Thursday, 31 January 2008

Off the rails

Today's Western Mail has an interesting feature on favourite childhood toys.

Two politicians feature - both Conservatives, Nick Bourne AM and David Davies MP.

Both say their favourite childhood toy was a train set.

Nick Bourne says it reflects his lifelong passion for trains and railway travel.

David Davies is perhaps more revealing: "I liked setting up crashes on it. I was a destructive little boy....

"I got fed up with it when I was about 15 and I started to take bits of it to the second hand shop for money to spend on less wholesome activities."

Little wonder perhaps that David Davies grew up to be a Conservative MP when he was already privatising his train set at the age of 15.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Mr Digital Inclusion

Gordon Brown has just been put on the spot over his Cabinet reshuffle at Question Time.

Tory backbencher Ben Wallace wanted to know why Wales now has a full-time Secretary of State whereas the Ministry of Defence and Scotland share one Cabinet Minister.

The answer? Paul Murphy will actually be rather busy with lots of other jobs (I paraphrase Mr Brown).

Besides chairing the cabinet committee on local government and the regions, and supervising the British-Irish council, Mr Murphy is also "Minister for Digital Inclusion".

This may raise the odd eyebrow among those who believe the Welsh Secretary is rather more at home with a fountain pen than a Blackberry.

Looks straightforward enough to me.....

One of the reasons Elfyn Llwyd is cool on the idea of an early referendum to give the Assembly full law-making powers is that he feels the current system needs to bed down first and is rather complicated.
Fortunately, this diagram from the House of Lords Constitution Committee should allay his fears.

Elfynometer temperature rising

If Plaid Cymru AMs feel their ears burning it may be because the party's parliamentary leader has been briefing the media at Westminster.

Elfyn Llwyd's message - don't rush into an early referendum to give the Welsh Assembly full law-making powers.

"I personally believe we need to get this system working - and get this legislation flowing through with proper scrutiny.

"Rushing through and saying it has got to be a referendum in 2011 - I don't actually sign up to that. I prefer to concentrate now on making sure the legislative process works without a hitch. That's the priority."

He added: "I don't think it's useful talking about it every five minutes. We are not referendumites, we are legislators."

Elfyn Llwyd may not have signed up to a referendum in or before 2011, but his party has. He did acknowledge that he may get one or two phone calls from Cardiff later today.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

The future's not bright.....

Peter Hain spent years fighting apartheid. He spent years trying to get elected to Parliament. He's written dozens of books and pamphlets on politics.

He's spent the last 10 years in government - in big departments like the DTI, the Foreign Office and the Department for Work and Pensions (whose budget is 9 times that of the Welsh Assembly). He was Northern Ireland Secretary when devolution was restored to Belfast.

So he'll be really chuffed to discover that Glyn Davies thinks he'll want to spend his twilight years as AM for Neath.

It may look like promotion from Berriew, it certainly doesn't from Westminster, where Hain is still an MP.

Glyn advises us to remember: "You heard it here first".

We will, Glyn, we will.

Equal opportunities employers

Employing your spouse or child isn't against parliamentary rules - unless they receive taxpayers' money in return for doing nothing, as Derek Conway has discovered.

Employing family members is fairly common among "honourable members" although most would surely employ staff capable of remembering the name of their Dad's constituency secretary. (Something young Freddie Conway was incapable of doing).

Conway took Ted Heath's old seat of Old Bexley and Sidcup but in a previous incarnation was MP for Shrewsbury - and for three years parliamentary private secretary to Wyn Roberts when he was Minister of State at the Welsh Office.

MPs do not have to declare employment of family members in any parliamentary register so it is impossible to discover how widespread the practice is.

It's far easier in Cardiff Bay, where the rules on declaraion appear to be stricter. The last time I checked the register of AMs' interests no fewer than a quarter of Assembly Members did or had employed members of their families.

Joy as housing is more affordable

Now there's a headline you won't read in tomorrow's Daily Mail/Express.

Official figures - from the Land Registry - show that house prices in England and Wales fell by 0.4 per cent during December.

Good news then for all those first-time buyers, the teachers and other public servants who can't afford to live in the communities they serve.

Not that the news will be reported in quite that way as the media reflect the impact on those of us lucky enough to own/buy our own homes, who will be feeling poorer on paper.

The British psychology on house prices has always puzzled me. An otherwise bright colleague felt very pleased having made tens of thousands of pounds on his home in Cardiff in three years, seemingly oblivious to the higher cost of the home to which he had just traded up.

A sticky market may be bad news for some parts of the economy, and those home-buyers who have over-stretched themselves and face negative equity, but there are many others for whom
falling prices will mean access to affordable housing for the first time.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Murphy's Lore

Refreshed by a first weekend off in three, I've been browsing through the thoughts of the new Secretary of State for Wales, the better to understand Paul Murphy's politics.

