Sunday, 31 May 2009

How low can you go?

Pretty low is the answer...

Frank Cook (Stockton North) , a Labour backbencher has apologised for submitting an expenses claim for a £5 donation he made at a church service commemorating the Battle of Britain. Mr Cook made the offering in his Stockton North constituency in 2006 and submitted the claim with a handwritten note, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

The Labour MP said he did not recall submitting the claim - which was (for once) rejected by the Commons Fees Office - and that it was "a mistake" which makes a change from is 'being within the rules'...

Saturday, 30 May 2009

A hot day...

Another pipping hot day (with a street stall) by 'Red 'Square' in Abergavenny. A slow but systematic steady trickle of passing interest, we are still detecting that quiet anger from ordinary people at the behaviour of some of their elected members at Westminster. The complete absence of New (or Old) Labour, the Conservatives and the other lot should be noted - suspect they are keeping their heads down until after Thursday next.

A few people asked about the All Wales Convention meeting in Monmouth (with David Davies and Adam Price, putting the pros and the cons). Just in case you missed it those present voted 60% to 40% for more powers, obviously word of the result is spreading through Monmouth Constituency.

Met a few veterans who expressed their displeasure at the failure of New Labour to fully participate in the 65th Anniversary Commemoration of the D-Day Landings (next week) - all in all pretty typical for a rudderless and leaderless dying Government. What with this commemoration being the last organised gathering of veterans it is worth noting that the first UK Armed Forces Day ( will take place on Saturday 27th June 2009.

This event will hopefully grow to become an annual day to celebrate the heroism, the achievements and ordinary on-going day to day work of our Armed Forces at home and abroad.
This is a real opportunity for our communities to show their support for our Service men and women, ex-service personnel, our veterans and service families. This day is a real opportunity to honour, support and celebrate the work our service personnel do in support of our country.”

Thursday, 28 May 2009

How thin a Blue Line do you want?

Now everyone (and every political party) wants to see more Police Officers on the beat, to see that once highly visible Police presence in our communities. Ask any senior Police officer in a guarded quiet moment and you may (if you are lucky) get told that it's the most inefficient form of Policing going, with officers walking for (on average) 49 miles before they come across a crime in progress. This obviously ignores the deterrence and reassurance that is generated on our streets and in our communities and may well be influenced by pressures from the Ministry of Justice, a lack of Police officers and the need to generate reams and reams of arrest related statistics.

Perhaps the desire for local bobbies on the beat goes back to an earlier simpler era (certainly UKIP would like to take us back to the day before the Suez crisis broke), maybe it’s a TV inspired nostalgia driven desire for that mythical Dixon of Dock Green figure now almost a real historical memory – killed off by successive police reorganisations, mergers, budget cuts and top down largely then Home Office driven changes in the way our communities are policed i.e. panda cars, the loss of local Police stations, reduced opening hours, etc.

Now to be honest nostalgia and Policing are a dangerous mix heady mix, there were those Conservative politicians in the 1990's who argued against the use of body armour, stab vests and side handled batons, pepper sprays, etc – saying that it would change the nature of Policing, create unbreakable barriers of hostility between the public and the Police, etc. One thing all of those things did was significantly reduce the number of Police Officers stabbed and killed in line of their duty – so enough with the nostalgia.

It is not enough to say that we need to get serious about cutting crime, reducing anti social behaviour, and make our communities safer – that’s all very fine, but just empty rhetoric unless we will actually invest in the Welsh Police Services and make more creative use of existing financial and manpower resources. We could begin to make our communities safer by making more use of Community Support Officers, but without full powers of arrest, and lacking in proper training this can be nothing more than a temporary short term solution, what we need are more Police Officers.

The reality is that funding drives everything, our hard pressed Police Service (whether Gwent, South Wales, Dyfed-Powys or North Wales) all needs additional funding and an increase in the number of serving officers. On top of that our Police Officers actively need the active support of our communities, especially if we are seriously going to deal with crime and anti-social behaviour and to ensure proper Policing within our communities.

We also need to develop a much more flexible approach to shift patterns so we can tackle those periods of the day when higher levels of criminal offences take place and actually responding to local communities’ real concerns rather than the Ministry of Justice’s (formerly the Home Office) perceived priorities and targets. There is a need to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past when it comes to basing Policing strategies on core or periphery because the end result is that some of our communities lose out when it comes to access to Police services and resources.

