Wednesday, 26 December 2007

2007 review: you know, the sort of stuff that fills up papers at this time of the year

For some, there was an historic inevitability about it. Yet there were rumours of rows behind the scenes, of personality clashes, of long-running battles fuelled by naked ambitions.

But the Spice Girls put it all behind them to reform for the money, sorry their greatest hits tour.

Elsewhere, power changed hands as Tony Blair was succeeded by Gordon Brown.

The year began with an unpopular Prime Minister behind in the polls, his party facing a police investigation over the way it raised funded. The year ends.....well, you can fill in your own punchline.

Gordon Brown entered Number 10 promising to restore trust in politics. Fewer than six months later, he had to admit that donations to Labour had not been lawfully declared. As I write, one candidate in Labour's deputy leadership contest is still trying to find out how an "administrative error" left him unable to declare donations properly.

Mr Brown won praise for his handing of a terror threat, of floods and of foot and mouth disease. He tried hard to reverse his image as a control freak by appointing a "government of all the talents" (GOATS), but his honeymoon ran out when he dithered over the election that never was.

Things got worse. The personal details of almost all Britain's families with children went missing (they still are). It emerged that thousands of illegal immigrants had been cleared to work in security jobs - including one whose job involved guarding the Prime Minister's car.

As these tales of woe emerged, one Labour MP - one of those who tried to force the last leader out a year after he won a mandate for a full third term - accused me of cynicism. The stories of dodgy donations and other cock-ups would be enough to test the idealism of Ulrika Jonsson's latest fiance.

Tony Blair's farewell tour may have dragged on a bit, but he was always newsworthy. The day he announced his departure and the day he went were among the most memorable of my 19 years reporting Parliament.

Dramatic political events happened outside the Westminster village. I still find it hard to believe that Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness work together in government, as they do in Belfast. The SNP's Alex Salmond is First Minister of Scotland; Plaid Cymru share power in Wales.

Some of the trivial stories were, as ever, the most fun. Peter Hain's Aga saga gave me a favourite quote: "At first I was a bit sceptical about the Aga. I thought it was a great big lump. But now I actually think it's fantastic. We found food cooked on the electric cooker tasted very second class."

Mr Hain failed to win Labour's deputy leadership contest but found time to rule out a Labour-Plaid coalition and to complain loudly when the BBC later suggested a deal could happen. Having a posh cooker must help when you have so many words to eat.

The Aga "story" was good for trade. This blog's predecessor, the original-but-now-dormant BBC Wales politics blog, was quoted in The Times, the Evening Standard and the Western Mail. There's honour among bloggers as well as among thieves.

We must not forget Lord Glentoran's role in cheering us all up. The newly-appointed Conservative spokesman on Welsh affairs told us: "As far as the politics of Wales is concerned"as of 48 hours ago I knew absolutely nothing. I now know nothing, plus a bit.

"I know nothing about the politics but I know quite a lot about the geography, having climbed most of the mountains."

Sir Menzies Campbell may have had better years but the former Lib Dem leader was a good sport when a Welsh hack turned up in his party conference hotel to ask him incisive, penetrating questions about the contents of that week's Hello! magazine, featuring Lembit Opik.

Two particularly enjoyable reports featured the unveiling of Lloyd George's statue in Parliament Square and a visit to Gordon Brown's tailor. Yes, Timothy Everest really did say "suits you, sir" (with a little prompting).

The year is ending with a personal milestone: my first child benefit form. Apparently, all I need to do is to send off the form, with our daughter's birth certificate and my bank details, to HMRC in Tyne and Wear.

What could possibly go wrong? Happy New Year.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

'Tis the season to be jolly.....

Well, it's only once a year. I was snapped during the Wimbledon Common Time Trial Christmas 5k on December 22. Parenthood seems to have slowed me down. Funny that, I'm sure Paula Radcliffe said she ran faster after her daughter arrived.......
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Equally cursed and blessed

A rather relieved Nick Clegg defied the laws of political gravity this afternoon to survive the curse of Opik.

The new Lib Dem leader held off the challenge of Chris Huhne to win by 511 votes despite having won the support of the former Welsh party leader Lembit Opik.

The Montgomeryshire MP had previously backed Charles Kennedy, Mark Oaten and Simon Hughes only to see their ambitions crumble rather soon afterwards.

Clegg's acceptance speech was straight from the Blair/Cameron model - lots of talk about the "new" (I've yet to find a politician who extolls the "old"). He's promised to get outside Westminster one day a week and listen to families who have nothing to do with politics.

After a cautious campaign, there's no clear sign of the direction in which he'll try to lead the Lib Dems, although he did make some potentially interesting comments about putting patients and parents in charge of public services.

Of course by the time he gets a chance of power he may be behind bars if he carries out threat to break the law on ID cards.

No word yet of how he plans to use the talents of Eleanor Burnham. Transport or Homeland Security might be inspired briefs.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Reasons to be cheerful

Back at the keyboard today after 10 days away from the office. What did I miss? 833 e-mails (not counting the ones filtered by the spam filter), a couple of stories about Peter Hain's deputy leadership campaign losing track of donations (easily done), a day out at the Welsh Grand Committee, Sian Lloyd got engaged (again), and another slight glitch in Eleanor Burnham's otherwise upwards trajectory towards the Liberal Democrat leadership.

And in what surely will be described as a snub/slap in the face to Wales, Rhydian lost the X-Factor final and Gethin was voted out of Strictly Come Dancing.

There's better news for former steelworkers at ASW, who have forced the Government into a substantial U-turn to compensate them for their lost pensions.

Brian Silver worked at ASW for 32 years and had expected to retire on a pension of £12,000 a year. Under the existing Financial Assistance Scheme, he says he would have received around £1,500. Today's announcement will give him 90 per cent of that £12,000 a year (£10,800) - leaving him almost £9,000 a year better off.

Small wonder he used an appearance on Wales Today this lunchtime to ask Mrs Silver not to go shopping before he gets home.