April 11 2013

 

All a matter of timing

 

Even in death, Baroness Thatcher divides opinion just as much as she did when in power.
My long held view is that Mrs Thatcher was carried along by the tide of events and, most of all she was lucky with the men in her life.
And I'm not talking about the influence of her father, or husband Dennis.
There is an old saying in sport that you can only play as well as the opposition allows and some of the men that Mrs Thatcher came up against would have made anyone look good.
First up is Ted Heath who picked a fight with the miners and then ran to the electorate on a "who runs Britain" ticket.
"Not you mate" was the answer and Harold Wilson was returned to power and soon after that Mrs T beat the hapless Heath in a Conservative leadership election.
Then there was Jim Callaghan who dithered over the election date with the result that, instead of going to the country in the autumn of 1978, he opted for the spring of 1979 when the "Winter of discontent" was still fresh in the voters' minds.
In its early days the Thatcher government was deeply unpopular until, that is, General Galtieri launched his ill-starred expedition to the Falklands and the Labour Party elected Michael Foot as Leader and Maggie, the successful warrior, was swept back to power in 1983.
The Labour party then elected Neil Kinnock as leader and, if that wasn't bonus enough, Arthur Scargill brought the miners out on strike without first having a ballot.
The result was another Thatcher victory in 1987.
Up against Heath, Galtieri, Foot, Kinnock and Scargill it would have been hard not to succeed.
But Mrs Thatcher also arrived on the scene at a propitious moment when the over mighty trades unions had greatly overplayed their hands.
What shouldn't be forgotten is that she was by no means the first to advocate reform of trades union law.
Some of us are old enough to remember a 1969 White Paper entitled "In Place of Strife" produced by left wing firebrand Barbara Castle - Minister of Employment in the Wilson government - which proposed severe curbs on the unions.
But after the TUC parked its tanks on the Downing Street lawn the proposal was quietly dropped with Jim Callaghan being credited with inspiring the retreat.
Ted Heath then had a go at it with the Industrial Relations Act 1971 which was repealed by the incoming Labour Government and replaced with the Trades Unions and Labour Relations Act 1974.
But this didn't prevent the Winter of Discontent and Mrs Thatcher's rise to power.
By then the country had become so disillusioned with the trades unions that pushing through legislation to curb their powers was a fairly straightforward business.
And, it might be added, though Labour was in government from 1997 - 2010 it never got round to repealing the Tories' industrial relations laws.

Jobs for the boys

Enoch Powell said that all political lives end in failure.
But that is not always the case as can be seen by the post-Leadership career of Cllr John Davies.
Cllr Davies gave up the Leadership of the county council following last May's election though given that he was in charge during the period leading up to the scathing reports on the council's education service by Estyn and CSSIW there are many who think he should have resigned long before that.
But, despite his dismal record of underachievement, Cllr Davies goes from strength to strength.
Tomorrow, I hear, he is to be installed as High Sheriff of Dyfed, though unlike many other posts he has held, this is unpaid and I understand he will have to provide his own uniform.
No doubt the blow will be softened by being "second in precedence in the counties, after the Lord-Lieutenant, except when precedence is by courtesy deferred to a Mayor or chairman of a local authority in their own district."
Since giving up the leadership of council he has become board chairman of the Royal Welsh Show, though his attempt to become Tory party candidate for Police Commissioner for Dyfed Powys turned out to be a bit of a turkey.(The carpetbagger).
He is also a long-time member of the boards of Energywatch Wales and S4C.
Still, there is quite a reduction in his workload from his time as leader of council when he also doubled up as a member of the Dyfed Powys Police Authority and Leader of the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) in addition to looking after his 360 acre Cwmbetws estate.
He has also taken quite a cut in income with the loss of the Leader's SRA (£28,000) Dyfed Powys Police Authority allowance (£7,000) and Leader of WLGA (£5,000) though I notice that in 2011 he did receive £9,700 as a board member of S4C.
He is currently billed as chairman of S4C's "commercial board" though it is not clear from the TV company's website if this is the same as chairman of the board who, in 2011, was paid just short of £50 grand.
Of course, what is puzzling is how he ever managed to reconcile all these extra-curricular activities with the supposedly full-time job of Leader of the council.
Perhaps the serial failures in the education service only goes to show that he didn't.

