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Monsanto's Shame

March 2007

Monsanto's Shame

It was always a bit embarrassing complaining about Rechem's burning of toxic waste - when the PCBs involved were manufactures in Newport.

What is worse is the news that Monsanto illegally dumped toxic waste from Newport in a site at Brofiscin quarry, at Groesfaen near Cardiff. Dangerous chemicals are leaking from the site. It could cost £100 million to clean up the chemicals that include the derivative for Agent Orange. PCBs were manufactured up to 1977 in Newport - six years after a ban in the USA.
The first report of the danger tip was made in 1972 when nine cows died on a local farm. Since then it has been a sad story of delay, cover-up and incompetence.

Statistics are fun

Statistics are sexy. Especially in Newport. The city's metamorphosis
gathers new pace and a core element of Newport Nouveau will be the
headquarters of UK's statistics. In the distant past the city's
artisans rejoiced in the skills of puddling and coal trimming. The
aristocrats of the working world were sample passers and dockers. Now
they are statisticians - hundreds of them.
Their pride and fulfilment is in the purity and objectivity of their
deductions, the elegance of methodologies, the eloquent simplicity and
grace of their graphs.

The decision to bring the headquarters of the Office of National
Statistics will see staff numbers rise from 1,300 to around 1,800. Many
of the jobs are highly skilled and decently paid. Newport was the winner
of a rigorous appraisal of competing sites because of a crop of local
graduates, the central location and ethnic diversity.

The Lyons Report quoted the move of the Patent Office to the city as an
exemplar of high value happy relocation. Initially there was sparse
enthusiasm from staff to migrate to one of Britain's new cities in the
early 1990s. But hundreds of civil servants and their families have
settled in a habitat that they have found to be very congenial. Staff
turnover was reduced to one tenth of its figure at its previous South
East of England location.

A growing cadre of 4,000 civil servants has provided new stability to
Newport's economy and a challenge for the ambitions of our children. The
investment is creating its own momentum to attract further footloose
jobs.

A little noticed bill brings new hope for the standing of statistics.
Less than one in six people trusts the government to present statistics
honestly. The Statistics Bill will make the ONS and the statistics it
generates independent of government, on a model based on the acclaimed
independence of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England.
The economist Andrew Dilnot calls it arguably the most important and
radical bill in this parliament.

A clutch of fear grips the hearts of statisticians at the threat of the
soiling of the immaculate purity of their work by the grubby hands of
politicians. Faltering trust in Government statistics is not a new
problem. In the late eighties a posse of a worried statisticians
visited my surgery. They were alarmed that moving control of Business
Statistics from the Cabinet Office to the Treasury would degrade the
value of their work. Persuasively they argued that the Treasury had the
greatest vested interest in fiddling the figures and they expected
trouble. Prime Minister Thatcher indignantly replied to my complaint
that this idea was 'unworthy.' Indeed. But it one that has wide and
increasing currency.

A past National Statistician described himself as Britain's 'most
abused civil servant'. The cynicism has been exaggerated and overblown.
The Newport based ONS will be a non ministerial government department,
so that the staff, including the Director, will remain as civil
servants, but without being under direct ministerial control.

This will enhance the credibility of all statistics, greatly adding to
the trust and value of the work of a generation of Welsh based statisticians.
The city of Newport's transformation is on course to provide the
children of steel and dockworkers with demanding clean jobs set in
parkland surroundings.
(The above article will appear in next week's House Magazine)

No peerages for principles - or dragons

There were many poignant moments at the 'celebration' of the life of David Morris at the Cardiff United Reform Church and the Gwent Crematorium.
Moving and amusing tributes were paid by his partner Shirley Newnham, his children, grandchildren and former colleagues.


One grandchild recalled that he gave him his first driving lesson at the age of 13. A flashing blue light heralded the arrival of the law at the scene of the crime and an inevitable addition to David's 'already impressive total of penalty points.'

David's former MEP colleagues turned up in force from all parts of the UK. It is a measure of his achievement that he emerged from the seductive and suffocating embrace of the European Parliament with his integrity intact. Vaughan Williams and other fellow officers in the education department of Gwent County Council, where David was Youth and Community officer. Bruce Kent represented CND. The ritual was minimal and the 'celebration' was a deeply personal evocation of a full rich life. His devotion to the ideals of peace and socialism was given the same attention to his love of cars, rugby and the joie de vie. The shabby treatment he had from New Labour angered him.

I looked up what I wrote at the time in Dragons led by Poodles. David, in spite of his 15 years of energetic service in Europe had been relegated to an unelectable position on the list, below an unknown candidate from outside of Wales. I wrote: “A Labour Party spokeswoman proved how far the Welsh Party had departed from reality and said the system used to select the Euro list was 'democratic'. As for imposing a candidate from England, she said, 'they were all chosen on their merits. They were all asked the same questions'. David Morris later objected strongly to the way that he was questioned, especially on his time as Chair of CND Wales. The Party reeled. It was the delegates at National Conference who expressed the united anger of Party members. Ron Davies was asked to accompany the delegates to a meeting with Party officials. Blair had sent him a message to 'sort it out'. Ron felt he was being expected to defend a decision he could not support and in which he had no role against a wave of hostility from the Party in Wales.”
The party has found ways to console those who have lost their seats through no fault of their own. Some retirement roles can be found. In exceptional circumstances a place is given in the House of Lords. That was the reward for Blaenau Gwent loser Maggie Jones.
There was no place for David. Peerages for cash, perhaps but no peerages for principles or for dragons.

A dossier on Iran
Oh no! Not again! George Bush is preparing a dossier on Iran.
Good to see the cynicism of many Democrats who sigh and say that we have been here before. Americans are deserting the Neocons, right-wing extremism of Bush in their millions. Disillusionment with the Iraq war swells as the American fatalities passed the 3,000 mark. The mood should spread to Downing Street. The case for an independent British Foreign Policy is paramount.

No Fatwa on Police.

Rosemary Butler raised the possibility of Wales running our own police forces. The idea has had the enthusiastic backing of the North Wales Police Chief and other top cops in the past. Peter Hain poured cold water on the idea. It's not up to Peter or anyone else to issue a fatwa on proposals that could benefit Wales.
It's no secret that many Welsh MPs see any new devolution from London to Cardiff as a threat to their jobs. Devolution means that Scotland lost MPs, Wales did not. The fear is that providing Wales with a full Scottish style parliament would cut the total of Welsh members. It's all about hanging on to power. Issues should be judged on their merits not on the vested interests of politicians. Had the police been run from Wales, we would have avoided the waste and futility of the aborted reorganisation of the police last year. The case for continuing with the present rule from a dysfunctional Home Office is a weak one. Go on you, Rosemary.
Frozen eyes
Lib Dem MP for Cardiff Central Jenny Willott told a group of MPs that she is worried about her eyes freezing this week. She is off on a trek across the artic. One of the risks is that the extreme cold could freeze the liquid in the eyes.
Why bother? Well it's about sponsorship. While I sympathise with the charities involved I have told her I will cough up if she does NOT put herself through this masochistic jaunt. Why can't we donate according to the merits of the charity rather than the madcap escapades of the fundraisers?