Sunday, 30 September 2007

Poll to poll

David Cameron's call for a general election may or may not be ignored by Gordon Brown.

If he calls an election, Cameron will be able to say Brown's responding to his call. If he doesn't, he'll accuse him of running scared.

But how ready are the Tories for a general election?

Privately, some of the delegates, sorry representatives, I spoke to at a reception this evening are hugely unenthusiastic about the prospect of an early election.

(A reception, incidentally, where David Cameron was expected but unable to attend - I'm contemplating dusting off the "Leader snubs Welsh Tories" headline).

Opinion polls during the last fortnight have offered David Cameron little cause for hope.

The Tories have so far selected "14 or 15" candidates for the 40 parliamentary seats in Wales.

They may have chosen candidates in target seats but in Blackpool this does not look like a party on election alert.

St David's Day again.......

I worry that I may have become a tad predictable in my questioning of politicians.

I emerged from grilling shadow Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan for the Politics Show to be greeted by another senior Tory brandishing a pound coin.

This apparently was the bet placed on me asking whether the Conservatives would make St David's Day a bank holiday.

Tories in the Welsh Assembly have long favoured this option as a way of making their party appear more Welsh. Conservatives at Westminster - bank holidays are decided by the Treasury - have long ignored the request.

Apparently I've now been asking this question for seven years - almost as long as the Tories have been refusing to answer it.

Which of us will wilt first?

Postcard from the seaside

Blackpool has some of the warmest, friendliest people in Britain - and some of the grottiest hotels.

We are being charged £143 a night to stay somewhere that would cost you under £20 a night at other times of the year.

The "hotel" promises that it is spending £5m to restore it to "it's (sic) former glory" - punctuation that reveals the current state of the building.

A colleague checked in early this morning and was disappointed to discover that his room didn't have a shower.

"It's not standard," came the reply. "You have to ask for one specially."

His reply: "I didn't ask for a bed either, but I expected the room would have one."

This may be the last major political conference held here. Not before time.

Lembit �pik

Greetings from Blackpool, which is so far living down to expectations - and the Conservative conference has yet to begin.

More on them, a lot more, later. But here's the last word on the Lib Dems - whose Welsh leader seems to be suffering an identity crisis.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Gordon's Gazza Strip

I've been too busy working to think at length about Gordon Brown's speech and his emphasis on Britishness - was it 71 or 72 references?

But the debate in the Welsh blogosphere is alive and kicking. Some think it's a direct response to May's elections. That may be true but Britishness has been a consistent theme of Brown's for a year or more - long before he became Prime Minister.

He's even been known to praise Paul Gascoigne's goal against Scotland in Euro '96 - something few of his compatriots would have the stomach to do.

The emphasis on Britishness may reflect his sensitivity about any possible English backlash to the idea of a Scot deciding public services in non-devolved England while his own constituents have their schools and hospitals run by an SNP devolved government.

Brown needs English votes to remain PM and is engaging in a far from subtle attempt to win over former Tory voters. (Bournemouth was abuzz with speculation about imminent defections by Conservative MPs.)

So Brown continues to bang on about Britishness - and has been encouraging members of his Cabinet to take up the theme.

Peter Hain needed little hesitation to join in. Welsh Labour leader Rhodri Morgan talked about "shared British values". One of those in the running to succeed him, Carwyn Jones, impressed MPs by talking up unionism at a conference fringe meeting. (A few future leadership votes in the bag there).

There is a danger for Brown that the Britishness appeal may backfire in England. As Frank Field has suggested, every time he opens his mouth to stress his Britishness he inadvertently reminds English voters of his Scottishness.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Slap in the face for Plaid

My colleagues at Sky have put together one of the must-have accessories of the conference season - political Top Trumps.

These cards feature leading politicos from British parties, rating them for categories such as looks, majority, parliamentary skills and charisma.

Lembit Opik will be chuffed to learn that he features - although slightly less pleased to see that his rating for "looks" is 33 - the same as Menzies Campell.

At least he beats William Hague (25) in that department although Hague's parliamentary skills do score highly.

Most senior UK politicians do figure, although Peter Hain has been strangely excluded. He is doubtless "relaxed" about it.

SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond does feature, although there is no place for his Plaid Cymru counterpart Ieuan Wyn Jones, despite his recent promotion to the role of deputy First Minister.

This could well see the first autumnal surge in the Elfynometer and must surely be immediately denounced as either a snub or a slap in the face to Wales.

If it's any consolation, Welsh First Minister Rhodri Morgan is also overlooked. It's a cruel world.

First political memory meme

I've been tagged by Peter Black. Should I be pleased? I haven't got the hang of all this blogging etiquette yet.

Peter has tagged me to talk about my first political memory. I'm old enough to be able to remember the days when the Barnett formula was just a glint in the eye of a Labour MP.

I can vaguely recall the 1970 general election when Ted Heath surprised almost everyone to defeat Harold Wilson.

My 1970 memory is rather more local than that. I must have been six and remember being in the playground at Sully Primary School and a car passing with a loudspeaker blaring out asking people to vote for the local Tory MP Raymond Gower.

This next bit is a bit scary - I was 10 or 11 at the time - but in 1974 (not sure whether it was February or October) I persuaded my father to take me to a public election meeting at the old school in Sully to hear Gower speak.

Sadly, I can't recall whether the meeting - there were around a dozen people there - was dominated by great issues of state or the future of the tennis courts on Sully Rec.

Sir Raymond was a super-assiduous constituency MP fuelling various tales, some of them apocryphal, about his dedication to all local matters. It was said he only put a pound's worth of fuel in his car each time so he could cultivate voters at each filling station.

Election leaflets featured the numbers of parliamentary questions asked and speeches made (these were the days before computers so I suspect someone in the House of Commons library had to count them).

No hospitalisation was too routine to be unrewarded with a sympathetic letter (these were the days before word processers), no achievement too trivial to be ignored - any appearance in the local paper would be followed by a congratulatory personal (if standard) letter.

He was an MP for 38 years for Barry (later Vale of Glamorgan) a typical Conservative backbencher of his generation, never rising above the rank of parliamentary private secretary but being knighted for his services.

The next time I met Sir Raymond, as he then was, was when I started work as a lobby correspondent for the Western Mail in late 1988.

Less than six months later I was covering the by-election caused by his death - a contest won by John Smith who is still the Vale MP despite a five-year break when Walter Sweeney regained the seat for the Conservatives.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Come, Rhondda

A Labour spin doctor has e-mailed me this photograph of the AM for Rhondda speaking to the Labour conference in Bournemouth.
It would be rude not to use it - not that I do everything spin doctors tell me to do.
If you look closely you can probably make out Gordon Brown lurking in the shadows.


What is it with Neil Kinnock and beaches on the south coast of England?

It's many years since the former Labour leader memorably stumbled into the surf on Brighton beach. Today comes news of an intriguing clash with semi-naked protesters on Bournemouth's seafront.

The protesters were highlighting the Government's refusal to offer them full compensation for pensions they lost when their companies went bust.

Lord Kinnock arrived on the scene and was greeted by protester John Benson who called him
a "bloody traitor", a "bloody disgrace" and told him to "bugger off".

The former Labour leader said he had come to the protest to find the "guy who has been telling lies about me".

Despite the hostile reception Lord Kinnock sympathised with the protesters:

"They're very decent people and they're making a point... They've got a case they've been dreadfully let down by the system. The government has sought to provide some support and is
following it through still."

He may be pleased to learn that I think next year's Labour conference is in Manchester, which doesn't have a beach.


Welsh Labour are officially "relaxed" about Eluned Morgan's call for an end to the clear red water strategy.

So relaxed they've just asked us, at a conference stunt, not to ask the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, and the Cardiff North MP Julie Morgan about the issue.

Rather than ask difficult questions, here's a pretty postcard from the BBC Westminster autumn tour.

Wish you were here.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Clear red water

Bournemouth's Manchester Hotel has played host to the Wurzels, Little and Large, and Ken Dodd.

Tonight, over a buffet of chicken wings and vol-au-vents, it hosted Rhodri Morgan, Paul Murphy and around 60 delegates to the Labour conference - at a fringe meeting that resembled a polite inquest into last May's Welsh Assembly election results.

