Thursday, 26 June 2008
Now Philippa has won the sculpture section of the Welsh Artist of the Year Award 2008 for wrapping a dead bonsai tree, and was subsequently named as the overall Welsh Artist of the Year for 2008, and deservedly so.
This is important for Llandrindod Wells because Philippa is one of the two internationally-acclaimed artists currently working on the Llandrindod Inner Gateway Project, having been commissioned by SAFLE (formerly Public Art Wales) to design and install a sculpture to be sited in the grounds of Llandrindod Hospital.
Soon Llandrindod will be able to boast of that it gave an early public commission to a pre-eminent Welsh artist and rising star of the international art world, and that is something worth boasting about.
Friday, 20 June 2008
As Kirsty Williams AM and Roger Williams MP have pointed out: “… this attack on the post office network is just the latest example of the utter disdain that successive Conservative and Labour Governments have shown to rural areas like Brecon and Radnorshire. More than 4000 post offices have closed under this Labour Government to follow the 3500 that were closed under the Conservatives, during a period when the Post Office actually made big profits. These closures are part of a wider pattern of gradually reducing public services in rural areas that we are determined to resist.”
So their message to all the people in the communities of rural Mid Wales who still have a post office is ‘Use it or Lose it’. The remaining post offices will only survive the next round of closures if they can demonstrate that they consistently handle a sufficient number of Post Office related transactions.
Thursday, 19 June 2008
Every day volunteers are driving people to hospital appointments all over Wales and the Borders, even to Birmingham or Cheltenham, sometimes having to start early in the morning and not returning until very late at night. Others are giving therapeutic treatments to people facing their illnesses with great courage. Yet others are working to create festivals and similar events that not only give local people tremendous pleasure but also attract visitors who spend a portion of their money in our local businesses and thereby do much to support the local economy. Others work in charity shops and use the facilities of the old Central Garage (Pritchards to the locals) to raise money for a whole variety of good causes. Some operate the local recycling bring site constantly emptying plastic bags of garden waste which many of the users of the site are too lazy to empty themselves.
There are a whole variety of ways in which local people work for their local communities and they all deserve our support and the support of our elected representatives. However, all too often the efforts of volunteers are criticised by those who know very little about what the voluntary sector organisations do and have never even considered volunteering themselves.
So next time you encounter your elected representatives, ask them what they do to support the voluntary sector. You’ll be surprised to find many who seem to do nothing else but volunteering - it would seem to dominate their entire lives, while others may never even have given a thought to what voluntary organisations do, or how much their communities owe to this army of volunteers. And if you have never thought of volunteering yourselves, do please think about getting involved – it really is very worthwhile.
Friday, 13 June 2008
Now I suppose in a very simplistic way one has to agree with him, giving every elector the opportunity to vote yes or no on a particular issue does represent a very fundamental exercise of democracy. However, this presupposes that every elector understands not only the question posed, but also the complex arguments underpinning that question and also understands the consequences of the outcome of that referendum both directly for the citizens of the country holding the referendum and indirectly for other countries and other stakeholders.
The first time I ever voted was in a referendum – it was the referendum on the opening of pubs in Wales on Sundays. In this referendum, I don’t recall any political parties having anything other than the most marginal involvement, the protagonists were the licensees and their lobbyists on the one hand, and the various religious lobby groups on the other. In other words, not only was the issue clear and the question simple, there did not seem to be any opportunity for voters to use their vote to reflect their views on anything other than whether or not pubs in Wales should open on a Sunday.
These days however, referenda seem to be able to be manipulated by lobbyists, usually backed by a rampant press, to exploit the relative lack of sophistication of the majority of voters. The author of the piece on the BBC website states:
“Correspondents say many voters did not understand the treaty despite a high-profile campaign led by Prime Minister Brian Cowen, which had the support of most of the country's main parties.”
Herein lies the problem with modern referenda, voters not understanding the issue and therefore being unable to vote on the issue but on whatever is said about the issue by others who wish to secure a particular result.
