Monday, 30 November 2009

Golwg Column: Learn to say 'no'

It's hard to say 'no'.
But its much harder to say 'no' on the international stage. Especially to some one with some influence in this world like the United States.
It's such a powerful country and has such an influence on our lives. In every sense of the word it is a big country, economically, politically, militarily and culturally.
Oh yes, its not child's play to say 'no' to the US.
But 'no' is what Harold Wilson said in the 1960s about the Vietnam war.
The United States were determined to stop  communist North Vietnam from taking over the south of the country. And Lyndon Johnston, US President at the time was urging Britain to send its armed forces to Vietnam to fight along side  the American forces. Despite being threatened and cajoled by Johnston, Wilson stood his ground and refused.
Consequently, no British soldier spilt his blood in that conflict. History shows that Wilson's decision was a wise one. Ho Chi Minh's army defeated the American giant. It was madness for the American's to be involved.
Harold Wilson was the last British Prime Minister to say 'no'. Oh for a statesman of his kind today.
The history of Britain for the rest of the twentieth century and in this century was of  Prime Ministers, with little back bone, yielding to America.
Now the world see us as America's  poodle. As a consequence we've been or are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Despite a large number of the nation protesting against the Iraq war, Tony Blair preferred  bestowing his favors on Bush than listen to his own people. He'd rather mislead us than refuse his friend in the White House.
And who paid the price? Our young people. In Afghanistan alone 120 British soldiers have been killed since 2001. In Iraq there were 1.2 million deaths overall in that war.
At last there is an inquiry into Britain's role in Iraq and hopefully we will see its conclusions. The hope is we'll find out the truth.
Daily there are voices raised about the foolishness of being in Afghanistan. The latest is that of Kim Howells who has reached the conclusion that our efforts  there are wasted. Pulling out would be the wisest move.
Even Gordon Brown has come to the conclusion that we need an exit strategy.
Its not an exit strategy that is required, but a strategy to deal with the influence of our 'friend' across the Atlantic.
We should learn to say "No".

Sunday, 29 November 2009

No goals Bangor

Another disappointing performance by the Blues. If they can't win at home against a club like Connah's Quay they have little hope of staying in the top league at the end of the season. They are currently 11th, not good enough for salvation.
Their only hope, it would seem, is to join in the political campaign to scrap the changes the Welsh FA are proposing to the league structure. Perhaps they would be better off putting their collective energies into that 'cos clearly they haven't any energy for their campaign on the pitch. They could hardly have less success.
Perhaps a call to their local Assembly Member, sports minister Alun Ffred Jones might be a useful start. He might be persuaded to pressure the league officials to change their proposals. On second thought with his experience on 'C'mon Midfield' he could perhaps combine his political career with a coaching one. After all many of the successful clubs in Spain and Italy are run by politicians.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

A real referendum

There seems a lot of chat at the moment about the referendum on more powers. Sorry, lets be clear, despite all the heat there is not much light, more powers are not on offer.
What's on offer is a tidying up exercise. That is, should we cut Westminster out of the law making process. To that question,  the answer  surely, must be 'yes'.
The current system is a cumbersome system. A system that is both costly in time and effort. Those charged with holding the governments of Westminster and Cardiff Bay to account could use their time to greater purpose. It must be despiriting, even to them, to waste their time in going backwards and forward on LCOs  in order, at some time in the future for the Welsh, to pass a measure [law].
Laws are needed when they are needed. They are not passed  to act as some dubious virility symbol. for politicians.
Now a referendum on more powers would be worth  dragging the  people of Wales out to  vote for.
And what should be on offer. Well, all the powers that Scotland have, or are about to have, would be a good start.
Yes, taxation powers, law and order  and all things that would make for real home rule.
What an achievement it would be to put Lloyd George's nineteenth century agenda  to bedat last. All be it over a hundred years later.
Yes, bring it on. A referendum on real powers would even get me excited.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Joint statement on referendum

Rhodri and Ieuan have issued a joint statement on the referendum. Sweetness and light has broken out. But, and there is always a but, the final sentence. "nothing has been ruled in or ruled out including, if it proved practical, a referendum in the Autumn." 
Now, how can it be proved practical if Labour are not going to discuss the matter until  after the general election. 
Plaid Cymru, if they don't get an assurance of a vote  on a referendum early next year,  can say goodbye to an Autumn date with the electors. Consequently, new powers will not be
in place for the post 2011 Assembly.
What price going to bed with Labour  if they can't stick to done deals.
Rhodri has form in backing down to Peter Hain.  For it was he, [Hain] that  was  pushing for the Labour statement of intent and the issuing of the press statement that has caused today's excitement.
His address to the Assembly tomorrow should prove interesting.

