August 8 2013


Coat of many colours

That other website is reporting that Cllr Stephen Joseph the county councillor for Milford Haven Central has abandoned Plaid Cymru in favour of the Independent Plus Political Group (IPPG).
Scooped again!
And on my own doorstep at that.
Is there no limit to this young upstart's talents.
Being beaten to the punch by Jacob is only the half of it because this defection sets at nought my 18 year campaign to turn Milford Haven into an IPG/IPPG-free zone.
And with almost four years to go to the next election, I will have plenty of time to reflect (and brood) on the unravelling of my strategy.
And, if I'm miffed, think how Plaid Cymru must be feeling having run Cllr Joseph's successful campaign to unseat Anne Hughes.
Especially as one of the main factors in his victory was the electorate's frustration at ex-Cllr Hughes' increasing desperate attempts to persuade them that she could be the same time TRULY INDEPENDENT (her emphasis) and a cabinet member bound by collective responsibility.
As she put it in her 2008 election leaflet: "I don't have to tow (sic) the party line"
It will be interesting to see what self-justification (rationalisation?) Cllr Joseph comes up with for his decision to become Anne Hughes Mark 2.
Historically, there have been three main reasons for these defections.
1. A Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA), though this is usually dressed up in fancy-sounding language about their being the best person to do the job.
2. To enable the member to better serve their constituents by getting things done in their ward. Purely by coincidence, getting things done in your ward is also perceived to be the surest route to electoral success.
3. The security of belonging to the biggest gang.

Taking these in turn: the-best-person-to-do-the-job argument takes a bit of a knock when you consider their previous employment histories which provide no reason to suggest they have the capacity to run anything much bigger than a small to medium sized whelk stall.
As for IPPG members being better placed to get things done in their ward, that as I understand would breach the Code of Conduct.
The Nolan Principles on which the Code is founded require: "Selflessness – Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends."
And the Code itself informs elected members: "7(a) You must not in your official capacity or otherwise, use or attempt to use your position improperly to confer on or secure for yourself, or any other person, an advantage or create or avoid for yourself, or any other person a disadvantage."
That section doesn't specifically refer to political or electoral advantage but 7(b)(v) which states: "You must not use, or authorise others to use the resources of your authority improperly for political purposes." seems clear enough to me.
In any case it doesn't seem to work, because at successive elections IPG members have gone down the tube in large numbers.
In 2004 it was eight including the Leader (Maurice Hughes) and three of his Cabinet colleagues.
In 2008 the party also lost eight of its sitting members and in 2012 there was a similar rate of attrition.
In the past it has bounced back by recruiting either those so-called independents who had knocked out the previous incumbents, or by turning members of the opposition - most prominently Cllrs Simon Hancock, Sue Perkins and Ken Rowlands.
And then there is the comfort of always being in the majority.
I think this flows from a combination of the herd instinct and some mistaken theory that the majority is always right.
In fact, in a democracy, the majority decides what gets done, but it doesn't necessarily decide that the right thing gets done.
Were it otherwise, majority government would be the acme of perfection.
As Professor F A Hayek put it in his great book The Road to Serfdom, people join these sort of parties because of ". . . the taste for power as such, the pleasure of being obeyed and of being part of a well-functioning machine to which everything else must give way."

The price of freedom . . .

Living in a relatively stable country like the UK, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that democracy is a natural state of affairs.
Events in Egypt should cure you of this illusion.
There, an autocratic dictator was overthrown by a popular uprising, elections were held, which by most accounts were free and fair, and Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected president.
Little over a year later he has been overthrown and to popular acclaim the army has taken power.
The army is promising early elections but who's to say that whoever wins that contest will not in turn be overthrown by the disgruntled losers.
The great mistake by Tony Blair and George Bush was to assume that, once Saddam was overthrown, a delighted Iraqi population would embrace democracy and everyone would live happily ever after.
As we now know, this was a wildly optimistic view of the world.
Our own history should warn us not to believe in these fairy stories.
Magna Carta was signed in 1215 and democracy developed by way of a civil war, the glorious revolution and series reform acts.
It was not until 1928 that women were afforded the same voting rights as men and even today almost 800 years since Magna Carta first saw the light of day we still have an unelected second chamber in our Parliament.
It is my long-held view that democracy is never a done deal.
As someone once said: "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."

Cherry picking

There was an interesting programme on Radio 4 on Tuesday dealing with the politicisation of science.
Two subjects were discussed: global warming and genetically modified crops.
The general theory is that free-marketeers refuse to accept the scientific consensus on global warming because they perceive the proposed solution - internationally agreed enforceable reductions in Carbon Dioxide emissions - as an unwelcome move towards some sort of world government.
On the other side of the coin, collectivists refuse to accept the scientific consensus on genetically modified foods because they see it as a profit-making scam by large international biotec companies like Monsanto.
I referred to this question some weeks ago (Organic voodoo) when I pointed out that those who believe in catastrophic man-made global warming have a habit of referring to those who don't buy into the full theory as deniers (as in Holocaust deniers) without seeming to appreciate that their opposition to genetic engineering puts them in the same category.
Of course, it is intellectually dishonest to rely only on those experts who support your polital viewpoint.
For myself, while I understand the physics behind the warming effects of Carbon Dioxide, I not completely sold on the idea that the outcome will be catastrophic.
Indeed, there is evidence that some gentle warming, 1-2 degrees, might be beneficial.
The more alarming projections are based on computer models and they are not able to explain the pause (10 or 15 years depending who you listen to) in the rise in global temperatures.
For anyone interested in a reasoned critique of the limits of computer models I recommend the website of Bristol University climate researcher Dr Tamsin Edwards
All the while we humans continue to pump Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere at an ever increasing rate.
Meanwhile, in what must be the largest food safety trial ever conducted, millions of Americans are tucking into genetically modified foods in ship-sinking quantities.
Other than their expanding waistlines, no adverse effects have yet been detected.
More evidence that politics is involved in all this is the almost complete lack of any opposition to genetic engineering in medicine.
Then again, you are unlikely to find much popular support for opposition to the development of treatments that have the potential to eliminate crippling and often fatal genetically inherited diseases.
You wouldn't expect the Daily Mail to come up with the headline Frankenstein Babies.
But, for my money, genetically engineered humans are a much more frightening prospect than genetically modified maize.

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