So for a referendum to really represent the "essence of democracy", it has to be conducted in circumstances where the voters can be satisfied that they clearly understand the issue and the consequences of the referendum result. If they do not understand the issue or do not fully appreciate the consequences, then the most democratic action is to abstain.
Thursday, 12 June 2008
Now this is a turn-up, a very senior Conservative standing up to defend civil liberties – it is indeed a shock. I never, ever thought that I would find myself supporting the actions of a principled Conservative.
Well done, David Davis.
The honourable position for the Liberal Democrats is not to contest the by-election which David Davis is now forcing.
Wednesday, 4 June 2008
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation Commission’s Report on Rural Housing in Wales makes interesting reading from the outset, and the nature of problem and its applicability to rural Wales is made clear on the front cover:
“Rising unmet housing need has been a growing trend across the UK and rural Wales has been no exception; in fact issues of affordability, homelessness and the need for social housing have often been more acute in rural Welsh areas.”
Much of the analysis has appeared in an earlier JRF report, but what is most interesting in this June 2008 report is the stridency of the recommendations, and the implied inadequacies of the One Wales Government with regard to housing policy. Here is a flavour of what is recommended:
The Welsh Assembly Government should develop a single definition of and methodology for calculating housing need and affordability.
The Welsh Assembly Government should co-ordinate a more detailed and sophisticated collation of evidence on rural housing need to plug the gaps in the current data.
The Welsh Assembly Government should review planning policy to ensure it encourages innovation and flexibility.
There needs to be a seismic upward shift in affordable housing provision. The Welsh Assembly Government needs to co-ordinate this based on national evidence on housing need and local targets for delivery of affordable housing.
The Welsh Assembly Government should establish a database of public land with development potential on which to base strategic decisions for disposal for affordable housing.
Local authorities need to be a lot more pro-active, and this means Town and Community Councils as well as the unitary authorities:
Local housing and planning authorities need to use their existing powers more effectively to deliver further affordable housing.
Local authorities should set affordability thresholds according to local conditions and constantly monitor these.
Local authorities should establish Local Housing Partnerships to co-ordinate local housing need assessment and solutions.
The recommendation that seems to have attracted the most publicity is:
The Welsh Assembly Government and local planning authorities should create a national network of at least 12 Rural Housing Enablers.
Let us hope that this report forces some concerted action on the part of WAG and local authorities to address the severe problem of lack of affordable housing. For too long they have all simply sat on their hands. In Llandrindod, the private landlord lobby has found it all too easy to persuade the local authority to do as little as possible to address local housing need and in this they have been supported by a complacent Town Council, which has simply ignored a recent survey of local housing need which it commissioned.
Monday, 2 June 2008
Other interesting events that I was able to attend included Julian Barnes on his parents’ deaths; Richard Holmes on the Duke of Marlborough; Boris Spassky who spoke with great deliberation and humility; Giles Milton on the fall of Smyrna; Anthony Kenny reassessing the contribution of Abelard to western philosophy; John Davies and David Crystal discussing the Encyclopaedia of Wales; David Stafford on the Endgame 1945; Diana Athill on the proper way to enjoy life and anticipate death; John Mullan on Anonymity in English Literature; Raj Persaud and Christopher Jamison on why one should not ridicule religion; Philippe Sands on the complicity of the Bush Administration in sanctioning torture, and Jonathan Powell on the peace process in Northern Ireland. Gary Kasparov’s critique of Putin’s Russia was interesting but not easy to comprehend and came over as a political diatribe rather than a reasoned analysis.
I was left with the distinct impression that certain speakers needed to engage with each other if clarity was to be gained and progress made. This was particularly so for Ashraf Ghani and Rory Stewart on the problem of international aid to Afghanistan, and to a lesser extent for Mark Leonard and Will Hutton on the future of China.
Overall, a tiring but hugely enjoyable week, and congratulations to Peter Florence and all the people who volunteer to make Britain’s premier Literary Festival possible.