He delivered his most recent speech on Welsh affairs during the Welsh Grand Committee last month.

There are some interesting views on the propensity of (some) politicians to obsess on constitutional issues - and a warning or two about proposed legislation on both housing and the Welsh language. He also believes orders to allow the Welsh Assembly to legislate should not simply be rubber-stamped in Westminster.

Here are a few random quotes:

"I have been trying to work out whether or not I am a devo-sceptic and I have come to the conclusion that I am not. In 1978, I was a devo-opponent, and in 1997 I voted for devolution. My constituents agreed with me in 1978, but they did not agree with me in 1997, because they voted against a Welsh Assembly on both occasions. However, I would rather describe myself as a devo-realist, in the sense that what is here is here. I am not all that keen on a coalition in Cardiff, but we are where we are, and we have to work in the current political climate for the benefit of the people whom we represent, whether we are Members of Parliament, Assembly Members or members of local authorities."

"I repeat the point that I have made in previous meetings that any clamour for constitutional change passes by my constituents. I have received two letters about the constitutional arrangements in Wales in the past year, both of which opposed them, but that is all that I have had. No one rings me up, e-mails me, writes to me or stops me in the street about that issue, but they do so regarding the issues that I have just mentioned, which are the services that we are all pledged to improve."

"We must take great care that we do not become a little bit too obsessed with identity and nationhood. I do not have to look in the mirror every quarter of an hour to remind myself that I am a Welshman-I am, and I am proud of it. At the same time, however, I know that what my constituents expect of me is an improvement in their lives. I believe that the arrangement that we have got, whereby our Assembly deals with certain issues in Cardiff and we share responsibility with it here in Parliament, is a good arrangement for improving our constituents' lives."

"I do not believe for one second that we should be rubber-stamping LCOs or legislation for devolution, because we would not be doing our job as Members of this Parliament. We must scrutinise such matters properly for the purpose of correctness, certainly, but also to establish whether we think that there is a case to be made for the particular powers, whatever they might be, to be devolved to the National Assembly."

"I think that, overwhelmingly, most LCOs, when they come here, will be passed without too much fuss. However, there may be occasions when things are a bit more controversial, and I will cite two LCOs as examples. I think that the LCO that deals with the ending of the sale of council houses will produce controversy. For the past two decades in Wales, the fact that houses have been sold by local authorities has meant that people in Wales, by becoming home owners, have improved their lot."

"The other issue, of course, is the Welsh language, responsibility for which is shared between those of us in Westminster, where it is a reserve power, and Members of the Welsh Assembly, who have a great interest in the importance of the Welsh language. Historically, the issue has been enormously controversial, and it has to be handled sensitively. Many hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies would be deeply troubled if an extension to the Welsh Language Act 1993 disadvantaged private companies, for example. We cannot afford for companies not to come to Wales because of potentially prohibitive Welsh language legislation We cannot afford to lose companies in Wales that might use the excuse of Welsh language provisions to leave our Welsh people."

You can read more of his thoughts here.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Jobseekers United

Alternative captions welcome...

One humdinger

"One humdinger of a day" - Paul Murphy's verdict on the departure of Peter Hain and his return to the Wales Office.

The new Secretary of State says to say that he was surprised by the 4pm call from Gordon Brown was a major understatement.

Asked, inevitably, about the prospect of an early referendum to give the Welsh Assembly more power, he played a straight bat: "I don't think it is something that exercises the daily brain cells of my constituents but it is an issue we have to address."

That will be a revelation to those people in Torfaen who devote their waking hours to the legislative process, the Barnett formula and legislative competence orders.

Like his predecessor, he doesn't believe that referendum will be held before the next general election, which has to be held by June 2010.

"I think that constitutional issues are very important but I think we need to concentrate on what people think out there in Wales are important and that is talking about public services and how we can give them the best deal.

"There is a tendency among politicians of all parties to think about constitutional issues as being important as they live with them all the time and of course I'm not underestimating that.

But we mustn't keep our eye off the ball and forget that people in Wales do want us to see their lives improved with the responsibilities we currently have."

Snub to Wales?

Gordon Brown is in Davos today at the World Economic Forum - a chance to tick off another "cities I've visited" on the tripadvisor section of his Facebook profile.

Switzerland today, India and China last week, Iraq before Christmas, Scotland for the four-hour summer holiday, Lisbon for that brief Treaty signing, Kabul to rally the troops, Washington, Gloucestershire for the floods.

Have I left anywhere out? Possibly. There's one corner of the UK that the PM who stresses Britishness has yet to visit during his 7 months in the job.

Monmouth Tory MP David Davies has been thinking along similar lines - here's his parliamentary question and the Prime Minister's reply.

David Davies: To ask the Prime Minister on how many occasions he has visited (a) Wales, (b) Scotland, (c) Liverpool and (d) London since his appointment.

