Monday, September 30, 2013

Working with Montgomeryshire UKIP.

Seems to be quite a bit of discussion around concerning the possibilities of some sort of pact between Conservatives and UKIP to contest the 2015 General Election. Seems that UKIP leader, Nigel Farage went along to Manchester today and fell into discussing the idea. My understanding is that he's against anything at national level, but open to agreements at local level. Must admit I've no idea how such arrangements would work out in practice. Anyway, The Conservative leadership has absolutely ruled it out. But its provided a bit of entertainment for the twitteratti - especially when he tangled with the redoubtable Bill Cash at a 'fringe' meeting. Would quite like to have seen that.

But enough of Manchester. What about Montgomeryshire. I've always rather liked the UKIP people in my own area, especially when one of my oldest friends, David Rowlands was carrying the banner for them. I felt very sad when David died earlier this year. We had worked closely together as Montgomeryshire District Cllrs. and shared many interests. And their candidate in the Assembly elections, Christine Williams seemed a capable candidate. I've always found a cup of coffee at the UKIP stand at local summer shows to be a convivial experience. But I could never contemplate any sort of joint ticket at election time - never ever.

But lets look at policy. This is where I find it difficult to find clearly defined differences between me and Montgomeryshire UKIP. I suppose the first issue is the EU. We both agree there should be a referendum on continued UK membership. I'm not sure it can now be avoided anyway. Would not surprise me if all parties sign up to it by 2015. Perhaps I will differ from UKIP on how we will approach that referendum in 2017. Its just too early to know yet. Most Ukippers will be for 'out' whatever, while I want to see what changes the Prime Minister can win before committing myself. But without a Conservative-led Govt, there wouldn't be a referendum at all.

UKIP are as sound as the Coalition parties on the economy. We agree on the need for control of immigration - though the tone and language may differ. UKIP shares my implacable opposition to the Mid Wales Connection Project which will cover Montgomeryshire with pylons and turbines. And UKIP are now accepting that the National Assembly is here to stay, and we should focus on making it work in the interests of Wales. I even tried making a speech with a pint of real ale in my hand a few weeks back, which went quite well.

Where I have a bit of a problem is in tone of some of UKIP rhetoric, though it seems to be changing rapidly. MEP, Geoffrey Bloom was recently kicked out of the party for unacceptable comments. Thats growing up a bit. What I will say is that in my conversations with Montgomeryshire Ukippers, there is not a problem, even where we don't see exactly eye to eye on things. I suppose it is a bit of an irony that if Montgomeryshire UKIP does very well in 2015, it may gift victory to a party much less in agreement with them, and if national UKIP does very well, it may gift the Government of Britain to the Labour Party. Politics is an odd business.

The 'Weird Workings' of our Planning System

All of us have experience of telephoning some large corporation, and becoming exasperated by the sheer inefficiency we encounter. And its always on the 'service' side rather than the 'sales' side! But today I was reduced to laughter after having a Powys County Council planning policy explained to me. Thought it was worth sharing.

My wife and I own a field of about two acres near our house (which is in the hamlet, probably known as Cil). We have always valued our privacy, and in the past have never contemplated allowing development on land we own near us - even when we have been asked to consider proposals. Things change, as family circumstances do, and today, I decided to contact my Local Planning Authority to ask how to go about including our little field in the local development plan. And this is what I was told.

In 2011, the LPA (Powys) advertised widely, seeking invitations from land owners to seek inclusion in the Powys Local Plan. About 1,000 replied, and these responses are being currently 'worked through'. Impression I have is that this process is not going to be completed any time soon (probably never) - if ever. It seems (after some discussion)  that there is never going to be an opportunity to have our little field included.

Now this raised a few questions in my enquiring mind. So I removed my 'personal' hat and donned my 'political' hat and started asking some of them. For the purpose of this exercise we need to assume that our little field is the best located site in our hamlet from a planning perspective (which I think it is). Not relevant. There will not be an opportunity for its inclusion as 'development' land - ever. We missed the 2011 deadline. What if the ownership of the site had changed over the last 2/3 yrs (in our case, circumstances had changed)? No difference, and no mechanism for reconsideration. What if I were to put a planning application in for development on this field, better located for development than another parts of our little settlement? The Planning officers would recommend refusal of our site and recommend approval of the less suitable site. I promise you this is all true. And to trained professional planning officers is entirely logical!! And we are supposed to need more 'local needs' housing!!

