The county council’s annual meeting is almost upon us and with lucrative Special Responsibilty Allowance-bearing committee chairmanships up for grabs the conspiracy theorists are waking from their year-long sleep.
Ever since PCC’s inception in 1996, these SRAs have played a bigger part in the political direction of the authority than any ideological considerations.
The vice-chairmanship of the council is fairly straightforward because the nominations (Cllrs Simon Hancock and Mike James) have to be in ten clear working days (Bank Holidays and weekends excluded) before the meeting.
So it is those chairmanships where nominations are made on the day: planning and licensing, that generate the bulk of the gossip.
Word on the street is that Reg Owens (IPG) is set to challenge Tom Tudor (Lab) for the chairmanship of the licensing committee, while David (Doug) Howlett (Tory) will be seeking to unseat Jacob Williams (unaffiliated) on the planning committee.
And, to add a bit of spice, rumour has it that the Tories and IPG have entered into an I’ll-scratch-your-back-if-you’ll-scratch-mine pact which would see them pool their votes in an attempt to consign Cllrs Tudor and Williams to history’s dustbin.
With 25 of the 60 votes this coalition only needs to pick up a handful of floating voters to deliver the goods – and the Special Responsibility Allowances (SRAs) that go with them.
This particular conspiracy theory is not at all far-fetched when you consider the historic ties between the two groups:
Two of the present Tory group (leader Rob Summons and Steve Yelland) were loyal members of the IPG right up to last May’s election, while David Bryan spent many years as an SRA-trousering mainstay of the IPG before defecting in 2012.
On the other side we can all remember former leader Cllr John Davies’ carpet-bagging activities when he attempted to become the Tory candidate for the Police and Crime Commissioner’s job back in 2012.
And IPG stalwart Cllr Brian Hall is a self-confessed Tory supporter.
There are a couple of flies in this particular ointment such as whether old socialists like Ken Rowlands and Reg Owens could bring themselves to vote for a Tory and vice versa.
But, if the conspiracists are right, these little local difficulties may be set aside in pursuit of a bigger prize because what is being whispered in county hall’s darker recesses is that this is a practice run for next year’s annual meeting where the Leader will be up for re-election and an IPG/Tory coalition will attempt to snatch the all-powerful position.
Readers will recall Cllr Jamie Adams’ vain attempt to cling to power after last year’s election – despite his independent party’s ballot box drubbing – only withdrawing his name from the leadership contest when it dawned on him that Cllr David Simpson was unstoppable.
A demonstration that they could fit their supporters up with lucrative committee chairs would send out a signal that they were back in business.
To wrest back power at 2019’s annual meeting they would need to attract half-a-dozen of the present unaffiliated/Plaid/Labour members into their camp.
The libel laws persuade me that it would be unwise to reveal the names of those thought susceptible to being lured across with the offer of a cabinet post in a new IPG/Tory coalition, though the value of this tactic is limited by the need to keep their own side well supplied with SRAs.
You can’t get a quart out of a pint pot!
Another, not unconnected, difficulty is the lack of loyal voting fodder who ask for nothing more than the comfort blanket of being a member of the biggest group.
Indeed, the last election saw a wholesale cull of the likes of Umelda Havard, David Rees, Arwyn Williams, David Neale, Daphne Bush, etc, etc who could be relied upon to put their hands up at Jamie’s bidding.
Indeed one theory had it that Cllr Adams was made leader because he was top of the shop, alphabetically, so when there was a recorded vote his loyal foot soldiers were in no doubt about what was expected of them.
Now, with their benches packed with ambitious new members whose eyes are on higher things, offering too many goodies to likely defectors has the potential to backfire.