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Betsan Powys | 13:59 UK time, Tuesday, 9 December 2008

On churches I'm with Simon Jenkins.

I've tramped round my fair share of "England's Thousand Best Churches". In fact I can think of one wet weekend in the North Downs when it felt as though we were planning to work our way through the rest of the book by Sunday.

But if ever I've spotted a damp, bedraggled photo-copy of the relevant page from his book pinned to a notice board in a church porch, I've learned something I didn't know, gone back to see something I hadn't spotted.

Now I see that Simon Jenkins has dismissed the Senedd as "insipid". He's talking architecture of course, not quality of debate, though if you're currently listening to First Minister's Questions, you may well feel it's about time something was done to buck it up a bit. The thought, I notice, has crossed their minds in Northern Ireland.

What does Rhodri Morgan think? The question is short, the answer characteristically lengthy and detailed. He wants to steer clear of Punch and Judy politics but accepts that lengthy, detailed responses to lengthy, detailed questions in the chamber do little to excite the public and therefore instill public pride in Welsh politics. Confused faces peering through the glass at events in the chamber suggest he's got that one right.

This is, after all, "the home of Welsh democracy". I'm quoting Nick Bourne. He was actually talking this morning about the red brick building that used to house the National Assembly, the one that is stuck to the posh, new bit but all the same, the Conservative leader was in full flow in its defence. He wasn't talking architecture. He was objecting to the "outrageous" plans to hold a reading of Patrick Jones' poetry - poems that usually come with the words 'blasphemous' and 'offensive' attached - in the Assembly building this Thursday. The whole group is a hundred per cent behind him on this one and Mr Bourne would have to admit that he doesn't get to say that very often these days.

The poet has been invited to give the reading by two Assembly Members, Labour's Lorraine Barrett and the Lib Dem Peter Black. Their message? That if you think you may find the poems offensive - and there's a good chance you might - then stay away. No-one has a right to turn objection into preventing others from listening. The building is secular and AMs have a right to arrange meetings in it as they see fit.

But the Conservative group, galvanised by "massive postbags", is unmoved by arguments around Freedom of Speech. Nick Bourne is now arguing that the reading may well be illegal. He wasn't entirely sure why but thought it might amount to inciting hatred on religious grounds. The Assembly's lawyers are unconvinced.

It was a heated debate between Mr Bourne and the press pack. It had more than a little of Punch and Judy about it come to that. If you're still watching events in the chamber - as I am - you may just be starting to wonder - as I am - whether just a little bit of aggression for its own sake, just a small but vigorous step towards the bear pit, wouldn't be welcome.


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