So happens that we are not in the least bothered about the position at the personal level. But it is utterly bizarre. I suppose that's it was by a similar process that the House of Lords came to be created.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Great Men of Montgomeryshire.

Montgomeryshire is a quiet rural constituency, but she has an interesting history. Today, I spent a couple of hours at Llandinam Village Hall at a 'Presenting the Past' event. We do have castles, the gem which is Powis Castle,  and Montgomery Castle. Not sure if I should be counting Dolforwyn Castle. And there's Owain Glyndwr's Parliament Building in Machynlleth. Plus there's a lot of evidence of the Roman presence, particularly at Caersws. But its the Montgomeryshire people who have made our history that interest me most.

I suppose top billing must go Owain Glyndwr, who many Welsh people think is our greatest ever Welshman. But its too far back to count in this post. My nomination for that accolade goes to Robert Owen, a saddler's son born in Newtown who became one of the world's greatest (perhaps the greatest) business management expert. Normally he is thought of as a great 'socialist' (a breed who are making something of a comeback at present). But most of his great early and most important work was as a capitalist. He was the first to twig that the best way for an industrialist to make money was by taking good care of employees. Robert Owen also had the good sense to marry the daughter of a very wealthy industrialist, David Dale. Together they established not only successful businesses, but a whole new approach to industrial relations attitudes. This great Newtown man is probably better known in Scotland and the US. Best way to describe him is that he was a capitalist who became the first socialist. Like many innovative thinkers, he eventually went bust pursuing his dreams - and came home to Newtown to die.

And then there's the Davies family of Llandinam. David Davies of Llandinam was one of Britain's greatest entrepreneurs, building railways and Barry Docks. He made a lot of money. He was also elected Liberal MP for Montgomeryshire - one of several very impressive predecessors to the position which I now hold (but as a Conservative). His son Edward built the first Llandinam Village Hall, and his daughters, Margaret and Gwendoline built the still stunning hall at Gregynog to house their wonderful collection of art. Grandson, David Davies was elevated to the House of Lords as the first Baron Davies of Llandinam, and today's event was opened by his son, the second Lord Davies (and Lady Davies) who still live in Llandinam.

Probably leave it there - before I get carried away with Pryce Pryce Jones and the Owen Owens family from Machynlleth. Welcome any other nominations of Men of Montgomeryshire (and Women) who warrant inclusion in this company..

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Aberystwyth - the Not Kinky Town

Felt quite disappointed when going through week's unread Telegraphs to read an article destroying my mental image of Aberystwyth. When I lived and worked on our upland Montgomeryshire farm after leaving school, I imagined I'd missed all sorts of carnal pleasures which would have been on offer at Aberystwyth, the only university town in mid Wales. I imagined thousands of sophisticated students, free and emancipated, living the wild 60s life - a whole town replicating on a large scale the shockingly uninhibited behaviour on display at the hippy communes that were popping up all over the countryside at that time. Always thought I was missing out on the 'free love' and 'sex parties' we hard-drinking, rugby playing country lads could but dream of. But it seems that this is a very false image of Aberystwyth.

Ms Trish Murray must have had the same mental image of 'Aber' as I did because she opened one of her chain of Nice'n Naughty shops in the town. On sale were sex toys, erotic literature and skimpy underwear. Eve Egerton, who runs the Cabin Cafe opposite reckoned the shop window to be imaginative - even if "quite comical rather than sexual". Elderly Aberystwyth residents restricted themselves to looking through the windows, trying to work out what the various devices were for. It seems there's been a recent publication called something like '50 Shades of Grey' which had sold quite well in Aberystwyth, and had stimulated an interest in observing some of the apparatus mentioned. But no-one went in to buy any of the goods for sale - despite Nice'n Naughty having been voted the Best Adult Retail Chain in the UK.

Ms Murray has concluded that the people of Aberystwyth are just not 'kinky' enough.  Nothing like as much business as in all the other 14 Nice'n Naughty shops, with their 'imaginative' windows. So she's closed it down. And destroyed my image of Aberystwyth. It seems its just a lovely gentle Welsh seaside town where the university students work hard, eschewing the sort of activities I'd imagined. Ah well, I'll dream of deck chairs instead.

