The Ten Best Welsh Political Blogs

There is quite an interesting (if navel gazing) discussion going on over at welshbloggers about the state of the Welsh blogosphere.

Depressingly, we appear to be looking to Westminster as a bench-mark with some people lamenting the fact we don’t have a ‘Guido’ equivalent in Wales.

That maybe right, but what we do have is our own vibrant blogosphere discussing day-in and day-out the issues affecting Wales.

Those hacks whingeing about the quality of citizen journalism in Wales would do well to occasionally break a story themselves, and not live off press releases and spoon fed Assembly guff.

Anyway, with that in mind, and noting the current hunger for lists at the Independent Online, here is my personal selection of the Ten Best Welsh Political Blogs.

1. Betsan Powys

2. Peter Black AM

3. Adam Price MP

4. Ordovicius

5. Guerilla Welsh Fare

6. Welsh Ramblings

7. Valleys Mam

8. Miserable Old Fart

9. Cambria Politico

10.Cynical Dragon

So, plenty of reasons to be cheerful about the Welsh blogosphere then.

Feel free to post your own lists below and comment with any sites you think I have missed.

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Farewell Brunstrom and thanks for all the weirdness.

What will the Welsh press write about when Richard Brunstrom resigns?  

After a headline packed eight years in charge of the force, the Chief Constable of North Wales Police has announced his intention to quietly leave his £112,000 a year job.

The man Richard Littlejohn dubbed the ‘Mad Mullah of the Traffic Taliban’ has never been one to shy away from publicity but appears now to have had enough, saying this week,  

‘I’m off for an easier life but I’ve had a whale of a time here. I am as proud as I possibly could be of what we have achieved. I’ve moved right to the top of the police service, it’s time someone else had a chance.”

Whoever they replace Mr Brunstrom with, they are unlikely to have as an eventful career as his. He was appointed to the top job in January 2001 and has rarely been out of the headlines since

The two primary issues that have dogged him throughout his time in charge of North Wales Police are drugs and speed cameras.

His zero tolerance attitude to road safety was demonstrated when he called a press conference to condemn a retired 71 year old bank manager caught doing 39mph in a 30mph zone. More recently, at a 2007 presentation on road safety, Brunstrom showed photographs of a headless motorcyclist at a traffic accident. He did so without the permission of the family of the dead man. Both the family and Clwyd South MP Martyn Jones called for Brunstrom to resign.

The Chief Constable’s attitude to drugs has also been controversial. As early as 2001 Brunstrom called for the legalisation of Heroin, and proposed placing vending machines outside Colwyn Bay police station to be kept stocked with disposable syringes.

He maintained this position throughout his career recently describing ecstasy as safer than aspirin, and in 2007 calling for the legalisation of all drugs and an end to the ‘immoral’ drug laws.

Alongside his strong positions on road safety and drugs, Brunstrom was also the subject of some stories that were just plain weird. His appointment as an Honoury Druid in 2006 was covered extensively and ridiculed as widely. In December 2007, during refurbishment work at the North Wales police headquarters, Brunstrom staged a break-in, scaling scaffolding and climbing through a window. Initially it was suggested he had done it to test security but it was later revealed his entry fob was no longer working.

All this adds up to a weird collection of press cuttings. However, as much as I have at times despaired over the actions of the Chief Constable I do also admire him, and often have little sympathy with those who have hauled him over the coals for doing his job.

The nickname he picked up over the speed camera issue was attributed to him by Richard Littlejohn for goodness sake – as deplorable an individual as you are likely to read. The anti-speed camera lobby, led by the leader of the idiots, Jeremy Clarkson, is a group I find it difficult to agree with. People die on the roads everyday and speed limits and cameras are a good thing.

Admittedly, Brunstrom did make a critical error in choosing the photographs of the biker to show to the press without the family’s permission. It was a mistake. But the fact that the bow-tie wearing opportunist Martyn Jones exploited the situation to increase his tiny political capital is also pretty repulsive.