Gordon Brown: A list of my UK visits will be published in the usual way following the end of the financial year.

The financial year ends at the beginning of April, by when Mr Brown may have found time to visit Wales. Despite the departure of Peter Hain, the PM is still expected at the Welsh Labour conference in Llandudno next month.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Seven years are a long time in politics

Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones (2001):

"Paul Murphy is clearly out of touch with the growing feeling in Wales, and within his own party in the National Assembly. Those of us who have to work within the current settlement see its obvious flaws and a growing number of Labour AMs are coming out to support a law-making Parliament, because they are frustrated at the Assembly's failure to deliver in key policy areas. Paul Murphy and the 'dinosaur tendency' in the Labour Party are being left behind in this debate.?

Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones (2008):

"I welcome Paul Murphy's appointment and look forward to working with him. His role will be pivotal in steering the Welsh Assembly Government's bids for the right to legislate through Westminster and in working with us to deliver the One Wales programme of Government."

Back to the future

Well, it is Paul Murphy - and he will be full-time (and paid).

Wales now has a full-time Secretary of State (unlike Scotland, or Defence).

Paul Murphy is not known for his love of devolution or an enthusiast for coalitions with Plaid Cymru.

He's a diplomat; he'll need to be.

Hain: runners and riders

Who replaces Peter Hain as Welsh Secretary?

There are no longer any Welsh MPs in the Cabinet. So what to do?

Kim Howells and David Hanson are the highest-ranking Welsh MPs outside the Cabinet.

Kevin Brennan, despite strong Brownite links, and Huw Irranca-Davies are junior Ministers further away from the top table.

Whoever gets the job it is unlikely to be a full-time role and it won't necessarily be an MP from Wales.

This could be the time that Gordon Brown finally decides to merge the Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland Offices into a Secretary of State for the Nations. Paul Murphy as a comeback caretaker, anyone?

That could also relieve the pressure on Mr Brown from having a part-time Defence Secretary.

Blogging may be a little light this afternoon. Work to do.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

The Iron Filing - The Thatcher Archive

The sight of all those youthful-looking police on the streets is, of course, guaranteed to make anyone feel old.

There are other signs of ageing. Catching the last train back to my hotel in Cardiff some time ago, it suddenly dawned on me that almost every other passenger was just going out for the evening rather than rushing home to fall asleep in front of Match of the Day.

Here's another sign you're getting on a bit: a footnote to a footnote to an historical figure.

According to the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, and who I am to disagree, I spent June 4, 1990 (when some of today's MPs were in school) interviewing the then Prime Minister.

It was a slightly surreal occasion, an hour one-to-one with one of the political giants of the 20th Century for a rather nervous, spotty hack.

She was slightly scary, although she did sort of apologise afterwards for a handbagging generated by some questions that gently suggested not everything in the garden was rosy.

The "Importance: Major" ranking has been added by officials. The best line from the interview was that she did not plan an early election (1991) but was thinking beyond that.

She was, of course, out of a job within five months of our interview, although that is probably a coincidence.

She may have been an ultra-divisive Prime Minister, but you have to admit she appears to have been very conscientious with the filing.

'Ello, 'ello, 'ello

I haven't seen so many police on the streets since, ooh I don't know when.

The Police Federation estimates that more than 18,000 officers and their supporters took the day off to march the streets of London in protest at their pay rise.

Not all those marching were officers taking time off from catching criminals. I spotted one Welsh lobbyist (sorry, "public affairs consultant") marching in the crowd.

Even the Police Federation, it seems, can't put their own case in our democracy without paying someone else for advice on how to get their message across.

It's our party - but we won't be there

An invitation pops into the inbox - come to the first of a series of regular briefings with North Wales Labour MPs in Portcullis House at Westminster.

"I'm sure it will prove useful" says the invite, temptingly.

Media diaries are re-arranged to make it happen. Six reporters gather at the appointed hour - 0930.

We came - they didn't. Not a single MP turned up.

Don't worry - they were probably busy running the country.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Here to Help

We hacks are not just here for the nasty things in life - asking politicians awkward questions about what they get up to in our name and so on.

No, absolutely not. So when a Conservative MP turned up in the BBC Westminster studios for a pre-arranged interview under the assumption that the interview was for radio - and definitely dressed down for the wireless - we sprang into action.

Tune in to on BBC 2 Wales tomorrow and see if you can spot which politician is wearing my suit jacket.

(In the interests of balance, this offer is also available to politicians from other parties, subject to fitting).

Going global

At Westminster, the Welsh affairs select committee's inquiry into globalisation continues apace("today the world, tomorrow Wales!") with a current focus on broadcasting.

Up for a grilling today, bigwigs from S4C.

Ceredigion MP Mark Williams was keen to know how large an audience the channel's gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Welsh Assembly had pulled in.

