Thursday, 27 November 2008
This year, in the Central Wales Region, there are almost 20 Young Enterprises registered to date, five of these have been set up in Llandrindod High School. The organising tutor at Llandrindod High, Mr Gentle, is helped by a team of volunteer ‘advisers’ who support the pupils in the establishing and operating their enterprises and try to help them avoid the obvious pitfalls that are associated with new businesses. The enterprise that I am ‘advising’ rejoices in the unlikely name of SHWAAM (no, I’m not quite sure why either), and they are busy trading in school selling bouncy balls, packs of Christmas cards, glow sticks, Santa hats and such like.
Today, they had negotiated a stall at Llandrindod Community Farmers Market and were selling the products mentioned above, together with Llandrindod Wells calendars and a locally authored book about the Llandoddies entitled “The Grog Invasion”, both items had been acquired on a sale or return basis. In the first couple of hours, they had sold only a few bouncy balls, but trade picked up later and, although no-one’s going to make a fortune, the sheer experience of running a market stall for real has useful lessons for young entrepreneurs.
Young Enterprise companies will be trading throughout Wales in the run up to Christmas and beyond, and if you come across one, please support it, these young people have put a tremendous amount of effort into what they are doing and will really appreciate your custom and interest in their enterprises.
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
However the Act does not currently apply to Wales. In order to make it apply to Wales the Welsh Assembly needs to apply to Westminster to be granted the powers in the Act. To do this the Welsh Assembly must submit a Legislative Competence Order to Westminster.
I am therefore asking everyone in Wales who reads this blog to write to their AM asking her/him to please support the creation of a Legislative Competence Order to apply the powers in the Sustainable Communities Act to Wales.
For further details, please go to the Unlock Democracy website.
“I hope you would agree with me that the Community Council acted upon the democratic wishes of a majority within the Community by making the suggestion to the Powys County Council that double yellow lines be placed on the left hand side of Howey Bridge. I think that it is totally unacceptable that County Councillor Leslie Davies can even suggest that is the Community Council were not happy the issue should be brought back in due course, and I would ask your members to pass a motion of no confidence in County Councillor Leslie Davies.”
What is clearly unacceptable is for Cllr Price who represents Llandrindod East/West on Powys County Council and Llandrindod East on Llandrindod Wells Town Council to presume to meddle in the affairs of a community council of which he is not a member solely to pursue, what can only be described as, a personal vendetta against a fellow county councillor.
It is also unacceptable for a Community Council to allow itself to be used for such purpose and serves only to bring both that Community Council and Powys County Council into disrepute. One can speculate as to whether Cllr Price is acting here entirely on his own initiative or whether this quite unprecedented act of vindictiveness is being orchestrated by others?
Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Something else worth bearing in mind is that for any change in macro-economic policy to be effective, it must be both appropriate to the particular economic circumstances and timely. Broadly speaking, I think the measures here are appropriate but the timing is a little too late (even I was calling for a cut in VAT a month ago, and I am only an amateur economist these days).
Borrowing a few well-worn clichés, only time will tell whether this package will work, and there are undoubtedly going to be financial difficulties for all of us over the next ten years or so. Nevertheless, I am encouraged by the initial response of the Federation of Small Businesses to the yesterday’s announcements. The small business sector is an important driver of the UK economy, and as such, it is to those who represent this sector that I look for a sober reaction, rather than to the politicians who all have there own particular an axe to grind on such occasions.
Monday, 24 November 2008
Who can forget the TV interview with the English winger Ben Cohen just before an international against Wales when he was asked what he felt about the prospect of playing opposite Shane? His reply of “Shane who?” was taken by all Welsh rugby supporters as a huge and personal insult.
Perhaps Ben Cohen will recognise the name Shane Williams now?
Saturday, 22 November 2008
God summoned President Bush, Prime Minister Putin and Lord Mandelson to heaven. He told them mankind had been so bad He was going to destroy the world. Putin returned to the Duma and said he had two pieces of bad news.First, contrary to what the Communists had taught, God existed. Secondly, the world would end tomorrow.
Bush told Congress he had one bit of good news, one bad. God did exist - but he was going to destroy the world tomorrow.
Mandelson returned to Gordon Brown and, spinner that he is, said he had two pieces of good news. Firstly, that he, Peter Mandelson, really was one of the three most important people on the planet. And secondly, that David Miliband would never lead the Labour Party.
