Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Huhne: bad news driving out good

To make one thing clear from the start: if Chris Huhne is guilty of perverting the course of justice, then he has to leave ministerial office. It is not good enough to say, as several scribes have, that "everybody does it". All this means is that police should be more vigilant when a person with a previously spotless record, who just happens to be the partner of one trembling on the brink of disqualification, suddenly admits to a speeding offence. It's a big "if", though, and we have already seen accusations of electoral offences in Eastleigh comprehensively refuted. There are  militant reactionaries who are targeting Liberal Democrats and the more liberal Conservatives - like Ken Clarke - in the coalition government and who are using any stray innuendo or accusation as ammunition.

What these people detest is initiatives like the Green Investment Bank (video of Vince Cable's statement to the Commons here). What the publicity for the GIB - such as it is - does not highlight is the struggle that LibDems in the cabinet had in order to achieve borrowing powers for the bank, without which it would be inadequate. As late as January, the Financial Times was reporting that the Treasury was successfully resisting attempts to grant borrowing powers. Their defeat on this point is a tribute to the persistence of Vince Cable and Chris Huhne.

Friday, 27 May 2011

CIX receives a boost

I can't claim to be one of the first users of CIX. I joined up around 1990, three years after the company was started, though I had dabbled with its predecessor, Compulink, which was the UK hub of the Fido Bulletin Board System (does anybody remember those?). The fact that many Liberal Democrats (including all the leaders up to Nick Clegg) latched on to CIX, as well as the conferences on cricket, writing and the computer techniques I was interested in persuaded me to sign up then. It has features which are still unique and of course a distinctive community. The company's acquisition by ICUK, after some rather dodgy years, should guarantee its future.

The professionals' views are here, here and here.

Monday, 23 May 2011


I hope the Western Mail does not mind me quoting in full the following letter from author Linda Ware, once of Plaid Cymru, but now declaring herself finished with party politics:

End this tribalism
SIR – First Minister Carwyn Jones has raised a fearsome spectre in his references to tribalism within Wales (“Going it alone – without ‘political tribalism’”, May 11).
I hope his words are heard loud and clear in the Labour-run Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, where talented councillors are barred from any serious decision making within the council, purely because they belong to parties other than Labour.
We have two glaring examples of talented, long-serving councillors, who have become over the years much valued members of the communities they represent. These councillors win elections time and again, with huge majorities, yet have never been given the opportunity to have a voice within this council. Surely the whole of Neath Port Talbot would benefit from individuals such as councillors Martyn Peters, Plaid Cymru and Keith Davies, Liberal Democrat, being given a voice within this council.
If the First Minister means what he says then surely he could start to dismantle the tribalism that is rampant at the Labour-run Neath Port Talbot council.
Cilfrew, Neath

Read More http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/letters-to-the-editor/western-mail-letters/2011/05/19/thursday-19-may-2011-91466-28720831/#ixzz1NAFKy5Hp

Sunday, 22 May 2011

So much for poverty of the Liberal Democrats

The new Westminster HQ is to be one floor (as opposed to five of 4, Cowley St) of 8-10 Great George Street, which seems quite opulent judging from this prospectus.

A bank holiday suggestion

The 2011 Welsh Waterways Festival (incorporating the Inland Waterways Association National Trailboat Festival) will be held on the Neath Canal. The venue is Ynysarwed Farm, Resolven, SA11 4DF. There are many events, running from 28th to the 30th.

I guess that, sadly, all the guest boats will have to be transported in by road. However, in future years, it could well be that there will be access from the Tennant Canal to the Tawe in Swansea and for the Neath Canal at its former terminal in Briton Ferry. An interesting talk by the former chairman of the Neath & Tennant Canals Trust, staged in Neath Library as part of the Neath Festival last week, revealed that talks with both Swansea City and Neath Port Talbot Borough are dealing with the practical issues.

Update: the festival has a web-site: http://www.welshwaterwaysfestival.co.uk/default.aspx?page=6873

Sunday, 15 May 2011

First takes early exit from Great Western franchise

It is reported that, in order to seek a longer franchise on better terms, First Group is not taking the option of extending its current deal by a further three years to 2016. The Telegraph also comments that in view of other pressures on First's accounts that it is a shrewd move, saving the company £826 million in future payments to the government. First also has the problem of replacing its HS125 stock, which is surely not capable of a further life extension.

First will not necessarily be successful in the bidding process. Virgin and Arriva will surely attracted by a franchise which fits in with their other rail interests - though, in the case of the latter, perhaps too closely in Wales for those concerned about monopolies. Electrification is due to be completed by 2017. Assuming that the next franchise is for ten years, after four years of disruption due to engineering work the successful bidder will be able to enjoy six of increased traffic on the London-Cardiff and London-Bristol routes.

 There is also speculation that Veolia might want to join the party, but, in view of their recent bus retrenchment in Wales, this seems unlikely.

