No New News

Logging on this morning, I realised I had not posted anything here for almost a week.
Now, I know blogging is a little like screaming in an empty and sound-proofed room but I believe I should keep up a certain standard, if only for myself.
But then I looked on the ITV Wales website and realised its news page had not been updated since November 15. That makes my last posting from November 24 still look positively topical.
I turned to to read about the latest round of redundancies announced at the Western Mail & Echo yesterday but found nothing mentioned.
However, I did find a nice story – which I think the Mail ran on the front of its jobs section – from November 17.
It was headlined, ‘Morale warning as a quarter fear redundancy in 2006’, and quoted someone from consultants RightCoutts – a name which is straight out of Carry On.
She said: “While the situation might look gloomy at first glance, UK workers need to remember that our economy is actually in a much stronger position than many of our global peers.”
I am sure that thought will keep the newly redundant warm this Christmas.

Lorra laffs

Swansea West MP Alan Williams gave the Prime Minister a dressing down yesterday for refusing to allow his “blue-skies” thinking aide Lord Birt to be grilled by a parliamentary committee.
Mr Blair would not allow the former Director-General of the BBC to appear in front of the Public Administration Select Committee.
Seeing as the peer is advising the Government on nuclear power and is known to have opinions on Civil Service and public sector reforms, MPs thought they had a right to question him.
Unfortunately, Birt is typical of those power hungry, unwanted, unelected figures that stalk around behind our democratic façade.
Criticising Mr Blair’s protection of his aide, Mr Williams said: “Parliament is supposed to be the focal point of accountability for ministers.”
Well, seeing as Birt famously helped the Saturday night ‘entertainment’ Blind Date to the success it achieved, I propose MPs get three questions.
I’ll give them a start. ‘John, we are out on a first date and I ask you whether you are really doing all this smarming up so you can get a ministerial job. What do you reply?’

Return Journey

BBC 2W is the place to be tonight at 9pm.
Anyone interested in the Spanish Civil War, and the part almost 200 Welsh volunteers played in the fight against Franco, should tune in to Return Journey – The Spanish Civil War.
It follows Alun Menai Williams, a veteran of the International Brigades, on his first trip back to Spain since 1938.
I first met Alun earlier this year when I wrote about him for a US military history magazine and later for The Big Issue. I’m now proud to call him a friend.
He’s an inspirational character. At 92, he’s still fascinated by the world around him, always asking questions, always taking in everything from the radio and newspapers.
His book From The Rhondda To The Ebro is well worth seeking out. I’ve written a piece about it and Alun for this Wednesday’s Morning Star.

A Night At Liberty

Headed to the Liberty Stadium last night to see Swansea City’s sell-out clash with Yeovil.
Lee Trundle was on fire and all the talk was as to whether the Swans could hold on to him come the January transfer window.
His second goal was a remarkable 40-yard lob which, had this been a Premiership game, would have been played over and over on TV this weekend.
It was greeted with a mixture of awe and wonder by the 19,288 crowd.
So too was the last minute streaker who burst from a lower stand in the dying minutes to cling on to Yeovil’s shocked keeper Chris Weale.
Two stewards grappled with the young woman, who wore only a thong (regulation winter clothing for the rest of the 19,287 in the stadium was a minimum three layers).
“That’s why we’re top o’ th’league,” sang the home fans in tribute to her performance.
On the way down to Swansea I’d stood in the buffet car with a £2.40 can of Carlsberg listening to the conversations around me.
One man, an off-duty police officer, was bragging to a newly-acquired friend about how to challenge a suspect: “I’d say, ‘I have reason to believe you have been involved in… etc etc.’”
He then took the man in some sort of arm lock, while demanding he turn out his pockets.
Later on a young teen egged on by a friend went up to the bar to try to buy some alcohol. The friend hung back out of sight.
“I’ll have some crisps,” said the rosy-cheeked youngster. “Hmmm… and a can of lager.”
“How old are you?” said the woman behind the bar.
The boy crumbled.
He wandered back to his friend with crisps and a bottle of Coke. “They didn’t have any lager,” he said.

