I'm the Hen Ferchetan. This is my take on the world through the eyes of Wales. While mostly about Welsh politics (that most famous of dour topics!) I try to scatter some humour around, but I doubt anyone but me will find it funny! Have a read, and if it bores you then feel free to never come back!

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Choir Charisma

Oh and good luck to both Ysgol Glanaethwy and Only Men Aloud! in the Last Choir Standing final tonight. They are competing against London based Revelations. It starts at 6pm and one choir will be voted off at the end of that programme with the winner chosen in a later programme tonight. Hopefully both Welsh choirs will survive to be the final two (with Glanaethwy pipping the boys to the title!).

Let Others Speak

The Hen Ferchetan is being lazy today and instead of finding my own news I'll steal from others...

Ordovicius seems to have gone American on us with a series of posts on Obama and McCain so I'll skip on to someone else. Numerous blogs have commented on the end of Tory Dylan Jones-Evans' blog. Valleys Mam and The Cynical Dragon have gone all teary eyed while Welsh Ramblings is a little less kind in his goodbye. Personally I guess I fall a little closer to the Rambler in that I've never taken to Dylan's blog and, although based on hearsay and people moaning and no personal experience, to Dylan himself. Having said that it was an intelligent blog and losing any regular blog from the small world of Welsh politics is sad news so I'll join Valleys Mam in hoping he returns one day.

Brother Tecwyn directed me to this post on the Cambria Politico blog. Apparently a source has told the writer that Brown has a secret plan to kill off the FAW and WRU to promote a sense of Britishness. While Gordie's "Soccer Team GB" crap is annoying most of us, I can't quite see him getting rid of the FAW and the WRU and I certainly can't see how anyone would believe that closing down the WRU would make us more British, drunk Welsh fans would riot on the streets! A bizarre post to say the least, and I love the qualification of "believed to be a member of Gordon Brown’s Downing Street staff" - so in other words the source could be a crazy nut sleeping rough in Cathays?

Welsh Ramblings has also made a lot recently about Huw Lewis for First Minister. He believes that since Lewis topped his poll of possible First Ministers that means he's popular with Labour members because he's the man Plaid most fear. Since Welsh Ramblings is a Plaid supporting blog, and therefore a large proportion of it's readers will be Plaid supporters, doesn't the fact that Huw won the poll mean that he's the one Plaid wants most?

Talking of polls Cambria Politico's poll of best Welsh blog has, surprise surprise, Cambria Politico leading the way! Joint first is a "Miss Wagstaffe" - I'm guessing they mean Pippa!

Over at Miss Wagstaff Presents is this wonderful joke from the Western Mail:
There were two goldfish in a bowl. One said to the other: “How do you drive this thing then?”
So it's official, the Mule can't even copy and paste jokes from the internet without messing it up! (As Pippa notes, it's a bloody tank dumbasses!)

Miss Wagstaff also directs me to the comments on Iain Dale's Top 40 Welsh Blogs list where you'll find this wonderful exchange by someone called "londoner" and an anon
Being no 40 on a list of Welsh bloggers is quite a thing. To receive such an accolade is a bit like being singled out as the 40th most pro-democracy member of the Chinese politburo or the 40th most attractive check-out girl in the Croydon branch of Tesco! Respect.

Haha consider who is number 40 that's probably the most accurate thing ever written
The Cwrt seems to have died out before he even began - from the tone of his first few comments I can't really say that it's a huge loss to the blogosphere.

Oh and pretty much everyone have pissed themselves laughing at the story on Peter Hain being parachuted into the Assembly to take the top job!

And that's it. Next time I promise I'll stop being lazy and find a topic of my own to post about!

Thursday, 28 August 2008

The State of Wales

A number of different stories in different papers today try and paint a picture of Wales.

Firs up is the revelation that Powys is the happiest district in the UK, beating Manchester and West Lothian to the top spot. Down the other end of the scale Cynon Valley & Rhondda takes the second least cheerful spot, with Swansea down in 5th. Apparently the only place less happy than Ann Clwyd and Leighton Andrews' stomping ground is Edinburgh. A load of codswallop of course. Who pays for this kind of research? How do they decide how happy I am? I'm great today but was a bit miffed yesterday, should they change the result?

Next in line is the revelation that we Welsh are the fattest around, yes even more so than the battered mars bar munching Scots. Only two areas in Wales are outside the High and Highest fatty range, and we've got none in the Low or Lowest range. The fattest in Wales, that would be the citizens of Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy's Torfaen where 13.9% are obese. Cardiff pips Swansea to the title of healthiest county with "just" 7.4% obese.

Finally the listeners of Classic FM have voted Katherine Jenkins the best classical female singer and Bryn Terfel the second best male classical singer behind Last Choir Standing judge Russel Watson. (That's Peter Hain and Alun Ffred Jones to continue the meaningless politician link!).

