Thursday, October 23, 2008

One Nation Conservatism; Not So Much A Philosophy, More A Statement Of Foreign Policy

Last week's reference to my Labour colleagues on Cardiff Council gave me cause to consider my reticence to this point towards blogging on council matters. At one level, this blog was never going to become a repository for ward news because that sort of thing was never its purpose when it started two years and one major city ago and it still isn't. Sooner or later I'm sure there will be a Llandaff and Danescourt Focus Team blog, but that's for another day.

As for city-wide issues, I've always recognised that I'm a member of the ruling group and that I have responsibilities to my colleagues. Our executive team is one of the very best in the country and I would not want anything that might appear on these pages to make it harder for them to do their job. Keeping my own counsel is difficult at times; there's one ongoing story I'd really like to blog about because it has given us the winner of the 2008 Scunner Broon Award for Stupidest Political Quote Of The Year, but I'll save that for the appropriate juncture.

Nevertheless, one thing you do learn very quickly in this business is that the council is a reasonably decent microcosm of the world of electoral politics everywhere and the examples worthy of note abound. One such came last Tuesday at Environmental Scrutiny Committee, where we received a presentation from the leader of the Sustainable Development team as part of the Executive response to a scrutiny report on that subject.

What was remarkable was the questioning that followed from the two Conservative members of the committee. The first enquired about the scientific basis of the team's work, leading to a brief discussion between him and our chair about whether it was most or the vast majority of scientists who think climate change is real and anthropogenic. The second went even further, asking in all seriousness whether the council's 60% carbon emission reduction target had taken into account the actions of China, India and the USA...

And yet, the thing to note is that it's not remarkable at all. Beneath the flaky veneer of the Cameron revolution, these are the members the Conservative Party actually has; old white men for whom the one nation is Britain. Dave's thesis, of course, it that they aren't important in the grand scheme of things and that it is the Goves and Greenings and Warsis of this world that matter. But while in Cardiff we're lucky that they're only the official opposition, it is traditional conservatives like these who are running councils and Conservative Associations up and down England and will have a big say in the actions of any future Cameron government.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Impossibility Of Normality

I've been trying and failing to catch up on a backlog of blog topics over the last few days, but the work of a councillor must come first and rightly so. What's less helpful is when little nuggets are thrown your way and your feel the need to disgorge them to the blogosphere asap, thus interrupting the carefully laid plans.

Nevertheless, I must divert your attention to the latest Zogby poll (courtesy of Matt Drudge), not for the numbers (because my poll policy is pretty much the same as Lib Dem Voice's) but for the sheer depth of the demographic analysis...

"Three big days for Obama. Anything can happen, but time is running short for McCain. These numbers, if they hold, are blowout numbers. They fit the 1980 model with Reagan's victory over Carter -- but they are happening 12 days before Reagan blasted ahead. If Obama wins like this we can be talking not only victory but realignment: he leads by 27 points among Independents, 27 points among those who have already voted, 16 among newly registered voters, 31 among Hispanics, 93%-2% among African Americans, 16 among women, 27 among those 18-29, 5 among 30-49 year olds, 8 among 50-64s, 4 among those over 65, 25 among Moderates, and 12 among Catholics (which is better than Bill Clinton's 10-point victory among Catholics in 1996). He leads with men by 2 points, and is down among whites by only 6 points, down 2 in armed forces households, 3 among investors, and is tied among NASCAR fans."

As a NASCAR fan myself (highlights on Five, Tuesday night/Wednesday morning at 2am) I'm all in favour of the last category, but you have to ask yourself; if the candidates and their campaign teams are getting that depth of information and worrying about demographic groups with that level of finesse, how have they stayed sane this long?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Live From Long Island

There's something disturbingly onanistic about enjoying blogging an event while not actually enjoying the event. Still, as it appears to be the only way I can haul myself through a presidential debate, here I am again in the company of the Channel Formerly Known As News 24.

