The Barnett Formula is one of the dullest subjects in Welsh politics - it's the formula by which Wales gets 6% of whatever London government spends due to its relative population. It's attracting the usual sporadic attention as a coalition of voluntary groups led by Sustrans's Lee Waters tries to put pressure on government in London for this formula to reflect social needs rather than a basic head count.
The argument, put here, is that Wales is poorer, less healthy and has worse housing and therefore needs to reform the Barnett Formula to reflect that.
It's an argument that Ron Davies put forward in the 2004 European elections - claiming that each person in Wales was losing out to the tune of a fiver a week. This rather more catchy slogan didn't resonate with the voters and I suspect Lee's valiant attempts to revive the argument of his former political boss [Waters worked for Davies as a political researcher when Ron was a Labour AM] will fall on similar stony ground.
The Formula was devised to buy off nationlism in the 1970s and the only way more funding will reach Wales is another threat to the Union. However, the Barnett Formula is too, well, formulaic. A far better suggestion is that all taxes raised in Wales should be collected by the Assembly. That body could then allot its share of UK spending (e.g. defence, international affairs) to Westminster.
What could possibly be wrong with such a fine example of bottom-up government?
Like most BBC network programmes, Question Time has to tick the boxes in terms of visiting the Nations and Regions. This is evidently done with the minimum of effort for the programme's producers, who decided to visit Newport for their first Welsh outing in 13 months... Newport being as close to the English border (and conveniently on the mainline rail and M4 corridor from London) as is possible to get without actually being in Bristol.
How Welsh was the panel? Mmm, just the one - Lembit Opik, the member for Hello! Central. His constituency chairman has been making noises about how Lembit's Cheeky Girl escapades have undermined the Liberal Democrats' chances of holding on to their Montgomery Assembly seat in May.
Two others were due to appear but Rhodri Morgan, the famously incoherent First Minister in Wales, pulled out at the last minute and Leanne Wood, of Plaid Cymru, was bounced at the last minute in favour of Clare Short. Guests were told that there would be no Welsh interest questions.
One outraged member of the audience pointed out that the main opposition party in Wales was not represented but was ignored by Dimbleby, who said the party had been invited to appear on another panel before the election. You can bet your bottom dollar that it won't be in Wales and that they will be effectively sidelined in the debate.
The question many Welsh viewers are now asking is whether QT is even bothering to tick the boxes, given its inability to deal with devolved issues in the run-up to the Assembly elections.
You'll have heard about the West Lothian Question, what about the East Argyll* Question?
Which is - how can it be right that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown can push through a generation of taxation to pay for Trident 2 against the wishes of the Scottish people and with the help of a Tory Party that has been utterly rejected in Scotland for decades?
Scotland is a country that has been militarised by the British State. The amount of land the MoD currently controls in Scotland is four times greater than at any point during the Cold War. In 1980, the MoD owned or leased only 24.8 thousand hectares in Scotland. Yet by 2003, land available to the MoD had risen over four times to 115.2 thousand hectares. The military presence in Scotland also includes:
· Britain’s largest base for (cluster bomb carrying) Tornado war planes, at Lossiemouth on the Moray Firth
· The UK’s only outdoor depleted uranium weapon range at Dundrennan on the Solway Firth
· Europe’s largest live-firing range at Cape Wrath, the only place in Europe where NATO air-forces can drop live 1,000lb bombs
The solution to the East Argyll Question comes on May 3rd.
* Faslane is based in East Argyll
[thanks to www.1820.org.uk]
Further to my posting on Jane Davidson's sudden discovery of a conscience comes news that a certain Labour politician has set up a MySpace site.
The bandwagon is certainly rolling.
But the choice of music is intriguing. No doubt Jane was a punk in her teenage years and into The Clash but is "Should I stay or should I go?" aimed at Rhodri, Tony or is she hinting that Trident could be a resignation issue. I think we should be told.
Her rivals for Rhodri's crown will be desperately scanning their dusty vinyl for some street cred to appeal to the few ageing punks that doubtless still inhabit the Labour party.
It's impossible not to agree with Lib Dem Kirsty Williams when she accuses political parties of offering freebies to the voters. But this wouldn't be the same Lib Dem party that boasts of introducing free school milk in its first term as a coalition partner with Labour then?
But she has a point. The trend in the Assembly elections is to offer small but easily identifiable trinkets - what she terms the free toy with the Happy Meal - for voters. Labour at the last election offered free school breakfasts (since exposed as a sham), Plaid is offering laptops for all 11 year olds and the Tories are about to save the planet with £20 worth of free lightbulbs.