"Fairly low" was the considered response of S4C chair John Walter Jones, prompting one or two uncomradely chortles from MPs on the committee. (Not that programmes from Westminster are exactly ratings winners).

Mr Jones explained that audience size wasn't really the point. "It isn't a question of viewing figures, I think, in terms of broadcasting the National Assembly I think it is a service in terms of democracy in Wales and the growth of devolution as a project in Wales and I think that everyone, including S4C, has a duty at some point in advancing devolution as a concept in Wales."

Mr Williams was happy with that response - "I think we would all agree on that very strongly" - although not all MPs would agree that it is the role of broadcasters to "advance devolution as a concept".

Watching the watchdog

As announced some time ago, Glyn Mathias has stepped down as an electoral commissioner and been replaced by Ian Kelsall.

Hopefully, the electoral commission will update its website with this news shortly, lest a mischievous MP report the watchdog for making a late declaration.

UPDATE: As if by magic, by complete coincidence, the website has now (1300, January 22) been updated.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Scouse nous

The investment arm of the Dubai Government is said to be considering a bid for the sixth best (at time of writing) football club in England.

Where is the old-style Welsh Development Agency when you need it?

Some consider Liverpool to be the capital of North Wales. Some sacrifices from the Welsh Assembly Government budget might have to be made but for £500m it could be a snip....

It might look like a lot of money, but if things got tight they could flog off Gerrard and Torres to pay a few bills.

Pot, Kettle, Black

The Welsh Conservatives have accused Plaid Cymru of taking "diametrically opposed positions" at Westminster and in the Welsh Assembly over ID cards.

So unlike the Conservatives, who are resolutely opposed to university tuition fees in Wales, but support them in England.....

“How on earth can anyone take this party seriously when its members adopt diametrically opposed positions depending on which end of the M4 they are?" said Tory Assembly Group leader Nick Bourne, or was is a Plaid Cymru spokesman?

Thursday, 17 January 2008

The smack of firm government?

Here's a Peter Hain story that doesn't involve donations.

The Welsh Secretary has told First Minister Rhodri Morgan that his Assembly Government won't be allowed to ban smacking in Wales.

Ministers in Cardiff had been examining ways of using the Assembly's new powers to go it alone and outlaw smacking.

Mr Hain, backed by the Attorney General, has now told Mr Morgan that this wouldn't be within the Assembly's competence.

A ban would intrude on the criminal justice system - which is not devolved. The proposed legislative competence order on vulnerable children, currently being negotiated in Whitehall, will be amended to remove any ambiguity about smacking.

So expect a rash of "slap in face for Wales"/"snub to Wales"/"Hain backs child cruelty"/"London calls the tune" press releases from suitably outraged politicians.

The Assembly Government tell us: "We have only just received correspondence from the Secretary of State on this issue, and will want to consider carefully all of the points raised."

Alternatively, they could just ask the First Minister, who was told this information by Peter Hain late last year and is, according to the Wales Office, "more than happy" with the advice.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Hain: we can help you through the storm

Peter Hain may be off the hook, pending official inquiries, but should he feel the need for extra help he may not have far to look.

John Underwood, a pivotal figure in the Hain campaign, offers crisis management through a PR company he founded in 1991 "we can help you through the storm".

As it says on the CLEAR website: "Despite well-made plans and best intentions, things can still go wrong. What matters is how you deal with them. CLEAR can help prepare for the worst, handle the flak and respond positively to ensure the fastest possible recovery."

But how can you spot a crisis if it's not staring you in the face?

"It is notoriously difficult to define a crisis. What constitutes a crisis for one organisation will not necessarily be a crisis for another. Generally, however, a crisis will involve, or at least potentially involve, a number of common factors.

Typically, a crisis will:
be unexpected or unpredicted;
begin as a small problem with the potential to escalate into something bigger;
be something around which information is uncertain or unreliable;
threaten the performance or even the survival of the organisation or business
attract negative publicity;
give managers little time in which to react;
involve a break in service, operations or supply;
always have the potential to affect adversely the corporate reputation;
also offer an opportunity to enhance the corporate reputation if managed appropriately."

I think it's safe to assume the Hain camp can tick most of the above boxes.

Hain's half hour x2

Gordon Brown has given his most unequivocal backing yet to Peter Hain, praising his work in reducing unemployment.

The PM was asked whether Hain was "a dead man walking" during question time in the Commons.

Tory leader David Cameron chose to focus on Northern Rock, rather than the Hain affair.

Earlier, Hain stepped aside a call for him to quit from the Tory MP Nigel Evans,

Activists in the Neath constituency will meet tonight. Constituency Labour Party secretary Sandra Miller says "people may have got the wrong end of the stick over why the executive is meeting tonight"

She says that the purpose of the meeting is to decide the work programme and meeting schedules for the Labour Party in Neath for the coming year. The meeting was originally due to take place before Christmas. There'll also be some discussion tonight on the process of selecting candidates for European Elections.