So Wales is the happiest, most depressed, fattest, least confident, best singing country in the UK. Now that's quite a CV for a day's news!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Crackpot Coup

I guess there's no choice but to comment on this story today. According to the Mule senior Labour figures are getting very concerned about the lack of quality candidates for Rhodri's job once he retires. According to one such source:
They all have fundamental weaknesses and would probably not be considered for major promotion if they were members of the UK Parliament.
So what do these unnamed mystery but oh so important figure want to do about it. Apparently their plan is to either give Neath AM Gwenda Thomas a peerage to vacate her seat or convince ill Clwyd South AM Karen Sinclair to retire. They would then parachute in disgraced ex-Secretary of State Peter Hain or MEP Eluned Morgan to those seats so that they can take control of the party.

Hmm...Hands up who thinks this is a cunning plan of Baldrick proportions?

Firstly there's no guarantee that Neath nor Clwyd South would be retained in a by-election. In both seats Labour's majority is less than 2,000 with Plaid Cymru knocking on Neath's door and the Tories on Clwyd South's. While you could argue that having Peter Hain as a candidate would boost their majority (he has 12,000 majority for the parliamentary seat) he would struggle being in the limelight of a by-election so soon after his resignation from the Cabinet. As the Mule's source rightly points out:
In the case of Neath the national press and bloggers would have a field day with Peter Hain.
You bet we would!

Secondly it seems that these so -called "senior sources" assume that if Peter Hain or Eluned Morgan entered the Assembly Labour's AM's would warmly accept them as new leaders. How naive an assumption is that? Do they not see that inserting a "London man/woman" because of an apparent "fundamental weakness" in the current AM's would piss off those AM's enough that they chose their own leader anyway? Do these people not remember Alun Michael's fate? (I'm sure they do, wouldn't be surprised if the ex-First Minister himself was one of the people thinking these thoughts)

Let's be honest though, this is a far-fetched plan probably thought up by one or two deluded fools over in London. It will never happen and the Mule knows that. Why do they even bother printing this stuff?

Tuesday, 26 August 2008


Thanks to whoever of you voted Amlwch to Magor into the Top 20 (just!) of Ian Dale's Top Welsh Blog list. While I'm not a big fan of such awards (which is why I only bothered to draw attention to 1 this year, the Welsh Blog Index's) only a liar would tell you that they don't really appreciate the recognition and gave a big smile at the thought that people they don't know bothered to vote for them.

Congratulations to Peter Black and Glyn Davies who topped the poll and to Ordovicius who was the top non-politician.

Do Not Pass Go

So Wales is going to get a new prison. The Ministry of Justice have shortlisted four sites, two up north and two in the south. The original plan was for two new jails, one for the Hwntws and one for the Gogs but it seems that we are now down to one.

There's an estimated 1300 shortfall in Welsh jail spaces and we do not have any jails which hold women, young offenders or Category A prisoners. There is currently 5 prisons in South Wales and none up north. All women, youths, Category A and North Walian prisoners are shipped to over 25 different jails in England.

When you consider those facts it's understandable why the Ministry is considering a new jail here. The question now of course is where.

The four contenders are Merthyr and Cwmbran in the South and Caernarfon and Wrexham up North. It's very interesting to see the different reactions such a proposal gets. While some desperately want the 1000 jobs and annual £17m boost to the economy others are scared that a jail will drive down house prices and deter other investments while pushing up crime.

Cwmbran residents have set up the Oppose the Prison Action Group and protests have been held at the site. In Wrexham the local MP and AM are opposing the plan while the Community Council of the area which includes the jail site says that local residents are "100% opposed to it".

There's been no visible uproar in Caernarfon and Merthyr (although Valleys Mam has posted against it) which may well make them more attractive to the Ministry of Justice, who are accepting opinions until October 31st. Personally however I don't think Valleys Mam needs to worry too much, I can't see this jail going anywhere but Caernarfon. Both their Plaid Cymru MP and Council have not only declared themselves as supporting the plan but revealed that they pressed hard for Caernarfon to be included in the short list. Unlike Cwmbran there's been no organised resistance there yet and with the MP's opponent also supporting the plan there's unlikely to be a big political fight over the issue.

But it's not just the support/lack of opposition in Caernarfon that makes me feel the prison will go there, it also makes sense. North Wales clearly need a jail more than the South does and Caernarfon makes much more sense than Wrexham for a few reasons. Firstly Wrexham is that step closer to the English border and Altcourse prison (the current location for Gog troublemakers). Since one of the reasons for building a jail in North Wales is to house criminals closer to their homes then a Western site would do the job better. Secondly Caernarfon seems to be the "legal centre" of North Wales, or at least it will be. At the moment there are two Crown Courts in North Wales - Caernarfon and Mold. With Caernarfon already building a brand new "Criminal Justice Centre" which includes a Crown Court it will cut transport costs considerably to have a jail nearby.

