13 December 2005

 

Parallel lives

Further to my article last week on the Standards Board for England (see Councillor's burden), I notice that Ken Livingstone is appearing before that august body, even as I write.
Mr Livingstone is charged with bringing his authority into disrepute after likening a reporter from the Evening Standard to "a guard in a concentration camp".
That would be offensive enough, even if the reporter hadn't been Jewish.
Which reminds Old Grumpy: wasn't there some business of a similar nature involving Cllr Brian Hall?
And I notice that Red Ken's alleged offence was committed in February this year which, as I recall, was about the same time that Dragon's Eye televised interviews with a top BBC executive and a Tory AM in which they claimed that, while talking to Cllr Hall at a BBC programme-launch reception in City Hall, St Davids, in January 2004, he had made threats of violence against a BBC journalist.
A complete transcript of that programme can be found at Dragon's eye
Old Grumpy understands that the BBC complained to the Ombudsman that this was behaviour likely to bring the council into disrepute, though whether the county council has a reputation worth defending is an open question.
My trawl through the Standards Board for England's website reveals that one of the issues in these disrepute cases concerns whether the member was acting in an official capacity when the alleged offence took place.
In the present case, all I can say is that, on 14 January Cllr Hall travelled to St Davids and claimed 53 miles at 50p in respect of "launch BBC programme 7.00pm"
Whether this means he was on official business is a moot point because Cllr Hall seems to have carte blanch to jump in his car and go wherever he likes at the taxpayers' expense - hence his travel claims make up 25% of the total claimed by all 60 councillors.
For instance, on 8 December 2004 he claimed 120 miles for a journey to Swansea to "Collect xxx xxx xxx developers re Pembroke Dock Properties."
Unfortunately three words have been blacked out so the identity of the developers is not known, but, having studied the regulations issued by Parliament, I can't quite see how this journey, like many others undertaken by Cllr Hall, qualifies as an approved duty.
However, I must be wrong about that because, when I queried the expenses claimed by Cllr Hall during a four day tour of Pembroke Dock in November 2001 with his business partner Dr Michael Ryan : the District Audit Service told me that, where the county council is concerned, a duty is an approved duty when: "at the request of the Chief Executive: the Leader of council and other group leaders (or their nominated representative(s)) to attend at such meetings for the proper discharge of the business of the authority."
I was also told that: "The Chief Executive informed us that he approved the duties in question and that the Leader requested that Cllr Hall undertook the duties although there is no formal record of this."
The peculiar thing is that, according to the auditor's report into Hall and Ryan's dodgy business dealings, both the Chief Executive and the, then, Leader, Maurice Hughes, knew about about the business relationship at the time the request and the nomination were made.
Given that knowledge, you might think Hall was the last person they would ask to undertake the task of escorting Ryan around Pembroke Dock.
I have asked the present Leader if Cllr Hall was his "nominated representative" on the taxi run to Swansea.


Thought police

It has not been a good week for freedom of expression, with Myra Evans convicted of unauthorised protesting outside Number 10 and the writer Lynette Burrows receiving a visit from the police after she professed her disapproval of same sex adoptions on Radio Five Live.
The law came down on Ms Burrows because what she said was considered to be a "homophobic incident" which is, in these enlightened times, considered to be "a priority crime".
And we are soon to have religious hatred legislation which will prevent us from criticising someone's belief system.
But the most chilling thing I heard this week was a programme on Radio Four on "diversity awareness training" which is, apparently, compulsory for all public bodies.
Insofar as this is designed to promote racial and gender equality, I have no problem, but it seems to go much further than that; into the realm of cultural equality.
But it a logical nonsense to suggest that we can simultaneously affirm everybody's culture for the simple reason that different cultures have values that come into direct conflict with each other.
As the political philosopher Peter Jones points out: "People are allowed to believe in the worth of their own culture, including the beliefs and values that it embodies, yet they are also required to believe that others' cultures, embodying different and conflicting beliefs and values are of no less worth. How can you expect people to embrace that absurdity?
Bring on the thought police, perhaps!