How could we have got the wrong end of the stick? Here's a clue - a statement sent to me by Peter Hain's office on Monday:

"The Neath Labour Party Executive have been anxious to demonstrate their support and have called an emergency meeting on Wednesday to do precisely this. We are proud to have Peter as our MP."

With friends like these.....

Some relief for Peter Hain today. The Prime Minister says he's not corrupt, just incompetent.

Corruption is a sacking offence, incompetence is not. Welsh Questions in the Commons today may be worth watching - not something I write very often.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

......on the way to the forum

Steve Morgan's attempts to bring order to the chaos of the fall-out from Peter Hain's deputy leadership campaign - by distancing himself from the Putney Popular Front, sorry Progressive Policies Forum, appear to have hit a slight snag.

Crisis? What crisis?!

No, this isn't a Peter Hain fund-raising event, even if some of his friends do appear prominently in the photograph.

North Wales MPs got together to promote the addition of Snowdonia Cheese on the menu in the Members' dining room.

Chris Ruane said, "It is important to us that we promote welsh produce here in London and more specifically here in the Commons."

MPs have their own favourites. Betty Williams, Martyn Jones and Ian Lucas are fans of "Black Bomber", Chris Ruane, David Hanson and Mark Tami prefer the 'Red Devil' - and Albert Owen's choise is 'Green Thunder.'

Snowdonia Cheese also supply Ginger Spice, Pickle Power, Purple Passion and Amber Mist - the latter is a medium cheddar laced with whisky in an orange wax.

Party pooper?

Peter Hain is "getting on with the jobs". The Welsh and Work and Pensions Secretary turned up for Welsh MPs' New Year party in the Commons last night.

He stayed around an hour but wasn't really in the party mood - not surprising as the electoral commission, frustrated by its limited powers, is considering calling in the police to investigate his failure to declare donations.

"We are where we are," Hain told party guests. "but I'm staying. There is too much to do in Wales and the DWP."

Today's Times reports that a commission source feels Hain has shown contempt for the rules by failing to declare donations on time and by putting the oversight down to the pressures of his Cabinet job.

But the commission, unable to fine individuals itself, may face a choice between issuing a slap on the wrists and calling in the police.

Hain is angry that people might think he intentionally concealed donations. He realises his fate will be decided by two inquiries - one by the commission, the other by the parliamentary commissioner for standards.

Amid the cold sausage rolls, party guests were treated to a musical contribution from the talented guitar-playing Cardiff West MP, Kevin Brennan.

His choice of music was in the best possible taste. One of two Hain supporters were slightly alarmed by some of the earlier muzak - including Yesterday and We Can Work It Out.

Brennan was joined on vocals by Wrexham MP Ian Lucas for his annual rendition of Lola.

If Simon Cowell is reading this, I'm happy to put him in touch.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Name that MP

Any idea which senior MP said this?

"It is of the greatest importance that the conduct of Members of the House meets, and is seen to meet, the high standards expected by the Wicks committee, and also by our constituents. Lapses, however rare, are very damaging to public confidence in the House and in our parliamentary democracy. If lapses occur, and are not seen to be tackled with sufficient rigour, the effect is many times worse. Our system for regulating standards of conduct must be transparent, fair and effective."

You can find the answer here. Absolutely no prizes.

Hain saga: Alan Hansen's view

Peter Hain has been a Chelsea fan for four decades (I blame the parents) and even in the middle of his current crisis found time to check out the team's result and gloat over the nearest Spurs fan.

So he'll be chuffed to discover what's just landed in my inbox (in my [unpaid] role as manager of Barnesalona in the Telegraph fantasy football league).

Top pundit Alan Hansen took time off from his supermarket shopping to file his assessment of the weekend's Premier League Results.

Sadly, he didn't blame "sloppy defending" by the Hain campaign staff or claim "you'll never win anything with kids"

But this is Hansen's topical verdict on the championship race: "Don't discard Chelsea who are sticking to the top two like Peter Hain to his job."

What you might call a quote of two halves.

Hain: PM chooses his words very carefully

A relieved Peter Hain will enjoy reading today's Sun - up to a point.

The Prime Minister has offered him his support - but Gordon Brown acknowledges that the Welsh Secretary's fate is out of his hands.

“Peter has done a great job and it would be a great loss if he had to leave the Government.

“He took his eye off the ball and he has apologised. The matter must rest with the authorities, who will look at all these matters.

“It would be my expectation that he will carry on in Government.”

Mr Brown praises the Neath MP for his work in Northern Ireland and as Work and Pensions Secretary. Those looking for a slap in the face/snub to Wales won't be disappointed as his other Cabinet role isn't mentioned.

The PM's vote of confidence combined with the absence of significant fresh revelations in the Sunday papers makes it more likely Mr Hain will survive in the short-term - at least until the electoral commission and parliamentary commissioner finish their investigations.

