4 June 2002


Give us a break

The last few days have been a bit of a trial for us rugby-playing republicans.
Happily the Swedes have helped to slow down the Sven bandwagon and with luck the Argies will complete the job on Friday.
Opening my Daily Telegraph this morning, I had to pick my way past four pages on a pop concert in London before coming to any real news.
The editorial pages were even worse, with two leaders on the pop concert, and related topics, and one on Sven's attempts to prevent his team catching an early flight home.
And there was more pain to come in the sports section, where, having evaded Rivaldo's dive on the front page, I had to contend with a "Brooding Batistuta" an "unfazed" McCarthy and "undaunted" China on pages two and three and a further two pages of World Cup hype before I eventually came to the county cricket scores on page six.
After all that, the devastating news that Yorkshire had lost again - their fourth defeat in five matches (they were saved by the rain in the other)
If it wasn't for the fact that my garden requires my undivided attention at this time of year, I'd be on the first plane to Outer Mongolia.

Not black and white

There was an interesting discussion on the radio the other day during which the broadcaster and former candidate for the Mayor of London, Trevor Phillips, was bemoaning the fact that of all the elected representatives in the various parliaments (European, Westminster, Scottish and Welsh Assembly) only 14 were members of the ethnic minorities.
According to Phillips, this gross under-representation was a clear sign of incipient racism in our society.
Another contributor countered that blacks and Asians were over-represented in the medical profession and nursing and that these skewed numbers may be the result of nothing more than a manifestation of the personal preferences of the ethnic minorities themselves.
Interestingly, the Today programme recently conducted a poll to determine which were the most and least respected professions.
Doctors and nurses came top, while politicians came bottom, behind even estate agents.
Perhaps our ethnic minority citizens have come to a conscious decision that making a positive contribution to society is infinitely preferable to telling lies for a living.

Democracy or delivery

A couple of months ago, during the County Council's consideration of the change to the cabinet system, Chief Executive Bryn Parry-Jones told the members that the new arrangements were designed to improve "delivery".
While we all want efficient delivery of services by our local authorities there is a snag: delivery and democracy are frequently at odds with each other.
After all, almost the only positive thing that anybody can find to say about Mussolini's Fascist dictatorship in pre-war Italy is that he made the trains run on time.
Indeed, if delivery is the be all and end all of local government we may as well hand the whole thing over to Tesco.
And, if managerial efficiency is the overriding objective, why do we need 60 elected representatives, costing the best part of £1 million a year, most of who have no experience of running anything even as demanding as a small to medium-sized whelk stall.
The theory is that the purpose of these elected tribunes is to hold the executive to account and to make representations on behalf of those who elect them.
Unfortunately, the new efficiency-driven set-up precludes them from carrying out even these simple functions because the rules regarding the calling in of Cabinet decisions for examination by the Scrutiny Committees requires either a request from the Chairmen (all fully house trained Independent Political (sic) Group stooges, hand picked by the Cabinet itself. See The scrutineers) or four committee members.
As the opposition groups are restricted to three of the ten available seats they will need to recruit an Independent to their cause if they want to call in a Cabinet decision.
And even if they do manage to whistle up sufficient support it will make little or no difference because the Cabinet is free to ignore any recommendations made by the Scrutiny Committees.

Political calculation

Help may, however, be at hand because Old Grumpy hears increasingly credible stories about further defections from the Independent Group.
The current situation, assuming the newly elected member for Rudbaxton joins the Independent Group, is that the Indies hold 40 of the 60 seats, which, as the less mathematically challenged among you will quickly work, is 66.66666etc%, with the opposition holding the other 33.3333etc%
This rounds up (and down) to seven seats to three on a ten member Scrutiny Committee.
According to my calculations a single defection would alter these percentages to 65:35; a dead heat between a 7:3 and a 6:4 split.
I am told, on impeccable authority, that such a defection is imminent.
I am also led to believe that one political group, which shall be nameless, has been busy with the pocket calculator, trying to assess the impact should another Independent jump ship.
My understanding is that this case is complicated by the fact that the potential defector is an Independent Political (sic) Group representative on an outside body and fears the order of the boot if they leave.
Ah, the power of patronage!
However, the very act of leaving will change the political balance to 63.33%:36.66% - a clear-cut 6:4 split.
Therefore, if the defector's new group qualifies for the extra seat, he or she will be able to retain their position on the outside body.
So, that's clear, then.

Mangy mongrel

Old Grumpy has spotted what appears to be a serious anomaly in the make-up of the Scrutiny Committees.
Three of the four have ten members - Indies 7, Labour 2 and the Lib Dems 1.
However, the Children and Families scrutiny committee has 14 members - four of them co-opted.
This quartet of co-optees (Two parent governors and one each from the Church of Wales and the Roman Catholic church) is a hangover from the now defunct Education Committee.
The rules on political balance require that the ruling group have a majority on each committee, which, in this case means eight out of the 14, with Labour holding the other two seats and the Lib Dems out in the cold.
The problem is that this committee is that it is not exclusively concerned with education and when it deals with non-education matters the co-optees are not allowed to vote, though they may speak.
In effect, this means that there are two committees - one with fourteen members to deal with education and one with 10 members to tackle other issues concerning young people and families.
Clearly, the Independent Group, with eight members, is over-represented on this second manifestation of the committee, which should be split 7:3.
I understand that the Lib Dems are pursuing this issue of this ill-bred mongrel with the powers that be, and why not?
After all, why should members; co-opted solely because of their involvement in education, be allowed even to speak on family matters where they represent nobody, while the Lib Dems, who hold five seats on the council, are excluded.


Only passing through

Old Grumpette tells me that some of the above is rather heavy going so to cheer you up I offer the following happy thought
Don't take life too seriously - after all, it's only temporary.


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