Wednesday, 30 November 2011

£300,000 Annual State Pension Uplift for Pensioners in Cardigan

These are clearly difficult times. Today sees the largest strike in the UK in some 30 years over the issue of public sector pension reform. At the same time, the economic winds are turning decidedly chilly.

But there was good news in the autumn statement made in Parliament yesterday.

In particular, as a Councillor in a ward with a high number of retired local residents, I was very pleased to see an uplift in the State Pension by £5.30 a week from April 2012, delivering its single largest ever cash increase. The pension credit standard minimum guarantee will increase by 3.9 per cent in April 2012 to ensure poorest pensioners also benefit from the triple guarantee. This equates to an annual increase per person in the state pension of £275.60.

This of course compares particularly favourably to that infamous Labour Government increase in the State Pension of just 75p.

Here in Cardigan, a total of some 1,090 pensioners will benefit from the increase - to the total tune of £300,404 a year. Across Ceredigion more widely, 17,150 pensioners will benefit to a total of £4,726,540.

The mark of a society many will argue can be demonstrated in how it treats those who have contributed to it for their entire lives, and now depend on it in for support following retirement. With ever increasing energy costs, life is not getting easier, but this uplift of £275.60 a year per pensioner, shows them a great deal of respect and living in a town with a large number of pensionable age, I am pleased that they will righly benefit from the new Triple Lock that guarantees them a fair increase in their State Pension.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Ceredigion Council Unanimously Call on Health Minister & Hywel Dda Local Health Board to Scrutiny

Last week I blogged here on a Health motion that Cllr Elizabeth Evans and I proposed and seconded for a full meeting of Ceredigion County Council yesterday.

I'm pleased to report that the motion was passed unanimously by the entire Council.

We have called on the Health Minister in Cardiff Bay and the Hywel Dda Local Health Board Management Team to meet with us as a full Council to answer a series of questions regarding the service provision in Bronglais Hosptial but also the future capital spend plans for Cardigan Hospital, Tregaron Hospital and the future Cylch Caron project and the Aberaeron integrated healthcare centre.

Passions were high in the Council as members showed a relatively rare but important show of unified strength against the Hywel Dda Health Board in particular and their perceived lack of direct accountability and their stubborn unwillingness to attend public meetings to discuss their plans with elected Councillors and local communities at the same time. The public meeting in Tregaron last week is a case in point - a crowd of some 150 local residents met to discuss the sudden and unconsulted upon donwgrade of hospital beds there from 20 to 12 but where the local health board? They hid behind a pre-written statement that was read out at the meeting. Here in Cardigan, the same health board recently withdrew with just a week or two to spare from a public meeting with the Town Council and the Hospital's League of Friends about Cardigan Hospital. It does not engender confidence in their actions if they continue to avoid public scrutiny like this.

So we now await for a response from Hywel Dda and also from the Health Minister Lesley Griffiths. We are expectant and we will not take no for an answer.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Gary Speed

I woke up this morning wondering whether I could bring myself to support Swansea City against my life-long love of Aston Villa this afternoon. Breaking allegiances for a match after 19 years of support was a big thing for me. I was going to blog about it. Now, quite frankly, I couldn't give a damn who wins the match.

There are some things in life that are wholly inexplicable. Events that shock, stun and numb beyond comprehension.

The news that Gary Speed has been found dead, apparently by his own hand, has caught everyone unawares.

I'm incredibly numb right now. There are no words that can truly express the feeling and sense of loss right now of a young man who had the world at his feet.

A professional for Leeds, Everton, Newcastle, Bolton and Sheffield United, he held the record for Premiership appearances at 535, until recently overtaken by David James. He was Wales' most capped outfield player with 85 national appearances to his name.

He became the Welsh national manager only last year on December 14th and has since turned around a nation's fortunes by leading us to a run of wins and a rise from 117th to 50th in the FIFA World Rankings.

He did not live his private life in the tabloid newspapers. He had two young children and seemed to lead a happy life and there was so much potential looking forward.

Gary made an appearance on Football Focus only yesterday and he was laid back and seemed to be excited about these future challenges.

We don't know what was going on within but a form of depression that must have brought about this incredulous and disbelieving news is heartbreaking. Depression is suffered by a large percentage of the population and it takes far too many lives. It has apparently taken another this morning and it is just a solemn, horrendous development which I just don't want to believe.

RIP Speedo, my thoughts go out to his friends and family at this awful, heart-breaking, devastating time.

My Freddie Mercury Interview in Golwg - English Translation

Back on Thursday on the 20th anniversary of Freddie Mercury's death I commented here in my blog that I had given an interview to the Welsh language weekly magazine Golwg about him and my love for the music of Queen.

Here is that interview with an English translation for those who have requested it.

20 years since the death of Freddie Mercury, Cllr Mark Cole from Cardigan  still marvels at the magnitude of his talent...

"I was 9 years old when I came across the music of Queen, and that after Freddie Mercury's death in 1991. They had re-released Bohemian Rhapsody at Christmas-time and it went to No.1 for the second time. This was the first time that I had heard this odd, long song. It was totally different to everything else that I had heard before.

"I like a range of music. everything from Classical to the Beatles to Oasis to Sinatra to Pulp. But to me, Queen are at the top of the pile.

"I remember going to Blackpool in 2000 for a YFC convention and I came across Queen's Greatest Hits II in HMV there...buying it and realising that the band had so much more music than I realised - on the radio they tend to only play songs such as 'Don't Stop Me Now' but the band have so many more wonderful songs.

"As the words from Radio Ga Ga say: "Our music changes through the years". Between 1971 and 1991, Queen showed how to change with the times. Madonna is a different example of an artiste who has changed with the times in the 1980s and 1990s.

