Saturday, 30 April 2016


It is good to see that the leadership in their media releases has not neglected the important matter of housing. Providing the first home is something which concerns young working people, and the initiative outlined in our manifesto goes a long way to help with this.

It is important to note that this is a proven practical concept, as progressive local authorities in England such as Herefordshire have been operating similar schemes for years.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Rejuvenating government

There seems to be a cycle for organisations - dynamic growth, consolidation, ossification and decline - which has implications for good governance. I believe that what has kept the UK in the top tier of nations has been the continuous injection of fresh thinking from immigrants, historically fleeing persecution in the rest of Europe, latterly from the free movement of labour mandated by the EU.

There is a difficulty in building this revivifying effect into institutions of government. This article outlines an American approach.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Transparency in the EU

A further step towards making public the influences on EU decision-making has been taken.

The printed EU Public Affairs Directory of 2009 runs to 576 pages. The number of lobby groups listed is amazing. It can only have grown in the last seven years. Putting the Transparency Register online and searchable is obviously a good thing, and there are promises of more to come. The EU compares well with the UK when it comes to shining a light on lobbyists.

Leaders debate

Possibly a quarter of those who are going to vote in the Welsh general election have already done so, by post. However, the remainder have had the chance to make a final assessment of the party leaders' performance against each other in BBC's televised debate last night. (For those who have the broadband speed, there is a rerun of the 90-minute session at

I have seen reports from not totally impartial sources putting Leanne Wood or Alice Hooker-Stroud as the top performer on the night. However, those both placed Kirsty Williams in second place well ahead of the Conservative leader and UKIP. My Facebook friends give Kirsty top spot of course, so a spot AV count would make the Liberal Democrat leader the overall winner!

 The Western Mail, which for a long time has leaned towards Plaid Cymru, has this assessment of Kirsty's performance:

The Welsh Liberal Democrat leader has both an encyclopaedic grasp of policy – an advantage of having been an Assembly Member since day one of Wales's devolution story – and plenty of passion. She cast herself as someone who is good on detail but who also brims with anger at failings in the system. Things did get tricky when she attempted to skewer Mr Gill over a vote in the European Parliament and he said he was not a member there at the time but this did not sink her performance.
Ms Williams is confident that her pledge to bring down infant class sizes will strike a chord with the public and she even made a stab at turning her UK party’s tuition fees debacle to her advantage. Her party may be fighting for survival but if she can return to the Senedd with a clutch of AMs there are plenty of scenarios in which she could end up playing a major role in Welsh politics in the years ahead.
- and there is growing confidence in the party that the clutch will be a significant one, certainly larger than the published opinion polls predict, though these do show the upward trend.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Lee Waters

I was puzzled by the relevance of an anonymous message about Lee Waters, who I knew had moved from Sustrans in Wales to be director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs. (He is of course not the Lee Waters of UKIP, though this web page appears to be confused.) Then I saw from today's South Wales Evening Post that he had also been selected as Labour candidate for Llanelli.

The anonymous tip? It was:
In 1997 the Welsh Tories went down all hands on deck. William Hague, that prototypical Tory Boy, shut down the Young Conservatives.
But it is claimed that there was one small corner of Cymru fach where the blue flame flickered defiantly against the gathering gloom before finally being extinguished. And of all places [...] that was in Ammanford where, according to former school friends, Lee Waters enthusiastically embraced the Conservative and Unionist cause in a town reeling from the effects of Thatcherism.
Some will say this is a rare case of moving from right to left in political views, whereas most people become more conservative as they age. I believe rather that it is yet further proof that there is little to choose between the Labour and Conservative establishments.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Community energy

Ever since micro-generation became available, I have said that the party's aim of 100% of Welsh electricity demand generated by renewables by 2025 should not be achieved by imposing wind turbines on a reluctant population. On the other hand, where there was genuine consensus, community projects should be encouraged. The Welsh Liberal Democrat manifesto confirms that approach. We will ensure a widespread expansion in community energy projects. Together with tidal projects, that will go a long way to meeting the target.

