22 April 2008
Facing both ways
It seems I owe the Western Telegraph an apology because soon after posting last week's offering (No politics please) I opened the paper to find an informative article on the distinction between those independent candidates who are standing as members of the Independent Political (sic) Group (IPG) and those that aren't.
For those who are unfamiliar with the arcane rules governing local elections, only candidates who belong to a registered political party can have the party's name on the ballot paper.
For the rest they have a choice between "independent" or nothing.
Those wishing to avoid any hint of an association with the IPG often choose the latter.
It seems we are not the only ones because I notice that seven signed-up members of the group: Cllrs Anne Hughes, David Neale, David Rees, Brian Hall, Arwyn Williams, Leslie Raymond and John George (Party animals) have decided to play down their membership by leaving the box blank.
I have received a copy of Cllr Hughes' election address in which she describes her IPG membership thus: "I do not belong or have any association with any political party, therefore, I am not restricted in what I say or do - I do not have to tow (sic) the party line."
It is true that the IPG is not a registered political party, but, in all other respects, it behaves like one.
And it must be sheer coincidence that Cllr Hughes has unfailingly supported the party line at every council meeting I have attended (Voting machines .).
It is also difficult to understand what is the purpose of the secret conclave the IPG holds the day before every full council meeting if it is not to instruct members how to vote.
Cllr Hughes also tells the electors that she is a member of the MHPA board "which gives me the opportunity to be the community's outspoken voice in the many activities they undertake, which does not place any restrictions on me on any issues."
This is simply not true.
The document that goes out to applicants for Board membership states quite clearly that Board members are expected to work "in the best interests of the [Milford Haven Port] Authority and not in any other capacity e.g.on behalf of a nominating or representative body.
So, for instance, if it was decided that, because of the extra revenue generated by the increase in shipping, the siting of a biofuel plant at the former Mine Depot would be in MHPA's best interests, members of the board would have to either accept that view or resign.
As the job pays £6,500 a year, it is not surprising that no one has ever taken the latter course.
By claiming to be be the "community's outspoken voice" while taking MHPA's shilling, Cllr Hughes is, not for the first time, trying to have the penny and the bun (In denial).
Cllr Hughes' confusion between toe and tow reminds of an amusing story told to me by my employer, John Bartholomew, when I was working in Stoke.
His father had made the family fortune with a sand quarry and a fleet of lorries.
And while Bartholomew senior was clearly an astute businessman he was, as they say, no scholar.
One day he was chatting to a friend in the yard when a broken down lorry was towed in.
Attached to the tailboard was a makeshift sign that read "ON TOE".
The friend couldn't resist pointing out that it should be TOW not TOE.
"I know that", said the quarry owner, "but when people overtake they take a good look at the driver's door to see who the idiot is who doesn't know the difference. And the name sticks in their mind, so, when they need to hire a lorry . . . " .
Old Grumpy notices that Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have moved swiftly to block the loophole in the Code of Conduct through which Ken Livingstone and Cllr Brian Hall managed to escape.
Previously, the Code stated that members "whether acting in their official capacity or otherwise" should not do anything to bring the council or the office of member into disrepute.
Everyone thought they knew what this meant until Mr Justice Collins ruled in the Livingstone case that "otherwise" did not apply when the member was acting in his/her private capacity.
According to Mr Justice Collins, this would rule out even quite serious criminal offences not committed while on official duty because it would be up to the electorate to judge.
There is a serious flaw in this argument because, if the offence comes to light just after the election, the voter would have to wait four years before they could pass their verdict.
Now, in order to reinstate the intention of the original wording, the Code has been recast to cover disreputable conduct "at all times and in any capacity".
Regular readers will remember that Cllr Hall's "private capacity" defence was accepted by the council's standards committee, which had before it a copy of his claim for travelling expense for the journey to the function in St Davids where the threats against a BBC journalist were made, after his solicitor argued that the fact that he claimed expenses didn't mean he was attending in his official capacity.
Ah! I hear you say, if he was there in his private capacity he must have claimed expenses to which he was not entitled.
The same thought occurred to Old Grumpy, so I put down a question to the Leader to which he responded that he had nominated Cllr Hall to be his representative at the St Davids' function.
So, having been nominated by the Leader, Cllr Hall's attendance at St Davids was an "approved duty" for which he could claim expenses.
You may find all this rather Orwellian but it how the so-called democratic system works in the Kremlin on Cleddau.
As Hannah Arendt (Origins of Totalitarianism) put it: "Authoritarians have an extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of the man who can fabricate it."
Published and promoted by Mike Stoddart Court Farm Liddeston Milford Haven SA73 3QA Candidate Hakin Milford Ward, Pembs County Council elections 1 May 2008.
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