January 21 2002


Two's company - three's a crowd

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an account of a meeting between THE LEADER, Cllr Maurice Hughes and Cllr Mark Edwards at which, one of my moles informed me, the County Council's Head of Marketing and Communications, Dai "Spin" Thomas, was present.
This prompted Cllr Michael Williams, Plaid Cymru's leader on the authority, to e-mail Mr Thomas asking him to comment on my allegations.
Mr Thomas's reply was "unequivocal".
I have NEVER at any time attended ANY meeting between the Leader of the County Council and Councillor Mark Edwards", he insisted.
"On this occasion - as on so many others - his so-called "mole" has let him down badly. There is no truth in his allegation at all." Dai Spin asserted.
Naturally, Cllr Williams was none too pleased at having been led up the garden path by my article and copied Mr Thomas's e-mail to me for my comments.
What could I say?
I did however know that one of my former colleagues at the Mercury had received exactly the same information from the same mole and I passed the matter over to him.
Cllr Hughes told the paper that Mr Thomas wasn't at the meeting.
Mr Thomas told the paper that Mr Thomas wasn't at the meeting.
Cllr Edwards insisted that Mr Thomas was at the meeting.
So, it would appear, the verdict, by two votes to one, is that Cllr Edwards must be making it all up.
However, it is not so easy as that, because old Grumpy notices a couple of interesting inconsistencies in the stories told to the Mercury by Messrs Hughes and Thomas.
According to the report in the Mercury, Cllr Hughes said: "Just as we were coming out through the door [presumably the door of the Leader's office where the meeting was held] David Thomas arrived with my new letter heads, and he walked down the stairs with us."
According to Mr Thomas: "…I met them near the committee rooms one day and walked with them to the top of the stairs. I understand they were both going to a meeting of the Rotary Club and [they] went downstairs and I went upstairs to my office."
Was this "meeting" for a purpose - to deliver the letterheads- or did they just bump into each other by chance, as implied in Mr Thomas' version of events?
And did all three of them go downstairs or only the Rotarians?
And what possible motivation could Cllr Edwards have for inventing the story?
No doubt he will be accused of rocking the boat (the ultimate sin in the eyes of the Independents), but, if he honestly believes that Mr Thomas was present at that meeting, he should be admired for sticking to his guns.
As for my "so-called mole" I have postponed a decision on its fate pending future developments.




Another of my moles, who has been under a cloud for the past few months, could also be in for a reprieve.
Last November I received a phone call from one of my agents inside the County Council informing me that our rulers, embarrassed by the thinness of the crowd that had turned up to greet the Queen on her arrival at County Hall, had ordered council staff out on to the car park to swell the numbers.
The local papers also got wind of this story but, when they checked it out with the spin-doctors in the Marketing and Communications Department, they were told it was a load of baseless rubbish.
And there the matter rested until yesterday when I read an account of the Queen's visit to Pembrokeshire by Gyles Brandreth of the Sunday Telegraph.
According to Brandreth, while he was watching the Queen opening a new school in Pembroke Dock, a "mole whispered to me that the throng outside County Hall was not entirely what it had seemed. First, an e-mail was despatched inviting council staff to join the crowd", and, after that failed to prise them away from their desks: "Then, a second e-mail was sent ordering them to do so".
Discovering that someone as distinguished as an ex-Tory MP had also been duped by this mischievous mole cheered me up no end.


Nerds' nite out

Last Wednesday evening I went along to County Hall to attend a meeting organised by the Commission on Local Government Electoral Arrangements in Wales (COLOGEA)
COLOGEA has been set up by the Welsh Assembly to tootle around Wales asking people whether they prefer elections to be conducted on the basis of party lists, additional members, single transferable votes, alternative votes, supplementary votes or good old-fashioned first past the post.
I have no idea how much this exercise is costing the taxpayer, but I would take some convincing that the money would not be better spent on hip replacements or school books.
There were about 30 of us present, mostly the usual suspects: community councillors, county councillors, outreach workers and other political saddos, myself included.
One of the topics under discussion was the apparent indifference to matters political of modern 'youff'.
A lady in front of me made an impassioned speech referring to empowerment, inclusivity, and other buzz-words too numerous to mention, before proposing that the way to get youngsters interested in politics was to give them the vote at 17.
Still being young enough to remember what it's like to be a teenager (16 going on 61), I asked the assembled anoraks to put up their hands if they had attended political meetings when they were 17.
Nobody moved.
On the way home I called in at the Glen for a pint and judging from the way the young couples were ogling each other I got the impression that their minds were on more interesting things than electoral reform.
Indeed, it would not surprise me to learn that most of them think an "Additional member system" is something to do with a three-in-a-bed romp.
Also on the agenda was the number of County Councillors, especially in rural wards, who are returned unopposed.
The Chairman, Prof Eric Sunderland, advanced the view that this may be because the sitting members were of such outstanding quality that there was no point in replacing them.
I felt it was my moral duty to disabuse the good professor of this ridiculous notion.
I told him that, as a journalist, I attended more council meetings than was good for my sanity and that the only evidence that some of the long-serving so-called Independents were awake was when they put their hands up to vote for whatever the Chief Officers Management Board (COMB) had put in front of them.
I offered my alternative theory: that such were the opportunities for influence peddling in local government that once these old boys had got one four-year term under their belts they had wangled so many planning consents, council houses, central heating systems for their grateful constituents as to be virtually unshiftable.
I might have added, for good measure, that the Welsh Assembly seemed to agree with me because, despairing of the electorate, they are proposing a voluntary cull of the gerontocracy by offering them £10,000 bribes to bunk off.
From behind me came the unmistakeable voice of Cllr Roy Folland (like Hyacinth Bucket with borrowed dentures).
"Why doesn't that journalist fellow stand against one of those old boys at the next election?" the undertaker intoned.
Don't worry Roy, I will. And, who knows, it could be you!


The whelkherds

Last week I had the unnerving experience of coming across someone who has an even lower opinion of the ruling Independents than myself.
Discussing the proposed 10-person Cabinet that will soon be in charge of the County Council's £130 million budget, I asked: "How many of those Independents would you put in charge of a whelk stall?"
"How many of them would you put in charge of a whelk?" My friend retorted.


Persistence pays

If you keep shaking the tree the apples will eventually fall into your basket. (Old Cumberland saying.)

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