May 6 2008

 

All is confusion

 

I am sorry this week's column is late, but, following last week's elections, there are so many conflicting and confusing rumours swirling around county hall about who is to get what job or join which group that I spent most of the weekend lying down in a darkened room with a wet towel round my head.
Last night, unusually, I didn't touch a drop of the red stuff with a view to getting up this morning with a clear head.
I can't say I'm confident that this has worked.
As with the country generally, the Tories (+4) and Lib Dems (+1) are the winners and Labour (-6) the losers, with the other seat on the plus side of the ledger falling to an independent.
However, things are not quite that simple because the Tories gained three seats from the independents and one from Labour, while the independents took five seats from Labour and lost one to the Lib Dems.
To further complicate matters, three of these independent gains were the result of adopted Labour candidates choosing to abandon the party ticket at the last minute.
The upshot is that the county council is now made up of 42 independents, five Conservatives, five Labour, five Plaid and three Lib Dems.
If you've been keeping up so far, the bad news is that these figures are not as straightforward as they look because, in Pembrokeshire, independent has two meanings: membership of the Independent Political (sic) Group and that found in the dictionary.
What I can say with reasonable certainty is that three of these independents (Malcolm Calver, Grumpette and myself) are lexographically sound.
What is not yet known is how many of the new independents will throw their lot in with the group.
These fall loosely into three categories: Labour defectors Ken Rowlands, Umelda Havard and Lyndon Frayling; those who have taken over an IPG seat by either knocking out the incumbent or filling a vacancy through retirement (Phil Baker, David Pugh, Danny "Quango" Fellows, Michael John and Myles Pepper); and those who took opposition seats (Peter Morgan and Maureen Molyneaux).
Old Grumpy would have thought that former Labour party stalwarts would have some discomfort at the thought of joining what is in reality a Tory front, though I wouldn't rule out the possibility that the attractions of belonging to the biggest gang might help overcome any misgivings.
The second group is more difficult to call, though I should point out that, last time around, those responsible for the demise of their erstwhile colleagues were welcomed with open arms by the IPG (Night of the long faces).
What is for sure is that, if history is any guide, voters shouldn't set too much store in what the candidates said in their election leaflets (Party animals).
The phone lines will have been red hot over the weekend as the IPG leadership tried to persuade any waverers to join (there's safety, and power, in numbers) and I hope to report on the outcome next week.
Stop press: I am reliably informed that Cllrs Rowlands and Havard have signed up for the IPG and that, at its secret meeting held on Tuesday, it was decided that Cllr Anne Hughes will be the next vice-chairman (and subsequently chairman) of the council.

Money talks

Of course, as I've said before, the great strength of the IPG is the power of patronage invested in the Leader.
By my calculations, he has some £250,000 of taxpayers money in the form of special responsibility allowances at his disposal.
It is a strange political system, indeed, when the electorate is called upon to fund the subversion of the democratic system which they are supposed to cherish.
It will be interesting to see who has been promised what when the full list of Cabinet members and committee chairmen and vice-chairmen is revealed.
What is for sure is that, whether by accident or design, the recent elections have dealt the Leader a strong hand because, in addition to Islwyn Howells, the casualties include Rosemary Haynes (chairman licensing), Luke (chairman education scrutiny committee) John Griffiths (vice chairman of something or another) and retirees: Bill Hitchings (chairman planning) Don Evans (PCC rep on the police authority) and Ken Edwards (vice-chairman econ development).
Added to that are those current post-holders who are well past their sell-by date and are not expected to survive the forthcoming reshuffle.
Another special responsibility allowance (SRA) that is causing some interest, I am told, is the £8,000 (approx) to which the Leader of the main opposition party is entitled.
Two difficulties arise: firstly Labour, Conservative and Plaid are tied on five seats each, so there is no main opposition party and, secondly, in order to qualify, the party must hold at least 10% (6) of the seats.
There was, I believe, some talk of various coalitions involving Plaid, Labour and the Lib Dems but this has now been abandoned and the front runners are now thought to be the Tories who, it is claimed, are trying to lure one of their party members away from the the IPG with the promise of the party leadership and, of course, the accompanying SRA.