"I like all of Queen's music, but I get pulled more towards their later stuff in the late 1980s and early 1990s

"Like the music, Queen's videos were so different and unique. For the song 'The Miracle' (1989), four children act as the members of the band and at the end, Freddie and the band members appear and join the child actors to sing in the video. It's brilliant. In the video for 'Breakthru' (1989), the band are on the train The Miracle Express and it attracts the attention instantly.

"I have read many books about Freddie and the band. He knew from 1987 that he was HIV+, but he carried on to record songs. It's clear in 'The Show Must Go On' , the final song on the final album, that he was saying thank you to his fans: "Inside my heart is breaking, my make-up may be flaking, but my smile still stays on" - here was a man who was facing death in a heroic manner.

"At the beginning of the year I saw The King's Speech. I studied history in University and I love it. I enjoy biopics that revolve around real everyday life. I enjoy going to gigs and I have seen Elton John, Billy Joel, Kenny Rogers, Madness and the Manics. But the best band that I have seen were Madness in the CIA in Cardiff. They were incredible, giving a great performance.

"I often consider how much of a shame it is that I was too young to see Freddie live. But I have seen Queen with Paul Rogers, so I have seen the Guitarist Brian May and the Drummer Roger Taylor live at least, and they were fantastic.

"In their final album before Freddie died, Innuendo, there's a song called 'I'm Going Slightly Mad' - at times in life, particularly when you're a Councillor, you feel as if you're hitting your head against a brick wall. It's a comfort to listen to this song and know that other people feel the same".

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Cardigan's Primary & Secondary Schools will get £71,100 of Welsh Pupil Premium funding

Yesterday I blogged here about the Welsh Assembly budget deal between Welsh Labour and the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

The budget is to be officially voted upon on December 6th but once it has been passed, it will give Welsh schools an extra £34,299,900. As a share of that, Ceredigion pupils who are classifed as being on free school meals will benefit to the tune of £450 each - a county total of £511,200. In a small authority such as ours, these are significant amounts of monies to our schools.

Here in Cardigan town, we will benefit from a combined total of £71,100 that will to go our school children who need that funding the most to reduce the impact of poverty on educational attainment. Ysgol Gynradd Aberteifi, our primary school here in Cardigan, will benefit to the tune of £36,450 whilst Ysgol Uwchradd Aberteifi, our secondary school, will benefit to the tune of £34,650. As a Governor in both schools I know that this will be welcome extra funding.

So well done to Kirsty Williams and the Welsh Liberal Democrat team in Cardiff. Even in opposition, we're still managing to deliver on an election pledge of ours from the 2010 General and 2011 Welsh Assembly elections. Our children are the ones who will benefit from this and I can't think of a better way to influence politics for the better than by doing that.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Responsible Opposition - Welsh Liberal Democrats support Labour Assembly Budget

Whilst the Liberal Democrats continue to make tough decision in Government in Westminster, here in Wales of course, the Welsh Liberal Democrats are in opposition.

Today, led by Kirsty Williams, we proved that we can be responsible in opposition here in Wales just as we are being responsible in Government in London.

Welsh Assembly Budget
Last week, Labour lost a vote on its budget in Cardiff Bay. Back in May they missed out by a matter of only a few thousand votes on gaining an overall majority in the Assembly and instead came eye-wateringly short on 30 out of an Assembly of 60. So last week, the Welsh Conservatives, the Welsh Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru joined together to tie the vote at 29-29 (Presiding Officer and Deputy Presiding Officer don't vote). With the tie, the Presiding Officer cast her vote for the status quo and the Labour budget fell by 29-30.

With this paralysis and the threat of another defeat against the Labour Government next week, there have been background discussions between all parties but particularly between Labour and the Welsh Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru.

Welsh Pupil Premium
This afternoon, Kirsty Williams announced that an agreement has been made between Carwyn Jones' ruling group and the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

As Kirsty says here on the Freedom Central website, she will lead her group of 5 to support the budget on December 6th having secured £32.04 million, of which £20 million is new money, for a Welsh pupil premium to reduce the impact of poverty on educational attainment. In addition, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have been able to agree an Economic Stimulus Package of £38.9 million to be spent on a range of measures to stimulate the economy and protect jobs.

The Pupil Premium was one of the Liberal Democrats' main election pledges in the 2010 General Election and it has been since rolled out across England. Now, thanks to the Welsh Liberal Democrats, it will be rolled out in Wales as well. More funding shall also support an economic stimulus package that will help boost the economy and protect jobs in what are extremely difficult times.

As Kirsty concludes:
"The Welsh Liberal Democrats are a small group in the National Assembly, but our influence in the budget negotiations will have a big influence on children’s lives and will help give our economy a helping boost.
"It would have been easier politically to walk away, but the Welsh Liberal Democrats have instead worked with our political opponents to agree a budget for the good of Wales. We are proud that our influence will make a difference to children in Wales and provide a welcome boost to the economic recovery".
A responsible opposition? Ed Milliband could well take a leaf out of Kirsty's book.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

How this 9 year old came to love Freddie Mercury and Queen

They say that February 3rd 1959, the day when Buddy Holly died, was the day that music died. Another such similar date it could well be argued was November 24th 1991.

As a 9 year old, I can only vaguely recall the death of Freddie Mercury. Only 10 days earlier on November 14th 1991, the only grandparent that I ever met and knew passed away. 5 days later on the 19th, he was buried. I didn't attend the funeral but was back in the wake instead. I remember it vividly because the news on the TV showed the release of Terry Waite after 1,763 days of captivity in the Lebanon the previous day.

It had been a rather tumultuous few days because this was the first time I had ever experienced the death of a close relative. Then 5 days after the funeral came the news that this important, well known singer from a popular rock group had also passed away. It was clearly a bad month for good men so this 9 year old thought.

