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Archives for September 2007

Dim Dai

Betsan Powys | 19:33 UK time, Sunday, 30 September 2007


I make it to the Welsh Conservatives reception in the confection that is the Baronial Hall in Blackpool's Winter Gardens.

"Can you direct me to the Baronial Hall please?'
'Certainly Madam - it's above the Spanish Galleon themed bar'.

But David Cameron doesn't make it. I'm sure he was planning to praise the troops for doing a good job back in May and remind them they must tell us they're chomping at the bit to do it all again. But no show. Or as Darren Millar put it, one Wlpan course later, 'Dim Dai Ec!'.

Has he already heard Nick Bourne is planning to woo unhappy Plaid Cymru voters tomorrow? Fed up with the coalition? The Welsh Conservative Party is your natural home. But that's for tomorrow ...

Give my regards to Blaenau

Betsan Powys | 14:00 UK time, Friday, 28 September 2007


Reaching beyond its core vote may be what is on Labour's mind today but grabbing back its core vote in one bit of Wales at least is going to prove too much at the next General Election.

That's what they think anyway, that it'll take two elections before the good people of Blaenau Gwent - who never thought of doing anything other than voting for Labour until a few years ago - come back to the fold.

The last one to try and persuade them was Owen Smith. The former BBC journalist, former special adviser to Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy and present day lobbyist for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer ('he's a man, born in the valleys - "there the boyo bit ends" as the Telegraph put it) fought the parliamentary seat for Labour at the 2006 by-election. He lost. And he's not going to try again.

Labour "must now double efforts to win back public trust" he said on the morning after a devastating night before. The party locally seem to think that'll take rather a long time.

Mr Smith

Betsan Powys | 15:57 UK time, Thursday, 27 September 2007


Tomorrow Labour goes public with its 'everything you wanted to know about why we messed up the Assembly Election' report - a hard-hitting piece of work, commissioned by the Executive, that will basically say Welsh Labour has to read the writing on the wall and start working far harder for votes, or perhaps that should be far cleverer. It must become a more campaigning party.

It'll spell out the arguments already heard this week: that the campaign this time round was holed below the water by problems in the health service, that the party failed to reach beyond the core vote and should therefore reconsider the clear, red water strategy. In other words, banging on about it being Blair's fault and down to Iraq just won't wash.

It's then over to the Assembly group who'll have the unenviable job of drawing up an action plan to turn round the party's fortunes asap. Will the report be buried? No. Why are they taking the unusual step of going public at all? Because that makes damn sure it won't be buried.

More on that tomorrow I'm sure.

But somehow, for today, I can only think of writing about one thing. This afternoon I went to say farwell to Justin Smith. I thought I was going to the funeral of an old school friend but I was wrong. It was a celebration of a life that was lived to the full and one that feels as though it's still going strong because so many people will remember Justin.

I never could believe that I shared my 1K, 2K and 3F2 days in Llanhari with a future glam rock star. But if you'd had to guess which one of us would become Pepsi Tate and take the world of glam rock by storm as Tigertailz bassist and ideas man, then it could only have been Justin.

I was Ysgol Gymraeg material through and through. Justin and his mate Damon weren't. I was in awe of them both, especially when they didn't bother coming top of the class because easy as it would have been for them, they had so much else to do.

Biol test circa 1977: Two wells are cut into a potato half in preparation for the experiment. Why must you pour iodine into only one?

Correct answer: The other should be left as a control.

Damon and Justin answer: Because you should always leave well alone Miss.

Today I was surrounded by suits and leather trousers. I stood in the company of schoolfriends, politicians, 70 year olds and 20 year olds, Mr Davies, my old Welsh teacher and long-haired, leather-clad glam rock fans. We all looked at each other in a slightly bewildered way and realised that only one person could have made us turn up in the same place at the same time; only one person had an attitude to life that was so all-embracing that there was room for us all in it.

And that was Justin Smith.

What in the 'L'?

Betsan Powys | 13:51 UK time, Wednesday, 26 September 2007


LCOs: 'you pronounce it like Tescos' is what a helpful soul told me when we first heard about the existence of Legislative Competence Orders. There was a diagram too, involving boxes, circles and lots of arrows representing a pleasing flow of agreement and approval as new powers streamed from London to Cardiff.

I've just looked at it again and it's just a bit battered. The innocuous looking first box: "Assembly and Whitehall Govts negotiate and draft Order in Council amending Sched 5, e.g, to add matter" looms much larger. In fact it looks a bit like a brieze block that you could lob into the pleasing flow of approval if you felt like it.

So what's going on? Is there a brieze block being chucked in the way of the Environmental Protection and Waste Management LCO? And if there is is, who's chucking it?

No, says the Wales Office. Discussions between officials in Whitehall and Cardiff are part of the process, nothing more. Better that problems are ironed out at this stage than the LCO voted down in parliament after all. How embarrassing would that be, they ask ominously, just in case we hadn't worked that one out for ourselves? This is just being cruel to be kind.

