August 23 2012

 

Flash in the pan?

A reader from Hundleton has emailed to point out that that other website hasn't been updated since August 8 and he wonders if it is a mere flash in the pan.
You will recall that after being launched on the back of a rather mundane piece about drainage problems in Ford Lane East Williamston, that other website suddenly came to prominence with a first rate story about Cllr John Davies' failed bid to become Tory candidate for the post of elected police commissioner for the Dyfed Powys area.
I must admit that, for a day or two, I was concerned that this other website might challenge my position as Pembrokeshire's top political blogger, but, as time has gone on, my sleep patterns have returned to normal.
My equilibrium was slightly disturbed when a story appeared on 21 July that suggested that my super mole might have been turned, but apart from that there has been nothing much to worry about.
Is he like Icarus who flew too close to the sun, had his wings melted and fell back to earth with a bump? I am tempted to ask myself.
But experience has taught me never to underestimate the opposition and I worry that this period of silence might simply be an indication that he brewing up something really big.
Only time will tell!

Beside the seaside

Another reader has taken me up on my claim that, due to my scribblings over the years, Milford Haven is now an IPG-free zone.
"How, then, do you account for the fact that there is not a single IPG member in the arc from Amroth, through Saudersfoot, East Williamston, Tenby, Penally, Manorbier, Lamphey and on to the outskirts of Pembroke? He asks.
"Including the two seats in Pembroke that makes eight which is 33% more than Milford Haven's six", he concludes.
I must admit he has a point, though I would say in my defence that if Neyland is included in my sphere of influence it would be eight all, or it would be if Cllr Simon Hancock hadn't defected to the IPG soon after being elected unopposed as a Labour candidate.
Cllr Hancock's fancy footwork earned him a Cabinet post (Special Responsibility Allowance cica £16,000 per year) though to avoid another complaint under the Code of Conduct's respect agenda, I hasten to add that there is no suggestion that the two events were in any way connected.
Also, if you include Herbrandston's Reg Owens, whose election address contained what looked suspiciously like a promise not to join any political group, that makes nine.
However, despite all this special pleading, I am forced to concede that my claim: that the IPG's waning majority (down from 39-21 before the election to the present 32-28) is due to my influence, is on very shaky ground.
As T H Huxley said: "The great tragedy of science: the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact."
I am now working on a new theory that there is some connection between antipathy to the IPG and living near the sea, or on the route of the coast path.
Indeed, on on rough count, I calculate that, of the 35 coastal seats, 23 are represented by non-IPG members, a ratio of 2:1.
Could it be that the sea air affects people's brains in ways that make them less likely to believe arithmetically dubious claims that failure to sign up for the IPG means that Labour, with nine out of the 60 seats (eight now that Simon Hancock has defected), would take control of the council? (Smoke and mirrors).

Unchained

Good news from the Ombudsman is that he has rejected Cllr Johnny Allen Mirehouse's most recent complaint that I breached the Code of Conduct by showing disrespect to himself and his fellow IPG members in my column of February 16 (Once more into the breach).
Just prior to May's election the Ombudsman informed me that he was referring the case to the county council's Monitoring Officer for him to decide whether an investigation was warranted.
What was disturbing was that the Ombudsman had taken the preliminary view that I had breached paragraph 7(a) of the code by "attempting to create a disadvantage for Cllr Allen Mirehouse".
Paragraph 7(a) begins: "You must not in your official capacity or otherwise, use your position improperly ..." to, among other things, create a disadvantage for any person.
I wrote back pointing out that, as the Ombudsman had conceded in an earlier case that I publish this website in my private capacity, unless I was using information that had come into my possession by virtue of my membership of the council, I couldn't be using my position [as councillor] either improperly, or otherwise.
I also argued that: "Furthermore, it cannot be the case that any conduct that disadvantages another, even if is carried out in an official capacity, is caught by the code.
Cllr Allen-Mirehouse is a political opponent and as such I have every right to discredit and undermine him [disadvantage him] by whatever legal means I have at my disposal.
To hold otherwise would mean that my opponent at the forthcoming election, who is not a councillor and therefore not bound by the code, would be free to say things to my disadvantage to which I would be unable to respond in kind.
I find it difficult to accept that that was Parliament's intention when it enacted the code."
There was also a suggestion that I was conducting a campaign against Cllr Allen Mirehouse ". . . by revisiting a matter previously investigated and determined by the Adjudication Panel."
That was a reference to an earlier hearing before the Adjudication Panel for Wales into a finding by the Ombudsman that Cllr Allen-Mirehouse had breached the code when he failed to declare an interest during a debate on the National Park's "Homes for locals" policy when he owned land that could be affected by the policy.
I was rather taken aback by the suggestion that I was somehow debarred from commenting on this matter.
I attended that hearing and my contemporary accounts can be found at (Whitehall farce) (Two sides to every story) and (Simple explanation).
Readers can study the panel's decision by googling Adjudication Panel for Wales and following the links to register of tribunals/ previous tribunals.
I would draw particular attention to paragraphs 2.4.2 where it is stated that one of the disputed facts at a prior preliminary hearing was whether Cllr Allen Mirehouse owned any land capable of development when he attended the meeting of the National Park committee.
It is not stated who was disputing this fact but it certainly wasn't the Ombudsman because his finding that Cllr Allen Mirehouse had breached the code rested entirely on the ownership of such land (Simple explanation).
However, if you turn to para 5.1.2 you will read that Cllr Allen Mirehouse's QC told the tribunal that "it had never been disputed" that Cllr Allen-Mirehouse held such land.
That this glaring inconsistency passed unchallenged by this supposedly inquisitorial tribunal, speaks volumes.
Of course, this is all more than five years old but I'm rather taken by the notion that there's no such thing as a geriatric fact.
The other important development in the interval is the High Court decision in Malcolm Calver's case against the Adjudication Panel.
It is interesting to note that the Adjudication Panel didn't even turn up at the hearing to defend its decision.
Discretion being the better part of valour, I suspect.
However, as I interpret the court's decision, what it means is that provided you steer clear of defamation, incitement or downright abuse, the right to freedom of expression, that I always assumed existed in this country, survives intact, and any attempt to use a statutory code to interfere with that right will be struck down by the courts.
Furthermore, there is enhanced protection for "political comment" and on top of that there is a presumption that politicians who are subject to criticism have "thicker skins" than ordinary members of the public.
All in all, a resounding victory for free speech.
As Cllr Calver's QC, Mr Robert McCracken, told the court, the Adjudication Panel's decision, if allowed to stand, would have a "chilling" affect on free speech.
Today I feel a warm glow inside me, and I haven't even had my first glass of Merlot.

 

Life on "The Strip"

 

A dashing young prince name of Hal,
Chose an American gal for a pal.
Said: "Though I'm clearly a toff,
I can still get 'em off,
' Cos it's good for the royal morale.

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