I had never heard of Freddie Mercury let alone listened too or had an appreciation for the music of Queen. Yet the irony here is that it was Freddie's tragic early passing that acted as the catalyst to change all this.

In the December, as a tribute to its author, the remaining members of Queen re-released Bohemian Rhapsody as a Double A-side with These Are The Days Of Our Lives. Suddenly, the airwaves were full of this insane, random and lengthy song that first hit the top of the charts 16 years previously. It became the first song ever to get to number one twice with the same version and is also the only single to have been UK Christmas number one twice with the same version. It remained at number one for five weeks that winter to go along with the nine weeks during which it originally topped the charts in late 1975 / early 1976.

A Wonderful Fanaticism
With its second, second coming the next summer as a classic part in the film 'Wayne's World', I can recall being bemused by this intriguing 'new' sound. I kept wanting to re-listen to it. I kept wanting to sing the many different, eccentric parts within it. Suffice to say, I was hooked.

Over the coming years through secondary school, I was joined in my growing enthusiasm for Freddie Mercury and the music of Queen by school mate Luke Rowland. We'd listen to Queen religiously and my interest grew. But it was only as I was on the cusp of leaving secondary school in early 2000 that I graduated beyond the music of Queen's 'Greatest Hits'. I recall a trip to Blackpool for the annual YFC national convention with James Rees, a fellow member of Llawhaden YFC and whilst there, I bought with great excitement from HMV, Queen's Greatest Hits II. Suddenly I'd opened the door to a whole new decade of Queen music and to a 80s sound which I arguably preferred over their heavier 70s vibe. I wonder if James can recall me listening to this new sound sensation on my walkman in our hotel room overlooking the Irish Sea at the same time that we watched the all-Welsh World Championship Snooker Final between Mark Williams and Matthew Stevens? I still do!

As I went to University in Aberystwyth, my love for Queen showed no signs of abating. It helped that in Sarah Green, a housemate of mine in my 5th and final year, I had found another Queen soul mate. Indeed, I recall buying her the Queen Greatest Flix DVD as a birthday present at that time!

Official International Queen Fan Club Convention!
As time moved on, I bumped into Robin Whitmore who like me by now was a Liberal Democrat local party organiser from the East Anglian side of the country. He too was a Queen fan but he put me in the shade - he'd been a member of the Official International Queen Fan Club since the early 1970s - before I was even born! He enticed me to join him in attending a Queen Fan Club convention as he had never been before but wanted company in doing so. I did so in early 2009 at the Breen Sands Pontins resort in the west country! It was one of the most surreal weekends of my life and I absolutely enjoyed every moment of it. The eccentric enthusiasm, love and joy for the music of Queen that was felt there by all of the 1,000 or so attendees was just an electric experience which I hope to re-live again in the coming years.

I also joined Robin in witnessing the closest I will ever get to seeing Queen live in concert when I saw Queen + Paul Rodgers live in the CIA in Cardiff during that same period. Listening to Brian May singing '39 with the whole audience joining in with him remains one of the most special moments of my life. It was a truly exceptional, unforgettable experience.

On the back of the convention, I just had to join the Fan Club! I'd never joined before but I have been a member ever since.

My Golwg Interview
Having contacted the Queen Fan Club to ask for Welsh based members, Barry Thomas of the popular Welsh-language magazine Golwg was given my details and contacted me some years ago asking whether I would give an interview as someone who lives in the public-eye but who has this every-day love and enthusiasm for a popular rock group. Of course I would be!

But the interview never materialised until I had a 'phone call out of the blue last Friday. It was Barry, years after his initial query, asking whether I could give him that interview to coincide with the 20th anniverary of Freddie's death. I did and it has duly been released in today's edition of Golwg on that very anniversary. I supplied to him this photo that shows me with a mere sample of the videos, cassette tapes, CDs, books and magazines that I have as a Queen fan - as well as my fan club membership card of course!

It has gone full circle for me. Because if it hadn't have been for Freddie's untimely death 20 years ago today and the re-release of Bohemian Rhapsody that came as a direct consequence of that, I would never have become a fan at the time that I did. That doesn't mean of course that I wouldn't have become a fan at a later stage - with music of the calibre written by Freddie, Roger Taylor, Brian May and John Deacon, it would surely only have been a matter of time before I'd see the light. But the simple and sad truth of the matter is that it was in my case, Freddie's death that led directly to my interest and love for the band which he helped shape into one of the greatest in 20th century music.

For me, there's no question about it - they are the best band of all-time. My many blog posts here about them and their music will prove testimony to that belief.

Thank you Freddie. You are still alive in your music. The Show Must Go On.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Health Motion to Ceredigion County Council (28-11-11)

Next Monday, I shall be seconding a motion being proposed to a full meeting of Ceredigion County Council by Cllr Elizabeth Evans, in support of our health services here in Ceredigion.

The motion calls for a meeting with the Welsh Assembly's Health Minister and the change management team at the Hywel Dda NHS Trust to answer the great concerns being expressed at present about the future provision of services in mid-Wales' only District General Hospital in Bronglais, Aberystwyth and also to clarify the future plans for Cardigan Hospital, Aberaeron Integrated Health Centre and the Cylch Caron project in Tregaron.

The motion below is self-explanatory and I hope that it will receive the unanimous support of Councillors from across the Chamber to send a clear message to Hywel Dda NHS Trust and to the Welsh Assembly Government that we will not stand idly by in Ceredigion whilst the threat to our health services increase.