And don't think they wouldn't vote it down. Don Touhig never minced his words and I gather he's one MP who'd favour letting the next LCO get past the civil servants and 'dividing the house' over it - or in other words, 'let 'em try it'.

Meanwhile in the chamber Rhodri Morgan admits there may be more of a battle over LCOs with a broader scope but that we shouldn't get our ... well our LCOs in a twist.

The opposition parties go on the attack, Plaid MPs go with the constitutional row line and the Presiding Officer, always a man with an eye for an opportunity, goes with the version that Whitehall is running scared of a Wales with higher environmental waste management standards than England.

Let's say that you were in Bourenmouth and heard phrases like 'genuine immaturity' and Cardiff needing to 'get a grip' (and that was a from sane voice). How much hope would you hold out for the Affordable Housing LCO with its plan to suspend the Right to Buy scheme - a plan that would put some real bright red water between England and Wales? 'Tricky' - another word I heard - would be putting it pretty mildly, wouldn't it?

Mind you I get the feeling that the LCO we all expect Labour MPs to love to hate - the Welsh language LCO - may yet surprise us all. It's much touted as the LCO with the broadest terms of all, invoking linguistic rights and a promise of a long line of Assembly Measures designed to put Chris Bryant off that Wlpan Welsh learning course for life.

But think on this: making that one work, holding it up as a totemic success .. now that would suit everyone, wouldn't it?


Betsan Powys | 07:38 UK time, Tuesday, 25 September 2007


I've been tagged.

It's all right Mam. That doesn't mean I have to be home by 10pm and stay there til dawn. It means Peter Black has given me work to do. There I was thinking I was safe down here in Bournemouth and could get on with watching Welsh Labour wrestle with the notion that it's time to dump the 'clear red water' strategy and reach out not just to their core vote but to the rural vote and the Welsh speaking vote.

Middle Wales. A woman with a name like Powys should know where - or who - that is of course but any suggestions welcome.

So what's my earliest political memory? For years I thought I had a vague memory of sitting in the back of a van, driving up a steep hill in Caerphilly, with a loudspeaker bellowing Phil Williams' name. But the by-election was in 1968 and I would have been 3, so I think we can discount that one.

I suppose the first time I remember asking questions was when the miners' strike in 1972 kept me and my best mate Mari home from Ysgol Bryntaf for a few weeks. I would have been 6 and wanting to play out in the snow. But my mother was a schoolteacher so the deal was that I kept up with schoolwork in the morning before being allowed out to play with Mari in the afternoons.

I remember writing something about why we were home, why the miners were on strike and was a 100% on their side, especially if that meant we could stay home another week.

Dad came from Llanbrynmair, hence that 'Powys' surname. His father, Robert Evans - the only grandparent I never got to know unfortunately - was a Minister in the village chapel, Yr Hen Gapel. My uncle carried on that family tradition many years later. Taid was a pacifist, a conscientious objector and was proud to follow in the footsteps of Llanbrynmair radicals like S.R, Samuel Roberts.

My big brother Rhys and I would certainly have been aware from an early age that Dad felt the same pride, though (and I hope he doesn't mind my mentioning this) I remember noticing that he'd scrawled the word 'Twp' - 'Daft' - on the spine of Iorwerth Peate's book, 'Syniadau' - 'Ideas'. Rhys and I thought that was pretty radical ... Years later I asked him why and he said he'd been a cocky young student, trying to develop his own ideas and seemed mortified we'd noticed.

My other grandfather was a Ceredigion farmer and a Liberal through and through. He'd shout 'hang 'em all' if he ever came across a Nationalist and was only kind of joking. I don't remember talking politics with either Nain or Mamgu by the way, before you ask.

I googled Taid, Robert Evans, before writing this and found this photo by Geoff Charles of him. He's on the extreme left, though he doesn't look very much like himself somehow.

From Bournemouth over to Ross at Red Anorak - and Normal Mouth - seem like appropriate choices from where I'm sitting this week.

Update: I see Normal Mouth has been there, done that ...

From the fringe

Betsan Powys | 19:10 UK time, Monday, 24 September 2007


Whispered messages from the fringe meeting to discuss the way forward in Wales ...

Labour's performance in the Assembly Election was nothing short of disastrous.

It's time for a new Welsh Labour.

It's time for a more centrist approach.

I'ts time to say bye-bye to 'clear red water'.

Do you sense they're already thinking, if not saying, bye bye to the man who coined the phrase?

Lord Kinnock's contribution at another fringe meeting is even blunter. Unlike Gordon Brown he's referred to the Conservatives ... unfortunately, as 'bastards'. He was seen earlier wiping a tear from his eye after the PM's speech. Can he argue he's tired and emotional?

