Monday, 28 February 2011

Colin Firth Crowned King at the Oscars (and The King's Speech wins Best Picture Award!)

Well, who would believe it!

That low budget film that I blogged about looking forward to watching here before Christmas has only gone and won the Best Film Oscar in Hollywood!

Best Actor Colin Firth and Best Director Tom Hooper
In in spirited contest with its supposed main rival 'The Social Network', 'The King's Speech' won the big 4 Oscars ovenight. It won for Best Orginial Screenplay, Hooper won the coveted Best Director Award whilst Colin Firth as was widely expected walked off with the award for Best Actor. To crown a fantastic evening, it then won the biggest accoloade going - that for Best Picture which now puts him it alongside Schindler's List, Gandhi, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Godfather, The Sound of Music, Lawrence of Arabia, West Side Story, Ben-Hur, Casablanca and Gone with the Wind in the pantheon of Hollywood film greats.

It is a quite phenomenal achievement and the British sweep of the main awards on the evening was maintained by Christian Bale's victory in the Best Supporting Actor category in the film 'The Fighter'. Whilst 'The Social Network' only won 2 Oscars in the end, 'Inception' did match 'The King's Speech's haul of 4 statuettes but there's no question which film has taken the main plaudits.

I followed up my original blog post about my interest in the film from a historical perspective with additional posts here and here having watched the film and followed its success over recent weeks and I'm absolutely delighted to add to it with this final piece.

Well done to King Colin! A Royal Performance and Richly Rewarded for it!

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Dancing on Ice (The Final 7) - Judge Cole's Verdict

Last week saw me miss the show and my blogging commentary was brief. Well tonight, I'm back!

Kerry Katona was voted out last week and all that can be said about that is that she did well to last this long in the competition.

Tonight we saw the final 7 contestants perform rhythms from around the world. It was a greatly enjoyable, internationalist feel to the evening.

The Final 7 - Riverdance on Ice!
The first rhythm from around the world was from the USA as Laura Hamilton danced on ice to the Charleston. She opened the night with a fun and really good charleston performance. She continues to remain one of the series favourites.

Next up was Jeff Brazier who again had to fight back from finishing in the skate-off the previous week. This time he was dancing the Waltz from Austria. He gave a much better performance with some good, solid lifts. The result was his highest score to date which puts him back into the mix at the top of the leaderboard. If he can keep his consistency, he could get to the final but there's no certainty of that yet.

Next up was Denise Welch with a Briazilian Samba. She gave a typically sassy performance although I felt it wasn't quite as quick a routine as the carnival music sound required. Her scores marked a slip back from her highest score from last week and she could be in trouble this week.

Next up was Vanilla Ice dancing to a Spanish Flamenco vibe. It was quite mesmeric. He gave a great performance and really got into the 'matador' character. Another excellent run of scores shows that his consistency is improving and that makes him a real dark horse to win this competition.

Next up was Sam Attwater with the Irish Riverdance. This demanded a really quick routine and he delivered! I love the Riverdance music and he gave a fantastic performance of it. It was an entrancing sight! It delivered him the first 9 scores of the series and he got them across the board for a series best overall score of 27 out of 30! After slipping back last week he was back with a bang this week! Bravo!

Our penultimate skater of the night was Chloe Madely with a Middle Eastern rhythm. It was a stylish routine and the final lift was great - it worried me as I thought she'd topple over but full credit for the result. She got her best result of the series to date and if she can continue in this vein she may well surprise me and stick around until the final.

Last but potentially least was Johnson Beharry with a Tango. He gave a rather expressionless performance I felt but actually, it was a decent overall routine. But it was lacking a certain something - class.

The Skate-Off
So, we had series best performances tonight by Jeff, Sam and Chloe. They should all be fine this week. Vanilla Ice and Laura also gave high quality performances and should be safe.

Denise however, did slip back this week I felt. It'd be nice to see her survive as I'm a fan but I think her time in the competition is now drawing to a respectable close. Johnson meanwhile showed more steady progress but surely his time must be running out?

The top 5 are a class apart from Denise and Johnson and these latter two should be in the skate-off.

Time will tell however and I'll update this post after the results...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Well that it is a crazy shock. Admittedly as I mentioned above, Vanilla Ice and Laura hadn't turned in series best performances tonight but they were still a class apart from Denise and Johnson.

These were both potential series winners and now, Vanilla has gone. Of the two, I expected the judges to save Laura and in the round, I think that's a fair judgement.

But still, it's a big shock to lose Vanilla Ice. He was improving and as I said earlier in this blog piece above I had him down as a dark horse to go on and win the competition. I've been a fan of his from early on in the series and his personality will be sorely missed.

I'm off to put my head into a sink of cold water to get over the shock of it.


I'm actually rather proud of the United Nations this morning.

Amidst the carnage and mayhem unfolding in Lybia at this moment, the United Nations voted in the early hours of this morning GMT to impose sanctions on Colonel Gaddafi's regime.

Not only did it do so, but it actually did so unanimously.

As an internationalist, I'm a big fan of the concept of the United Nations. Indeed, one of the greatest thrills of my life (it's sad I know) was when I visited the UN HQ in New York City back in 2005. Actually seeing for myself the Security Council and General Assembly chambers was awe-inspiring. For it is in these rooms that decisions by the international community should be made for the well-being of the common good of humanity.

Idealism Vs Real-Politik
The problem of course is that in the real world, 'Real-politik' gets in the way of what sometimes may be perceived as getting the right and just decisions to be made. National interests take precedence as votes are often weighed up on the practical and pragmatic grounds affecting each member state.

The permanent veto of the 'Big 5' (China, France, Russia, UK and USA) members on the security council most aptly demonstrates this diplomatic conundrum.

Political impasse and a perceived inability to agree a firm resolution to a global concern has dogged the UN throughout its existence. The need for broad agreement amongst partisan member states has often led to diplomatic deadlock and the sense that for all its worth, the UN is nothing more than a talking shop.