Ceredigion County Council notes that Hywel Dda Health Board under the direction of the Welsh Government (WG) Health Minister is undertaking a substantial review of Health Service delivery in its operational area, and as a council we are concerned what this will mean for Ceredigion particularly in light of the Health Minister’s decision to put on hold long awaited capital expenditure on health projects within the county, namely Cardigan, Aberaeron and Tregaron.

Ceredigion County Council further notes that a change management team has been brought in to achieve this substantial change. Ceredigion County Council notes that this substantial review has been directed by WG to provide a service that can operate within the constraints laid down by the Health Minister in her announcement on Tuesday 1st November.

Ceredigion County Council believes that these constraints laid down by the Minister take no account of Ceredigion’s rurality which has to be considered as a significant factor in the matrix of any health care provision. Operationally, the Minister has stated that no District General Hospital (DGH) will be shut. However, there is only Bronglais DGH between the A55 corridor in the North of Wales and the M4/A48 corridor in the South. Therefore, Bronglais is of strategic and primary importance to the delivery of safe health care in a geographical operational area that covers half of Wales and needs to be adequately resourced by Welsh Government

Ceredigion County Council further believes that any down-grading whatsoever of any one of the core services currently provided at Bronglais would render the population at severe risk. Services at Bronglais DGH must include: abdominal/colo-rectal surgery, accident and emergency, cardiology, elderly medicine, gynaecology and obstetrics, maternity, oncology, orthopaedics, paediatrics, respiratory, stroke facilities, and mental health services together with all on-site supporting services. These core services and their supporting elements are essential to the delivery of a sustainable and safe healthcare provision in the area otherwise the loss of anyone of these individual services will render this facility no longer able to serve the population as a fully functional DGH which can provide a safe, timely and accessible health care service appropriately to the population; again it must be stressed that this must be adequately resourced by Welsh Government.

To write and to call for urgent meetings with both the Minister and the Change Management Team at Hywel Dda with all Councillors in order to:

Strongly argue that Bronglais DGH should keep all the services listed in the above paragraph and to nurture the continued development in all areas where expertise already exists. Consequently, Bronglais DGH must be considered separately as a special case given its geographical position within Wales and the continued ground-breaking developmental research, which has already been professionally recognised.

Clarify in its entirety the capital expenditure position and the operational intentions for Cardigan Hospital, Aberaeron Integrated Health Centre and the Cylch Caron, Tregaron projects.

Proposed by: Cllr Elizabeth Evans
Seconded by: Cllr Mark Cole

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Timmy Mallett, Perry Como & Dangermouse

For a child of my era, it's been a rather sad week.

The death of songwriter Lee Pockriss at the age of 87 reminds me of a song that he wrote that was originally a hit in 1960 for Brian Hyland but which I remember 30 years later as a 1990 hit for a boy-hood idol of mine, Timmy Mallet.

As well as writing 'Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini' he is also credited with a particular Perry Como favourite of mine from 1957, 'Catch A Falling Star'.

Another loss this week has been that of animator Mark Hall who was a co-founder of Cosgrove Hall with Brian Cosgrove and was responsible for creating, amongst others, Danger Mouse and The Wind in the Willows. He died of cancer at the age of 74.

Dangermouse was an iconic children's cartoon of the 1980s and is adored by children of that era. Having David Jason lead with the voice of our hero was an added touch of genius.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Twitter's Anti-Bullying 'Words Can Hurt' Sensation and how I was bullied in school

Is sensation too strong a word? Well, if your 4 minute long Youtube musings on bullying are re-tweeted by Stephen Fry via John Prescott to their combined total of 3.5m +  followers and is being shown in school assemblies across the country in the fight against bullying then yeah, I call that a sensation.

Here below is Hannah Thompson's video on the effect that school-yard name-calling bullying had on her as a 13 years old.

Now I must declare an interest here. I know Hannah and I know her very well. She came to work with us in Mark Williams MP's office as a painfully shy and quiet work experience pupil from Tregaron Secondary School back in around 2008 when she would've been about 15 (I may be wrong with the dates but it's about this time).

As she says, she and her friends were quirky and rather off-the-wall with their sense of humour but I must admit that I took to it instantly. Who at that age would go and become huge Cliff Richard fans for example?! As an office and as a party, they fitted in effortlessly. The name that we in the office gave to Hannah and her gang which included Holly and Aithne as well as others was the 'Tregaron Mafia'. They quickly became involved in local politics and have been fantastic supporters locally over recent years.

So I must admit that I am ridiculously proud that our Hannah has became such a Twitter viral sensation and for such an important cause to boot. Here is that video.

Being Bullied
I was also bullied verbally at school. It was also in the form of name-calling and snide remarks made behind and often in front of my back.

Specifically, it was the the fact that I had big glasses (such has been my poor short-sightedness from a very young age) which led to the unfortunately inevitable '4 eyes' comments but most significantly the fact that my slight speech impediment with which I can not say the letter 's' clearly and have a difficulty in rolling the letter 'r' made me the easy butt of many cruel jokes.

Looking back, the bus trip to and from school was never an easy one for me and I can often remember wanting to break down and cry because of the harsh things said of and to me. I always stood my ground, grinned and bared it but on the inside, I was an emotional mess. It certainly made me more reticient when it came to speaking up in class. Because at the back of my mind as I was often reminded, I had this ever so slight lisp which made me sound different to everyone else. I hated it.

How on earth I managed to lift myself up from all of the knocks that I received from this I do not know. There must be a wilful force within me that doesn't let such injustices get me down. I'm proud of what I have achieved in the 10+ years since I left school and I hope that young people in Cardigan and more widely who may suffer now with what I suffered from then, can use me as an example of how such things should never be allowed to hold you back. I still have that same speech impediment but I don't realise it much of the time now. It's just a part of who I am and everyone accepts me for who I am in the whole and not just in part.

