February 10 2009
I am pleased to report a rare triumph for the opposition at last Friday's meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council's corporate governance committee.
This involved a notice of motion (NoM) proposed by Labour leader, Cllr Sue Perkins, calling for members to be allowed to submit written questions and NoMs by e-mail.
At present members can make such submissions only by letter, or fax.
The officer's report recommended that Cllr Perkin's NoM be not adopted because of security concerns.
As the report puts it: "There is still the possibility that transmissions could be generated from destinations which are not truly those from which they purport to be sourced and they cannot be readily verifiable, as is the case with the traditional name and signature."
As I said last week (Hard copy - soft copy), the idea that there are people out there looking for the chance to sneak rogue items onto the council's agenda is beyond ridiculous.
Suggestions such as giving each councillor an individual PIN number like those we use with our credit cards cut little ice and it seemed that the Independent Political Group were going to have it all its own way - it controls eight of the twelve seats on the committee - until it was pointed out that there is no material difference between a signed letter scanned into a computer, and transmitted as an image by email, and a fax.
That prompted IPG member Cllr David Bryan to indicate that he was minded to support the NoM and, fearing a mutiny, the IPG leadership quietly fell into line.
It was not such a happy picture elsewhere as the other four opposition NoMs fell to the recommendation that "The notice of motion be not adopted" (TNOMBNA).
First up was a proposal from Cllr Tom Tudor that the council replace the traditional show of hands with an electronic voting system.
This seems right in principle because electors should be able to discover how their elected representatives voted on issues that concern them.
The IPG opposed this idea on the grounds that only nine out of the 22 councils in Wales have installed such a system and six of them don't use it because "members prefer a show of hands/find it confusing to operate".
Having observed members of the IPG glancing around to see which way the leadership is jumping before putting up their hands, I can understand where the confusion might arise.
The other grounds for opposition was the cost of installation: £25,000.
Now £25,000 is a lot of money but not compared to the hundreds of millions that the council spends each year.
It equates roughly to 50p on a band D council tax bill, or 5p if the one-off cost is spread over ten years.
IPG deputy leader Cllr Jamie Adams thought the whole thing unnecessary because members are elected and if the voters don't like what they do they can throw them out at the next election.
I have heard Cllr Adams deploy this argument before and the confidence with which he asserts it suggests he has hit upon the philosopher's stone.
However, it would be as well to bear in mind Charles Darwin's dictum that "Great ignorance more often begats great confidence, than great knowledge".
There are several flaws in Cllr Adam's analysis, if it can be dignified as such, not the least of which is that if electors are denied knowledge of voting records, they can't, in any meaningful sense, know what their elected representatives have done.
And, of course, it would mean that members who were intending to retire at the next election would be entitled to put two fingers up to those who elected them.
Also, it should be pointed out that, under the Cabinet system, the people affected by what the member does may not have the chance to have a say in his fate at the next election.
For instance, there is widespread concern in Milford Haven about the relocation of the town's library; particularly the fact that there was no consultation prior to the Cabinet making the decision, but it is the voters in Martletwy, who are in no way affected, who will decide the fate of Cllr Rob Lewis; the Cabinet member responsible.
Of course, if the IPG was a political party, this could be seen as party policy and Milfordians could lay the blame at the door of the party's two representatives in the town: Cllrs Anne Hughes and Danny Fellows.
Naturally, I rarely miss the chance to point this out to anyone who complains to me about the county council's actions.
Not easily confused
I also had a NoM on the agenda which called for the Leader's absolute power to make appointments to outside organisations and school governing bodies to be transferred to the Cabinet as a whole.
This is in keeping with my belief that, in a democracy, it is undesirable for any individual to wield so much power and patronage.
I am always struck by the example of the USA where someone with an overwhelming mandate like President Obama still has to persuade both houses of Congress to support his bank bail-out package and where his Cabinet nominees have to face a grilling in the Senate before they can take their places.
I wonder how the twice-resigned Lord Mandelson might have fared if his cabinet appointment had been subject to a similar process.
As for the prospects of members of Cllr John Davies' Cabinet under such a system, the requirement in the Code of Conduct that councillors should show respect for their fellow members means I prefer to keep my thoughts to myself.
During the debate on my NoM deputy leader Cllr Jamie Adams claimed that I was confusing power with responsibility - a claim that was repeated a few minutes later by the other deputy leader Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse.
Tweedledum and Tweedledee came instantly to mind.
I must admit it had never occurred to me that I might be unable to distinguish between these two concepts, and, even if it had, the two deputy leaders would not have been anywhere near the top of the list of those from whom I might seek guidance.
Especially Cllr Allen Mirehouse whose grasp of linguistic distinctions is, to say the least, shaky.
Old Grumpy remembers Cllr Allen Mirehouse being censured by the National Park monitoring officer in 1999 for breaching the Code of Conduct by writing a letter to his colleagues on the National Park in an attempt to influence the processing of a planning application on land which he owned.
The most amazing thing about this amazing letter, apart from the fact that someone of his experience in local government should have known better than to write it, was his claim that, despite owning the land, he did not have a pecuniary interest in the application.
Then there was his attempt to browbeat me in 2004 when he wrote demanding an apology over something which he claimed I had been quoted as telling the Western Telegraph.(Biter bitten).
In fact it was not a quote from me at all, and I had to go to all the trouble of writing back to put him right.
It just goes to show that there is no necessary connection between money spent on education (Eton and up-market cow college) and outcomes.
So, can Wales knock Jonno's boys off the top of the Six Nations' table?
Following their stunning five-try victory over the mighty Azzurri, England must be brimming with confidence as they head for the Severn Bridge to face the Grand Slam Champions, who looked less than impressive when overcoming a Scottish team that had about as much punch as an overcooked haggis.
The much vaunted Wales backs will surely be having sleepless nights as they contemplate facing the quicksilver Andy Goode and wonderfully subtle ball distribution skills of Mike Tindall.
And, if that wasn't enough, Johnson's masterstroke of recalling Joe Worsley to the back row must have sowed confusion in the opposition ranks.
I wouldn't be surprised if Martyn Williams feigns a training injury to get himself out of that confrontation.
PS None of the above should be taken as an indication that I am willing to take bets on the game.
Sorry WS, but there's a credit crunch on.
However, 40-points start and I might be tempted.
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