7 January 2010
One area that causes Old Grumpy concern is the requirement that members must treat others with respect.
While there is no difficulty in applying this principle to officers and members of the public, it is not easy to see how the democratic process is served if it also applies to political opponents.
The Ombudsman acknowledges this problem: "Criticism of ideas and opinion is part of democratic debate . . . " he concedes, adding that: "It is essential that members avoid having debates which go beyond robust."
The boundary between what is robust and what isn't is a minefield into which no wise legislator would set foot but the Ombudsman ploughs on : ""Elected members should ensure that political points are made in ways which, while they may be forceful, are nonetheless respectful of their opponents. There is a clear distinction between robustly engaging in debate about policies and programmes and engaging in personal attacks on opponents."
It is not clear to me how you might find a "respectful" form of words to accuse one of your opponents of lying.
The Ombudsman seems to understand this difficulty because, in the next sentence, the "clear distinction" becomes "inevitably blurred by debate about the qualities of office holders, and whether they can offer the leadership or stewardship demanded by their roles."
Fortunately, the respect agenda doesn't seem to be one of those items in the Code that members are required to observe "at all times and in any capacity".
If my interpretation is correct, anything I write on this website in my private capacity is not caught by the Code but anything I might say in the council chamber is.
This is the very opposite to the situation with regard to defamation where anything I might say during a council meeting is protected by qualified privilege whereas anything that appears on this website is fair game.
The usual justification for qualified privilege is that it is important that elected representatives should be free to speak out about issues that concern them without the fear of legal action.
The respect agenda seems to undermine that principle.
What also seems strange is that these restrictions on councillors' freedom of expression were introduced by Members of Parliament who robustly defend their own absolute privilege.
The Daily Telegraph reports that the oldies are threatening to use their voting strength to launch what is being called the Saga Manifesto.
One demand is for a minimum state pension £130 a week, but it is unlikely to stop there .
Emma Soames, editor of Saga Magazine, says that 80% of the over-55s intend to vote at the General Election, adding: "Woe betide any political party that ignores us".
I must say that this sort of identity politics is against the spirit of British democracy, as I understand it.
To vote for something because it serves your interest rather than the public good is a dangerous path to tread.
Nothing could be more inimical to peace and good order than that people should organise themselves politically on the basis of race, religion, gender, class or age, because while rational argument may enable you to persuade someone to change their ideological standpoint, such methods are not available to change their colour or sex or age.
The result is that political discourse is reduced to shouting at each other from behind the barricades.
In any case, the Saga Manifesto is not a blueprint for how most older people live their lives.
Most of us of a certain age have worked out that there is only a finite amount of government [taxpayers'] money available to pay for, among other things, pensions and education.
And most of those of us who are grandparents would have no trouble in deciding where the balance of priorities should lie.
As an atheist I have some difficulty in using the Bible as authority.
However, the following passage is on all fours with my views on both the yes-men of the Independent Political Group [all dumb dogs, they cannot bark] and identity politics [each to his own gain, one and all. . .]
My watchmen are blind, all of them unaware;
They are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark;
Dreaming as they lie there, loving their sleep
The shepherds also, they have no understanding;
They have all turned to their own way;
Each to his own gain, one and all
(Isaiah, 56 10 11)
We are warned of hard times ahead as government, both central and local, is forced to cut spending to reduce the huge public deficit.
It will fall to opposition members of local authorities to ensure that cuts are targeted at peripheral activities rather than core services.
Old Grumpy suggests that a good place to start would with the Pembrokeshire Citizens Panel (PCP) and its publication Pembrokeshire Voice.
PCP is a joint initiative between Dyfed-Powys Police, Pembrokeshire County Council, Pembrokeshire Local Health Board, Hywel Dda NHS Trust and the Pembrokeshire National Park Authority.
I would guess that the cost of this exercise in officer time and printing and distribution costs must be at least £50,000 a year and I would take some convincing that this money wouldn't be better spent on employing teachers and home helps.
According to the Local Health Board website, the Panel is a representative group of approximately 1000 people living in the County of Pembrokeshire who have agreed to offer their views and opinions on services delivered by the partners.
There is a problem with this description because, having agreed "to offer their views and opinions", panel members have become self-selecting and cannot, therefore, be representative.
Issue 13 which arrived just before Christmas had a big thank you for those who returned the last questionnaire.
"As ever," it gushes, " without your comments and input we cannot improve services and try to match your needs and aspirations."
Of course, it is possible that the needs and aspirations of those that have agreed to offer their views and opinions might be different than the aspirations of those who prefer to keep their opinions to themselves.
Some of the questions put to the panel are beyond banal.
For instance, in answer to a question on the European elections "73% of you [members of the panel] voted in this year's European Parliamentary Elections on June TH"
Why the need to ask the Panel for information which is freely available on the Web?
Unless, of course, it is to demonstrate how truly untypical the panel members are of the general public, only 38% of whom actually voted at the said elections.
Things are a bit fraught at Grumpy Towers.
In a pre-Christmas raid on the columnar territory, Grumpette related how she had bought a bottle of champers on special offer only to secret it away in a place where it can't be found (Summer wine?).
This seemed funny at the time but last night as the snow built up on the road outside our house making it impossible to get down to Tesco for fresh supplies of Chilean Merlot the joke started to wear a bit thin.
Snowed in without anything to drink is bad enough but when you know there is a bottle somewhere in the place it becomes a form of torture.
I've looked everywhere, short of pulling up the floorboards and, if the weather doesn't relent soon, they could be next.
(We're doomed . . .)
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