Shout it from the rooftops

Betsan Powys | 15:40 UK time, Monday, 24 September 2007


Bournemouth 2006 and the Tories were in town. I was in a very long queue full of people with very short tempers. There was a problem with handing out conference passes, a fiasco that was making headlines. In walks a very, very, very angry Quentin Davies MP. He strode straight to the front of queue, thumped his fist on the counter and demanded in a very, very loud (and posh) voice: 'Who's in charge here?'

Bournemouth 2007, Labour are in town and one of the first people I see? Quentin Davies MP, in fine form. He's made it in without queuing and having jumped ship to Labour back in June is looking very much at home. 'You have made your choice and the British people will make theirs' wrote David Cameron at the time. The question Quentin Davies, the people of Grantham and Stamford and most of us who've come to Bournemouth want to know is: when will they get that chance? And will the Prime Minister drop a hint in his speech?

Gordon Brown walks in to the strains of Republica's 'Baby I'm ready to go (shout it from the rooftops)'. Hacks start making furious notes - is he trying to tell us something? We'd already had 'Soul man' and 'Move on up (to your destination)'. The Welsh contingency sit in a neat girl boy, girl boy row near the front: Joyce Watson, Leighton Andrews (beard, sadly, gone - in time for conference?), Luned Morgan, Huw Irranca Davies, Nia Griffith ...

'Baby I'm ready to go' fades out, 'Put your hands up' fades in and suddenly the man appears on screen: meeting small people, ill people, heroic people, Labour people up and down the country. Then in walks Gordon Brown 'honoured, humbled, privileged' to be speaking to conference for the first time as Prime Minister.

The message? He's proud to be British and believes in British values. 'There is no Scotland-only, no Wales-only, no England-only answer to the spread of disease or to terrorist attacks than can strike at any time, anywhere in any part of our country. And sharing this same small island, we will meet our environmental, economic and security challenges not by splitting apart but when we as Great Britain stand united together'.

Someone more conscientious than I am says the words British and Britain were mentioned 71 times. Get used to it. Rhodri Morgan made clear yesterday that devolution is about letting Wales deal with domestic affairs "while retaining all our shared British values". At least he did it succinctly. Gordon Brown took nearly an hour to hammer home the same message to Bournemouth and beyond: Britain is at its best when it's united.

His moral compass is still there and still intact. There were clunking fist moments and policy announcements that we will spend the rest of the day reminding everybody are relevant to England only. British values, English policy annoucements. There were more 'real man', personal moments than ever before, the usual references to 'encouraging all to aim high' as his Dad had done and so many Biblical references that I found myself scribbling old Sunday school mottos in the margin. A: aim high, B: begin low, C: carry on, D: don't give up. I bet the PM heard the same thing up in the vestry in Kircaldy.

I'm sure Quentin Davies spotted the hand reached out to 'those ... who may have supported other parties' in the past; though he may also have noted that there was no overt reference to the Tories or to the Lib Dems for that matter. Labour delegates loved it, they loved his sincerity, they loved the classic themes ... there was even one fleeting shot on screen of a woman wiping a tear from her eye as Gordon and Sarah Brown left the stage: pay the eagle-eyed, on-message cameraman a bonus.

Tonight it's off to the fringe where the One Wales Agreement will be discussed/torn apart ... I'll let you know which.

Sending messages

Betsan Powys | 06:00 UK time, Saturday, 22 September 2007


Labour pamphlet: Plaid's role in the Assembly government 'has not at all dented their separatist aspirations'.

Plaid press release: 'Plaid's new role in the One Wales Government will certainly not dent its aspiration to secure full national status in the European Union ...'

Plaid call: 'on Rhodri Morgan and his Assembly cabinet to distance themselves from regressive voices within its own ranks in Wales'.

Who, along with Peter Hain, has put his name to Labour' s pamphlet?

Rhodri Morgan.

The Codfather

Betsan Powys | 16:22 UK time, Friday, 21 September 2007


Ah you thought you'd got me but no, the Codfather is yet another Canton chippie - a rather good one apparently so next time I'm home too late to cook, you know where I'll be heading.

But talking about the Codfather ... the Chief Whip, Carl Sargeant, is a big bloke. The AM for Alyn and Deeside may not be a member of the Cabinet in this brave new coalition world but he still attends Cabinet meetings and like all whips, it's his job to enforce party discipline. He actually seems like rather a nice bloke but put it like this, if I was a Labour AM who'd upset 'the family', I'm not sure I'd want to bump into him in a dark Senedd corridor.

But at the reception to mark a decade since the referendum on devolution, I started to think I should get to know him a lot better. A story was doing the rounds, that all the party whips were to paid a new allowance, based on the number of AMs in their group. A figure was mentioned of a £1000 per head. Wow. You work it out. Pretty good going if you're Labour's man, not bad at all if you're Plaid's Chris Franks either. William Graham would be ok for a couple of quid and though the Lib Dems don't have a whip, Kirsty Williams is their business manager so at a guess, she'd be the one smiling.