Coming clean

No sooner has the Pembrokeshire Ministerial Board headed back up the A40 having given Pembrokeshire County Council a pat on the back for its "journey of improvement" than another spot of bother appears over the horizon.
This takes the form of a front page article in the Western Mail which alleges that the authority breached the Data Protection Act by releasing hundreds of pages of confidential information on 10 victims of the child abuse case some 20 years ago to a third party (Steven - not his real name).
The Western Mail also claims that, having become aware of the breach, the council "harassed" the person to whom the information had been released with a view to its return.
There seems little doubt that these documents did fall into the wrong hands and on the face of it that would be a breach of the council's duty to keep such information safe.
The Data Protection Act places a heavy burden on public bodies and it shouldn't come as a surprise that from time to time mistakes are made.
Whether, given the sensitive nature of the case, the information released should have been subject to careful checking by someone in a very senior position is a moot point.
For myself, I am prepared to accept as inevitable that an organisation as large as PCC will get thing wrong occasionally and the best that can be hoped for is that lessons are learned and mistakes are minimised.
Otherwise, you have to argue for a counsel of perfection; not usually to be found where fallible humans are involved.
However, one of the lesson that should be learned is that the response to incidents like this are often more important than the incident itself.
In this case I am not sure the council has passed the test.
At half-past-five on April 3 the Western Mail sent the council an email detailing Steven's concerns and informing the council that the newspaper's reporter had accompanied Steven to the Information Commissioner's office to hand in the documents.
The email also set out Steven's claim of harassment in that the council had made attempts to retrieve the material including threats of legal action and the offer of payment for their return.
In its response at 4.30 p.m. the following day the council said: "An internal investigation is currently underway into an alleged information security incident."
Note the word "alleged" where "apparent" would have probably been more appropriate.
As for Steven's other claims, the council was quite clear: "The allegation that Council officers "harassed" Steven is strenuously denied."
Now, it is difficult to understand how the council could issue such a categorical denial less than 24 hours after the initial notification.
Surely, it would have been much wiser to have said that these allegations were being investigated.
It has always been my understanding that the first rule of public relations is to own up immediately to anything you know to be true.
And the second is never to deny anything unless you are absolutely certain the allegations are without foundation.
All it needs is for Steven to bring forward evidence that any one of the incidents of harassment actually happened and there is egg all over the council's face.
I'm afraid in terms of the council's democratic culture "the journey of improvement" still has along way to go.

Young pretender

That other website has published a photo of Old Grumpy inside the council chamber together with a conspiracy theory that makes Alice in Wonderland seem realistic.
In the picture I am sitting in the Leader's seat during a recent meeting with the Pembrokeshire Ministerial Board and the East Williamston genius has put two and two together and come up with the idea that I am making myself at home in anticipation of being lured into the IPPG by the offer of a Cabinet seat (and SRA) if Cllr Jamie Adams loses his majority following the Burton by-election.
Some of us get inspiration from a glass or two of the merlot, but others become befuddled by the merest whiff of the barmaid's apron..
Jacob should stick to the diet coke!
However, should the desired result come about in Burton, I wouldn't rule out someone being offered the bait.
I understand there have already been discussions with at least one possible recruit and there may be others lurking in the bushes.
However, the greatest danger to Cllr Adams' majority comes not from Burton but from his own ranks.
A couple of weeks ago there was a rather strange comment on that other website by Mr William Rees who referred to Cllr Peter Stock's "recently formed Pembrokeshire Alliance".
Mr Rees is in a position to know about these things because until he came in a distant second to Pearl's the Girl in Monkton he was one of those promoting the formation of this new group.
I fancy that if this new group does materialise it will be before the council's AGM and if it hasn't surfaced by then it probably never will.
Meanwhile up in Anglesey they are having a full scale election following the council's emergence from being run by Commissioners appointed by WAG.
I am told there are no fewer than three independent political groups contesting the election.
And dictionaries seem to be even more scarce up there than in Pembrokeshire because one of the groups calls itself "Unaffiliated independents"


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