My motion of no confidence in Cllr Rob Lewis came to a rather more sticky end than I anticipated.
I had expected the IPPG block vote to rally behind him (“We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately,” Benjamin Franklin) together with their associates in the Tory party, though it came as a bit of a surprise to find Labour Leader Cllr Paul Miller abstaining and one of his group voting against.
The Tories’ stance was rather peculiar given that one of its members, Cllr David Bryan, had submitted an identical motion of no confidence. Unfortunately, Cllr Bryan couldn’t be present to make his case, otherwise his two colleagues (Cllrs Stan Hudson and David Howlett) might have felt compelled to support him.
However, it all turned out well in the end because faced with a choice at the following day’s annual meeting between the Pembrokeshire Alliance and the Tories (they each have three members) as the recipients of the older persons’ scrutiny chair (SRA circa £9,000) the IPPG block vote returned the previous day’s compliment.
This was quite a surprise because the holder of this position is Cllr Bryan who has caused the IPPG no end of trouble by submitting a complaint to the Ombudsman about Cllr Rob Lewis’ illegal use of council computers for party political purposes.
Some strange things go on behind the scenes in the Kremlin on Cleddau.
But pride of place at last Thursday’s meeting must go to ex-labour member, now IPPG cabinet member, Cllr Simon Hancock who delivered a piece of sustained sophistry that even Cllr Rev Huw George would find difficult to match.
It was such a bravura performance that the ranks of the IPPG burst in to almost spontaneous applause at the end of it.
I say ‘almost spontaneous’ because they may have been inspired by a loud “Well done! Hear, hear” which can be heard quite clearly on the webcast at the end of Cllr Hancock’s tour de force.
It has been suggested to me that this cheerleader was the chairman Cllr Arwyn Williams.
Proponents of this theory say that (a) it sounded exactly like his voice, and (b) the chairman’s microphone is permanently switched on.
However, what they fail to take into account is the chairman’s democratic duty to be totally impartial, so we must assume it was the work of a ventriloquist skilled in mimicry.
Listen for yourself and see what you think.
But to return to Cllr Hancock’s speech, which I have transcribed from the webcast.
My observations are in square brackets.
“At the beginning of the debate Cllr Stoddart asked the question of members regarding ethics and corporate governance and so forth.
Selflessness, integrity, honesty, accountability, leadership, objectivity, and openness.
Those are the seven principles of public life as enunciated by Lord Nolan.
I’ve learned them off by heart and I’ve always done my best to practice them.
I’ve been a member of this authority for 17 years and I can give you my word – every one of you – as far as my experience with my Cabinet colleagues are concerned, we try to discharge our responsibilities in the most ethical way possible [I will write a longer post later this week explaining why several of them don’t seem to have been trying hard enough].
“Now, as far as Cllr Rob Lewis is concerned, I’m glad to say I had nothing to to with what went on [That was because, at that time, Cllr Hancock was running as a Labour candidate. You will recall that, shortly after he defected to a more comfortably-padded billet in the IPPG cabinet (SRA circa £15,000 a year), he told the Western Telegraph that his reason for doing so was an onerous contract that the labour party had imposed on its councillors requiring them, if elected, to contribute part of their allowance to party funds. As a Labour party member pointed out to me, this contract, which all Labour candidates had to sign as a condition for endorsement as an official party candidate, had been in place since September 2011 – long before the May 2012 election. Presumably all this took place before he learned the seven principles off by heart. The machinations behind Cllr Hancock’s defection can be found here].
“And I’m not his [Cllr Rob Lewis] apologist – I’m not making excuses for what went on. He breached the code of conduct in his inappropriate use of council computers for election purposes and that was clearly wrong.