Our plans will make it easier for communities to start up local energy co-operatives, allowing them to use public land and developing resources to help them get going.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Austrian presidency: another triumph for opinion pollsters

Around a fortnight ago, the opinion pollsters in Austria were calling the presidential election for the Green-supported candidate, Alexander van der Bellen. He was said to have 26% of the vote, with Norbert Hofer of the neo-Nazi ultra-conservative Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) tied in second place at 19% with an independent candidate, Irmgard Griss. The implications for the EU were discussed in this pdf report. The rôle of the Austrian president is largely ceremonial, but he or she does have some key powers.

In the event, Hofer achieved a big win on the first ballot. He did not gain an overall majority, though, and there will thus be a run-off election between himself and the second-placed candidate, van der Bellen. The received wisdom of the French, who have the same ballotage system for not only their president but also members of the national assembly, is that electors vote with their hearts on the first round and with their heads on the second.

One worries about the heart of the Austrian people, but trusts that they will use their heads on May 22nd.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Railfuture jottings

A cross-border service under threat
It was as nippy in the Marches as I predicted, but pleasantly warm in our meeting room yesterday.

Why Shrewsbury? Sadly, because it is the optimum location for rail travellers from north and south Wales who wish to do business together in a day. No town in Wales fits the bill.

It was good to see one or two under-fifties, two of whom are now on the committee. Our Wales committee is still a female-free zone, though, and considering that (a) women are at least equal users of the railways in Wales; and that (b) the rail workforce is increasingly female, this is illogical and a handicap to our work. We were however honoured by the presence of Allison Cosgrove, chairman of Railfuture Scotland, who it appears have more influence on political decisions north of the border than we do in Wales (with all due respect to our chairman John Rogers and the favourable attitude of outgoing minister Edwina Hart).

Allison claimed that she fell into her job by accident, but her contribution yesterday gave the lie to that. (At the very least, fortune favours the prepared mind.) Not only did she give a cogent overview of rail developments in Scotland, but was also helpful in interchanges about the situation in Wales. I was also gratified that she acknowledged the contribution to the revival of rail in the Borders made by Liberal Democrat MSPs and MPs in the first coalition government. Although this was succeeded by a majority nationalist administration, who naturally claimed credit when the Borders Railway reopened, it was Scottish LibDems who set the scheme in train - finally justifying David Steel's first big campaign of 53 years ago.

Transport for Wales

We in Wales still have a struggle to reach the position which the Scots have achieved. In spite of having to operate under a franchising system (which Transport for London managed to side-step) Transport Scotland's achievements are impressive. At least the arms-length company which RF Cymru and other pressure groups have craved has been set up in the form of Transport For Wales. No public announcement has been made about it, though, and our secretary has been unable to discover whether it has any staff or a physical location.

Standing on Shrewsbury station, it was great to hear the service to Birmingham International being announced as run by Arriva Trains Wales. This and other cross-border routes could be chopped up or reassigned if the Welsh government coming in after 5th May is not robust when negotiations on the post-2018 shape of the railways resume. Retention of these routes is a key feature of the Liberal Democrat transport policy (along with many other proposed improvements) in the manifesto on which I am fighting the election - and, to be fair, some candidates in other parties recognise the need for strong rail organisation in Wales.

RFC chairman John Rogers warned that we could be going back to the bad old days.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Future of rail in Wales

Off to sunny but chilly Shrewsbury this morning, I hope to learn at the Railfuture AGM whether Wales looks like hanging on to the most profitable parts of the franchise in the current negotiations, the cross-border routes. This is of concern not only to Welsh government which obviously wants to minimise the amount of subsidy to be paid out, but also travellers between north Wales and Manchester airport and between mid-Wales and the powerhouse of the English Midlands.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Art for the sake of the people

The question that really threw me at the Neath hustings the other week came right at the end of the session. It was not just that "the arts" was so out of context with what had gone before but also because politics and the arts don't sit well together as far as I'm concerned. George Orwell once described poetry on BBC radio as sounding "like the Muses in striped trousers"; government involving itself in the arts conjures up visions of a ballet performed in suits and bowler hats.