I would offer the following advice, as an economics graduate of that apparently soon-to-be-extinct institution, the University of Wales. If the main problem with the economy is thought to be insufficient consumer spending, and as a consequence, insufficient money circulating in the economy, then one obvious thing the Chancellor can do is to cut the standard rate of value added tax. Conscious that I am stating the obvious, VAT is a tax on spending, therefore it seems likely that if the rate of tax on most forms of spending were to be reduced, the average consumer might be inclined to increase their spending at the margin and thereby pump more money into the economy.
For far too long, successive Chancellors have regarded VAT at 17.5% a sacred cow, and have sought to manipulate the economy through interest rates and taxes on income alone. Any reduction in the rate of VAT has not even been considered as a tool of economic policy because it was thought that any such reduction would have a disproportionately adverse effect on the public purse. Moreover, the British public are so used to unconsciously paying VAT that any reduction would raise their awareness of what has become, in Conservative terminology, the most successful “stealth tax” yet invented.
The government have indicated that in these desperate times they are willing for the public purse to take a hit by increasing public borrowing to unprecedented levels, they must now make sure that any tax cuts are channelled as directly as possible to increasing consumer spending. If they are determined to spend their way out of a recession, now is the time to think outside the box, to adopt a bolder strategy and cut the standard rate of VAT to 15% or even 12.5%.
Friday, 21 November 2008
It is apparent that some newer readers of this blog don’t yet fully understand blogging, so, for them, I will try to explain why I blog and the way I try to manage my blog
I blog because I can, that is to say, I frequently have something to say and feel the urge to say it. I could, of course, start a debating society, or write letters to the newspapers, or set up a soap box in Temple Gardens, but I choose to blog. I can blog in my own home, sat at my computer listening to a CD or Radio 3 or Radio 4. I find something wonderfully anarchic about blogging – about writing a piece and posting it not knowing who, if anybody will read it, and not really caring. It is an opportunity to let off steam, to give brickbats and bouquets, and to alert others to something I find interesting.
Of course, as soon as you post on your blog, you invite a response. If you have posted something controversial, it is possible that you will elicit a strong response or even something vitriolic. So to safeguard common decency I have chosen to moderate my blog. This means that any comment is first sent to me by e-mail and I then have three options: firstly to publish the comment in full; secondly to reject the comment; and thirdly to edit the comment i.e. to remove parts that I judge to be inappropriate.
My self-imposed rule is to publish all comments received unless I consider them to be libellous, racist, contain language I find offensive, or I consider might damage me personally by being associated with the blog. To date I have published all comments received except one, and that was received after I had closed a thread on the grounds that the story to which the comment related was old news.
I have recently been accused in a local newspaper of approving a comment and placing it in a prominent position on the blog. I neither approve nor disapprove of any comments, I merely choose to publish, reject or moderate them. I am incapable of placing a comment in any particular position - first come, first served.
The final rule I have is that I generally will not respond to any comment posted by anyone I don’t know. This is because I believe that responsible blogging is best served by the absence of anonymity.
Thursday, 20 November 2008
However, I think that there are important lessons for the electorate in this episode. The people who have consistently voted for John seem to have been prompted by a variety of motives; some have voted because they, and we, all love John and have admired the way he has conducted himself throughout. This is a positive vote for John. Others appear to have voted for John because, by doing so, it’s one in the eye for the judges, whose comments have revealed an increasing frustration with having their expert views ignored by the public. This is rather a negative vote, voters have taken this as an opportunity to rebel against the perceived authority of the experts.
In a small way, what this illustrates is the inherent dangers in the practice of holding referenda. The question on which the callers of the referendum seek guidance from the electorate, assuming it is balanced, is ostensibly about an important issue that requires a yes or no answer. There is an underlying, and some may argue, naïve assumption that voters will take the question at face value and give an honest, rational answer. Recent experiences of national referenda would suggest that this assumption is not and can never, be tenable. Too often, the electorate will answer a referendum influenced by a whole load of quite irrelevant factors, outrageous allegations, and quite irrational fears – all of which have little or nothing to do with the issue on which the referendum has been called.
If we ever get a referendum in Wales on the extension of powers for the Welsh Assembly Government, then you can be assured the answer will reflect the views of the electorate on a whole raft of issues, national,, local and individual, some of which will have little or no relevance to the question posed. Indeed, recent referenda in the UK, and in Europe, tend to give little more that an indication of general well-being.