Resolution 1970
Well, I was myself non-too happy when I heard the UN Security Council's toughly worded response to the Lybian situation at the start of this week. Yes it was a strongly worded response to the atrocities, but when the Libyan deputy ambassador to the UN talks of 'genocide' in his country, what use is strong words on a piece of paper for the people of the streets of Tripoli?

So it was with a real sense of pride in the UN that I heard it's unanimous decision overnight to...
  • Impose a complete arms imbargo on Libya
  • Impose travel bans and an asset freeze on Libyan leaders
  • Immediately refer the deadly crackdown on protestors to the International Criminal Court in the Hague
  • Introduce new steps against the use of mercanaries by the Libyan government against its own people
Does this go far enough? In my opinion, no. At the very least, there should be a no-fly zone imposed above the country to protect the citizens on the ground from being attacked by its own government from the air.

But as UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon stated, even bolder actions may be needed in the days ahead.

But whilst that bolder action may well be required and in my opinion this is already the case, let's not underestimate what the UN did today.

Not only has it unanimously agreed tough sanctions against the Libyan leadership, but it has also, for the first time in its 65 year history, voted unaninously as a collective of 15 sovereign states, to make a referral to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

I had heard as I went to sleep last night that 14 of the 15 states had agreed to the draft resolution - namely the USA, UK, France, Russia and the 10 non-permanent members (currently serving on a 2 year rota until the end of this year) Bosnia and HerzegovinaBrazil, GabonLebanon, NigeriaColombia, Germany, India, Portugal and South Africa. The 15th country to not have agreed the draft I gathered was permanant member and veto wielding China whose diplomats were communicating with Beijing to seek approval to support the agreement. My concern on going to bed was that I would wake up and find that China as has happened in the past, would de-rail the resolution by opposing it or make it less powerful by abstaining in the ballot.

But it is to China's credit and the credit of the 14 other member states of the Security Council that  they have shown themselves and the apparatus of the UN as the beacon of internationalism, to be united against the Libyan atrocities.

This was a good day for the UN, for inernational diplomacy and for the concept of the preservation of world peace.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Fianna Fail in Meltdown - Early Irish Election Results

The STV election results in Ireland really are fascinating. It will only be tomorrow afternoon that we should have the final results from yesterday's count but the early results back-up what the opinion polls were suggestion in the lead-up to the poll.

The RTE website here are showing detailed coverage of the results as they trickle in. At 6.55pm many constituencies had announced the first count results whilst others are still counting.

Of the results currently in, the latest figures are as follows...

Fine Gael - 35.3%
Labour - 22%
Fianna Fáil - 17.2%
Sinn Féin - 8.4%
Green Party - 2.2%

On the early results, Fianna Fáil are down by 20%-25% on their 2007 result and are indeed heading, as I mentioned in my blog post here, for their worst election result since 1932.

Fine Gael are indeed looking set to become the biggest party in the Irish Parliament with the Labour Party also heading towards their best ever result. Sinn Féin are also looking to double their representation at Fianna Fáil's expense.

But the final results will be determined by the transfers over the course of the next 24 hours and in what is an unprecedented election, it's impossible to second-guess how the first preferences will split further down the ballot.

But we'll know the final scores soon enough...

Alan Partridge's Mid Morning Matters on North Norfolk Digital Radio! (episode 10)

Following on from my recent blog posts here, here and here about the return of the comic leg-end that is Alan Partridge to our airwaves, we continue with the series.

He's back hosting Mid Morning Matters on North Norfolk Digital Radio (with sidekick Simon).

I'm now up-to-date with the series so here is the 10th installment.

Episode 10 sees Alan playing meet an internet entrepreneur and gets a call from the Inland Revenue for massaging his earnings live on Radio...

Friday, 25 February 2011

My BBC iPlayer Appearance on S4C's CF99 (the Welsh equivalent to Andrew Neil's 'This Week')

I'm heading back west to Cardigan after a brief trip to Cardiff.

I was contacted by S4C a month or so ago and was asked whether I'd be free to appear on their weekly political discussion programme CF99 - our equivalent to Andrew Neil's 'This Week'. For the 4th time my answer was yes and it can be seen here on BBC's iPlayer.

I've been doing media work for the Welsh Liberal Democrats for almost 8 years now. I'd barely been a conference go-er for 12 months before I was asked to take part in my first media interview - a live discussion on Radio Wales' 'Good Morning Wales' programme during our 2003 Welsh Lib Dem conference in Swansea. As it happens, 2 days earlier, the UK and America invaded Iraq and so my first ever media appearance was about this issue. In this case it was a joint effort as I was sitting alongside our more experienced media man Phil Hobson from Monmouthshire.

Well the wheel has turned full circle because on Wednesday night, I was on CF99 discussing the current situation in the middle east. It's my 4th visit to the CF99 set in the heart of the Welsh Assembly building in Cardiff Bay. I've also been a panellist for the party on 2 occasions on 'Pawb A'i Farn' (the Welsh equivalent to Question Time) and have made countless appearances on the live Radio Cymru Friday afternoon political slot 'Dau O'r Bae'. Like with anything in life, I've had good media and days and not so good media days. I suppose it goes with the territory.

Well I classify my own performance on Wednesday night as belonging to the former category. But for those who can't understand the language of heaven, I'll comment briefly on what was said in the clips above, here in writing. Alongside Plaid Cymru's Heledd Fychan and former ITV Wales political columnist Gareth Hughes, I was the target being shot at as the first discussion revolved around the Welsh Liberal Democrat party's chances in the up-coming Welsh Assembly elections in May. I gave what I felt was a good, solid performance in rebutting the attacks and I went on the offensive more than is sometimes the case. I spoke of record numbers having pre-registered for our Welsh conference in a week's time, fought back against Gareth's unjust comments about our excellent leader Kirsty Williams and reminded Heledd Fychan that she shouldn't be chastising the current Westminster-based coalition government for not following through with the enirety of their mutual manifestos when Plaid Cymru themselves didn't do so when they entered a coalition with Labour in Cardiff Bay in 2007 - what did happen to that Plaid promise of giving every schoolchild a laptop?

