What a great first year this is.
The Bush/Cheney plan to incite Russia into a new nuclear arms race is no more. The fatuous excuse for missiles on on the Russian borders was to guard against nukes from Iran and North Korea. The real reason was to bait Russia and to boost the flagging US arms industry. Russia has lost its empire and has seen the west encroaching into its previous sphere of influence.
Positioning missile on the Polish and Czech borders was a deliberate provocation. When Kruschev did something very similar in Cuba, Kennedy threatened nuclear war.
Obama has curbed the lobbyists, started health reforms and reduced the tensions between Russia and US. His language on Afghanistan is promising. His deeds. Not yet. He will be the best American President of our lifetimes.
The hot topic of Biofuels has hit my constituency. It's the Council's Planning Committee's decision. Last week they turned down the plan for a biodiesel power station on Newport Docks. A London group with the help of Newport Friends of the Earth has stirred up local opinion. George Monbiot has raged in the pages of the Guardian.
I will be calling a new meeting to give all sides a chance to debate the issues, without scare-mongering or hystera. There are only a hundred seats in the hall, so it will have to be ticket only. I will give the details later. Today I wrote to Ed Miliband.
There is a planning application for a new power station in my constituency that will burn biofuels. The planning application was rejected by the Newport City Council Planning Committee and is likely to go to appeal. While I appreciate that you have no locus in the planning process, a large number of my constituents have raised legitimate objections to our national policy on biofuels.
It has been claimed that the only reason why there is interest in biofuel stations is the unfairly high subsidies that are on offer. It has been claimed that the government awards over-generous renewable obligation certificates for power stations burning vegetable oil. One objector says that biofuels receive twice the subsidy that wind-turbines and other benign sources of renewable energy receive. I would be grateful for your comment on what appears to be a perverse incentive to a power source of questionable sustainable value.
I have spoken at length to the local company Vogen who plan to run the station and to the objectors. The developers say that they will use rapeseed oil and waste cooking oil as their main source of fuel. But they have admitted to me that they do not rule out the use of palm oil. As this is the cheapest biofuel on the market their lack of assurances are alarming. I have sought scientific evidence from the protesters on some of their claims on the local environmental threats.
An accusation has been made that the Government's definition of sustainability, that attempts to justify the high subsidy, excludes the greenhouse gases caused by clearing land to grow the oil. As a former member of the Environmental Audit Committee, I recall the serious reservations the committee had about biofuels. A recent report by the Wetlands International Group shows that every tonne of palm oil results in 'up to 33 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions or 10 times as much as petroleum products'. This is a damning indictment of biofuels alleged sustainability.
While there are attractions in using the waste product of cooking oil for fuel, there is no local assurance that palm oil will not be used. There is no way of ensuring that new power plant will use only indigenous sources of fuels.
The damage done internationally in the production of palm oil is well documented. I am sure the Government does not wish to add to the serious problems suffered in developing world countries by the irresponsible increase of palm oil production.
I look forward to an early reply to this inquiry. I will follow up this matter with a request for a debate when parliament returns
Rhodri Morgan - the legend
Rhodri Morgan's greatest political ambition was achieved at Christmas 98. Never did he lust after any Parliamentary honour except being named as the man who brought Brain's Beer to the House of Commons.
Alas not as as guest beer in the Strangers' Bar but a mere one night stand at the Labour Welsh MPs Party. He recalls the ancient debates in Wales on the merits of Welsh local beers. To settle the argument one samples each of Felinfoel and Buckleys West Wales ales were sent for analysis for the strength and quality. The report from the laboratory simply warned "Neither of these horses should be allowed to resume work again.'
Untidiness was almost obligatory in the 30 feet by 12 feet room into which Rhodri, Alun, Paul Murphy, Elliott Morley, John MacFall, Eric Illsley and I were crammed in our first term in Parliament.
