Confidence trick

Despite the narrowness of the margin, last week’s attempt by the Independent Political Group (IPG)/Tory cabal to unseat Pembrokeshire County Council’s leader, Cllr David Simpson, turned out to be something of a damp squib.

While 31-29 looks like a close shave, the fact is that it had been known for several days that it was most unlikely that the IPG/Tories would be able to engineer the two further defections needed to pull it off.

Listening to the debate, it was easy to get the impression that, with defeat staring them in the face, their heart wasn’t in it and that they were dutifully going through the motions as one after another pathetic argument was trotted out.

Having put his name to the no confidence motion former IPG and council Leader Cllr John (Cwmbetws) Davies clearly felt that he had to put his oar in, but only managed to prove that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear as he treated the chamber to a masterclass in the misuse of statistics, leavened with a liberal dose of hypocrisy.

Leaning heavily on the rhetorical flourishes that are his stock in trade, “Cwmbetws” told us that the 2022 election was when “The ballot box spoke” and provided “a very succinct checklist” that “allowed everyone to take stock of the will of the people”.

In the 40 contested seats, he said, 25 new members were elected and that told him that “the majority of Pembrokeshire people expected change”.

I have in the past made fun of Cllr Davies’ fondness for using the term “drilling down” when making one of his lengthy speeches, but on this occasion he seems to have left the Black and Decker in the back of the van because had he investigated further he would have found that 17 of these 25 new members were in seats where the sitting member had retired.

So this voice-of-the-people stuff was a load of baloney because almost 70% of these 25 seats were always going to return new members regardless of whether or not the electorate “expected change”.

For the record the breakdown of these 17 new members was IPG (3) Labour (3) Tory (4) and Unaffiliated (7).

Even the eight new members from the seats where the sitting member was kicked out were a rather mixed bag comprising a Lib Dem gain from the Tories (Amroth), Lib Dem gain from IPG (Kilgetty/Begelly), IPG gain from Lib Dem (Dinas), IPG gain from Plaid Cymru (Crymych), Tory gain from Plaid Cymru (Penally), Labour gain from Unaffiliated (Pembroke Dock Bush), Unaffiliated gain from Tory (Pembroke St Michael) and one seat where an unaffiliated member unseated another (St Davids).

You need either ultra-sensitive antennae, or a vivid imagination, to detect any clear voice of the voters in that lot.

Cllr Davies also made much of his desire to see an “inclusive” council and was concerned that Cllr Simpson hadn’t “reached out” with the result that the area north of the A40 – some 12,000 people “the equivalent of a large town” – wasn’t represented in the Cabinet.

“Historically”, he claimed, the Cabinet was “geographically well spread”.

This last claim didn’t fit my recollection, but just in case my ancient memory was playing tricks, I decided to look up the minutes of the Cabinet just prior to the 2012 election during Cllr Davies’ final days as leader.

At that time, of course, with a 39-21 majority the IPG had no need to “reach out” and the Cabinet was made up entirely of Independent Political Group members.

As for the being “geographically well spread” there was but a single member representing the close-on 30,000 voters who live to the south of the A477 (John Allen-Mirehouse, Hundleton ward) and one from the eight major towns where half the county’s population reside (Anne Hughes, Milford Haven).

As an aside, I should point out that the electorate in Milford Haven took a dim view of Cllr Hughes’ decision to join the IPG in breach of her promise to be “truly independent” and not to “tow [sic] any party line” and when they were given the chance to speak at the May 2012 election they consigned her to what Trotsky referred to as “the dustbin of history”.

As for the Tories, except for a brief interjection by their leader Cllr Di Clements into Thursday’s debate, and an even less memorable contribution from Cllr Aled Thomas, they sat there grim-faced watching this slow motion car crash.

It was so bleak that even Cllr Carter couldn’t think of a cliché to mark the occasion.

After this episode has been filed away in a box labelled: “Seemed like a good idea at the time”, I fancy it will be a long time before they next volunteer to put on their tin hats and follow the IPG into the trenches.