This is in part due to the limited nature of the Assembly, with its inability to make laws or raise taxes, but also the limited horizons of the parties and the lack of faith in voters' ability to recognise an ambitious or complex policy. Headlines are created with news of a grant for first-time buyers - a welcome move to intervene in the housing market - whereas a more community-based approach to the NHS is largely ignored.
We're reduced to soundbite politics and snack-size policies.
For some politicians, May 3rd is the key election battle in Wales. But for others it seems there are longer-term considerations.
Jane Davidson will later this week come out against Trident, a brief reminder that the Labour Education minister was once on the left of the party. Why now?
Surely it couldn't be that she - like Andrew Davies - is trying to position herself for a bid for the party leadership after Rhodri goes. He's said he would quit in 2009 but all the signs point to him going earlier if Labour suffers the expected heavy losses in May.
The cynical use of an issue like Trident is fairly typical of Labour. Davidson has done nothing in radical politics since she spoke out against the poll tax back in the late 80s but has now opted to buff up her left-leaning image to try to win over activists in the post-May bloodletting.
Davies will opt for the "steady pair of hands" technocratic right-wing appeal while Carwyn Jones will win over the pie'n'pint vote.
The likelihood of Labour tearing itself apart at both UK and Welsh levels over its leadership is a pleasant thought - especially as none of the candidates in Wales offer any kind of vision for a better Wales.
Black vultures circle Havana's Plaza de la Revolucion, where Fidel Castro has in the past spoken to millions of Cubans. Today it's empty save for a few tourists and looks like a sprawling car park.
The only buildings of note are the Che bronze outline on a nearby block and the José Marti column made of marble that towers above.
But Castro's extended absence from the leadership following a serious illness doesn't seem to have stopped the warmth and friendliness of the Cuban people.
Anyone expecting to find a workers' paradise is in for a shock. The rural east of Holguin Province, for example, is still agricultural and you're as likely to see oxen or horses drawing carts as private cars on the pot-holed roads. Hitch-hiking is popular and it's almost obligatory to stop if you're in a car - a long-gone phenomenon here.The tourism boom has been largely contained in all-inclusive resorts owned by state companies - ours was only three years old and there was little opportunity to make contact with people beyond the gates. The housing is primitive.
The area's main tourist attraction is Naranja Bay's aquarium, where you can swim with dolphins in the sea. It's a world away from the commercialised Florida experience because the aquarium is on a tiny island in the centre of the bay - just a few dozen people visit at a time via speed boats and the emphasis is on the environment rather cashing in on tourists. The complex where we stayed was built in the middle of a tropical jungle with bananas flowering beneath the balcony and sting rays and tropical fish swimming in the coral reef offshore. In the nearby mangrove swamp lurked crayfish and land crabs - great for inquisitive kids.
If you've ever got fed up of forking out for kids on holiday, this is the place. Cuba's tourism industry has a refreshing lack of commercialism - no inflatables in the hotel shop but plenty of Che t-shirts (more on which later).
What effect the tourism boom is hard to estimate - tourists must pay for everything in convertible pesos, which are set at a national rate and cost about 10 times the local peso. So a convertible peso (maybe 70p) is worth far more to a Cuban barman, taxi driver or waiter and there was evidence that people were taking up these jobs for the tips. Others, like Sammy, was working on the beach at the hotel and was delighted to see a Wrexham shirt. He'd worked a Continental Can on the industrial estate - it's small world!
Food is rationed in Cuba as a result of the ongoing economic blockade from the US. The monthly ration allows, for example, for just five eggs a person but a generous five kilos of sugar! A taxi driver said that petrol for him was free and his monthly electricity bill was just a peso, less than a pound. Health and education are famously well provided - so much so that literacy rates and life expectancy in Cuba is higher than in the USA. So although there isn't much spare cash around a lot of the essential needs are provided by the state.
The blockade - imposed after the 1959 revolution - is so extensive that a Cuban delegation was recently barred from staying in a Norwegian hotel because it was owned by a US chain. Bush has tightened the restrictions but it does have one bonus of keeping out US tourists - a fact much appreciated by the planeloads of Canadians who flock to the Caribbean beaches!
Havana is a stunning city. It's obviously more affluent than the rural east and was once the richest city in the Caribbean but many locals seem to be living in what are little more than ruins of grand old colonial buildings. In fairness to the government, there are hundreds of building projects under way in Habana Vieja (Old Havana) to restore buildings to their former grandeur. Some streets and plazas have already been done up are stunning.
The Museo de la Revolucion is a must see - sited in the stunning former palace of the dictator Batista, it's a reminder of what Fidel and Che were overthrowing. Cuba in the 50s had become a Mafia-dominated society of massive inequality and the rebels who fought the revolutionary struggle won support in both countryside and city because of their commitment to equality. The museum is a moving reminder of the various revolutionaries who made their sacrifices - Frank Pais of Holguin was shot by the state and now has an airport named after him.
