Monday, 29 November 2010

Wikileaks - A Right to Know?

Open government. The right to know.

It sounds like an episode of 'Yes Minister' but the revelations made by wikileaks in recent days is much more significant than could ever have been imagined by a Jim Hacker or a Sir Humphrey.

These diplomatic and security revelations that are being made known by this whistle-blowing website are unprecedented and if their word it to be believed, are only the tip of the iceberg.

Here in the UK, top security documents are usually embargoed under the '30 year' rule if not longer. But now, cables from across the world have been leaked to wikileaks and are opening up the murky world of international diplomacy. Suddenly, we now know the intimate opinions of senior world leaders of their counterparts.

They include reports of some Arab leaders - including Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah - urging the US to attack Iran and end its nuclear weapons programme. Other concerns include the security of Pakistani nuclear material that could be used to make an atomic weapon.

In a statement, the White House said: "Such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government."President Obama supports responsible, accountable, and open government at home and around the world, but this reckless and dangerous action runs counter to that goal."

This is the point. Much diplomatic dialogue that occurs, must be behind closed-doors. Individuals and nations, if in possession of the whole truth of a situation at any given time, may make dangerous decisions.

The Northern Ireland Example
An example from recent years comes from Northern Ireland. We now know, years after the time in question, that John Major in his early years as Prime Minister in the early 1990s, opened up channels of communication with Sinn Fein. This was a highly provocative and high-stakes gamble on his part. Sinn Fein after all were the political arm of the IRA which blew up the Conservative Party conference in Brighton in 1984.

If we knew then what we know now, there's no doubt in my mind that pressures would've been put onto him to stop what were tentative attempts to bring the Republicans to the diplomatic table. Had that have been the case, the 1998 Good Friday Agreement may not have been accomplished all those years later. We may now not have had the peaceful political settlement that has come about since 2007.

A Necessary Evil?
Security and diplomacy and future peace are threatened by these revelations. How can such news as we have read of in recent days help us with our dealings with Iran? They can't. It only adds to the tension that already exists.

We are not talking paperclips and clothes hangers as they may have done in the time of Hacker and Humphrey. We're talking of a post-cold war world where it isn't nations, but people within nations who are the threat to society. Nuclear arms have proliferated and great care must be taken when dealing with the leaders of nations and of peoples who have the access to these earth-changing weapons of destruction.

Diplomacy has a rightful place in modern society - indeed even more so than ever. Security also. It therefore imperils us all when such dimplomatic leaks are made public as we have seen this week. The ends do not justify the means in this case.

Wikileaks may mean well but in this case, they've gone way to far or as Sir Humphrey may have put it, "This is the thin end of the wedge".

Sunday, 28 November 2010

IT'S CHRIIIIISSSSTMAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSS!

I love Christmas - loves it I do! It's the inner child in me.

But this year, I make no bones with the fact that I'm more excited about this Yuletide time of year than I have been in years. The reason? Two words - Alyson Rees!

We'll have been together officially for a year as of Boxing Day so this will be our first proper Crimbo together and whilst she lives with her parents in Llanboidy you wouldn't think it such has been her impact on my house these past 12 months! Most notably at the moment is the Christmas Tree and decorations that we've been putting up today around the house! I bought this house Aneddfa, 5 years ago this December. Never in that time have I gone all Christmassy with it - I've never had the time or compulsion too. But this year, it's all change! This Christmas is gonna rock!

My Top Xmas Hits!

A big part of this wintery season for me is always the music. I love Christmas music at this time of year as it really puts me in the mood. It does annoy me when I hear it in October because it tends to lose some of that sparkle when you hear it too early.

Normally I turn the music on, on December 1st and no earlier but this year I'm a few days early because I'm just too damned excited with it all (and it's the first day of advent also!).

Christmas songs from down the years are so numerous and splendid, I have found it near impossible to try and collect in one small space here, a sample of my favourites. But I've given it a go. Now don't be surprised if you find some big hits excluded from this list. There are some songs that for me are oveplayed at Xmas time and which have made them lose their appeal somewhat.

Here, in no particular order are the Cole Xmas Hits which I look out for each year...

First, a wonderful Bing Crosby hit. No, not 'White Christmas' (yawn), but 'It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas'



Then there's the fantastic Brenda Lee and she's Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree.



Jona Lewie's anti-war 'Stop the Cavalry' is a classic.



The Beach Boys are legendary. Their Xmas hit I think is greatly under-rated. It's 'The Little Saint Nick'.



Andy Williams is rarely wrong and certainly not this time. For 'It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year'



Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews certainly new the temperature 'cos 'Baby It's Cold Outside'.



An under-rated Yule-tide hit comes from Chris Rea - he's 'Driving Home for Christmas'.



My father liked Boney M. I like Boney M. I love their rendition of 'Mary's Boy Child'.



Don't you ever forget Bobby Helms and his 'Jingle Bell Rock'.



Here's a little bit of Celine Dion singing one of the spine-tingling tunes of all time - 'O Holy Night'.



Want some Dean Martin? Want some Snow? You've got it! 'Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow'.



But we can't some Christmas without some Elvis. Less of the white stuff, this is a 'Blue Christmas'



Continuing on the more melancholic vibe, it'll be 'Lonely This Christmas' for Mud.



I blame Aberystwyth University friend Christopher Shaw for this one. Only in the past year have I suddenly realise how awesome David Essex's 'A Winter's Tale' is. A wonderful, haunting melody.



Say what you want, I don't care. I've always been fond of Robson and Jerome's version of 'I Believe'.



Upping the tempo again, another under-rated Xmas hit, this time from Elton John - 'Step Into Christmas'.



Shakin' Stevens can not be overlooked. 'Merry Christmas Everyone'.



Then coming towards my all time top Xmas Hits. Band Aid, 1984 really was something else. Again, shivers down spine time. Do they know it's Christmas?



An all-time hit is Mariah Carey's 'All I Want for Christmas'. Wow!



If I had to choose a Mark Cole all-time Christmas Number 1. Then I think there can only be one. It has to be Kirsty McColl and the Pogues 'Fairytale of New York'.



This has been a right-old varied bag of Xmas hits - apt as my musical tastes have always been eclectic. But to finish off, just to show that the good old-fashioned Christmas song isn't dead. Here's a modern hit that should deserve to be in anyone's all-time Xmas hits list for years to come.

From the genius that is Peter Kay, courtesy of Geraldine McQueen, to remind us all that is great about this time of year, it's 'Once Upon a Christmas Song'.

You'll be singing it over and over and over again...

Merry Christmas!


Saturday, 27 November 2010

Elizabeth Evans - A Fresh Start for Ceredigion

Ceredigion Liberal Democrats today met and chose our new candidate for the Welsh Assembly election next May.

