February 17 2009


No mistake

A reader has e-mailed to suggest I must have made a mistake last week when I claimed that Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse had written a letter to fellow members of the National Park authority in which he claimed that his interest in land which he owned was "non-pecuniary" (Not easily confused).
"Even someone who belongs to the oxymoronic Independent Political Group must know better than that", my correspondent suggested.
As last week's piece relied on my memory of the events of 10 years ago - always a dangerous business for people of Grumpy's age - I made a quick visit to the shed to reacquaint myself with the documentary evidence.
Thankfully my marbles are more or less intact because Cllr Allen-Mirehouse's letter begins:
"I see from the agenda for the National Park Planning meeting on Wednesday 16th December that planning application NP/98/439 Chapel Bay Fort, angle is on the agenda for determination.
Unfortunately I am unable to attend the meeting as I have to deputise for the Lord Lieutenant who is ill.
I also realise that I should have to declare an interest and not be present during that part of the meeting as I am at present the landowner.
Bearing in mind the interest which I have in this site which is non-pecuniary I would like to urge you to vote for a site inspection at Chapel Bay Fort."
As the Monitoring Officer says in his report:
"In his letter Member A [why the MO thought Cllr Allen-Mirehouse should be given anonymity is not made clear] pointed out that as the landowner his interest was non-pecuniary. There is an obvious contradiction here since a landowner's interest is bound to be pecuniary."
There was an interesting sequel to this which I have not previously published. A few months after this episode I read in the Western Telegraph that Cllr Allen-Mirehouse had been appointed a JP.
Now, I am firmly of the opinion that a society should be extremely careful when selecting those given the power to deprive their fellow citizens of their liberty and cash.
So I took the trouble to visit the Lord Chancellor's website where I discovered that candidates for the Bench were required to inform the department of anything in their past which might bring the Magistracy into disrepute and when, in reply to my query, I was told that the LC had not been apprised of Cllr Allen-Mirehouse's brush with the National Park's MO, I wrote back to suggest that his failure to disclose this information; his apparent inability to understand the distinction between pecuniary and non-pecuniary interests; and his failure to comply with the National Park Authority's Code of Conduct, meant he wasn't, perhaps, the ideal person to be sitting in judgement.
The Lord Chancellor's Department took the view that his actions were not sufficiently serious for him to be removed from the Bench, though I was told that he had been given a warning as to his future conduct.


Gathering gloom


Lord Mandelson has said that the UK finds itself in "an uncomfortable place" during the current economic crisis because there is no blueprint for how to extricate ourselves from the mess.
This is tantamount to saying that the government hasn't got any idea whether the measures so far announced will work and is is a classic spin operation designed to bring public expectations into line with reality.
One feature of this crisis is is that this week's news always seem to be worse than last week's.
Can it be only seven months ago that the economic experts at the Western Telegraph were predicting only a mild slowdown in the economy (WT editorial)
In November the CBI was predicting that the economy would shrink by 1.5%i n 2009, it has now revised that figure down (or up) to 3%.
The fall in house prices shows no sign of bottoming out, indeed the pace may be increasing.
Unemployment is forecast to top 3 million by the end of the year.
And so on.
The question that used to be asked was whether the meltdown in the financial sector would spill over into the the real economy.
This was a bit of a no-brainer because credit is what lubricates the real economy and, as I said last September (False prophets). it was a bit like asking whether running your car without oil might damage the engine.
The next question is whether the meltdown in the real economy will have undesirable political consequences.
I would like to be optimistic about this but, again, I fear that the two are inextricably linked.
Of course, as governments across the world announce multi-billion bail-out packages for the banking system, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that money grows on trees.
One commentator in the Daily Telegraph recently observed; only half jokingly, that, nowadays, no self-respecting financial journalist will get out of bed to cover a story involving less than £10 billion, but as one US politician famously said: a billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money.
And it is an economic fact of life that governments can only spend what they can raise by either borrowing, which has to be paid back, or higher taxation, which, as the UK government has tacitly admitted by cutting VAT in an attempt to boost the economy, depresses economic activity.
At some point in the future government spending will have to be cut to take account of the new reality and at that point you can expect widespread unrest.
This is already happening in the former Soviet bloc countries of Eastern Europe where excessive borrowing in foreign currencies is already taking a heavy toll.
I find it hard to believe that it is two-and-a-half years since I first drew attention to this potential problem (Carried away).
With Wales two-fifths of the way to another Grand Slam, it is not the time to overdo the gloom, so I won't mention the public sector pensions' time bomb or the public spending implications of the related problem of our rapidly ageing population.

Tries count


Thankfully England weren't nearly as poor as I anticipated, and Wales, without Shane Williams' genius, rarely rose above the ordinary.
Still it was a terrific Test Match both for the undying commitment of both sides and, until near the end, the uncertainty of the outcome.
I watched it in the company of the family, including my three grandchildren all decked out in their Welsh rugby shirts.
They were cock-a-hoop at the end as Wales emerged victorious and seemed totally unimpressed by my claim that England had won by two tries to one.

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