Brunstrom’s passion for road safety has at times seemed to border on obsession. But he is a police officer right? What they are supposed to do is enforce the law. Whether you agree with the law or not it is Brunstrom’s job to enforce it. So in that regard wasn’t he just doing his job?

When it comes to drugs, I think that Brunstrom’s principled stand is worth reviewing and applauding. There are very few, if any top coppers that would put their head above the parapet in this manner.

And despite what you may have read – a tiny bit of investigation shows that Brunstrom’s opinions on the subject are informed by experience and statistics. We are losing the war on drugs, and current policing strategies that criminalise the behaviour cause social problems that maybe unnecessary.

Looking at some of this stuff in the cold light of day and away from the rabid right wing press and you realise that what is being proposed, although radical, might just be a solution. A British drugs policy based on prohibition has dramatically failed. Illegal drugs are more plentiful and cheaper than ever. There are more drug users than ever. The war on drugs is fundamentally un-winnable. He says,

‘If policy on drugs is in the future to be pragmatic not moralistic, driven by ethics not dogma, then the current prohibition stance will have to be swept away as both unworkable and immoral. Such a strategy leads inevitably to the legalisation and regulation of all drugs.’

I couldn’t agree more with Brunstrom on the issue of drug enforcement, and his strong and consistent position deserves our respect. Likewise with the issue of road safety Brunstrom has maintained and defended his position.

When Brunstrom spent £6000 investigating anti-Welsh remarks by Tony Blair and Anne Robinson, he made himself a laughing stock. When he was tasered he undermined his credibility. When he broke into his own police headquarters people questioned his sanity. And when he made the awful mistake of showing the road accident pictures he was condemned. All too often during his time in the top job Brunstrom undermined the good things he was doing and saying, with a daft and flippant attitude to the press. He suffered from an amateurish approach to public relations.

Welsh and UK national newspapers alike loved it every time he made a comment off the cuff or to grab attention, but often, there was something important being said – and we missed it.

There was more to Brunstrom than the headlines – trouble is it’s the headlines we will all remember.

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Isn’t it about time we got serious about domestic violence?

Sometimes people display such breathtaking stupidity that it’s quite hard to maintain your composure. I have lost mine this week, and that’s why I am breaking my rules and blogging about a UK national issue.

Last week Clearcast, the advertising approval body, decided that an advert due to be shown on British television was too violent and demanded cuts be made. The advert in question is about domestic violence.

‘The Cut’, featuring British actress Kiera Knightley, was made for the charity Women’s Aid. In it Knightley plays an actress who is punched and kicked by her boyfriend after he accuses her of cheating on him.

Directed by Joe Wright, the advert is unnerving and shocking. The advert ends with the information that every week in England and Wales two women die from domestic violence.

Charities campaigning against domestic violence have quite rightly branded the Clearcast decision as ‘pathetic’.

Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, underlined the importance of such adverts,

‘Many women who are victims of domestic violence are isolated by their partner and in these situations TV is very helpful. It is also a great way to reach the public and raise awareness of the issue.’

Unbelievably, two complaints have already been received by the Advertising Standards Agency about the unedited version which appeared on the Women’s Aid website.

Back in 2007 Women’s Aid was also subject to criticism over a stunning campaign which featured celebrities being shown with battered faces. They were making the point that one in four women gets attacked by loved ones and that two are killed every week. Although no formal complaints were received by the ASA regarding this advert, there was a lot of grumbling about the celebrities featured.

I’m as cynical as anybody about celebrities doing campaigns, but I also agree with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on this one. If celebrities want to do some good by appearing in these adverts what harm can it do? Doubtless some are chronic publicity seekers and will do campaigns like this to promote themselves as much as the cause – but does it really matter if it gets the point across?

Criticism of Kiera Knightley for doing this advert has taken a similar form, with some suggesting that because the advert features her, it is not realistic enough – this of course completely disregards the fact that female celebrities can be the victims of domestic violence as much as ‘ordinary’ people.  

This new advert has come in for a lot of stick. Whether it has been complaints about using Knightley in the ad or the level of violence, it has all distracted from what is surely an important point. Domestic violence is a serious problem in Britain and women die every day as a consequence of it.