So well done to Hannah for reminding us that 'Words Can Hurt'. They certainly can but as she says, it's a big world out there that extends far beyond the school yard.

Hannah, you are an inspiration and I love you and your eccentric, weird and wonderful ways to bits! Don't you EVER change!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Free Xmas Parking in Ceredigion

Ceredigion County Council's Cabinet this morning agreed to allow for free parking throughout the county from 10am on the 3 Saturdays running up to Christmas - the 10th, 17th and 24th December.

Traders from Cardigan have been making the case for free festive parking in the town for years because of the negative impact that the same policy in neighbouring Carmarthenshire has had on trade in our town. It has been exacerbated by a new policy to a similar effect coming into force this year in Pembrokeshire.

This year, the County Council Cabinet Member for Highways, Cllr Ray Quant has come down to Cardigan to meet with representatives from the Cardigan Chamber of Trade and from the Cardigan Traders organisations who have pushed him on this issue. He also accepted an invitation to meet with Cardigan Town Council in the summer where we again made the same comments to him.

It is a great concern because whilst the big supermarkets such as Tesco in Cardigan can afford to supply to its customers free parking, the town centre businesses must reply on the good grace of the local authority to keep its parking charges at an appropriate and reasonable level. To support local businesses and also the local residents who use them, this is therefore a weapon in the County Council's armoury which it has at its disposal but which it has never before utilised in Ceredigion,

I was present in the Cabinet meeting this morning and spoke on the issue. I stated that I personally supported an extentsion to the free parking period to take in the two weeks before Christmas from 12th December to the 24th which was an option in the paper put before the meeting. At a cost of £3,000 a day, it would've meant a total of £36,000 that would need to be found from the Corporate Finance Budget as a means of supporting local business. But with tight budgets, the Cabinet opted to support the 3 Saturdays prior to Christmas option.

It is a shame that this scheme could not have been taken a step forward in this case as I called for, but it is at least a positive step forward which will now have set a precedent for next year and beyond when we can seek to expand on this early Christmas present for local residents and local town centre traders.

This is a positive result for those Cardigan traders who have been campaigning for years to level the playing field with neighbouring towns such as Newcastle Emlyn and Carmarthen. It can go further but Cllr Ray Quant fairly delivered on his promise back in the summer to take these calls back to his department and to push for this positive change.

Monday, 14 November 2011

'17 years partying, shagging tarts and embarassing the country'

So for 33 year old Milan-based journalist Giovanni Riga, this at least will be Silvio Berlusconi's epitaph.

Goodbye Silvio - please close the door behind you
His comment on the scandal-strewn period in office of the out-going Italian Prime Minister in today's Independent speaks volumes for a discredited maverick who rode on the wave of populism and whilst doing so, fed the self-interest of those business aquaintences who surrounded him whilst allowing for his nation's economic fortunes to reach the precipice of disaster.

Papandreou - Gone / Berlusconi - Gone / Zapatero Next?
After the near collapse of the Greek economy over the past week, it is now the Italian economy and its future that has claimed the political life of its Prime Minister. Next week, Spain goes to the polls in a general election with opinion polls pointing to a change of Governemnt. Socialist Prime Minister Zapatero looks set to follow Papandreou in Greece and Berlusconi in Italy as political casualties of the European economic fall-out.

In Spain, it will be the people who will decide who leads them, but quite incredibly, that hasn't been the case in Italy. Such has been the ferocity of the economic storm that threatens not only Italy but the whole continent as a result, that President Napolitano installed the technocratic and un-elected Mario Monti as Prime Minister yesterday.

An Un-Elected Italian Prime Minister - could it happen in the UK?
It is when you take a step back and consider it, an extraordinary state of affairs. For the sake of pulling Italy through incredibly difficult economic waters, the establishment have been forced to bring in a respected former EU Competition Commissioner to implement the cuts and labour reforms required to cut Italy's £1.18trn debt.

Imagine if this economic shock led to such a political solution in the UK? A run on the markets and an unsustainable burden of debt brought the government down. Snap elections would only heighten market fear and so the only reasonable answer would be to form a government of national unity. But to do so, a leader of such a government would need to be acceptable to all. This is where Greece and Italy have found themselves precariously placed in recent days - finding an individual who can count on the support of Parliament to pass unpopular measures.

What of the UK in such a situation? In the case of a national economic emergency, would the Labour opposition willingly bring itself to formally support a Conservative Prime Minister such as David Cameron? It is difficult to envisage. Certainly there would I expect also be no willingness to support the decision to allow the leader of the opposition to take on the reins of government - only an election could precipitate such a scenario.

There would surely be a search to find a suitable Government candidate who could count on that all-party support but who such an individual could be I don't know. But to go where Italy have gone and appoint an un-elected Prime Minister who has no seat in Westminster is constitutionally incomprehensible. The closest that we could get to such a situation I would think would be to appoint a respected Member of the House of Lords who could at least speak from Parliament albeit from the wrong House in Parliament.

Such a precedent of course has been made when Sir Alec Douglas-Home was selected as the Conservative Party Leader and Prime Minister in October 1963 on Harold Macmillan's resignation due to ill health. He was appointed Prime Minister on October 18th 1963 and he disclaimed his Earldom as the Earl of Home and other peerages on the 23rd October. For the next two weeks he belonged to neither House of Parliament. As Sir Alec Douglas-Home, he contested and won a by-election in the safe seat of Kinross & West Perthshire and took his seat in the House of Commons on November 8th.

Good Luck Mr Monti
Could it really happen in the UK? It is incredibly unlikely of course. But then the Italian experiment does have one particular advantage. By not being constrained to an electoral constituency, Prime Minister Monti can push ahead with what are likely to be deeply unpopular economic measures, secure in the knowledge that he is not directly answerable to the Italian people at the ballot box. Such a perverse situation will give him a free-er hand to do what is perceived to be necessary.

