March 8 2012


About turn

To Pembrokeshire County Council's Cabinet on Monday to make my debut following the decision to allow signatories of Notices of Motion to address that august body.
Previously, we had to get our point across via the Cabinet member assigned to us as mentor.
I think mine is Cllr Jamie Adams, or is it David Wildman, but it matters not because I fancy I have the ability to put my own case better than either of them.
Opposition members have long argued that they don't need Nanny to help them, but this proposition has always been torpedoed by the Independent Political Group block vote.
The reasons for recommending rejection was always the same: "There is a well developed process for liaison before Cabinet meetings by individual cabinet members with a number of other councillors [The mentor system]. As a consequence there was already a means by which proposers of motions could communicate their views to Cabinet members.
I first put down a NoM on this subject in 2007 when it went down by 32 - 16 with two abstentions from the IPG (Cllrs Henry Jones and Elwyn Morse)
Cllr Bob Kilmister had a go in 2009 when it met a similar fate though there was a sizable revolt in the IPG ranks with Cllrs Elwyn Morse, Martyn Davies, Mike Evans and Mike John voting in favour while Maureen Molyneaux abstained. Two Tories: Aden Brinn and Richard Hancock voted with the IPG.
Bob returned to the fray in 2010 when the same proposition was defeated 35 - 19.
This time Elwyn Morse switched sides and Maureen Molyneaux climbed down off the fence and voted with the IPG block, while only Martyn Davies remained true to the faith. Mike Evans and Mike John were not present.
Tories Aden Brinn and Richard Hancock also had a change of heart and voted with the opposition but that was more than cancelled out when three Plaid members who had previously supported the proposal: Cllrs Rhys Sinnett, Carol Cavill and Rob Bowen, threw in their lot with the IPG.
Old Grumpy is baffled as to why members should switch sides when the issue is identical.
It occurred to me that it might depend on whether there was an 'r' in the month but then I realised that all three meetings were held in May.
However, all was not lost because last summer the two highly critical reports by Estyn and CWSSI were published.
While these were chiefly about failures in the council's education system and child protection procedures they also had some less than complimentary things to say about the general governance in the council, particularly the top-down nature of the organisation and the absence of rigorous scrutiny and challenge by elected members.
The Welsh Government were so concerned that it appointed a five-member board headed by a retired High Court Judge to to examine the council's procedures including its constitutional arrangements.
And when the self-same Notice of Motion came before the council last December it was waved through unanimously on a show of hands.
There is, of course, an 'r' in December, though I can't rule out some more compelling reason for this new-found enthusiasm for basic democratic principles.

Home rule

I must admit to being something of a fundamentalist when it comes to constitutional democracy under the rule of law.
The alternative is what I have recently seen described as a formal democracy e.g. Russia where they have elections and the like but on drawing aside the veil you find a dictatorship lurking behind.
As Tory grandee Viscount Bolingbroke put it way back in 1733: "A constitution is that assemblage of laws, institutions and customs, derived from certain fixed principles of reason . . . that comprise the general system, according to which the community hath agreed to be governed."
And a more recent high Tory, Viscount Hailsham, advised that the purpose of a constitution was to avoid government by an elective dictatorship.
Talk of constitutions tends to be greeted by a yawn, so I will try to explain in terms of the Six-Nations championship, which, for some reason that eludes me, seems to be a better way of grabbing the public's attention these days.
With the Six-Nations, the constitutional rules comprise the fixture list, the appointment of neutral referees, the scoring system and the method of determining the winners of the championship if teams finish level on points, among other things.
These make up the general system by which the participating countries agree to be governed.
While England is by far the biggest union in terms of players, clubs and wealth, it has only one vote on the International Board that makes the rules.
If the number of votes reflected the relative strengths of the participating unions (one player -one vote, what could be more democratic than that?) England could tailor the rules to suit itself rather than adopt those derived from "certain fixed principles of reason".
For instance, it could dictate that all its matches were played at home.
As we have seen recently, this alone would not guarantee success, but what if England also insisted on appointing its own referees?
Surely no patriotic English referee would have turned a blind eye when that sneaky Welsh centre stole the ball off our poor, defenceless second row.
And as for Strettle's late try: well it may have been difficult to ascertain whether the ball was grounded from the replays, but who can doubt that an English referee, adorned with rose-tinted specs, would have seen it being plonked firmly on turf.
One emailer suggested that it would have made no difference because Flood would have missed the conversion, anyway.
But, when the touch judges - both English of course - raised their flags to signal it had gone over, that would be the end of the argument.
I began writing this with a view to demonstrating that crude majoritarianism and democracy are entirely different things, but the more I think about it, the more I am coming round to to the view that I might be wrong.
When I played village cricket in my youth we never had neutral umpires.
Usually a committee man or ex-player from each side would officiate.
While the number of runs you scored depended to some extent on your skill with the bat, the golden rule, if you wanted to occupy the crease for any length of time, was never to get hit on the pads when the opposition umpire was standing at the other end.
I remember one player who was given out lbw to a ball that pitched two feet outside leg stump.
As he trudged off, he turned to the opposition umpire and said: "That was never out".
"Read the paper next week and you'll see if it was out or not", the umpire replied.
All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely (Lord Acton).