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
A quick look at the BBC Mid Wales web page this morning makes gloomy reading. There are eleven stories featured, five of them contain reports about sudden deaths and two others feature arson and arrest. Here are the relevant headlines:
One person killed in house fire
Tributes after teen’s canoe death
Driver killed as van hits bridge
Driver appeal over death near pub
Inquest into death of man in lake
Arson warning after farm blazes
Two arrests after car collision
Perhaps the news editors are not aware of the unremitting gloom implied by these stories, not that I’m saying that they should not be reported, but please, let us have some balance. The national press mirrors the local in this aspect and its continuous focus on crime and tragedy serve only to give the impression that the country is crime ridden and we are all in imminent danger of becoming victims. Whereas, in the real world this, this is blatantly untrue, especially in Mid Wales where we are fortunate enough to live in one of the most crime-free areas of the country.
We must not allow the BBC News web site to become the internet version of the red top newspapers. Personal interest by all means, but we deserve more than this excessive concentration on personal tragedy. The media seems to be obsessed by bad news – whether it is individual or economic, local or national. I suspect that, from the editors’ point of view, it is simply too much effort to go searching for the positive rather than the negative. News editors seem convinced that misery attracts readers, but I contend that this attitude is not only deeply cynical, it serves only to deepen the gloom and accelerate the spiral of despondency that pervades society currently. Put simply – we all need cheering up, and a modicum of good news would certainly help.
Sunday, 16 November 2008
Both of them gave sharp, competent speeches outlining where they would like to take the Party if they were leader, and both handled the questions without hesitation and with some aplomb.
For me, Kirsty’s vision, passion and ambition for Wales came through most forcibly, she demonstrated the independence of mind that I am looking for in a leader. Kirsty seems better able to lead from the front, to unite our sometimes fractious party around clear goals, to include the views of all our members and to inspire the activists.
So I’m sticking with Kirsty as the candidate to take the party forward throughout Wales. With Welsh Labour clearly in difficulty, not least with its Westminster based dinosaurs, Plaid hell bent on rushing us towards the disaster that will be ‘independence’, and the Conservatives clearly lacking any sort of commitment to any form of devolved government, there appears to be a golden opportunity opening up for the Welsh Liberal Democrats to push for sensible and effective devolved government within the context of a federal United Kingdom.
Now with this last condition – a federal UK – I may be asking too much, but it is what I sincerely hope for, after all, we boast about being a federal party, we need to tease out what precisely that means. I’m half Swiss and Switzerland has been a federal state since the 13th century, so I know what I understand by federalism, and I like it.
Saturday, 15 November 2008
So you are going to find it difficult to earn a decent living writing poetry. However, Patrick Jones appears to have come up with an excellent marketing wheeze. This is how it works.
Produce an anthology that contains a few poems that might offend various non-mainstream groups, offend them enough to get them excited. Arrange a book launch at Waterstones in Cardiff. Then e-mail samples of the dodgy material to the groups you think might be offended (all in the name of sparking debate, you understand). Sit back and wait for the reaction. If you’re very lucky the protests from the offended groups will frighten the bookstore to cancel the launch at the last minute. Then make sure the media know that this has happened and you get yourself photographed signing copies of the anthology outside the store.
Hey Presto! you have succeeded in generating loads of free publicity for your book and at the same time got “Joe Public” sufficiently curious to buy a book of poetry that they would have otherwise ignored.
Now here is the clever bit, the furore you have created will so impress BBC News producers and they will invite you to debate the issue with the very fundamentalist motormouth you upset in the first place. Cue for loads of righteous indignation all round.
Finally, get the politicians involved. In the next day’s news arrange for the press to televise a minor AM coming out of the store having bought the book, this is an opportunity for more righteous indignation. All this righteous indignation will eventually get you an invite from another AM to hold a poetry reading at the National Assembly (in the name of freedom of speech, you understand). Now you have really hit the jackpot. Never mind that you are better known as the brother of a member of the Manic Street Preachers - you are now a troubled poet and a champion of free speech, the quids are rolling in, and overnight you have become a literary sensation.
Cynical - Who? Me? Never! Wasn’t it Abraham Lincoln who said something about fooling people most of the time?
Friday, 14 November 2008
Earlier this year Llandrindod Wells Town Council were engaged in discussions with Powys County Council over the sale of the Old Town Hall in Temple Street and their possible eviction from the premises. One can understand that those negotiations might involve information which could be construed as commercially sensitive, and as such, it was probably right to have it discussed after the public and press had been excluded.