Mario Monti - our future rests on his shoulders
Italy currently lives in exceptionally turbulent times but all of our fates hinge in Prime Minister Monti's ability to bring the Italian economy back from the brink. It is surely to large for the EU to be able to rescue if it were to default and if that did happen, it would destroy the Euro and plunge the continent into another recession and as half of our exports in the UK are puchased by our continental neighbours, this is a doomsday scenario that we simply can not encountenance.

So we wave a relived goodbye to that partying, shagging embarassment of a former Italian Prime Minister and put our faith in his replacement who has absolutely no electoral mandate whatsoever.

We live in interesting times.

Friday, 11 November 2011

We Will Remember Them

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

You are forever in our thoughts, we are forever in your debt.


Monday, 7 November 2011

Olympic Torch Comes to Cardigan!

What a wonderful start to the week!

I've woken up this morning to hear that the Olympic Torch will be travelling through Cardigan town on it's tour of the UK, on the afternoon of Sunday May 27th!

Olympic Torch Route on Sunday, 27th May 2012
As the BBC website details here, it will travel from Swansea to Aberystwyth via Carmarthen, Haverfordwest, Fishguard and Newport before arriving in Cardigan en-route towards its overnight destination in Aberystwyth.

The concern was that it may make its way up from Carmarthen to Aberaeron via Synod Inn and miss out west Wales completely but that now will not be the case!

I'm absolutely delighted that this iconic sporting emblem will be coming through Cardigan. I raised the matter in 2009 when I was Mayor when the opportunity of welcoming the Olympic Torch to our community first became feasible.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for us and will act as a great spur to encourage tomorrow's Olympians from within our midst to make that extra effort in their pursuit of excellence.

Roll on May 27th!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

A Musical Tribute to a much missed Dad on his 75th Birthday

Today would've been my Father's 75th birthday. He passed away in June 2003 aged just 66 and I have mentioned him many times before in this blog. His lasting legacies to me are plentiful, many of which I have touched upon previously.

But to celebrate his birthday today, I wanted to remember him through the music that he enjoyed and which I in turn in turn, grew to enjoy and love also.

He listened to a wide ranging mix of music did Dad and I suppose that in itself answers why my taste in music is so eclectic.

Here below is just a sample of Dad's taste in music. He liked ABBA and Chiquitita in particular but it was through his playing of the instrumental Arrival that I fell in love with that under-rated piece of music. He often played the sound of the Wurlitzer and it became a regular sound from his bedroom and his editing suite. I now have one of those CDs and when I play it, I think of him and the holiday when we and mum went to Blackpool to see the illuminations and visited the Tower Ballroom itself.

We often had David Alexander playing in the car. Dad was a fan and it wasn't long before I knew all of his lyrics off my heart - I still do. Though Dad couldn't speak Welsh, he had a deep love of Welsh choral music as now do I.

ABBA - Arrival

Blackpool Tower Wurlitzer

David Alexander - Working Man

Welsh Male Voice Choir

Finally, the music that will always remind me of my father more than any other - the wonderful sound of the Strauss family Waltzes. Every year we would sit down together to watch the live coverage of the New Years Day Concert from Vienna on BBC2. I still do so to this day.

The Blue Daube - Johann Strauss (Vienna New Years Day Concert)

This music touches me because it clearly touched my father. When I listen to it, he is still alive. It therefore goes without saying that I listen to this varied mix of music often.

So this Dad, is for you - your music and through you, my music. Or what I really mean is, our music. Happy Birthday and thank you for everything.

Britain's Greatest Footballing Manager - Sir Alex Ferguson (closely followed by Brian Clough)

Today is my father's 75th birthday. He wasn't much of a football fan but he did take me to Villa Park on my first trip to that footballing mecca of my life back in the autumn of 1995 when I was 13.

So he wouldn't have had much interest in the fact that his birthday coincided with a remarkable date in footballing history and to my amazement, I only realised it myself in recent days. For on my father's 50th birthday on November 6th 1986, Alex Ferguson became manager of Manchester United. Little could the footballing world have realised what a momentous moment that day would turn out to be in the world of British football. Little, no doubt, could my father have cared!

An Old Trafford Legend
Back in December I blogged here on Sir Alex's feat of overtaking Sir Matt Busby as the longest-serving manager in the history of that famous old club that since 1910 has played its home matches at Old Trafford.

Now, we stand at an incredible landmark in what is an incredible career. 25 years as manager at any club in the current 'hire 'em and fire 'em' climate is incredible enough but to have lasted that length of time at the helm of one of the world's biggest clubs and with all of the pressure that goes with that hot-seat makes it even more so.

His Honours List is just mind-boggling. 12 Premiership titles, 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, 2 Champions League titles, 1 European Cup Winners Cup title and a win each in the UEFA Super Cup, the Intercontinental Cup and the FIFA World Club Cup speak volumes in themselves. But it is longevity and his ability to re-build teams from within the club during that time to ensure that they remain at the pinacle of English football and the ability of those new teams to maintain that high standard is what marks him out for me as an extraordinary and unique individual within his profession.

The Competition?
Because let's not beat about the bush here, in my mind, Sir Alex Ferguson is the best British footballing manager of all-time. A big call? Absolutely and many will of course disagree. But as an Aston Villa fan that could grind many an axe with old Fergie (see the 1992/93 Premiership season and the 2010 Carling Cup final as examples), I am nevertheless first and foremost a historian and this historian can look back and realise that when he has long gone, Sir Alex Ferguson will be rightly considered a genius.