On reflection, though, it is possible to distinguish between politicians steering (or even dictating) content and enabling artists to express themselves as they wish. Making sure that institutions such as our theatres, concert halls and museum buildings are maintained is surely a public duty, one that is not down to central government alone but also to local authorities. It seems strange that at a time when Labour in government wants to create super-authorities, Labour-controlled councils round Swansea Bay want finally to split up the collaborative West Glamorgan Youth Music service.

Anyway, the Welsh Liberal Democrats do have an arts policy, as laid out by Peter Black on Radio Wales' Arts Show alongside other party representatives (except for UKIP's). It is slim, consisting mainly of building up an endowment to enable the arts to thrive without having to rely on the vagaries of the Welsh Government's annual budget horse-trading, but that is probably as it should be.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

The passover meal

I was browsing the Web for other reasons when I came across this piece by Ruth Joseph and found myself shedding a little tear. On the eve of passover it seemed right to share it with those who have not already read it.


One of Charles Kennedy's three keywords (referred to in "What we stand for" earlier) was "justice". This has wider application, not just to the legal system. Children must not be unjustly excluded from the benefits of education because their parents are poor or because they develop differently from most. "Fairness" would be another way of putting it.

This morning, Kirsty Williams will be presenting our party policy on education, with particular emphasis on early years education. The pupil premium, for whose introduction to the UK Nick Clegg should be given much credit, will feature. Pressure from Liberal Democrat AMs ensured that the consequential money from the coalition policy was applied to the same purpose here and I believe that Labour ministers have now accepted the benefits, bringing fairness to schools otherwise handicapped by low income in the community.

The key policy, and one which Kirsty clearly feels passionate about, is to reduce class sizes to a maximum of 25. Not only does this mean that each primary school child will receive more individual attention, leading to proven educational outcomes (i.e., children learn to read, do sums etc. earlier and better) but it also reduces pressure on teachers.

I believe that not enough emphasis is put on early years education. That is not to say that more cannot be done in the secondary sector, nor that there are not still threats to what we have. It was reported from last night's broadcast leaders debate that:

Ms Williams clashed with Mr Gill after he agreed that youngsters who failed the 11 plus exam had felt written off. He said UKIP wanted to allow schools to become grammars "so they can become areas of focus and excellence for people". But when he was asked if pupils who failed the 11 plus felt "written off", Mr Gill said: "Absolutely." That earned immediate heckles from Ms Williams: "So do it again? Write them off again?" Mr Gill added: "What we're saying is have an education system that encourages students to learn about the things they want to learn about." Ms Williams replied: "We certainly wouldn't want to go back to a system which wrote many 11-year-olds off if they failed their 11 plus." "You can't have an artificial divide at 11 that then sets that [child's] future in stone," she added.

Read, read.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Gladstone and religious tolerance

Someone who does not wish to identify him- or herself was inspired by a comment I made about Gladstone on another blog to write:
[I] wondered what you make of the fact that Gladstone called the Qur’an an “accursed book” and once held it up
during a session of Parliament, declaring: “So long as there is this book there will be no peace in the world."
Those of us who admire Gladstone must accept that he did have a blind spot when it came to toleration of religious institutions other than the Church of England. He was very well read on comparative religion, as the library at Hawarden testifies, yet this was one area where he was in my opinion illiberal. It was not just Islam he scorned. He was also fiercely against the Roman Catholic church for all his life. A choice description was "an Asian monarchy; nothing but one giddy height of despotism and one dead level of religious subservience". Yet he stood out against legal discrimination against Roman Catholics in the UK.