I'm absolutely delighted to report that that candidate will be Cllr Elizabeth Evans from Aberaeron, Or as she is more commonly known, Liz.

I've known Liz for 7 or so years and have found her to be one of the friendliest, most genuine and hard-working people I know - and she's a liberal to the core.

A Senior Caseworker for Mark Williams MP
I've had the great fortune of having worked with Liz for 5 years since Mark Williams was first elected as the MP for Ceredigion in 2005. I worked as his press officer and sometime caseworker whilst Liz worked as his Senior Caseworker in his Aberystwyth constituency office. She was always a sane voice of reason and experience that I could always rely on if ever I needed a word to the wise or a refuge from which to shelter from the pressures of working in a busy all-go political office environment.

Over those 5 years, I've come to see her many strengths. An excellent and effective communicator who has a natural empathy towards those who come to the office seeking advice and support, she is the ideal caring candidate.

A Ceredigion County Councillor
She also has a good political head for detail. I learned this during our time in the office in Aberystwyth but increasingly so after she was elected to Ceredigion County Council as the County Councillor for her home town of Aberaeron back in 2008. We sit next to each other in the Council Chamber and the depth of her knowledge is deeply impressive. Within just 2 years of being on the County Council, she has already become the chair of the Economic Development and Tourism Scrutiny Committee.

Her contacts and knowledge of Council employees from her time when she herself worked on the Council and from her many letters and phone calls to officials on behalf of the MP and his constituents has given her an invaluable insight into the working of both the local authority but also of other external organisations.

An Aberaeron Town Councillor and former Mayor
She also followed in the footsteps of her grandfather by becoming the Mayor of Aberaeron within a year of being elected to the Town Council, having 'topped the poll' in the 2008 election. Her family are renowned in the town for being the former and long-standing owners of the popular 'New Celtic Restaurant' by the Harbour.

She is a popular, well liked and hard-working local campaigner and community activist. She's a former recipient of the prestigious Welsh European of the year award for her long service as chair of the Aberystwyth-St Brieuc Twinning Committee and spent her formative years in the retail industry and as a self-employed businesswoman.

Time for a Fresh Start
The incumbant Assembly Member for Ceredigion of course is Plaid Cymru's Elin Jones. She's been the AM since the inception of the Assembly in 1999 and is the current Minister for Agriculture and as a result has been the subject of much discontent over some controversial policies that she has attempted to implement eg the Badger Cull and Glastir.

I've sensed in Ceredigion recently, a desire for change at the Assembly level. After 12 years with the same Assembly Member, it's time for a new take on the problems facing our county. Time for a new, articulate voice who will work alongside our MP Mark Williams as a strong team, fighting for Ceredigion.

It's time then for an Assembly Member change in Ceredigion.

It's time, for Elizabeth Evans.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Will Kate & William pay for my wedding?

So then. Prince William and Kate Middleton will marry on April 29th 2011 at Westminster Abbey. We'll even get a Bank Holiday in to boot. This will mean 2 consecutive 4 day weekends encompassing Easter the weekend before - not that us political types will have any time off the week before the Welsh Assembly elections!

I am genuinely pleased for Kate and William. They looked happy, relaxed and in love with each other when they made the announcement of their engagement a week or so ago and after being with each other after 8 or so years, decided it was eventually time to tie the knot. I'm confident that they will prove to be a durable and happy couple - certainly more in the vein of his grandparents than his parents. The fact that they're marrying in the same place as the his grandparents as opposed to St Pauls Cathedral where his parents married can only be a good omen.

Yet, over the past week or so, there's been some real vitriol on-line regarding the marriage. Many of the comments come from Liberal Democrat friends of mine. It's not necessarily surprising. Whilst the Tories have always been avidly Monarchist and Labour have been generally more Republican in nature, the Lib Dems fall between both stools. A great proportion of my liberal friends are Republicans - they see no need for this archaic, unmeritocratic, institution. But having said that, I have many liberal friends who are proudly pro-Monarchy and are indeed, pleased with the news that has come from Buckingham Palace recently.

 A Reluctant Monarchist
Me? Well, I used to be a staunch Monarchist as a child but my passion for this very British of institutions has faded over the years as my ingrained liberalism has taken a greater hold.

I'd like to think that I have good reason of being a fan in the first instance. For it was the Royal Family and it's history that got me interested in history in the very first place. I can trace a love for history that saw me through to study it and undergraduate and postgraduate level in University down to one simple, but unintentional incident as a child.

My parents and I were on one of our many touring caravan holidays. I must have been 7 or 8 at the time and this was a particularly wet holiday. I decided to buy a pack of playing cards to help us through the wet times, having played a lot of cards with my family as a child. I purchased a pack in the innocence of thinking that they were playing cards but they turned out to me information cards about every King or Queen since 1066. Before I knew it, I was fascinated. The next Christmas, my auntie Elinor bought me a book about the Royal Family. I still have that book. I've since been to Windsor Castle as a child, I attended a Buckingham Palace Garden Party with my mother back in the summer and our family visited Windsor only a few weeks ago to see our family horse Dyfed Celt take his place in the Household Cavalry.

But as a liberal who belives in a meritocracy, there are questions that must be asked regarding a situation where the Head of State is decided not upon merit, but upon an accident of birth. But then, at this moment of financial difficulty, for me, the question of the future of the Royal Family shouldn't be a priority - there's much more important issues that need to be dealt with in the meantime.

The Firm
Personally, I have a lot of time for the Queen. To devote an entire life to public service in the way that she has, without complaining about it in public, is quite an incredible personal achievement. I'm also (controversially maybe) a fan of Prince Charles. I met him in Cardigan Castle a few years. We spoke briefly and he seemed to me to be an affable, pleasant enough chap. William seems like a nice guy too. Just like his great aunt, I'm pleased that Harry wasn't born the eldest - like Margaret, he's wild!

Who should pay for the Wedding?
But, stripping away the individuality of the situation and taking it in the whole, can we afford the Royal Family? Should the tax-payer have to pay for Royal Weddings when we're tightening our belts enough as it is?

It's a tough one. The British monarchy last year in total, cost the taxpayer £38.2m (not including security costs). This equates to 62p per person. A bargain you might say and many would argue. But Prince William himself has security that costs £1.4m for his cottage in north Wales where he is working with the RAF. There will also be a temporary grant of £1m to help pay for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012.

The issue is that we're all tightening our belts and it's difficult to imagine, even for a potential future King, that even more money will be given from us the tax-payer, to pay for this wedding. It is estimated that the Queen has a personal reserve of some £290m. She may well have to 'dip' into this wealth herself. All things considered, I think she should. She has already shown restraint in agreeing to cut the total spending of the Royal Household by 14% in 2012/13 which is in-line with the public sector cuts that her subjects are having to face. This to me seems fair and reasonable. If she were to pay for the costs of her grandson's wedding, it would be an even greater sign of her acknowledging that now is not the time to make more demands on the public purse.