Ferguson - Paisley - Clough - Shankly
Scousers the world over will scream the name Bob Paisley and for good reason - 6 league titles, 3 league cups, 3 European Cups, 1 UEFA Cup and 1 European Super Cup stand the test of time at Anfield.

Bill Shankly also has a stellar record at that same club - 3 league titles, 2 FA Cups and a UEFA Cup.

Then what about 'Ol Big 'ead? Well, Brian Clough deserves his place in the pantheon without question. Indeed, I would arguably place his achievements above those of Paisley and Shankly. Why? Because he managed to win the league championship with unfancied clubs in the shape of Derby County in 1972 and Nottingham Forest in 1978 having brought both up from the second division - something that today would be nigh-on impossible to achieve. He then went on and matched Paisley's feat of back-to-back European Cup victories of 1977 and 1978 with those of his own in 1979 and 1980. A truly remarkable though tortured charcater.

The names of Don Revie, Jock Stein, Bill Nicholson and Stan Cullis will also be mentioned and again for good reason. But like with Paisley and Shankly, they could only work their alchemy at a single club.

This for me is why Ferguson sits atop the pile. Why? Well, because for me his genius lies, similarly as it does with Clough, in the fact that he managed to prove his greatness at not just one, but two clubs.

Clough did what he did at two unfashionable clubs. Unfortunately however, although his longevity at the latter was of an impessive standard, the footballing results weren't - 4 League Cups were the sum total of his final 10 years at the City Ground with his final season ending in the ignominy of relegation in 1993. It was a sad way for a genius who could turn the ordinary into the exceptional, to end a controversial but glittering career.

Sir Alex Ferguson is the best of this illustrious bunch not because of what he has done at Manchester United, but because he did all that he has done there having done the same at Aberdeen before that.

Ferguson winning the European Cup Winners Cup
with Aberdeen
To say that he led the team from Pittodrie to 3 Scottish league titles, 4 Scottish FA Cups, a Scottish League Cup and a European Cup Winners Cup as well as the UEFA Super Cup is just playing with statistics. What he did, and what no man has done since, is smash the Old Firm stranglehold in Scottish football to bits. No team since his final league title win at Aberdeen in 1985 outside of Glasgow has been able to match that feat. That is a 26 year hold on the Scottish title by either Rangers of Celtic and the saddest thing is that that shows no sign of changing any time soon.

His back-to-back title wins with Aberdeen in 1984 and 1985 in addition is only the second time in the history of a Scottish  league that dates back to 1890 in which a club outside of the Old Firm duo has won outright back-to-back titles. The other was Hibernian in 1951 and 1952. That fact in itself is absolute madness but demonstrates just what a genius this man is that he could break that iron-like grip in a way that had hardly ever been done before and has not been done since.

In total, Sir Alex Ferguson has won 48 trophies as a manager, making him the most successful British football manager in history. But as my comments above testify, the sheer number isn't what makes him the best - it is his longevity, his proven track record with 2 different clubs in two different countries and an ability to reinvent a team to stay at the summit time after time after time that makes him the stand-out manager in the history of British football.

As a neutral footballing fan of Aston Villa support, I can make this argument without being blindly biased towards one club or another as most who make arguments in this debate inevitably are.

Sir Alex's Long Shadow - The Sir Alex Ferguson Stand
To mark his 25th anniversary, it was a wonderful touch by the club to honour the moment by re-naming the club's old North Stand in his honour. It is a fitting tribute which, like his incredible achievements, will last the test of time.

It will however, as will those achievements over these past 25 years, cast a long shadow over the club and that of his successor. When will Sir Alex leave the dugout? Who knows. He probably has a good 5 years left in him and I'm sure he'd like to match the one record that he yet holds - that of Bob Paisley's 3 European Cup victories. But whenever he does, as was the case when Sir Matt Busby retired after 24 years at the helm, it will take a giant of a character to fill his shoes.

Looking up from the dugout at that name looking back down at him, whoever it may be, probably won't help!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Falling into the Abyss - A Greek Tragedy

From economic and financial turmoil to the brink of political catastrophe, you've got to hand it to the Greek Governemnt - they're not doing anything by halves.

Prime Minister George Papandreou's snap decision to hold a nation-side referendum on the latest EU debt rescue package caught everyone by surprise. The negative reaction of European stock markets on hearing the news yesterday bore testament to that.

It is a quite incredible twist in events that has seemingly stolen from the jaws of an improbable victory, a catastrophic defeat for Greece.

The latest EU bail-out deal was probably as good as Papandreou could've hoped for. It would've meant a 100bn-euro loan to Athens and a 50% debt write-off of its current debts. But of course, the problem with that is the planned austerity measures that go hand-in-hand with this financial support. The cuts in pensions and public sector wages and the lay-off off thousands of workers has understandably caused an angry response from the populace to these measures that have already gone before and those that lie ahead if this additional package were accepted.

Papandreou: On a wing and a prayer?

Papandreou's Political Gamble
The Greek Prime Minister however has decided to play the biggest gamble by risking the loss of the package afforded to him by the EU in the face of the angry reaction that he has received at home.

The likelihood is that the referendum could well be lost and with it surely, the last remnants of Greece's place in the 17-nation Eurozone. In the short-term, the financial bankruptcy of a nation that this would presumably precipitate would be worse than anything currently being experienced by the residents of Greece. Though having said that, the longer-term repercussions once a new and more reasonable level has been found for the now reconceived Drachma may be more hopeful for a weary and tired nation.

Short-term pain but long-term gain then for Greece if they were to refuse the bail-out and force an early exit from the Eurozone? I'm no economist but this lay-man asks the question.

Greek Elections?
Yet, we may not have a referendum after all.