He found himself in due course before the standards committee and before the Ombudsman and the latter (sic) – the standards committee – imposed a penalty, a sanction of a short suspension upon him. [In most democratic systems a cabinet member being found guilty of breaching the Code of Conduct would be a resigning/sacking issue, but in this case we have the added factor of the discrepancy between what Cllr Lewis told the Ombudsman and what he told the Returning Officer (see below)]
“Regardless of your views on the severity, or otherwise, of that sanction it was nevertheless the conclusion of a disciplinary process [As Cllr Tessa Hodgson pointed out during the debate, the standards committee was not aware of the fact that Cllr Lewis had told the Ombudsman one thing about the printing of his election leaflets and the returning officer another. The situation is that the standards committee suspended Cllr Lewis for two weeks in respect of the 21 instances where he breached the code of conduct by using council computers for party political purposes. One reason for this leniency was that he had been “forthright” in his dealings with the Ombudsman, and the committee. Since then evidence has been published on that other website which indicates that Cllr Lewis had been anything but forthright. He told the Ombudsman that his leaflets had been printed by a Mr Clive James at a cost of £90 -£100. However, when the author of that other website inspected Cllr Lewis’ election expenses return, he found a claim for £56 for paper and ink cartridges. And there was no sign of any invoice from Mr James. As a matter of logic, Cllr Lewis either lied to the Ombudsman, or he lied to the returning officer. So much for integrity and honesty. Cllr Hancock is a Magistrate, so he might be expected to understand the importance of people telling the truth to the authorities whether it be the court, the police, the Ombudsman, or the returning officer ]
“Now, I’ve been in this authority since 1995 – there have been sundry times in the past when we’ve had motions of no confidence in elected members.
I’ve never had any truck with any of them.
When I was on the Labour benches, I had no truck with any of them. I don’t vote for votes of no confidence in individuals – it seeks to personalise it to a great extent. [Is Cllr Hancock saying that there are no circumstances that would persuade him to ever support a vote of no confidence? And, given Cllr Hancock’s principled objections to these things being personalised, it is a tribute to his self-control that he managed to sit silently through the personal attacks by his Leader and Cllr David Pugh on Cllr Paul Miller and myself at both Cabinet on December 2 and full council on December 12? Still, I suppose having double-standards is preferable to having no standards at all.]
“I think we as an authority should move on. [Ah! movin’ on – the last refuge of these charlatans when cornered!]
“Votes of no confidence on a person, their whole range capabilities and talents that they can bring to this authority to benefit Pembrokeshire [So telling lies is OK so long as you have “capabilities and talents”]
I do not approve of what Rob Lewis did, but I will not be supporting this NoM. [Benjamin Franklin again!]
You know, as an authority, we’re facing unpredictable times, the uncertainty of the future with the Williams commission, the small matter of the £20 million savings – you know we’re facing uncertain times and I’d like to make a plea that as we begin the new municipal year [This “you’re-letting-the-side-down” line of argument is common in a certain type of political philosophy. There are more important issues at stake than obsessing over honesty and integrity, etc, etc. Or as Cllr Jamie Adams likes to put it: Outcomes not process. What does it matter if the station master beats his wife as long as he ensures that the trains run on time?]
“You know, no group on this council has a monopoly of the truth. [So why does the IPPG behave as if it did?]
“I think we should build each other up in this rather than condemning each other in some ways [Solidarity is not one of the seven principles. And, fortunately, we do not live in a one-party state].
“I know that scrutiny and accountability are vital to the good running of the council [But not, it would appear, when it involves holding one of his Cabinet chums to account for lying to the authorities].
“And that the controversies that we’ve had with pension arrangements and the fiasco over the grants in Pembroke Dock.
And I do pay tribute to Cllr Stoddart for his tenacity [My tenacity includes not being deflected by personal attacks by Cllrs Jamie Adams and David Pugh. And my persistence after the Cabinet and council (both including Cllr Hancock) voting down my attempt to give members access to the grant scheme files.]
“These were the result of poor governance [Is that all? I wasn’t aware that the police investigated poor governance].
“I think the flexibility of this executive owning up to mistakes that could lead to a more constructive and trusting approach in which we can achieve a greater level of consensus. [When was the last time the executive (Cabinet) willingly owned up to any of its mistakes?]
“I won’t support this NoM, but, on the contrary, I ask all elected members to look particularly to the future together to meet the threats and challenges and that we bear malice to none and show charity to all. [So there you have it: in the gospel according to Saint Simon, those who are willing to turn a blind eye to Rob Lewis’ mendacity are being charitable, while those of us who take a different view are acting out of malice.]