8 March 2005



Living dangerously

Reports have reached me of an item on Radio Pembrokeshire this morning during which Keri Jones claimed that we Cumbrians were "backward".
The basis for this scandalous libel is a resolution before Carlisle City Council calling for the Millennium Stone, on which is inscribed an ancient curse, to be placed without the city limits.
Locals, it seems, are blaming the curse for the city's recent run of bad luck, including foot and mouth disease; Carlisle United's relegation from the football league; and, more recently, the seven-foot floods that swept through the city.
I wouldn't like anyone to get the idea that natives of those northern parts were prey to ignorance and superstition because, in truth, we are an extremely level-headed, rational breed.
True, things may have deteriorated somewhat since I left Cumbria 40 years ago, but my auntie, who still lives there, tells me she still retains all her old powers, and Mr Jones will be regretting his loose words if he finds himself turned into a frog halfway through tomorrow's programme
She is unsure about her ability to cast a spell over 300 miles, but, she tells me, if that fails, she knows people in the Narberth area who can, as she puts it, "sort things out."
PS. I should add that the resolution before the city council has been put down by the Lib Dems and you shouldn't judge everybody by them.

The rumour mill

With the AGM due in May, County Hall is awash with rumours about a possible Cabinet reshuffle.
As I said last week, it seems to be the consensus view that Bill Roberts is in the departure lounge awaiting his flight out.
But otherwise there is much confusion abroad.
The situation is complicated by the recent television programme featuring Brian Hall (see Dragon's Eye) complaints about which are now with the Ombudsman.
If the Ombudsman's investigation leads to Hall's downfall, it could mean that the Leader, Cllr John Davies, has to give the pack a more thorough shuffle than he originally intended.
If Hall, Cabinet minister for Transportation and the Environment, does go, the Leader is lucky to have a ready made replacement in Cllr Henry Jones (Fishguard) who has wide road building experience across five continents.
Indeed, when Cllr Jones gets going on his favourite subject, Old Grumpy worries that someone will get run over by a steam roller, or a JCB.
Such are my concerns that I am thinking of putting down a notice of motion making hard hats compulsory whenever he's in the members' tea room.
The only problem is that elevation to the Cabinet would deprive the council of Cllr Jones' services on the scrutiny committees where, as he, himself, will tell you, his enquiring mind is a tremendous asset.
Another who is being tipped for elevation to the magic circle by some of the more astute Kremlin watchers is Jamie Adams (Camrose), assistant Cabinet member for something or other, who had the Independent Political (sic) Group members banging appreciatively on their desks at the last meeting of council with a trite little speech about "Affordable housing for local need".
If he is promoted, his mastery of the platitude should stand him in good stead.
Of course, it is not too difficult to think of Cabinet members that Cllr Davies might want to get rid of, but looking around the IPG benches it is not immediately obvious who would replace them.
Another assistant Cabinet member, Michael Evans (Tenby), is one whose name is sometimes mentioned in this context but his inexperience at the highest level could count against him.
Also, there are all sorts of rumours swirling around about the possible identity of the next vice-chairman.
Former top policeman Don Evans (Wiston) is one name in the frame.
His transfer to the Chainbearers' Union would solve the rather knotty problem of his membership of the police authority and chairmanship of the council's licensing committee which, among other things deals with police policy on, um, er licensing matters.
A mole tells me that Cllr Evans is balking at the thought of having to eat all those rubber chicken dinners.
That could provide an opportunity for the leader to eject Peter Stock from the Cabinet with any injured pride salved by a nice soft landing in the vice-chair's billet
I must stress that all the above is rumour and speculation and I apologise in advance to anyone whose promotion prospects have been damaged by being talked up by me - and vice-versa.