Finally there's the Welsh language issue. There's always been complaints (usually by Plaid Cymru politicians) that Gog prisoners are being disadvantaged by being placed in an English jail where they can't get education in Welsh. Apparently being physically and emotionally close to your community reduces re-offending - maintaining such closeness is hard when you're a 100 miles away where no-one speaks your language and your family can;t make regular visits.

The new prison is not due to be up and running until 2012 but I'd put good money on it ending up on the banks of the Menai Straight. Anyone living in one of the 4 areas care to put me right?

Friday, 22 August 2008

Alex and Maggie Sitting In a Tree

Scottish Labour is in uproar as Alex Salmond apparently praises Lady Thatcher in Total Politics magazine. With the Scottish First Minister going on radio to insist that he never did such a thing the Labour politicians are crowing:
Labour MSP John Park: The screech of the first minister going into reverse gear can't disguise the own goal he's scored with his praise of Thatcherism. He clearly realised that his off-the-cuff remarks have backfired.
Fellow Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm said: Alex Salmond should hang his head in shame.
So what did Alex Salmond say to put Thatcher on such a pedestal and turn his back on Scottish voters who were hurt by Thatcher?
One of the reasons Scotland didn't take to Lady Thatcher was because of that. We didn't mind the economic side so much. But we didn't like the social side at all.
Yes, massive praise that.

Live Choirs

A quick note following on from my post about Last Choir Standing it seems that there will be a chance to see both Welsh Choirs singing live next week.

If either or both choirs survive Saturday's vote (It would help if you voted!) I understand that they will sing at the London welcome home party for the Olympic Team. Whatever happens on Saturday Only Men Aloud! have been invited by the Assembly to sing at the Welsh reception to the Welsh athletes down the Bay while there's talk of Ysgol Glanaethwy being invited to sing on the Monday night of Bryn Terfel's festival at the Faenol in Bangor.

If you get the chance to go to any of those events, go for it. If you can't make it then make sure you watch Last Choir Standing on Saturday (and VOTE - preferably for the kids of Ysgol Glanaethwy!)

Thursday, 21 August 2008

A - neigh - bolic Steroids

Apparently four competitors in the equestrian events in the Olympics, including a bronze medal winner, have been suspended after their horses tested positive for banned drugs.

You really couldn't make this stuff up could you!

The Lord Does Cometh

I haven't blogged yet about the row between Alun Michael's merry men and the Lord of the Assembly. Having read Peter Black's take on the matter here I don't feel there's any purpose in me saying anything - just read what he says!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

Pippa posts over at Miss Wagstaff Presents about the story on the BBC and the Mule about the 5% rise in the number of prescriptions dispensed in Wales in the first year since Labour's free prescriptions policy. It seems that Pippa, along with opposition politicians, sees this as an indictment of the policy:
Miss Wagstaff: the Welsh Assembly Gimmick Government's main gimmick - in order to make it stand out from Westminster - isn't quite going to plan.
Lib Dem Jenny Randerson: The cost of this gimmick will be with Welsh patients for generations. While millionaires claim their free paracetamol, the health service will continue to be to stretched to provide life saving services.
Yes yes, good story, at least it is if you ignore the facts. This is the fifth year on the trot that the number of prescriptions rose. In the year before charges were abolished there was a 4% increase (see here). So how on earth is this increase an indictment of the Labour free prescriptions policy when similar increases occurred the previous four years?

Oh and Jenny, "welsh millionaires claim their free paracetamol"? Yeah, right, THAT'S what's eating up the budget!

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Letter Writing Bigots

Western Mail letters page, my additions in italics:

Forcing Welsh
SIR – It is not enough to provide Welsh Nationalists with Welsh-medium schools; they also insist that all state school children should be compulsorily indoctrinated in the Welsh language, even though timetable space is paramount.

If we want to attract investment into Wales to create more jobs, we need to give curricular priority to science, technology, basic English literacy and numeracy, not Welsh. (Don't kids still learn Science, Maths, Technology and English?)

Authorised bilingual graffiti disfigures public walls, train windows, street signs and motorway gantries, confusing visitors and annoying most residents. Our ears are abused by Welsh rasped at us over electronic amplifiers in post offices, railway stations and even in supermarkets. (Our ears are ABUSED? Bloody hell!)

The objection is not that Welsh is spoken by Welsh speakers (good luck to them) but that we non-Welsh speakers are forced to hear it, to read it and, more significantly, to pay for it. (Forced to hear and read Welsh. Breach of human rights surely? Call the police!)

Welsh Labour Party complacency and apathy among the Anglo-Welsh population has allowed Plaid Cymru, a minority party in South Wales, championed by voters from outside the area, a disproportionate amount of power as reward for coalition in the Assembly. (outsiders moving in? Sounds like Seimon Glyn doesn't she! Someone tell Glennys Kinock so she can reach for her high horse again!)