His antipathy to militant Islam may also have been fed by the reports of atrocities carried out by Turks in Bulgaria in 1876.

I am indebted to the biography of the great man by Roy Jenkins for the quotations. This book also shows how easy it was for people (provided they had the wherewithal) to move about Europe in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Gladstone spent a great deal of his time on the continent. UKIP would clearly not approve.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Civils v Electricals

I am indebted to Rail Wales magazine (members' journal of Railfuture Cymru) for a report of a lecture given in February by Dr Dave Hewings, a leading electrical engineer at Network Rail.

The Great Western Main Line electrification, currently creeping west towards South Wales, will be state of the art [...] many features of the new infrastructure would be advanced and in some cases world-leading. [...] When electrification is complete, it will be capable of supporting trains running at 140mph.

"It's a pity that the track and signalling won't be up to that standard" tartly added our commentator.

Dr Hewings also asserted that the electrical part of the project was running to time. This is in contradistinction to the overall delays caused by the use of barely-tried new construction techniques and the aged existing infrastructure. When I first started work in the Roads Division at the old MoT, I sensed rivalry between civil engineers and their electrical counterparts. There could be some exasperation on the part of Dr Hewings that the new structures are not going up fast enough.

The revised GWR outline programme is here.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Polish ultra-conservatives must not get away with this

PiS actions

The European Parliament has voiced its disapproval of creeping state control under the current government of Poland. Although the resolution is not binding on the state of Poland, it is probable that the dialogue which is to be opened between European parliamentarians and the Polish administration will yield results. There is a precedent in 2000, when the admittedly more extreme Freedom Party came to power in Austria. This led to the virtual "sending to Coventry" of Austria by the other member states of the EU, leading to the desired result.

It is important that the EU does not give in to what is at first sight a breach of Article 2 of the EU treaty. That would give a signal to any illiberal government (the current likely candidates are conservative, but any socialist party which came to power would also be tempted) in the EU to follow suit.

Many British Conservatives would like to see Turkey as a member of the EU because of the trade she would bring, and because of her membership of NATO. They would disregard the Erdoğan administration's attacks on democracy. If the EU gives in to Polish authoritarianism, it would set a dangerous precedent.

NB: Under Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU), the EU is founded on respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. All Member States share these values which must be defended by the EU, and by each individual Member State, says the text. 

Dear housing a disincentive to entrepreneurs

All is not perfect in Sweden. What used to be the model of social democracy and industrial progress is stultifying, according to the native founders of Spotify.

Just as Labour and (especially) the Conservatives in Westminster should have learned from the decline in Swedish education's reputation since her introduction of academy schools, so both England and Wales should take warning from Sweden about the barrier that expensive housing presents to small businesses who want to expand.

The UK Conservative government seeks to improve house-building figures by giving incentives to young middle-income families which is not going to solve the problem of the lack of affordable homes.

Welsh Liberal Democrats on the other hand would increase the supply of affordable housing. This, together with the proposed Welsh Development Bank and other parts of our economic plan, will do much to foster entrepreneurialism in Wales.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Woodman, don't spare that axe!*

Judith Woodman, the Liberal Democrat candidate for the South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner post, has promised to reduce incumbent Alun Michael's inflated back office.

She has also cheered me today by committing to ensure that data on the ethnicity of those stopped and searched is published if she is elected. Black and minority ethnic people in other parts of Wales are five times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white people, yet they account for nowhere near that proportion of crimes committed. This sort of racial discrimination should be unacceptable in the 21st century, yet it too often goes unnoticed. Electing Judith would be a step towards stamping out racial discrimination and making our police officers more reflective of the communities they serve.

* for younger readers, this is a reference to a classic disc by Phil Harris, better known more recently as the voice of Baloo the Bear.

Not in Wales we didn't!

