What’s in a name

Comments on the Facebook page “Pembrokeshire Election 2017” seem to suggest that there are still a few people who are unfamiliar with the abbreviation IPPG.

Before the 2012 election, this shadowy organisation was known as the IPG (Independent Political Group) but, for reasons which I will reveal later, it is now known as the Independent Plus Political Group (IPPG).

The origins of this group go back to 1996 when the, then, Labour leader on the council Jackie Lawrence announced that those members elected under the Labour party banner would be forming themselves into a political group.

The rules are found in The Local Government (Committees and Political Groups) Regulations 1990:

7. The members of an authority are to be treated as divided into different political groups when there is at least one political group in existence constituted in accordance with regulation 8.

8. (1) A political group shall be treated as constituted when there is delivered to the proper officer a notice in writing which is signed by two or more members of the authority who wish to be treated as a political group.

So, there is no compulsion on members elected on a party ticket to form a group though there are certain advantages in terms of committee seats and chairmanships (SRA £9,000) for those who do, and in the case the leader of the largest opposition group trousers an allowance of nine grand.

Interestingly, this last allowance depends on the group having at least 10% of the total membership, so, when the Labour group was reduced to five by Pat Davies’ resignation, Cllr Paul Miller took a near £200 a week hit.

In PCC’s case, the statutory regulations mean that the authority would be treated as being divided into political groups if there was a group of two members and the other 58 were unaffiliated.

Soon after Mrs Lawrence made her announcement, the Independents on the council decided to form themselves into a political group.

The story at the time was that, unless they did so, Labour would dominate the council.

It was never explained how, under a system of one member one vote, the 14-strong Labour group could dominate a council of 60 members.

It is not known who promoted this fallacy, but suspicion has fallen on the, then, chief executive Mr Bryn Parry-Jones who, conspiracy theorists suggest, reasoned that a majority group with a leader who could deliver a block vote would enable him to exercise greater control.

After all, it is easier to manipulate the strings of a single puppet (the Leader) than get in a tangle with those of sixty.

Despite my pointing out on numerous occasions that this analysis is completely bogus it was still relied upon in 2012 when Jamie Adams addressed IPG’s the post-election recruitment meeting when he told the assembled throng:

“As you know, there were nine Labour members returned, there are five Plaid, three Conservatives and one Lib Dem and the question is would it be correct to allow a group that’s politically aligned to undertake the responsibility of the administration of the authority, when you consider that the largest group has nine out of 60 you do question whether they have a mandate to undertake that.

That is why it is my firm belief that we must align as a group to ensure that we carry out, basically, the mandate of the electorate in terms of allowing the authority to be run on an independent basis.

Whether this misstatement is the result of ignorance or mendacity is for others to decide, but it is hardly reassuring that a majority of those elected to control the council’s £300 million budget were taken in by this claptrap.

Mind you, the prospect of being able to share out the £200,000+ in Special Responsibility Allowances (SRAs) among themselves may have temporarily clouded their mathematical judgement.

As Upton Sinclair famously said: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it.”

Jonathan Nutting also seems to be hung up on this idea that the council cannot function without a majority group or coalition.

However, as I pointed out on the above Facebook page, this is not Westminster where whoever can command a majority in the House of Commons takes a trip to Buckingham Palace and kiss hands with the Queen.

It would be perfectly possible for PCC to operate with 60 truly independent councillors, just a its predecessor district councils did for many years.

They would elect a Leader from among their number and they would in turn appoint a cabinet.

The main difference would be that such a Leader – not being in control of a majority group – would have to come to council and convince 31 or more members to support their proposals.

This would not be as quick or convenient as being able to force things through on a block vote, but it would be more democratic.

I remember Mr Parry-Jones telling council that the new cabinet system would lead to “streamlined decision-making”.

The problem is that streamlined decision-making and democracy are uneasy bedfellows because it reduces the opportunity for meaningful debate.

It also leads to bad decision-making, as anyone observing PCC over the past few years can attest.

PS In all council documents the IPG (since 2012 the IPPG) is referred to as the Independent Group.

I take full credit for the introduction of the original P on the grounds that Political Group is how such bodies are described in the legislation (above).

Indeed for many years I referred to it as the Independent Political (sic) Group just to make sure people knew that was its statutory title and eventually the moniker IPG stuck.

The addition of a second P is more interesting.

Having been elected under the Labour flag, Cllr Simon Hancock was offered a cabinet post (SRA £15,000) by Cllr Adams on condition that he joined the ruling group.

But Cllr Hancock had promised that he would never join the IPG.

So, in order to circumvent this obstacle, the name was changed to Independent Plus Political Group – hence IPPG which is short for IPG Plus Simon Hancock.

No wonder he has earned the right to put PhD after his name.