Language Acts have been rushed through and fluency in Welsh has become the pre-requisite for employment and promotion in top jobs in areas of Wales which had formerly felt enlightened to be exempt from its parochial constraints. (acts? More than one like? rushed?)

Scottish Nationalists are realistic about their ancient language and look forward and outward, not backward and inward to their place in the real world.

There are indeed some useful tips to be learned.
Beryl Roberts
Waun Erw, Caerphilly

What century do these people live in? Seeing as how, in a recent letter to the Telegraph, she claims to live in "Mid-Glamorgan" which hasn't existed since 1992 then I'm guessing it's not the 21st Century!

Bye Bob

Former BBC Wales's sport maestro Bob Humphries has died of cancer aged 56. The Hen Ferchetan met him once and he was a genuinely nice man as well as being a great correspondent. He's been missed since he retired earlier this year and he'll be missed even more now.

If You Say So David

Clwyd West's Tory MP David Jones notes Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones' congratulations of Geraint Thomas and Team GB's men pursuit team (Olympic Champions and world record holders). He comments:
Nice to see a Plaid Cymru politician acknowledge that we Brits can be world-beaters when we stick together
Isn't it great how politicians will even try to turn messages of congratulations into political point scoring! Following this line of thinking I assume that when David Jones MP celebrated Wales' Grand Slam here he was acknowledging that Wales is better off alone? I doubt it.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Living up to the Stereotype

Two Welsh choirs have made it to the last 4 of BBC1's Saturday night programme Last Choir Standing.

Ysgol Glanaethwy from Bangor in North Wales and Only Men Aloud! (their ! not mine!) from all over South Wales but based in Cardiff have both won the right to compete in the series' semi-final next Saturday thanks to winning the public vote on two consecutive weeks.

I watched the programme for the first time last Saturday and my God are they good. I found the programme's website which has a video of every song sung by each choir and I'll say again, my God are they good.

Head over to the Last Choir Standing website or just use You Tube. I'd recommend Ysgol Glanaethwy's O Fortuna and Adiemus and Only Men Aloud!'s Goldfinger.

For the first time ever I actually telephoned a vote in such a programme on Saturday. My vote went to Ysgol Glanaethwy, the fact that high school kids can produce such sound is insane, and if you have the time to look at some of their other songs you can see that they have versatility too. It's only 15p a vote, go on, you know you want to!

Loony Leanne

We all know Little Miss Protester Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru's eternal student AM. Miserable Old Fart notes this paragraph in a column of the "Weekly Worker"
Our fighting fund received help from an unexpected source this week - Plaid Cymru Welsh assembly member Leanne Wood donated a handy £25, which shows the breadth of the Weekly Worker’s appeal.
So Leanne donated £25 to a Communist paper - so what? We all know Leanne Wood is a bit nutty when it comes to that side of things, who cares right?

Well, Ieuan Wyn Jones for one should certainly care. The Weekly Worker is more than just a Communist paper, it's the paper of the Communist Party of Great Britain - an official political party.

What on earth is an elected member of one party doing giving money to the official mouthpiece of another party! Imagine the fuss if Peter Black or Huw Lewis was donating money to Y Ddraig Goch (Plaid's paper).

Will Leanne Wood explain herself to her party's members? Don't count on it.

Good Luck on the Jobsearch

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has resigned as impeachment proceedings against him continue.

Good riddance.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Sunday Stupids

Two weird stories spotted today. Firstly this one in a Labour party blog. I haven't seen the story anywhere else so all I can give is the Labour slant on it but it seems that a newly elected Plaid Cymru councillor has failed to return his acknowledgment of office back in time and that there will therefore be a second by-election in Pentyrch (a Tory councillor resigned and another one voted in to replace him). Anyone know more about this one? Is the Plaid councillor just plain stupid or is there another reason?

Secondly, after the Post Office agreed a review of the decision to close a Post Office in the Rhymney Valley, Plaid's Andrew Nutt has this wonderful quote from Caerphilly MP Wayne David trying to take the credit:

"This is the stark truth. I only wish the Nationalists would put in half as much effort into fighting for local services as they do in attacking Labour MPs"

Now, let's skip over the fact that Wayne David somehow manages to attack Plaid MP's and criticise them for attacking Labour MP's in the same sentence and remember one thing:

Wayne David voted for the closure of Post Offices, as government whip he actually pressurised others to vote to close Post Offices with him. The Plaid MP's voted against the closures.


Saturday, 16 August 2008

Tale of Two Cities

Birmingham City Council recently sent out a leaflet to 720,000 citizens thanking them for their good work in helping the Council reach their recycling targets.

Pity that the picture under the heading "THANK YOU BIRMINGHAM" is of the skyline of Birmingham, Alabama, USA!

No Ron Revolution

Caerphilly Council Leader Lindsay Whittle has been chosen to fight the Parliamentary seat for Plaid Cymru (for the seventh time!). That should put an end to the rumours of Ron Davies making a dramatic switch and winning the seat for the nationalists.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Home Sweet Home

A couple of posts ago I stepped in front of Huw Lewis and Lynne Neagle and suggested people back off them a bit about the expenses. Well, one AM seems to be getting no criticism at all for his expenses, even though his worries me more than most.