The space in the office shrank quickly. Researchers were expected to share a corner of the single desks we each had. Alun was an inveterate territory-expander. He assembled his work in piles on the floor. They rapidly spread, filling all the empty spaces between the desks. Rhodri’s 'guilt' heaps of un-read reports grew in pillars on his desk until he disappeared behind them.
Three years after we first arrived, Rhodri’s new researcher, the now AM Jane Davidson, dismantled the columns. By then, they were four foot high. They marked the passage of time in a similar way to the rings of a tree. Three inches down was ‘December 89’, another foot lower, ‘September 88’.
Rhodri Morgan added new lustre to his reputation as a unique parliamentary treasure.
At Prime Minister's Question Time he packed four jokes and seven political points in a single question. Repeatedly he has enlivened the tedium of the stodgy devolution debates with sparkling verbal missiles.
His encyclopaedic mind and his machine gun delivery of words are prized by the Hansard Editors. Accurately copying the speeches of slow witted, slow talking MPs is no challenge to the Hansard writers.
But the ultimate test on the Hansard training course is the famed Rhodri tapes. They are vintage Rhodri speeches-all delivered at full gallop without a nano second between the words and liberally laced with Welsh names and erudite facts.
Visible panic breaks out among Hansard writers when Rhodri’s name is called. Their feverish attempts to keep up the flood from the Cardiff word fountain are now a Commons spectator sport
Rhodri Morgan gets a new title but first he has to kiss the Queen’s hand.
Not just any old kiss. To become the Right Honourable Rhodders he must ‘brush the Queens’ hand with his lips.’
His successor as Labour candidate for Cardiff West, Kevin Brennan, wittily describes his turnabout in fortune since last year, “Rhodri’s gone from Write-off to Right Hon.”
'In New Labour, MP stands for Material for Promotion, Mandelson Poodle and Millbank Pagee' - Rhodri Morgan.
'Forced twinning of Welsh constituencies was as popular as Saddam Hussein’s attempt to twin Iraq with Kuwait was - in Kuwait' - Rhodri Morgan.
Rhodri Morgan has an alarming experienced in the 80s. He was left dangling near the top of one of Cardiff's tallest building.
A photograph published in this paper accurately caught the terror in Rhodri’s eyes. The then editor told Rhodri that it was the biggest picture they had ever published of politician - even though Jim Callaghan had been Prime Minister.
Bit it was the headline not the picture that irritated Rhodri. It might be cruelly re-used now for Alun who then described the caption as the ‘most unlikely headline of the year.’
It read ‘Rhodri comes down to earth.’
When Rhodri, Alun Michael, Paul Murphy and I were first elected in 1987, we decided to milk the good news publicity, Welsh Labour boss Anita Gale insisted on a ‘photo-call’ at Cardiff Railway Station. Rhodri’s unique personality was on show. He was having difficulty fitting into the expected persona of an MP. He was interviewed on television the day after his victory wearing jeans and a lumberjack shirt. Looking smart did not capture his interest until twenty years later when he became the Welsh Assembly’s First minister.
He was genuinely baffled when, on Cardiff Station when we lined up for the photo call, I removed from the sight of the photographer the Tesco bag in which he was carrying his smalls. I hid it behind a pillar on the platform. The rest of us had smart cases. He did not acknowledge the expectation from our working classes voters that they wanted their MPs to look like toffs. Fifteen years later I quoted this incident in an Echo newspaper column as an example of Rhodri’s wayward personality. I was e-mailed from one of his staff,
"You’ve solved the great unanswered question. How the hell did Rhodri lose his new shirts and Tesco bags on Cardiff Railway station? I know he had them when I left him at the station. It was because you moved them so that the Echo Photographer could not see them."
The upshot of all this was that Rhodri phoned me at home at 11.30pm and I had to go to the station to find his "luggage". I found them in lost property labeled "I think these belong to an MP."
Still I got my own back when I phoned him at his flat at 1.am and told him that they would be on the first train from Cardiff in the morning. 5.30am”