Not all Labour MPs think he will keep his job. Even some of those publicly supportive of Mr Hain say privately that his use of the obscure PPF think thank is "strange" and suggest that despite respect for him on the backbenches his overt ambition in the past has won him few friends.

As my colleague James Landale said on the Ten O'Clock News last night, "He's not out of the woods yet."

At least this is one Welsh Secretary who won't claim to be in the woods looking for badgers.

out of the woods

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Every Little Helps....Or Not

Here's another twist in the Hain donations row - a statement from lobbyists Morgan Allen Moore (chairman, Steve Morgan):

"Please be advised that we are reporting the Mail on Sunday newspaper to the Press Complaints Commission over an article in today's edition which suggests we were responsible for a visit by the Works and Pensions Minister Peter Hain to a newly opened Tesco supermarket in Wales.

Prior to publication the Works and Pensions Department itself issued a formal statement advising that the suggestion was inaccurate and that Morgan Allen Moore (a public affairs company) had not been involved in the visit.

Despite this statement the newspaper chose to carry a two page article suggesting that we were involved in the event.

The newspaper also failed to provide Morgan Allen Moore with an opportunity to answer specific allegations prior to publication.

The Mail on Sunday itself undermined the credibility of the entire article by stating in the final paragraph that an official at the Works and Pensions Department said Morgan Allen Moore "had nothing to do with Mr Hain's Tesco visit."

Despite this it chose to publish a story that was blatantly inaccurate and misleading.

We are also today considering options for taking legal action against the newspaper."

The article in question is on the paper's website.

Hain fights on

Some good news for the beleaguered/embattled/under-pressure (delete as applicable) Peter Hain: his arch critic has decided not to sit in judgement if and when the case against him is heard by parliament's standards committee.

Elfyn Llwyd, who now calls for Hain to resign with a regularity previously matched only by Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland, says he'll stand down from the committee while it considers Hain. (The first case of a juror nobbling himself?)

Llwyd says he offered to resign from the committee after he was criticised for misusing the communications allowance given to MPs - an offer that was rejected.

Plaid's Westminster leader appeared on The Politics Show in a four-party debate that became something of a partisan Plaid Cymru versus the rest battle.

Lib Dem Lembit Opik and Labour's Don Touhig both supported Hain, pending the inquiries that loom.

The Welsh Secretary, should he have been watching from behind the sofa chez Hain, will have been relieved to see the debate focus almost as much on a recent dismeanour by Plaid Cymru MPs as on the current Hain woes.

The Sunday Hain

The Sunday papers could be worse for Peter Hain. He's no longer omnipresent on the front pages, although there appears to be a consensus among his critics that after yesterday's televised statement he still has questions to answer about the way he financed his deputy leadership campaign.

Several papers report the disquiet in Team Hain when it emerged how the campaign had been funded from the think tank that thinks it's a bank, although aides who still work for him deny that they threatened to resign or that they have advised him to go.

(When I heard Peter Hain was involved in something known as the PPF I assumed the initials stood for the Putney Popular Front from Hain's time in SW15 - perhaps a breakaway from Woolfie Smith's Tooting Popular Front.....).

The Conservatives have stopped short of calling on Hain to go, perhaps because of the questions over the way the shadow chancellor George Osborne's office is funded.

But the Tory MP Crispin Blunt pointed out on Sky that the Work and Pensions Secretary expects benefit claimants to fill in 27-page forms but appears to have failed to fill in a four-page form himself.

His leader, David Cameron, told the Andrew Marr show: "If he goes on like yesterday I think his time will be up.

"It's no good, when all these questions are being asked, just sort of come out and read a statement and scurry back indoors again.

"He has got questions he needs to answer, there are inquiries under way so I'm
not jumping the gun, but he can't go on as yesterday."

The Hain strategy, apparently supported by Number 10, is to hang on until the electoral commission and parliamentary commissioner for standards complete their inquiries.

But if a reshuffle happens before they report - and Labour MPs have been gossiping about one as early as next month - then Gordon Brown will have to decide whether it is worth keeping Hain in his Cabinet. You wouldn't put your mortgage on his future job propects.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

More Hain, less gain

Peter Hain won't be in any hurry to visit his local newsagent this morning.

The Guardian gives a flavour of the coverage.

The mysterious think tank, through which money for the Hain deputy leadership campaign was chanelled, has apparently spent more time on accountancy than thinking.

Hain is now facing three separate inquiries into his breach of the rules over campaign funding.

The Conservatives seem happy to keep him in the spotlight, with the publicity damaging Gordon Brown's Government, rather than to go for the jugular by calling for him to to. They say we should await the parliamentary comissioner on standards' report. (This may also have something to do with the Tories' own creative fund-raising arrangements via third parties).