The fact that the Ministry of Justice (and honestly changing the name has not fixed the basic problem) has long lost the plot and has become bogged down in a morass of spin, number crunching, paperwork, bureaucracy and red tape; add to the fact that it largely exists in an unreal world far removed from the realities of day-to-day policing on streets of Abergavenny, Caldicot, Cwmbran, Newport, Underwood or Tredegar, let alone Llanbedr Pont Steffan (especially on a Saturday night at chucking out time).

If we are really serious about reforming and reorganising Policing then we need to develop a coherent national community safety strategy for Wales with a clear approach to tackling crime and the fear of crime in our communities. And ask and answer the hard questions: do we want two tier Policing? Should Policing target be generated by local Police officers and local communities, where are we going to find the money, because Policing is not cheap? If we want to solve or curb crime in Wales, then it makes sense for the control of Policing as well as Justice and Prisons within Wales to be fully devolved to the National Assembly, much of this already happens in Scotland, are we less capable than the Scots or less of a nation than Scotland? - I think not!

And by way of a final thought it is worth remembering that the Dixon of Dock Green (in the origninal film "The Blue Lamp") was shot dead during a robbery...

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The word on the street

The word on the street (so picked up from two street stalls in Newport and Abergavenny) is one of quiet anger (if not a quiet palpable rage) at the displayed duplicity and greed of some of the voters elected representatives at the Palace of Westminster and elsewhere.

The real question is where that quiet anger is going to go (if anywhere) - a low turnout is not good for democracy and civic society, which is why I and others will be out and about in the run up to Polling Day chasing every single possible vote.

Despite the best efforts of the Press and the larger Brit Parties to talk up UKIP ("Never has so many tabloid and broad sheet column inches been wasted by so many to benefit so few!") who are no strangers to corruption and expense fiddling with 25% of UKIP MEPs elected in 2005 being done for fiddling their expenses. And speaking of coruption, dodgy deals, donations out and out backhanders the Labour Party (Old or New) and the Conservatives are no strangers to it either.

Angry old men aside, like many people I am getting pretty tired of hear the overused phrase 'it was within the Parliamentary rules' and am also wondering when the Police inquiry is going to kick in?

Friday, 22 May 2009

The right thing to do

And finally Gordon Brown's increasingly shambolic government did the right thing and changed its mind when it came to granting settlement rights to all Gurkha veterans who retired before 1997 with at least four years' service who will be allowed to settle in the UK. This was absolutely the right decision on behalf of the Gurkha's who have rightly been described as the bravest of the brave and who have been part of the British Army for nearly 200 years, serving in two world wars and over the last 50 years, in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Borneo, Cyprus, the Falklands, Kosovo and Iraq and Afghanistan. The New Labour Government’s decision follows a highly successful, well organised, well supported and very high profile campaign by Joanna Lumley and other supporters of Gurkha rights and a House of Commons defeat for the Government.

The Gurkha Welfare Trust

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Ducking Hell!

A floating Duck island...for only £1,600 pound - WOW! or perhaps Ducking Hell!

How cut off are these people from the real world and the lives and concerns of ordinary people and how do we fix the problem...

Firstly, a job in elective public service (they work for us after all) should not be a job for life and no one should use it as a platform to get rich or milk the system (and effectively steal from the people because thats what these 'criminals' have done).

Secondly, fixed term elections for Westminster with Single Transferable Votes in multi member constituencies and a fully democratic Second Chamber to keep an eye on the First one.

Thirdly, no one (and I mean no one) for Westminster, the European Parliament, the National Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly, and all levels of Local Government, etc - serves more than two terms consecutively...if you want to run again after that then you have to give it another fixed term before you can stand again.

Fourthly, make the hours of Westminster 9 - 5 and finally no second jobs / careers and or paid Directorships (even if they are non executive).

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Within the rules...

I think that most people are getting a tad tired of hearing MP's using the phrase "Whatever I have claimed was within the rules...". Hopefully the voters (and the Metropolitan Police and/ or the Judiciary at some point) will have some expressed opinion on that one. Questions also need to be asked about why many of these various and questionable claims were allowed in the first place, who authorised them and why?