Morgan and Murphy were brought together by MEP Eluned Morgan, who took the chance to criticise Rhodri Morgan's approach of claiming to put "clear red water" between Labour in Cardiff Bay and Westminster.

Speaking hours after Gordon Brown told the conference about plans for a personalised NHS in England, she called for a more aspirational route from Welsh Labour to follow the New Labour approach.

Eluned Morgan said Labour had to face up to the fact that in some areas "people simply don't like what we are doing".

She added: "We should not be tiptoeing around the nationalists despite being in coalition with them."

Former Secretary of State Paul Murphy told the meeting Labour should resist the possibility of "an obsession with identity in Wales".

(Assembly) Leader of the House Carwyn Jones said Labour should proclaim its unionist beliefs more - a move welcomed by one devosceptic MP.

Former first secretary Alun Michael said the Assembly should be increased to include 80 members, two per constituency, with no regional list AMs. He also suggested a Northern Ireland-style power-sharing deal in which all parties would share responsibility for making devolution work.

Two MPs told me privately afterwards that many of their party colleagues are still in denial about Labour's poor results, blaming Tony Blair's unpopularity rather than problems with the NHS, particularly in the western part of Wales.

I think this inquest could have some distance to run.

At our best when at our longest

Well, that went on a bit, didn't it?

Having waited most of his life to deliver today's speech, Gordon Brown had understandably rather a lot to say.

The style was very different - wisely Brown didn't try to ape Blair's theatrical approach to these events.

Few of the policy announcements were wholly new - the proof of the pudding will be in the delivery of noble aspirations. (Although do you know anyone who's in favour of an impersonal health service?)

Delegates here would have cheered had he simply stood up and announced that he's not Tony Blair - which in a sense he did.

Brown did acknowledge in a New Labour way rising aspirations among patients when it comes to the NHS. Out of hours GPs? Regular NHS check-ups for all?

A reminder that things won't stand still in the NHS - and the challenge the Labour/Plaid coalition in Cardiff Bay faces in keeping up with progress east of the border as it ticks off items in the "one Wales" document during the next four years.

Waiting for Gordo

The queues around the conference centre are lengthy - and lengthening. It seems that every Labour MP, AM and activist wants to hear what their new Prime Minister has to say.

Well, not quite everyone. We need some sort of Welsh angle for Wales Today. How about an MP fighting a marginal seat whose job may depend on Gordon Brown's appeal to the voters?

Easier said than done. We offered exposure on Wales's most-watched TV programme, a chance to connect with constituents. So far the shrinking violets we had in mind have yet to overcome their shyness.

One MP's office said she was away from the conference "on parliamentary business" - an enigmatic phrase that should silence those cynics who think Parliament isn't sitting this week. There are, it seems, still facts to be found in places near and far.

Another MP has yet to respond to countless calls to his pager and mobile. His office say they've been unable to track him down, although he is supposed to be in Bournemouth.

Some may think that in this age of self-publicists and spin it is especially refreshing to discover professional politicians who believe the X on the ballot paper stands for "no publicity".

UPDATE: I later discovered the "parliamentary business" involved a week-long Commonwealth Parliamentary Association trip to India followed by a visit to Sri Lanka. It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.

Election alert?

I've just had a chat with a Labour MP who's been busy getting quotes from printers for his election material.

I'd have thought the odds were against a poll next month - the MP is advising Gordon Brown to delay until next year - but you never know.

Johnson's disease

It happens to all of us. Sometimes the words in your brain, or on paper before your eyes, don't come out of your mouth in the way you intended, or in the order right.

It happened to my Radio Wales colleague Peter Johnson, an experienced and immaculate broadcaster, who yesterday revealed to Sunday Edition listeners the existence of a scary new disease called "bluetooth".

I think he meant bluetongue, although perhaps he didn't.

Symptoms of bluetooth disease include unsightly growths in one ear, a tendency to shout usually found only in those who are hard of hearing, and a propensity to drive white vans or Mondeos as vehicles of choice.

Scientists have had diseases named after them for less. Peter, take a bow.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Back to the future

Welsh Labour has a new campaigning slogan - and a portable backdrop on which to display it.

The slogan is "Working hard for Wales".

Ring any bells?

Yes, it's the same phrase adopted by Alun Michael as Welsh Labour leader in the first Assembly elections in 1999.