The second half saw a swap as Gareth Hughes was subbed for Stephen Thomas who is an expert in middle eastern matters. Again, I gave what I hope was seen as being an honest and thoughtful response to the escalating problems currently occurring in Libya and across the arabic states more generally. I bemoaned the UN's willingness to only write of its grave concerns because what good will warm words on a piece of paper do for the people on the streets of Libya right now? I also spoke of the west's often two faced stance when calling for democracy and then disowning the result when it doesn't go their way as was the case with Hamas' victory in he Gaza Strip. I also commented that our propensity to sell arms to these Arab states doesn't help us when we're trying to speak from the moral high ground.

All in all, I've had good feedback from friends about my performance so I'm happier than normal to show it once again, here on my blog via the BBC iPlayer service!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Working with the (Plaid Cymru) Enemy # 2

Ceredigion County Council has a budget.

It's a rather dry statement but behind the words there's a story.

I've been a County Councillor now for 7 years and our full council budget setting meeting yesterday morning was the first in my recollection in all of that time where the budget was agreed unanimously by the entire council.

This really is quite something.

I wrote here in my blog back in December of co-operation between the ruling Independent-Welsh Liberal Democrat-Labour group with the Plaid Cymru opposition at that seasonal Christmas period. It doesn't happen often. As with any Council across the land, the moments of agreement between the aisles are usually clouded out by the often rancorous and ill-tempered debate and disagreement. But having said that, it very rarely gets personal in the Council chamber and the tone of debates are very often of a high and constructive standard.

A Budget for 2011-2012
Well yesterday saw one of those rare occasions when unanimity broke out across the Chamber to support, without any opposition, a budget for the next financial year.

Over the years, the annual budgetary debate has often been heated. In my earlier days, the debate was usually about the level and extent of the increase in Council Tax. In more recent years the issue has been on specific issues of policy and changes in particular lines in the budget. The most controversial was in 2007 when the changes to the Meals on Wheels service resulted in rightful uproar both in the council chamber and across the county.

2011 however has been a much more reasoned affair. Why? Well, the Council has worked more effectively and with input from all members from an earlier starting point this time around. There's a more 'collective' feeling of ownership now to the budgetary process than there has been in earlier years. There's also an acceptance across the chamber to the fact that cuts have got to be made and that grown-up approach and realisation is to be applauded.

This year there was one questionable part of the budget which could've been contested yesterday morning. The draft budget had reduced the community grants pot of cash from £90,000 down to £30,000. This is the valuable pot of cash which local community groups can apply for to contribute to projects that they may be undertaking in their communities. After discussions, the Council Leader Cllr Keith Evans yesterday annoucned to the full council that an additional £30,000 had been found to put into this pot to take it up to £60,000. This news was welcomed by all in the chamber as a reasonable compromise to allay concerns that had been raised by members.

So, when the final vote was taken yesterday, instead of having contentious ammendments thrown in on specific issues, the whole council votes in one voice on what was in front of them.

At such a difficult economic time, this mature way of working out a complex budget is to be commended. It doesn't happen often but on this most important of annual issues, it's a welcome departure from the more contentious arguments of the past.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

My Irish Election Predictions (aka History in the Making)

We are now days away from the general election in the Republic of Ireland.

New Fianna Fáil Leader
Michael Martin
As I blogged here last month, the ruling Fianna Fáil government are set to make big losses as it reaps the backlash of an angry Irish populace after the European Union and IMF economic bailout and the austerity measures that have been imposed on the nation by the government. It is likely to be Fianna Fáil's worst election result in their long and distinguished history having been the largest party in every Irish parliamentary election since 1932.

Fianna Fáil Collapse Imminent
When I wrote about the state of play 4 weeks ago, Fianna Fail's only hope of salvation was of galvanising themselves behind a new leader. Well, they have that new leader in Foreign Secretary Michael Martin but the latest opinion polls are as dire for them now as they were for them then.

As the excellent Britain Votes blog has said:

"As it turned out this was a good move as Martin is a very capable communicator and he has done well in the role. Nonetheless the Fianna Fail brand is so irrevocably damaged that even senior members are talking of ‘managed decline’ and Martin has stated he has a ‘ten year plan’ to return to power".

For a party that has won on avaerage, 43% of the vote at general elections since independence, they are now hovering around the 16% mark in opinion polls with only 2 days to go.

Enda Kenny - the next Irish Taoiseach?
Time for Fine Gael to Shine?
For the first time in Irish history, the perpetual second party, Fine Gael are on the verge of becoming the largest party in the Dáil Éireann with leader Enda Kerry on the verge of becoming the next Taoiseach (Prime Minister). They are projected to score anywhere between 35%-40% but are probably just going to miss out on an absolute majority in the 166 seat Dublin-based Parliament . They are more to the centre-right than Fianna Fail and also the Irish Labour Party who, having led some opinion polls last summer with their popular leader Eamon Gilmore have slipped back to the 20% mark in recent polls.

It's presumed that Fine Gael and Labour will concoct a coaltion government as they have done before but this can not be guaranteed.

Will Sinn Féin make greater inroads with Gerry Adams now at their helm? They'll probably not score as highly as Fianna Fail and will do well to poll anywhere near 15% but it will be progress all the same.

Damage Limitation
Irish Labour Party  Leader
Eamon Gilmore 
This election will be won by Fine Gael for the first time in their history. In itself, this marks the 2011 Irish general election as a significant turning point in the history of Irish politics.

But there are so many imponderables with just days to go. How well will Fine Gael do? They would want to score at least 40% of the popular vote I'm sure to give themselves real momentum and credibility by delivering a decisive victory. Can Labour hold on to second overall and create history for their party too? Can Fianna Fáil manage to do enough to retrieve second place from Labour? If they can, it would be seen as damage limitation par excellence.

Sinn Féin meanwhile are going to make gains but probably not the great strides forward that they would like.

The problem with evaluating where Irish politics will stand this coming Saturday is that we don't know how the STV voting transfers will split between the parties. It is this transfer of votes that will decide just how many seats in the Dáil Éireann that each party will have.

Cole's Irish Prediction
But for what it's worth, I will predict the following...