A quick call to my colleagues in Scotland and Ireland and I'm told that no, their whips get nothing. But then the phone rings again when a pair of sharp eyes in Belfast notices that on Monday, the Stormont Assembly will be discussing a proposal to pay an extra £160,000 a year to support the party whips. The money will be divided between the parties on the basis of their strength in the Assembly and will be used to pay for secretarial or administrative staff. Where will the money come from? From the Assembly Commission.

So is our Assembly Commission considering something similar? Sounds like it, as long as the parties can come to a political agreement first. So is the plan to pay the whips, or to ringfence the money for secretarial support? When they've worked it all out, I'll let you know.

What a party that would be ... four whips and a wad.

Cod Almighty

Betsan Powys | 15:08 UK time, Thursday, 20 September 2007


There's a fish and chip shop down the road called 'Cod Almighty'. That doesn't beat 'A Fish called Rhondda' but it's not bad and it claims to sell the best fish and chips in the valleys. It looks really impressive and every time I drive past it on the way home, I can't help but crane my head to see if it's open. Call it post-Newyddion munchies. But it never is open and as far as I know it never has been.

By now it's become a bit of a landmark. My colleague moved into a new flat a few weeks ago, 'opposite that chippie that's never open'. Now given we both live in Canton, it's probably part of a film set and will stay closed - open to offers from the next television company lucky enough to get a drama commission, never open for business.

Now you might argue the Assembly is well and truly back in business. The government's getting on with it, signing 'historic' agreements, listing priorities, forming commissions, learning to get on with each other, learning to get in there quickly to deny any allegations of a split when they've forgotten they're meant to be friends here, enemies elsewhere. Toothy smile for the cameras here, 'fight tooth and nail' everywhere else, as Peter Hain puts it It can get confusing I imagine.

The Tories have promised 'robust opposition', the Lib Dems are doing their best to move on from where they were before the Summer recess, tough as that'll be until the leader stays or goes.

But leaving the Senedd every day this week has still felt a bit like driving past 'Cod Almighty' - you know what it's meant to be like, you know what it could be like very soon, you can even smell it but somehow, it still feels like a bit unreal, like a film set. Everyone's talking about a honeymoon period, about having to get used to a government with such a hefty majority, about the calm before the storm. I'll stick with the film set analogy and hope it starts to feel more real once the conferences are over.

Mind you some AMs have settled into the brave new world with ease. Here are two. And another AM finds it such a doddle that messages scrawled on their Facebook wall during plenary get answered ... from the chamber. Talk about multi-tasking.

A decade on

Betsan Powys | 10:03 UK time, Tuesday, 18 September 2007


It's only half eleven and the One Wales document has been signed, Rhodri Morgan and Ieuan Wyn Jones have held their first joint briefing. There was lots about 'listening to the people' and about being a country that's matured enough to realise it must accept the responsiblity of doing things for itself, after years of having things done to it. Did the one talk rather more about the future and the other rather more about the past? But then maybe one was asked rather more about the past than the other, new Deputy FM on the block.

The Conservatives have had a go at the new 'soggy left-wing consensus' and Mike German has appeared long enough to tell us that he's in no rush to make up his mind about the leadership of the Lib Dems.

The Presiding Officer is planning to say something later too, something along these lines:

How can we expect the public to hold us to account and fully participate in Welsh democracy when there is so much confusion between the legislature, the Assembly, and the Executive, the Government. Is it not time that we now refer to ourselves and each other in clearer terms to enable us to move on and take Wales forward as the Assembly and the Welsh Government?

Nick Bourne is all for it, Rhodri Morgan wasn't having any of it and Ieuan Wyn Jones didn't get to answer that question. He can always pop in and use the Presiding Officer's new 'Video Booth' (more like a video shack) in the Senedd and let us know what he thinks.

Odds on?

Betsan Powys | 19:31 UK time, Monday, 17 September 2007


He's been quick off the mark. Just as I leave Brighton, Karl Williams, betting guru, sends through his odds on the Lib Dem leadership.

His verdict? No change at the top, unless Mike German chooses to go. If he does, then all bets are off. But assuming that all six AMs throw their hats into the ring he's come up with these odds:


Coming up trumps

Betsan Powys | 17:31 UK time, Monday, 17 September 2007


The Liberal Democrat Youth and Students group have just made £6.95 out of me. I'm now the proud owner of a set of Lib Dem MPs Top Trumps cards and all because the man behind the desk said he reads my blog. Sucker? Me? At the mention of Wales his colleague pricked up her ears. 'What's all this about the Welsh leader resigning?' she asked. What indeed? More probing only got me as far as 'the rumour mill' but be warned that it it's to be believed, those Mike German fridge magnets may be out of date sooner than you might have thought.

Why not have an AMs Top Trumps set I asked? 'Because six does not a set make' came the elegant response. Quite.

