August 9 2005

Pluralism rules

When challenged as to their policies, the ruling Independent Political (sic) Group usually responds that they are working together for the good of the people of Pembrokeshire.
The implication being that anyone who opposes them is working against the good of the people.
The problem with this is that the people of Pembrokeshire have honest differences about what to do for the best.
Some want the A40 dualled, some don't.
Some want to see the Bluestone development go ahead and some don't.
There are those who see economic salvation in LNG, while others regard it as a dangerous menace.
So, the idea that there is some magic formula, that is unarguably for the good of the people of Pembrokeshire, is strictly for the birds.
And even if such a formula existed, there seems no compelling reason why Cllrs John Davies, Peter Stock, Brian Hall et al should know better than anyone else what it is.
Unfortunately, certain members of the opposition can be heard spouting this all-working-together stuff in the members' tearoom.
But, as Adam Smith said: "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices."
Smith was talking about the merchant classes, but his words can be equally applied to politicians.
Because, just as people are advantaged by free competition between suppliers of goods and services, so they also benefit from the clash of ideas that is the hallmark of any truly democratic system.
I might be persuaded to change my mind about the benefits of our adversarial political system if someone can point me to a free and prosperous people living in a one-party state.
Especially one where the media are in thrall to the ruling clique.


Penny and the bun

Michael Howard has urged the judges not to thwart the intentions of Parliament by overturning anti-terrorist laws on human rights grounds.
The problem with this is that Parliament passed the Human Rights Act, presumably intentionally.
The convention is that judges enact the will of Parliament by interpreting the statutes that emerge from the parliamentary process.
It would be just the sort of "aggressive judicial activism" that Mr Howard condemns if, instead of passing judgment on the basis of the clear words of the statute, the judges were to allow their minds to be influenced by what they thought Parliament willed or intended.
It would also lead to great uncertainty because the population would have no idea what constituted criminal behaviour and what didn't.
When the Human Rights Act was going through Parliament there were plenty of voices warning that it would lead to a politicisation of the judiciary, but they were ignored.
The fact is that the Human Rights Act is a sort of super-statute - a prism through which all other legislation is to be viewed.
Now the chickens are coming home to roost.
The issue that has caused the problem is the Law Lords declaration that the indefinite detention of foreign terrorist suspects without trial was unlawful.
What the Law Lords did not do was order the immediate release of the prisoners.
They merely pointed out that, as the law applied to foreign suspects only, it was discriminatory and was, therefore, incompatible with the Human Rights Act which outlaws such discrimination.
That a QC like Mr Howard can claim this as evidence of the judges thwarting the will of the Parliament that put the Human Rights Act on the statute book, beggars belief.
Of course, we all want to see the scourge of terrorism contained or, better still, eliminated, and we would all support reasonable laws to that end.
However, if it proves impossible to frame such laws because of human rights legislation, then either some other method must be found, or the Human Rights Act should be repealed.
Calling for the judges to ascertain the intentions of Parliament by means other than the interpretation of the statutes, is asking for the penny and the bun.


No law - no democracy

Last week, the Western Telegraph published a letter from Mr John Davies of Johnston under the headline "Herdsman's house approved by democratic vote".
This was a reference to the agricultural planning consent awarded to Cwmbetws Ltd (managing director Cllr John Davies (no relation) Leader of the County Council).
In his letter Mr Davies (Johnston) wrote: "I suspect the politics of envy in this fiasco because the democratic vote has already defeated the objections of the two councillors [myself and Cllr Tony Brinsden]. There are 60 elected members . . . and 40 of them have voted in favour of the application, which is a 66% majority and the details and its time scale are irrelevant. The democratic principles have been satisfied and the electors will hope the two councillors will accept defeat with honour."
This simplistic, not to say simpleton's, view, that a majority vote makes something democratic, cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.
For instance, if all 60 members of the county council voted to raise a private army and invade Carmarthenshire, the decision would not be democratic because Pembrokeshire County Council has no legal powers to pass such a resolution.
The county council does have legal powers to close small village schools but it would not be democratic to pass a resolution implementing the immediate closure of all schools with fewer than 50 pupils, even if all 60 members voted for it, because that would put the council in breach of its statutory obligations to undergo various consultations and other legal processes.
In short, we live in a democracy under the rule of law and any decision that is illegal cannot, by definition, be democratic, no matter how many people vote for it.
In the present case, Mr Davies (Johnston) claims that because 66% of the council voted against my notice of motion calling for the planning consent to be revoked "the details and the time scale are irrelevant."
I think, by this he means that the size of the dwelling and the timing of the sale of Cwmbetws Ltd's dairy herd are irrelevant.
However, it is my view that a quasi-judicial decision; based on incomplete information as to the planning policy regarding the size of the dwelling, and patently false evidence as to the stocking levels on the farm, cannot possibly be either legal or, if my analysis is correct, democratic.
As for the electors hoping that I will accept defeat with honour, I can only assume that Mr Davies and I move in different circles.
The revolving focus group I regularly meet in Tesco, when taking on fresh supplies of Embassy and Chilean merlot, say to me "keep at it, don't let them beat you."
One supporter emailed me with the message "Non illegitimo carborundum est" which, for those lacking a classical education, translates roughly as: "Don't let the bastards grind you down".