Fine Gael - 70-75 seats - short of the 84 needed for an outright majority.
Labour - 35-40 seats
Fianna Fáil - 25-30 seats
Sinn Féin - 10-12 seats

The Green Party are likely to be left with a rump of 1-2 seats from their current 6 and there'll no doubt be a smattering of Independents.

So hold on tight folks, it's going to be a fascinating but without a doubt, historic election in Ireland this coming Friday.

Irish politics will never be the same again...

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

My TV Childhood at its 80s & 90s Best

I blogged here, back in January 2009 when I first dabbled with this blog of my sadness at the loss of quality Children's TV from the years of my childhood. There is as Gareth Price commented on my piece there at the time, many excellent programmes now of course but looking back, I really feel that I was fortunate to have lived through a golden period of TV childhood.

These are the kind of programmes that I recall well...

We begin with a classic - Thomas the Tank Engine!

This is a slightly more obscure one but I love my football and I always enjoyed the Hurricanes which always had a 'moral' at the end of each episode.

If you were a 70s child, you'd love the Muppet Show. But an 80s child would better recall Jim Henson's follow-up - Fraggle Rock!

Raggy Dolls is another eccentric favourite of mine but the meaningful lyrics always struck a chord with me.

I just admit that this one completely slipped my mind until I found it but I was a fan! The Shoe People!

Who's for Superted?

Or Fireman Sam (Sam Sam Tan!)?

There were also those late 80s/early 90s Disney shorts classics! Chip'n Dale Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin and DuckTales!

Alvin and the Chipmunks? Alvin, Simon, Theodore! Another hit!

What about the David Jason induced hits? Well there's Dangermouse and Count Cuckula!

Then there's the Warner Brothers selection.

Pinky and the Brain was great!

The Tiny Toon Adventures were always a popular choice.

Then there was the slightly more 'grown-up' stuff. Knightmare was legendary at the time though the graphics now look so poor!

I loved Finders Keepers!

Then there was Fun House! Possibly the best children's progamme on during its time - every child wanted to be on it! 'Use your body and your brain if you want to play the game'!

There was also 'Woof!' - a boy who turned into a dog? Yep, it was a hit!

Jonny Briggs (no, not Mike Baldwin off Coronation St) was another lessen known favourite of mine.

Grange Hill had an iconic intro. But actually for kids of my age, we grew up not on the original but on this latter version.

But don't forget Channel 4 on a Sunday morning. Saved By The Bell was an US imported classic!

Another US hit was The Wonder Years.

I absolutely LOVED the Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show!

Another similarly popular favourite was Rugrats that premiered on Live & Kicking which for me was the perfect Saturday morning start to the weekend. It began in 1993 with Andi Peters and Emma Forbes.

To conclude with some more cartoons, Garfield and Friends was a firm favourite.

But we finish with a personal favourite of mine - I absolutely adored Inspector Gadget!

It was a happy childhood!

Any others hits that I've missed? If so, please let me know!

Monday, 21 February 2011

An Ode to our Libyan Brothers in Arms

The BBC are reporting tonight absolute chaos and carnage in Libya. The violence has spread to the capital Tripoli and there are murmours that Colonel Gadaffi has fled to Venezuela.

Senior diplomats are defecting whilst two army aircraft pilots have done so too by landing in Malta and asking for political asylum.

Suddenly, this country that has been ruled by Gadaffi since 1969 seems set to go the way of Tunisia and Egypt.

However, the significant difference is that the regime is fighting back with what some high ranking diplomats are calling 'genocide'. There's bloodshed and there's violence and when I wake up in the morning, I don't know what the news will have for me.

These are critical times for the Libyan people.

At this time of great national upheaval, I give a thought for the poor people who are fighting tonight for their lives.

As Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits sang "We're fools to make war, On our brothers in arms".

Bahrain GP Cancelled - Correct Decision But For The Wrong Reason

It has been announced today that the F1 season opening Grand Prix in Bahrain has been postponed to an undetermined future date. It was due to run on March 13th but the season will now begin in the country that since the mid-90s has become used to staging the showcase first race of the year - Australia, on March 27th.

Correct Decision
After the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt were forced from power, demonstrators in Bahrain have been demanding that the ruling monarchy gives up its near-absolute control over key policies and positions. But the unrest and deaths that have surrounded the Gulf kingdom as a result (but which has been lost in the Libyan rage of recent days) had put a great question mark over the March 13th race date.

It is only right then that the race doesn't take place as scheduled.

The Wrong Reason
In a statement, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa said:

"We must focus on immediate issues of national interest and leave the hosting to a later date. After the events of the past week, our nation's priority is on overcoming tragedy, healing divisions and rediscovering the fabric that draws this country together; reminding the world of the very best that Bahrain is capable of as a nation once again united."

But why was it allowed to reach the point where the Bahrainian Royal Family decided to pull the event? It should have been swept out from under their feet a week ago.

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone should have pulled the plug on the race as a moral response to the unacceptable way that the ruling government was dealing with the protestors. The fact that he didn't shows weakness on his part and leaves F1 in my opinion in a bad light.

What was Bernie's response? As follows...
F1 Supremo Bernie Ecclestone
Got It Wrong

"It is sad that Bahrain has had to withdraw from the race, we wish the whole nation well as they begin to heal their country.

"The hospitality and warmth of the people of Bahrain is a hallmark of the race there, as anyone who has been at a Bahrain Grand Prix will testify. We look forward to being back in Bahrain soon."

It isn't the hospitality that should count most Bernie. The wine and the canapes come second to the sight of a government turning its guns onto its own people. This is completely unacceptable.

Back to Oz
I hope that Bahrain does recover and that the race can return - but not on the Bahrainian Royal Family's terms but on those of a compassionate and moralistic international community.

Sort it out Bernie - it isn't all about money you know.

Alan Partridge's Mid Morning Matters on North Norfolk Digital Radio! (episodes 7-9)

Following on from my recent blog posts here and here about the return of the comic leg-end that is Alan Partridge to our airwaves, we continue with the series.

He's back hosting Mid Morning Matters on North Norfolk Digital Radio (with sidekick Simon).

Here are the next 3 installments that will bring us bang up to date.

