June 11 2009


Cereal killer


Thank you all for the many e-mails and telephone calls wishing me a speedy recovery from my recent brush with pneumonia.
Thanks to the first class care provided by the staff at Withybush hospital I was back on my feet in less than a week and am now fighting fit and raring to go.
And I haven't had a fag for more than a week - London marathon next?
Another factor in my swift return to health was when I heard a rumour that a senior member of the Independent Political Group was planning to visit me in hospital.
Fearing he might seek to take advantage of my weakened state to try and herd me into the Independent fold with the rest of the sheep, I deployed all my persuasive powers to convince the doctors to let me out a day early.
While I can't speak highly enough of the doctors, nurses and other staff at the hospital, nothing is perfect.
My first complaint is about the breakfast menu when I was offered the choice of Weetabix, corn flakes, Shredded Wheat or porridge.
"And?" I asked.
"Toast and marmalade or jam" I was told.
"And?" I repeated.
"Grapefruit juice or orange juice".
I did think about claiming membership of The Latter Day Church of Baconologists - after all if some religions can ban bacon, it wouldn't unreasonable to belong to one that insisted on a minimum daily intake - but then I remembered that my late mother-in-law, a combination of a heart of gold and a will of steel, had been a ward sister and concluded that it would be wiser to foster the former rather than risk a clash with the latter.
The other reservation concerns the lack of early morning tea.
While I am sure that antibiotics and the other drugs are of proven worth, I can't believe they are even half as effective as a nice cup of tea.
It is a moot point whether waking someone at 6.00 am to pump their arm full of streptomycin and then making them wait until nearly 9.00 am for their first cup of tea doesn't amount to cruel and unusual punishment under Human Rights legislation.

Musical chairs


"The power of the press is very great, but not so great as the power of suppress" said Lord Northcliffe and, as a keen observer of the Western Telegraph's output, I have to say the old press baron was not too wide of the mark.
Just after coming out of hospital last Tuesday I was telephoned by a friend; a noted practical joker, who claimed that Radio Pembrokeshire was reporting that Cllr Mark Edwards had resigned from the Cabinet and had been replaced by Cllr Peter Morgan.
I didn't believe him -why would anyone give up a £15,000 Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA) for doing nothing special? - but nor could I think of any reason why he would concoct such a story.
Surprise, surprise, when I checked on the WT's website it turned out to be true.
Unfortunately, this important story didn't appear in the newspaper itself so only the assorted bunch of saddos and computer nerds who regularly log on to the website will be aware of this development.
Predictably, the conspiracy theorists are having a field day.
Can it really be true that Cllr Edwards has given up his SRA to spend more time with his snooker club, they ask.
Or is there some deeper motive?
One theory doing the rounds is that he is intending to abandon the good ship Independent Political Group and join the Tories - now the largest political party in Wales.
This would be the natural (and honest) thing to do because (a) he is a Tory party member, and (b) when he was originally elected back in 2000 he stood under the Tory banner.
If he did join (rejoin?) the Conservatives it would make them the largest opposition group which in turn would entitle their Leader to a £9,000-a-year SRA as Leader of the principal opposition group.
At present this allowance is shared between the leaders of Labour, Plaid and Conservatives who are tied on five seats each.
So not only would the Tory leader get a £6,000 pay rise but such a move would also deprive Cllrs Sue Perkins (Lab) and Michael Williams (Plaid) of 60 quid a week each.
A piece of political mischief that might prove hard to resist.
Surprise has been expressed at Cllr Morgan's meteoric rise through the ranks, particularly as, more than a year into his term of office, he is yet to make his maiden speech at full council.
Still waters run deep, as they say.
Old Grumpy can think of several reasons why Cllr Morgan has been handed the palm:
1. He was a brilliant rugby player.
2. He has never failed to vote the party line at any council meeting.
3. Er, that's it!