The discussions should be about how we tackle the issue, not the nature of the adverts. I happen to believe that the more shocking an advert about domestic violence is the better.

It is about time we started getting a bit more serious about this subject. It disturbs me that organisations such as Women’s Aid face this barrage of nonsense when they try to highlight their cause. It annoys me that celebrities who feature in the adverts are also criticised.

Perhaps this tells us something unpalatable about our attitude to domestic violence. Perhaps we as a nation would rather not face the issue and would rather brush it under the carpet. Perhaps we don’t really treat it with the same degree of seriousness as other types of assault. Maybe our society is ambivalent about violence in the home.

In a previous life I worked in a Social Services department in North Wales. There we regularly encountered domestic violence issues. I remember with admiration the skills of social workers who went above and beyond the call of duty to help women in these situations. With little support and limited time they sometimes managed to rescue people. Sadly, more often they didn’t. The system fails people daily.

Last week in the block of flats in North West London where I live a twenty eight year old woman was found dead. She had been subjected, over a number of years, to physical and psychological abuse by her partner, who is a chronic alcoholic. The police had been called repeatedly to the property. Neighbours had tried to convince her to leave him, but whenever he was kicked out she would always let him back in. The police arrested him a number of times, but despite covering her in bruises he was not jailed.

We are often reluctant to get involved in other people’s abusive relationships, I know I was. The guilt you carry when something bad happens is only mitigated by the knowledge that the police take little action.

We are, in our social attitudes, our social policies and policing too ambivalent about domestic violence and that needs to change.

This latest advert did not depict the most common reality facing victims of domestic violence. What happened to my neighbour was that. But it was at least an honest attempt to make us take the issue seriously.

That is why every single painful punch and kick should stay in the advert and why anyone who says otherwise needs to take a long hard look at their attitude to violence against women.
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More powers and less media scrutiny: That’s not democracy.

There was an interesting article in the Independent media section a while back about the demise of The Scotsman newspaper. The falling standard of journalism at the Scotsman and the Herald has been accompanied by a rapidly falling set of circulation figures.

This is indeed worrying and I have repeatedly said the same of Wales. A burgeoning democracy must have an active, inquisitive and strong press to challenge, investigate and hold to account those in power. However, without wanting to enter into a competition to see who is worse off, the Scots don’t know how lucky they are.

It is a much repeated fact that the 85% of the newspapers bought in Scotland are produced in Scotland. It is also a fact that 85% of newspapers bought in Wales are produced in England.

The current demise of Wales’ only national newspapers, The Western Mail and The Daily Post has seen circulation figures, for the Mail in particular, reach ‘critical mass’ level, falling below the 40,000 readers credibility figure.

This fall represents a yearly loss of around 2000 readers which could translate into a readership of only 15,000 in years to come, a circulation figure that Trinity Mirror may find unsustainable. Sales of both The Western Mail and The Daily Post have fallen by 40% since 1997, and as a consequence the figure of 15% of Welsh people reading Wales based newspapers may now be even smaller.

Rumours continue to abound about the merger of these two papers.

James Thomas back in 2006 in a report to the Culture Welsh Language and Sport Committee pointed out that the Welsh daily press is regional, not national, with The Western Mail being primarily circulated in South Wales and The Daily Post being the main paper in North Wales.

The two nationals in Wales are supported by an ever decreasing range of up to forty evening and other papers, including free weeklies (which carry the highest circulation).

Back in 2006 when this report was undertaken (more recent figures are unsurprisingly difficult to come by) Trinity Mirror’s monopoly on the Welsh media was at its height with it owning over 42% of the papers in circulation. The Daily Mirror, of course, was the only UK national to have had a Welsh edition in recent times, and it was hugely important to Welsh people, if not always ‘on message’. Thomas makes the point that,

‘A case study of the life and death of the Welsh Mirror (1999-2003) illustrates very clearly how dominant power structures outside Wales – namely Trinity Mirror and the City of London – have far more influence in determining the structure of the Welsh press than the people of Wales or Welsh politicians.’