Step forward Mr Leighton Andrews, AM for Rhondda. Now a quick look at his expenses shows him to be very reasonable in his claims. There's no TV, no sofa, no curtains and certainly no Pyrex bowl. In fact all there is is mortgage payment on his second home along with Council tax and bills for the same. It comes to a total of something over £7k - well underneath the maximum allowances.

So what bugs me about Leighton's claims? Well, firstly think of why AM's get an allowance for a second home...

AM's are elected from constituencies all over Wales, many of which are too far from Cardiff for it to be reasonable for them to commute. They therefore get help in having a home in Cardiff for them to stay in when they're working in the Capital. For the other 3 or 4 days of the week they return home to their constituency, do the surgeries and live their family life.

Although the Rhondda is only 40 minutes from Cardiff there's plenty of AM's who live closer and still claim the allowance (that's you Mike German) so it wouldn't be fair to single Leighton out for that. The problem is, if he didn't have the second home allowance then I don't think Leighton would have to commute at all.

Leighton Andrews was born and raised in Cardiff (and Barry). Until 1997 he was head of public affairs at the BBC, in Cardiff. Between 1997 and his election in 2003 he was a Journalism Lecturer, in Cardiff. His wife is the director of BT Wales based, that's right, in Cardiff. Leighton Andrews doesn't seem to live in the Rhondda, before he was elected he lived in Cardiff and since election that doesn't seem to have changed. Of course he does have an address in the Rhondda, you don't get to be a candidate without such an address, but it's not his home, his home is the one we pay for in Cardiff.

So what you might ask? What's the difference between us paying for a flat in Cardiff when an AM lives at home and paying for a house in Cardiff where he lives full time? Well the difference is twofold. Firstly the point of expenses is to pay for somewhere to stay when an AM is away from home, not for their family home - the cost of which should come out of their wage like everyone else. Secondly, when Leighton visits the Rhondda to do his surgeries (according to his blog -twice in June and twice in July) the Hen Ferchetan hears that his usual preference is to commute from Cardiff and return to his family home that night. If anyone happens to see Mr Andrews soon, do ask him how many times has he slept in his Rhondda "home" since the last election? Could it really be less than 5?

So while most AM's seem to be spending our money on a place to live when in Cardiff, Leighton seems to be spending it on having an address in Rhondda to make him eligible for election there. Wouldn't it be cheaper for us to rent him a P.O. Box or something?!

Edit: An anon correctly notes that you do not have to have an address in a constituency to be eligible to stand - candidates usually make sure they have one to avoid damaging allegations of being parachuted in. An anon being helpful = now that's a first!

Lessons From 1997

I've just re-watched ITV's online highlights of the 1997 referendum result night and a few things struck me. (Warning: Very long and probably boring post. Maybe you should stop reading here!)

Firstly it is important to remember that before the ballot boxes were opened in 1997 everyone assumed that the Yes campaign had won easily. That's what the polls said, that's what the media said and that's what both the Yes and No campaign thought. You won't need my reminder that in truth the result was very close and that until the last two results came in (Gwynedd and Carmarthenshire) the Yes campaign had virtually conceded defeat. This is a lesson that a Yes campaign in a new referendum has to take heed of. While the few polls that we have show support for a Parliament, there is a hell of a lot of work to be done by supporters of devolution if Wales is to say Yes again. Even with every major political party on board the result is far from certain. Back in 1997 only the Tories and a few Labour members supported the No campaign, and this was at a time when the Tories were in tatters remember. One of the leaders of the campaign was a Labour Councillor (Carys something, my memory fails me), not in the least bit well known, not in the least bit charismatic and yet the No campaign came within less than 7,000 votes.

The second question that has to be asked is: Who on earth will run the No campaign this time round? The Electoral Commission gets to decide which No group is to be the "official" one they will be seriously hindered this time round by the fact that there will be no major party to start the campaign. Highlights of the 1997 count gave us Michael Ancram and Nick Bourne (how times have changed!) telling us how bad devolution would be - who will be the criticiser in chief this time round? It seems that the No campaign will have to be lead by Labour Welsh MP's who desperately tried to stop the One Wales Coalition and their Tory counterparts.

Surprisingly perhaps, such a situation may harm the No campaign more than in 1997, when the only MP I remember opposing the plans was Llew Smith (Yes, even Don Touhig was in favour). Back in 1997 there was no AM/MP divide because we didn't have any AM's. How will Welsh voters react to having their MP's on one side and AM's on the other? I can't answer that question but the only guide we currently have is the vote at Labour's Conference when the One Wales Coalition was supported by about 3.5/1 of Labour members, even though the majority of MP's opposed it. While there's no doubt that such a majority would not be repeated in the Tory voters it does show that, at least in Labour, people are more willing to listen to their AM's than MP's (obviously I am generalising here, there will be Labour MP's in support as well).