Or rather I would be, except my digibox for some reason can't pick up one of the BBC multiplexes so I can only get analogue BBC2 and in one of those engineering works during major sporting event moments, BBC2 is giving us a replay of Ding Junhui vs Graham Holt and not BBC News as it normally would be now. What I have, therefore, is Sky News, which hopefully isn't going to piss me off by cutting to the ads in due course.

The table format feels rather like a boxing match in a football stadium, with the action dwarfed by the surroundings. There's a fundamental dichotomy in the format; the candidates are closer than they've been before, but the table is in the way to prevent them taking swings at each other. Again, right from the start there's a difference in style, with McCain talking to the format and Obama talking to the camera.

Unsurprisingly McCain ducks the first exchange when Obama pins his plan to help homeowners as another bailout to the banks, instead leading with the story of Barack and the plumber from Ohio. That exchange reminds me once again of that great Bartletism; “That's the problem with the American Dream, everybody's preparing for the day they're going to be rich.”

Still, it's a good exchange to have, because it really is about the fundamental questions, about trickle-down versus trickle-up. It's a debate I'd kind of like us to have too; redistribution is fine if it allows, as Obama suggests, Joe the Plumber to be able to start his own business sooner. That sort of economic change matches the political change we as Lib Dems are looking for.

In the first of what may be many recommendations tonight, if you haven't seen Simon Schama's new series yet, catch it on iPlayer. The idea that the American Dream is finally facing the reality that there is a limit to the resources the USA can provide is critical to the answers we're seeing to question two, with Obama tightening the belts and McCain looking for new ways to scrape the barrel.

Interesting that McCain again brings up the projector in the planetarium; if my first refutation of that wasn't enough, consider that other West Wing classic, the four-hundred dollar ash tray. On the matter of balanced budgets generally, McCain brings up the spending freeze in New York; I'd refer you to my favourite political columnist, Tuesday Morning Quarterback, for an intriguing look at why balanced budgets may not be the Washington problem you think.

The copycatting here is quite breathtaking; McCain sledgehammers in with an “I am not Spock” moment, then Obama responds listing the rows he's had with the oft-forgotten core vote of the Democratic Party (the teachers unions and environmentalists).

Rarely has the answer to a question been so long when a simple no would suffice. Asking them to say what the ads have said to their faces is absolutely right, but the answers are unsurprisingly evasive on both sides. McCain calls Obama out again on the town hall meetings, which works less well after he failed to kick butt in the one we had. He also keeps going to the amount of money spent, which is fine if people care about the nuances of electoral law but how likely is that? All raising the money suggests is that Obama has raised more money than anyone ever, which at some point has to reinforce the faith so many people have in him.

The result is a pox on both houses, though my feeling is that Obama's answers are more statesmanlike and more about the culture and the politics, rather than the details of the attack ads. It might work for McCain, but Obama got to make a full defence and the discussion was about McCain attacking Obama and not the other way around. Again, not being a voter it's difficult to know.

The questions continue to be excellent; “why is your running mate better than his?” is wonderfully playground. Obama's answer is entirely about Biden, with not a hint of kicking Palin while she's down. Most interesting is how McCain opens with “America has gotten to know Sarah Palin”; hang on, the central plank of your campaign is that we don't know Obama after two years of a campaign and now you're saying they know Palin after two months? While we're on her, if you haven't seen this John Cleese video, you really should...

It's Bartletisms again though, as McCain mentions and then Obama reiterates that Palin has united the Republican Party; I can't tell you how much I wanted a “what you've done is bring the right together with the far right.” Then again, I did have the visceral thrill of McCain describing the partition of Iraq as cockamamie and Iraq as a whole as united; as a supporter of Kurdistan I got a major kick out of that piece of stupidity.