My Last Memory Walk at Welshpool

Over last few days I have organised five 'Memory Walks' in the main towns of Montgomeryshire. The 5th was around Powis Castle Park at Welshpool. It was a decent turn-out. Several residents from Llys Hafren Care Home joined us. Other notables were Councillor Ann Holloway who walked a very long was, John 'Gunner' Evans, who is a constant critic of my political views, and Huw Cookson who did the organising. Hidden behind the group is the ever shy Mrs D. The purpose of my walks was tom raise awareness of dementia, and funds for research into what is a terrible disease, which most families have some experience of. I was really pleased we did it. All the walking groups will be posted up on our website.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Dai Greene at Machynlleth Primary School

Thought I'd put this photograph up to share with those who may call by this blog as a sort of tribute to the memory of April Jones, the 5 yr old little girl from Machynlleth who was so shockingly taken from her family almost a year ago. The photograph was taken at Machynlleth Primary School (Ysgol Gynradd Machynlleth) which is on Bryn-y-Gog Estate, where April and her family lived. It is of me, World Champion 400 mtres hurdler, Dai Greene, and headteacher, Mrs Glyn. Let me tell you how it came about.

In the spring, Paula Ratcliffe invited MPs to join her in a short run around the Westminster area of London. It was part of the post-Olympics process of involving primary age children in sport. Reason I ignored my back problems to join in was that for each MP who did it, an Olympic athlete would visit a school of our choice in the constituency. Six of us ran. I thought Ysgol Gynradd Machynlleth (April's school) had experienced something so awful that it was the obvious choice. I was really pleased when told it would be Dai Greene who visited. Could not have been anyone better.

Dai was absolutely brilliant with the children. For two hours he had their total attention - firstly inside answering questions, and then outside doing exercises and training routines. It was a pleasure to watch him work. Dai Greene is a quiet, serious man, dedicated to what he does. Mrs Glyn had organised a great day, and must have been really pleased how it turned out. In the week when the people of Machynlleth remembered April at her funeral, it was reassuring and quite uplifting to see the laughter and fun as the children move on from a very dark event.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Machynlleth Memory Walk.

A few of those who joined me last night for a Memory Walk around the historic town of Machynlleth, promoting the cause of Alzeimers Disease. We finished up (and are photographed posing) outside the Owain Glyndwr Institute and Parliament House, which is where I would be spending my week as an MP if Owain had not turned back at Monmouth. Cllr Michael Williams (3rd from left) took us around the town trail.

Spot Adam Jones competition.

Great picture of British Lions outside No 10 yesterday. Very upset I couldn't join them. Would have loved to shake the hand of Brian O'Driscoll, who along with Ritchie and Dan Carter are the greatest players I've ever watched playing the special game. When I saw this photograph in the Telegraph, at first I thought it was 'Spot Adam Jones' competition!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Syria - a few weeks on.

Syria has almost disappeared from the Westminster agenda. After what many of us thought the fiasco of the 'recall' of Parliament over two weeks ago, its no longer a 'hot' issue. But it remains hugely important. I felt the need to reflect on where I see things at today. No doubt the perspective will change again over the next few months/years. Would not be surprised to be drawn into the occasional post on the issue.

It now seems fairly clear that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its own people. This will be confirmed by the UN. Use of such weapons has been a worldwide taboo for a century, and crosses an internationally agreed 'red line'. There has to be an international response. If not, the message to offensive dictatorships are obvious. So far most of us will agree. Where we might disagree is the form that response should take. Initially, it seemed that the US President and the UK Prime Minister favoured military intervention - generally thought to be limited to Tomahawk rockets being used to degrade Assad's military capacity. Many MPs, across all parties did not favour this course - certainly without a much stonger and more stategic case being made. Many were unsure that such a strike would improve the security position in the Middle East. And many of us wanted certainty about what the precise objectives of the strike were to be. The upshot was that the motion put before MPs did not authorise military intervention - which meant I could support it. In the event, the 'meaningless' motion was defeated, as was a meaningless amendment tabled by the Opposition. No motion of any sort was passed. I did not good position for the British Govt to be in. I would have preferred options to have been kept open. But the Prime Minister was left with little choice other than to act as he did - telling us he "gets it", and immediately announced that there would be no British involvement in any military action.

Reality is that the only world military power capable of a meaningful strike is the US, and it soon became clear that despite all his threats and posturing about action, President Obama decided not to. What followed is too convoluted for a blog post. Reality is that instead, Russia's leader, Vladimir Putin took over leadership of the issue. He is now leading the talks on removing chemical weapons from Syrian soil, allowing President Obama to give impression to his electorate that he's still calling some shots. In the short term this is a very good result. None of us can predict where military action would have led. But it seems to me that there are two significant consequences. Firstly, Bashar-al-Assad is now secure as the Syrian leader. While the leaders of the world are discussing with Assad the decommissioning of his chemical weapons, there can hardly be a serious attempt to remove him from office. And secondly, Syria is now securely within the ambit of Russian influence. Assad owes Putin big-time. Syria may well become, in effect, part of a new Russian empire. In terms of international politics, Mr Putin has played a 'blinder' and is the only and overwhelming victor of the gas attack on innocent people by Assad.