Another issue that the 1997 result highlighted was that Powys, where both Lib Dem seats were held at the time, voted heavily against the Assembly. While the Lib Dem party supported devolution in 1997 and will do so again in a future referendum, will they be able to carry their voters along this time? Honestly I'm not so sure. While Labour and Plaid have always had a "Welsh" wing in their parties, and the Tories have been working hard to develop one, I can't quite put my finger on the Lib Dems. I wouldn't be too surprised to see the Lib Dem areas, at least in Powys, rejecting further devolution against the wishes of their party.

Obviously, just as in 1997, Plaid would expect to have the unwavering support of their voters for devolution. One interesting sidenote from the 1997 campaign was that Plaid did not immediately voice their support when the referendum was announced. their spin at the time was that they didn't think it was enough and might campaign against it. From what people have said since it seems that this was a conscious ploy by Dafydd Wigley to distance Plaid from the proposals so that they wouldn't "taint" it in the eyes of Labour voters who, in 1979, had seen devolution as Plaid's desire not their own party's. The effect of this can be seen when you review the 1997 count night, there is a thousand and one references, by both sides, to "the government's proposals" and "Labour's plans".

Whatever the result across Wales in a new referendum one place where I would expect a big change is Cardiff. The capital voted overwhelmingly against devolution in 1997 but I cannot see the same happening again. In the last 12 years Cardiff has really grown into its role as the Capital of Wales and I'd be surprised if it voted against again.

One final note: When we talk of the Assembly these days, more specifically about the Labour group, we always plant Huw Lewis and Leighton Andrews together as the "anti-devolution" side who think more like Labour's MP's than AM's. When Huw lewis opposed the Labour-Plaid coalition and then lost his place in Government a lot of people commented on how Leighton had kept quiet even though he surely opposed the coalition. Back in 1997 Leighton Andrews was one of the main organisers of the Yes campaign and was interviewed fro the Yes HQ throughout the night. While his hatred of the Nationalists is well-known, have people been a bit hasty in placing him in the anti-devolution camp?

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Be Nice!

It seems that Huw Lewis and Lynne Neagle have taken a bit of a flack over the expenses list, both in blog posts here, here and here, and in comments all over the place. Most of the people who found Amlwch to Magor through Google yesterday had used the search terms "Huw Lewis" "Lynne Neagle" and "expenses" or "allowances".

It's a teeny bit harsh in my opinion, as there's a few other AM's who deserve more of a tongue lashing than them. They are a special case in that they have double everyone else's allowance and because they placed themselves right in the spotlight with their day before announcement of returning all profits from the sale of the house, but they are hardly the worst offenders of stretching their expenses.

Mike German has to be considered one of the worst - why on earth does he need a second home seeing as how he lives 17 miles away from Cardiff! Alun Cairns as well deserves criticism for continuing to claim the full amount through a loophole in the rules. Lesley Griffith's £2k sofa and Nick Ramsey's £1,000 TV also raise an eyebrow.

So, just this once, maybe we should leave Huw Lewis alone!

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Earthquake Mark 2?

With Labour MP John MacDougall dying after a long illness there will be another by-election in Scotland, this time in Glenrothes (Fife). Labour have a 10,664 majority over the SNP. While usually this would a huge insurmountable majority it is 3,000 less than the one Labour failed to defend in Glasgow East.

Here we go again...

Update: Ordo notes a new YouGov poll giving the SNP 19 points over Labour in Scotland as a whole (44-25). Just three months ago YouGov had the parties 1 point apart at 33-32 .

Adopting Bricks

An update on Plaid Cymru's Adopt a Brick campaign. With 50 bricks adopted and £2,500 raised it seems that some people actually took the offer seriously! One of the adoptees is a Mr Dafydd Iwan. I wonder if he'll get to sign his own certificate or if he'll have to accept it from Elfyn Llwyd!

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Most Anticipated Non-Story of the Summer?

I was going to do the obligatory post on the release of Assembly Member's allowances but to be honest with you, having given them a cursory glance, I can't see much worth talking about.

At first i was going to comment about the big gap between the Labour AM's average "additional" expense (£4,691) and the other parties (Tories: £7810, Plaid: £8.662, Libs: £9,220) but then I had a look at the individual figures for each AM and looked at the electoral map of Wales explained that one (additional expenses is for a second home, most Labour AM's live much closer to Cardiff than those of the other parties').

Then I thought about posting on Huw Lewis and Lynne Neagle's pre-emptive strike in the Western Mail this morning, when they promised to pay back the profits from their Cardiff home when they step down or are defeated. Yes the timing of it is the most see-through production since The Invisible Man, yes they haven't actually made the arrangements yet and it could be hot air, but it still is a good gesture that other AM's should take note of and Huw and Lynne should be applauded for.