Councillors' cull

Cllr Tony Wilcox has caused quite a stir with the suggestion that the number of county councillors should be cut from 60 to 30.
This was in response to the revelation that members' allowances and expenses exceeded £1 million in the financial year 2008-2009.
The WT did ask Grumpette and myself for a comment though they obviously didn't find what we had to say interesting enough to publish.
The paper's report revealed that 15 councillors had been asked for their opinion with 10 favouring a cut and five against.
Interestingly, in line with Lord Northcliffe's dictum, the three members quoted in the article all opted for the status quo.
Nice example of balanced reporting.
The Leader, Cllr John Davies, is quoted as saying: "I predict, given what I hear in Cardiff, that within the next five years we will lose our local authority and find ourselves back in a regional structure such as Dyfed but with even less power."
Cllr Davies may be referring to a recent direction from the Welsh Assembly that the minimum number of electors in any ward should be 1,750.
Currently only 16 of Pembrokeshire's 60 electoral divisions achieve this threshold.
The smallest constituency is Newport with 946 voters while the largest is Pembroke Dock Pennar with 2,331.
In all, there are 12 divisions with less than 1,200 registered electors and 13 with more than 1,800.
Clearly, such wide differences cannot be reconciled with the principle of equality of representation.
This is especially so with adjoining wards where the problem could be solved by simply moving the boundary - a classic example being Amroth (1,001) and Saundersfoot (2,091).
Applying the Assembly's 1,750 rule to the county's total electorate would give at most 53 seats and, given that 1,750 is a minimum figure, probably a good many fewer than that.
Another way to resolve the problem in the short term would be to share out the councillors' basic allowance pot in proportion to the number of electors in each ward.
On a rough calculation that would mean about £8.00 per voter, though I have to be careful what I say about this because I notice that my ward (Hakin) has 1,843 on the register while the member for next door Hubberston has only 1,596.

Quality v quantity


It is not my usual practice to defend the bureaucrats who order our affairs, but I must say something about the Audit Commission's recent criticisms of the National Park's planning department.
The auditor's principal beef is that the park's planners have consistently missed their targets for determining planning applications within the required time scale.
It is true that inordinate delay in making decisions can, of itself, lead to injustice, but so can reaching decisions on the basis of false or incomplete facts.
The audit commission would be better employed in evaluating the quality of the decisions reached rather than their speed.
One of the reasons for the park's tardiness is that a greater proportion of applications are reserved for consideration by the planning committee than, say, Pembrokeshire County Council where in excess of 90% of applications are delegated to officers.
The reason for this difference is to be found in the two authorities' schemes of delegation.
With PCC the categories of applications reserved for committee is restricted to large developments whereas with the park any application that attracts an objection goes before the committee.
Clearly, while this is time-consuming, it is also more democratic because the issues are discussed in open session and everyone involved can be assured that their concerns have had an airing.
While, almost by definition, both the applicant and the objectors can't both be satisfied by the eventual outcome, at least they have the satisfaction of having a fair hearing.
And, in my opinion, the principle that justice must be seen to be done is far more important than meeting government time limits.
This is of course all of a piece with the Local Government Act 2000 which gave us the unloved, and unlovely, Cabinet system.
I remember the chief executive of PCC telling members that the aim of the legislation was to "streamline decision making" - three words that should send a shiver down the spine of anyone who values their democratic freedoms.
That is because the most streamlined decision making processes are found in dictatorships where the Leader/Fuehrer outlines the desired course of action and his unquestioning minions put his orders into effect.
As the Karl Popper said in his book the Open Society and its Enemies the essence of democracy rests on tapping into the collective wisdom by seeking out as many views as is practicably possible before reaching any decision.
That is because those in the ruling majority only think they know what is best rather than, as they appear to believe, know they know.
If they spent a little less time preening themselves and a little more on self-reflection they might conclude that their educational credentials make it quite likely that, as Charles Darwin said: Great ignorance more frequently begets certainty than great knowledge.

In the van

It's amazing what you learn about people as you get to know them better.
Only this morning, my Socialist Friend was telling me about the time he spent in the back of a van with Ron "Moment of Madness" Davies; habitue of Clapham Common and various lay-byes between the Severn Bridge and the Great Wen.
For the sake of clarity I should say that the vehicle in question was a Black Maria - the two young left wing firebrands having been arrested for being in the forefront of an egg-throwing, anti-Thatcher demo in Cardiff in the early 80s.

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