Diplomatic language

 

A senior British diplomat has provided a fascinating insight into the government's real opinion of the EU.
As Tony Blair prepared to make a last ditch attempt to push through his budget proposals, an email from Charles Crawford, the UK ambassador to Poland, was leaked to the Sunday Times.
In the email, Mr Crawford tells two of the Prime Minister's top advisors on Europe that Mr Blair should put an alarm clock on the table, timed to go off in exactly one hour, with the threat that, if agreement isn't reached before the bell rings, he intends to walk out of the meeting.
In that happy event, says Mr Crawford, the UK's budget rebate will remain intact and part of it could then be channelled directly to the former communist bloc countries.
He claims that British assistance provided by this method would go "further, faster and more efficiently" to helping the countries concerned.
What Mr Crawford is referring to are the so-called EU structural funds which take up the second largest slice (after CAP) of the community budget.
The reason for this increased effectiveness, he says, is that the cash will not have to pass through "all the bollocky EU bureaucracy" with its "sticky transaction costs, local and Brussels corruption, overheads and other rubbish."
For those not familiar with EU jargon, structural funds also masquerade as Objective 1.
Part of the "other rubbish" referred to in Mr Crawford's email is the fact that, because the EU is giving us this Objective 1 cash, it wants a say over the sort of projects that can be funded.
So, although the money was ours originally, we have little or no political control over how it is spent.
Those decisions are taken by the totally unrepresentative Objective 1 committee made up of the usual suspects from the local nomenclatura.
Even then, it has no real control because all spending decisions have to be approved by WEFO (Wales European Funding Office) - part of the "bollocky EU bureacuracy" that contributes to the "sticky transaction costs and overheads" - which is charged with ensuring that the money is spent on projects of which our political masters in Brussels approve ("other rubbish").
To date, the vast majority of the money has gone to the usual suspects: Pembrokeshire County Council, Pembrokeshire College and the Milford Haven Port Authority i.e. those who can pick their way through the "bollocky bureaucracy", rather than the wealth creators in private business.
I had hoped to provide a flavour of the sort of projects funded by our our own local Objective 1 committee, but, unfortunately, its website is down for "reconstruction".

Room at the top

A little bird tells me that the county council's Labour group could soon have a new leader.
According to my mole, Cllr Joyce Watson is thinking of giving up the post because her work commitments prevent her devoting as much time to the job as she would like.
The whisper is that there are two possible contenders for the post, which carries a £9,000 special responsibility allowance: Cllrs Sue Perkins and Ken Rowlands.
The race is likely to be close, but my stable connections tell me that Cllr Perkins is the ante-post favourite.

Current betting:
Llanion Lady 6-4 (on)
Arnold's Yard 11-8
10-1 bar
No refunds on non-runners

Stocking filler

Old Grumpy has received an email complaining about the use of Latin tags in this column.
"I think you're just showing off." my correspondent says.
Afraid to say, he's right.
So, for those who didn't have the benefit of a classical education, here are some of the more common Latin expressions and their meanings.

Non sequitur: a method of pruning apple trees, using only a saw.
Sine die: telegram from a Llanelli-based rugby league scout.
Quid pro quo: cut-price call-girl.
A posteriori: walking with your bum stuck out.
Vice versa: an anthology of rugby songs.
Ultra vires: particularly nasty strain of bird flu.
Persona non grata: someone who doesn't like cheese.

And some of our better known local organisations:

Probus: organisation that campaigns for better public transport.
Soroptimist: someone who jumps out of an upstairs window, believing they can fly.
Rotarian: a person whose backyard is too small to accommodate a conventional clothes' line.

It is a well known fact that yawning is infectious and now scientists have found that monkeys exhibit the same phenomena.

Yawn, and the world yawns with you.
Snore, and you sleep alone!

email: oldgrumpy.mike@virgin.net

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