read about the potential BBC 2-day strike next week during the Conservative Party Conference. The unions that represent the camera crews, engineers and journalists, Bectu, Unite and the NUJ had called the strike in protest at the ending of the BBCs final salary pension scheme. The management announced a 1% limit on future pension increases to fill what is claimed to be a £1.5bn hole in their pension fund.

The staff have a right to protest and a right to strike if they feel that such a move is required to make their point. Indeed, feelings are not unreasonably running high. I was speaking to one member of the BBC in west Wales yesterday and it's clear that there's an anger at the Corporation's decision. Specifically there's a feeling that those who put the programmes together are taking the hit as opposed to the management and the high profile stars we see on the screen with their high salaries. Personally, I'd be much happier seeing those on the factory floor who are putting the BBC programmes on the air getting their fair share than seeing the ridiculous sums that have been paid in the past to 'personalities' such as Johnathan Ross. Admittedly, it leaves the BBC at the risk of losing star names to the commercial networks who can offer more, but I think the BBC need to get the balance right - it certainly isn't at the moment.

Don't Make It Political
So I have much sympathy for those BBC workers who are pretty p***ed off with their management and if they feel that striking is the way forward, then good luck to them.

However, striking in the middle of the Conservative Conference is just plain wrong. Indeed, doing so during any such political event is a retrograde move.

One of the reasons I pay my licence fee is for a decent, impartial, non-partisan news service. I am not paying for a boycott of a significant political occasion. I want to hear what the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, in these austere times, has to say - even if he isn't of my party.

Thankfully in the last 24 hours, this potential strike has been put on the back-burner as a management counter-offer has come forward for the workers to consider. Yet, the threat is that the 2 day boycott could now take place on October 19th and 20th in the middle of the critical comprehensive spending review, annouced by Chancellor George Osbourne.


We have a right to know and have access to these important, newsworhy developments that will directly impact on our lives. I've paid for the BBC to tell me all of this - I don't expect to have to resort to Sky News to find out what's happening.

So it annoys me greatly that the Unions are pushing for these dates. To me it stinks of partisan manouveres. It is to Ed Miliband's great credit then that he came out yesterday against the strike in the middle of Tory Conference week. As he rightly said:

"Whatever the rights and wrongs of the dispute, they should not be blacking out the prime minister's speech. My speech was seen and heard on the BBC and in the interests of impartiality and fairness, so the prime minister's should be."

Spot on Ed. It's a shame that the Unions disagreed with him. Bectu's response was quite incredible:

"As a Labour Party affiliate, Bectu places on record its dissatisfaction with Ed Miliband's statement. The leader's intervention is not helpful and is dismissive of our actions as a responsible trade union which has been negotiating with the employer on this issue for three long months."


You have the right to strike and it's understandable that you want maximum exposure. But don't do that in a way that prejudices and puts into question the BBC's very political neutrality.

It goes without saying, that this whole episode and this reponse from Bectu, infuriates me.

Listen to Nick Robinson
As much as I can't stand the man, Nick Robinson and his fellow 30 senior BBC journalists who signed a letter requesting a change of tact, are correct.

If the desire is to have maximum impact, then the unions need to strike at a time BBC audience figures are at their peak. As it's the live programming that will particularly suffer from any strike, why not for example, strike on a weekend when 'Strictly Come Dancing' should be on our screens? It will have a great impact and will make the point but will not threaten the BBC's reputation for fairness and potentially give it an impression of political bias.

The Tories hate the Beeb
It's for their own good too. At the end of the day, the Tories have never liked the Beeb. It's considered too 'liberal' or too 'lefty'. The worst thing that the Unions could do would be to antagonise the Tories now that they're back in power and give them an extra excuse to make changes to the BBC's Charter.

Have your fight with the management, but don't do it in a way that could damage the BBC in the long-run.

It's in no-one's interest to see a diminished BBC - particularly the unions. They need to see sense and strike at a time when they can maximise their protest, without risking the BBC's hard earned reputation for political fairness and impartiality.