Because at the end of the day, I wouldn't expect William and Kate to have to pay for my wedding so in these austere times, they shouldn't expect us to have to pay for theirs. If they want to marry in Westminster Abeey with all of the pomp and occasion that goes with it, that is their choice and I have no problem with that - but let the Royal Family pay for it.

If they were to do so, then on the big day itself, we could all enjoy the extra day off and celebrate the day with them, knowing that they've done their bit by not asking us to foot the bill. It'll also give us an additional reason to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

The Royal Family are popular in Britain. To remain so, their PR machine should be telling them the best thing to do - pay for the wedding themselves and don't burden an already thrifty and concerned society any further on this occasion. By doing so, it will only further bolster that popular support.

Good luck to William and Kate. I hope you'll be happy together. My gut instinct is that you will.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Vote Wagner to Win! (Chris Moyles Agrees!)

Anyone who has seen my Facebook or Twitter posts in recent weeks will know that I've not been afraid to say openly that I've been voting for Wagner in the X-Factor this season.

The response has unsurprisingly been a split of defiant support for my sentiments, and annoyed outrage from those who see Wagner's continued presence on our ITV1 screens as sacrilegious to modern music.

Today I heard from the self-styled saviour of Radio 1 Chris Moyles, that he had said the same.

My Run-ins with Mr Moyles
This tickled me it must be said because I've had a few run-ins with Mr Moyles over the years. The first was back in 2000 when he was the main act (alongside Comedy Dave) at a National Young Farmers Conference in the Winter Gardens in Blackpool. He was late arriving at around midnight and all I can remember was this scrum of young people pressing me closer to the barriers at the front of the auditorium. It wasn't the most memorable of memories.

My second and more contentious run-in as many will know (particularly those who saw it happen in the flesh) was in Aberystwyth Students Union in 2004 when the Union was hosting the first Radio 1 University Quiz (the town being the home of Aled from the Chris Moyles team). Our team came joint second and I was tasked with answering the tie-breaker question live on stage with Moyles and Comedy Dave. I was doing well I felt, bantering with the infamous Moyles sense of humour and quick wit before he flattened me, saying that I reminded him of the 'Crazy Frog'. Having never been referred to in this way before, I had no repost. The hundreds gathered around in the 'Joint' lapped it up at my expense. It was a win for Moyles over Cole, fair and square. To rub it in, I bombed at the tie-breaker!

Wagner Brings Us Together!
So it shouldn't surprise many when I say that I'm not a Chris Moyles fan. I'm more of a Chris Evans (originally when he was on Radio 1 in the '90s and now on Radio 2) supporter but now, I find myself agreeing with Moyles for once.

Why do I support Wagner? It's because I want to rail against the system. A system that acts as a conveyer belt as it pumps out wannabe pop stars. Now don't get me wrong, these reality based programmes have unearthed some absolute gems over the past decade. Will Young and Leona Lewis are deserved superstars and they were 'found' in the reality format of recent years.

But the majority of the 'talent' that is unearthed, usually sinks away as quickly as it had risen. What happened to Michelle McManus (who I actually rather liked), Steve Brookstein and Leon Jackson for example? They all actually won the competition (and its predecessor) but have sunk without trace since.

What Moyles said today which I agreed with is how the judges (and the producers of the programme) are often keen in the first instance to promote the 'odd-balls' that will attract the ridicule and the high viewing figures but suddenly turn against them as they progress further and deeper into the competition 'proper'. The progress of Jedward last year caused a furore but eventually, they ran out of steam.

The Class of 2010
However, this year as this website article says, both Wagner and over on the Beeb on Strictly Come Dancing, Anne Widdiecombe are breaking new ground. For these 'joke' contestants to reach December would be unheard of. Suddenly, there's an actual chance that this time the public could see it through and vote one of these contestants through to the end. It's still unlikely of course but not impossible.

What makes it different this year is that a sceptical public have drawn blood and are keen to do so again. Their viral triumph last Christmas when they 'raged against the machine' to stop the X-Factor hijacking yet another festive No.1 showed that 'people power' could overcome the Simon Cowell machine.

It's a desire to speak up against the conformed nature of modern music. A desire to fight back against a decade of reality TV. A want to act individually and not as a flock of sheep.

It's a sense of purpose that I happily attach myself too. In his own way, Chris Moyles - yes even Chris Moyles, seems to have felt the same.

Deserved Winners?
Would it be fair for the likes of excellent singers like Matt, Rebecca or One Direction to be denied by a joke character such as a Wagner? Well, the people vote for they ultimately should decide. It's called democracy.

Real talent will find itself rising to the surface so those who may be spurned shouldn't worry - if they're good enough, they'll be found.

What this current insurrection may prove, is that this format may be on its final feet. I may well be wrong of course, but if a Wagner, now or in the near future were to manage to go all the way and win the X-Factor, then the programme really will have imploded on itself.

It's unlikely but then, odder things have happened.

Either way, I'm standing up against the system on this one. The likes of Simon Cowell need to realise that they can not determine our musical tastes. A short sharp shock to his smug system can only be a good thing.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Peter Kay and Freddie Mercury in Concert - A Stunning Combination!

I'm a big Peter Kay fan. I said as such in a recent blog post where I wrote of my love of good natured, down-to-earth comedy.

I'm also a big musical fan and of Queen and of Freddie Mercury in particular. Again, I also mentioned this in another recent blog post.

So imagine my amazement and delight to have these two very different enthusiasms, merged together into a bizzare, surreal but fantastic performance last night!

Peter Kay - A Musical Maestro
As I mentioned in my 'Love of Laughter' blog mentioned above, I was due to attend with my Alyson, a Peter Kay concert in Cardiff having bought the tickets back almost a year ago. I've been a Peter Kay fan since he hit it big. His earthy, everyday sense of humour strikes a chord with everyone and as I mentioned before, he to me is a male version of Victoria Wood who is also beloved for her northern, no-nonsense take on life.

What the two have in common also is a musicality that adds to their comedy. Not only do they love their music but they can bring their day-to-day roots to life not ust through words, but through lyrics as well.

Peter has (for a comedian), a remarkable 6 Top 40 hits. 3 of those are No.1 hits - 'Is this the way to Amarillo' with Tony Christie, I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) and 'The Official BBC Children in Need Medley' featuring his animated all-star band. He also scored No.2 and No.5 hits as reality TV spoof contestant Geraldine McQueen and a No.6 hit with 'Sleep' alongside Texas.

At the start of the concert last night, before his big entrance, they played the videos to I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) and Sleep - a cracking way to get into the Peter Kay mood!