Perhaps it will look a bit different in a few weeks time.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Impact and Potential of Shale Gas

Anticipating major debate over next few months about extraction of shale gas in the UK. Note the certainty which is held by many significant persons, but I sense its too early to fully commit. but it does seem to me that establishing the potential is a no-brainer. Which is why I met with Cuadrilla, the shale gas developer this week. Would like to visit the Balcombe site in West Sussex to see what's happening, but Cuadrilla have only a couple of weeks left on site - and the drilling there does not involve hydraulic fracturing anyway! Looks like lots of noise and wrong target!

Lets start by considering what we know about potential benefits. Developing UK-sourced shale gas as a major part of our energy mix would create between 50,000 and 100,000 direct jobs, create thousands more jobs in the wider UK manufacturing sector, provide massive tax revenues to the Exchequer, reduce dependency on imports from unstable regions of the world, reduce carbon emissions in several different ways and spread prosperity within the UK from the South East to the North of England. Rather a good CV I'd say.

Major issue for me will be impact on landscape/environment. How much unsightly disturbance will be caused. It seems that the great thickness of the shale seam (far greater than in the US) will allow several wells to be clustered on the same site. I'm told that a site of just two hectares could incorporate 10 wells, creating around 1000 jobs. Compared with onshore wind, the impact on landscape would be small - and the gas would be moved by pipeline rather than pylons!

Hoping that the any opponents of shale gas and 'fracking' will comment outlining the downside. What are the negatives? Those sometimes used are just not credible after minimal research. There is no evidence whatsoever that 'fracking' causes earthquakes. And this stuff about shale gas coming out of taps with the drinking water has been shown to be total nonsense. But we do need to have a regulatory regime in place to ensure o threats to water tables, and that water supplies are adequate.

Not sure how much on an issue this is going to be in Wales. Should find out when the Welsh Affairs Committee look at 'Shale Gas in Wales'. The Bowland Basin comes South as far as Cheshire, but not into Wales at all I think. Its going to be a big, perhaps transformative issue.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

One Day Old; Looking Cuter


Last night at around 9.00 a baby granddaughter was delivered unto us. She is to be named Keeley. Here is a photograph of Tim, Adrienne, (no longer to be known as baby) Darragh and Keeley. Cute or what!

Friday, September 06, 2013

How to perfect the art of 'Cow-Tipping'.

Am writing this blogpost for the benefit of Margo Lillie, Dr of Zoology from the University of British Columbia who has been telling 'The Modern Farmer' that it is not physically possible to push over a cow which is sleeping standing up. She was challenging the myth that 'cow-tipping' as its known, is a sport Young Farmers indulge in after being ousted from their local pub after a skinful. Ms Lillie reckons her mathematical formula dispels the myth of 'cow-tipping'. She says the idea that drunk men could steal into fields and shove sleeping cows onto their sides is not only absurd but scientifically implausible - and that it would take two strong men to overturn a cow, and at least six if the cow woke up.

Ms Lillie's analysis is based on Newton's Second Law, which as we all know states that force is equal to mass multiplied by acceleration. To shove over a cow of normal size would require 1360 Newtons of force. Well I've news for the professor. I have knocked over many a cow off her feet on my own - though never when drunk and never when she's been asleep. Its just a matter of technique.

For it to work, the cow has to be fairly quiet, and distracted in some way - perhaps by placing a bowl of delicious food in front of her. You stand alongside the cow's neck and reach your arm over to the other side and approach her nose. Moving like lighting, insert two strongest fingers in the nostrils, and pull powerfully upwards and backwards. It helps if your other hand grips the cow's ear for a firmer hold. The cow will simply topple over towards you. You have to be agile enough to move out of the way as she falls, and avoid pulling her too far back - so as not to create danger from flailing hooves. Its essential to ensure the head continues to be forced backwards at all times - with a firm grip kept on the nostrils. If your fingers slip, move away smartly, especially if she looks cross. Should add that I'm not recommending this. I realise modern men are not what we used to be in my youth.