Clear Red Water

Rhondda MP Chris Bryant has criticised Rhodri Morgan’s policy of keeping a line of “clear red water” between Westminster New Labour and the Welsh Assembly Government.
Bryant, a dedicated Blairite, argues that Morgan should adopt more of the “choice” agenda in health and education favoured for England by the Prime Minister.
In a pamphlet for think-tank the Smith Institute published today, Mr Bryant argues that some Assembly Government policies, such as free prescriptions, the avoidance of tuition fees for Welsh-domiciled students and the rejection of PFI to increase NHS capacity, betray an ideology that “could be dangerously naïve”.
A quick look at – the website which collects information on how MPs vote and the opinions expressed in their speeches – reveals the ideologies behind Bryant’s thinking for those who don’t know.
He was “very strongly” for foundation hospitals, the Iraq War and ID cards.
He was “quite strongly” for student top-up fees and Labour’s anti-terrorism laws.
Bryant’s loyalties are clearly to Blair. Perhaps he should take into account what devolution means and let the Welsh Assembly Government use the meagre powers it has been allowed.
And let AMs do the criticising when they wish.


Do you support killing of innocent people?

Tony Blair claims that MPs who oppose his hardline plans for terror suspects are flying in the face of public opinion.
He says politicians, including those from his own side, have to listen to the people.
I suppose Labour is getting some of its feedback from its website ( where Home Secretary Charles Clarke is asking for people’s “views on the new terrorist threats that face all of us”.
Visitors to the site are asked to answer three questions with either Yes, No or Not Sure.
The questions are so simplistic they would gather support for any initiative from locking people up for 90 days without charge to firing them into space just to be on the safe side.
Labour asks:
1) Do you think that our laws should be updated to cope with the current security threat?
2) Do you think police should have the time and opportunity to complete their investigations into suspected terrorists?
3) Do you think the government should make sure there are new safeguards to protect innocent people?
Ask a stupid question, get the answer best suited to saving your career.
How about the Labour Party separating this important issue from the leader’s desperate wish to cling onto power?
Blair, as someone once said, is a “here today, gone tomorrow politician”, but the consequences of his ambition will be here for sometime to come.

Reach For The Clark’s Pie

Welsh Rarebit:
Here’s the first in an occasional series (ie, I might not come up with these that often) of Welsh Rarebits – interesting, unusual, not-a-lot-of-people-know-that style, Wales related titbits (that’s tidbits in the US, I understand).
And, by the way, I use the word ‘interesting’ subjectively.

Number One:
Kenneth More, that most English of actors, famed for roles in 1950s and 1960s classics such as The 39 Steps, Reach For The Sky and Genevieve, was Welsh on his mother’s side.
His maternal grandfather was a solicitor in Cardiff. I learn this from his 1978 autobiography More or Less which for some reason I am reading at the moment.
By the way, his friends called him Ken or Kenny.

Rebekah who?

Today’s media excitement over the arrest – and subsequent release without charge – of The Sun editor Rebekah Wade shows how the Press loves to get over excited about one of its own.
The initial reaction by journalists was to report the incident from the point of view of her arrest – when it was the alleged victim, her husband Ross Kemp, who is of far more interest to the public.
No non-journalist of my acquaintance cares one fig who is editing which national newspaper.
But thirteen million people tuned in to see Kemp return to EastEnders last week.

Age Old Problem

Pensions bore me. I haven’t one myself and, when wiser people tell me I’m a fool, I just nod and ask to talk about something more interesting. Like Narberth.
But this week I’ve been writing about new pension plans – called SIPPs for short – in The Big Issue Cymru (to be posted at the weekend).
SIPPs, new from Gordon Brown, allow savers to invest personal pensions in whatever asset they wish, including property.
And if you are rich enough to put £200,000 a year into the plan, you can enjoy a 40 per cent tax break to buy a second home.
But they will not tackle the pensions crisis and will distort the housing market, pitching big city investors against first time buyers. Both the Tories and Plaid have spoken against them.
And today I’m pleased to report the following from the National Assembly:

The Welsh Assembly today voted to block Chancellor Gordon Brown’s Self Invested Personal Pension Schemes (SIPPs), which give higher earners a tax break for investing in second homes.
In the Assembly debate on affordable homes today, Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Social Justice Minister Leanne Wood AM put forward an amendment asking the Labour Assembly Government to make representations to the Treasury to exclude Wales from a plan that would give wealthy individuals a tax break on homes purchased as part of their pension.
“That policy means local people cannot afford to live in their own communities and local schools and shops are forced to close,” said Ms Wood. “Plaid Cymru has consistently opposed Tory and Labour right wing housing policies of which SIPPs is just another example.”
The Plaid amendment is as follows: “Calls on the Welsh Assembly Government to make representations to the UK government for properties in Wales to be excluded from SIPPs.”
“Deplores New Labour’s support for the new pension funds, Self-Invested Personal Pensions (SIPPs) which will enable the wealthy to own and profit from second homes ownership in Wales while many people in Wales are living in unfit accommodation or spending an increasing amount of their income on housing.”
(source: Plaid press release)

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