Well, it got him elected.......

A spinner repents

Readers of Peter Hain's now defunct blog may remember this from April: "BBC Wales was running a story - which was utter rubbish - claiming that Labour would go into coalition with Plaid Cymru after the Assembly elections on May 3rd.

"As I have made clear in the past, party members simply wouldn't wear a deal with the separatists. So the BBC Wales claim is flatly wrong.

"Many of my colleagues believe that nationalist sympathies are rife in the BBC Wales newsroom, and such blatantly and unjustifiably pro-nationalist coverage will have done nothing to assuage their concerns."

Five months on, with Labour now in coalition with "the separatists", here's an extract from Wales United: Partnership for Progress: "The BBC embodies the values of inclusion and fairness, with Welsh-produced success stories like the BBC's Doctor Who and Torchwood showing not just what Wales is contributing to Britain but how Britishness contributes to Welsh success."

It's only fair and inclusive to point out the joint author of that paragraph, although you've probably guessed by now that it's one of the two mates above.

News from the bunker

Greetings from Bournemouth, where the BBC is operating from its traditional base of the conference centre car park.

I may not see daylight again before Thursday as any Labour conference news struggles to compete for airtime with Charlotte Church giving birth.

Labour are using the conference to launch a pamphlet arguing the case for Wales remaining in the UK.

Authored by Rhodri Morgan and Peter Hain, it states: "Ten years on since the referendum in Wales, we can rightly celebrate both the successes of devolution and the economic, social, cultural and political ties that bind together the countries of the UK - which are stronger than ever before."

Political ties stronger than ever before? With nationalists in power in Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh?

In the next paragraph, they add: "Plaid Cymru's new role in the Welsh Assembly Government has not at all dented their separatist aspirations."


Saturday, 22 September 2007

Fashion victim or Aga chic?

There's an interesting interview with Peter Hain in today's Daily Telegraph.

Students of the life and times of the Work and Pensions (and Wales) Secretary may find their attention distracted by the rather jazzy Argyll sweater he's wearing. Eat your heart our, Ronnie Corbett.

On the eve of the Labour conference in Bournemouth, the big question in British politics is clearly this:

Is Peter Hain

a) Taking up golf;

b) Wearing a Christmas present from David Blunkett;

or c) Preparing for a new life as a knitwear model?

Answers on an e-mail please.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Chilling out with the Lib Dems

I've just finished watching Sir Ming Campbell's speech to the Lib Dems in Brighton - a more energetic and impassioned performance than before, received politely rather than rapturously.

He took on the age issue, promising to make age an issue at the next election as, he argued, with age comes experience and with experience judgement. (At 66, he is almost old enough to be First Minister of Wales - Rhodri Morgan celebrates his 68th birthday next week).

I spent the rest of the morning touring the conference centre armed with a copy of Hello!, trying to find out whether delegates think Lembit "Cheeky Girl" Opik is an asset or a vote-loser.

Most activists were on his side, arguing that politics needs "characters".

The man himself was chuffed to get the results of our totally unscientific poll when I popped in to the conference chill-out zone to interrupt him during a foot massage.

You can see the results, including the massage, should you be so minded, on Wales Today at 6.30pm. Or watch it here.

The qualified holistic therapist in charge diagnosed me as "tense". After a week locked in a conference zone with a bunch of political anoraks, who wouldn't be?

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Added alliteration

Sir Ming's people have been briefing us ahead of his speech tomorrow.

Expect an attack on the "cosy consensus" allegedly offered by Labour and the Conservatives.

How time flies. As I recall, his members were queuing up to join the "cosy consensus" after the Welsh Assembly elections earlier this year.

In fact, the only reason they're not in power in Cardiff is because the Lib Dems couldn't find a consensus, cosy or otherwise, between themselves on whether they should do a deal with Labour or with Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Ming says hello!

I've just interviewed the leader of Britain's third political party.

As you'd expect in the middle of a crucial conference for the Liberal Democrats and Sir Menzies Campbell, I focused largely on the latest policy developments, green taxation, proportional representation and the philosophy of liberalism.

I may also have mentioned the contents of this week's Hello! magazine - new readers please scroll down.