Here are a few samples of his genius. First of all, Geraldine McQueen's 'The Winners Song'.



Secondly, his fantastic animated tribute to our childhood heroes of today and yesterday for Children in Need last year. It was like an animated version of Band Aid!



Peter Kay - Live in Concert on the Tour That Doesn't Tour, Tour
So, we got to see the man himself in the flesh last night in Cardiff. Peter it should go without saying was on great form.

I think the general vibe was that the first half was a slow burner. He was good of course but with so many references to past comedic routines, it felt as if he's almost trapped by his own historic success.

But the second half really was Peter Kay at his cutting edge best. His humour again struck a chord with the 5,000 or so packed-out audience who were continuously in fits of laughter but he brought the main part of his act to a close with some fantastic observational references to modern musical songs that we all know and love. I won't go into the detail as it will spoil it for those who are yet to see him or who may buy the DVD when it will surely be released. All I'll say is buy it!

Freddie Mercury - A Reprise
The encore was outstanding. Peter's ability to play a shovel in time to legendary rock songs as if he was playing a guitar was superb! He then graduated to playing a 'double shovel'! The pyrotechnics must have been costly but brought the evening to a loud and fantastic conclusion as he concluded by paying homage to one of his boyhood favourite bands by dressing in a leotard and leading a closing rendition of 'We are the Champions'.

As the old saying goes, it had to be seen to be believed!

Genius, Genius, Genius
Peter Kay just has that ability to make the normal, extraordinary. He's an everyday Bolton lad who speaks our language and dreams our dreams.

But for me it's his musical ability that sets him apart from his contemporary comedians of today. I couldn't see a Jack Dee, a Michael McIntyre or a Jimmy or Alan Carr concluding a performance with such incredible levels of energy and enthusiasm as I witnessed last night.

The reason that Peter Kay is able to do it, is because he loves it. In all of his comedy and all of his music, he is paying tribute to a loved and wonderful past.

It is for that reason that we, in turn, love Peter Kay. The 5,000 of us there last night certainly did and I am now incredibly excited and proud to say that I saw him live, in the flesh and at his very best.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Martin Bell, Ceredigion's W.I. and me.

A few months ago, I was greatly pleased to receive in the post, an invitation to speak at the AGM of Ceredigion's Women's Institute in Aberaeron's Feathers Hotel.

The AGM itself was a few weeks ago but I've only in recent days received a copy of a photo of that occasion so have held back from writing this blog post until now.

I had been asked last year, during my term as Mayor of Cardigan, to chair a Q&A panel session in New Quay for the southern Ceredigion W.I. section, involving four prominent members of the local south Ceredigion community. I was slightly apprehensive at first, having never encountered the formiddable WI (remember what they did to Tony Blair!) at first hand like this before. But it was an excellent evening and the feast that they served up afterwards, met their legendary reputation perfectly.

A Warm-Up Act for the White Knight -  Martin Bell
I couldn't have done too badly on that occasion a year ago, because here I was being invited to give a 15 minute talk to the Ceredigion-wide AGM on the subject of Cardigan's 900th year celebrations. I was the opening speaker, very much the 'warm-up act' I felt for the main star attraction, former BBC foreign affairs correspondent and latter Independent MP, Martin Bell.

I must confess that I only got around to putting together my talk the night before but it ran to the 15 minutes and it gave a good, concise overview of why Cardigan was celebrating 900 years of history, what it had to celebrate, and how it was celebrating it. I gather from the feedback, that my talk was very well received and I enjoyed delivering it in front of some 150 members.

The Main Act - Martin Bell
Having given my speech, I took my seat back in the audience, knowing that I would enjoy the next one as much as the W.I. members around me.

For I've always had much time for Martin Bell. I remember the 1997 general election when I was 14 and being glued to the unfolding drama of the campaign and the aftermath. One of the most extraordinary results of the night was the victory of the first truly Independent MP to be elected to Parliament since 1951. His victory against disgraced Tory MP Neil Hamilton, along with Michael Portillo's defeat to Stephen Twigg, epitomised the disaster that was Election '97 for the Conservative Party. He overturned a 22,000 Tory majority in Tatton and replaced it one of his own of 11,000 - an incredible result.

He kept his promise of not standing for a second term in the same Tatton seat and though he ran Eric Pickles close in 2001 in his Brentwood and Ongar seat in Essex, he would be destined to be a maverick, one-term Independent MP. He bowed out of front-line poltics at the time in 2001 saying "winning one and losing one is not a bad record for an amateur". Since then, he has become a Ambassador for UNICEF and is hot property on the after-dinner circuit. Indeed, his attendance in Aberaeron proved that!

A Worthy Signature
He wrote his autobiography, 'An Accidental MP' during his term of office and I bought the hardback version at the time a good decade or so ago.

So I couldn't resist bringing along that book to the AGM in the hope of asking him to sign it for me. I'm pleased to say that he did and indeed, having arrived early with local Aberaeron County Councillor Elizabeth Evans, we found him sitting on his own in the Feathers Hotel. So we ambled over and sat with him and had a very interesting and relaxed chat with him for some 15 minutes before the AGM began. He immediately struck me as being an easy-going, possibly slightly shy, but nevertheless, communicative man and it was great to have time to talk to him before he was surrounded by an excitable mob of W.I. members! It was also pleasing to see him live up to his legendary nickname of 'The White Knight' (as the photo shows!).

A Supporter of the Coalition and of a change to AV in next year's referendum
So when I was done, I was looking forward to hearing all that he had to say.

He spoke about his work as a foreign affairs journalist and now in his role as an UNICEF ambassador and it was good to hear him state clearly that he opposed the invasion of Iraq. He also spoke about his support for change to the electoral system. This didn't come as a surprise as I'd heard him speak at the Liberal Democrat conference rally in Liverpool in support of the Alternative Vote (AV) system of electing MPs. He spoke about his support of the Coalition as an opportunity for politicians to work together in the public interest.

His views on journalistic standards were also forthright. He was very critical of the amount of news coverage given to entertainment such as the 'X-Factor' and 'Strictly Come Dancing' - in his view such issues were not going to change the world and at the end of the day, would not have a direct impact on our lives. But he said, the problems emanating from the middle east does have repercussions for us here in the UK but rarely do they get the media exposure that they demand.

It was a fascinating talk that spoke of a life full of action, and gave views on the current state of affairs from his experiences of an older world.

Blog Recognition!
A very enjoyable day had an amusing aside which involved this very blog. The vote of thanks was given to us all individually and in mine, it was mentioned that I had a blog which could be read by all and from this blog it was told that I'm a '20 something who supports Aston Villa'! I didn't expect to have had the W.I do their research on me as thoroughly as that but am impressed that they did!

So if any of the memebrs of Ceredigion W.I who were there that day are reading this, thank you for the invitation! It was an enjoyable day!