Saturday, 16 May 2009

1653 or 2009 - if the cap fits wear it!

"It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter'd your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil'd this sacred place, and turn'd the Lord's temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress'd, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors.

In the name of God, go!"

(Dissolution of the Long Parliament - Oliver Cromwell (House of Commons, 20th April 1653)

Ouch! - not a man to mince his words. While certainly not advocating any form of new commonwealth style government, I think that most people would agree that far too many members of the current house have proved themselves unfit for civic office, more concerned with getting their snouts in the trough and milking the system.

As a result any real scrap of alleged moral (or otherwise) authority claimed by the House of Commons has been blown away by recent events...and our somewhat flawed democratic system has been tarnished in the eyes of the electorate. Where do they (the MP's) go from here? Some of them following due process may (or should) go to prison for their crimes - anyone else would by now have been swiftly arrested and probably charged...or is there one law for us and one law for them?

Either way, bottom line - Gordon and the rest of that New (and Old) Labour motley crew it's time to face the music, time to explain and come Polling Day time in the name of God to be gone...

Thursday, 14 May 2009

For the record - How Welsh MPs voted on the Gurkhas

When it came to the recent Parliamentary motion on Gurkha's Settlement Rights – 23 Labour MPs voted against the Gurkha's, 5 Labour MPs and two Lib Dem MPs were absent and 10 MPs (3 Plaid MPs, 3 Tory MPs, 2 Lib Dem MPs, the independent MP Dai Davies and Julie Morgan (Labour) voted in favour.

Here's the list in full...

NO – voting against the Gurkhas

1. Nick Ainger (Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire) Labour
2. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) Labour
3. Chris Bryant (Rhondda) Labour
4. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) Labour
5. Wayne David (Caerphilly) Labour
6. Hywel Francis (Aberavon) Labour
7. Nia Griffith (Llanelli) Labour
8. Peter Hain (Neath) Labour
9. David Hanson (Delyn) Labour
10. Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) Labour
11. Kim Howells (Pontypridd) Labour
12. Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) Labour
13. Ian Lucas (Wrexham) Labour
14. Alun Michael (Cardiff South & Penarth) Labour
15. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) Labour
16. Jessica Morden (Newport East) Labour
17. Paul Murphy (Torfaen) Labour
18. Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) Labour
19. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) Labour
20. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) Labour
21. Mark Tami (Alyn & Deeside) Labour
22. Don Touhig (Islwyn) labour
23. Alan Williams (Swansea West) Labour


1. Martin Caton (Gower) Labour
2. Paul Flynn (Newport West) Labour
3. Siân James (Swansea East) Labour
4. Martyn Jones (Clwyd South) Labour
5. Betty Williams (Conwy) Labour
6. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) Liberal Democrats
7. Roger Williams (Brecon & Radnorshire) Liberal Democrats

YES – voting in favour of the Gurkhas

1. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) Conservative
2. Dai Davies (Blaenau Gwent) Independent
3. David Davies (Monmouth) Conservative
4. David Jones (Clwyd West) Conservative
5. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) Plaid Cymru
6. Julie Morgan (Cardiff North) Labour
7. Adam Price (Carmarthen East & Dinefwr) Plaid Cymru
8. Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) Plaid Cymru
9. Mark Williams (Ceredigion) Liberal Democrat
10. Jennifer Willott (Cardiff Central) Liberal Democrat

Source: The Public Whip

Now when the new Armed Forces Day comes around shortly it might be of interest to note how many of those 23 Labour MPs are busy telling everyone how much they support our Armed Forces, save for the Gurkha's that is.

Monday, 11 May 2009

The legacy of Thatcher, Major and Blair

The last few weeks have been interesting, as the real legacy of Thatcher and Blair has come home to roost with a vengeance, as both the Brown government’s minimal credibility and any claim to moral authority have been blown away. As some Westminster MP’s run for cover or are left trying to defend questionable ‘expense claims’ and the on-going saga of MP’s expenses continues to run and run it may well be time to take stock as to how we ended up in this mess.