Sir Menzies, it has to be said, took great interest in my copy - and would probably have read it cover to cover if I hadn't asked for it back.

Perusing photographs of his business and enterprise spokesman with his Cheeky Girl girlfriend, Sir Menzies said:

"Lembit's life outside politics is a matter for him. If I thought that his life outside politics was affecting his ability to fulfil his responsibilities as a member of the shadow cabinet for the Liberal Democrats, I would take action but I don't believe that and therefore I don't propose to take action.

"I am not appalled by photographs of this kind. What is appalling about two young people who are obviously very affectionate towards each other?

"As long as he does the job then he can stay in the job."

Would the leader and Lady Campbell contemplate sharing their beautiful lives with Hello! readers? "No-one has suggested it".

Will he be buying the Cheeky Girls' new album? "I think it unlikely".

Whatever you think of the Lib Dems, Sir Menzies was a good sport - even if he didn't offer me the hoped-for Werther's Original.

Showbiz corner

Hot news from the Lib Dem conference, where a signed copy of a Cheeky Girls CD went for £100 at an auction hosted by Lembit Opik.

Delegates have also been spotted poring over copies of Hello! magazine along with their normal conference documents.

The reason? Opik and the Cheeky Girl singer Gabi Irimia are sharing their first anniversary with readers of the glossy magazine.

Gabi and her sister have returned from Romania where they had corrective cosmetic surgery. Gabi tells Hello!: "We are proud of our breasts as a man would be with his new Ferrari - they were asymmetric with one nipple heading east and the other west".

I'll leave any political metaphor to others but Opik tells Hello!: "I don't want to tempt fate but it's going well. We're really happy together".

Thwarted ambition

An insider's tip that may help those of you hoping to join the Eleanor Burnham bandwagon on its (debatably) unstoppable rise to the leadership of the Liberal Democrats in the Welsh Assembly and into power.

Qualified aromatherapist Ms Burnham uses the same final question when interviewing potential members of staff.

It is: "If you were a bar of chocolate, what would you be, and why?"

Apparently the job-clinching answer is: "An Aero, because I'm bright and bubbly."

I fear that a suggested answer featuring Cadbury's Fruit & Nut may limit my prospects of becoming a spin doctor in a future Burnham government.

Ms Burnham is a 10/1 outsider for the group leadership, worth considering if you're reading this outside a branch of Northern Rock and are looking for a riskier home for your money.

Monday, 17 September 2007

The cheek of it

So many fringe meetings, so little time. So many are the joys of the Lib Dem conference.

The odd gimmick creeps in amid the debates and fringe meetings about different forms of proportional representation.

Welsh Lib Dems Roger Williams and Eleanor Burnham donned cycling helmets to pedal along the seafront to make a point about cycle facilities.

The party's student wing is flogging its own version of Top Trumps - compare your MP's record to win.

Peter Black mugs and fridge magnets are for sale - the conference shop claims to have sold six or seven magnets. I forked out 65p for a Mike German one - you never know they may be worth more soon.

And tonight Lembit Opik will be the auctioneer at a fringe event where one of the lots going under the hammer is a signed Cheeky Girls album.

I'd bid myself but I'm saving up for the rarer unsigned version.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

The Leadership Express

Oh to have been a fly on the windscreen.

Liberal Democrat Assembly Members Peter Black and Eleanor Burnham demonstrated their commitment to a carbon-neutral future by sharing a car to Brighton for the party's conference.

The two are so far the only semi-declared candidates for the Lib Dem leadership in the National Assembly. (Although the Lib Dems have yet to adopt the royal practice of never allowing future talent to share the same transport)

Peter Black wants someone to challenge Mike German but will do it himself if he has to; Eleanor Burnham says she has as much to offer as anyone.

So what could they possibly have found to discuss on their journey?

One slight hurdle between the two politicians and the leadership is the need for backing from one of the other five AMs.

If Mike German does stand down, Jenny Randerson says she'd also consider standing.

We may yet end up with 50 per cent of the Assembly group standing nominated by the other 50 per cent, preserving the Lib Dems' reputation for uber-democracy.

Of course, things could change - although I'm told we can discount the rumour that Eleanor Burnham will be hitch-hiking back to Cardiff Bay if she refuses to stand down in favour of Mr Black.