Episode 7 sees Alan playing 'on-line Battleships', 'what is Alan firing his friend's air rifle into?' and an Alan Partridge interview with....Alan Partridge. Who was his toughest interview? Desmond Tutu! His favourite TV show? Deal or No Deal!

Episode 8 sees Alan stand-in for Eddie Sheperd on North Norfolk Today in his own inimitable, bombastic manner! In it he interviews a local Tory Councillor (the former Mrs Brittas from the Brittas Empire!) and does a turn as Jeremy Paxman!

Episode 9, the latest in the series sees Alan's tounge twister phone-ins (but only for the under 7s). Alan also meets with a survival and naturalist expert who in a former life served in Afghanistan (and we all know of Alan's fascination with hand-to-hand combat!) and explains a situation where the RSPB could become a radicalised home-grown terrororist cell! Alan's own tounge twister - "Tackle Tough Taliban Terrorists To Topple Totalitarian Tyrants"

The important question....'did that man hurt the Muppet'?!
The important answer...Bill Oddie in not dead!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Dancing on Ice (The Final 8) - Judge Cole's Verdict

Last week saw the departure of Comedy Dave Vitty and unlike the previous week, it was no great surprise in the competition's grand scheme of things.

This week saw the final 8 attempt 3 different skills - a real challenge for them all.

Unfortunately however, I missed it all! I've been away at a family gathering and only got back in to see Vanilla Ice's conclusion to the evening's programme (and it did look like a stonkingly good performance to his own Ice Ice Baby it must be said!).

So I could only comment on the brief highlights that I saw at the top of the results show and from what the judges said.

Again, Laura Hamilton and Sam Attwater lead the way althogh it's interesting to note that for the first time in the series, Sam has slipped off the top spot. Vanilla Ice's performance picked up from where he left off last week as he continues to demonstrate a real potential to go much further in this competition. Chloe Madeley has again become stuck in the lower-upper order and is not making the progress that she should be making.

Denise Welch gave a good performance whilst Jeff Brazier slipped back having made great strides forwards over the past fortnight. Johnson Beharry succeeded in carrying off a lift whilst Kerry Katona continued to go nowhere with her performance - the skills really showing her up badly.

The Skate-Off
Seeing Kerry in the bottom two was no surprise but once more, Jeff fell backwards to join her in the skate-off.

Jeff made a better stab of his second attempt whilst Kerry nearly fell apart and off her partner's shoulders in what would clearly be her final appearance.

As it turned out of course, the judges had their clear cut opportunity to vote Kerry off and save Jeff. They did so of course and they were right to do so.

Labour's Leighton Andrews' Extraordinary Live TV Coco Pops Outburst

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceIt was quite an astonishing live media outburst from the Labour Welsh Education Minister during yesterday's Welsh Labour Party conference in Llandudno.

Wind forward on the BBC iPlayer link here to 54 minutes and you will see a visibly angry Education Minister lambasting BBC political journalist Aled ap Dafydd when he challenged the Minister on Labour's free school breakfasts policy when Wales ranks so low in a league table of reading assessments.

The key extracts...

Aled ap Dafydd: "You're giving coco pops to kids for breakfast, for free, that's something that parents might want, they might welcome that, but more importantly I suppose to parents will be the assessments when it comes to reading for example...

Leighton Andrews: "I really object to your snooty, middle-class attack on our free breakfast scheme. That is a disgrace. A thousand schools in Wales are pursuing our free breakfast scheme and you talk about coco pops - you are a disgrace to the BBC. This is a policy that has been really popular across the whole of Wales...

Aled ap Dafydd: "I am not doubting it's popularity, I am doubting where does it compare to reading assessments where Wales are ranked 38th out of about 60 countries. Shouldn't the priority be based on educational attainment rather than giving free breakfasts to kids?".

Did Aled touch a nerve there Leighton?

Leighton Andrews has a rather combustible reputation at the best of times but this nevertheless was quite an extraordinary outburst.

Yes this is a popular scheme, but as Aled was alluding too, spending per head of pupil in Wales is some £604 less than it is in England (£5,595 in Wales as opposed to £6,199 in England). This isn't good enough and I get the feeling from looking at Leighton's body language during this interview that he was not at all happy at this raw point being made so close to the Assembly elections. Linking it to the free breakfasts saw him lose his cool entirely.

Full marks to Aled ap Dafydd for keeping his cool having been on the receiving end of such a verbal tirade.

A Dedicated Follower of Fashion...
A little addenum - it looks as if our Education Minister is seeking to try out a new line in fashion. His suit jacket with shirt and tie crossed with jeans combination look could catch on.

But personally, I don't think it's for me.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Alan Partridge's Mid Morning Matters on North Norfolk Digital Radio! (episodes 4-6)

Following on from yesterday's blog post here about the return of the comic leg-end that is Alan Partridge to our airwaves, we continue with the series.

He's back hosting Mid Morning Matters on North Norfolk Digital Radio (with sidekick Simon).

Here are the next 3 installments.

Episode 4 sees Alan wine-tasting live on air...

Epioside 5 sees an impromptu Sad Story and Alan's take on the Japanese.

Episode 6 tells us that Alan's middle name is Gordon (!), gives us the result of his Piper poll and the excellent discussion on King and cars.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Alan Partridge is Back with Mid Morning Matters on North Norfolk Digital Radio! (episodes 1-3)

I love my comedy and it doesn't get much more surreally entertaining than the leg-end that is Alan Partridge.

Now admittedly, Armando Iannucci and Steve Coogan's famed concoction isn't to everyone's taste but he certainly is to mine. Alan Partridge and his Knowing Me, Knowing You chatshow and 2 subsequent series made him in my book, one of the greatest comic creations of the 1990s.

But until today, I was wholly unaware that Alan is still going strong in 2011!

He's now hosting Mid Morning Matters on North Norfolk Digital Radio (with sidekick Simon).

For anyone like me who wasn't aware of his return, beginning back in November, here are the first 3 episodes.

I'm glad to say that he hasn't changed one bit!

Here's episode 2...

Here's episode 3, oddly enough, released 7 days before Bernard Matthews died...