Thomas also contrasts the situation in Wales with Scotland stating that the lack of agenda setting newspapers in Wales is the polar opposite of the situation in Scotland. He concludes that,

‘Welsh newspapers, for all their virtues are regionalized, with limited financial resources, circulation and agenda setting power.’

As far as a lowering of the standards in journalism goes, Wales was also there well before Scotland. A number of writers have already bemoaned the “tabloidisation” of the content carried in local newspapers.

Most of them lay the blame at the door of Trinity Mirror whose monopoly in Wales once prompted Patrick Hannen to comment ‘If you don’t write for Trinity Mirror, you don’t write.’

When this is all placed within the context of devolution it becomes all the more worrying. In 2006 Thomas found, during a study of the content of the Welsh press, that the most popular front page stories involved crime, followed by accidents/human interest and lastly politics.

The 10% figure for political splashes does not seem particularly low until Thomas points out that this occurred at a time of community elections in Wales. He states that, at a time when it might be reasonable to expect that the press would engage in detailed ‘scrutiny of local democracy, the overwhelming front-page attention still lay with softer issues.’

With this in mind here is a quote from Professor Tim Luckhursts’ article about the demise of The Scotsman. He says,

‘Although there is similar chaos and decline at newspapers worldwide, there is a dimension to the Scottish problem that adds to its significance. Wherever you take your starting point, it is impossible to identify a society in which the scrutiny of a free and diverse newspaper press has not been vital to the development and success of representative democracy.’

This is quite correct, but it is worth noting that Wales has never had a free and diverse newspaper press.

Whether or not we have a successful representative democracy is a matter for debate. Whilst new powers are being debated, isn’t it worth discussing what might happen if our media continues to decline whilst our Government acquires more power?

We certainly can’t rely on the English national press to keep us informed about the Assembly. More power, ever decreasing media scrutiny – it’s not a great recipe for democracy.

Scottish democracy is now facing the problems Welsh democracy has always faced, the difference being that the Assembly in Wales has always had less power.

Bringing Wales more in line with Scotland would do wonders for the legitimacy of the devolution project, but with a disorganised and depleted media can AMs really be held to account?

I’m going to finish with a quote from the Luckhurst article as an illustration of the problems facing the Welsh media and just how little scrutiny they are given,

‘Devolution is too new, unproven and vulnerable to cronyism to thrive without the bracing scrutiny of robust, independent journalism. But if the newspaper industry cannot provide it some wag of an MSP may propose state-subsidised newspapers. One recent former editor of a Scottish title says: "Scotland is in danger of becoming the first modern democracy without reliable organs of free speech."’

Absolutely right, but Scotland is by no means the first modern democracy without reliable organs of free speech.

Wales already holds that dubious honour.

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Creative solutions are needed to revive the Welsh media

I attended an interesting NUJ meeting last week at the London Welsh Association. The meeting was held to discuss some of the challenges journalists are facing at the moment and how they might be resolved.

Central to the problem in Wales and across the country is the issue of media ownership, and the meeting was held to debate the merits of various alternative models. From my perspective the current monopolies that rule the media in Britain are damaging to journalism in that they consistently limit the scope and quality of reporting. Trinity Mirror’s domination of the market in Wales has had a terrible effect on the Welsh print media. The continuing swathe of cutbacks across Wales and the UK as a whole will have a massive impact on the quality and output of Britain’s journalists. It is a pressing situation.  

Though this subject is of wider importance across the whole of journalism it is particularly pertinent in relation to the Welsh media wasteland.

As discussed extensively in previous entries I believe the traditional Welsh media is in terminal decline. This being the case, I have made the argument that Wales is uniquely placed to embrace the online news revolution. Before I discuss in detail why this is the case it’s worth looking at and dismissing some of the other options.

The current economic crisis has led many to call for the nationalisation of media groups in order to save jobs. This is such a bad idea that the Chief Executive of Trinity Mirror, Sly Bailey, rejected the suggestion out of hand. You know something is up if she is ruling out the option of free money.