So all that's left is to point out that Lesley Griffith AM (Lab) spent £2,000 on a sofa, Nick Ramsey AM (Con) £1,000 on a TV and Lynne Neagle AM (Lab) £400 on a pair of curtains. Have these people never heard of IKEA?

Edit: having looked at the examples in the Mule today it seems the Draig is right and Lynne and Huw's curtains actually costed £800, with Plaid Presiding Officer Lord Ellis-Thomas also spending £400 on curtains! As for sofas, while Lesley Griffith paid £2000, Angela Burns, Rhodri Glyn Thomas and Janet Ryder all found ones at less than half the price. Lib Dem Elanor Burnham gets the award for prudence however, she spent £44.79 in Argos and £4.08 in IKEA!

I Am Who I Am

In the Comments section to a recent blog post by Peter Black there was quite a debate on anonymous bloggers, with one writer calling them (and Miss Wagstaff in particular) the "scum of the earth". Now I'll reveal you a big secret, just don't tell anyone...Hen Ferchetan is not the name on the Hen Ferchetan's birth certificate (I know, what a shocker!) so as an anonymous blogger I thought I'd better stand up for my kind.

The main argument given against anonymous blogging was that they could "spread malicious garbage that cannot be challenged". It's an interesting argument and one that has some merits. Cast your mind back to the NatWatch debacle and you will remember the trouble that was caused when an anonymous blogger became vicious. What's to stop me spouting allegations here against every Tom Dick and Harry without fear of legal consequences?

The reason I chose a pen-name was not because I wanted to reveal scandals (true or false) without the world finding out who I was. I'm the Hen Ferchetan because I want to say what I want here, and defend what I say here, without also having to defend it to my friends or family down the pub or at the kitchen table. I like the fact that I can switch off my computer and forget about whatever discussion or argument that's going on here without having it brought up in my daily life.

So how is an anonymous blogger held to account for his words? Well, there's two ways, depending on what kind of blog you run. Firstly, no blogger that regularly angers others in the small world of Welsh Politics can keep his identity hidden for long. If I said some lie or other that enraged someone enough that they wanted to find out who I was I don't think my secret identity would protect me for very long. Welsh politics is a small world, and even an outsider like me could probably be identified without much hassle. Look at NatWatch, while technically the writer remained anonymous anyone with any interest in the Welsh blogosphere will have a pretty strong and similar view as to who the writer was. The heat got too much for the blogger very quickly and the blog was soon left to another writer and swiftly fell into obscurity.

That's the problem with trying to remain anonymous with a "sensationalist" blog. If you annoy enough people and cause a big enough storm, you will be unmasked very swiftly. Even if the unmasking is not public for all to see, being identified by those you work with (or more importantly, for) is usually enough to end your sensationalist blog.

But what if you do not go for the secret revealing sensationalist blog and prefer to run a simple blog with your opinions on matters? You're very unlikely to anger someone enough that they go to the effort of unmasking you and therefore you will usually be able to hide behind your false identity for long, if not for ever. But even then you are not immune from criticism and correction. The Welsh blogosphere is a small place and while most of us do not know each other personally we feel familiar to the blogging identity of others. While I could not begin to tell you who Miss Wagstaff, the Welsh Lobbyist or the Miserable Old Fart are in the real world I don't need to. Their blogging identities are strong enough that if i need to criticise or correct their post I can do so to that identity instead of to their true self. If I feel the Cynical Dragon is being unnecessarily offensive or vindictive (just an example Dragon, not singling you out for any reason!) then my respect for the Cynical Dragon as a blogger would go down - who cares if I can't convey that to the real person?

The two type of anonymous blogger (the vindictive sensationalist and the opinion based blogger) are very different animals. the first has adopted their screename to purposefully spread information/lies without the world finding out who they are. Whether they are doing good or bad, they will eventually be unmasked and their anonymity is always vulnerable. For those who have no sensationalist agenda (and, unlike the commenter on Peter Black's blog I'd put Miss Wagstaff into this category as well as all the other current Welsh bloggers with screenames) their names may never be revealed, but they still live and die by their words, even if they still have the ability at the end of the day to shut down the blog and walk away into the sunset.

Edit: Matt Wardman makes a similar argument here

Monday, 11 August 2008

What Dissalusions You?

I've noted in the past that one of the things that angers me most about politics is the fact that so many politicians devote their time to attacking other parties and scoring petty political points instead of actually debating things that will actually help us.

While welcoming Brother Tecwyn I mentioned Huw Lewis and this had me thinking again about the changes we can expect when Rhodri Morgan retires. There was a lot of talk last year of the Unionist v Devolutionist battle within Labour, with many placing Huw in the former camp along with most MP's, with Carwyn Jones in the latter camp. While Carwyn is odds on to win the prize there's no doubt that Huw Lewis has plenty of support. The consequences of a Carwyn victory is pretty easy to predict - business as usual as Carwyn is very much a Rhodri man. But what if Huw wins? What becomes of the One Wales Government? Can Plaid stay in cahoots with a party led to a man who, rightly or wrongly, is considered to be more of a Don Touhig/Llew Smith character than a Rhodri Morgan type?

