Tuesday, 17 August 2010

North Korea

This weekend I watched an excellent BBC documentary presented by Sue Lloyd-Roberts on North Korea.

It is extraordinary that more than twenty million people are still in thrall to the hereditary Communist dictatorship that governs their country.

The Beloved Leader, revered as a God and dead for 16 years rules from beyond the grave whilst his son, the Dear One carries out his earthly will.

There is little or no contact with the outside world and a North Korean youth asked to compare the Beloved one ( or was it the Dear One?) with rivals for the throne of greatest living leader could only mention Stalin and Mao as in the same league.

Famine haunts much of the country outside of Pyongyang and probably disease as well.

There are some markets for food and goods but although Sue Lloyd Roberts was ultimately allowed to visit one no cameras were permitted. Seemingly the hosts were embarrassed by their success and these markets she was assured were to be phased out. I was reminded of a good friend of mine, Edwin Liechtenstein, whose daughter Olivia was producing a TV programme on an aspect of Soviet life in the late 80s and had secured the visit to London of a Soviet policewoman. The Soviet woman could scarcely comprehend the freedoms in Britain and could not grasp at all that members of the public, as opposed to party officials, could buy goods in shops full of goods.

The mystery of North Korea is how the terror and the brainwashing has kept the state going for so long. Then again I recall a friend of my grandparents who was convinced that the Berlin Wall had been built to keep out West Berliners determined to seek a better life in the West. The reality, of course, was somewhat different.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Labour Leadership

The ballot opens for the leadership of the Labour party.

I believe that the election of a leader is going to help the Government as much as the Opposition.
Any likely victor (sorry Diane) will have been a Cabinet minister in the Gordon Gang and so 'steeped in the blood'.

He will have to explain where he was when all the policy errors on diverse areas from Iraq to pensions to tax and government borrowing were made. He will also have to set out a convincing argument for an alternative strategy to the current one.

Bring it on.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

David Kelly

A full inquest into the death of Dr David Kelly is surely needed to allay any doubts about his sad death.

It will be recalled that the normal inquest procedure was suspended by the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer.

Medical opinion continues to cast doubt on the cause of death.There are evidential doubts too. There is also a most unusual if not unprecedented embargo of 70 years on the release of Dr. Kelly's medical records.

The Hutton inquiry substituting for an inquest only briefly looked at the medical evidence.
Dr. Kelly served his country. In all conscience a proper inquest is needed.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Calendar Girls

Thanks to the cast of Calendar Girls. I managed to get along to the last evening of its run at the Wales Millennium Centre.

You can tell when a cast is enjoying itself and this cast clearly was. It was an exuberant performance of a life enhancing story before a very appreciative audience.

It is good to see the Wales Millennium Centre buzzing, and Ffresh restaurant straining at the seams too serving pre-theatre suppers with their usual grace and courtesy. There was obviously quite a lot of other activity going on too.

This really is a national institution that we can be rightly proud of.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Barry John

Chance encounter with the great Barry John in Cardiff on Saturday as I walk home with my brother and his girlfriend from a trip into town.

Then on Sunday, as happens, we get a second powerful reminder of his magic when we are having lunch in the Waterguard in Cardiff Bay as there on the walls there are photos of that same great side as well as a more recent one of Barry.

Chatting with the staff we agree he is one of the great immortals. Surely time for some lasting monument.

I remember following the great Welsh rugby side of the early 70s the fluidity, the elan and the flair of Barry John. What a great era that was.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010


Good visit to the Blaenau Gwent Eisteddfod and congratulations to the organisers, especially on the People’s Sunday. I think this is a fantastic innovation and I hope it will be repeated at future Eisteddfodau. Perhaps it should be aimed at the entire local community?

Our tent was very busy and I took the opportunity to tour the Maes and meet with others. The situation at S4C certainly came up frequently as a topic of conversation and there is very real concern about the future of S4C. I am sure that it will get through the current difficulties as it is a vital institution for us delivering broadcasting in Wales for Welsh speakers and will remain so.
Heard from Alun Cairns that David Davies was on the Maes, and I joked to Alun that he was probably sitting at the Cymru Yfory stand as we spoke. Short while later passing the Cymru Yfory tent there, indeed, is David chatting happily away to Cynog Dafis. I go over and speak to them and tell David that I would be very happy to handle the press on this one if he is agreeable – don’t think he is quite ready for this yet. Not since I saw Chris Gwyther standing next to a burger van at the Pembrokeshire Show have I had such a scoop.

David has some good ideas about issues that will be looked at by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee. I think it is really good that David has this niche and is taking it very, very seriously and obviously wants to make a positive contribution to Welsh issues. I think many of his detractors are in for a surprise.

The only problem with the Maes is it is very dusty, and on a warm day there are clouds of dust everywhere. It might be great for a remake of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (another great Welsh location for filming). It is a small price to pay for what, in every other respect, I think is an excellent Eisteddfod and all credit to the organisers.

Monday, 2 August 2010


As usual I read a great deal in the summer recess.

I have read 'The Third Man' by Peter Mandelson.

It is predictably well written. Its hero is prdicatbly vindicated on the major issues of the day. He is tough on Gordon Brown, who, whatever positive qualities he doubtless has, seems to have been a nightmare to work with and even worse to work for.

He is also clearly much more tribal than either Peter Mandelson or Tony Blair and so out of synch with the times. The tribal instinct seems to be what finally and fatally did it for Gordon and enabled Dave Cameron and Nick Clegg to make the groundbreaking Coalition agreement. A point not lost on the Baron Foy and Hartlepool.

From this tome of some 550 pages to an appropriate antidote in the shape of 'The Gropes' by Tom Sharpe. I am a massive fan of Tom Sharpe but in this volume he is not at his best, I feel. Certainly all the usual Hogarthian grotesques of characters are here as are many of the usual Sharpe ingredients:- explosives, bulldozers, violence, bandaged officialdom and Northumberland wilderness.

It is not as rib-huggingly, laugh-outloudishly funny as some of the classic Tom Sharpe's, particularly the Wilt series.

I have just finished reading one of the Morse books, which I must have missed, 'The Secret of Annexe 3 ' by Colin Dexter. It was a very enjoyable read indeed. For much of the tale it is not clear who the victim is, let alone the murderer.It is not oflen that I stay awake to read a book from alpha to omega but this was an exception.

And now to 'Jeeves in the Offing'. It could be forgiven to Shakespeare, some 350 years in advance of Plum to maintain that sleep 'knits the raveled sleeve of care' and so it does, but so too does the world of Wodehouse.

It is a world that never palls and it is a gentle, kindly humour that pervades the page. The reader is safe in the knowledge that order and justice will triumph. That's fine as far as I am concerned!