15 June 2004

Night of the long faces

Last Thursday's count at the Withybush showground was a momentous occasion as, one after another, the cream of the Independent Political Group headed for the exit.
The spectacle of His Leadership, Maurice Hughes, shuffling off the political stage with a face as long as a fiddle, will remain with me for a long time.
Then there was Roy Folland, Cabinet member for Health and Well being, looking even more lugubrious than usual as he was cast into history's dustbin.
Folland's was a particularly satisfying case because he came a poor fourth with less than a quarter of the votes of the winner.
Not that he was bothered because, as he told Radio Pembrokeshire, there comes a time for everyone to retire and he was looking forward to doing all those things that council work had ruled out.
That piece of doublespeak prompted the obvious question: in that case why stand in the first place?
Meanwhile, three of the surviving Cabinet members Peter Stock, John Davies and John Allen-Mirehouse were out on the car park discussing what could be saved from the wreckage.
It was not all bad news for the IPG, however, because some of their official/unofficial candidates were making inroads elsewhere as the Labour Party approached something close to meltdown.
Indeed, though it is too early to be certain, it may well transpire that some of those who routed the IPG hierarchy may end up as members of the group.
New lamps for old!
Next to go was Cabinet member for small business, Brian Howells, who achieved the not inconsiderable feat of coming well bottom of the poll in a three-horse race in Fishguard North East.
And last of the Cabinet to fall was Pat Griffiths (Lifelong learning) who lost out to Malcolm Calver in Manorbier.
In between, it was revealed that next year's Chairman-elect, Glyn Rees, had only managed to attract a little over 25% support from the burgers of Newport.
I'm sure he won't miss the endless rubber chicken dinners though the chauffeur-driven limo is another matter altogether.
The IPG top guns were clearly shaken by what happened in the early hours of Friday morning and, over the weekend, deputy Leader John Allen-Mirehouse confided to Radio Pembrokeshire that he didn't like the Cabinet system, which, he claimed, had been imposed on the council by the Welsh Assembly.
Like most of what comes out of County Hall this is simply not true.
There were three other options available - two types of elected Mayor and a committee system introduced into the Welsh legislation by the Liberal democrats.
The reason for choosing the Cabinet system was to enable the IPG to retain its grip on power.
In any case, it is not in the Cabinet system that the problems lie, but in the council's constitution which gives far too much power to the ruling group, the Leader in particular.
Cllr Maurice Hughes had something very interesting to say about the constitution on what it now turns out to be his final appearance in the council chamber.
In response to criticism from one of the opposition members, His Ex-Leadership opined that the Independents had written the constitution to suit themselves just as Labour or Plaid Cymru would have done had they been in power.
This, I'm afraid, shows a profound ignorance of the principles of democracy because a constitution, whether that of the local pigeon club or Pembrokeshire County Council, is the set of rules by which the members consent to be governed.
In the case of the County Council, the membership is made up of the voters at large and the constitution sets the limits on the powers granted to elected representatives.
They even understand that much in Iraq.
The phone lines must have been red hot over the weekend because on Sunday night I was tipped off that the IPG was due to meet in County Hall at 11am the following morning.
So, a few of us stationed ourselves in the members' tea room to observe the proceedings.
There was much glad-handing, especially of the new kids on the block - surprising really considering that, less than five days previously, a couple of them had accounted for some of the "party's" leading lights.
Then they all trouped off to their secret meeting, where, I am told, they elected Cllr John Davies as their Leader - and Leader of the Council, once the formalities have been completed at the AGM - and adopted John Thomas as their candidate for the Chairman's job.
A word or two here about Cllr Davies who I once described in this column as "the acceptable face of the Independent Political (sic) Group".
He is, undoubtedly a very able and articulate man, and one who shows a refreshing willingness to engage in constructive debate as opposed to the the sneer and smear tactics of his predecessor.
However, giving the IPG a new facade, without treating rotten fabric underneath, will not move us far forward.
I await with interest to see who Cllr Davies appoints to his Cabinet.
As my mother says: you can always judge a man by the company he chooses to keep.
Though I must admit, assuming he doesn't appoint some of the new intake, thereby breaking the sacred law of Buggin's turn, he's hardly spoilt for choice.
The upshot is that, having rejected the IPG at the polls, the electorate now finds itself back in virtually the same place as before, give or take a few different names and faces.
The snake that the voters thought they had beheaded turns out to be the Hydra.
Next time, maybe!

Local boys make good


One of the great disappointments of last week's elections was the dismal showing of the Labour Party.
Particularly sad for me was the failure of my friend David Edwards to win a seat and the split vote in Pembroke Dock Market that allowed Brian Hall back in.
David Edwards was faced with the twin problems of Tony Blair's war in Iraq and the fact that he was standing in a ward where he didn't live.
Careful analysis of the results will, I think, show that local candidates had a distinct advantage.
I even tok flak for living in Hubberston, even though Hakin is not much more than a quarter of a mile away.
My Labour opponent, Philip Walker, lives in Rosemarket which must account for his poor result in what should be a Labour ward.
Spatial prejudice, I suppose.


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