My one worry with Obama is that he's very good with numbers, which I love but you have to wonder whether the voters do. McCain's attack, “it's eloquent but you have to look carefully at the words” is the right one and it's a shame he gets it through on one of my great bugbears, free trade agreements without labour rights requirements; and as I'm reading Mark Thomas' book on Coca-Cola and the murder of trade union workers in Colombia, I'm delighted that he raised them in showing why free trade with Colombia isn't the no-brainer McCain says it is.

The image of this debate is becoming clear, however; Obama smiling that big toothy grin as McCain speaks. He's not wrong to be smiling, but it's one of those attitude things that appear to be so important in the response to these debates stateside.

Healthcare is the American policy issue I think we would understand the least, given our commitment as a nation to socialised medicine. It's also the issue that was best dealt with by Matt Santos in the West Wing debate and as Obama covers that same ground I'm willing him to deliver the beatdown; instead we get the sanitised version. Following that up is another massive question, the Roe v Wade test for Supreme Court nominees. McCain won't impose one, which is fine but it ignores the relative level of scrutiny involved; if you impose a litmus test as a Senator, that happens on the floor of the Senate, when you do so as President it stays within the Oval Office (and again, the West Wing provides some interesting primers on what the White House can do in that process). I get the feeling that I actually disagree with Obama on abortion too, it being another Obama-Santos parallel, but I'd much rather have my disagreement with him making that choice than my disagreement with McCain.

Meanwhile, as Liberal Youth prepares to discuss tuition fees at its conference, it's nice to hear Obama making the most fundamental point about fees as they are now assessed; we can't ask aspiring scientists, engineers and doctors to take on a mortgage worth of debt before they've even thought of buying a house. But again, as the education debate continues it's Santos-Vinick again as the failure of Headstart in later grades rears its head. By this point, even I'm surprised by how much West Wing there is in this debate.

And so we come to the end of the end. My guess is that McCain hasn't won this one and again, if he has won it hasn't been the big win he needed. As someone just posted on Facebook, McCain sounds like a man who's beat; we can but hope that that really is the case.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Oral Application Of My Cash Reserves

Like most members of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, I've been thinking about this leadership contest for quite some time. It's safe to say that nothing in the two Federal leadership races I've experienced could have prepared me for how different this race feels.

Those two races were of course fairly abstract for me. In 2006 I was just Chair of Manchester Universities Liberal Democrats so I was thinking about it in terms of how it would energise my new members. A year later I at least had a candidate to be passionate about, but even so, as a target council candidate in Cardiff and someone on the edge of the blogosphere the consequences of my decision were not much more than statistical in the grand scheme of things.

A Welsh leadership contest is a different beast entirely, however. Now I'm one of 159 councillors and writing from a small but select blogosphere. What's more, I've worked with and for both candidates in the Assembly, so the experience I have to base my decision on is much deeper than it has been before. And let's be clear, the one thing that experience has at least assured me of is that both Jenny Randerson and Kirsty Williams would be outstanding leaders of our party.

But where are we asking that person to lead us from and, indeed, to? Right now, every party in Wales has its vulnerabilities. Labour have the mess of Her Majesty's Government hanging round their necks and a distinct lack of new energy driving them onwards (I mean, seriously, if Edwina Hart is a credible contender for the leadership of your party, you're absolutely nowhere...) Plaid are struggling to deliver anything from their seats at the big boys table for either their nationalist or communist wings, while also struggling to reconcile those wings into a coherent national package. And while Dave manages to keep the Tories on his side of the daffodil curtain away from their nastiness, on this side the waning influence of Nick Bourne (the man who was a Cameroony before Cameron himself) looks to be leaving the door open for a tougher brand of Conservatism that is both uncomfortable with the idea of Wales and ignorant of the damage it did the last time.

So the first requirement to my mind is a leader who will take the attack to the arrogance and complacency of the other parties. As a party we massively undervalue the ability of our members in the chamber, in the place they're actually employed to work; my belief in Nick Clegg's ability to do well in that arena was a big factor in my support for him and the benefits of that are starting to become apparent.