More from Alan Partridge and sidekick Simon soon...

Thursday, 17 February 2011

A Day in the (Cardigan) Life of Cllr Mark Cole

Today has been a really good day. One of those 'this is why I do this job' kind of days. There are days when it feels as if I'm banging my head against a brick wall - any elected representative will tell you that they all have them. If they don't, they're lying!

Well today has been one of those that re-inforces in me, the reason why I stood for Council 7 years ago, stood for re-election 3 years and will stand again for re-election again next year.

Yes for Wales
I'd planned to spend today delivering my quota of 'Yes for Wales' A5 flyers around my ward as promised. The referendum is in 14 days and postal ballots fall through letterboxes imminently so time was of the essence. As is my way with these things, having checked the weather forecast last night and found that today was due to be dry if cloudy whilst Friday was due to be wet, I decided that today would be the day when I would blitz my Cardigan Rhyd-Y-Fuwch council ward with this positive message. I therefore went to bed last night running through my head the best way of tackling the delivery of 500+ flyers that I was required to do. I've always done this. If I have a delivery to do, be it for a Focus or my Xmas flyer for example, I'll always plan the night before what I'll do and how depending on how much time I have and what other diary commitments I have to work around.

Well today, the only commitment I had in my diary was a mid-morning meeting at the CAB so I planned around that and took it from there. It does help that my ward is one of the smallest and most concentrated in Ceredigion. It has only around 650 houses in it and the majority are in Cardigan town centre itself. With this in mind, I felt that I could probably deliver the vast majority of it comfortably by 4pm.

7 hours of sunshine, smiles and delivering for Wales
I left the house this morning at 10.30am and set-off down my planned route of Aberystwyth Road, taking in Feidrhenffordd. I then cut inside and delivered Rhos-Y-Dre before delivering half of Maesyrhaf, zig-zagging across the road to deliver all of Napier Gardens and then Napier St. Whilst on Napier St, I bumped into Gary who won the Overall Champion Award in last year's Cardigan Town in Bloom. He totally deserved his achievement last year and he still couldn't believe it - so unassuming was he of his ability to turn a small area into a wonderful visual experience. As a Scot, he also had to bemoan his country's performance last Saturday - his Welsh partner however, rightly had no qualms at the result! It was already turning out to be a much more pleasant and sunnier day than I'd expected and I reached the CAB shortly afterwards at 11.30am. There I had, as Chair of the Trustee Board, a 45 minute meeting with our excellent Bureau Manager Buddig and we went over some paperwork dealing with the on-going merger process with Aberystwyth CAB to form a Ceredigion-wide service. There were a few items that I had to follow-up and promised to do so for her this evening.

Setting off, I delivered Williams Terrace where I bumped into Ben who is a real Cardigan character and who always keeps a watchful eye out for our Bureau for which we are grateful. He was on good form and asked about my nephew who was involved in a road accident on leaving school 2 weeks ago (and is thankfully fine). How had Ben become aware of this I don't know but such is the Cardigan way, word spreads around quickly enough! I then delivered Feidrfair and half of William St before stopping for lunch at 12.30pm at Cardi Cafe which has not long been taken over by budding young chef Matthew. I've often stopped there for a break, to have a snack and read the paper and that was just what was required today. An excellent large breakfast (don't tell Alyson!) whilst reading the weekly news in the Cambrian News and Carmarthen Journal was just what the doctor ordered and feeling refreshed, I set off at 1.30pm for an afternoon of delivery.

I began by finishing the second half of William St and bumped into Denise who had a concern about improvement works that the Council have been undertaking in the street and in Feidrfair. The improvement works, which have previously taken in North Road, have done a great deal of good in improving the look of the town but in this case, she had a legitimate grievance about the lack of pointing and of some works that had not been done. I promised to contact the Council for her this evening and to raise her concerns with the planning department who authorised the works.

Always Smiling
I then moved up town to deliver North Road when I heard a passing car beep its horn. It was Dai, the secretary of Cardigan Football Club giving a wave, and I waved back. I then completed the second half of Maesyrhaf before moving in to Bro Teifi estate and Heol Hafod. Whilst in Heol Hafod, I bumped into Dennis who was doing some gardening. I hadn't spoken to him in some time and before I knew it, I'd been on his door-step for some 30 minutes - the two of us putting the world to rights on local issues and on wider issues more generally. He spoke very kindly of me and said that we needed more people like me around - a very touching thing for him to say. Muriel was passing by at this time and I said a quick hello to her as she was leaving her house. On finishing Heol Hafod, I moved into the Bro Teifi estate proper and called in to see Ken who I've been helping recently with some casework. He's been having communication problems with the new housing association Tai Ceredigion and I chased them up for him. The good news was that his kitchen will now be re-fitted in its entirety with the work commencing in 11 days time. On leaving, he asked if I could drop a birthday card for him at his former neighbour's new house at the top end of the estate which of course was a pleasure to do on his behalf. I then called in with Chloe who I've also been helping of late with her housing problems and was pleased to hear that positive progress was being made with her case.

I then called into the Bro Teifi sheltered accommodation complex to deliver the 'Yes for Wales' flyers there too and to see the improvement works that have been on-going there in recent weeks. I must admit I was bowled over by the changes made. I had presumed that Tai Ceredigion were just going to give the communal room and warden's office a make-over but they have in fact knocked through walls and have extended the popular warden Louise's office to double its size which was much needed as it was previously little more than a box room. The communal room looked much lighter and more pleasant and they've done a good job fair play. Louise the warden is very well liked by the residents and quite rightly too - she's got a great personality and is a great help to the residents. She's also very kind and helpful to me as the local Councillor and today told me that children from the primary school (of which I'm a Governor) will be visiting the complex on St David's Day (March 1st) to sing Welsh songs for the residents and that I'd be more than welcoming to attend - it's now in the diary! On my walk around the building, I called in with Nikki who I've known for many years as she used to work on our family farm and was a popular addition to the team because of her spinning demonstrations. She's not long moved to Bro Teifi where her mother also lives and it was good to have a chat with her and I muchly appreciated the glass of squash that quenched my thirst in what was a surprisngly warm and spring-like afternoon.

