Sunday, September 30, 2007

Northern Lights connections

I didn't realise that there was a connection between my late mother-in-law and John Lennon until I came across a report of the Northern Lights festival. I wonder if she collected her souvenir at a time when the young Lennons spent their summer holidays there?

- Frank Little

Frank Little - an interest in politics

I am reluctantly rising to Peter Black's "First political memory meme" challenge to explain my political activism, when I should be writing articles in anticipation of a general election, among other things.

It became clear only in retrospect that I was brought up in a politically-minded family. My father, and his father before him, came from a strong Labour and trades union background, though there must have been some regard for what Lloyd George did as Liberal chancellor, evidenced by a family holiday in North Wales whose highlight was a visit to Llanystumdwy.

My father's regular army service prevented him from any practical expression of his views. When "bowler-hatted", he lost no time in becoming a Labour councillor.

My mother was not so overtly political, but came from a very Conservative background. She recalled that Frank Owen, soon to become MP for Hereford, once offered her and her sisters a lift to a function they wished to attend, but she was warned by her parents not to have anything to do with those dangerous Liberals.

Early political memories at school were of Lord Citrine (a famous trade union leader of his day, and author of a well-regarded little book on chairmanship) giving a speech whose language was rather too robust for our new headmaster, who obviously had nothing to do with the booking; and a lecture on behalf of the European movement, which convinced both on the political and economic level.

My real political education (in the broadest sense) started with membership of the old CSCA (a predecessor of the PCS) and consequent annual conferences and summer schools.

I still wasn't committed to any party, but my first adult vote went against the tired and sleazy Conservative administration, and for Labour, inspired by Harold Wilson's rhetoric about the white heat of the technological revolution. Then Wilson appointed Frank Cousins as Minister of Technology. Some cynicism set in.

Setting up home in Wales and the business of supporting a family by means of absorbing work at DVL meant that there was little time for politics. Besides, though neither Conservatives nor Labour were perfect, there was still general consensus about Europe, public support for education, health and passenger transport (even Labour now thinks this is an extreme "left" position), while the destructive cycle of denationalisation and renationalisation of commercial undertakings had been broken.

Then came Thatcher, Howe, Heseltine and Tebbitt. I could write a further half-dozen paragraphs about how their doctrinaire "greed is good" approach damaged (probably irreparably) public service, and set sections of the community against each other. Indeed, they failed to recognise that communities within the nation exist.

It was time to get off the backside. The Labour Party of "the longest suicide note in history" was out of the question. I joined the Liberal Party one week before the merger with the Social Democrats, and thus became a founder member of the Welsh Social and Liberal Democrats.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Elected councillors must have final say

The Evening Post reports that Neath Port Talbot cabinet member stormed out of a planning meeting after members refused to follow officers' advice. Instead they followed the recommendations of a site visit panel, which is made up of elected councillors.

A unitary authority cannot function without its paid officials. In addition to their administrative burden, they must advise on the law and on planning guidelines. However, they are not directly responsible to the people. The buck stops with the elected council.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Bluetongue - can the government do more?

No, it's not the disease which has afflicted Gordon Brown, but a disease which afflicts cattle and, particularly, sheep.

It is carried by a midge. Until recently, it was restricted to the continent of Africa. However, with global warming, the vector (carrier) is now able to survive in more northern latitudes and the disease is endemic in Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

The disease has now been detected on a rare breeds farm near Ipswich. It can only be a matter of time before it spreads across southern Britain. Since a vaccine is more than a year away, we must pray for a hard winter this year or brace ourselves for the sight of sheep dying on our hillsides.

- Frank Little

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Neath Port Talbot crack-down - at last

The news that Neath Port Talbot CBC have cracked down on the misuse of council Internet facilities is welcome.

The unions have a valid point if the disciplined employees were not given clear conditions of employment (something which has been the norm in government service for many years). However, it does not excuse wasting work-time which council-tax payers have been charged for.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Neath Port Talbot health board

The AGM of the local health board will be held at 15:30 on 27th September at the Aberavon Beach Hotel.

Citizens of Skewen may wish to attend, to ask the board why they went along with Bro Morgannwg's decision to sell off the Cefn Park Clinic (see earlier story and comments).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Yes, we can have a vote on Europe: it's called a General Election.

There has been a lot of talk about both an early general election and a referendum on the July 2007 revision to European Union treaties.

For what it's worth, I believe that the Labour Party's coffers need to refill before it can consider fighting a general election. (The Conservatives are also in debt; Liberal Democrats and Plaid - with its legacy - are best placed financially at present.)

Of course, Gordon Brown can take up the explicit offers of help from some affiliated trades unions. But what would be the price of such help. Some TU officers might demand plum jobs in the next administration - Bob Crow as Minister of Technology, anyone?

If Gordon Brown does decide to hold a general election soon, there will clearly not be time to debate the July 2007 revision of the European Union treaties. This will be down to the incoming House of Commons.

Thus, an October election will effectively be a referendum on Europe.

I hope that the House will endorse the Treaty. It has been shorn of the trappings of the super-state which disfigured the draft constitution, but includes the progressive measures from that document.

In particular:

"Article 35 Voluntary withdrawal from the Union
"1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
CIG 1/07 36 EN
"2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article [III-325(3)] of the Treaty on the Functioning of the Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament. "

At present, the treaties oblige all nations of the EU to remain within the Union. There is no legal right of exit, except by means of another treaty.


