The comments on the various websites have been uniformly critical of the IPPG’s antics at the recent extraordinary meeting of the county council.
Of particular interest is the Oscar-worthy performance given by party loyalist Cllr Keith Lewis, which I have already alluded to in a previous post.
Having now had time to study the webcast of the proceedings, a more detailed analysis is now possible.
Almost immediately the motion to suspend the Chief Executive came up (3.49.31), Cllr Lewis was on his feet telling us he was feeling “uncomfortable” because he had expressed an opinion to the local paper and he wanted to know if this put him in “a prejudicial position” such as to require he declare an interest.
After hearing from the Monitoring Officer and Timothy Kerr QC on the subject of “closed minds” and “prejudicial interests” and how these could leave any decision of the council open to challenge in the courts, seven minutes after his first speech (3.56), Cllr Lewis was up again to tell us that, having heard the advice, he felt he had no alternative but to declare an interest, pack up his papers, and withdraw.
A few seconds later, Cllr Peter Morgan, another who had expressed support for the Chief Executive, can be seen squeezing past Cllr Bob Kilmister on his way out of the chamber, though there seems to be nothing on the audio to suggest that he had declared an interest.
At 3.58 Labour leader Cllr Paul Miller announced that the party’s lawyers had advised that the statements his members had made to the press were “predisposition” not “predetermination” and therefore they would be staying to take part in the debate.
Within one minute of that, something rather strange happened because Cllr Lewis, followed by Cllr Peter Morgan, re-entered the chamber. At 3.59 Cllr Lewis’ head can be seen bobbing along the bottom of the picture as he makes his way past the camera to his seat.
This was meat and drink to county hall’s conspiracy theorists who immediately jumped to the conclusion that someone had instructed the IPPG pair to get back in the chamber.
It has to be admitted that there is a solid mathematical basis for this theory because there were thirteen members who had made statements anti the Chief Executive against four in favour.
So, if all members who Mr Kerr has fixed with a “prejudicial interest” left, that would give a net gain of nine to the Chief Executive’s supporters.
Instead, with Cllr Miller expressing his intention to stay, and two IPPG stalwarts already outside, there was a net loss of two, or an adverse swing of 11.
As nobody seems to have left the chamber to convey these instructions, the conspiracy theorists have deduced that it must have been someone outside the chamber who had been watching the proceedings on their iPad.
The difficulty with this scenario is that such a role could only be filled by a council officer and, as the officer’s code of conduct forbids partisan political activity, that can be ruled out.
Anyway, what is not in doubt is that, despite having declared a prejudicial interest which required him to withdraw, Cllr Lewis had returned to his place and every time Kerr QC stands up to speak the member for Crymych’s head (or part of it) can be seen in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen.
That is another blow for the conspiracy theorists because if this was a set-up organised the IPPG’s master strategists they would surely have chosen as their stooge someone seated in a less prominent position.
At 4.10 Cllr Lewis made his third intervention to tell us that, despite his name not being on the list of wrongdoers that had earlier been read out by Mr Kerr, he still felt “strongly” that, by expressing an opinion to the newspaper, he had acted “improperly” and that his understanding of the Code of Conduct led him to believe that he should leave the chamber.
However like St Augustin (God make me good, but not just yet) he didn’t feel strongly enough to leave there and then because he promptly sat down again.
It wasn’t until 4.23, after he had made his fourth and final speech, that he bundled up his papers and left for good, but not before advising all the “other councillors who have been categoric in their opinions” that they should follow suit.
Of course, you can’t rule out entirely the possibility that the conspiracy theorists are on to something.
They will point to the delay in Cllr Peter Morgan’s dash to the door on the second exit.
Could it be that, in order to avoid the asymmetric-departure flaw in the first exit strategy, Cllr Morgan, as befits a former world-class centre, timed his run until after Cllr Rod Bowen had removed himself from the fray.
And, in support of this theory, Cllr Johnny Allen-Mirehouse’s departure also followed those of Cllrs Reg Owens and Tony Brinsden.
However, I think the Kremlin-watchers are pushing it a bit with the suggestion that the fact that Cllr Lewis had his papers tucked under his right arm on exit-one, and under the other arm on exit-two, was meant to convey the subtle message that when it comes to politics he occupies the middle of the road.