Friday, 19 November 2010

It shouldn't be Nick Clegg's Choice

We heard this morning from No.10 Downing St of the list of 54 new Peerages to the House of Lords. Of these, 43 are Coalition Peers (27 for the Conservatives, 15 for the Liberal Democrats and 1 Cross-bencher), 10 are Labour Peers and 1 from Plaid Cymru.

I'm particularly pleased to see that out-going Welsh Assembly Member Jenny Randerson AM (a former Culture Minister in the 2000-2003 Labour/Liberal Democrat Welsh Assembly Coalition) is to be made a Baroness. Her expertise and experience will be invaulable in the Upper House. It's also good to see that Sal Brinton, Susan Kramer and Nicol Stephen are also being elevated.

Patronage Gone Wrong
Jenny, Sal, Susan and Nicol I believe, deserve their new 'calling'. They have been active in their communities for years and have a role to play in the House of Lords.

But not all peerages are given on such meritocrious (is that a proper word?!) grounds. From this current list, there are a number who have been significant donors to their parties. Robert Edmiston and Stanley Fink for example, have been prominent Conservative donors whilst Sir Gulam Noon was likewise for the Labour Party and had been previously nominated by Tony Blair for a Peerage.

This is where the system is fundamentally flawed. For as long as party political leaders have the ability to choose who should be elevated to the House of Lords and have this power of patronage, there will always be scope for abuse. Why should party donors be given a Peerage? It's crass and quite simply, wrong. Donors should want to give support to political parties not on the basis of what they individually can get out of it. Donate to help the party grow becuase you believe in their cause? Yes. Donate because you want leverage on the leadership to give you something that is within their power to give? No.

An Elected House of Lords
This is why we need to crack on and finally complete that long-running saga - House of Lords reform.

Whilst I'm pleased that a number of worthy people as well as those that I have named above, have received Peerages today, including Dame Joan Bakewell for Labour, Dafydd Wigley from Plaid Cymru and Sir Richard Dannatt from the Conservatives (but will sit as a Cross-bencher), I believe that it is giving too much power of patronage to too few people to allow the current situation to continue.

The likes of Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and David Cameron should not have this ability. Members of the House of Lords should, on the whole, be elected. They should get there with a democratic mandate.

A Wholly Elected Second Chamber?
Having said that, I stand, possibly in opposition to many of my friends in the Liberal Democrats, against the concept of having a 100% wholly elected second chamber. I think an overwhelming majority does need to be elected (somewhere within the region of 75%-90%) but that the remainder be selected and appointed by an independent panel to sit in the Lords on a term-by-term basis to fill any 'needs-based' gaps that may not be covered by the elected members.

For a wholly elected chamber will mirror too closely the House of Commons but will not guarantee that the relevant and required experience and expertise is there to scrutinise the executive's legislation.

So for example, if a Jenny Randerson didn't want to stand again for election but the independent panel believed that her expertise was required in the Upper Chamber, then they could propose a Peerage for her to fill that 'needs-based' gap.

Whether such a solution or a wholly elected alternative was taken forward by the Coalition Government, it would be a darn sight better than this unsatisfactory situation that we currently have to live with.

Take the patronage out and put some common sense democracy in.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A Curious Lib Dem Blogger

I was having a rare look through the Lib Dem Voice website earlier and was quite amazed to stumble across this week's Top of the Blogs: The Lib Dem Golden Dozen which includes a blog post that I wrote last week on the NUS London Protest that backfired.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

This is the first time that I'm aware of that one of my blog posts has made the weekly 'Golden Dozen' on Lib Dem Voice. It came in at No.5 in this week's list and unless I'm mistaken, that means it was the 5th most read blog post of any Lib Dem blog that is on the extensive Lib Dem Blogs Aggregator during the past week.

This really has come as a pleasant surprise because here's the thing, the whole 'blogosphere' is still a very curious thing for me.

Into the Deep
Having derided it for years, I made a failed attempt to get my blog going at the start of last year. After a handful of posts, it went quiet. Only back in September have I made a concerted effort to get it up-and-running properly. I had some spare time and decided to go for it. That first month saw me publishing at what for me was the schizophrenic pace of a post a day - I felt that I needed to get into it quickly and to get the blog read in the first instance. I know of some excellent blogs by the likes of Andrew Reeves, Alex Folkes, and Peter Black AM who often write on average more than a blog post a day but as my October and November blogging figures show, I'm settling down into more of a 'one blog post every two days' kind of routine.

That's the kind of pace I'm happy with and have time for but in the meantime, I can't help but notice that there's a whole world of blogging in general and political blogging in particular out there which I'm trying to get my head around. I'm no computer 'whizz kid' but I'm getting by and on my own merits am getting handier in running what I hope is an attractive enough looking and readable blog.

Still Learning
But there's still things I see others doing which I haven't done yet but which I'd like to get my head around sorting such as getting the LibDig stuff on each of my blog posts.

So I'm still rather green to all of this to be honest but I must admit it is an enjoyable way of venting my feelings on signicant political matters or just on normal, everyday issues that are of interest to me.

This particular Golden Dozen first is particularly pleasing simply because it must show that there are also readers out there who take an interest in my views and opinions and for that I must thank you.

Please keep reading, please feel free to comment on my posts and just as importantly, if you have any opinions on how I can improve my blog either in the style of writing or in the design of the site itself, then please get in touch - it's a great big learning curve I can tell you!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

A Poor No Show from Cheryl Gillan

I've not been impressed with Cheryl Gillan's performance as Secretary of State for Wales.

It's not because she's a Conservative. It's not because she represents an English constituency (she is Welsh in all fairness). It's just because, well...how can I put it diplomatically and tactfully....it's because I don't think she's very good at her job.

I wasn't a fan of Peter Hain either. Yet, despite the fireworks that have been lit by both Hain and Gillan since May, they're actually quite similar I feel. Their attitude and the way they communicate is so off-putting. It's the old 'ya-boo' politics speak that turns so many people off politics.

They epitomise all that is worse of the 'Punch and Judy' style of politics.

They both come across to me as being typical old war horses from a tribal age and they can't quite, indeed they probably don't even want to, act in a more measured, moderate way.

An Aberystwyth University Rebuff
Well, now they're at it again. Cheryl has today pulled out from giving the key note annual lecture at the Institute of Welsh Politics at Aberystwyth University. It's a prestigious speech to give and I was on hand to listen to Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams give it in recent years. It really is quite a thing to be asked to give this annual lecture.

But, because there was due to be a student protest at the event because of the London Coaltion Goverment's tuition fees plans, she has apparently pulled out on the advice of the police.

Hain has of course responded with vitriolic words such as 'a total disgrace', 'contempt', 'arrogant' and 'outrageous' .