On leaving the estate, I bumped into Michael who informed me that the broken street light which he had notified me of and which I reported to the Council last month had now been fixed - good news. He then told me of another street light which was now needing attention and he said that he'd call me this evening with the specific number for that lamp post so I can report it also. I then went to Brynhafod where I unintentionally bumped into Graham, one of my helpful Lib Dem deliverers who was visiting his mother. We had a chat and I informed him that the next delivery is ready for him so he'll collect his bundle from my house over the next few days - a happy coincidence! I was then called over by Dai who is one of the members of our successful Neighbourhood Watch scheme who wanted to check the date of our next meeting.

By this time it was 5.20pm and the sun was just setting. I finished my round for the day in Maeshenffordd where a resident was just getting out of a Robin's Taxi having done her shopping in Tesco. Her name escapes me but I know her face (I'm getting old) and she called me over and said how nice it was to see me and she asked after me and commended me for my work. Again, a nice gesture which wasn't necessary but which was nevertheless greatly appreciated. I finished by leafletting at 5.40pm (much later than expected!) having delivered over 500 flyers during the previous 7 or so hours.

I walked the short 10 or so minute walk back home here to Aneddfa and on seeing another Robin's Taxi drive past, saw another hand wave in my direction and so I again, happily waved back (I know the Robin's Taxis guys well enough!).

Proud to be a Councillor
It really has been a lovely day. With no evening meetings to worry about (the one I had, had been postponed yesterday), I was in no rush and could amble around at my pace, delivering the flyers through letterboxes whilst chatting to anyone who may be walking by or who may be at their door as I approached. It also gave me the opportunity to catch up with some casework cases and it was pleasing to note positive progress in a number of these.

(I should not that where I mentioned casework cases above, I have changed their names in italic to protect their identies as such specific casework is of course confidential).

It was also a beautiful day - much warmer and sunnier than I'd expected. It put a real spring (pun intended) in my step as it really felt, for the first time, as if winter may finally be on the way out. Finally, having the gestures of goodwill made me feel that my work over the years as a Councillor is appreciated by those I try my best to help and represent. That's what matters. If the goodwill wasn't there, I wouldn't be either.

Call me Mark
Over the past 7 years, I have come to know so many people in Cardigan and in my ward in particular and being a farmer's boy, I like talking to people on first name terms. I'm Mark and that's how I like to be referred too. If a resident prefers to call me Mr Cole or Cllr Cole then that's fine but given the choice I'll always say that it's Mark that is on my birth certificate. Probably 90% of those that I come across call me Mark and this more than anything pleases me greatly. I hope it shows that I'm seen as being an approachable, helpful and positive individual who can always be relied on to have a smile on his face.

It's a real pleasure and an honour to serve as a Councillor in Cardigan and it's days like today that re-emphasises the fact that deciding to put my name forward for election back in 2004 at the then age of 21 was one of the best decision I have ever made.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

A New Opposition in Northern Irish Politics?

The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Tom Elliott has today called for a transition in Northern Irish politics over the next 5 years to bring the system of mandatory coalition government to an end and to bring in an official opposition in Stormont.

Tom Elliott - Ulster Unionist leader

I find this report on the BBC website today that details his call a fascinating one as it goes to the heart of the delicate party political climate that currently exists in Northern Ireland.

I have a particular interest in Irish politics as previous blog posts allude to here and here.

Good Friday Agreement
Since 1997, any rule of law from Stormont has only been possible if the main unionist and nationalist protaganists have worked together in government.

Since 2007, the Stormont Assembly has been functional with a DUP First Minister and a Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister. Also involved have been the UUP and the nationalist SDLP. This has been necessary to keep the fragile peace that has built over recent years in Northern Ireland, in one piece on the floor of the country's legislature. The liberal non-sectarian Alliance Party were an opposition party until leader David Ford took up the reigns of Ministerial Office at the newly devolved Ministry of Justice last year.

A new way - Fracture or Progress?
But what Tom Elliott is today calling for is a transition in the working of government so that when the next Parliamentary term (which begins after elections in the spring) ends in 2015, it will be replaced by one that sits in the traditional way - with a government being faced by a scrutinising opposition.

Can it work? The fact that we now have a government led by the deadliest of foes, the DUP and Sinn Fein, shows testament to how the political process has matured in recent years in Northern Ireland. But then, is the current mandatory form of government the best way of keeping them all together, pointing in the same direction? Will a government/opposition system only help to remind the differing parties and particularly the nationalist and unionist camps, of their differences?

The Future?
At present, the 108 seat Stormont Assembly is composed as follows...

DUP - 36 Members
SF - 27
UU - 16
SDLP - 16
Alliance - 7
Green - 1
Independent - 5

For arguments sake, presuming that the 2015 result (let alone the 2011 result this coming May) is the same, a government would need 55 seats to form an outright majority.

Presuming the DUP are still the largest party in 2015, it would be expected that they would prefer to work with their Ulster Unionist colleagues than to consent to do so with the nationalist parties. On the current numbers, this would leave them 3 short of forming an outright majority government. Would they them cobble together a few independent to work alongside them to give them a weak majority government or would they form an even more fragile minority government?

The Stormont Assembly Chamber

On present numbers, there's no realistic chance that the nationalists could form a majority government and that may be playing on Tom Elliott's mind today as he announces his vision for Northern Ireland.

But what if demographic changes continue and as many commentators suggest, could conceivably lead in the future to a nationalist majority in Northern Ireland? What then? The scenario mentioned above but flipped on its head and a nationalist majority with a unionist minority in opposition?

Walk First, Run Later
I think the idea, whilst a reasonable one, is not for this time. There's no doubt that the test of the Northern Irish political structure is whether in the future it can adapt to a government/opposition system without breaking back out into the old battles of the past. Indeed, it would be proven to have matured completely if a unionist/nationalist majority government could be formed through choice and not through mandation.

But I don't think we're there yet.