The old Adam

 

Because the Thatcher government adopted much of Adam Smith's free market philosophy, people think of him as a conservative.
But Smith was, in fact, an old-fashioned liberal.
In his great book "the Wealth of Nations" he constantly rails against two aspects of eighteenth century British society: the Combination Acts and the Corporation Laws.
The latter were regulations that prevented workers from obtaining employment outside their own parishes.
As Smith pointed out, this meant they were unable to getting the best price for their labour by moving to areas where their skills were in relatively short supply.
But it was the Combination Acts, which prevented the formation of trades unions, that came in for the most stick.
As he wrote: "When masters combine together to reduce the wages of their workmen, they commonly enter into a private bond or agreement not to give more than a certain wage under a certain penalty. Were the workmen to enter into a contrary combination of the same kind . . . the law would punish them very severely; and if it dealt impartially, it would treat the masters in the same manner."
Smith was also a fan of the Truck Acts which outlawed the practice whereby employers paid their workmen either in kind or in vouchers redeemable only at the employer's shops.
After saying that forcing the masters to pay in cash was "just and equitable", Smith goes on: "It only obliges them to pay that value in money, which they pretended to pay, but did not always really pay, in goods."
It is also interesting to read what Smith had to say about slavery which he condemned as not only immoral but bad business because: "A person who can acquire no property, can have no other interest but to eat as much, and labour as little as possible."
Therein lies the kernel of the idea of the property owning democracy and the consequent sale of council houses at knock down prices.

Inner-warmth

It might be my imagination, but there seems to be more tourists around this year.
On Monday, my son went to Broadhaven and couldn't find anywhere to park.
Dale was also chock- a-block.
If my, admittedly unscientific, survey proves to be right we can be sure the various tourism promotion bodies will be quick to claim the credit.
However, I would suggest that it is not colourfull brochures and TV adverts that are attracting visitors, but the now ubiquitous wet suit which allows people to stay in the sea for long periods without going all pruney and purple.
I must admit to having no first hand experience of this phenomenon, preferring the folding canvas chair, cup of coffee, Daily Telegraph and, when appropriate, a thick jumper, but the younger members of my family all swear by the things.
And, apart from the inevitable demise of the bikini, who can say they are wrong.


On the buses

My attention has been drawn to an interesting website www.abergwaun.com which deals with matters in the Northern Territories.
Also, a local newsblog has appeared on the web (www.pembrokeshiretv.com) which has stolen a march on the Western Telegraph by publishing county councillors' expenses in full.
I, too, have been toying with the idea of a cyber-paper; having registered www.pembrokeshirenews.co.uk some time ago.
Perhaps it's time to get my skates on.
Abergwaun.com also drew my attention to http://www.picturepartnership.co.uk/bia04winners/pages/911075-CO26.html where you can see pictures of the county council's transport supremo, Cllr Brian Hall, at the Bus Industry Awards at the Hilton Hotel London.
What irks me the most about these photos is the number of empty wine bottles on the tables.
Still, mustn't allow myself to wallow in the politics of envy.
Speaking of buses, following my publication of members' expenses (see King of the road) an email arrived from the Pembroke Dock region pointing out that the return bus fare from PD to Haverfordwest is £4.10.
My correspondent wondered how big a saving this would represent compared to travelling by car.
I have no idea who they had in mind but, as they live in PD, and by far the largest burden on the public purse (£9,600) was in respect of another famous resident of that town, I have to assume this was he.
The answer is that Cllr Hall claims 20 miles at 50p for the round trip + 1.50 bridge toll, which, as the mathematicians among you will already have worked out, is £6.40 more than the bus fare.
When I have a week or two to spare I will count the number of such journeys made in a year (no easy task as some days he is back and fore as many as three times) and calculate the total savings.

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