Thank the Lords

The most depressing thing I've read for a long time was the opinion poll in the Daily Telegraph that showed that more than 60% of my fellow citizens support the government's proposals that the Home Secretary should have the power to lock us up if he suspects we might be involved in terrorism.
Thank goodness the House of Lords looks set to torpedo this attempt to undermine our constitution.
I know there are some who deplore my obsessive interest in matters of constitutional law but all I can say in my defence is that if you look around the world you will find that the freest and, incidentally, most prosperous people live in societies that value the rule of law.
And you can't have the rule of law unless you have a constitution that defines the relationship between the citizen and the state; including, of course, the circumstances in which the state can deprive the citizen of his or her liberty.
Because they have a written constitution, the Americans seem to understand these principles better than we who tend to treat our constitution like a pair of comfortable old shoes that we don't notice we are wearing.
But it wasn't always thus and great battles have been fought
As Viscount Bolingbroke said in 1733: "By constitution, we mean, whenever we speak with propriety and exactness, that assemblage of laws, institutions and customs derived from fixed principles of reason... that compose the general system, according to which the community hath agreed to be governed."
And it would seem to follow that these fixed principles are not to be discarded at the whim of a temporary majority in the House of Commons.
Indeed, what we have in the House of Commons is a temporary minority because it should be remembered that, despite its massive majority, Mr Blair's government was elected by the votes of just 25% of the electorate and 42% of the votes actually cast.
Clearly, if the first-past-the-post electoral system leads to such a disproportionate distribution of the seats, some other safeguards need to be in place check the power of the elected government.
The chief of these are the independent judiciary and the second chamber.
In an ideal world, the House of Lords would contain neither hereditary peers nor politically nominated life-peers, but, until such time as somebody comes up with workable proposals for an elected Upper House, the present second chamber is all we've got.
We should be grateful for small mercies.

Lords 1 - The Lord 0


I don't usually do obituaries on this website but I have decided to make an exception for the Rt Rev Lord Sheppard of Liverpool.
David Sheppard, as he was then known, gave up Test cricket in the mid-1950s to train to become a vicar.
I was a sports-mad teenager at the time and this piece of madness temporarily knocked me off balance because this seemed like a sacrifice way beyond the call of any duty.
After all, it was every young man's, usually unattainable, ambition to play cricket or rugby for his country while almost anyone could become a vicar.
However, I was relieved to read in his Daily Telegraph obit that Rev Sheppard was only human after all.
The piece reads: "In 1954, however, he was approached by Ronnie Aird, secretary of the MCC who asked if he might be available to take on the England captaincy.
"Sheppard decided that the situation warranted the interruption of his theological training, and made himself available for the MCC's tour of Australia in 1954-55."
What a relief to learn, even at this late stage that, when it came to the crunch, my boyhood hero knew where his duty lay
And I think he probably made the right move because I can't believe that, in the great scheme of things, a benevelolent, just and loving God would, even for a moment, consider the salvation of a few thousand souls of more importance than beating the Aussies at cricket.


Heads down


Early indications are that the Independent Political Group's top brass have decided to hunker down and try to ride out the latest storm surrounding their controversial colleague Brian Hall.
On the other hand, I also hear that some of the party‘s deck hands, particularly the ones newly elected last June, are becoming concerned that they might be tarred with the same brush.
And so they will, because it is their synchronised voting habit that keeps the ship afloat.
I haven't been into County Hall for a few days but my moles tell me that conspiratorial little knots of Independent Political (sic) Group members have been seen engaging in earnest conversation in the members' tearoom (aka the Day Centre).
From what I hear, the fear is that, if they are seen to be supporting Hall out of some sense of party unity, their constituents might start wondering what sort of "independent" members they voted for last June.
If it helps them to make up their minds which way to jump, I can assure them that I will be asking the same question from now until the next election.

Sold a PUP?

Old Grumpy has been trying to think of suitable names for the county council's Independent Political (sic) Group should they eventually decide to go straight and register themselves as a political party.
Clearly it helps if the name can be collapsed into a catchy acronym e.g. Pembrokeshire Unity Party (PUP), which is what was sold to those who thought that, if they voted for independent candidates, they would get independent representatives.
Other suggestions - you can work the acronyms out for yourself - are:

Pembrokeshire Independent Group.
Conservative Rule Across Pembrokeshire
Safe Haven for Itinerant Tories, and
Freemasons United for ... (That's enough! Ed)

No answer, came the stern reply

 This space reserved for replies from Cllrs Bill Roberts and Islwyn Howells (see Answers please).
You will recall that Cllrs Roberts and Howells shouted me down at the meeting of council in December while I was putting the case for the disclosure of the Director of Finance's statement regarding Brian Hall's false claim for expenses.
It is my intention to demonstrate to them that such undemocratic practices can have democratic consequences.

For anyone with time on their hands I have written a full account of my investigations into hall's rent payments for 75 Stockwell Road (see RENT)

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