2 March 2004
Ryan-Hall special edition
One rule for us ...
Last Thursday's county council proceedings came in two parts.
I the morning we had the meeting of full council and, more than 12 hours later, the late-night show on ITV.
His Leadership, Cllr Maurice Hughes, who also had a non-speaking, walk-off part in the night-time performance, kicked off the morning session with a statement on the budget.
It soon became clear that Cllr Hughes had no intention of boring the audience with too many facts and figures.
After the usual stuff about "prudent management of resources", His Leadership launched into an attack on members of the opposition who sought to "present a misleading and distorted view of this council."
"It is a disgrace that they persist in trying to denigrate the image of this council and the efforts of our employees". he continued.
That was too much for Labour Leader, Joyce Watson who rose on a Point of Order to protest that Cllr Hughes was wandering away from the high road of "prudent management of resources" and into the overgrown byeways of low politics.
Indeed, Cllr Watson was up on her feet several times on this subject but found no support whatsoever from Cllr Micky Folland, the "impartial" Chairman.
Strangely, when opposition members strayed off the point later in the meeting, Chairman Micky Folland was bobbing up and down like a cork in a storm to silence them.
Funny old thing democracy in Rebublica Pembska.
But, to return to Cllr Hughes.
He said that, instead of criticising from the sidelines, the opposition should "... engage consructively with us in working for the good of the people of this County." which means, roughly translated, allowing Cllr Hughes and his cronies free rein to do as they please.
This stuff about all working together "for the good of the people" gives me the creeps, frankly.
Old Grumpy assumes that all elected members are working for what they see as the good of the people - it's simply that different members have different views on where that good resides.
To put it crudely, socialists tend to believe in collective provision financed by redistributive taxes while conservatives favour self-reliance and lower taxes.
So, to the pure socialist, low levels of council tax are a symptom of an uncaring society and not something to brag about.
It may be that the the high rates of Council Tax charged by Labour controlled authorities in the Valleys are a result of incompetence and waste, or it may be that the extra cost is a reflection of better quality services.
Without much more detail, we simply cannot tell.
Islwyn Howells, the member for Rudbaxton, is a rising star in the Independent Group.
Back in October I reported that one of my moles inside the group had told me that, fearing electoral fallout, the Pembrokeshire Independent Group had decided, at their secret group meeting, to abandon plans to award long-serving members a £20,000 golden goodbye.
My mole was even able to tell me who had been detailed off to make the speech and roughly what he would say.
The favoured son was Islwyn Howells and sure enough, come the day, there he was condemning these payouts with some enthusiasm.
Since then Cllr Howells has developed a habit of prefacing all his speaches with a little homily about being elected as an Independent, and being an Independent who takes orders from nobody.
He was at it again last Thursday while speaking about the budget.
At the end of his oration he asked a rather complicated question on education spending.
Questions of this sort usually cause much tut-tutting among the more senior members, one or other of whom will admonish the offender by saying it is unfair to ask such questions without giving notice and that, in any case, such matters are best taken up with the officers in private.
But on this occasion all was calm.
The cabinet member for education, Cllr John Davies, soon revealed why.
"I have the figures in front of me as it so happens" he told the meeting, fishing a scrap of paper out of his file.
As Lib Dem Leader John Allen remarked about the meeting in general: "It's clearly a stage-managed propaganda exercise."
Speaking in tongues
Another feature of Cllr Howells' contributions is that he delivers them in Welsh, before providing a translation for the monoglot English speakers.
This led to an informal debate on the desirability of translation services.
Ten minutes or so later, up jumped Cllr Norman Parry, the English speaking member for Carew.
Cllr Parry's speeches are given over to much arm-waving and shouting, at the expense of coherence and logic.
When he eventually sat down a colleague in the public gallery turned to me with a puzzled look and said: "What the hell was all that about?"
Cllr Michael Williams was equally baffled.
"After that, Mr Chairman, could I put in a plea for instantaneous translation?" he quipped.
But His Leadership's evening performance really was the highlight of the day.
Usually, by 11 o'clock at night, I am deep in Merlot-induced slumber, so I switched over to ITV hoping the programme would be interesting enough to keep me awake.
I must admit it was touch and go at times but I was on full alert when the screen showed a cameraman and a reporter approaching what I recognised as Cllr Hughes' front door.
After a few seconds we saw His Leadership peering round the edge of the partly opened door.
When he realised who was there, the door was slammed abruptly shut.
I nearly fell out of the chair laughing.
Later in the programme they pulled the same trick, this time using freeze-frame technique and a little circle of light to prolong the Leader's "Roger Cook" moment.
Then we had a stoney-faced Len Mullins, former news editor of the Western Telegraph, showing how easy is the tranformation from poacher to gamekeeper, by gruffly ordering the TV crew out of County Hall.
Old Grumpy heard a rumour that the intention was to doorstep Mr Parry-Jones but that didn't come to pass.
Still, you can't have everything.
Who would have thought it possible to make the county council look even more shifty than it actually is.
The council PR strategist who pulled it off deserves an Oscar.
Tonight on Radio Four (8.00 pm) there is a programme on the shenanigans inside Flintshire County Council.
It should be worth listening to
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