What will this complicated process mean for the poor rail traveller and taxpayer? Precious little difference, I would have thought, but it is a system which has survived two changes of government and no doubt suits HM Treasury. No doubt, commuters in the London travel-to-work area may have some influence, but Welsh rail travellers will be well down the pecking order.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Liberal Democrats are not defined in terms of other parties

An excerpt from yesterday's speech by Nick Clegg, quoted on www.liberal-vision.org:

“In terms of our own identity, I have always thought it a mistake to allow ourselves to be defined in relation to the other parties, or to use and adapt their labels.
"We are not an anti-Conservative party or an anti-Labour party. Or at least only to the extent that we are different to them both. We are a liberal, democratic party – and we judge the other parties by their liberalism, rather than judging ourselves according to their ideological fixings.
"Nor do I like Westminster village discussions of ‘realignment’ on either the ‘centre-left’ or the ‘centre-right’. There was a lot of ‘realignment’ talk by Labour in the run up to the 1997 election, when Tony Blair was afraid he might fall short of an overall majority. There are still those who dream of a so-called ‘progressive alliance’, forgetting that Labour had 13 years to make some moves in that direction and never quite seemed to get around to it until, in desperation, they tried to cling to power last year.
"There has also been some talk of a so-called ‘centre-right realignment’ since the formation of the current coalition. This is just nonsensical and naive. As I said earlier, this is a coalition of necessity, not of conviction.
"Realignment is a polite euphemism used by one party that wants to gang up on the other gang – with us as a temporary recruit.
"I didn’t come into politics to simply replicate the two-party system under the guise of realignment. That’s not my definition of pluralism.
"We must not define ourselves in relation to the other parties. We are defined by a century and a half of liberal politics. It is not left. It is not right. It is liberal.
"If it requires a position on a spectrum, it is the radical centre. We are camped on the liberal centre-ground of British politics. And we’re not moving.”

The only thing I object to is that "radical centre" is to me a contradiction in terms. In fact, "centre ground" is about as useless an expression as the old "left" and "right" labels.

BBC Springwatch comes to Mid-Wales

BBC television's popular nature programme, fronted by Kate Humble, starts on 30th May. It will be broadcast this year from RSPB's Ynyshir reserve on the Dyfi estuary.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The way forward in Wales

Kirsty Williams has responded to Carwyn Jones' decision for Labour to govern alone in Cardiff.  She has highlighted areas in which we would expect to see improvements over the performance of the One Wales coalition of the last four years. One thing Kirsty's short statement does not mention is the criticism of the waste and mismanagement of the Plaid-Labour administration which featured in the Liberal Democrat 2011 campaign. I am sure we can form common cause with the new leading opposition party, the Conservatives, over this, if nothing else.

And can we see an acceleration from glacial to at least snail's pace in bringing Wales up to 21st century broadband standards? At present, Cardiff, Swansea, Wrexham and Newport (never mind Neath) are all behind Bradford in terms of internet connection speeds.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011


On the eve of this vote, it is important to note that it is not that important. The coalition does not stand or fall by it. The meeting of minds on the liberty of the individual and decentralisation of power was a more powerful driver of the agreement, together with the Conservatives' willingness to move towards our social agenda. As Chris Huhne said (Newsnight, 1st February), the Alternative Vote system would give voters more choice, it would be the most minimal change. Indeed, he reckoned that both Thatcher and Blair would have had bigger majorities under AV.

That great Liberal Michael Meadowcroft wrote in Liberal Democrat News before the general election: "For Liberal Democrats it is not a question of 'any reform will do' or that AV is some sort of halfway house. It simply isn't, and it would show an alarming lack of confidence in the party's policy and its efficacy if we were to fail to go for the one reform that deals with the key problems of a failing democracy."

So, win, lose or draw on AV tomorrow, I and thousands of Liberal Democrats will continue to fight for STV, a truly proportional system which maintains the constituency link.

Canada's Conservatives scoop the pool

The result of the federal election in Canada is a warning to parties over here not to force a premature end to the coalition. The Conservatives, who previously formed a minority government, now have a clear majority. Michael Ignatieff's Liberals, after a good early showing and some favourable media coverage, have crashed.

Monday, 2 May 2011

The Cistercian Way

In an admirable fund-raising effort, the Reverend Alf Williams is to walk round Wales calling at Cistercian foundations on the way. On Saturday, May 14th, he is due to walk from Margam Abbey to Neath Abbey.

He set off from Maenan Abbey in North Wales yesterday. To support Action For Children, in whose aid the Methodist superintendent is undertaking his latter-day pilgrimage, visit www.virginmoneygiving.com/alf.

The world feels better for Osama bin Laden's death

The news started coming in around 2:30 GMT. However, of the - admittedly small number of - blogs that I track, only the grumpy John Redwood has commented. No doubt a huge thread will have started on CIX, though.

Two thoughts occurred to me as I heard President Obama's well-crafted speech via the World Service. First, that it could complicate the United States' (and our, by association) relationship with Pakistan.

Secondly, that this could be the dramatic event which turned the western world's mood of gloom. Sure enough, Bloomberg reports that the prices of oil and precious metals are down, and stock markets (where there is no public holiday) are up. There will no doubt be a correction later in the week, but it is hard to see the gold price continuing to rise now that this major cause of uncertainty has been removed.

It will be argued that, because of its cell structure, and the dissociation of its leader - through illness, or his need for security - from the day-to-day running of al-Qa'ida, that the assassination will have no practical effect on the terrorist organisation. But the symbolic effect is mighty.

Finally, some grubby political considerations. This sort of news generally helps the incumbent administrations: think of the Falklands victory and the otherwise unpopular Thatcher regime. It has come too early to be decisive in next year's US presidential election, but - barring another major terrorist atrocity - it will surely be a major factor in 2012. In this week's UK local elections, it will help to check the Conservatives' slide. It may even work for both Labour (the ruling party in Cardiff) and the Conservatives in the Welsh Assembly election.