More importantly, however, I did say that every party in Wales has its vulnerabilities and it is the Liberal Democrats own vulnerabilities that must be addressed by any new leader. I would identify two particular areas of concern;

  • While individual AM's are known for their own campaigns and called upon by the media to speak on them (Peter Black on fuel poverty, Jenny Randerson on health, Mike German on Severn Bridge tolls, and so forth) there is no great sense that we cover everything and can speak to everything. They may not do it as regularly as we would like, but the media certainly call on Nick Clegg on just about any matter, and I suspect the same was true of Nicol Stephen in Scotland. Through no real fault of his own, however, Mike German has not been called upon in that sense, certainly since Ieuan Wyn became the second centre of power in the Government. Those appearances are crucial to winning the air war and reaching out to areas with no tradition of voting Lib Dem.
  • The Liberal Democrat Group is now pretty stagnant in terms of its membership, which hasn't changed in any way since March of 2001. I'm seeing an example of the results of that right now in Cardiff, where Labour have only two newly-elected councillors in a group of thirteen and only one councillor who might be described as young; the lack of energy driving that group forward is palpable. Things in our Assembly Group aren't by any means that bad (such places tending as they do to draw in the energetic) and the ongoing policy reviews will help on the ideas front, but the need for voltage is still there.

What we need from our new leader, then, is a positive, combative attitude and a blast of fresh energy in both policy and personality.

Which is why I'm supporting Kirsty Williams.

Kirsty has already shown that desire to take the other parties on, to break the pseudo-socialist consensus and return Wales to its liberal roots. She has the character to take us forward in the chamber and the ideas to take us forward in the hearts and minds of people across the length and breadth of this country. We need nothing short of a sea change from our leader, and Kirsty is the person to deliver it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sensible Solutions From 'Oop North

John Hemming's weekly round-up of the by-elections confirms a fantastic night for us, with gains in Bristol and Wantage and holds in Haringey and Southwark. And yet, none of these are the most fascinating result of the night. For that, we must head north to the land of the wag, for in Knutsford there were by-elections for both the existing Cheshire County Council seat and for a seat on the shadow Cheshire East unitary authority. And lo it came to pass that;

Cheshire CC, Knutsford
Con 1647 (58.7; +11.4)
LD Caroline Aldhouse 818 (29.1; -2.0)
Lab 342 (12.2; -9.4)
Majority 829
Turnout 28%
Con hold
Percentage change is since May 2005

Cheshire East UA, Knutsford
Con 1679 (59.7; +2.1)
LD Caroline Aldhouse 817 (29.0; +5.0)
Lab 318 (11.3; -7.2)
Majority 862
Turnout 28%
Con hold
Percentage change is since May 2008

The unusual factor here is that these are two simultaneous by-elections to essentially the same position; Cheshire East is a shadow authority until next May when it takes over from the County Council, so one job is real until then and the other job becomes real at the same point. As the wards themselves are coterminous (the shadow authority merely uses the existing county council wards, but with three councillors per ward instead of one) you have two identical votes with the same people going into the same polling stations on the same day.

And yet, the results are not identical; indeed, not only did seven more people vote in the unitary than in the county, there was a twenty-two vote swing from Labour to Conservative in the unitary over the county ballot.

There is, however, a possible reason; while the Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates in both elections were the same, the Conservative candidates were not. The new County Councillor is a sitting borough councillor for part of the town, meaning she now has two jobs both of which are due to be abolished. Meanwhile, the new member of the unitary is the current Chairman of Cheshire County Council, on which he represents the neighbouring Bucklow ward.