Peter, a word of advice. Shut up.

The words I would use for Cheryl would be the following - 'disappointed', 'let-down', 'regretful', 'short-sighted', 'a missed opportunity' and 'own worst enemy'.

By pulling out of this engagement at the last minute, she has given more ammunition to those like Peter Hain who are waiting and willing for her to slip up. She really doesn't help herself. If she had the courage of her conviction, she'd see it through. Yes, the student protest turned nasty in London last week, but don't tar all students with the same brush.

This is yet another Cheryl Gillan political own-goal.

As for Peter Hain? Bloody hell, they're as bad as each other.

A Balanced Welsh Assembly Budget Response

I was pleased to see that Kirsty Williams' response to the Labour/Plaid draft Welsh Assembly budget today was a reasonable, measured one.

At the moment, the political debate nationally and in Wales, is rather loud, rather angry, and is some cases rather hypocritical.

The old Punch and Judy style politics of the old, despite the talk of a 'new politics', remains. That for me is down to the Labour Party who can not and will not accept blame for the economic mess that they bequeathed the country back in May. Until they accept responsibility (which of course they won't) then I will take anything that they say on the state of the economy with a whopping great pinch of salt.

Welsh Priorities
But here in Wales, they have got to set the spending priorities along with their Plaid Cymru coalition colleagues in the Welsh Assembly. They've done so today and they've been very reasonable I feel in spreading the pain across the various departments.

They have decided, quite rightly in my opinion, to not ring-fence any departments. The Welsh Conservatives are crying merry hell about this but it's pleasing to see that Labour and Plaid Cymru are in one with the Welsh Liberal Democrats on this. By not ring-fencing any department, it has given more flexibility. As Kirsty Williams said today: "It is encouraging that this year’s budget seems to be looking for the savings in administration and central bureaucracy that the Welsh Liberal Democrats have called for".

Her response has been measured but she has rightly stated where the Cardiff Bay coalition should have done better. She criticises the Labour/Plaid coalition on not bringing the Pupil Premium into place in a Wales where education spending, per pupil, is £530 lower than in England.

She also states that “Despite the drop in unemployment announced in today’s figures, the economic recovery is still fragile. In these circumstances, it beggars belief that the economy and transport department that should be driving the Welsh economic recovery has faced some of the biggest cuts".

I totally agree with Kirsty on this point particularly. What I am most concerned about from today's announcements are the significant cuts in capital and infrastructural spending. Without firm, economic building blocks, Wales' future will remain fragile. Here in west, rural Wales, it is a particular concern.

As Kirsty says, this is a missed opportunity. But as she concludes: “The Welsh Liberal Democrats will be seeking to work cooperatively with the government to address these concerns.” That's what people want - political parties working together and not heckling for the sake of scoring cheap political points. That's why the Coalition in London has been more popular than most would've expected. What isn't needed now is complaining that everything is 'London's fault'. We have been dealt a hand here in Wales and it is the Labour/Plaid Welsh Assembly Government's responsibility to decide how it spends the money it has been allocated.

With a constructive, open and workmanlike attitude, it is our responsibility in opposition as Welsh Liberal Democrats to state where we disagree and what we would do differently. I'm pleased to see Kirsty Williams doing this in such a way today.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

"In the name of God, do your duty" - A Tribute to Atticus Finch

I had the great fortune of studying English at A-level over 10 years ago. I didn't feel compelled to study it at University level, but all the same it opened me up to a series of wonderful novels that I may not otherwise have read.

Indeed, I've always loved reading and whilst I prefer a non-fiction to a fiction, I am often drawn back to a famous fictional novel that I read not during my A-levels, but in fact, during my GCSEs.

To Kill a Mockingbird is undoubtedly one of the most wide-read of novels in the history of literature. But then, that doesn't have to necessarily mean that it's any good.

But then, Harper Lee's only ever publication, isn't actually good. It's more than that. It's extraordinary. It's exceptional. Above all possibly, it is just incredibly endearing.

Atticus Finch - The Greatest Fictional Character in English Literature
The novel itself was published 50 years ago, in 1960. It won the Pulitzer Prize and has sold over 30m copies worldwide.

The 1962 film adaptation saw Gregory Peck take on the lead role of the father, Atticus Finch. He would go on to win the Oscar for Best Actor for his efforts.

I class Atticus Finch as the greatest character in English literature. Through the wonderful, narrative writing style of Harper Lee, coupled with the wonderful delivery given by Gregory Peck in the film, this character manages to do what few others have done - given the legal profession a good name!

The fact that the novel was published right in the heart of the civil rights movement, meant that it's story had a particularly strong resonance in America at the time of its publication. Likewise, the film adaptation a few years later preceded Martin Luther King's 'I Have A Dream' speech of August 1963 by a full year.

Atticus for me, embodies all that is good and noble in mankind. Fighting for justice, for the underdog, because it the right, correct and morally proper thing to do.

Atticus Finch - The Greatest Speech in Movie History
In the film, the character of Atticus Finch was taken to new levels by the Oscar-award winning performance of Gregory Peck.

The court scene speech, where Atticus spoke resolutely and admirably in favour of the 'black' Tom Robinson against the 'white' Ewells, is for me one of the most mesmorising and inspirational I have ever seen in a movie picture.

Here is the audio of that entire 7 minute speech, climaxing in Atticus' final, spine tingling plea to the jury, "In the name of God, do your duty".



As I mentioned, Gregory Peck won an Oscar for his performance. Here he is, collecting his award.



At this point, I should make a confession. When I studied the novel during my GCSEs, we sat 'open book' exams where we were allowed to bring the books in with us to the exams. Unfortunately, I had mislaid my copy some week before the exam but was too embarassed to admit so to my teachers Mrs Smith and Mr Childs. I therefore went into the exam 'blind' without it but still got a solid 'B' for my English Literature all the same!

A long time later, I found my errant copy somehow hiding in a cupboard in my home dining room. How it got there I don't know, but there it was. I always intended to take it back to Ysgol Dyffryn Taf, but never did get round to doing so. So I still have it here, 12 years later, and I may just read it again.

To get me in the mood, here is the wonderful opening theme to the movie, as composed by the legend that was Elmer Bernstein.

But to Harper Lee, thank you for writing such a wonderful work and to Gregory Peck, thank you for a wonderful performance.

Between them both, thank you to Atticus Finch for providing the best role model, anyone could desire.

For being a good father, a good citizien and a good human being, Atticus Finch, I salute you. 

Sunday, 14 November 2010

A new F1 Bridesmaid - Mark Webber

Well done to Seb Vettel. Not only the new F1 World Champion, but the youngest in the proud 60 year history of his sport.

