April 5 2005

Electoral fraud

Just for a change, Old Grumpy is pleased to be able to report on a politician who has brought the profession into repute.
I refer to Roger Godsiff the Labour MP for Birmingham Small Heath and Sparkbrook who blew the whistle on the wholesale abuse of the postal voting system by members of his own party during last year's local elections.
For his pains, Mr Godsiff has had to contend with an attempted deselection by his constituency party.
The vote was taken on Sunday night; by coincidence the day before an Election Commissioner was due to rule on complaints against six councillors.
In one of the most scathing judgments you are ever likely to read, Mr Richard Mawrey QC found that there had been massive, systematic and organised fraud and disqualified the six councillors.
And the police also came in for some stern cricisism.
According to the evidence, acting on a tip-off the police went to a warehouse where they found three of the defendents sorting through a large pile of postal ballots.
But, instead of carrying out a thorough investigation, the judge said, they allowed themselves to be "fobbed off" with "a cock and bull story".
Where have I heard that before?
And the Guardian reports that the judge said: "Although the police received many complaints of fraud in the run-up to the election, their attitude... could at the kindest be described as one of Olympian detachment. The name they gave the investigation of complaints - Operation Gripe - indicated better than anything else their view that the whole business was a waste of their time and that the complainants were a tiresome nuisance".
In the end the case was brought by the defeated candidates from the Liberal Democrat and People's Justice parties.
Old Grumpy's own experience of postal voting is not a happy one.
While canvassing for last summer's elections I came across an elderly gentleman who I knew.
He told me he had difficulty getting to the polling station, so I helped him fill in an application for a postal vote.
A week or so later I bumped into him in Tesco.
"Did your postal vote come through OK?" I asked solicitously.
"Yes," he said, "and I've already sent it in".
He then gave me a wink and the thumbs up, before adding: "You'll be alright - I always vote Labour."

Drop in the ocean

Controversy has arisen over the county council's decision to award a £30,000 marketing grant to Oakwood Leisure Ltd.
Apparently, the company needed the money to conduct an advertising campaign designed to win back business lost following a fatal accident on one of its rides last summer.
Old Grumpy has downloaded the company's accounts from the internet and they show that, in 2003, Oakwood made a pre-tax profit of £686,000.
Unfortunately, the next set of accounts - for 2004 when the accident occured - are not due to be submitted until October 2005 so it is not possible to say what effect last summer's tragic events had on the company's fortunes.
However, what the accounts also show is that the company has been engaged in a massive buy-back of its own shares.
In 2002 the company paid out £2 million under this heading, and the the figures for 2003 show that, after that year's accounts were ruled off, a Mrs F E Rawsthorne collected £1.6 million when she passed go and cashed in her chips.
With sums like that flying about, I can't think that our thirty grand will make much difference, one way or the other.

Invisible Tony

Mr Blair has fired the gun for the start of the election campaign, so, after the phoney war that we have endured for the past few weeks, we can now get down to the real thing.
Labour got away to a flyer when a leaflet from Sue Hayman titled "Pembrokeshire Labour Rose" appeared on the doormat last Saturday morning.
Whether this is a reference to the party's emblem, or the fragrant Ms Hayman, we can't be sure.
However, what is noticeable is the complete absence of any pictorial representation; mention, even, of the party's dear Leader.
Old Grumpy remembers the 1997 election when Mr Blair's photo was plastered all over Labour's election material, and the aftermath when hardly a day went by without a press release from our local member beginning: " Jackie Lawrence welcomes Tony Blair's initiative to ..."
It is rumoured that the Tories were planning to put out posters saying: "VOTE BLAIR - GET BROWN" but the campaign was quietly abandoned when they consulted their focus groups and discovered that Mr Brown was almost twice as popular as the Prime Minister.
Indeed, my own view is that the British electorate would prefer anyone to Tony Blair - providing it isn't Michael Howard.
And, in place of "Tough on crime- tough on the causes of crime", this latest leaflet extols the Labour Government's campaign that reminds people to keep their front doors locked, install a door chain, check ID and if in doubt, keep callers out.
Snappily titled "Lock, Stop, Chain and Check" it can, with some difficulty, be sung to the tune of "Things can only get better".