However, recently this Council has twice gone into secret session, and the reasons for so doing are less clear and possibly less justifiable. Certainly, as a consequence of one of these sessions, the Spa Town Trust was invited to make a presentation to the Council on its work and also to explain to the Council how the www.llandrindod.co.uk website promoted Llandrindod Wells. So if that was the seemingly innocent consequence, why did the discussions that led to that consequence have to be conducted in secret session?
I am told that Disserth & Trecoed Community Council has also been conducting parts of its recent meetings in secret session, and there may be perfectly legitimate reasons for this, but one begins to speculate why all this secrecy is necessary. After all, the bigger the secret, the more desperate we all are to find out what it is, and more importantly, we want to know what it is that is so secret that the rest of us, the common herd, cannot be allowed to know. Let us remember that this is local government, and the lowest tier of local government at that, not the SIS.
Perhaps, having a secret enhances one’s status and importance and that is why councillors are requiring parts of their meetings to be conducted in secrecy? On the other hand perhaps, on a "need to know basis", we simply don't need to know.
One thing is for sure, this desire for secrecy is beginning to make a mockery of the idea of open government and must surely risk alienating members of the press who attend council meetings solely in order to let the public know what its elected representatives are up to.
Monday, 10 November 2008
Now whatever the personal or political differences between these two elected representatives, this action, if it is true, can only be described as outrageous. That one County Councillor thinks that he has a right to interfere in the affairs of a community that lies wholly within the ward of another County Councillor is extremely presumptious and serves only to bring the whole of the County Council into disrepute.
I don’t know the outcome of this astonishing request, but knowing some of the characters who serve on the Community Council in question, I would guess that they were probably stupid enough to pass this motion.
I would encourage the aggrieved County Councillor to make a formal complaint to the County Council’s Standards Committee, this is more than simply a case of appallingly bad manners, this is an action which clearly goes far beyond a petty spat, it is a quite deliberate attempt to destroy the reputation and good name of a colleague, and is reminiscent of how politics is conducted in totalitarian regimes.
Friday, 7 November 2008
Accept the increase and get back to serious council business which is to make sure you and your group keep the inevitable council tax increase in April as low as possible while doing your level best to maintain frontline council services.
The correspondents are well known to readers of this particular paper as they seem to have a view on almost everything, local, national and international. I’ve no problem with that, I also am rarely short of opinions on a range of topics. What I do question is the presumption of these two residents of Llandrindod Wells to give me advice when they know next to nothing about the Trust or what it does, and have a long and ignoble record of criticising me personally.
What I find particularly offensive is the following final paragraph of the letter:
“Just a word of advice to the new chairman of the Spa Town Trust: If you are serious in your vow to increase membership, could you please show a little humility and friendship to those you’ve chosen to represent in this post, even if they didn’t vote for you in the last local elections…”
I would like to make two points absolutely clear to all. Firstly, I have not ‘chosen to represent’ anyone in the post of Chairman of the Trust, my fellow trustees have asked me to Chair the Trust and I am honoured that they should put such faith in me.
Secondly, the Llandrindod Wells Spa Town Trust is totally and absolutely non-political and to imply otherwise is to damage the proud and honourable reputation of the Trust.
Everyone tells me I must make allowances for the seniority of these two correspondents and, by and large, I do, but I will not let their personal animosity to me damage the Trust, its professional officer, my fellow trustees and the many volunteers who support it. Just as I defended the tremendous work of the staff and volunteers of Powys Challenge when they were smeared by Harold Nicholls last April, so I will defend those who seek to besmirch the reputation of Llandrindod Wells Spa Town Trust. The trust is not, and must never be, guilty, simply by virtue of association with me.
As a County Councillor, I couldn’t pick and choose my constituents and nor would I have wanted to, but as an ex-councillor who is unlikely ever to seek office again, I can surely pick my friends.
Thursday, 6 November 2008
Here in Llandrindod, there is an eloquently written, anonymous pamphlet being circulated around the town complaining about the lack of street lighting and the abandonment and likely closure of the few remaining Tourist Information Centres. However, its principal message is to ask residents to send their copies of Powys County Council’s propaganda rag, the ‘Red Kite’, back to the Chief Executive as a protest against the apparent profligate use of scarce resources.