All this idle speculation from the sidelines does pose two rather bigger questions: does it really matter who leads the fourth largest group in the Welsh Assembly - and does anyone care?

Friday, 14 September 2007

Parting to the right

Not content with hosting a tea party for Margaret Thatcher, Gordon Brown is now using an advertising agency that bears the name of Saatchi - that made its name working for the Conservatives in the run-up to Lady Thatcher becoming Prime Minister.
Eagle-eyed readers will notice that the Prime Minister's clothes-stealing performance is made complete by parting his hair on the right - something I've yet to see in any other photograph of Gordon Brown.
With the age of spin over, there's no way Labour or its advertising chums could possibly have simply reversed his photograph, is there?

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Tea for two

A lot of fuss about Margaret Thatcher's return to Downing Street.

Gordon Brown offered the former PM tea and a tour of her former home. I can't help wondering if he'd be as welcoming if Tony Blair decided to pop in?

Hey big spender?

Next month, Chancellor Alastair Darling will announce the Government's spending plans for the next few years.

In Wales, much public spending is decided by a population linked formula, you know - the one named after Joel Barnett.

Spending per head in Wales has traditionally been higher than in England, although many Welsh politicians argue that the formula doesn't reflect the country's relative poverty.

My BBC Scotland colleague Brian Taylor suggests the Treasury has been playing hard ball in the run up to the spending review and that far from making Barnett more generous the settlement for the devolved governments may be tighter.

Of course, the UK Government could just be lowering expectations to head off demands for a more generous settlement, but it's certainly a twist that will raise eyebrows west of Offa's Dyke as well as north of Hadrian's Wall.

Alternatively, the new "Scottish Government" may be getting its retaliation in first ahead of the spending review's conclusions.

Isn't life grand now the age of spin is no more?

Say it with flowers

Cost to the taxpayer of sending flowers from the Wales Office last year: £40

Cost to the taxpayer of finding out how much the Wales Office spent on flowers (via parliamentary question from Fareham MP Mark Hoban: £134.

That's the average cost of answering a written parliamentary question (2005 estimate) - and we still don't know who got the flowers.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

My conference resolutions

It's that time of the year again when we hacks chase political anoraks around the seaside for three weeks in pursuit of news that is hopefully relevant to the audiences we serve.

My conference season begins later than my colleagues. As Basil Fawlty might put it, the particular avenue of pleasure of the Plaid Cymru conference in Llandudno has been closed off to me.

But Brighton - and the Lib Dems - beckons, so it's time for my own conference resolutions.

This year I'm hoping to avoid:

1. News items that begin"Delegates are gathering......"

2. The word "keynote" - now applied to almost any speech from an elected politician, usually by the person delivering it.

3. Strong drink

4. Interviews that begin: "So David, what's the mood of the delegates?"

5. Late nights

6. Mad delegates who are obsessed with the Barnett formula, Europe, proportional representation or all three.

Taxi for Hain!

Just in case you've spent the summer wondering how the Wales Office spends our money, here are a few answers from the man in charge, Peter Hain, all culled from parliamentary answers released today.

"The Wales Office expenditure on first class rail tickets for the last 12 months was £72,142.82."

"In the past 12 months my Department has spent £4,440 on first class flights and £2,946.50 on business class flights." (Two officials accompanied Peter Hain on a trip to the United States - the Northern Ireland Office picked up his own first class tab).

"In the last 12 months my Department has spent £2,548.87 on taxis."
The Wales Office also spent £40 on flowers. The recipient's name is not revealed.
I'm told that all the figures refer to civil servants rather than Ministers.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Agas 4 All

There was a time when all you needed to make it in Welsh politics was a CND badge, a slightly shambolic dress sense and a vague commitment to social justice.

No longer. As revealed earlier this year, a posh cooker is an essential ingredient in the hinterland of any ambitious politician.

Having alerted readers to the Agas 4 Socialism movement, I have now discovered that Peter Hain is not the only leading politician to swear by his Aga.

Step forward the slightly unlikely gourmet Rhodri Morgan, First Minister. Thanks to the South Wales Echo, a paper almost as good as the days when I delivered it five nights a week, Morgan's closet flirtation with New Labour tastes can be revealed.