By the way a note of warning to all those 'blobbyists' and correspondents out there who live for the party conference season. The Welsh Conservatives' Spring conference takes place between Februrary 29th and March 2nd next year and has probably been in your diary since July. The bad news is that the Welsh Lib Dems are planning their Spring conference for ... February 29th to March 2nd. Watch this (double booked) space.

No Show

Betsan Powys | 13:34 UK time, Monday, 17 September 2007


A long journey down to Brighton to the Lib Dems Federal Conference and half way between Southampton and the conference centre I started to think Assembly group leader Mike German had a point. He's staying away 'to prepare for the new term'. I did see a sign as I crawled through Sompting: 'GERMAN here' and got my hopes up but that was a shop selling European car parts.

Not that inappropriate, given the Lib Dem Assembly group has started to sound a bit like Team McLaren these days. Not sure who's going to end up cutting up who or on which bend but a friendly, non-Assembly voice outside the conference centre this lunchtime suggested that the only way forward for the leader now is to engineer a 'controlled change' ... in other words, how does he make sure he gets to hand over to his pal, Jenny Randerson and have the last laugh?

She has said consistently and for a very long time that she'd never stand against Mike German. But if here were gone, of course, there'd be nothing to stop her. And would she get it? As caretaker leader for 4 years perhaps? She might well.

By the way you might not have spotted this story but I did. It's from the Wales on Sunday and is about Ieuan Wyn Jones arriving at the Venue in Llandudno and ...

'... being greeted by a slightly lukewarm round of applause from a small gaggle of party activists. This of course wouldn't have made particularly impressive viewing on the evening news. So the BBC kindly asked if the whole entrance could be redone again, this time with the delegates whooping and hollering at Mr Jones' arrival as if he was all four Beatles rolled into one ...'

It goes on: 'This looks bad in the current climate admitted one Beeb man'. Quite right. If it had happened. There is a story about a double entrance from Heritage Minister Rhodri Glyn Thomas on Helen Mary Jones' conference blog and here it is:

Oh, but before I forget, I had the chance to greet Rhodri Glyn Thomas, the new Minister for Heritage, as he arrived at conference. There was a crowd of us waiting outside. It was kind of spoilt by the TV cameras asking us to greet him not once, but twice. Apparently we weren’t whooping and clapping loudly enough, the first time - and Rhodri was a bit embarrassed and went past us all too fast! On the second attempt, some people behind me resorted to screaming. Sorry, back to the serious stuff.'

Make of that what you will. But 'in the current climate' inserting 'BBC' and upping the ante to the Deputy First Minister? Yes, it does look bad.

What's in a name?

Betsan Powys | 13:45 UK time, Friday, 14 September 2007


Funny business, this coalition government.

A copy has arrived of Ieuan Wyn Jones' speech. You'll get to hear all about it soon enough but one thing you may notice: not once does the Deputy First Minister mention the Welsh Assembly Government. You'lll probably hear 'coalition government' once but time and again he plans to refer to 'Llywodraeth Cymru'n Un' or the 'One Wales Government'. The same choice of words from the Heritage Minister, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, in his speech this morning.

A quick call to the Government press team to ask whether Ministers have been given any 'advice' on terminology? "It's the Welsh Assembly Government".

An even quicker word with the man himself. What's this all about then, a bit of gentle provocation? "You'll have to wait and see!" comes the beaming response. A topic for discussion at the first cabinet meeting next week? That's what one usually well-informed voice is suggesting.

By the way Labour get a couple of mentions: "those amongst Welsh Labour MPs who are regressive Unionists ...", "the minority Labour government introduced some of the policies we demanded". You get the idea.


Mr Wyn Jones' people obviously got a little unsettled by the interest sparked in his planned text. Someone took a red/green pen to the final script and the term "Welsh Assembly Government" did appear at least once but the phrase "One Wales Government" was most definitely there.

The Plaid leader should have an interesting time if the matter is raised at the first meeting of the new Welsh Cabinet next Monday.

As Labour and Plaid Ministers sit down at Rhodri Morgan's table for that historic meeting the linguistics of this coalition may indicate that even smallest of words could create the largest of differences.


Betsan Powys | 17:40 UK time, Thursday, 13 September 2007


Just dropped in on a fringe meeting organised by Jill Evans MEP : 'Coalition and its consequences'. As I walked through the door Marc Gafarot Monjo of Catalonia's Esquerra Republicana was delivering his verdict on the party's first attempt at coalition: pretty disastrous seemed to be the gist of it.

A nervous laugh all round with Adam Price piping up at the back: "Just what we wanted to hear!" The second attempt at coalition was much, much better mind so Plaid, if at first you don't succeed ...

By the way the last bottle of (Spanish) red (only available to those keen to learn about coalition and its consequences of course) was opened by Eirug Wyn. Celebrating victory over the women on top/regional lists? 'A step in the right direction' he says of the decision to allow the Executive to 'reconsider the policy'.

The Wigley Factor?