Che Guevara's image is everywhere and it's no surprise - even Mrs Seren commented that he was a good-looking lad. The youthful bravado of the revolutionaries, with their handmade weapons (on show at the museum) and almost Dad's Army like motor division, is captured in that image of defiance that plaster t-shirts and posters.
If you wear a Che t-shirt, be prepared for more attention in the streets. People sidle up to you and offer you three-peso notes or coins (both have Che's image on them). One Che lookalike complete with beret and fatigues was offering to have his photo taken - but the hassle is low-key and easy going.
It feels safe and relaxed unlike most other Caribbean cities and the mixture of races was very noticeable. Cuba has more white immigrants than most other islands and, although blacks did have an inferior status pre-revolution, that does not seem to be the case now.
Cubans like a good time - the place is famous for its cocktails, dancing and music after all. Every bar seems to have a band knocking out tunes that get people dancing and some streets of Habana Vieja are reminiscent of New Orleans's French Quarter before the deluge.
The architecture takes your breath away - even when the buildings are falling down. Likewise the great old Chevys and Dodges are a throwback to a different era - some have lasted better than others but all give the place a really different feel. It may not be a workers' paradise but it seems a damn sight better than what was here before and Cuban socialism certainly has a human face and very Caribbean style.
Top tips - buy some vintage rum (a litre bottle costs about £4), cigars if you know anyone who smokes (not cheap, unless you buy the inferior ones off the street) and spend some time in the Museo de Chocolate. If you think you've ever had hot chocolate, try the cafe there! And spend an afternoon people watching in one of the squares over a long cool Mojito or Cuba Libre cocktail.
I drank the last of the Mojitos (sorry!) on a rooftop bar overlooking the city. Suddenly a flock swallows swooped down to gulp at the hotel pool's water, a magical surreal moment that was completely in keeping with this magical city. A more appropriate a symbol of this surprising city than the black vultures circling.
One of Labour's key pledges at the last Assembly election was free school breakfasts for all primary school children. It had the feel of the back of a fag packet - the Labour Party's press officer estimating it would cost £16m a year.
So how has it gone down in the schools?
Like a bowl of cold lumpy porridge.
New figures released by the Welsh Assembly Government show that just 11,000 kids in Wales - out of 285,000 primary school children - are using the breakfast clubs. That's a pathetic 4% after four years.
Even in the schools with breakfast clubs the take-up rate is just 26% across Wales. Not surprising when the estimated spend per pupil on the food provided is just 25p a day.
By contrast, the Scottish Labour Party is being bounced into providing free school meals for a growing number of children under pressure from the SSP and now the SNP. Labour controlled Hull City Council also introduced this progressive measure, although the new Lib Dem-led council has now suspended the service.
Plaid Cymru has also adopted this measure, which has the support of nutritionists, child experts, doctors and parents. It will cost more than breakfasts but it will deliver significant improvements to children's wellbeing and parents' pockets rather than being a meaningless election pledge.
If Prince Charles didn't exist then republicans would have to invent him.
He's probably done more damage to the monarchy in the past 20 years than any of its opponents and his latest gaffe continues in this fine tradition.
The Western Mail reports that he has launched a legal clampdown on the use of the Three Feathers symbol:
“Letters have been sent by Buckingham Palace to several Welsh companies demanding they stop selling items bearing the insignia, regarded by many as representing Wales itself, and not merely its Prince, immediately.
Sent from the Lord Chamberlain's Office, copying in Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall's offices, the letters spell out that the emblem 'usually known as the Prince of Wales Feathers' is 'the personal property of the Prince of Wales, and as such is protected from misuse by law'."
There are thousands of products, from mugs and rugby shirts to business logos and stationery, that use the symbol. All, apparently, without the authority of his majesty.
Ernest Brooks, who runs his own jewellers in Ammanford, was among those who got a letter and he wasn't impressed at being told to remove the Prince of Wales Three Feathers badge from a range of jewellery:
"Prince Charles has inherited the symbol. It's more than 600 years old and he's allowed to use it by the people of Wales, not the other way around."
Except that Carlo thinks he has a divine right to rule, has a servant to squeeze his toothpaste out with a silver tool and is totally ignorant about Wales and the world.
Dai Lloyd, the Plaid AM, comments that this will backfire even among the minority of the Welsh population who still hold the monarchy in some respect.
Still, this is a good thing. Hopefully all those awful three feathers rings and logos will now be replaced by something more appropriate - how can anyone wear the three feathers with the "Ich Dien" (I Serve in German) with any pride?
Ich Dien? Twll dy din, Carlo.