So many of the objections thrown back at us in campaigning in the Welsh general election are clearly echoes of criticisms from the dominant London-based press, which does not recognise what we have done in Wales. So, for the record, we did not:

Support PFI/PPP

In coalition with Welsh Labour between 2000 and 2003 we prevented schools and hospitals (Neath Port Talbot's was one that got away) being built under the private finance initiative which has lumbered the English NHS with crippling running costs and is now causing grief to local and national government in Scotland.

Go into coalition with the Conservatives

In 2007, Kirsty Williams' was the vote which prevented a LibDem/Conservative coalition with Plaid Cymru.

Betray the NUS

All our Welsh MPs kept faith with their pledge to the National Union of Students to vote against a rise in tuition fees after the 2010 general election. (Given that the party as a whole was outvoted ten to one on our manifesto aim to do away with upfront tuition fees, our ministers did keep the other half of the NUS pledge, to improve the system.)

Friday, 15 April 2016

UKIP attempting to steal some of our clothes

My letter in last Monday's Evening Post, questioning the logic of voting for UKIP candidates when a direct vote for or against the EU was available in June, was penned before I heard Mark Reckless's interview by Vaughan Roderick last week. In it he clearly made a pitch for Liberal Democrat votes by stealing some of our long-standing policies.

He says that more matters such as fisheries (and agriculture! - he is clearly unaware of what powers the Assembly already has) should be devolved. He is a democrat who wants to get powers down to the lowest possible level so that people can have more influence and control over their own lives - an ambition which could have been taken straight from Liberal Democrat programmes.

In view of his voting record on devolution, I am still not convinced of his sincerity on this issue.

Martyn Ford, UKIP's representative on the IWA/Evening Post South Wales West hustings last Wednesday is unrepentant. He was forthright in his view that devolution to Wales was economic nonsense, that there was no real unity to the principality and that it would never catch up with the rest of the UK financially.

I see that Welsh UKIP leader Nathan Gill does not trust the Assembly either. The manifesto he launched on Friday also includes the bringing back of grammar schools (which inevitably means the return of secondary moderns, or whatever other name UKIP would paint sink schools with). I have some sympathy with his limited abolition of tuition fees in essential subjects, but he will find that the electorate will reject this when they realise that the cost of the policy would mean fewer young people overall going on to higher education, as Liberal Democrats did in 2010.

I searched the manifesto in vain for any green policy.

The facts are that the few good things in the UKIP manifesto are already in ours and are more certain to be delivered if we are elected, and that what makes UKIP distinct is outwith the Assembly's powers. If people really want to leave the EU (and I hope to have something to say about that after 5th May) they should use their vote in the June referendum when it will have real power to affect Brexit. In the Welsh general election, they should look to candidates who have the best interests of Wales at heart.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Energy-saving houses

Janet and Robert's bungalow
This bungalow had its electricity
usage halved - picture courtesy
of Ecology Building Society
The local LibDem party web-site has a piece about our manifesto policy to encourage householders to improve the energy usage of their homes.

I would like to go further and give incentives to both house-builders and landlords, both large and small, to do the same.

Now that "co-ownership" is not a dirty word any more, there is also scope for a scheme in Wales like the Manchester City Council's in England, but with an ecological bias.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Cable was hobbled, so should Whittingdale be

Vince Cable was taken off mergers and monopolies decisions because he was stung by undercover Daily Telegraph reporters. John Whittingdale is more compromised in my opinion, so he should at least withdraw from decisions affecting the print media, which appear to be rather kind towards him.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

We must kick racism and religious hatred out

Antisemitism has reared its ugly head in the Labour party, as this complaint and several postings by Guido Fawkes show. It has been a feature of Conservative campaigns in certain areas though operating under the radar. At the same time, Islamophobia is all-pervasive.

