11 February 2003

Men of Honour

It is not often that Old Grumpy is moved to tears, but listening to Henry Olonga explaining to the Today programme why he and Andy Flower had chosen to wear black armbands during Monday's match against Namibia had the salty stuff rolling down my cheeks.
Over a crackly phone line from Zimbabwe, Olonga quietly, and with great dignity, told the interviewer that he and Flower had decided it was "time to stand up and be counted".
It was a matter of conscience, he said, and, if it resulted in persecution by Mugabe's thuggish regime, they would just have to live with it.
How refreshing, after the dithering by our own cricketers.
If these two heroes are not in the next Honours List I will chain myself to the Buckingham Palace railings.


Last post


Acting on a tip-off, I tuned into Radio Pembrokeshire on Friday to hear a clearly peeved Cllr Maurice Hughes denouncing Labour Councillor, Tom Tudor, who, The Leader said, was "trying to make a name for himself" by sending letters to the Western Telegraph.
Whatever will these Labour people get up to next?
The way they carry on you would think we were living in a democracy.
As reported last week, Cllr Hughes, under pressure during the recent meeting with the head honchos from the Welsh Assembly, made a rash promise to hold an open forum in County Hall where we could all turn up and ask him questions
Being rightly sceptical of any promise emanating from Cllr Hughes' Independent party junta, Cllr Tudor decided to try to pin His Leadership down.
So, he sent him a letter (copy to the Western Telegraph) asking for a firm date for this expedition into the sunlit uplands of open accountable government.
When it received Cllr Tudor's letter on Wednesday of last week, the Telegraph, scenting a news story, rang Cllr Hughes for a reaction.
Unfortunately, they seem to have a two-speed postal service in Merlins Bridge because Cllr Hughes claims his copy of the letter did not arrive until Thursday.
Furious at being caught on the hop, the great man, or more probably his spin-doctors, decided to attack Cllr Tudor for daring to assert his right to free speech.
This is not the first time Cllr Hughes has had problems with the postal service (see Pot and Kettle).
Though things do seem to be improving because this time the letter did at least arrive.
Better late than never, I suppose.



Nobody's perfect


Has Tony Benn taken over as chief leader writer at the Western Telegraph?
I ask this question because of a strange editorial on Iraq that appeared in last week's edition of Wales's biggest selling weekly newspaper.
The Iraqi regime has used chemical weapons both against its own people (the Kurds) and its neighbour (Iran) and suppresses its citizens with one of the most highly developed and repressive internal security systems in the modern world.
In a recent "election" Saddam managed an impressive 100% approval rating whereas
even Stalin was hard pressed to get above 97%.
But the verdict of the sages in Merlins Bridge on Saddam Hussein's murderous dictatorship is that it "… has a poor human rights record and that its definition of democracy would differ from ours …".
Talk about praising with faint damnation!
However, on closer inspection, it is clear that the arch anti-European Mr Benn cannot have been the culprit.
At one point the editorial urges that we give more weight to the opinions of our friends in the European Union than to those of the USA lest we put "those relationships [with the Europeans] in jeopardy".
It continues: "And if we don't want a united Europe what on earth did all those millions of people die for in two world wars?"
Well actually, um, er, to forestall German attempts to unite Europe by force of arms.

No tears!

I notice that the Labour Group on the County Council are calling for the suspension of the authority's £60,000 a year Head of Marketing and Communications, Dai "Spin" Thomas while an investigation is carried out into his activities.
It appears that the problem arises from disciplinary proceedings taken by Mr Thomas against the Chairman's chauffeur, one Ron John.
Mr John's offence, it seems, was to call the Chairman, Cllr Rosemary Hayes, by her first name rather than Ma'am or Madame Chairman.
That's what I call turning self-importance into an art form.
While having no desire to comment further on the present furore, I must say that, given his past attempts to deprive me of my right to freedom of expression, there would be few tears shed in this part of Liddeston if Mr Thomas comes to grief.
My first serious brush with him was way back in April 1998 when I wrote to him about what I perceived to be an attempt by the County Council to inflict financial damage on the Milford Mercury by starving it of council advertising revenue.
What brought matters to a head was a half page advert, worth several hundred pounds, advising the public of their rights to concessionary bus tokens that appeared in the Telegraph for two weeks running.
I wrote to Mr Thomas asking why this advert had not been placed in the Mercury.
He replied pleading "limited budgets" and the need to get "best value" for money.
"In this instance, it was essential that the advertising reached the whole of the county." He replied, and that the only way that could be achieved was through the Western Telegraph.
"Much as we would like to support the three smaller newspapers", he added, "I cannot justify duplicating adverts which need to be publicised county-wide."
This was, alas, at odds with the truth because the advert in question had appeared in two of the "smaller newspapers": The County Echo (Fishguard) and the Tenby Observer.
In his letter, Mr Thomas sought to butter me up with promises of future business.
"You will know", he wrote, "that advertisements which are specific to your circulation area alone are usually placed in your newspaper."
Even this was not true because a few weeks later two public notices appeared in the Western Telegraph regarding the provision of nursery education in Hakin, neither of which was placed in the Mercury.
I had long suspected that this abuse of the advertising budget for political purposes was unofficial county council policy and the previous October during my annual trawl through the authority's books I asked for details of the money spent with each of the four local papers.
The results: Western Telegraph £51,500; County Echo £5,300; Tenby Observer £4,400 and Mercury £2,100, seemed to bear out my suspicions.
While the large amount of money spent with the Telegraph might be explained away by its bigger circulation and wider geographical spread, there seems no reason why the other two, which both sold fewer copies than the Mercury, should each receive more than double the revenue.
More recently, of course, Mr Thomas made a second and more direct assault on my freedom of expression by having www.oldgrumpy.co.uk taken off the web when he threatened my ISP, freenetname with legal action over allegedly libellous statements posted on the site (see Private and confidential).
I complained to the Council's Monitoring Officer about this clear breach of the Human Rights Act but, needless to say, I didn't get anywhere.
Though I should say that, when I found a new ISP and posted up the exact same information, there was no repeat of the Council's illegal actions.
Nor did any of those I was supposed to have libelled and who Mr Thomas claimed were about to sue both myself and freenetname find the courage to venture into the witness box..


Spending priorities

At least this business has helped to cast light on the identity of Ron; the beer-carrier featured in last week's column.
Checking the petty cash accounts in my files, I notice that Ron makes another appearance as in "10/7/01 Petrol (Ron) £50.00" at about the same time as "Various-London Garden Party £131.85".
This was in respect of chauffeuring Cllr Bill Hitchings and spouse to the Royal Garden Party.
With overnight stays in London and Ron's wages, I doubt if we got much change out of £500 for that little jaunt.
Still, just as well spend the money on that as waste it on school books or home helps.

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