We must remember that one of the most contentious areas of policy, that of policing and justice were only finally devolved to Stormont on April 12th 2010 - less than 12 months ago. At that time, because the nationalist and unionist blocks were unwilling for the other to occupy this most sensitive of governmental posts, they voted instead to give the role to the non-sectarian Alliance Party. This was only last year so it's clear that there's still a trust-gap evident in Northern Irish politics.

Until this has disappated, the mandatory form of government in my view is the best and safest way forward for Northern Ireland. Forcing the parties to work together in government will hopefully continue to break down the enmities of old.

They've made great strides forward in recent years but it's too big a gamble to risk by moving ahead in this fashion so soon.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Welsh Referendum (Part 1) - What's it all about?

This is an article that I was asked to contribute for Liberal Democrat Voice and which was published on the site here yesterday.

It's the first time that I've been asked to write specifically for LDV and I'll be following it up with a second post on this referendum in a few weeks time.

I'm pleased to do so to highlight the Welsh liberal context on LDV to my fellow liberal cousins across the UK and beyond!

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There's much talk about the House of Lords on-going 'go-slow' with the legislation for the AV referendum. The latest obstacle thrown up being the 40% voting turnout threshold. Meanwhile, the 'Yes 2 AV' campaign continues with its ground campaign in readiness for the expected d-day of May 5th.

But here in Wales of course, we have another referendum on our mind - the referendum on further powers to the Welsh Assemby in Cardiff Bay.

Referendum Day - March 3rd!
The referendum was promised by the 'One Wales' Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition government within the 4 year life-scale of the current government. With only two months of that government to run to we finally get to have our say on the future of Welsh legislative powers. The 'Yes for Wales' campaign was officially launched in January as I blogged about here at the time.

At present the Welsh Assembly is able to pass primary legislation (called Assembly Measures) in the 20 Policy Fields for which it is responsible such as health, education and agricultural matters. However, it must first have the power to do so conferred upon it by the Westminster Parliament. Once the power to legislate in certain matters has been conferred, the Assembly has that power permanently.

The LCO (Legislative Competence Orders) process which currently exists to deal with this situation and which Labour brought into being with the 2006 Government of Wales Act, is protracted, bureaucratic and long-winded.

As an example, it has taken three years for the Assembly to get powers transferred from Westminster to reform the organ donation system to give a lifeline to people waiting for a new kidney. Even though the policy is widely supported in Wales the Assembly is still waiting for permission to act.

Why's it taken so long? Because this is the current drawn-out mechanism that it and other measures have had to go through...

• Internal discussion on the terms of a draft Order with the Wales Office and Whitehall
• Draft LCO published
• Pre-legislative scrutiny by committee at the Assembly
• Pre-legislative scrutiny at Westminster, usually by the Welsh Affairs Committee in the Houses of Commons and the Constitution Committee in the Lords. Each committee prepares a report and can propose amendments to the draft LCO, as can the Secretary of State if s/he wishes
• The Welsh Government considers the various responses, and prepares a formal LCO
• The proposed LCO is considered by the Welsh Assembly
• If approved by the Assembly, it is then considered at Westminster. It may be considered again by the Commons Welsh Affairs Committee, and will also be scrutinised by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments
• Both Houses of Parliament approve the LCO, or not. If approved, it then receives Royal approval.

Fallen asleep yet? Because it's this kind of 'cap in hand' government that this referendum hopes to do away with.

As First Minister Carwyn Jones said on Tuesday last week:

"The Assembly's present lawmaking system is like Warren Gatland having to send a letter to Martin Johnson asking if he can put Shane Williams in the Welsh team, and then having to send 14 individual letters for the other players as well".

So why do the Welsh Lib Dems Say 'Yes'?
The Welsh Liberal Democrats, ably led by Kirsty Williams, are supporting and campaigning for a positive result because it has been the long and proud tradition of Welsh radical liberals since the age of Lloyd George to support a full devolutionary settlement for Wales.

As a UK-wide party, we believe in federalism - a strong Wales playing its full role in a strong and united British framework. This doesn't mean independence for Wales - it if did, I wouldn't be supporting it and neither would Kirsty Williams and the Welsh Liberal Democrats! It means greater autonomy for Wales to deal with its day-to-day issues in the same way as we would wish local councils to deal with matters that are relevant to our communities at the ground level.

So we're busy campaigning for a 'Yes' vote in two referendums this spring! I will report back on the progress of this particular campaign in a few weeks time.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Lib Dems in Coalition Government Gives CABs a Crucial Reprieve

I was very pleased to hear this weekend that the Westminster government has found £27m to continue for one more year at least, the excellent support that CABs give with the Financial Inclusion Fund.

I should declare an interest here as I am the Chair of the Cardigan & District CAB and Joint Chair of the Shadow Ceredigion CAB Trustee Board and I can not over-state the amazing work that the volunteers and staff members do to help vulnerable residents in our locality - particularly in what are economically trying times.

But for some time now, a cloud has been hovering over the CAB service because it has seemed that the Financial Inclusion Fund would be axed at the end of this March.

Here in Cardigan, we have used the funding to provide 2 caseworkers who have seen 280 new clients over the past 12 months, but with the sword of damocles hanging above their heads, we have had concerns about the provision of debt advice if the funding is not continued or replaced.

In the last few days before the announcement was made, Ceredigion's MP Mark Williams spoke in a Westminster debate on the availability of debt management advice.

He commented:

“The Government are rightly looking at where cuts can be made to reduce the deficit, but I am concerned that scrapping the Financial Inclusion Fund could be a false economy.

“Many people have benefited from debt management advice, and it has allowed people to manage their debts while staying in work.

“A phone and online advice service is no substitute for face-to-face advice, particularly for vulnerable clients and those with mental health problems, who may find it difficult to understand what can be complex issues over the phone.

“I hope that the Government will rethink this, as it is vital that we have this advice in place during what have been difficult financial times for many.”

He also wrote to Lib Dem Business Minister Ed Davey MP, urging him to retain the funding. I'm delighted that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Mark Hoban MP has now made the announcement.

It may only be a one-year reprieve at present but it's great news for the CABs across the UK and most importantly, for the clients who rely on the advice and support given.