"1. In order to promote good governance and ensure the participation of civil society, the Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies shall conduct their work as openly as possible.
2. The European Parliament shall meet in public, as shall the Council when considering and voting on a draft legislative act."

Too much of what is agreed in our name by the Prime Minister and a few other key ministers is, at present, secret.

- Frank Little

Friday, September 07, 2007

Surely, there can't be that many Tory seats left up north?

Election Results: Thursday 6th September 2007.

City of York UA, Heworth Without

LD Nigel Ayre 914 (46.7; +11.0), Con 703 (35.9; -1.8), Lab 219 (11.2; -5.8), BNP 63 (3.2; +3.2), Green 58 (3.0; -1.4), [Liberal (0.0; -5.2)].

Majority 211. Turnout 61.8%. LD gain from Con. Last fought 2007.

There seems to be a pattern emerging here! I may be wrong? What I find remarkable is the turnout at almost 62%. It is often said that the Liberal Democrats usually win By-Elections on low turnouts. Well, how does one explain this one? Equally interesting to note is the collapse of the Labour Party vote by -5.8% in an area where you would expect Labour to be gaining ground on the back of a Brown Bounce!

- Richie Northcote

Replace the Child Trust Fund

The Liberal Democrats today called for the Child Trust Fund to be scrapped, with the money instead being used to help children in the early years of their education.

The call comes on the day that the Government revealed that children will be required to study how their Child Trust Funds work.

The answer to a Parliamentary Question by the Liberal Democrats has highlighted how the fund will have no impact on inequality until 2020 at the earliest.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Children, Schools and Families Secretary David Laws MP said:

"This answer shows that even the Government admits that the money poured into the Child Trust Fund won’t make the slightest difference to inequality for well over a decade.

"The Child Trust Fund should be scrapped and the money should be used where it would really make a difference - helping youngsters in the earliest years of their education."

Heritage (2)

Linda Ware of the Welsh Nationalists opposes the demolition of a historic mill building in Neath Abbey. She writes in the Neath Guardian:

"many people now feel disheartened regarding the treatment of our heritage by Neath Port Talbot Council and its Community Councils.

"Neath is a very ancient market town and the area around Neath Abbey could be a huge tourist attraction given the attention it deserves.

"The descendants of the last Abbot of Neath Abbey, Abbott Hopkin Leyson, remain in the area today in the Hopkins family, who have farmed for generations and the Leyson family occupy an ancient house in Cadoxton, Ysys Ladd.

"The whole area from South of the Abbey at Neath to nearly Crynant in the Dulais Valley was Abbey Land. And Cwrt Herbert, the home of the Turberville family, direct descendants of the Norman Knight who was given this land by William the Conqueror.

"There is the grave of the traitor monk there, the beautiful Abbey ruins, the site of one of the earliest woollen mills in the area and, incidentally, the site of the woollen mill where the shawl of Ann Williams of Glynrhigos Farm in Cilfrew was woven from the black sheep of Llettyrafel Farm, so it retained it's blackness. This was in approximately 1740. This shawl was worn by Ann Williams when she rode from Cilfrew to Trefecca for the first Communion of the Presbyterian or Calvinistic Methodist Church in Wales where the famous Daniel Rowlands and Howel Harris preached. [...]

"we have a town destroyed by planners where people who visit remark: 'is there nothing but charity shops and building societies?' and we have to reply 'no'.

"The ancient Charter which grants Neath the privilege of holding a market produces two fruit and veg shops in the indoor market and two or three traditional butchers. The town, where remarkable history is buried in the vaults of the Antiquarian Society, instead of being brought out and made alive to give the children of the area hope and belief in themselves."

Typically of Plaid Cymru, Ms Ware's emphasis is on the historical and religious, though she does make a passing reference to Brunel (not quoted). While not denigrating the attractions of this romantic approach to visitors, I suggest that industrial history is an increasing magnet for foreign tourists. For some time, American and Japanese enthusiasts have been keen to see the birth-places of the Industrial Revolution, and it is likely that Indian and Chinese students will follow, as their own industries grow.

Neath Abbey Ironworks, as the papers in the Mechanics Institute show, was in at the birth of the railway age. The successors of these pioneers, Taylor & Sons of Briton Ferry, are, I understand, keen to develop the area as a heritage site. One hopes that the money - and it could come from a mix of sponsorships, not just council-tax payers' money - can be found to achieve this.

In the mean time, what is left of the fabric should be protected.

- Frank Little

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Data Security

California takes data security seriously, as this report shows - why can't the UK Labour government?

Monday, September 03, 2007


The finger-post showing where to pick up St Illtyd's Way in Crynant is picturesque, but next to useless. It's easy to miss if you don't have a map, its lettering is almost obscured, and, if it leans any further, it will bury itself in the shrubbery.

Further up the hillside, it needs an expert orienteer or a lot of trial and error to find the way across a field into woodland, where virtually all the waymarks have disappeared in a fire. The trees have survived, but loss of cover has allowed brambles and ferns to proliferate in the unaccustomed sunlight.

There are so many good walks in the county borough in need of maintenance, mainly renewing waymarks and clearing those thug plants, bracken and bramble. It's not as if it is a very expensive operation, given the willingness of volunteers - as in Dyffryn Clydach ward - to do much of the work.

And why can't there be a safe footpath down the Tennant Canal to Pant-y-Sais? It would enable visitors to the fenland boardwalk to avoid the car park and the unsavoury activities which are alleged to take place there!

- Frank Little