17 January 2012

 

Comeback kid

What a week to be without Internet access!
Having campaigned for almost 20 years to undermine the anti-democratic Independent Political Group, it begins to come apart at the seams just when I am incommunicado.
Much as hurts to admit it, considering it is published by a relative beginner, that other website has done a passably competent job of keeping people up to speed with events.
What better place to start my comeback than at the beginning which was when I put down a motion of no confidence in the Cabinet member for education, Cllr Huw George at the October meeting of council.
For whatever reason, and some conspiracy theorists suggest that it might have something to do with the absence of five members of the IPG from that meeting, the Chairman decided to remit the matter for consideration by the Cabinet.
It occurred to me, and I was not alone, that the Cabinet was hardly the place for a debate on the future of one of its own members - Rules of Natural Justice; a man shouldn't be the judge of his own cause, and all that - and we were right because the proceedings consisted of a brief statement by the Leader to the effect that he had "considerable confidence" in Cllr George, followed by the vote.
My three page submission, as to why I thought Cllr George should be held accountable for the failings of the department over which he had control, didn't even get a mention.
Fast forward to the December meeting of council where my motion of no confidence was on the agenda together with the Cabinet's recommendation that it should be rejected.
The timing of this meeting was rather unfortunate because it was three days before reports by Estyn and the Wales Audit Office were due to be published.
It was common knowledge that these two documents were critical of the authority's education service and the the Head of Education had already announced his decision to retire citing the "challenging" nature of the reports' findings.
The only elected member who had actually seen these reports was the Leader, Cllr Jamie Adams, and, although he was at pains to stress that, because of they were embargoed, he was unable to divulge their contents, he did manage to make reference to the evidence of "green shoots" contained in them.
Suitably reassured, enough members either voted against my motion, or abstained, for Cllr George to come through with quite a bit to spare.
Three days later, the reports were made public and it became clear for all to see that the "green shoots" were mainly weeds.
Not a few members, including several from the IPG, felt they had been led up the garden path by this talk of "green shoots" and Labour leader Cllr Paul Miller took the lead in calling an extraordinary meeting of council and, at the same time, gathering signatures for a second vote of no confidence in Cllr George.
By last Friday it was common knowledge that he had acquired 25 signatures, and that was without most of the malcontents within Cllr Adams' IPPG ranks.
I notice that Cllr Adams told the WT that he was unaware of Cllr Miller's motion of no confidence.
He should try to get out more.
Also last Friday, members had a meeting with the Ministerial Board to bring them up to date with the situation.
Conspicuous by his absence was the member who you might have thought had a special interest in what the Board had to say: Cllr Huw George.
Later that afternoon the IPPG held a special secret group meeting, ostensibly to discuss the two critical reports, but actually to gauge the support for Cllr George in any future vote of no confidence.
Cllr George had a prior appointment and could not be present.
If Cllr Adams had any doubt it was soon dispelled when Cllr Brian Hall made a strong statement that Cllr George should do the decent thing and resign because his continued presence was providing an easy target for opposition critics of the IPPG.
The irony of Cllr Hall taking the role of honest broker will not be lost on regular readers of this column.
Several others spoke up in support of Cllr Hall's position and all that remained was for Cllr Adams to ring the beleaguered Cabinet member to tell him the game was up.
A press release was rushed out informing the world that: "Following recent events, Cllr Huw George has asked not to continue with his current responsibilities for education." leaving unanswered the old question: did he fall, or was he pushed?
On the basis of the evidence, it would seem that the smart money is on the latter.
But, the press release continued, Cllr George's fall was to be cushioned by a quick sideways shuffle to the environment portfolio vacated by his replacement Cllr Ken Rowlands.
Deck chairs, Titanic, rearrangement, anyone?
"Cllr Rowlands", we are told: "is well qualified to undertake his new duties as he has spent a distinguished career in education, spending many years as a head teacher".
Old Grumpy notices that this last claim is being challenged on that other website where the suggestion is that Cllr Rowlands was a mere deputy head.
If this is the case, it would be interesting to know whether Cllr Adams invented the bit about "the many years as a head teacher", or whether he was merely recycling information provided by Cllr Rowlands.
If the head teacher claim turns out to be untrue, it is a rather poor reflection on one or other of them.
And as Shakespeare said: "When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions", because, to add to his problems, Cllr Adams now has to contend with a majority reduced to two by the flight of Cllr Stock.
My hunch is that Cllr Stock will be seeking to recruit others to join his Pembrokeshire Alliance Party and, if he manages to lure one or more from the IPPG, that will destroy its majority with the consequence that it will be unable to guarantee its members seats on the SRA gravy train.
At a stroke the patronage that holds the group together will disappear and democratic politics can return to Pembrokeshire after a 17-year absence.
Interestingly, Cllr Stock's defection makes it ever more likely that I will score three out of three for the predictions I made last February (The grapevine).
What is even more interesting is that, at the IPG's recruitment meeting following last May's elections, it was Cllr Stock who was called upon to make a speech encouraging the new members to sign up (Smoke and mirrors).
This is part of what he had to say: "So, I say to everyone in here who has not signed up - think hard about it. If you love your ward in the way that you do, you will need help to get the best. You have to produce, at the end of the day, something for them and you will not be able to do that working alone. You need the support of the group."
Keen students of Pembrokeshire politics can read what Cllr Jamie Adams told the recruitment meeting at (Through the looking-glass)

