30 August 2005

 

Testing times

Last Thursday and Friday were spent at Trent Bridge watching the fourth Ashes' Test.
Just before start of play on the first day, two young men; kitted out to look like umpires, wandered on to the field and went through the ritual of placing the bails and checking the clock.
It was not long before the security men were escorting them off the pitch and the public announcement system was informing us that they would be charged with aggravated trespass and ejected from the ground.
While the antics of the bogus umpires was nothing but a bit of harmless fun, there is no doubt that it was a clear contravention of the TCCB's policy of zero tolerance towards those who venture onto the field of play, and the two men can have no complaints about the way they were treated.
However, there were far worse things going on about which the TCCB did absolutely nothing.
It was my misfortune to find myself sitting in the William Clarke stand, in close proximity to the 'Barmy Army' whose constant, mindless chanting was utterly intolerable.
To call them half-wits would be to seriously overestimate the intelligence of these noisy, lager-fuelled exhibitionists.
It's time they, too, were shown the door.

Movable feast

The revelation that the Metropolitan Police Force's policy of shoot-to-kill with respect to suspected suicide bombers was never specifically approved by the Police Authority gives an interesting insight into the distinction between policy and operational issues.
The normal practice is for the democratic arm of the institution (the Authority) to formulate policy and for the executive (the Commissioner and his senior management team) to put those policies into effect.
However, there are two ways in which this democratic process can be subverted.
Firstly, as it is almost invariably the executive arm of the body that formulates the policy, the executive is able to present its own preferred policies in the most favourable light.
And, secondly, the executive can frame the policy so widely that almost anything it does falls within its provisions.
So, a policy gives the executive powers to do all that is necessary to protect the population from harm could easily include a shoot-to-kill policy for suspected suicide bombers.
After all, it is difficult to see what other steps would be effective against someone with the ability to blow up himself and those around him at the push of a button.
Nevertheless, I can't help but feel uneasy that such a policy can be introduced without any hint of democratic scrutiny.
In any case, I would have thought that the police themselves would feel more secure in what they were doing if the policy had democratic approval.
I am grateful to Mr John Hudson of Broadhaven for an example rather closer to home.
Mr Hudson wrote to Pembrokeshire County Council asking what authority there was for the compulsory purchase of two properties at the bottom of Barn Street Haverfordwest in connection with a proposed inner relief road.
The council replied: "In relation to plans/policies, I should make the point that some policies and plans approved by the council and contained within the policy framework are of necessity very widely drawn and will not provide specific references to individual land acquisitions. The 03/04 Corporate and Improvement Plan contains within paragraph 4.3.4 under the heading "Developing Vibrant Communities" the aim (inter alia) to review traffic management/parking arrangements in Haverfordwest and Fishguard (by March 2004). Several reports to cabinet on traffic issues in Haverfordwest have followed. As part of the review, survey work in Haverfordwest has identified an option of a relief road from Barn street to Dew Street. Further work on this option has realised the need to acquire the property in question."
From the beautifully vague "Developing Vibrant Communities" to the compulsory purchase of properties in Barn Street in two easy steps!



Democratic decencies


In the absence of a written constitution, the customs that underpin the way we are governed are generally not legally enforceable.
For instance, almost everybody understands the importance in a democracy of the concept of the unbiased chairman.
Obviously, this idea can be derived from rational principles because, unless the Chairman is prepared to act fairly, democratic debate becomes impossible.
The Chairman of the county council has sweeping powers.
He decides who can speak; he can stop a member speaking merely by standing up; his ruling on any point of order is final and cannot be questioned; and he decides whether a Notice of Motion should be debated there and then, or kicked into the long grass by referring it to the appropriate committee.
It is easy to see why these powers exist but it seems to me that, in a democracy, there is an implied agreement that such absolute powers will be used with a good deal of restraint.
A couple of years ago a Notice of Motion was submitted which required that the Chairman should follow the example of the Speaker of the House of Commons and sever his party connections during his term of office.
That was roundly defeated on the grounds that councillors have a legal right to join political groups.
That's as may be, but it occurs to Old Grumpy that any Chairman with the slightest respect for what I call the democratic decencies would voluntarily steer clear of party politics.
Most people I know understand these principles but, it seems, once in power they are overtaken by amnesia.
Or, as Lord Acton famously put it: "All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
To the best of my recollection, there have only been two occasions when the Chairman has used his discretion to have a Notice of Motion debated there and then.
It will come as no surprise to learn that, on both occasions, the sponsor was the Leader of the Independent Political (sic) Group.
The last time this happened was when the present Leader, Cllr John Davies, brought forward his hare-brained scheme to appoint deputy Cabinet Members.
We were told that there were two reasons why these posts, which have been compared in terms of usefulness with a chocolate soldering iron, were required.
Firstly, the housing portfolio was too big for one person to handle and, secondly, some of the cabinet members were new to the job and needed the assistance of a bag carrier.
The first of these grounds will not stand up to even the most cursory examination because the Welsh Assembly would only approve the scheme if it didn't cost anything, so the Cabinet member for housing and his sidekick ended up sharing the original salary on a one-third - two-thirds basis.
Surely, if the job was too much for one person it was too much for one salary, however shared out.
The second reason contains its own sunset clause, because, with the passage of time, inexperience ceases to be an issue.
So these, now, experienced Cabinet members are being forced to surrender one third of their special responsibility allowance for the luxury of an assistant they no longer need,
How the Leader resolves this problem without someone getting the chop will be the subject of a future column.
But I don't underestimate the power of the council's spin machine to square the circle, somehow.


Dream on

My attention has been drawn to an interview with Mr Richard Walker in "Pembrokeshire County Living", the Western Telegraph's glossy lifestyle magazine.
Mr Walker is known to Old Grumpy as an occasional correspondent and campaigner against the Tenby town walls' pedestrianisation scheme.
What I hadn't realised is that he is quite a famous actor who works under the name Richard Hope.
He is currently appearing as DS Purvis in Murder Investigation Team on ITV and will shortly be seen in Silent Witness on BBC1.
The reason this article was brought to my notice is that, when asked which five items he would take to a desert island, he put Old Grumpy.com recordings at the top of his list.
Talk about being flattered!
He was also invited to say which law he would bring in if he was Prime Minister for the day.
"That the Cabinet members of Pembrokeshire County Council had to say what they meant, and mean what they say."
He wasn't asked for his favourite tune but I suspect it would be: "Maybe it's because I'm a dreamer."


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