Betsan Powys | 14:00 UK time, Thursday, 13 September 2007


Which motion has been put forward by more branches than any other? The one calling on Plaid's National Executive to 'prepare new rules for the election of Regional List candidates ... which ensure that the person, regardless of gender, who secures the highest number of votes in each Region under the agreed voting procedure shall be placed on top of the Regional List candidates for that Region'.

Or put simply: change the bl**dy rule that kept Dafydd Wigley out of Cardiff Bay.

The party claims to be relaxed about the debate ahead. Party Chair John Dixon had already been asked to look at the selection rules once the election was over. But clearly that process isn't happening quickly enough for some - amongst them former MEP Eurig Wyn. 4 years of positive discrimination was enough he says. The Executive must take heed of the strength of feeling amongst ordinary party members that this policy has done its job and should be scrapped and quickly. "Otherwise we could be tying ourselves in to this policy for another 12, or 16 years" - not sure if that's a knowing look or a grimace that he gives me.

And what of the young, female AMs who have the policy to thank for their new jobs? "I'd say four years is long enough for them to make their mark wouldn't you?" says Mr Wyn. Or in other words, 'make the most of your four years girls ...'

A quick thought. I bet the young, female AMs might have a view on Plaid representation in the House of Lords. Then again if they weren't around ... what was that again Earl Grey?

The Lansdown'e' etc

Betsan Powys | 11:30 UK time, Thursday, 13 September 2007


She may be about to become Plaid's new Chief Executive but Gwellian Lansdown will be no stranger to multi-tasking. Asked to book in Leanne Wood and Chris Franks' office staff into a Llandudno Hotel this week, where did she choose?

The Lansdowne Hotel. Signs of megalomania? Certainly not she assures me. It's just that the list of Llandudno hotels was very, very long, time was very, very short and the name just kind of jumped out at her. And it does have an 'e' which hers doesn't.


Read the rest of this entry

Gloves on, gloves off

Betsan Powys | 10:53 UK time, Thursday, 13 September 2007


So it's back to Llandudno and to Venue Cymru. Last time it was Labour and their pre-election Spring conference. When I arrived this morning I'm sure the walls were still echoing with Peter Hain's rallying cry. "If you go to bed with Ieuan Wyn Jones or Mike German ..." (collective groan) "... you could wake up with .. .Nick Bourne". (Horrified grimaces.) And now every day Mr Hain wakes up to find he's sharing a duvet with Mr Jones. Doesn't February feel like a very, very long time ago?

Today it's Plaid, coming together as a party of government for the first time and boy are they keen to persuade us that they know what that means. Yes they will celebrate getting their hands on power but doing something respsonsible with it? Yes, they'll demonstrate they can do that too. The music blaring in the empty conference hall is Barry White's "My first, my last, my everything ..." - not a prediction faithful members will no doubt be hoping.

What will they hear today? No Elin Jones who is tied up with foot and mouth duties. Alun Ffred Jones steps into the wellies. "Here's one she prepared earlier?" Maybe not but someone must be found to meet the young farmers who turn up at 12.30. More later on who was persuaded to take up that particular photo opp.

They will hear too that having foregone the 'luxury of opposition' Plaid will now forge ahead with 'making a difference'. Wasn't their election campaign slogan 'make a difference' all about kicking Labour out of government, not propping them up? No, apparently not. It was about forming a new government and that is what we have. Let's see how that message goes down and how easily understood the other one is: that Plaid will work hard alongside Labour to deliver the One Wales Agreement but when it comes to every other layer of government, they will fiercely protect and promote their own distinct image.

Hand in glove in Cardiff Bay; gloves off elsewhere? I hope no-one's telling them it's going to be easy ...

Ears will be pressed against the closed doors of the internal party meeting later. If we listen closely enough we may hear the party taking its first steps towards getting rid of the women first on the regional lists rule ("one or two people want a change there" ... and one or two people will see it changed over their dead bodies so no wonder that one's behind closed doors) and some pretty big leaps towards sending representatives to the House of Lords again. Any advances on Lord Wigley anyone? Lord Eurfyl of Economic Plans for Wales?

It's kick off.

Dwyrain Hull Kingston

Betsan Powys | 16:29 UK time, Wednesday, 12 September 2007


As I attempt to leave for Llandudno an SOS call comes from the Mastermind Cymru production office. In a question about a member of Tony Blair's cabinet, asked during the first round recordings some months ago, I referred to 'Dwyrain Hull Kingston' or 'Hull Kingston East'. Had I got the Welsh the wrong way round? I didn't think so. The question had been answered correctly but now there was some concern that the name of the constituency varied from source to source. What should it be?

In true Mastermind tradition the verifier - aka the harried producer - makes a call to the constituency office and finds a helpful voice at the end of the line. The constituency in the 70s was East Kingston upon Hull. Sure? Yes. Quite sure. Yes. And again, in true Mastermind tradition, one more check.

"Can I make a note of your name?"
"John Prescott"
"Oh my God!"
"Not quite but you're close".