This reminded me of a Hansard transcript I came across a while back. It dates back to 2002. While it was 6 years ago the names of those speaking will be familiar to you all - I think I'm correct in saying that all but 2 of them remain MP's. It's of a debate on Racism and Welsh Politics and is led by Llew Smith, Wayne David and Don Touhig. Have a guess how many times they mention racism against black, asian or muslim people and how long they preferred to spend playing party politics? Check it out.

Blown by the Assembly?

At the Eisteddfod new Heritage minister Alun Ffred Jones announced that the One Wales Government were earmarking £20,000 to support the DotCym campaign. this is a campaign to give Wales it's own domain instead of having to use the British .co.uk. Catalonia has recently succeeded with such a bid and .cat is now proving popular.

While some will surely argue that the Assembly is blowing our cash away on a worthless job I personally support the campaign for a Welsh domain. I am just a teeny bit concerned about the choice of preferred domain though - .cym. Once the historically most enterprising entrepreneurs on the Internet find out how .cym is pronounced we might find that the battle to register certain website names with the new domain becomes a little too fierce!

Get Voting

The Welsh Blog Index has been a good friend to the Hen Ferchetan by sending a lot of readers over here every day. I'll take this opportunity then to "big up" the WBI's annual Blog awards...
Please email me your nominations at welshblogindex@hotmail.co.uk.

Nominations will close at 12.00pm on August 31st with the winners announced on September 1st.

The categories are:

Best Politicians Blog
Best Media Blog
Best Other (i.e. not media or Politicians) Blog
Best Welsh Language Blog
Best Newcomer (for blogs that were established after the last awards of August 15th 2007)
Most Improved Blog

Adam Price has stiff competition for the Politicans Blog while Vaughan Roderick is probably odds-on to retain his media crown. Having recently retired from blogging Normal Mouth will need a successor for the Best other while Annibyniaeth i Gymru may struggle to retain the Welsh language award following the birth of a glut of new blogs in the old language. Best Newcomer and Most Improved blogs are new awards for this year.

I've sent in my votes, but I won't try and influence you with my choices!

Cometh the Hour...

As I recently pointed out there is a massive shortage of blogs written by Welsh Labour supporters, especially since the retiring of Normal Mouth and the Llanelli Journal. A fortnight ago i asked:
So if any Labourites out there have considered starting a blog but decided against it - now's your time!

Well, cometh the hour, cometh the man - please welcome Brother Tecwyn to my blogroll. His first few posts are of the highest quality and i wish him luck in surviving in this cruel world of ours!

Unfortunately he uses the words "strong" and "charismatic" in a paragraph about Huw Lewis - I do hope he refrains from such nonsense in the future!

Happy blogging Brother!

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Labour's Welsh Fraud

Was it really just a couple of weeks ago that Welsh Labour launched their "Get Back the Welsh Speaking Vote" crusade? i distinctly remember Rhodri Morgan taking a whistle stop tour of the land the Welshies call home and I'm sure I remember spending an evening reading up on the Cymdeithas Cledwyn (Labour's Welsh Speaking group) report on how Labour could shed their image of being "anti-Welsh".

What better place to try and repair the bridges than the National Eisteddfod - the annual hub of Welsh speakers. If they want to convince us who speak the language that they're listening then surely handing out copies of the Cledwyn report on the Maes would be a great way to start?

Nope, while the Lib Dems, the Tories and Plaid Cymru pitched up their tents our main party of government was nowhere to be seen. Maybe they just forgot to send in the application form, or maybe since the One Wales Government came into power Labour and Plaid have merged and nobody bothered to notice!

Anyway, I'm home from the Eisteddfod and ready to go!

(P.S. Yep, the title to this post is WAY too overcooked, but after a week away I was in the mood to ham things up!)

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Capital Culture

Caravan cleaned - check. Gas cylinder filled - check. Awning pegs straightened - check. Rhaglen y Dydd studied and memorized - check. Milk cancelled - check. Sunglasses and wellingtons packed - check. 98% Vodka, Crystal and plastic glasses - check

It's that time of year again when 150,000 people pack up their bags, dust off the caravan or tent and head to whichever part of Wales is hosting the National Eisteddfod. Not one to miss out on a festival and an opportunity to lay back and do nothing for a week the Hen Ferchetan is dumping the laptop and racing to the capital.

By the way, look at how much the Eisteddfod has grown during the past decade or two. Not only do we now have the main field, the Maes, we have:
Maes B for the drunk young (and very young!),
Maes C for the older people in the Caravan park,
Maes D for learners......

Can anyone spot what's missing in this bastion of Welsh language culture?!

See you next week.