On Friday, Papandreou faces a Confidence Motion in his governemnt which he himself has tabled. This is a Government that now has a wafer-thin majority of just 2 in a Parliament of 300. It also includes a number of his own party members who have openly called for him to quit as leader. If he loses the vote on Friday and it could well happen, then there will likely be a snap general election. This will cause even more turmoil at a time when what is required is steady and calm leadership to steer a nation through unprecedented waters.

He may of course win the vote on Friday and still go on to lose the referendum which in itself will surely result in the fall of his government and fresh elections anyway.

Europe Awaits
But of course the repercussions of Greece's decision doesn't just remain within its own borders. The remainder of the Eurozone and indeed the remainder of the membership of the EU including Britain, await with baited breath, every nuanced move made in these delicate and dangerous times.

The reaction of the markets yesterday was not a positive sign and the biggest worry now is that until a referendum is held, the uncertainty in the markets is only going to increase. The talk is of a January referendum with some optimistically holding out for one as early as December. Either way, the best-case scenario is that the European markets have 4 weeks of limbo during which the situation can very easilty deteriorate. At worse, it could be the New Year before the situation becomes clearer.

The Abyss
Papandreou has played his ace card - the card that gives the final authority on Greece's economic future to the people of Greece. It is in fact, rather apt that he has done so when you consider that it was in Ancient Greece that the concept of direct democracy took shape.

But it is the greatest of gambles. He may win his confidence motion on Friday and win around a sceptical public to support the package in the referendum. If he does, his decision will be viewed by many as a masterly show of cunning resolve.

But is it? What it has done is exacerbated the sense of crisis that surrounds this whole sorry tale. A tale that began when Greece was allowed entry in the Eurozone in the first place. French President Sarkozy was candid in speaking to the media recently when he said that the decision to allow Greece into the Eurozone in hindsight now looks like a mistate. Without question, he was correct.

But the past can not be altered. The future however is another matter but we do not know what that future has in store for Greece and for the rest of Europe.

Greece stands at the abyss and in my opinion now, it's going to fall right into it. This is the greatest tragedy of all.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

My Internet Stat Porn Monthly Report (14) October

This is my fourteenth monthly round-up of blog figures for anyone who is remotely interested in who reads my little blog. These stats for the month of October come courtesy of google analytics.

Calming Down
As with September, October has been a relatively quiet month.

My output for the month of 20 blog posts is my lowest since last November when I blogged 19 times and one less than my total for last month.

In September, I had a total of 4,218 absolute unique visitors to my blog (up on my September total of 3,636 but down on my May record of 6,485). Those 4,218 absolute unique visitors made 4,581 visits to my blog in October (up on the 3,859 total from September but down on the 6,908 record from May). They did however view 11,517 pages has eclipsed the previous best in May of 9,738 pageviews.

The top 10 stories by direct page views that you've read this month were:

1. The longest headed goal in footballing history?! Arise, Jone Samuelson!
2. Wembley Bound with Swansea City AFC!
3. 9am: Swansea City AFC - Premier League!
4. Brian Blessed, Chancellor of Cambridge University?!
5. Labour's Leighton Andrews' Extraordinary Live TV Coco Pops Outburst
6. Rory McIlroy - A Leap of Faith to Join the Immortals of Golf
7. Happy 65th Birthday Freddie Mercury
8. 'The King's Speech' - The Book Vs The Film (SPOILER WARNING!)
9. British Guns on Dublin's Streets
10. 3 Ceredigion County Councillors admit their £12,000 expenses errors

Of the 10, only 2 were written this month - the other 8 are popular blog posts written in months past that continue to attract hits. The 2 that I wrote this month came in at No.1 and 10.

After 4 months at the top, my Rory McIlroy - A Leap of Faith to Join the Immortals of Golf blog post fell down to No.6 and was replaced by The longest headed goal in footballing history?! Arise, Jone Samuelson! blog post which, thanks to my Brazilian readership, has instantly become my 5th most read post of all-time!

Blog Traffic
Of all of the blog visitors this past month, 9.36% were through direct traffic (down from 12.52% in September), 35.91% came from referring sites (up from 25.92% in September) and 54.73% via search engines (down from 61.56% in September).

The bounce rate for the month was 8.40% which again, like with the September figures seems remarkably low to me but then who am I who to argue with Google Analytics?! 80.24% were new visits as opposed to 19.76% returning visitors.

An International Blog!
The visitors to my little blog came from 104 countries/territories this month - up from my September tally of 98 but down on May record of 123, with a cumulative total of 168 countries/territories having supplied visitors to my blog to date.

The top ten countries to date are as follows (with position change from October & % of total views):

1. United Kingdom (No Change) 50.9% (=)
2. United States (No Change) 19.0% (-0.7%)
3. Brazil (+7) 2.4% (+1.2%)
4. Germany (-1) 2.2% (-0.1%)
5. Canada (-1) 2.0% (-0.2%)
6. Australia (-1) 1.8% (=)
7. Ireland (-1) 1.4% (-0.1%)
8. Poland (-1) 1.3% (-0.1%)
9. France (+1) 1.2% (=)
=10. Denmark (-1) 1.2% (-0.1%)
=10. Holland (New Entry) 1.2%

In possibly the greatest shake-up up of my monthly top 10 since I began blogging, my Brazilian readership doubled in the space of just a few weeks as some 700 or so viewed my The longest headed goal in footballing history?! Arise, Jone Samuelson! blog post. I know Brazilians are crazy about football, but that really is crazy! As a result, Brazil shot up from 10th in my all-time list up to 3rd. Wow!

It has continued to be a very cosmopolitan blog this month and honourable mentions must go in particular to the 2 new countries/territories that has provided its first viewers to my blog this October.

Kazakstan and Angola have both supplied its first reader to my blog during the past month!

Fair play to them all, and to you all, for putting up with my ramblings!