Labour poised to break up coaliton

The press statement produced by Labour at the insistence of Peter Hain that Labour AMs cannot discuss and vote on a referendum until after the general election poses a real threat to the coalition with Plaid Cymru.
Plaid Cymru see this as a complete breach of faith. It is understood that Plaid Cymru quite understood that no action could be taken until Rhodri Morgan's successor was in post. But the statement from Labour would seem to limit the options available and steps away from the agreement reached by Plaid Cymru that formed the basis of coalition government.
One of the reasons that Ieuan Wyn Jones moved away from the Rainbow option was the agreement with Labour that a referendum on more powers  would be held before 2011. This was pivitol to the establishment of the  current  Plaid/Labour government.
Peter Hain , the Secretary of State for Wales, has always questioned the need for a referendum before 2011. It would seem that the statement issued today by Labour is  aimed at taking the steam out  of Sir Emyr Jones Parry's conclusions that a referendum should take place earlier rather than later. The first step in Hain's agenda in delaying the referendum for some time.
Plaid Cymru will wait to see what Rhodri Morgan's statement will say before deciding on their response. But many feel that the coalition government may be in serious danger of collapse.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Translation last Thursday's Golwg Column - Special Advisors

Reading about the Tudors gives my great pleasure. Films and TV drama about the period are a constant source of satisfaction.
Glenda Jackson playing Elizabeth 1 was memorable. Its a constant course of regret to me that she gave up acting for politics although her old skills may well be useful in her new career.
It's strange to think that modern Britain started off in a small bay of the coast of Pembrokeshire when Henry Tudor landed with his army before moving on the Bosworth to defeat Richard III and become  Henry VII and start the Tudor age.
The popularity of Court officials were in and out like the tide, on the whim of the king or queen. And certainly those with influence in the court would change on the death of the reigning monarch.
It will be the same in Wales next month. As soon as the Queen accepts Rhodri Morgan's resignation as First Minister his advisors will have to clear their desks and head for home. Apart from a couple that will help the transition to the new regime, the rest will be out in the cold.
History gives us a clear picture of the influence of the special advisors in the past. We are reasonably aware of the influence Thomas Cromwell had as chief advisor to Henry VIII. He was one of those who argued and was enthusiastic about the Refomation - the split of the English church from the Roman Catholic church.
But today? What do we know about the influence the Special  Advisors have on our government here in Wales? We haven't a clue  where their coming from and their  take on the world. What exactly do they do? Are they worth the public money spent on them?
In the United States those appointed to high office in an adminstration are vetted publicly by Senate committees before they take up their posts. Welsh democracy would be the healthier if the same happened here. And certainly special advisors should be submitted to such a process  if Wales was to adopt such a system. It would be our opportunity to assess them, know their views and the advice they are likely to offer  Ministers.
Certainly the one growth industry of recent years, is that of advice. Most of our public representatives have paid advisors. What on earth do they all do?
Does anyone think that we are more efficiently or better managed or ruled now, than in the past? The answer surely is, no.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Bangor City fail again

Another away defeat. This time to Port Talbot 2 - 1. This keeps them stuck on the 12th place in the league. If this continues they will be out of the top flight of Welsh football next season. What a humiliation for a side that was one of our top sides for years.
Major change in management in order if this continues.

Friday, 20 November 2009

What are Assembly Members thinking?