Know thyself

Critics of a recently released film about Hitler's last days in the bunker claim that it paints the evil dictator in too sympathetic a light.
Of course, it suits us to think of Hitler as some raving madman who would have no earthly chance of gaining power in a civilised democracy like the UK.
However, that is to blind ourselves to the realities of Hitler's rise.
While it certainly owed something to the thuggery of his followers, it owed much, much more to his success at the polls.
Rather than engage in wishful thinking we should heed the words of Milton Mayer, a Jewish journalist, who wrote "They Thought They Were Free" a book about ordinary Nazis.
He concluded: "Now I see a little better how Nazism overcame Germany ~ It was what most Germans wanted -- or, under pressure of combined reality and illusion, came to want. They wanted it; they got it; and they liked it. I came back home a little afraid for my country, afraid of what it might want, and get, and like, under pressure of combined reality and illusions. I felt -- and feel -- that it was not German Man that I had met, but Man. He happened to be in Germany under certain conditions. He might be here, under certain conditions. He might, under certain conditions, be I."
As somebody once said: the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Fish or foul

In response to my musings on Rhodri Morgan's tale about a dolphin (or a mackerel) turning head over heels 24 times in 1.2 seconds (see A fishy tale), I received an email from one of the First Minister's supporters pointing out that neither dolphins, nor mackerel, have heels.
In strictly anatomical terms, this is, of course, correct.
However, as it is generally agreed that dolphins are land mammals that have returned to the sea, it would seem that they are stronger candidates for heels; even if vestigial, than fish, the evolutionary history of which is wholly aquatic.
In any case, I suspect the term 'head over heels' was used metaphorically to convey the impression of somersaults as opposed to pirouettes.
Mr Morgan's advocate also points that it was not altogether clear from what was written in the Telegraph whether it was the dolphin or the fish that was doing the spinning, but, as the dolphin was the principle actor in the drama, I think it is reasonable to assume that it was he/she/it to which the First Minister was referring.
Not that it matters much because one or other of them completed at least 24 gyrations in 1.2 seconds at a rate of one revolution every five-hundredths of a second.
Had it been the fish, I suspect it would have taken off like a helicopter, never to be seen again.
If, as I believe, it was a large marine mammal of length, say, eight feet, its nose/tail would have had to complete 24 circles of 25 ft circumference, which, in the 1.2 seconds available, would require an angular velocity of 342 mph.
Then we have to consider whether the dolphin's reported behaviour is consistent with what we know about evolutionary biology..
A dolphin's business is to catch the maximum amount of fish with the minimum amount of effort.
As there is nothing to suggest that the nutritional value of a mackerel is in any way enhanced by flight, this rather complicated method of getting its dinner would be, from the dolphin's point of view, a complete waste of energy .
Furthermore, there is always the risk that the airborne fish might be snatched by a passing gannet; tilting the effort:reward ratio even further against such behaviour.
Or, as the old proverb has it, a fish in the mouth is worth two in the sky.
Indeed, to use a topical analogy, it's a bit like your fly half aimlessly kicking away good possession.
The only explanation I can come up with that is in any way consistent with both the First Minister's story and scientific theory is that the perceived spinning was a trick of the light; that the large aquatic animal was a sea lion, not a dolphin; and it had escaped from a circus.
A friend of mine, who for political reasons shall be nameless, tells me that the Mwnt area, near Cardigan, where this incident reportedly took place, is renowned for its abundant crops of magic mushrooms.
If anyone has a better hypothesis, I will be pleased to hear from them.

Lifelong learning

I know that there are those who think that we county councillors spend our time hanging around the tea room gossiping about each other.
However, reproduced below is the evidence that this is not the case.
As you will see, Old Grumpy, together with 30-40 other members, has "successfully completed" a course on planning procedure.
And what did this entail?
An exam?
Some sort of test to show we had taken in what we were told?
It involved nothing more than the ability to stay awake for two hours.
Not as easy as it sounds for someone of Old Grumpy's advanced years, especially as the seminar was held just after lunch when I am usually to be found in my favourite armchair having what I like to refer to as my power nap.
The only disappointment is that the council's press officer hasn't thought to call us all together for a photo to put in the Western Telegraph under its "Investors in People" programme.
I think I might have this certificate framed and hung up next to my 'O' level.
After the Welsh Assembly and the WLGA have gone to the trouble and expense to have it produced, to throw it in the rubbish bin, where it really belongs, would be a total waste of taxpayers' money.


Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive…those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. C. S. LEWIS (1898-1963).

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