The problems, both ethical and financial, associated with the nationalisation of any part of the UK media are various and, in my opinion, largely insurmountable. How would such an arrangement work? What sort of influence would the Government have over media institutions if they were nationalised? Wouldn’t it all be a bit too Soviet for a modern democracy like the UK? Well yes. I think that any increased influence of government over our media institutions could do long term damage to British journalism. Our rampantly free press rightly resists any restrictions with an often inspirational vigour, and long may it continue to do so.

Unless we want to live in a nation where our media is a lapdog rather than a watchdog, nationalisation is not really an option.

But is the idea of government money completely anathema to the free press. What about subsidies? In previous blog entries I have argued that it might be an idea for the Welsh Assembly to assist with funding an online news agency in Wales. I still think this is a good idea. The trouble is that at the moment the Assembly seems only to be keen on funding Welsh language projects, which is good for Golwg, but what about the rest of us? The funding of Welsh language media is important. And, although not a Welsh speaker myself, I do understand the reason the Assembly feel it necessary to fund Welsh language projects.

My problem with this, however, is that it strikes me as fiddling whilst Rome burns.

Putting money into the Welsh language media when all around us, the more vital and widely purchased, English language outlets are dying, strikes me as bizarre. I suspect that this issue is one for another wider discussion. I do, however, honestly believe that the decision solely to fund Golwg’s online presence was a mistake when there were other worthy causes.

Welsh language projects are the icing on the cake. They shouldn’t be the whole cake.

So what should the Assembly fund?

Any Assembly or indeed European funding of print projects in Wales would, in my opinion, be entirely pointless and self indulgent. At a time when the print media across the UK is losing ground to the online realm, funding print would be waste of much needed money. Roy Greenslade, who I rarely agree with, put it very well at the NUJ meeting. Discussing whether or not to subsidise printing in the UK he argued it would be like subsiding horses and carriages after the car was invented.

The only sensible way of funding the Welsh media is to focus on online English language solutions.

Feasibly, the Welsh Assembly could fund the start-up costs of a variety of online media and news ventures relatively cheaply. And there is no reason that these projects would have to have a national focus. In fact, in most cases I would argue that small is better. The establishment of a part Assembly funded online news service which looks outwards is a vital step. But I also believe that local news should be transformed.

There is no reason why local news websites cannot be funded through the Assembly, and even local government. Web 2.0 has opened the door to lots of possibilities with regards to news websites. A community organised online news-service which employs crowdsourcing principles could be very effective. Crowdsourcing could reduce costs and ensure that local websites remain relevant. Employing social media and networking principles could also substantially reduce the need for promotional outlay.

This idea has massive potential. The continuing demise of the traditional Welsh Media is a tremendous opportunity to transform local news delivery and production. If you don’t think local news media and production need an overhaul take a look at what your local newspapers are putting out these days.        

To summarise: nationalisation is not a genuine option for saving the Welsh or indeed any UK media as it would necessarily compromise the impartiality of media to the government.

Government subsidies to support the start-up of media projects are vital and must not be focussed solely on Welsh language projects.  

The Assembly should investigate the idea of an outward looking news agency, partly funded with Assembly money and with a national focus, to try to encourage more coverage of Wales in the UK national press.

The most easily achievable alternative model of media ownership, that could have a real impact, is the idea of local news websites whose start up costs are funded by local government. 

Using crowdsourcing principles to draw news out of the community, and using blogs and social media to grow sites, could be highly effective in a local context. This, alongside the obvious potential these sites would have to draw local advertising revenue, would make them financially viable.

It would of course be necessary to maintain the professional standard of these sites by employing paid journalists, but aside from this I would argue the sites should be run on a profit share basis. Combined with a national news agency for Wales these projects could transform the media landscape in Wales for the better. 

These are, of course, far from fully formed ideas. Developments in the world of online news occur daily and who knows what might be around the corner. Suffice to say, I think it is vital the NUJ in Wales and journalists as a whole start to think creatively about how the problems of the dying Welsh media can be turned into an opportunity.