The South Wales Jewish Representative Council has circulated candidates in the Welsh general election with their manifesto which includes the following calls:

Oppose all forms of hate crime, including antisemitism, anti-Muslim hatred and other types of racism, promoting and enhancing community safety;

Promote good relations, understanding and cooperation between all of Wales's communities.

I have committed to these aims and trust my fellow-candidates have done the same.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Lover, drugs baron, businessman, author and parliamentary candidate

Farewell, Mr Nice. You were pursued for crimes which should not have been crimes and one hopes will not be crimes much longer. You brightened public life and lost your life too early.

I would like to claim that I met you when we both stood against Peter Hain in Neath in the 1997 general election. However, the law then allowed one person to stand in several constituencies and you were represented here by an agent.

This is the entry from the excellent Welsh Hustings 1885-2004 (ed. Ivor Thomas Rees):

What is left of the Civil Service

Here is more from the Independent archive, from the Letters page this time. Barry Reamsbottom, then general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union wrote in March 2001:

Civil service reform has been a political football for at least the last 20 years. As general secretary of the largest civil service trade union, I would like to remind your readers of some of the outcomes of these "reforms".

Bringing in people from the commercial world was very common in the 1980s and 1990s, especially in the field of new technology. As a result, the civil service lost a great deal of its own expertise in this area. We have seen failure after failure of large-scale civil service computer projects [...]

Other changes have included the fragmentation of a unified civil service into different executive agencies, which has entrenched competition for funds and status between departments.

This was written almost four years into a Labour administration which was to last until 2010. Far from restoring the professional standards in the public service, Labour continued the privatisation process, to the enrichment of Capita and Atos in particular. Apart from the replacement of Atos by Maximus, nothing much has changed under the Conservatives.

In terms of employment conditions, things went backward. By 1960, the civil service had embraced the principle of equal pay for equal work. Allowing agencies to set their own pay scales and working conditions has led to the gender pay gap opening again and widening, so much so that even a Tory government recognises that there is a problem.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Blank before Brown

Sir Victor Blank, whose close relationship with Labour leaders including Gordon Brown at the time of a speculative and ultimately catastrophic bank merger was queried, had already pulled off a financial coup under the Major government. The background was the haphazard way in which our railways were privatised. The Independent commented:

at Charterhouse Bank [...] a handful of senior executives have made more than £30m in eight months out of Porterbrook, the train-leasing company taken over by Stagecoach last month.

Porterbrook is already notorious for producing a profit of £80m for its directors and staff. The service Charterhouse provided to these winners of the privatisation lottery was to put together the management buyout that enabled them to make their fortunes. Four of Charterhouse's executives, led by the genial Victor Blank, plainly decided the opportunity was too good to miss and helped themselves to a share of the action.

This would not normally raise eyebrows in the venture capital industry, where it is common and accepted practice for executives to invest in the firms they are promoting, sharing the risk with their clients. But this one was different, not least in its exceptionally debt-geared nature. The company, sold by the Government for £534m early this year, had only £2.5m of core equity, which became worth almost £400m at the bid price.

Thus the Charterhouse executives were able to turn an initial investment of just £89,000 into £12.7m. On top, they make a cool pounds 20m from their personal share of the profits made by the Charterhouse venture capital fund, which also invested in Porterbrook. It hardly needs saying that all of them faced negligible risk - for well-paid merchant bankers - of, at worst, £89,000 of their own money. The real downside, if the company had turned out to be a dud, was born by the providers of bank finance and preference shares. Just a question of the luck of being in the right place at the right time? For some reason it doesn't look quite that way.

The future of the Swans

The report of an American takeover of the Swans is worrying. The North American attitude to sports "franchises" is radically different from the British tradition and different again from the involvement of supporters' trusts, of which Swansea City ST was an early example. We have the example of Aston Villa as a long-established and well-supported team brought low by the impatience of an American owner who did not understand British football.

There were signs last night in the clips on Match of the Day of a return to the crisp precise passing with which Swansea announced their entry to the Premier League. I would hate to see that style lost in the search for instant returns under a fashionable manager.