Off to Llandudno now.

Happy Snaps

Betsan Powys | 15:56 UK time, Tuesday, 11 September 2007


Conferences kick off this week and the only pass to arrive so far is from the Lib Dems. Labour sent back my pass photograph because I was smiling and that, apparently, is not on. A second, stern lot were sent off last week. It's on a knife-edge with the Tories. Will the original half-smile sneak through or not? Plaid Cymru don't seem to bother with passes so as long as I have a stern look on my face when I arrive in Llandudno - and having driven up the A470 that shouldn't be too hard - I'm hoping all will be well.

But the party that lambasted 'Happy Meal politics' will at least allow happy reporters through their doors. Not sure how happy the contingency of Lib Dem AMs will be though as they make their way to Brighton. Three of the six - Peter Black, Eleanor Burnham and Mick Bates - think the leader should at the very least be put to the test. Given Jenny Randerson isn't likely to follow suit then the big question must be whether the fifth, Kirsty Williams, steps up to the plate and takes him on. She has until October the 14th at least to make up her mind - and thanks Peter for your comment pointing out that there was no 'misreading' there on my part after all - because that is when nominations open.

Will she go for it? Why wouldn't she? Well come on, would you want to try and lead a group of six colleagues who may fit into a lift but who haven't appeared to travel in the same direction for quite some time? Would you trust them to unite behind you, given that the 'them' we're talking about here would include the former leader? Would you want to do it if you were still young enough to bide your time, wait for your children to reach school-age before giving it a go? Wouldn't you be tempted to sit tight until after next year's local elections and let Mike German take the hit if things go badly? If they go well, it's hard to imagine the Assembly leader would be that much more secure.

Wouldn't there be a niggling doubt in Kirsty Williams' mind that she might go for it but not get it? That being seen as the woman who scuppered the rainbow, now trying to depose the leader who fought to deliver it, would go down badly in swathes of Lib-Dem-land? Wouldn't it be easier to nominate one your colleagues who would be up for it? The man who's been doing the running and the writing, Peter Black perhaps?

So why would she go for it? Because if she doesn't, when will she get her chance? Can she really look on and watch Mike German go unchallenged, or stand on the sidelines as someone else tackles him? He may go sooner rather than later, then again he might not. What if she goes for it and is swiftly supported by Peter Black, Mick Bates and - despite their differences and her own ambitions - Eleanor Burnham? Would Mike German's position not be untenable? Wouldn't he have to step aside? And after all, being seen as one of a group who, with regret, felt Mike's time was up puts you in a rather more comfortable position the next time you're in that lift.

Would Eleanor Burnham nominate Peter Black? Would Peter Black nominate Eleanor Burnham? Mick Bates has argued for a new direction and seems clear in his own mind that something has got to happen. That sounds like a nomination for someone. Would Jenny Randerson feel differently if Mike German were forced to step aside? She'd never take him on but what if he were gone?

One lift, six AMs and a lot of questions.

Blue, Orange, Green and Yellow

Betsan Powys | 20:08 UK time, Sunday, 9 September 2007


I spent some time last week putting together a short film for my colleagues outside Wales, attempting go fill them in on just what happened here after the May election. Why am I having to tell them at all? Because I think it's fair to say you'd be hard pressed to find more than one man on the Clapham Omnibus who had much of a clue as to what went on here between May 3rd and July 7th and you'd not find that many on the Central Line to White City either who'd be up for one of Vaughan's quizzes on Welsh Politics. There are notable exceptions but you get my drift.

If you weren't in Wales, if you weren't listening to, watching or logging on to BBC and ITV Wales coverage, reading the Western Mail or glued to the blogs, then would you have felt the earth move? No, I don't think so. Yes it dragged on. Yes, it must have seemed pretty impenetrable at times but it caused big changes - the kind people need to know about.

Mind you when I read the latest from Belgium, I feel a glow of satisfaction that we actually have a government at all.
Spare a thought for the Belgians. They voted on June 10th and are still listening to political correspondents talking about 'the crucial 48 hours ahead'. Yves Leterme must have thought he had it in the bag when his Flemish Christian Democrats won most seats but the so-called blue orange coalition with the the Francophone Christian Democrats, the Flemish Liberals and the Francophone Liberals has faltered time and again. Deals have been struck on the future of big issues like nuclear power and privatisation plans. Politicans who never thought they could pull in the same direction are realising they must find common ground. Sound familiar?

And where does it all keep going wrong? Constitutional reform. Ah yes. The Flemings accuse the Francophones of blocking their reform agenda. The Francophones are seeing plots here, there and everywhere. I wonder how familiar that may get to sound in a few months' time? More clues there after the First Minister's first briefing of this Assembly term and the first suggested timetable for a referendum.

And as for Green/Yellow? Plaid Cymru reveal their new Chief Executive tomorrow. The smart money is on Gwenllian Lansdowne - the two-brains, multilingual Cardiff councillor - to succeed Dafydd Trystan.


