April 18 2013
Democracy and deception
There have been a large number of conflicting opinions about the Burton by-election result on that other website.
I did get drawn in myself until I decided that promoting the opposition in this way was not a particularly clever policy.
My main protagonist was a chap called Wally who has the annoying habit of putting redundant adjectives like "Certifiable" before his name.
He got quite excited when I wrote that: "As I've said many times, if IPPG candidates declare their allegiance to the party in their election material and they still end up with a majority on the council, there would be no complaints from me." which he somehow managed to interpret to mean that I would be happy with that outcome and, that being the case, my opposition to the IPPG was somehow perverse.
I did try to explain that not having complaints and being content were not the same thing, but to no avail.
To give a recent example: I have no complaints about the result of that rugby match in Cardiff, but, as an Englishman, I am far from happy with the outcome.
Of course, if I had evidence of Welsh malpractice: bribing the ref, lacing the England team's half-time oranges with mogadon, or whatever, I would have cause for complaint.
But, as there is no evidence of anything of the sort, I have to accept that my lot were beaten fair and square.
In retrospect, given all the pre-match hype in the Daily Telegraph, I consider myself lucky to have got away with losing just a bottle of wine and a fiver.
Similarly, if the IPPG won an election after openly campaigning on the party ticket, I would accept the result.
Perhaps now that Rob Summons has won Burton as a declared IPPG candidate others will be encouraged to follow suit.
What is surprising about Wally's stance is that he accepts that by hiding their true colours the IPPG is being "deceitful" but then turns his face against the idea that this deceit is an issue.
This may be because we have different ideas about the nature of democracy.
My understanding of the concept is as follows.
1. In a democracy the electorate is the sovereign body and the ultimate repository of power.
2. Because of the difficulty in assembling Pembrokeshire's 80,000 voters in one place - Athenian-style - we have a representative democracy where every four years the voters transfer their power, on a temporary basis, to elected councillors.
3. This power is transferred by means of free and fair elections, which is the basis for the claim that democracy is government with the consent of the people.
4. This must be informed consent because it is not possible to give consent to something of which you are not aware.
5. So, by concealing their true intentions from the voters, the ruling group is founded on a deception by omission. (For the full extent of this deception see Leader's speech) There are even cases where candidates have made an unequivocal promise that they will not become members of the IPPG and then signed up once the votes are safely in the bag.
If I am right about all this, it follows that the acquisition of votes by deception is no more acceptable than the used car salesman persuading someone part with their cash by misrepresenting the mileage on a second-hand car.
As far as I can see, the only difference is that the latter is illegal.
It seems that the die is cast over fortnightly black bag collections.
A couple of weeks ago the environment scrutiny committee gave the proposal the green light and last Monday the cabinet added its rubber stamp.
I am told the the former Leader Cllr John Davies had some interesting things to say about the matter at the scrutiny committee.
According to Cllr Davies, in the present economic climate difficult decisions have to be made and all 60 members have a responsibility to pull together.
I think this was a veiled warning to opposition members not to try to make political mischief over this highly contentious issue.
Old Grumpy recalls his predecessor Maurice Hughes making a similar point when he claimed that it wasn't fair to blame the IPPG for some unpopular measure or another because the decision had been taken by full council.
Well, the decision might have been taken by full council, but having been forced through by the IPG's block vote it is difficult to see why the opposition should share the blame.
That is a bit like George Osbourne claiming that Labour shouldn't complain about the so-called bedroom tax because it was approved by the Parliament of which they are members.
It is difficult to know which intellectual planet people like Maurice Hughes and John Davies inhabit.
While there is a doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility to try to extend it to the whole council is clearly ridiculous.
As for the black bin bags, I have no particular problem with them being collected fortnightly.
Then again, we have a fair sized garden and a garage where such things can be stored without too much inconvenience.
But many of my constituents live in flats where storage space is limited.
Add to that the fact that there will be families with nappy-age children and the problem is not as simple as it looks.
The council is aware of these problems and the Cabinet resolution contains the words "subject to the development of appropriate implementation plans".