The question, then, is why the new unitary authority member is changing seats. After all, Bucklow has three Conservative members of the unitary, all elected in May this year. Was he deselected in his own ward in May only to be thrown a lifebelt next door? If not, why does he want to stand for a different ward in October when clearly he didn't want to do so in May? Neither scenario suggests that the burghers of Knutsford have done well out of this little exercise in democracy.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

In Defence Of Lembit; Or, Why Targets Don't Work (Part 94)

I thought that those who think that the boy Öpik can't appear in front of a camera without a harmonica, a Z-list celebrity partner and a picture of an asteroid should be pointed towards his appearance on Wales Tonight giving a sombre, measured reaction to a sombre story. Then again, I should warn you both that ITV's answer to iPlayer is criminally inept and that the video you are about to see may be proceeded by scenes of a Daily Hate Mail advertising nature that some viewers may find distressing...

The story itself, however, gives an important insight into what happens when you give a target culture to a group of people almost specifically recruited to be innumerate. In this case, a family in Newtown, Powys have been waiting since August for a response to their claim to the Social Fund for help paying for a family funeral. ITV Wales approached the Department for Work and Pensions for a comment and they duly responded;

"...we aim to clear all such applications within sixteen working days. So far this year in Wales we have cleared 1,800 applications with an average clearance time of fourteen days, so we are exceeding that target."

Oh dear me no. For those who need it spelled out, when the target is 100% clearance at sixteen days, an average clearance time of fourteen days means that the 100% clearance time is insultingly pathetic and could easily be twice the sixteen day target. To say that you are meeting a complete clearance target when the average clearance is better you must by definition be either illiterate or innumerate; to say I'm not surprised to see a government response be either would be a colossal understatement...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Live From The Grand Old Town Hally

To be honest, I've struggled with the first two rounds of debate season. I tried to watch both on iPlayer but found myself rapidly not caring about either. Maybe that's a function of my having made my mind up long before even the primaries, but it didn't feel right to be disinterested in it. And so I promised myself to watch at least one of the debates live, which is why I'm in front of News 24 tonight.

The Town Hall format is interesting, even to a Briton brought up in the era of Question Time where public interrogation of politicians is a weekly event. What is immediately striking is the difficulty, even at the linguistic level, for either candidate to connect with the audience. Obama opens up answering on actions to bail out citizens as well as banks, but he has to talk about “you” because talking about “us” would be ludicrous; he's not feeling the pinch because he's on a senator's salary and so is McCain. But once you say you, what you're saying is very different.

It's also immediately clear why all the hype was about McCain's ability in this format. In that first answer he does a very good job of talking both to the questioner and to the whole audience; Obama fixates on the questioner. When Tom Brokaw follows up, however, it's the other way around, McCain talking to the chair while Obama talks to the crowd.

Whether it's the format or the ads, there's definitely a more direct aspect to the exchanges. Then again, I've always taken the view that there's a difference between pointing out facts about your opponent and saying they blow goats and the exchanges here are clearly about each other's record. The result is a plague on both your houses and lo, Obama's pivot is away from the row about the facts and towards the practicalities for the questioner.

The saddest thing about the financial debate is how much both sides have reached towards energy independence. By definition, being energy independent is probably more expensive than where we are now, because if it wasn't you'd already be there. There's a clear national security benefit to reducing foreign oil expenditure, but there's unlikely to be a financial one, certainly in the next eight years. Nice to hear Obama make the Apollo Project comparison; can't imagine where he got that from...

As a recovering physicist I quite like the use of the planetarium projector as an example of a bad earmark, if only because it demonstrates that McCain's advisers don't have a basic factual understanding of things. The point being made isn't that giving money to planetariums is bad, it's that $3m is too much for a projector, which is fine until you actual think about what a planetarium looks like and how much bespoke structural metalwork you need for that sort of thing. If you're going to attack a value as being ridiculous for what it is, you ought to check exactly what it is and whether it really is ridiculous.

And then Obama answers my opening point with the best pivot of the lot; I don't need a tax cut, neither does he, so we shouldn't get one. McCain's response is interesting, because he tries to paint his position as being a freeze rather than a cut on taxes for the wealthy. What they're talking about is Dubya's headline policy and whether it should be maintained or reversed; how it plays will depend very much on whether the voters spot that.