When all is said and done, he deserved it. He won 5 races, equalled only by Alonso whilst Webber won 4 races, Hamilton won 3 and Button won 2. Vettel won 10 pole positions out of a possible 19. But most importantly, after 19 races, he was leading the championship when it mattered.

Mark Webber Blew It
But I just want to say a word for Mark Webber. I salute Vettel's championship victory with pleasure as it halted Alonso in his tracks. But I wanted Webber to win it. But as the season drew to a close, it looked as if the long-term leader from Down Under was letting the Championship slip through his fingers. As I asked in this blog a few weeks ago, has Mark Webber blown it?

I hoped the answer in the final analysis would be no, but as it turns out, my concerns were bourne out. His own error in Korea was pivotal to the final standings and he was playing catch-up from there on in. In fact, he ended up finishing 3rd in the World Championsship behind both Vettel and Alonso.

Always the Bridesmaid?
My concern for Webber is that this may well be his best opportunity to win the title. Like Barrichello last year, he had an opportunity now and he didn't take it.

Over 60 years, there have been a number of World class drivers who have never won the world title. Most signifanctly surely has to be Stirling Moss. Four times a World Championship runner-up and three times a third place finish but never a World Title.

In this humble F1 fan's opinion, there were other bridesmaids of the sport who had the skill to be a World Champion but who never made that final leap.

They include the Belgium Jackie Ickx, the Argentinian Carlos Reutemann and the Italian Riccardo Patrese. Then of course there was that Canadian. That wonderful, mercurial Canadian who was killed at the prime of his the abilities, Gilles Villeneuve.

Looking at the current crop, I see Barrichello being joined by his fellow Brazilian Felipe Massa who saw his title slip from his fingers at the last corner of the last Grand Prix against Hamilton in 2008. Both had their chances but I fear they will neither get another one.

It is my worry now, that the man from Oz, Mark Webber is now destined to join this unfortunate group and not the one that includes the likes of Senna, Fangio, Schumacher, Frost, Stewart, Surtees, FittipaldiClark, Mansell, Ascari, Lauda, Rindt and Brabham.

You need luck of course to win World Titles, but over the course of a career, short of a life threatening accident, talent should deliver one.

I hope I'm proved wrong and Webber does indeed become a F1 World Champion. I'll happily drink a pint of Fosters to celebrate if he does. But my gut tells me that that Fosters will be on ice for a long time.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

My Flirtation with Burma

I've been nursing my poorly Alyson these last few days. She's been getting better but today she's been struggling with dizziness. As a result, she's currently sleeping on the sofa in the living room.

This means I've been watching BBC News 24 and have been able, completely through luck, to watch the joyous scenes of Aung An Suu Kyi's release this morning in Burma.

She has spent some 15 of the last 21 years under house arrest after her 1990 democratic election win was quashed by the military junta who have kept a secure grip over the country ever since. It feels like a 'Mandela' moment and it's wonderful to watch her long-suffering supporters showing so much enthusiasm for her long-awaited for release.

I've been a scholar of history since I can barely remember. Recent history tells us that Burma is one of the most reserved, closed nations in the world. It's up there with North Korea in being one of the most mysterious of nations in the world at this present time.

My Thailand Odyssey
In early 2008, I found myself a matter of miles from Burma on my trek to Thailand.

Thailand is a wonderful country and on my 2 week stay there I travelled through as much of it as possible. I visited Bangkok of course (not recommended), the wonderful Chiang Mai in the north, the spell-binging Koh Samui on the Gulf of Thailand in the south and then finally Phuket.

During the middle of my holiday, I made a one night stop-over with Kendal who I was with at the time, at Kanchanaburi. Or to give it its more prominent name-check - to the Bridge on the River Kwai.

It remains one of the most mind-blowing experiences of my life. When I made the not small decision of going to Thailand (having never left the 'western world' before in my life), I checked the 'Rough Guide' to see what there was to see. Kanchanaburi stood out to this historian as the one 'must see' location and I persuaded Kendal to stay there overnight instead of just seeing it on a day trip.

The Death Railway
Why? Because the 258 mile Thailand-Burma Railway, built by the Japanese during WWII saw some 106,000 POWs die as a direct result of their strenuous efforts to build this 'Death Railway'. Some 6,318 of the 16,000 Allied POWs to die in the building of this railway were British. It was built to protect Japanese advances in Burma by giving them a more stable route to supply their new territories from Allied attack. The construction of the railway began on June 22nd 1942. The two ends met some 11 miles south of the Three Pagodas Pass on the Thailand/Burma border on October 17th 1943.

'Bridge 277' was bombed 3 times by the RAF and US Army Air Forces before the war came to an end with Japanese surrender. After the war, the British Army removed some 3.9km of the track on the border with a report showing that the railway, in poor condition, would not support commercial traffic. After the war, an 80 mile section of the railway between Ban Pong and Nam Tok (either side of and going through Kanchanaburi) was reconstructed - finally completed in 1958. Beyond Nam Tok, the track was abandonned with the steel rails salvaged for other use.

So it is now impossible to reach Burma from Thailand, via the old railway. I should know, because I've travelled it.

My Flirtation with The Union of Myanmar (Burma)
We stayed in a semi-detached tin hut on the banks of the River Kwai. From our veranda, we could see the Bridge. It was an awe-inspiring experience.

We walked across the bridge (see photo above) and when the time came, took a trip on the train itself from Kanchanaburi, over the bridge itself and up to Nam Tok. It's a haunting journey as it was only initially made possible by the toil, sweat and ultimately, the blood of Allied and Asian POWs. Some of the stretches of track stretch the imagination such is the incredulity of the engineering feats that these prisoners achieved (see photo on right). As the crow flies, there could have been little more than some 20 miles between our railway ride from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok, to Burma to the south west.

I had wanted, on arriving at Nam Tok, to go further and to travel to the Three Pagodas Pass on the Thai/Burmese border where it's possible to obtain a one-day pass to Payathonsu on the Burmese side of the border. But it was too much extra time required out of what was an already packed 2-week schedule.

My Burmese Hopes
So I've never been to Burma - but I have been bloody close.

Until I went to Thailand, I had never had any interest in going to the Orient. It would be too hot. I wouldn't like the food. How silly was I? Of course, I absolutely adored it. The food was incredible and the heat was something you'd quickly get used too. The landscape was beautiful and the history of the region absolutely fascinating. I've always said since that one day (when I can afford it!) I'll re-visit this wonderful part of the world. Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam.

Also, hopefully in the future when Aung An Suu Kyi and her supporters take the democratic reigns of government in Myanmar, I will visit Burma too.
There's a long road ahead and this is merely the small righting of a bad, bad wrong. But, it's a small step forward for Burma and for the Far East.

For today at least, we rejoice. Tomorrow is another day and hopefully, it will be brighter still. For, without hope, what else is there?