Plaid Cymru have called for Hain to go. "More in sorrow than in anger, I am forced to say his position is untenable," says Elfyn Llwyd, perhaps fighting back tears of sorrow, or perhaps not.

Hain's position won't be decided by what opposition parties think. Opinion among Labour MPs will be crucial in making up Gordon Brown's mind on whether to back or sack Peter Hain.

When ministerial colleagues euphemistically concede he's got himself into a "very difficult position", you know this is one political cat rapidly running out of political lives.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Bringing order to chaos, the sequel

Peter Hain has now admitted failing to declare £103,156.75 in donations from his failed deputy leadership campaign.

He's published details of each donation, from £1,346 for that Parkhouse club meal to various contributions from business figures.

The small print that will interest the newspapers reveals how some donations were made via third parties - through a think tank called the Progressive Policies Forum.

The Hain team say: "The monies had been previously donated to PPF. When unpaid bills came to light PPF was approached and with the permission of the individual donors concerned the monies were donated to Hain4Labour to meet these debts.

"There is no legal impediment to a person donating money on behalf of someone else the PPERA legislation expressly permits it in paragraph 6 of schedule 7. What is important is that the person or company making the payment informs the donee (in this case Peter Hain) that it is on behalf of someone else and gives particulars to the donee so that the donee can report them.

"This is exactly what has happened in this case in respect of five donations. The actual donors have been correctly reported."

One of the actual donors involved may ring a few bells. His name is Steve Morgan.

It appears that Peter Hain's campaign manager - the man who claimed to bring order to chaos - failed to declare a donation from himself.

Hain: breaking news

From PA: Peter Hain has met the Electoral Commission and provided it with information about donations made to his Labour deputy leadership campaign, a spokeswoman for the watchdog said.

The electoral commission will publish the information next week after it has carried out "permissibility checks" on the donations.

Waiting, waiting....

Peter Hain is still busy doing his sums so he can present details of his campaign finances to the electoral commission.

Either the missing donations will reach six figures or someone has spun a dramatic advance figure to less the impact of the actual amount.

The BBC understands that the final figure is likely to be around £100,000. Even for a man with the biggest departmental budget in Whitehall, that is rather a lot of money.

Britain's top sleaze watchdog, to use the journalese, was questioned about the Hain affair earlier today. Sir Christopher Kelly told MPs: "The committee will certainly discuss that and see whether or not there are lessons to be learned from the experience.

"And I would guess - although I'm speaking for a committee that I haven't yet
met - that the committee would be concerned that even now not everyone appears
to have understood the importance of being absolutely transparent about
political donations."

Will he survive? A lot depends on the fall-out and the newspaper coverage generated by details of the donations when they finally emerge (possibly tonight).

Mr Hain hopes people will accept his "cock-up, not a conspiracy" explanation. If they don't, then he could be in big trouble.

For England, see Wales

You have to admit it's something of a coup for Cardiff to have won the North of England Education conference.

But I do wonder who taught the delegates geography......

Drip, drip

The papers have arrived. If your name is Peter Hain, you may want to look away now.

The Guardian claims to have more details of the scale of the breach of the rules committed by Mr Hain's deputy leadership campaign.

No-one suggests Peter Hain intentionally concealed donations but under electoral law the buck stops with the candidate.

Even among his political enemies there are those who feel sorry for the Welsh Secretary; even among his friends there are people who doubt whether his Cabinet career will survive the affair.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

From Norwich, the quiz of the week...

Another twist or two to the latest Hain saga. Gordon Brown defended his Welsh and Work Pensions Secretary in the Commons today over the way he funded his failed campaign to to become Labour deputy leader.

We may yet get details of the donations Hain has failed to declare later this week. I've also been talking to Hain's former aide, Phil Taylor - the man who initially ran the Hain campaign until he was replaced by Steve Morgan, whose claim to have been brought in to bring order to chaos raised eyebrows yesterday.

Taylor, now working at a college in Norwich, denies that the deputy leadership campaign was chaotic and blames Morgan for the failure to declare donations properly. He says all donations were declared while he was in charge.

Asked whether The Guardian is correct to state that tens of thousands of pounds in donations were not declared, Taylor said: "Not on my watch. By the time I left we'd received legally and had declared £37,000 of donation and we hadn't received a single penny in donations that was not declared at the time I left, so there was no chaos of any kind."

Taylor decided to break his silence after hearing Mr Morgan's interview with BBC Radio Wales.

"You know it's widely believed there were a number of donations made during that period in June that weren't declared. Now I can't prove that. I don't know that. We need to wait and see what the campaign actually says when they finally publish their list of results but I think it's inconceivable to suggest that the person who ran the campaign throughout that period didn't know that donations were coming in and failed to declare them and at the end of the day, if you choose to run a campaign you have to take that responsibility yourself.