There is some reassurance in the continuing presence of Huw Jenkins in the leadership team, but one wonders how much say he will have in the future direction of the club.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Beecham and the Aintree weekend

I have to rely on my memory for this Beecham quote, because I can't find it on the Web. It goes something like this: Sir Thomas Beecham, who had a great rapport with orchestras, was conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic during the annual festival of racing over the jumps. The weather was warm and the programme, already a long one, was topped by Schubert's Great C Major symphony famous for taking nearly an hour to perform. Realising that the players would be flagging and a little resentful, he encouraged them from the rostrum: "Now, gentlemen, for the Grand National".

Friday, 8 April 2016

What cricket can learn from economics

That is the title of a persuasive piece by Amit Varma, a trained economist and former editor of cricinfo in India.

Perhaps the MCC should add Goldman Sachs to their imposing roster of coaches.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

What we stand for

When Charles Kennedy, who tragically died  just over ten months ago, was leader of the Liberal Democrats in the UK, he issued a recruiting leaflet. Its message summed up what Charles believed the Liberal Democrats to be about. It is a fair distillation of the preamble to our constitution, a constitution which has not changed in its essentials since the founding of the party in the 1980s.

I believe that our then leaders in Westminster in some respects compromised themselves in coalition and tarnished the reputation of the party. (I am proud to say that the Welsh Liberal Democrats in Westminster to a man and woman were honest and kept the promises they made before the 2010 election.) Overall, though, LibDems should be given credit for restoring credibility to the UK economy by going into coalition, while implementing many important manifesto aspirations such as the triple-lock for pensioners and the Green Investment Bank. Our ministers also held back the attacks on the social support system and on our civil rights which the Conservatives ruling alone now feel free to implement.

The party in the country never forgot our basic principles. What we did neglect to do was project our unique qualities to the wider public; it was justifiably claimed that the ordinary citizen "didn't know what we stood for".

In 2015, our national campaign, deferring too much to the opinion polls, departed from our traditional message of stating what we would do in government, at a time when we were better equipped than at any time in our history. In lowering our sights, we also lowered the public expectation of us with inevitable results.

We can be in government in Wales again. We can also bring fairness back to the administration, because we are not in hock to special interest groups as Labour, Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and even UKIP are.

As Liberal Democrat candidate for Neath, I will stand on the principles outlined by Charles Kennedy as well as an aspect of the constitution which did not feature in the leaflet: community. Decisions should be made as close to the people as possible. Administrators should listen to people with knowledge, base decisions on evidence and be transparent in coming to those decisions.

How our principles inform detailed policy I hope to show here during the campaign. There will be more on our Facebook pages , , and  blogs at and


Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Nationalists repeat Labour scandal, allegedly

Cleaning out my cuttings file (i.e., a box of various unsorted papers) this week, I came across a June 1995 report for the Independent by David Walker of allegations against councillors in the Monklands district of Strathclyde. As I write, the article is still on the Web, but who knows how long it will stay accessible seeing how easily Google and their ilk roll over in the face of requests to remove embarrassing links.

The allegations were that, in the constituency once held by Labour leader John Smith, councillors discriminated against non-Labour, non-Catholic, constituents in the matter of council house repairs and in allocation of council jobs. The accusations were so serious that an inquiry under William Nimmo Smith was set up, though with limited terms of reference. In the end, the inquiry cleared the district council.

The article points out that any party which has been in power too long is liable to succumb to corruption and lists various ways in which corrupt councillors can abuse their power. The de-municipalisation of housing, under Westminster PMs from Thatcher through to Brown and under Labour-dominated Welsh governments, has removed some opportunities for corrupt practices. However, Walker contends that privatisation brings its own possibilities of graft. The Rotten Boroughs columns of Private Eye certainly have their fair share of such stories, and Conservative as well as Labour councils feature.