Some of the responsibility lies with Mr’s Thatcher – those blighted and wasted (from a Welsh and many other perspective(s) 18 years of Conservative Government saw an amazing growth in what can best be called ‘institutionalised corruption’ as the culture of ‘making a quick buck’ and ‘lining your pocket’ took hold. With some MP’s acquiring lucrative non executive directorships in the privatised previous nationalised industries (that they had helped to privatise), as well taking back handers and brown envelopes to ask parliamentary questions, as well as having second jobs, etc.

By the early 1990’s discontent outside Westminster was rising, in some pretty unexpected places, I can remember the significant cheer going around a large south London Police station when it was announced that Mrs Thatcher had resigned. The Conservatives were as surprised to be returned to power in 1992 as everyone else was by the fact that they were back in office. I can remember the bitter disappointment of the Basildon result – which meant that there would be more wasted years and more of the same. Majorism came and went dying a slow death mired in sleaze, corruption and back ti basics.

New Labour and Blair at least offered the illusion of change in 1997. Sadly New labour turned out to be an illusion and for all the talk and the spin, little changed and any moral credibility not so quietly died in the deserts of Iraq. What was really scary was that it took an incredibly short time for New Labour to lose the plot, the scams, the backhanders and the sleaze never really went away. The only real difference was that now if was New (and Old) Labours turn to get their noses in the trough like so many possessed Gadarene swine.

Now many of the New (and not so New) Labour MPs had a real advantage for when it came to lining their wallets as they came from the ‘corrupt’ culture of Labour dominated local government, so exposure to corruption and sleaze was second nature and it is beginning to appear like a number of them took to milking their expenses in exactly the same way Labour does it at local level, especially in the areas where they have been in power for generations.

It’s quite interesting, in the south east, Plaid had some hard earned successes at County Council and Community Council level in 2008. I have been lucky to spend time working with, talking to and listening to our new elected representatives as they get an understanding of how local government does and does not work.

One thing became pretty obvious was the fact that the Labour Party locally went out of its way to try to encourage our elected reps to follow their example of claiming everything you can claim – fortunately our Plaid Councillors were forewarned and wise to this old trick. Once you get sucked into that culture of municipal ‘corruption’ it’s very difficult to get out of it, and very difficult to condemn it - as some Westminster New (and not so new) Labour and Conservative MP’s are finding out to all our cost – when polling day comes lets hope the electorate remembers who claimed what and vote accordingly!

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Shopping locally!

Now most reasonable people can clearly see with their own eyes open that the rich individual character of many of our towns is slowly evaporating before their eyes. Our High streets once filled with a rich mix of interdependent butchers, newsagents, tobacconists, pubs, bookshops, greengrocers and family owned general stores are now rapidly filling with supermarket stores, fast food chains and global fashion outlets.

This is the result on an abject failure by local and central government to develop local economic plans to create a level playing field for local businesses and suppliers; combined with some extremely questionable planning decisions over the last thirty years; has directly lead to many of our town centre's being "regenerated" to the point where many of our local small businesses are clinging on by their finger tips.

The loss of locally owned shops and businesses to the larger retail chains further damages the local economy as any profits drain out of the area to remote corporate headquarters and local employment opportunities destroyed. Money spent in local businesses stays in the local economy three times longer than when spent in shops belonging to the larger retail chains.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) recently noted that the UK is losing 2,000 local shops every year and they estimate that if this rate of loss continues then by 2015 there will be no independent retailers left in business. Both consumers and our communities will be hit hard as they lose any real choice and economic diversity in the marketplace.

In the small towns across Monmouthshire (and much of Wales) that once particularly rich mix of local shops, small businesses and local suppliers has come under increasing pressure from the usual suspects as “identikit” chain stores have replicated themselves across our nation's high streets. The side effects of this increasingly well recognised process is a loss of a sense of community, a loss of local character as our high streets have lost their distinctive local shops which have been replaced by “micro-format” supermarket or chain store branches and a loss of local jobs.

Friday, 8 May 2009

And then there were none…

Despite the recession, the Westminster and the Plaid driven One Wales National Assembly Government need to work hard to ensure that Welsh farmers get a fair deal so that they can earn a real living - otherwise there will not be any farmers left!