Put on the spot to reveal the contents of his fridge, he says: "Corn on the cob from Riverside market is the best bargain - half a dozen for £3.

"You just put them in the Aga or microwave until the leaves turn brown - talk about instant food!"

Admittedly, this is a belated discovery for me - as readers of Wales on Sunday will have spotted months ago.

The Welsh Assembly Government Morgan leads has already introduced free breakfasts in schools. Can it be long before no state primary is complete without its own Aga?

(The photograph of the First Minister and the MP for Cardiff North produced gratuitously above comes from Paul Flynn's blog)

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Don't call me sir

Hot news from the Lib Dem leader in an engaging interview in The Times today.

“I don’t like being Sir Ming," says Sir Ming, "because I think it sounds silly. I’d rather people just dropped the Sir altogether and called me Ming Campbell.”

This welcome disdain for titles would be slightly more convincing if he were not listed on his party's website as initially Rt Hon Sir Menzies Campbell QC MP and subsequently as Menzies ('Ming') Campbell CBE QC MP.

If Sir Ming really doesn't like being called Sir Ming, he could have refused his knighthood.

Lib Dems have been keener than some other parties to receive honours for political service - I can think of several failed parliamentary candidates who've nevertheless received gongs for their political work.

Perhaps Ming Campbell, as we must get to know him, really does intend to break the mould.

Whatever next? MPs with Phds not calling themselves doctors? It does happen. The prime minister gets by without using his doctorate, although some rather more obscure backbenchers are so proud of their academic achievements they waste no opportunity to use it.

Friday, 7 September 2007

BBC Scandal

The Daily Mail has unearthed a major scandal that is set to rock Britain to its foundations.

Apparently a couple of BBC reporters have been spotted wearing jeans on TV. Questions would be asked in Parliament if MPs were not on holiday, sorry in recess.

Monmouth Tory MP David Davies has overcome his natural reticence to see his name in the tabloids to offer the Mail his verdict.

"I certainly wouldn't turn up to a broadcaster looking like I have come off a beach," he said after Richard Watson and David Shukman were revealed as the guilty men.

"T-shirts and jeans would be fine if they were on Blue Peter but these are programmes that pride themselves as the country's top current affairs and news programmes.

"A suit would be more appropriate. I was brought up in the Seventies - but personally I think you have got to dress for the occasion and that means smart clothes for TV."

He speculated whether reporters would soon be seen reporting on royal occasions "wearing tracksuits, bling and a baseball cap".

Personally, I've never worn jeans on TV and my wardrobe is a little short on bling and baseball caps. Perhaps William Hague would lend me one.

I think Davies has missed the point. The image of denim has taken a knock in recent years, a blow attributed by fashion experts to their popularity with middle-aged men such as Tony Blair and Jeremy Clarkson.

The real crime is apparently wearing jeans too late into middle age.

Some style gurus believe that 42 is the latest age at which denims should be worn.

At the age of 43, I should probably declare an interest.

Thursday, 6 September 2007


It's the end of an era. Western Mail & Echo Ltd will shortly be no more. For those of us of a certain age, the very name conjures up images of newspaper sellers in flat caps on the streets of Cardiff.

I think it was Echo legend Dan O'Neill who once suggested the two papers made up one name - westernmail'necho - as hoarsely yelled by those sellers behind their stands around the capital city.

Now the company is to rebrand itself Media Wales Ltd, a change that will be publicly adopted from October 1.

Managing director Keith Dye reminded staff today: "Our goal is to build a multi-platform media business by developing and sustaining strong positions across print and digital."

"In order to communicate this philosophy to our customers and advertising clients, we have decided to rename our business to reflect our entire product portfolio, and our aspirations for the future."

By "customers" I think he means readers although those of us who live in the multi-platform media world cannot be too sure. The company's new online presence will be

Ringing Thomson House - "Western Mail and Echo - can I help you?" - will never be the same again. In fact, the company wants to rename that too and has asked staff for suggestions.

Apparently, the current favourite is Thomson House, keeping the name it was given in the days when the papers were owned by Lord Thomson.

Alternative suggestions are being considered - Owain Glyndwr House and Dragon's Eye are among two of the suggestions from staff, as is Ty Gren Jones.