Betsan Powys | 12:55 UK time, Saturday, 8 September 2007


A quick bit of news from the Lib Dems in Llandrindod. Yes, I know I'm truly back in work when I write sentences like that on a quiet Saturday.

Nominations for the leadership of the Assembly group will open on October 14th with MIke German reinstated or ousted by the end of November. If there's an Autumn General Election you'll have to bite your nails and wait for those pamphlets and bar charts for just a bit longer. The whole process will be put back until December.

So Peter Black had better get back from holiday or at least get on the phone to Kirsty Williams and persuade her to go for it. Mike German might fancy staying in Italy for a few weeks longer.

Full of beans

Betsan Powys | 23:38 UK time, Thursday, 6 September 2007


So how IS the First MInister? It sounds like a loaded question but sitting in his garden - and more about that later - he insists he's not only well but fitter than he's been in a long time. The tiredness, the lack of energy of the past few years that he put down to his age he says, have gone. Instead he's full of beans and you suspect, having spent half an hour with him talking about his diet, that he means it literally.

That's why I'm here, to hear him explain how well he is, how aware he is he's been given a chance to improve his diet and lifestyle and how he's embraced the good life of corn on the cob, picking superfoods like elderberries from the hedgerows and walking every day.

Last year he went swimming in the sea while staying in the caravan down in Mwnt. His wife Julie could swim further and faster than he could. Not this year. The two stents that make sure his heart is pumping healthily are doing their job and the First Minister has no intention of standing down before 2009. In fact he says with no trace of irony that he did consider going on longer, "perhaps another four or six years". But 2009 it will be, as long as he can keep healthy when the going gets tough. That, he admits, has not yet been put to the test.

Tony Blair got it wrong. That's what the First Minister thinks. Rhodri Morgan wants to leave mid-term, on his own terms, leaving his party and the coalition government in the kind of rude health he feels he's in ... but then who wouldn't? And who wouldn't want to give potential successors a chance to shine over the next few months? There's no guarantee it'll happen that way but that's the blueprint.

He shows me another blueprint, the new First Ministerial 'allotment'. It's a work in progress and a polite voice asks why he doesn't just call it a vegetable patch? But this is a man on a mission and the patch of land that brings the term 'scorched earth policy' to mind will, he assures me, be producing root vegetables this winter. He means it. In fact you sense he really means to make this whole plan work. He's almost becalmed, even talking in clear soundbites. Those stents must be wonderful things.

Tomorrow Julie Morgan returns from Gaza. She'll come home to find she has her own battles to fight. Tonight the Conservatives of Cardiff North have picked Jonathan Evans MEP to take her on at the election. A senior figure, a moderate, a shoo-in to fight a seat the Tories must fancy - and a bit of good news for David Cameron. Jonathan Evans will be standing down as an MEP and turning his fire on Julie Morgan's 1100 majority. Perhaps a bit of Rhodri's superfood sundae might not go amiss?

The sounds of Summer

Betsan Powys | 12:44 UK time, Wednesday, 5 September 2007


"We know you're not on holiday anymore. We saw you in Tescos at the weekend!"

Caught Anon.

Tenby rocked, Ffynnon Gwenffrewi/St Winifred's Well is a must, Criccieth sizzled ... and that was the Summer. It's back to the Senedd where the corridors may be dead quiet but don't be fooled. If you listen carefully you'll still hear the sounds of Summer ... of pamphlets hitting desks and brand new columns making their mark, the signalling of what Wales ought to look like by 2020 and the spelling out of how we get there, of discontent, doors opening and of defections, of a coalition government that's 'Labour-led' or 'One Wales' depending on whose press release you're reading - and of backbench noises-off that seem unlikely to abate.

From the Wales Office comes the sound of engagement. Peter Hain is inviting us all to tell him what we think of the Westminster government's draft legislative programme. Emails in to the Wales Office by September 30th please. After all we've got a fair idea what he thinks of the One Wales programme ... And granted the Brown Bounce may barely be audible by now but could we still hear the snap of a quick election? The 'what if' meetings in my diary shoved in before the conference season kicks off in Llandudno next week still assume so. How does a future of rather more regular double-whammy election years grab you?

I don't know about the Wales Office inbox but mine was full to bursting. Emails on the Barnett funding Formula and the 'Goschen proportion' taking slightly more time to digest than the emails asking whether I want to buy baby clothes/fitness equipment? No. Were there any members of staff who wanted to take up a place on the "Journalist Nose Course?" Yes, really. Which AM or Welsh MP did I think should be invited to speak about politicians and spin/their relationship with the media? Any suggestions? Had I done the course about how to report the nations and regions properly? I have now. Thankfully I got the question about the pronounciation of Pwllheli and Machynlleth right.

Wales 2020? Roll on September 17th I say and its promise of a rollercoaster session ahead.

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