It may not be a question that bothers you to much but it exercised the mind of  Ipsos Mori. So they conducted face to face interviews with 30 Assembly members to see how they viewed the world.
Not surprising nine out of ten of them wanted more powers, with most [81%] wanting the same powers as Scotland and even half saying that they should have powers over taxation. So watch your wallets.
On the economy they certainly were glass half empty types. With only 28% believing that the Welsh economy would improve next year a third thought we would see things get worse.
Edwina Hart [25%] was seen as the most impressive Assembly Member even outscoring First Minister, Rhodri Morgan [22%]. Her leadership rivals Carwyn Jones and Huw Lewis trailing far behind with just 5% each.
Of the current party leaders the most impressive was seen to be Rhodri, with Ieuan Wyn Jones and Nick Bourne both on 4%. Kirsty Williams nil points, despite  5 of her fellow Liberal Democrats being included in the survey. The most impressive Plaid Assembly member was seen to be Rural Affairs Minister, Elin Jones [12%]. Could she be Plaid's next leader in waiting.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Golwg article - Kick the politicians

Lists are not one of my things. But if one was to draw up a list of the most unpopular people in the eyes of the public almost certainly politics and politicians would be near the top. Undoubtedly after this Summers  scandal on allowances they're unlikely to be moved from the top of the list for some time.
Consequently, we all like to prod them as often as we can. And that's the problem . It's impossible for them to ask us any question without the temptation on our part to kick them up the backside.
And that's the danger with a referendum. Its not the question that tends to  be answered but the public vote to punish the politicians asking the question.
Now that David Cameron has declared that he won't veto a request for a referendum on more powers if the National Assembly request one. Its highly likely that a referendum may be held early after the next general election despite Peter Hain's best efforts.
The electorate may well be fed up with a referendum campaign on more powers so they may use their vote to have their say and give the politicians a kicking.
If that happened it would create a rather interesting situation. If they electors voted down law making powers were would leave the Assembly. For  what is the Assembly at the moment but a law making body. Granted its a complicated system and wasteful in both time and money, but nevertheless it is a law making system. So if the principle of law making is rejected by a referendum the Assembly would have to go back to first principles and surely the question would arise as to  whether we need an Assembly at all.
No, it would be foolish to have a referendum with only one question. Especially as most ordinary people think that the Assembly pass laws already.
In my opinion the only way to stop this continues discussion about constitutional matters is to have a multiple choise ballet paper. And the type of question? Independence or not? Powers over taxation? And yes, should we scrap the Assembly?
We need to put an end to the endless constitutional nonsense once and for all, and start addressing the questions that the punters want answers to. Such as economic policy, poverty, housing, health, education etc. If politicians don't answer these their stock will continue to remain low.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Sir Emyr's report

Next week will see Sir Emyr Jones Parry report  whether or not the Welsh Assembly should have exclusive powers to make their own laws. The report is likely to be an unanimous 'yes' and with a recommendation that the referendum should be sooner rather than later.

The debate will then move on to timing, when will the best time to hold the referendum. In the one corner will be Peter Hain who wants to delay any referendum until after 2011 in the other corner will be Plaid Cymru who'll want the referendum before 2011.

The hot money is on their being a debate in the Assembly in the Spring of next year and the Assembly agreeing by the required two thirds majority and leaving  the likely Tory Administration having to decide on the actual date.

So a busy year for returning officers with a general election and a referendum to organize next year.
But a good year for pundits.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Last week's Golwg column

How many times have we heard someone being described as charismatic. I'm not sure what it means but I'm pretty certain I haven't got it.

But neither has the BNP leader Nick Griffin. After his recent performance on 'Question Time' it is difficult to understand how he became the leader of the extreme right wing party. If he's the best, God help the rest of his Party. He was so poor there was a risk that he might get the sympathy vote.
But one politician who could be described as having the 'wow' factor, is Tony Blair. Especially at the start of his career as Prime Minister, he couldn't put a foot wrong.

It was only the Iraq war that took the shine off. As a consequence he took a dive in the polls when the public turned their back on him, and as a consequence the Labour Party decided he was past his sell buy date.

But as soon as we think we have seen the last of him the old stager may be about to make a comeback.

Under the Lisbon treaty the European Council must elect a president to drive forward their work. Yes, and the name of the United Kingdom government have put in the frame to become the first president, is our old friend, Tony Blair.

The government hope that the old magic will still work and persuade European countries that he's the man to fill the post. Of course we don't have a say on the matter. No, the decision is in the hands of 27 people, the leaders of the nations of the European community.

David Milliban's enthusiasm, when he said 'we need someone that will stop the traffic in Beijing or Washington or Moscow', underlines the seriousness of Brown's government to their former leader.

Despite his charisma, Blair's appointed would be an absolute error.

There are many reasons to oppose the appointment.
Would it be suitable to appoint someone to an international organizations who many believe, has rode rough shot over international law? That's the charge against Blair, and the questionable legality of the decision to go to war with Iraq.