Sinking fund

Not long before the Euro was launched, the Bank of England raised interest rates in order to take the heat out of the property boom in the London area.
This was greeted with howls of outrage from the north east of England where businesses were struggling to survive and unemployment was already at unacceptable levels.
Bank of England Governor, Eddie George - a renowned eurosceptic - was apologetic, but pointed to the difficulty in setting a single interest rate that suited everyone.
I remember writing at the time that, if it was not possible to have an interest rate that suited both Sunderland and Surbiton, the odds on pulling the trick for economies as divergent as Germany and Spain must be somewhere between zero and vanishing point.
And Sunderland and Surbiton had the advantage of being in a single political area and sharing the same language.
That means that money can easily be transferred from rich areas to poor, and there is no language barrier to hamper the movement of workers from regions of high unemployment to those where jobs are available.
The point being that a currency union without prior political union is almost certainly doomed to failure.
I have no doubt that the architects of the Euro understood all this but decided that monetary union was an easier sell than its political equivalent.
After all, we wouldn't need to convert our currencies when we went on holiday and trade would be easier if the risk of exchange rate fluctuations was eliminated.
These two factors are undoubtedly beneficial but, as we now know, they are swamped by the disbenefits of a one-size-fits-all monetary system.
Many Eurosceptics suspect that the founding fathers of the Euro knew all this but calculated that once the difficulties became apparent they could complete the job by using the crisis to push through political union.
Unfortunately, they have been overtaken by events.
And though the EU has installed puppet governments in Greece and Italy, and persuaded the vast majority of European governments to submit their budgets for EU approval, there is a distinct lack of appetite among the peoples of Europe for the sort of political union that Mercozy have in mind.
By the time you read this we should know whether Greece has managed to persuade enough of its bondholders to take a voluntary 75% 'haircut' to stave off default.
My guess, with about twelve hours to go to the 8.00 pm March 8 deadline, is that a rabbit will be pulled out of the hat and everyone will give a huge sigh of relief.
Stockmarkets will rally, bond yields will stabilise and the euro elite will give themselves a pat on the back.
A least that's what has happened on the half-a-dozen or so previous occasions when the euro has been pulled back from the brink.
What has also happened on all these previous occasions is that, once the euphoria has worn off, the markets have realised that nothing has changed because these bailouts and injections of cash by the European Central Bank have failed to address the lack of competitiveness that is the underlying, unsolved and probably unsolvable problem, of Greece Portugal and the rest of the Club Med.
Sadly, while we eurosceptics might take some satisfaction in being able to say "told you so", our pleasure is likely to be short-lived because when the Euro tanks we shall all go down with it.

Toby mugs


Old Grumpy has obtained a copy of Manorbier Community Council's minutes of the meeting of 6 February.

One item that caught my eye was agenda item 21/12 "To consider the appropriate course of action to be taken in relation to the inappropriate claiming of a Royal Wedding Mug.
Accounts of this episode have been circulating for some time, but I always thought them too improbable to be true.
However the council's minutes now clearly show that my scepticism was entirely misplaced.
The story begins with the council's decision in early summer last year to give every child in the village a mug to commemorate the Royal wedding.
Application forms were distributed and the chairman Cllr Raymond Hughes took it upon himself to distribute the freebies..
Arriving at the house of a Mr Rees in Manorbier, chairman Hughes asked if Toby was in.
Mr Rees turned his head and gave a whistle and Toby bounded out of the kitchen, tail wagging furiously.
Had Cllr Hughes accepted that he was the victim of a hoax, had a laugh, and gone on his way, there would be no story.
Instead he pressed the inappropriately claimed mug into Mr Rees' hand.
And that would have been the end of it except the council decided to send Mr Rees a bill for £5 to recover the cost of the mug.
Mr Rees, who has claimed throughout that he hadn't ordered the mug, refused to pay.
Summer blended into autumn and then, in December, Cllr Hughes received a Christmas card "From Toby and friends".
He was not amused!
The minutes record that: "Cllr Hughes commented that it was appalling that a very small minority of the community found it farcical and funny to make the council look like a joke."
Now Mr Rees has returned the mug, leaving the council to decide what to do about the unpaid bill.
According to the minutes: "The clerk explained that it would be shown as a bad debt"
It was then proposed that "the matter be closed as an attempt had been made to recover the costs, and to pursue it further would incur greater costs . Vote taken - all in favour".
As this has been rumbling on for more than six months, nobody could accuse this lot of being quick on the uptake.
Unfortunately, it doesn't end there because Mr Rees has now been branded publicly as a bad credit risk.
This despite the fact that he denies all involvement in either the form-filling or the greetings card, and that the minutes confirm there is no evidence to connect him to either.
Given its previous record in the law courts, MCC (Manorbier Comedy Club?) had better hope he is not the litigious type.
I have written this because I think this story deserves to be enjoyed by more than "a very small minority in the village".
Indeed, it occurs to me that anything involving a spat between dog called Toby and a self-important local councillor might appeal to some of my contacts in the tabloid press.
Stop press: I now hear that Toby has sent Cllr Hughes a Valentine card.
What next: birthday? Father's day?

Grammar lesson

A couple of years ago there was a campaign to do away with the apostrophe.
Having only recently mastered its use, despite a grammar school education, I considered this a bad idea.
And now I have evidence of its importance as conveyor of clarity of meaning.
Logging on to the Daily Telegraph's website the other day, I noticed along the very bottom of the page the words Cameron admits riding Rebecca Brooks'
Without that apostrophe, I could have run away with entirely the wrong idea, but being on the ball, grammatically, I scrolled down and read the words ex-police horse
But there is another aspect to this case that gives pause for thought.
The name of this horse was Raisa.
Older readers will remember that the name of Norman Scott's dog; shot by Andrew 'Gino' Newton in an attempt to scare Scott into silence about his alleged homosexual affair with Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe, was Rinka.
Having had a scientific education, Old Grumpy understands the importance of pattern detection in the formulation of hypotheses..
And here we have two cases where four-legged animals whose five-letter names begin with 'R', caused strife for leaders of prominent political parties.
So ambitious politicians would do well to steer clear of anyone with a cat called Roger.
But what about dogs named Toby?
As Julian Huxley said: The great tragedy of science - the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.

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