Last weekend, the Labour Party turned up the heat by organising a rally designed to unseat Tory MP Steven Crabb.
This sort of serious political activity is rather alien to the county’s culture where rallies usually involve vintage motor cars or tractors.
It’s not that Pembrokeshire people can’t be stirred into action – witness the big demonstrations outside county hall when sixth forms in Haverfordwest schools came under threat – but party politics doesn’t usually float their boat.
I am reminded of the story of a visitor from Spain whose taxi turned up half-an-hour late.
“Do you have an expression in Pembrokeshire equivalent to our mañana, mañana?” he asked the driver.
“Nothing that conveys that degree of urgency”, our man replied.
Meanwhile, at last Thursday’s meeting of full council, prominent local Tory Cllr David Bryan sought to discomfit Labour leader Cllr Paul Miller by asking pointed questions about the Labour group leader’s conduct at August’s extraordinary meeting of council called to approve a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Pembrokeshire College regarding future ‘A’ level provision in the county.
Cllr Bryan had been shocked to hear the Labour group leader say “rubbish” after chief executive Ian Westley claimed that the MoU with Pembrokeshire College was designed to support the teaching of ‘A’ levels in schools.
And, if that wasn’t bad enough, Cllr Bryan also complained that the Labour group leader suggested that members were being bullied into agreeing to this MoU.
He was concerned that this might in breach of the code of conduct as well as setting a bad example to new members.
Cllr Miller’s robust response to this political game-playing can be seen here at agenda item 19 (4.07 hrs).
This bullying business – arm-twisting, manipulation, call it what you will – has interested Old Grumpy for a long time and the ongoing argument about secondary school reorganisation is a classic example of how it works.
Way back at the beginning of 2015 the council had a plan for secondary education in Pembrokeshire.
The first leg involved the siting of a “Learning Campus” at Pembroke School.
This was to consist of a new school to replace the existing alongside a vocational education facility under the control of Pembrokeshire College.
This vocational centre was designed to cater for 400 students who would be transferred from the college’s Merlins Bridge site.
This 400-student deficit would then be backfilled with ‘A’ level students from St Davids, Fishguard and Haverfordwest.
Clearly, that depended on the council agreeing to the four secondary schools in the north-west of the County (St Davids, Fishguard, Sir Thomas Picton and Tasker Milward) losing their sixth forms.
St Davids and Fishguard capitulated without a shot being fired, but the second leg: the establishment of two new 11-16 secondary schools in Haverfordwest – one Welsh medium and the other English medium – proved a more difficult nut to crack when large crowds turned up outside county hall waving “Save-our-sixth-form” banners.
One of the matters under discussion was the location of the larger English medium school arising from the merger of Tasker Milward and Sir Thomas Picton..
It is interesting to look back at the reports to the extraordinary meeting of council on 29 January 2015 when members were told: “[The] site of Tasker Milward too small for combined school; there would be insufficient external areas. This is a key consideration.” (page 58) and, on page 82, “Otherwise the two schools could be merged onto the Sir Thomas Picton site (we discount the option of locating this merged school on the Tasker Milward site as the site does not have capacity for the 1350 pupils.)”
Contrast that with the contents of the MoU presented to councillors at the extraordinary meeting on 14 August 2017.
“PCC propose to create a new English Medium school in Haverfordwest, through the merger of Tasker Milward (“TM”) and Sir Thomas Picton (“STP”), to create a new school “Merged School”). This school will have 11-19 pupils. The intention, subject to funding, will be to build new school premises located on one of the existing sites, (the preference will be the current TM site) (my emphasis) , however, the location will be subject to finance and planning permissions.”
So the Tasker Milward site wasn’t big enough to accommodate an 11-16 school in January 2015, but is the preferred option for a significantly bigger 11-19 school just two-and-a-half years later.
Also back in 2015 any attempt to persuade council to accept the 11-16 model for secondary education in north west Pembrokeshire required the support of members from south of the Cleddau.
The carrot for them was the prospect of a new school at Pembroke.
The stick: the loss of that new school if Pembrokeshire College was denied the sixth form pupils from St Davids, Fishguard and Haverfordwest.
The minutes of the extraordinary meeting on 14 April 2015 record: “In response to a question on how the Pembroke School Campus would be affected if school based Sixth Forms was the preferred option, the Leader of Council [Cllr Jamie Adams] advised that there would be demand for further investment which would be outside the scope of C21 school funding; and that the College would not decant students to the Pembroke Learning Campus if Sixth Form provision remained under the control of the Authority and not at Pembrokeshire College. Furthermore, the Leader stated that the Learning Campus proposal would not then be considered transformational and would not attract C21 funding.”
So, no transfer of sixth formers to Pembrokeshire College would mean no transfer of Pembrokeshire College students to Pembroke and, because just exchanging an old school for a new school would not be considered transformational, no 21st Century Schools funding for a new school.
Of course, as we now know, this was an empty threat because, despite the decision to provide an 11-19 school in Haverfordwest, the new school at Pembroke went ahead anyway and is now nearing completion.
PS. I’m sure Cllr Bryan will have been keeping a close eye on events in Beijing where Xi Jinping’s “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era” was incorporated into the Chinese constitution establishing the 64-year-old alongside Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping in the pantheon of modern China’s most powerful leaders.
Not a single shout of “rubbish” was to be heard in the Great Hall of the People.
And if anyone felt bullied they weren’t letting on.