Monklands District Council is no more, subsumed by the unitary authority of North Lanarkshire, whence Labour was swept away by the Scottish National Party. Now the SNP is having its own little local difficulties.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Election guidance from your mobile

The Wales Governance Centre has announced an app which aims to help voters make up their minds. Professor of Political Science Roger Scully writes:

This is an online application that enables voters to compare their views with the policy positions of the main political parties that are competing in the 2016 Welsh Assembly elections. WalesVote16 provides a number of results based on different methods of calculating how well the users and the political parties match. [...] is not designed to tell citizens how they should vote; only to allow them to see where they stand compared to the main parties across a range of policy issues.

The project has been developed with some colleagues in Switzerland who are experienced in putting together these sorts of Apps, and developed in parallel with similar ones for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

My only concern is about possible bias. Although Professor Scully asserts that is a strictly academic project and is not affiliated with any political party or movement, unconscious prejudice is unavoidable and I would like to be assured that the "team of political scientists" represents a range of political philosophies. Otherwise this and other apps in the pipeline look like a useful contribution to voter participation in the upcoming election.

Drug-taking widespread in sport

The only surprise for us who suspected since 1988 that athletics was not the only sporting activity tainted by performance-enhancing drugs was how long it took for the controlling bodies to act. When lawn tennis was readmitted to the Olympics after a sixty-year break, there was a suspicious number of high-profile stars who declined to take part. The Olympics authorities had pioneered drug-use controls twenty years earlier and each subsequent Olympiad had seen tightening of the régime.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Conservative attitude to the EU

I think I've cracked it. They didn't realise that governments have to continually engage with the EU at all levels because they treated it like a plc - you buy into it, then sit back, apart from the occasional rights issue, and wait for the dividends to roll in.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Steel, seriously

John Redwood's first response to the threat of Port Talbot closure in a BBC TV interview seemed to imply that steel production was such a UK strategic essential that he was prepared to abandon his free-market instincts and envisage major government intervention. He has since refined his thoughts on the situation - could this be linked with the return from Australia of the apostle of cheap steel, business minister Sajid Javid?

In his piece, Mr Redwood gives a short history of the public/private history of steel in the UK. I would agree with him on several points. Whatever the need for government reconstruction immediately after the war, once the industry was on its feet it was right for the Conservatives to return it to private ownership. It was a mistake for the 1966-1970 Wilson government to renationalise it. I also agree with Mr Redwood that it was wrong for the Conservatives later to prop up Ravenscraig. He might have added that the continued existence of Ravenscraig was due to a shoddy political compromise by an earlier Conservative government under Harold Macmillan, a compromise which in the end did no favours either to Wales or Scotland.

Friday, 1 April 2016

The Canadian Liberal revolution rolls on

Liberal International reports that the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced a historic plan aimed at growing the Canadian economy and boosting foreign direct investment. It includes simpler tax free child benefits which are estimated to lift around 300,000 children our of poverty, cutting taxes for middle income families and raising the tax for the wealthiest 15% of the population, [my emphasis - FHL] and boosting student grants.

One notes that the Canadian grants sit alongside a student loans system; one of the planks of the Welsh Liberal Democrat manifesto will be a student living support grant.

"Occupational hazards" of orchestral playing may no longer be tolerated

When the word "viola" comes up in a media release on the morning of April 1st, one immediately suspects a joke. However, the threat to the hearing of orchestral players sat in front of heavy brass or timpani (particularly in repertoire from the 19th century on) has come more to ones attention in recent years. Now it appears that a private suit might stimulate serious moves to overcome this trouble.

"Out" campaign vindicated over steel

It has been revealed how the all-powerful European Commission overruled the democratically elected Conservative government in London. David Cameron had wanted to flood the European market with cheap Chinese steel in order to appease far eastern investors, but was powerless against the almighty EC and Angela Merkel.