Our farmers and our farming communities are feeling increasingly isolated and marginalised, the contempt with which the farmers have been treated in by the New Labour Government in Westminster and also in Cardiff Bay (certainly prior to May 2007) mirrored the neglect of the important agricultural sector, which still makes a significant contribution to our rural economy.

Any economic failure across the farming sector will have a massive knock on for dependent businesses across the rural economy and for the Welsh countryside, itself, as the living landscape is a result of generations of hard work by the farming community.

By way of example some 33,000 people are employed in the red meat supply chain, quite rightly the Plaid driven One Wales Government views the red meat sector as a major player in Wales. The industry contributes some £381 million to the Welsh economy, including exports worth £108 million, which is 43% of the total value of annual agricultural output.

By supporting this sector of the agricultural economy, we can help fight the recession and help build a flourishing and diverse sustainable agricultural economy for the 21st Century.

The truth is in the past both Labour and Conservative Governments in Westminster and Cardiff Bay treated the agricultural sector with indifference. It is vitally important that this attitude become outdated; much more effort has to be made to market first class Welsh produce within the UK, in Europe and beyond.

It is important to remember that in the 1980's a Tory Secretary of State literally sat by and quietly did nothing when the Dairy farmers were hammered into the ground by cuts in the milk quota. Never again must any Welsh Minister fail to stand up, to be counted, to speak out and to fail to argue their corner on behalf of Welsh farmers.

Some things may have finally changed, for at least with Elin Jones (AM), the Plaid One Wales Government Minister for Rural Affairs we actually has someone who has hit the ground running and who is not afraid to meet with, listen to and actually talk to as well as stand up for our farmers and their interests – this makes a refreshing change from what has gone before.

Our farmers are not merely looking for an annual brown envelope from Brussels but for a real opportunity to make a contribution within the agricultural sector - to do this they need a fair deal.

We need practical steps to give Welsh farmers a fighting chance of making a real living; securing 80% of publicly procured food locally by 2015 is a realistic and practical aim. This is something that could provide the first practical step towards helping Welsh farmers and other producers make the most of the new opportunities that will arise from higher public purchasing of local products.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Gordon - which bit don't you get?

Gordon Brown (and his Government) just don't seem to get it when it comes to justice for the former Gurkha's, who had served in the British Army prior to 1997 - you are nor going to win this one! And why are you even trying to defend the indispensable.

This campaign has been from the outset a question of moral responsibility, of natural justice and of basic human decency, it is not one of immigration or just a question of costs.

I was at a meeting the other night and we got 40 signatures for the Gurkha petition in less than 10 minutes.

The Gurkha's who have fought for this country (for centuries) and have been prepared to die (and have died) for it, they are owed a historic debt, finally will Gordon Brown (and his Government) finally pay up and honour it.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Remembering the Berlin Airlift

I have noticed that the UK Government tends to treat its veterans of hot and cold conflicts particularly badly, in truth much of what Kipling wrote about 'Tommy Atkins' still applies...

"O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away"

Another case of in point, although slightly less pressing than that of the Gurkha's ( is that of the overlooked, at least in the UK, veterans of the Berlin Airlift. The 60th anniversary of the end of the highly successful Berlin Airlift will be on Tuesday 12th May 2009. Those involved in this honourable endeavour should have been honoured with a medal long ago, to commemorate their service, as have their colleagues in America, France and elsewhere.

The city of West Berlin was effectively a cut off Western outpost surrounded by then Soviet-controlled East Germany. Stalin cut road, rail and barge links to the city the Western Allies had a choice or either allowing West Berlin slip into Soviet control, or to run the risk of supplying it through the air corridors.

During the airlift (which lasted from 24 June 1948 – 11 May 1949) American, British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and South African pilots flew 278,000 flights to Berlin, carrying 2.3 million tons of food, coal, medicine and other supplies. Outward flights evacuated 15,000 young children and more than 1,000 tuberculosis patients.

Some 39 Britons, 31 Americans and at least five Germans were killed in air accidents, memorials exist in Berlin and at Frankfurt-au-Main. Veterans in other participating countries have been long honoured, yet none of the British pilots received a medal and our history books tend to minimise the contribution made by Britain and British Pilots and ground crew.

This is shameful, and is just another typical example of the shoddy way successive UK Government shave treated our veterans and should be put right as soon as possible.