One thing that was absolutely clear from the NUJ meeting I attended was that change is coming. It is vital that whilst fiercely defending jobs in the Welsh print press, journalists also start looking for new and innovative ways to revive our flagging media.

And who knows? If it works out we could end up with a better, more representative, democratic and vital news media in Wales.   


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Wales is newsworthy - but nobody knows it

So, what happens in Wales then?

Well plenty, actually, but for some reason news from Wales seems to slip past those who make the editorial decisions in the UK national press.

Prompted by some of the comments on my previous entry I thought it might be worthwhile discussing the subject of newsworthiness.

Clearly this is a huge subject, so to narrow it down I’m going to look specifically at the newsworthiness of the Welsh Assembly elections. There can scarcely be a time where media engagement with Welsh politics is more important. 

When traditional news value theories are applied to the elections of 2003 it is easy to see why they received so little coverage. Firstly, the result was a foregone conclusion. There was no unexpectedness, no element of surprise. Also, the wider public perceived the Assembly powers as too weak and not able to make a difference to social and economic welfare.

This in turn limited the meaningfulness of the issues to the Welsh people, reducing the news value.

It was also shown in an NOP poll that just over a third of people knew a fair amount about the Assembly, its record and its powers. This indicates that stories about the election may not have been clear or unambiguous.

Furthermore, there was also a lack of ‘big beast’ politicians, elite figures, or unusual people in the elections. And, there was little real debate on issues between the main parties, meaning there was a lack of conflict, another key news value.

In 2007, on the other hand, it was a little bit different. There was a small increase in electoral turn-out of 5.5%. There was also a marked increase in press coverage from the Welsh press.

However, in the run up to these elections the Institute for Welsh Affairs noted in its report on national media coverage of Wales, that there was still very little coverage of the Welsh elections in the national press. In fact the study found that there was more coverage of the slaughter of Shambo, the sacred bull, than there was of the formation of the new Assembly Government.

National press coverage was actually worse than in 2003. The report stated:

“On Saturday 5th of May, the first morning on which newspapers could carry the result, the highest selling newspaper in Wales, the Sun, carried only thirteen words of coverage, contained within a story on the Scottish elections. This pattern was continued during the long aftermath during which political parties negotiated to form a coalition government.”

The report noted that an astonishing 59.6% of Wales based stories during this time were about Shambo the bull.

Even Rhodri Morgan’s heart surgery failed to raise much interest. As Adam Price MP put it at the time:

“The death of Shambo the bull got more attention from the BBC in 2007 than the fate of Rhodri Morgan, and the Welsh nation, which shows what the media thinks of the nation.”

The elections in 2007 were clearly more newsworthy than in 2003. They were, however, still ignored.

In fact, as the IWA report points out, the coverage was even worse.

The IWA had some interesting suggestions about why coverage was so bad. A lack of local correspondents, for instance, and an over-reliance on Press Association copy were cited as key factors.

These are vital points.

UK nationals relied almost entirely on PA copy for the whole of the Welsh elections. This meant that only a fraction of the news from Wales was reaching London.

Wales is news valuable, but news agencies and journalists in Wales are often too insular, believing that the UK national press will not be interested in Welsh issues. Sometimes this is doubtless true, but if there had been an outward looking press agency in-situ during the 2007 elections they could have pushed for more Welsh stories in the UK nationals.

I am not, of course, letting the UK national press off the hook. Even with good links and communication between Welsh journalists and London it would be a struggle to get them to take stories. But it’s not impossible.

The truth is that to improve democracy in Wales there needs to be more reporting of the Assembly, particularly at election time. Because of the current dismal state of the media in Wales this primarily means increasing the amount of coverage in UK nationals.

The only way this is likely to happen is if journalists in Wales start looking outwards and London-centric media professionals realise that Wales is not just for animal stories and suicides.

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No one left to blame? There's always the press...

As a rule I don’t do schadenfreude. I must confess, however, that the merest of smiles crept across my face on hearing of the latest allegations against Conservative Assembly Member Nick Bourne.