It would seem odd to give the job to a man that did little to strengthen the EU whilst Prime Minister. And streadfastly kept the UK out of the Euro zone. How in the world could anyone take him seriously in the job.

No, him in the job  would be a disgrace.

Much better for all of us that he continues to use his talent and charisma to travel the world and lecture for the millions that he's earning.

One of the most uncharismatic of prime minister was Clem Atlee. But many recognise him as one of the best.

Maybe grey and boring is the way forward.

My Golwg column

Every Thursday a regular column of mine appears in the Welsh language magazine 'Golwg' Many have asked if I'd translate it and place it on my blog. I've used Google translate,so the translation is a bit iffy but I'm slowly going to post some of the backlog and eventually will provide a weekly posting. This was the first effort. Much is lost in translation, but I would say that wouldn't I.

" It is some years now since my driving test. In fact it took four applications before I succeed. And if you have had the Bad Luck be with me in the car, you would very clearly, why [cymeroedd]it so long.

But I still remember the day of my success as clear as yesterday. Finally I was behind the wheel and foot on the accelerator. Freedom and power. I travelled aimlessly for miles , without any idea or objective where I was going. The important thing was to get the power and the wheel in my hands.

And back every sign that the three candidates who want to fill Rhodri Morgan shoes are doing something similar. They want the wheel but little idea of what direction they want to go.

They have warm words and slogans of the Left - equality, fairness radicalism, values, even socialism. Political Musak. All to try to influence members of the Labour Party in the crucial vote.

But where's the foundation. And more importantly which direction they want to take us.

In the economic situation exactly how will they fill the gap between our needs as a nation and the funding available. What are their priorities? Exactly where will the cuts fall? Will the knife be used on health, education, public associations or any other service. And would they demand the right to taxation varying powers? Should this be a referendum question?

The Holtham Commission's report claimed that Wales could lose more than £ 8bn during the next 10 years unless change the Barnet formula. What is the candidates response to this? No word yet. The real need is to reform the system for funding the Assembly Government and this be the top priority of anyone who has the ambition to lead our nation.

Sir Emyr Jones Parry and nothing has been busy taking pulse of the nation. The whispers are that they will recommend an early referendum. Current system is not working and an early move to a lawmaking Assembly should be a high priority. The date in sight, - in late spring or early summer next ..

If so, how will the candidates respond. Will they be for delaying to please Labor members of parliament or will they push ahead. It will be interesting to see. And what, about Lord Richards recommendations of an 80 member Assembly. For the Assembly to work smoothly it is certain to need more members. More politicians, not the best case to argue. But that's a mark of a leader, one that argues for the unpopular.

As the campaign goes on, we'll see if they can kick the practice of warm words that are meaningless and provide real leadership. Dyna'r her. That's the challenge."

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Cameron offers no veto on referendum

There has been speculation for some time as to what attitude David Cameron would take if the Assembly demanded a referendum on more powers.
Well, the speculation will end tomorrow when Cameron visits Wales. He will make it clear that he'll not exercise a veto on a request from the Assembly for a referendum on the issue.
This announcement by Cameron will be seen as a victory for the Tory Assembly group who have been pushing for some time for a committment from the Leader of the Opposition on the matter.
Now the attention will be on  what stance the Tories will take in such a referendum. The last time they opposed devolution. But this time the Tory group in the Assembly will almost all be pushing hard for law making powers and  campaigning for a Yes vote.
The MPs, though, are a different kettle of fish. They will be in the 'over my dead body' wing of the Tory party. The same lot that were on the wrong side of history in the 1997 referendum.
The current formula adopted by the leadership to cover the schism in their ranks, is that old political standby - the free vote.  All will be free to campaign on either side of the debate, as they see fit.
Is this a  credible stance for a governing party to take?
It would seem so. As Cheryl Gillan makes clear in tonights 'Sharp End'. When pushed to say what line she'd take as a future Secretary of State she declined to commit herself and enlighten us.
To paraphrase the words of the Ella Fitzgerald song:
'She didn't say yes, she didn't say no,
she didn't say stay, she didn't say go;
So what did she do?
I'll leave it you.'

Monday, 2 November 2009

Just for the record

Bangor City in the next round of Welsh Cup. It's getting a habit. League form still required to ensure remaining in super premium league.