But who will decide what is "appropriate"?
The Cabinet, I suppose.
It seems to me that, at a minimum, the change should be accompanied by the provision of wheely bins or other suitable vermin proof receptacles
But that won't address the storage space issue in blocks of flats, especially those where there are young children.
So I will be reserving judgement until I see what these "implementation plans" entail and if I don't think they come up to the mark I will be saying so.
Silence of the lambs
There was an interesting exchange at last Monday's corporate governance committee where Cllr Bob Kilmister was speaking on his notice of motion calling for a review of the council's scrutiny function.
Cllr Kilmister believes that scrutiny falls some way below the ideal - a view supported by both the Welsh Audit Office (WAO) and the Pembrokeshire Ministerial Board, though both concede that there have been improvements of late.
Indeed, in a report published last December, the WAO expressed doubts as to the capacity of some members to undertake the scrutiny function.
Cllr Kilmister's criticism of the scrutiny situation seemed to get under the skin of Cllr Brian Hall who is chairman of the environment scrutiny committee.
Cllr Hall told the corporate governance committee that it had not escaped his notice that, at a recent meeting of his committee, Cllr Kilmister had neither contributed to the debate nor asked a question and that he (Cllr Hall) had asked that this fact be minuted.
Old Grumpy hopes that this will become standard practice, because during my nine years on the council there are several members of the IPPG who have never uttered a word at meetings of full council.
It could be they are content to allow the leader to speak on their behalf, though I doubt they told the electorate that was their intention.
On the other hand they might be heeding Denis Thatcher's advice: "Better keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than open it and remove all doubt."
However, help is at hand because the corporate governance committee also agreed to back the webcasting of all meetings of full council.
This proposal will have to be ratified by council when it meets in May, but, with the IPPG leadership firmly behind it, that should be a formality.
Then voters will be able to judge their representatives' contribution for themselves.
Should make entertaining viewing.
Margaret Thatcher has finally been laid to rest and perhaps it now time that some of the myths that have grown up about her life are also interred.
As I said last week, I don't fully buy into the story of Maggie the Wonderwoman, though she was by a distance better than some of the others who have occupied No 10 (All a matter of timing).
But to hear some of the old unreformed lefties on the radio this past week has been unbearable.
Listening to their talk of Thatcher "laying waste" to the country with her "scorched earth policies" you might be persuaded to believe that the UK was a land of milk and honey before she came along.
That would be to forget that the principal reason she was elected in the first place was that the trades unions had brought the country to its knees in what has come to be known as "The winter of discontent".
And just three years earlier, as this quotation from the Guardian - not a member of Mrs Thatcher's fan club - attests, the country was already on skid row.
"On 28 September 1976 Denis Healey, then chancellor, was heading to Hong Kong for a meeting with fellow finance ministers. But with the pound, the markets and public confidence in the government all in freefall, he was forced to call off the trip just yards short of Heathrow, return to the Treasury and call in the IMF. This was one of the defining stories of the period: a crystalline image of a government that had been overtaken by events and was no longer wholly in charge. By Christmas of that year Mr Healey had brought out an emergency budget full of massive spending cuts."
The reason, then as now, for the "massive spending cuts" was that the government had overborrowed and in exchange for a £2 billion IMF loan Healey had been forced to promise to curb the deficit.
But perhaps the gold medal for hypocrisy should go to George Galloway MP whose overblown criticisms of Mrs T should be looked at in the light of his cozy relationship with Saddam Hussein.
At least Mrs Thatcher never got round to using poison gas on the striking miners.
Look before you leap
One day last week, with gardening out of the question because of the weather, I took the opportunity to put up the spice rack my daughter got for her birthday.
The problem was that the birthday in question was in July 2011.
It took me less than an hour and when I had finished she remarked: "That seemed easy enough - I can't think why it took 18 months"
I was tempted to reply that if it was that easy she should have fixed it herself.
However, allowing discretion to be the better part of valour, I explained that the reason the job had gone so smoothly was because of my meticulous long-term planning.
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