It was reported over the weekend that Mr Bourne is to be investigated by the police in relation to payments made to Preseli Pembrokeshire Conservatives and later claimed back from the Assembly.

Labour Parliamentary candidate Jenny Rathbone has asked police to investigate whether or not the payments were illegal.

This last scandal hasn’t finished Mr Bourne off. Remarkably he is actually getting sympathy from his critics, a number of whom regard the allegations as nothing more than opportunistic political point scoring.

Fair enough, they may well be right.

I must be a bit old fashioned though, as I tend to think politicians who are accused of crimes should be investigated.

Whether the allegations hold water or are just a Machiavellian strategy I have no idea. And I have no intention of guessing. Suffice to say that if it emerges that it was simply an opportunist strategy there should be consequences for Rathbone.

Nick Bourne’s 2009 has started in much the same way as his 2008 ended. That is, not very well.

Last year his expenses claims caused outrage after it emerged he spent £5,000 of tax-payers’ money on his bathroom. Then it emerged he had also claimed for a trouser press and an iPod.

It was all entirely legal and correct within the rules of the Welsh Assembly, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that the people of Wales thought £5,000 of their money was a bit much to spend on a bathroom. And just maybe, politicians should fork out for their own upmarket ironing boards and music accessories.

Despite all this, things did seem to be improving for Nick. Last week the Welsh Conservative Group released a statement saying he would remain their leader. They also, without even a hint of irony, launched their ‘robust guidelines’ for how AMs should claim expenses.

What really struck me, observing all of this, was that Nick Bourne still doesn’t get it.

Despite all the months of allegations, negative press coverage and public anger, Nick Bourne still believes it was a ‘witch-hunt’ and that the newspaper reports of the scandal were ‘near hysterical’.

He then went on to illustrate, even more clearly, just how little he had learnt from the scandal. He said he knew of AMs making large claims for lunches, but wasn’t going to reveal their names as he didn’t want them to become victims of a witch hunt as well.

Hang on just a minute there - I want to know what Assembly Members are doing with my money!

So we have robust guidelines from the Conservatives on expenses accompanied by Nick Bourne announcing that he knows people are abusing the rules but he’s not saying who they are. Mixed messages?

To make matters even worse he also retreated to that famous last refuge of the scoundrel: blaming the newspapers.

The coverage of the expenses scandal was extensive but measured. The facts were reported and the views of those who thought Nick Bourne’s actions were not acceptable were represented, alongside the views of those who thought it was all a storm in a tea cup.

It was nowhere near hysterical.

It must also be remembered that Nick didn’t really help himself. Releasing the statement that there was no music on his iPod was a political suicide attempt.

Nick Bourne should be thankful that the media in Wales is in no fit state to really scrutinise him.

Newspaper cutbacks are already reducing the amount of political coverage that goes into the two national newspapers. One of the most worrying things about the Welsh media is that Assembly Members do not face the kind of media scrutiny they should.

For Nick Bourne, however, it is evidently still too much. His claim to have been the victim of a witch-hunt just doesn’t stand up in the light of what we know about the Welsh press.

If he can’t handle the limited scrutiny Assembly Members face from the newspapers, maybe Nick Bourne had better hop on his broom and find another job.


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Currying favour with the voters

Members of the All Wales Convention, carrying out a consultation on whether a referendum on full law-making powers for the Assembly should take place by 2011, have got themselves in bother.


Some argue the members of the group have undermined the important task they are charged with by posting answers to the question ‘What would you be, if you were an animal?’ on their website.

See all the results here. Unfortunately no reasons for the choices are given, but you have got to love Alex Aldridge for saying elephant.

David Davies of the True Wales group has rather uncharitably kicked up a fuss saying, ‘I am astounded by this. They are supposed to be engaging in a serious debate about the constitutional future of Wales. Instead they are engaging in very strange activities.’

Mr Davies (now what animal would he be?) goes on to compare the group to ‘nursery children at their first day in school pretending to be animals.’

The group’s first public consultation was at the Seaside Social and Labour Club last night in Port Talbot and everyone who attended was given a free curry for doing so.