Friday, 12 November 2010

Facebook - Not all Muslims Are Extremists

Facebook is good at spreading messages at a quick pace.

Yesterday and today, I've been alarmed to see this message going round on status profiles.

"Today we saw Muslims break the 2 minute silence in central London,with banners holding "British Soldiers Burn In Hell" & the burning of a Poppy....... If you don't like us British people paying respect fot our brave Fighters, then you know where the Airport is. Disgusting...... Disrespectful B******S! Copy and paste this if your British and Proud.... R.I.P our brave fighters".

Yesterday of course was Armistice Day and no more an emotive day could be found in the calendar. As I mentioned in my blog post yesterday, Cardigan Will Remember Them, I paid my respects at the Cenotaph at 11am and will do the same on Remembrance Sunday.

Muslims don't = extremists and whites don't = the English Defence League
It was indeed a horrible sight to see extremists burning poppies during the 2 minutes silence yesterday. But as this BBC News article shows, a member of the English Defence League was also arrested for assaulting a police officer during this confrontation.

It's very easy to quickly 'copy and paste' an update that looks decent into your own to spread a particularly topical message around. It is far to easy to make emotional and spur-of-the-moment comments that make sweeping but dangerous generalisations.

What most aggravates me about this Facebook comment that is spreading around is that it seems to tar all Muslims with the same brush. We can't accept this. Just in the same way that I won't be tarred with the same brush as the English Defence League. There's a hideous, extreme element in our caucasional society but that doesn't make us all the same as them. Just as any extremist Islamic action doesn't speak on behalf of a broader Muslamic community.

My Facebook comment to the message doing the rounds is this...

"Whoa guys calm down a little here. Please don't generalise and tar all Muslims with the same brush. These people are extremists so let's call them that. There are plenty of white extremists too. The IRA were white and tried to blow up British soldiers for decades but that didn't mean that all Irish people were bad. Let's get some perspective in here".

The vast majority of us all are moderate, normal, run-of-the-mill people. We need to all work together to ensure that as many of us are as tolerant and understanding of others as is possible. Picking out the differences between ourselves only makes matters worse.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Cardigan Will Remember Them

I stood, as always at 11am this morning at Cardigan's Cenotaph, in memory of the those that have given their lives for mine.

I am a very enthusiastic member of the Royal British Legion. I'm a paid-up member and have been selling poppies both last year and this, to help raise funds for their poppy appeal.

Cardigan Remembers
Cardigan does Remembrance Week particularly well I feel.

We have a brief ceremony at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month each year at the Cenotaph. Today, despite the blustery conditions, I joined fellow Town Council colleagues and the Mayor Cllr Mair Morris, as well as pupils from the primary and secondary schools for that ceremony.

Then this coming Sunday, we shall have the main Remembrance Sunday service. Again, Cardigan does it well. Ours is an open-air ceremony. It does leave us open to the elements but it makes it feel more real than one which is cossetted by four walls.

This coming Sunday, we shall as a Town Council, march from the Guildhall to the Cenotaph and will be welcomed by a good sized crowd as we lead a full service in memory of the fallen and those who have fought in battle.

Remembering Lance Sgt Dave Greenhalgh
I have a much greater respect and understanding for our local traditions of remembrance after my Mayoral year last year.

Having played a part in the ceremony now for 6 years, suddenly, it was little old me that was leading the procession and the town in remembrance both on the 11th and on the Sunday last November as the Mayor of Cardigan (and not forgetting Anzac Day in April). It was a great responsibility to lay that first wreath and incredibly humbling.

It all became a lot more personal this February when the town and locality was shocked to hear of the death of local boy Dave Greenhalgh in Afghanistan. His family ran the Castle Cafe in town and he was a well known and popular local character. I did not know him personally but I count his brother Steve as a good friend and I know his father and step-mother well also.

Dave was flown back to Wootten Bassett and a mini-bus of friends and family went down to welcome him home. I felt a responsibility to attend on behalf of the town and to show my solidarity with those who were making the trip.

It was a wet, miserbale day and very very emotional. Seeing not just Dave but also another half a dozen return increased the emotion. All these different families and communities of friends had descended on this small, sleepy town on this one day. It was a raw experience and there's nothing more heart-breaking than witnessing grown men cry - many of whom did on that day.

We also suffered the injury to another of our own, Private Stephen Owen. He suffered serious injuries only a week after Dave was killed on active service.

It was a double blow to Cardigan, but thankfully for Stephen and his family, he survived.

An Act of Remembrance - Selling Poppies
So this year, we have even more reason to remember in Cardigan than normal.

That's why I've re-doubled my personal efforts to sell more poppies than I sold last year. It's a cathartic, becalming experience. Just standing there, watching the world go by and talking to the many who stop to chat and buy a poppy is great. In fact, I've not long got back in from selling poppies this afternoon at Tescos.

As I sell poppies this year and stand in memory of those who have gone before, I particularly remember the additional lives that have been touched by war over the past 12 months. For us here in Cardigan, that particularly means the family and friends of Private Stephen Owen.

Above all, I particularly remember Sgt Dave Greenhalgh.

We will remember them - Cardigan always does.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

A NUS Protest Backfired

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceIt was not what they had planned but it will forever be remembered for it.

The almost riotous scenes at No.30 Millbank will make the headlines tomorrow and is what will remain in the public mind when the NUS Higher Education march of November 2010 is remembered in years to come.

Tens of thousands of students, many of whom were from Aberystwyth and Lampeter, and many of those were Liberal Democrat students, travelled in good faith today to legitimately demonstrate against Government plans to increase the tuition fees cap up to £9,000.

The Militant Tendency
But despite their peaceful protests, the efforts of a few have again stolen the headlines. To me, the sight on the evening news tonight of militants causing criminal damage in the name of student activism, sickened me.

I've been on NUS protests myself so I can speak from personal experience. In 2004, we were bused direct from NUS conference in Blackpool, to London to campaign against the 3rd Reading of Labour's Higher Education Bill (the reading followed the 2nd Reading which was passed by just 5 votes if memory serves me correctly). This of course was a Labour Government inacting the concept of tuition fees in the first place which is why, 6 years on, there's a lot of rightful indignation now at what is Labour's own indignation at the current proposals. For it was Labour who opened the floodgates for what is currently being investigated by the new government.

But less of the politics.

In 2004, we had a good natured demonstration. I don't recall any odious elements that destroyed the overall vision of the day on that occasion, but unfortunately that can not be said of this occasion.

The militants who did what they did were not speaking for the majority who were there protesting today. I expect many of the small but divisive group weren't even students - they were just there to cause trouble. The problem is that they may well have tainted the views and thoughts of ordinary Britons towards students on this issue when that shouldn't have been the case.

Shame on the militant few who have wrecked what should've been a peaceful protest.