Dear God, an American called for nuclear reprocessing! I just wish it wasn't McCain! It's particularly interesting territory for McCain; much as he leads into it with his experience on nuclear ships, the reason America stopped reprocessing is because they decided it was a proliferation threat (it isn't but they had a paranoid moment). Obama's phrase, that he supports nuclear as a part of the solution, is interesting; it's better than nothing, but you can read so much into it. Tom Brokaw's been reading my blog though, taking Apollo and turning it into Manhattan just the way I told him to...

Finally we reach healthcare, a subject that has been surprising in its absence from this campaign. After all, if you as McCain are trying to paint Obama as a bleeding heart liberal egghead communist, you'd think “he wants to socialise healthcare” would be page one of your playbook. Now we're getting into the meat and drink of the narratives; Obama brings the first biblical allusion, McCain goes on the offensive with Obama talking about government first. If there's one issue that should kill the Republican Party dead at the root, it's this one; sooner or later, the inability of small government and the private sector to deliver universal healthcare will kill America itself if it doesn't get the Republicans first.

Jed Bartlet is throwing stuff at the screen right now, because McCain just invoked “in the history of the world” and you don't do that. Okay, he wasn't comparing himself to the Visigoths adjusted for inflation, but for a non-American the whole “we're the biggest force for good there's ever been” bit is pretty galling. In Obama's response I heard echoes of “I will not make an issue of the youth and inexperience of my opponent”, but that was probably just me and not the dial groups. To make things worse, Brokaw's follow up begs for the premise of the question to be rejected; in the twenty-first century, every humanitarian crisis has national security implications for everyone, no matter how far away. Either way, this is the area where I as a Briton am least qualified to judge the answers; I get Obama's point about allies, but I don't believe the majority of Americans are there yet.

Possible award for strangest comment of the night; “Russia is not behaving the way we'd expect a country that has become so rich through petrodollars would”. Yeah, 'cos the way Russia's developing is so different to the way Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Iran have. Then again, Obama responds by suggesting that Poland needs America's help to rebuild its economy and leave the old Soviet sphere of influence, and my eyes roll once more.

Inevitably there's a question from a veteran (though not one so gnarly and grizzled as we tend to think of when we conjure with that word). It's then that it strikes me that much of McCain's comfort with the format is rooted in the bond he can develop with veterans; statistically in America you're going to benefit from that a lot, but he's not had that advantage tonight until late on.

He may have been learning from me, but Tom Brokaw's been learning from David Dimbleby and he's picked a terrific last question. The answers, of course, go back to the narratives, though it's a forgiveable reach for them to do so. I still think that Obama's narrative is more authentic than McCain's, but I am biased in that respect.

It's for others to decide what the result was; maybe it's because I know the Santos-Vinick debate so well that I feel much the same after this debate as I did then. The one thing it certainly wasn't is the big McCain win he needed to overturn the current poll leads and if that is borne out and Obama survives the debate McCain was meant to beat him on, we could be very close to a result.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Yon Scunner Santos

For ten years we all complained that Tony Blair thought he was President of the United Kingdom. But today's second-hand story from the new Secretary of State for Jockshire that Scunner Broon himself is "very keen" to join the campaign in Glenrothes is something else entirely; evidence, perhaps, that the Supreme Leader thinks he's running for President.

Despite the headlines, what Jim "I'm Secretary of State for a part of the UK that has a devolved assembly so my name has to be" Murphy actually said was;

"I think it would be a real benefit to Labour's campaign if the prime minister can attend, so we'll be talking about that... But I think most people in Glenrothes in truth would rather he was certain he was doing everything he could in the economic crisis. If he is able to do that and come to Glenrothes, I think he would be a great boost to our campaign, so I think it makes sense."

Or in other words, the Prime Minister would like to talk up how much he wants to be involved and how positive it would be for the campaign, but in reality his appearance would go down like an iron airship so he's going to set Cameron up for the fall when he has another go at him for not going to a by-election and he can pivot to looking strong and responsible on the economy.