No problem there you might think, except for the fact it is supposed to be an independent consultation and it’s being held in the Labour club. Oh, and the fact that some people think the curry may be a sort of bribe….

Davies again, ‘They are acting like eighteenth century politicians in rotten boroughs by offering voters free victuals. Whether this is to persuade people to vote ‘yes’ I am not sure’ 

Regardless of Mr Davies slightly bad tempered moaning, it strikes me as sad that curry is needed to get people in Wales engaged in the next stage of devolution.


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Cockatiels and expenses scams: Wales in 2008

National news coverage of Wales is rubbish. It just is.

Don’t take my word for it. Last year’s scathing BBC Trust report was just one document detailing how bad reporting of Wales is.

With that in mind, and being a Welshman in exile, I have set up this blog. I intend to trawl the internet picking up the most interesting stories from Wales and posting my take on them here.  

 Be warned, there may be ranting…

Anyway, to get us underway is a review of some of the biggest, most popular, and weirdest stories to come out of Wales in 2008.


The murder of Catherine and Ben Mullany on their honeymoon in the Caribbean was one of the most shocking and tragic stories of 2008.

A doctor from Pontardawe in the Swansea Valley, Mrs Mullany died after being shot on the last day of her honeymoon. Her Husband, Ben, also died a week later from his injuries.

The funeral service held at Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff was attended by more than 900 people. 

In Welsh politics, 2008 showed us the best and worst of the Assembly.

In July a survey revealed that three female members of the Welsh Assembly had been victims of rape.

Nerys Evans AM released the findings of her survey to coincide with the publication of a report into violence against women.

It was an impressive and brave move, and sent a powerful message about the prevalence of violence against women.

It also earned an important report some vital publicity.

Less impressive were the revelations in August that Assembly Members had spent £400,000 of tax-payers’ money on furniture for their Cardiff-based homes.

One North Wales AM, Leslie Griffiths, reportedly spent £2000 on a sofa.

Revelations later in the year that two Conservative AMs, Nick Bourne and Alun Cairns, had bought iPODS using their expenses allowance, also caused outrage.

The anger was not diminished by Bourne’s spokesman, claiming the AM only used it to listen to news podcasts, and to help him learn Welsh. He didn’t realise it wasn’t what was on the iPOD that was the problem…

 It was also revealed that Brian Gibbons, a local government minister on a wage of over £70k, claimed £16.50 for a Royal British Legion wreath.  

A miserable year for Labour was compounded by the collapse of their vote in the Welsh local elections.  First Minister Rhodri Morgan conceded his party had ‘taken a belting.’

In the world of entertainment Rhys Ifans broke up with girlfriend Sienna Miller and then spent the rest of the year ‘getting over it’. North Wales singer Duffy had spectacular success including a number one single.

In December a couple from Talacre claimed TV presenter Paul O’Grady had ‘Savaged’ their reputations in his autobiography At My Mother’s Knee and Other Low Joints.

Michael Long and his parents Rose and George defended themselves against claims in O’Grady’s book about the time when they were neighbours in Birkenhead.

In environment news it was reported that greenhouse gas emissions in Wales continued to increase despite initiatives to the contrary.

Agriculture minister Elin Jones continued to maintain an anti-GM position, while Environment minister Jane Davidson pushed forward with challenging targets for waste recycling and generation of electricity from renewable sources.

In December approval was given for the Gwynt y Mor wind farm off the North Wales coast.

In sport Rugby fans were delighted to see Wales secure the Grand Slam in March after hammering France 29-12.

In September there was scandal at the Paralympics as Becca Chin was stripped of her silver medal after games officials decided she was not disabled enough.

Wrexham Football Club dropped out of the football league after 87 years.

My personal favourite story of the year was this.

When a translation request was sent to Swansea council for a road sign they received a remarkably quick response. The sign was put up and all was fine until someone spotted that it said “I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated”.

And finally, the daftest story of the year has to be from the Daily Post who reported how a missing cockatiel was reunited with its owner after chirping its name down its rescuer’s phone.

A quiet news week then?


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