"What I think is very sad is that I know Peter incredibly well. I've worked for him for a number of years and consider him to be a friend and the Peter I know would have had nothing to do with any of this. He is one of the most straightest, honest, decent men that I have ever met and I just cannot understand what went on in that campaign but I can only assumed that decisions were taken by his campaign manager that he knew nothing about because the Peter that I know would never in a million years have ever accepted any donation and not declared it and not followed the rules and in that sense when Peter says there was chaos, that must absolutely be true. That chaos has to be the responsibility of the person running the campaign and that was Steve Morgan."

He insists Peter Hain should not be blamed for the failure to declare donations but acknowledges that as the candidate he is legally responsible.

"I think we'll only know that when we see what is not in the public domain now that should have been declared at the time and what the explanation for that is. What I am clear about is that it won't be Peter's fault in that he won't have known whatever chaos happened in the campaign that led to these declarations not being made in the way they should have been made. That isn't the Peter Hain I know and I know he wouldn't have stood for that.

"So what I'm clear about is that there won't be any guilt attached to Peter personally. You and I both know that politics doesn't work like that and we'll just have to wait and see what the fall-out is when it becomes public about the donations that weren't declared."

Hain update

The Guardian quotes extensively from yesterday's Radio Wales interview with Steve Morgan about Peter Hain's deputy leadership campaign.

It also runs the intriguing but hard-to-confirm line that Gordon Brown is rather unhappy with developments.

Westminster sources expect the Hain campaign donations to be made public tomorrow. This story still has legs.

public service blogging

This is not a BBC blog, as you may have noticed, but I am a BBC correspondent and I try to adhere to BBC blogging guidelines. You can check them out here.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

The late Peter Hain

Peter Hain has been proving a reluctant interviewee today (unless you wish to hear him on Tory welfare plans) but he has issued another statement about you-know-what.

"It is no secret that there were organisational and administrative problems within my deputy leadership campaign.
"As I said in December there were unfortunately donations to my campaign that
were not registered within the required time scale to the Electoral Commission.

"I am clear that all donations were made by permissible donors.

"Since I made my intention to make late declarations for these donations
public in December I have been in regular contact with the Electoral

"It has been agreed with them that I would provide the required late
declarations by mid-January and I will do so.

"I reiterate that this is deeply regrettable and I sincerely apologise."

I'm only a simple hack but one thing puzzles me: if Steve Morgan was hired to bring order to chaos and insists things were done properly on his watch, why is there a problem with "late donations".

Bringing order to the chaos

Another daft o'clock start this morning, thanks to The Guardian. It alleges that Peter Hain's campaign for the Labour deputy leadership may have failed to declare tens of thousands of pounds in donations.

Radio Wales succeeded where the Guardian failed and tracked down the Steve Morgan, the lobbyist who ran the Hain bid during its latter stages. He told us he was brought in half-way through the campaign"to bring order to the chaos" - a statement that will ruffle a few feathers with some others who worked on the campaign.

The Hain strategy is to present this whole affair as a chaotic cock-up rather than some deliberate attempt to conceal donations. He has issued a statement sincerely apologising for failing to register the donations properly. It's all hugely embarrassing and offers the odd bullet for reporters to fire at Gordon Brown during his Downing Street news conference today.

The Guardian reports: "Some political sources believe Hain's political future rests on his being able to show that he is the innocent victim of chaos within his election organisation, and that there has been no deliberate attempt to conceal the sources of the donations."

Perhaps even more embarrassing for Team Hain is that it appears to have fought by far the best-funded of the six deputy leadership campaigns - and still came fifth.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Political cross-dressing

The season of goodwill may be officially over (although I like to think it continues 365 days a year on this blog) but the bonhomie generated by the Plaid/Labour coalition in Cardiff appears to extend to their comrades at Westminster.

Political anoraks will spot not only a Plaid Cymru MP but also several members of Peter Hain's staff, whose names I'll withhold to spare their blushes.

The photo, first published on Facebook, was taken at a London club called the Tranny Shack. I don't know it myself (being more familiar with Madame Jojo's)but they all seem to be having a good time.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

First cuckoo of Spring

Rather like Spring, the first reports of the merger of territorial government departments seem to get earlier each year.

Yesterday's Evening Standard suggested, in its Londoner's Diary column, that the fuss over making Des Browne job-share Defence and Scotland could lead to the much-touted Secretary of State for the Nations taking a seat in Gordon Brown's Cabinet.

This would merge the Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland Offices in Whitehall - an option much-mooted over the years. Peter Hain would presumably be left free to concentrate on Work and Pensions while another Minister looks after Welsh interests.

Tomos Livingstone offers his usual perceptive analysis of developments here.

I seem to have been writing and broadcasting about this since 1999. It's true, the story has been doing the rounds since then, but that doesn't mean it won't come true.

Keep watching, as they used to say at the end of Dragon's Eye.