March 21 2013

One man's meat . . .

From my conversations in the members' tea room on Monday, I gather there is an expectation that I might have something to say about last Saturday's events in Cardiff.
As you can imagine it was not a good time to be English.
Having come to live in Wales in 1966, a date that heralded a decade and more of Welsh dominance, I have developed a resistance to these sort of disappointments, though 30 points to three tested my immune system to its limits.
On occasions like this, I turn to the words of Rudyard Kipling

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same

Though this was more the stuff of nightmares than dreams.
And whatever the pain I felt last Saturday evening was as nothing compared to the humiliation of having to hand over a bottle of wine to Cllr Michael Williams on Monday morning.
To make matters worse, he insisted on a bottle of rose, which I bought in Haverfordwest to avoid bumping into anyone who I knew.
Just to rub it in the aforementioned Williams then sent me an email which was doing the rounds.

South Wales Police have asked for witnesses to come forward regarding a brutal crime against 15 Englishmen on a recent visit to Cardiff who were robbed of a Grand Slam they had come to collect and also had their chariot badly vandalised during the visit to the Welsh capital.
... Apparently this heinous crime was carried out by a gang of 15 Welsh guys dressed in bright red shirts in broad daylight in front of 75,439 people who gathered around the gang attack and just stood there cheering, clapping and singing hymns and arias as if they were encouraging the gang.
A police spokesmen for the South Wales force said this this sort of attack is just sickening……..One of the victims was a young lad called Owen Farrell who was on his first trip to Wales and has been traumatised by the whole shocking experience and to make matters even worse his father was forced to watch the entire crime from start to finish and could not lift a finger to protect his son from the sickening and relentless battering meted out by the conspicuously dressed red shirted gang”.
The police spokesman continued, “We are following a number of leads and believe this crimson shirted gang may be linked to a similar attack in Twickenham a year ago”.

He would do well to remember that the pen is mightier than the scrum.
Nor should the emailer who asked : "What have the English ever done for us?"
Answer: "Made us the happiest people on God's earth", expect to escape Scot free.
But revenge is a dish best eaten cold, so for the time being I will restrict myself to humble pie.
Now, when the top two teams in the Championship, both with eight wins out their last nine matches, meet on the final day you don't expect the victory margin to be the biggest in the competition's history.
So, did luck play a part?
Well, only if you consider the injury to Ryan Jones that enabled Wales to field the super-effective Warburton- Tuperic combination to be stroke of fortune.
And, but for for a last-gasp tap-tackle on George North and some desperate English defence in the final quarter, the scoreline could have been even worse, or better, depending on your standpoint.
I understand that the English management team are blaming the refereeing of the scrums, though that complaint would have more credibility if it had been made a week earlier when the number of penalties given against the Italian props allowed England to scrape home.
That said, I think everyone agrees that the scrum has become a shambles with collapses having become the rule rather than the exception.
So, are there any pluses for an Englishman at this time?
As Adam Smith said, the route to true happiness is the promotion of the happiness of others.
Regular readers will know that I am a fan of the great Adam, but I'm not sure he's right about this.
And there may be some relief in another of Cllr Michael Williams' tasteless jokes:
"The England rugby team are to be taken to visit Longleat
It's the only way they'll get on a Lions Tour."
At least they'll have full squad for the summer tour of Argentina.
And, running a form line through England and Argentina's most recent performances in Cardiff, they'll need it.
Which takes us back to Kipling.

Tribal loyalties

One thing that did concern me about my tearoom conversation was that some members seemed surprised that, having lived in Wales for the best part of 50 years, I still supported England.
Well, when I first came to these parts I was still playing rugby and when we all assembled at the club to watch the match on TV, I was expected to support England.
And, after I hung up my boots, we had some wonderful Saturday afternoons at Milford Golf Club, made all the more memorable by the joshing that went on because I was English.
When I played rugby in England, not a few of my team mates were from the Welsh valleys.
Many of them still live the other side of Offa's Dyke and I would bet my last shilling that not one of them is ever tempted to join in with Swing Low Sweet Chariot.
My grandson is learning the saxophone and he can now play the Welsh national anthem by ear, though whether it is absolutely necessary for him to play it all the time, especially this week, is an open question.
My suggestion that, in the interests of balance, he should learn Swing Low was met with a look of disdain.
Fortunately, nobody has told him about the New Christy Minstrel's hit Three wheels on my wagon.
I wouldn't want to be giving Michael Williams ideas but I'm surprised that nobody has suggested a revised version as England's campaign song.
As I recall, the final verse goes:

No wheels on my wagon,
So I’m not rolling along
The Cherokees have captured me
They look mad, things look bad
But I’m singing a happy song

I'm sure a suitable substitute for Cherokees can be found to reflect last Saturday's events.

Checks and balances

At the December meeting of council, the Leader put forward a proposal that all councillors should be subjected to mandatory CRB checks.
This was sent off to Cabinet for further discussion where, given that all the cabinet members hold their positions at the Leader's pleasure, it was, unsurprisingly, unanimously approved.
Thus endorsed, it returned to full council at the end of February.
There was no doubt that if it had been put to the vote it would have passed with flying colours, but the Leader opted to send it to the corporate governance committee for further consideration.
I suspect this delay is because somebody has realised that this issue is rather more complicated than it appears at first blush.
It is no secret that I have strong objections to CRB checks for councillors on civil liberties grounds and a recent Appeal Court decision has thrown a spanner in the works by finding that, as presently constituted, they are disproportionate.
I will set out fully my concerns at a future date after the Supreme Court has ruled on the government's appeal against that decision.
But my concerns are nothing to do with having anything to hide.
A full disclosure of my past criminality can be found at (Coming clean).
However there are issues regarding who has access to the information.
Other authorities that have adopted CRB checks entrust the information to the head of legal services who is required to keep it under lock and key.
Another problem is that the council cannot compel members to have CRB checks though it appears they may be able to debar members who decline to comply from certain positions e.g. Cabinet.
To take a purely hypothetical situation, if Cllr Jamie Adams was minded to appoint me to the Cabinet, he could go to the person holding the information and ask him if there was anything in the CRB check that would prevent him from doing so.
As all members of the council are eligible to become Cabinet members, that would allow the leader to go on a fishing expedition.
It was suggested at full council that the unenforceability issue could be overcome by including the requirement for CRB checks in the council's code of conduct.
Back in 2009 Portsmouth City Council suggested a similar solution.
In a report to the authority its principal legal officer observed:
"However, the position remains that, at present, where a Councillor declines to have a CRB check undertaken, there is no sanction which the Council can impose to ensure the check is undertaken. It is therefore recommended that to ensure the Council resolution requiring CRB checks to be undertaken can be enforced, the requirement is made part of the Local Code of Conduct.
This would ensure that, in a situation where a councillor failed to comply, the matter could be referred to the Standards Committee as a breach of the Code and sanctions considered. This could lead to the Committee considering suspending the Councillor from office, if the Committee considered it to be appropriate."

Now I don't know what the human rights lawyers would make of that but it occurs to me that allowing the standards committee to both make the law and adjudicate upon it might contravene the constitutional principle of the separation of powers.
And having awarded themselves these powers, which can only be made effective by suspension, any decision to suspend a member might be found to be tainted by bias.
When this matter was debated at full council Cllr Sue Perkins said it was outrageous that any member should refuse to undertake a CRB check.
As we all know Cllr Perkins is rather strong on outrage (Love, Labours Lost) though she seems to have softened her opinion of Cllr Rowlands when offered the opportunity to work alongside him in the Cabinet.
All I would say is that this issue is rather more complicated than people like Sue Perkins imagine.

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