Meanwhile across the county, at town and community council meetings and in all three local newspapers, we have various County Councillors seeking to gain as much gratuitous publicity as possible by offering to forego the recommended increase in their allowances either in order to save money generally, or to have some or all streetlights in their particular communities switched back on.
The County Councillors I most distrust in such circumstances are those who rush to write letters to the press in order to disassociate themselves from decisions that they have collectively made in the Council Chamber. They are the ones whose motives are the most suspect.
Perhaps the lesson to be learned by the residents of Powys is to think a bit longer and a bit harder about where they put their cross on the ballot paper at the next County Council elections.
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
Firstly, that we allow the President-elect of the USA adequate time to make the change that he has promised. The people of both the USA and the rest of the world have huge expectations of this man and Americans, in particular, must ensure that he is not weighed down by the immensity of these expectations. Change takes time, and we must all exercise patience.
Secondly, between now and the inauguration of the new President in the middle of January, there is likely to be a backlash from the neo-cons, although what form that will take is impossible to predict. The Republican party at large and George Bush’s coterie of cabinet members, advisers, bag carriers and the like will be looking to apportion blame and secure retribution for their loss of privileges, and this is when they are at their most volatile. The fall out could reverberate through the USA and beyond for some time to come.
We can only hope that all Americans will latch on to the message of hope and unity that was so evident in Obama’s superb victory speech from Chicago this morning.
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
Looking back on these eight years, there were a number of events that convinced me that the leaders of America and Britain were going mad:
January 2002 - the establishment of a prison camp at Guantanamo Bay for ‘enemy combatants’ rather than ‘prisoners of war’ from Afghanistan (the distinction is a legal technicality).
October 2002 – March 2003 and the preparations for the invasion of Iraq. Perhaps history will eventually explain the alleged link between al-Quaeda and Saddam Hussein? Particularly nauseating was the case put for the invasion by Colin Powell at the UN on 6 February 2003. Did he really believe what he was saying?
23 March 2003 – Operation Iraqi Freedom. What pressure was put on Tony Blair to commit British forces to this illegal adventure? Did he really believe that there were WMDs in Iraq at that time? Was there really no exit strategy?
But I suppose the most incomprehensible of all was to discover that the USA, that land of freedom, the defender of liberty etc, etc... sanctioned the use of torture, not on its own citizens, although what else you call detaining people for years on death row I cannot imagine, but on non-US citizens who might hold intelligence useful to the American military. OK, they don’t describe it as ‘torture’, no – the correct legal term is ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. What a penchant Americans have for euphemism. How can the supposed leader-of-the-free-world sanction legalised kidnapping? Call it‘extraordinary rendition’ – so that’s all right then.
These actions have been done in the name of our closest ally and, by virtue of the rather flexible 'special relationship', we are implicated, all of us. Is this why the allies fought and won the two bloody world wars of the 20th century? To have future governments sanction torture and kidnapping?
My hope for the future is that whatever the outcome of today’s election, we will have put the madness of the Bush years behind us and start building for a civilised future affording equal dignity to every human being.
Monday, 3 November 2008
Not surprisingly, I am supporting Kirsty in this endeavour, in this I am conscious that we are about to elect someone to lead the party for the whole of Wales, and that includes North, Mid and South Wales, it also includes both urban and rural Wales.
For me, it is most important to elect a leader who can relate to people across the very diverse Wales that now exists and leader who can span the generations. We are electing a leader for future, post- Rhodri Morgan, and probably, post-Nick Bourne, and herein lies the crux, the next leaders of both Welsh Labour and the Welsh Conservatives are likely to come from a generation younger than the current incumbents, and if we are to match them and eventually, beat them, then we must elect a leader of that younger generation.
Above all we need a leader who can tap into the roots of Welsh radicalism, a leader who has a clear vision of what Liberal Democracy means for the people of Wales and who can get that message across, someone who can recapture the radical zeal that inspired previous generations of Welsh people, some who can revitalise Welsh politics and make it relevant to all sections of Welsh society and especially the young.
Kirsty is ambitious for Wales and for the Welsh people as is evidenced by this quotation from a speech she gave in Aberystwyth earlier this year:
“I want Wales to be a nation of thinkers – empowered by education, emboldened by ideas, and filled with the confidence that allows them to jump – to see if they can fly.”
This is an ambition worthy of Liberal Democrats – let’s make it happen, support Kirsty Williams for leader!