History lesson

This week I will provide a brief resume of the political career of Cllr Ken Rowlands - newly appointed Cabinet member for education.
Cllr Rowlands was first elected to the council in 2004, when, following the retirement of George Grey, he took the Johnston seat for Labour.
He first made a name for himself by opposing the county council's plans for a waste recycling facility at the former Arnolds Yard.
In 2007, he contested the leadership of the county council's Labour group - the vacancy having been created by Joyce Watson's elevation to the Welsh Assembly - but lost out to Cllr Sue Perkins, and had to make do with the deputy's position.
He was adopted as an official Labour party candidate for the 2008 elections, but, when the list of runners and riders was published, it turned out that Cllr Rowlands had submitted papers as an independent. Two other adopted Labour candidates: Cllrs Lyndon Frayling and Umelda Havard followed the same route.
After the lists were published and it became clear what had transpired, there was uproar, which became even more noisy when, following the election, Cllr Rowlands was elevated to the Cabinet.
It appears that Cllr Rowlands telephoned Cllr Sue Perkins to try to explain himself and left a message on the answerphone, but in an email dated 6 April 2004 Cllr Perkins made it clear she was not in any mood to be pacified.
The email begins: "I have not returned your call. At the moment I would be happy never to speak to you again. In your message you say I might be upset by your decision but I am more than that - I am disgusted."
It ended: "I also believed that as a 'man of the cloth' - a lay preacher who from the pulpit talks of faith, loyalty and trust - that you would practice what you preach." And with a final twist of the knife: "I hope you are happy with your thirty pieces of silver". This is thought to be a reference to the £15,000+ SRA Cllr Rowlands would receive if, as rumour had it, his reward for defecting was to be post-election cabinet membership
Cllr Perkins' email also carries hints that Cllrs Rowlands, Frayling and Havard had all been in this together. She refers to his "co-conspirators" and of hearing that deals were being done behind her back.
One popular theory at the time was that Cllr Rowlands had been promised a Cabinet seat before the election and his joining fee was to bring Cllrs Havard and Frayling along with him.
This was roundly denied by Cllr Rowlands who threatened legal action over the "vitriolic" and "offensive" email, while, in a joint statement to the Western Telegraph, Cllrs Havard and Frayling explained that "We were clear in our conviction that our views and the subsequent representation of our wards should not be tailored to comply with [a] prejudged party line"(Love, Labour's lost).
If you think that sounds a bit pat, you might also like to consider the fact that, since signing up to the IPG, the two of them have never failed to toe the party line.
While Cllr Rowlands was keen to trumpet the purity of his own motives, he was not above accusing Cllr Perkins of venality.
He told the newspaper that he could understand Cllr Perkins' bitterness because the three defections meant she was no longer the leader of the biggest opposition group and she had therefore been deprived of "the allowance that goes with such a post".
With no conclusive proof either way, and Cllr Rowlands threatening to send his lawyers over the top, the story ran out of legs.
And to put these conspiracy theories finally to bed, in a letter to the Mercury on 3 July 2008, Cllr Rowlands stated quite categorically that: "When I stood as an independent in my own name I was entering uncharted territory not knowing what path I would follow if I was successful at the election".
That clear statement put the mockers on any suggestion of a prearranged plot.
However, the publication of the "Partygate" files on that other website has cast an altogether different light on the events of 2008.
What they show is that, long before the election on May 1 2008, the IPG's election supremo, Cllr Rob Lewis, was generating campaign material on behalf of these three Labour defectors on his computer in county hall.
The documents for Cllrs Havard and Frayling were created on 7 April 2008 - more than three weeks before the election, and those for Cllr Rowlands on the 18 April.
What is also interesting is that the imprint on the election addresses of both Cllr Frayling and Cllr Havard gives the name of their election agent as Nalda Rowlands, who happens to be Cllr Ken's wife.
You might think it would be an act of extraordinary generosity for Cllr Lewis to expend all this time and energy if they hadn't already committed themselves to signing up for the IPG.
Moving forward to the 2012 election, we have the self-styled "Voice of Johnston" telling the voters that £7 million had been committed to build a new school in the village when, in fact, no such commitment existed and, indeed, does not exist even today..(Shaky foundations).
And finally, there seems to be some doubt over the claim that Cllr Rowlands' career included "many years as a head teacher" (see above).
So, it would seem, when it comes to being straight with the electorate, The Voice speaks with forked-tongue
Just the man, I would have thought, to bring the authority's education service up to scratch.

Heads I win

The brilliant financial journalist Christopher Fildes once wrote that: "Nobody likes a monopoly until he has one of his own."
I don't know who first coined the term "producer capture" but that is the reason people like to preserve their monopolies.
Producer capture is the name given to any economic activity where producers, not consumers, crack the whip.
It most commonly manifests itself in the public services, where the producers have a captive audience.
I should say at the outset, that this is not caused by wickedness - it is merely rational economic behaviour.
Why would anyone want to suffer the disadvantages of competition, when they can have a comfortable life on their own terms.
No doubt, if it could be arranged, your local taxi driver would like a monopoly .
His problem is that it is reasonably easy for someone to buy a half-tidy second-hand car, apply to the council for a licence and park in the street waiting for a fare.
It is not so easy to set up a new school.
And the public sector is not the only culprit.
The Banking Acts make it very difficult for anyone to start up a new bank, though Tesco and Richard Branson are both said to be keen to give it a go.
The government has come up with a scheme to allow private companies and voluntary bodies to take on the rehabilitation of offenders on a payment by results basis.
Harry Fletcher of the Probation Officers trades union was on the radio complaining that this would lead to competition.
And so it might.
But what's wrong with that?
I don't suppose Mr Fletcher and his members complain too much about the choice of grocery suppliers that the competitive free market offers.
Of course, if you can be a monopoly producer and a free market consumer, you get the best of both worlds.