Perhaps it could be named after some of the media legends to have worked there. Glyn Mathias Towers? Ty John Humphrys? Michael Buerk House? Sue Lawley Buildings?

For Wales, see England

Some interesting thoughts from the ever-thoughtful Adam Price, faithfully reproduced by the Western Mail this morning.

Price points out that public spending per head is slightly higher in the North East of England than it is in Wales and draws the conclusion that Wales would be better off as a region of England, although presumably he's not proposing a redrawing of national boundaries.

It's an interesting contribution to the debate over how Wales is funded, although I had hoped to make it through September without referring to the Barnett formula.

The source of his figures is the Treasury. The difference between Wales and North East England in 2006/7 is estimated at £38 per head - spending in Wales is higher than in seven of the other eight regions of England, London being the exception.

Spending on health is £110 higher per head, education is £32 per head higher in the North East, a region thought comparable to Wales due to its heavy industrial past and the consequences of that.

The difference in health spending can't be attributed solely to the overall level of funding - it's a question of priorities for the Welsh Assembly Government (and its new Plaid Cymru Ministers?).

Price poses interesting questions too for the UK Government and the Wales Office. Its response: “The Barnett formula delivers a stable funding base for Wales - £14 billion this year - and there is no guarantee that replacing it would provide a better deal for Wales.

“Spending per head in Wales is 11 per cent higher than the UK average and 14 per cent above the average for England - that is £1,000 a head more in Wales than across England."

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

What's in a name?

Names and titles are important in politics as today's politicians strive to create tomorrow's history.

The SNP administration in Scotland has rebranded itself as The Scottish Government, although legally it will remain the Scottish Executive.

Gordon Brown is said to be relaxed about the change, although his officials still refer to an executive.

Tony Blair's Downing Street was less relaxed a few years ago when a Labour-led Scottish Executive suggested introducing the word "Government" into its official title.

The feeling then in No 10 was that it would be confusing for the Scots to have two governments and the idea was dropped. At the same time officials were content for the executive committee of the National Assembly for Wales, as legally it was, to rebrand itself the Welsh Assembly Government.

Perhaps they had greater faith in the ability of the Welsh to spot the difference, or at least not confuse Rhodri Morgan's administration with the UK Government.

Only since last year's Government of Wales Act was passed has the Assembly Government legally been able to describe itself in that way. Welsh Ministers were originally Secretaries, a distinction senior figures in the Blair Government chose to make to reflect the differing powers of the devolved administrations.

A nationalist-led administration in Cardiff Bay would presumably rebrand WAG the Government of Wales, a title many in Plaid Cymru have used since 1999.

Good to be back

Three weeks away (mostly spent in a country with a small population where the political establishment is seeking more home rule from its neighbour) and not too much seems to have changed.

I'm relieved to have discovered that I haven't missed the end of the DFS sale, although the company claims to have only two such events a year. What it doesn't tell you is that each lasts for six months.

David Cameron's troubles appear to be continuing, although the Brown bounce seems to have lost some of its spring in recent polls, for what they are worth at this time of the year.

Peter Black has written vast amounts to try to answer the question on everyone's lips: what is the point of the Welsh Liberal Democrats? Some bedside reading there for me in the run-up to the party's conference in Brighton later this month.

The leader of the Welsh Lib Dems deserves some reward for services to the media during a quiet month.

Lembit Opik revealed to the Express on Sunday the secret of his relationship with one of the Cheeky Girls: "We have some quite intellectual conversations a lot of the time. We talk a lot about philosophical and sociological concepts. These people who suggested our relationship was just a fling ought to apologise.

The Mail on Sunday revealed that the Montgomeryshire MP signs himself "Bow Wow" in correspondence, a fact that hasn't escaped his political opponents.

The Mail also reveals how the Cheeky Girls have had surgery to correct problems with earlier operations on a sensitive part of their anatomy.

"They went wrong. One was facing left and the other was facing right," explained their mother Margit.

At this rate, Peter Black will have to update his online pamphlet about what the Welsh Lib Dems are for but am I the only one contemplating suing Margit for invading my privacy?

Do let me know if I've missed anything newsworthy during my time overseas.