Party games

 

Four weeks ago (Election lowdown) I wrote about the Conservatives' (official version) tactics in the forthcoming elections.
As I said, the Tories were running two parallel campaigns: one to win seats and the other to put up a bit of a show while causing the minimum inconvenience to their friends in the IPG.
The first of these must be hailed as a limited success as they gained four seats and increased their majority to the one secured at last year's bye-election in Pembroke St Michael.
The second leg of the strategy was a resounding triumph as it yielded no seats while allowing 12 prominent members of the IPG to be returned unopposed.
I have now had time to look a little more closely at this piece of political cynicism.
For instance, eight of the Tory candidates had addresses in Haverfordwest though only two stood for seats in the town and they were both Labour held.
Meanwhile, Tory boys Cllrs Peter Stock and Mark Edwards were allowed a free run in Portfield and Prendergast.
But the strangest case was the town's Priory ward; held by card-carrying Tory David Bryan.
Three of the eight candidates live in Priory ward, though, despite the fact that a local connection is a sure-fire vote winner, none thought to contest it.
The most glaring example was the former Haverfordwest mayor David Westrup who was packed off to represent the Tories in Llangwm where he collected a derisory 82 of the 955 votes cast.
Proof, if any was needed, that the electorate doesn't take too kindly to having its intelligence insulted.
Another who suffered a humiliating defeat was Jill King who, rather than stand against self-confessed Tory supporter Brian Hall in her home town of Pembroke Dock, took herself off to Tenby where she secured just 95 out of 805.
However such a devious plan is almost bound to have its glitches and, I am told, the Leader, Cllr John Davies, is not well pleased to find his Cabinet member for education, Islwyn Howells, consigned to the dustbin of history by Tory Hancock.
Old Grumpy can provide some background to this mishap.
Back in about 2000, following the resignation of Phil Llewellyn, there was a bye-election in Rudbaxton.
There were two candidates: Islwyn Howells and Richard Hancock.
Being interested in the distinction between independent and independent, I rang Mr Hancock to enquire whether it was his intention to join the IPG if elected.
To his credit, he was honest enough to admit that he had been recruited to run for the non-political, political party by Cllr Peter Stock.
In my naivity, it didn't occur to me that the IPG would be running both candidates so I neglected to make enquiries of the eventual winner Islwyn Howells who promptly signed up for the IPG.
Mr Hancock also contested the seat, as an independent, in 2004 when Islwyn Howells was again the victor.
So it should come as no surprise to find him running again, this time in his true colours.
Hopefully, the message will get out that standing as a Tory in a Tory-voting area can be an advantage.
The other accident happened in Scleddau, where Alwyn Luke was ousted by the Tories.
The story behind this is that Alwyn Luke had been very ill and, as it was thought he would be unfit to stand, the PARTY recruited a successor.
Unfortunately, this misfired when Luke staged a miraculous recovery and insisted on throwing his hat into the ring.
And, with the independent vote split, Tory Owen James was allowed to slip through on the rails.


Every silver lining has a cloud

 

While the demise of the likes of Islwyn Howells, Bill Roberts, Rosemary Hayes and Alwyn Luke gladdened Old Grumpy's heart, other results left me feeling quite glum.
First the loss of John Cole, one of the Labour group's most conscientious and effective members; swept away by the anti-Labour tide, was a bitter pill to swallow.
As was the ending of Cllr Henry Jones' brief political career.
Henry was easily the most intelligent and well qualified member of the IPG, but he had one serious flaw: he was prone to take the description independent rather too literally and made something of a habit of voting against the party line.
Parties like the IPG, which is based on the pursuit of power rather than principle, are not well disposed to those that disagree with them and Henry paid the price.

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