It's all very well trying to set a trap for your opponents, but erecting a ten foot neon sign above it and standing next to it waving your arms isn't usually the best way to make it work.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Doing The WRU's Bidding

My love of sport and my politics collide relatively frequently, so much so that I'm occasionally tempted to start up a sports blog a la He Who Must Not Be Named. This week, however, they seem to be particularly intertwined. Which is fine, except that I'm now an Englishman representing a part of Wales, so some of those collisions can very easily get me into a lot of trouble, particularly where rugby is involved.

At club level, I feel I have a reasonable excuse, namely that I'm from Gloucester which means I bleed Cherry and White, especially when they face Cardiff Blues in the Heineken Cup later this year. I wish I could summon up the strength to support the Blues themselves, but as regionalisation is such an abomination I don't feel especially guilty about not cheering them on.

Internationally, the rift is perhaps even deeper because the country of my birth and the country of my home are represented by the RFU and WRU, who continue to fight a broad-fronted battle to see which of them can be the most incompetent bunch of useless morons (and trust me, that's the polite version...) I tend to support Italy and Argentina, because the future of the game depends far more on their success than the tribal battles of the M4 corridor.

Which leads us to the news that Wales has made two different bids to host the 2015 World Cup, in partnership with either England or Ireland and Scotland. Now let's be clear, I hope both those bids are irrelevant; after the corrupt way they were denied the 2011 World Cup, it is absolutely vital that Japan hosts in 2015 because, again, the game there needs the boost far more than the game in any of the home nations does.

Nevertheless, the bids are important, if only because they demonstrate that the WRU hasn't learnt the lessons of 1999. That World Cup was undoubtedly the worst in the tournament's history, not least because it only produced four games of any quality and none of those were in the host country (France beat Fiji 28-19 in the pool stage in Toulouse, Argentina beat Ireland 28-24 in the play-off in Lens, South Africa beat England 44-21 in the quarter-final in Paris and France beat New Zealand 43-31 in the semi-final at Twickenham).

By 2015, however, the factors that lead Wales to distribute the 1999 tournament to the four winds (lest we forget, in that tournament, Uruguay and Spain played in Galashiels!) will largely have disappeared. Instead of the mess of rickety old stadiums Wales had then, it will be packing;

  • Millennium Stadium, Cardiff – 74,500 (1999)
  • New Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff – 26,500 (2009)
  • Liberty Stadium, Swansea – 20,532 (2005)
  • New Newport Stadium, Newport – 15,000 (c2010)
  • Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli – 14,340 (2008)

That's half a World Cup on its own just in South Wales, and the immediate question has to be, why on Earth are you including Scotland in your bid? Ireland on its own offers;

  • Lansdowne Road, Dublin – 50,000 (2010)
  • Thomond Park, Limerick – 26,500 (2008)
  • Ravenhill, Belfast – 19,100
  • Musgrave Park, Cork – c17,000 (c2010)

Add in the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham for another 15,500 and that's a World Cup right there.

But the clever thing would be to have a bid that transcended national borders and dealt purely in rugby borders. In reality, Welsh rugby's heartland is South Wales and only South Wales, which is where the five new purpose-built stadia are. What's more, that heartland borders its English compatriot, which by 2015 will be able to offer;

  • Sixways, Worcester – c20,000 (c2014)
  • Kingsholm, Gloucester – 18,000 (c2011)
  • Memorial Stadium, Bristol – 18,000 (c2010)

It may only be eight stadia and it lacks the second semi-final site that Lansdowne Road provides, but it's not so far away as to be ridiculous and it would be a fantastically rugby-focused tournament.

Whatever ends up happening, we can but hope that the WRU actually think about the quality of the tournament they're producing, instead of prostrating themselves before the business interests and scattering another World Cup to the winds. I'm not holding my breath though...