May 1 2010
Last week's meeting of the county council's corporate governance committee considered two changes to the constitution proposed by Cllr Bob Kilmister.
Cllr Kilmister's first NoM was a straightforward measure concerning the right of an ordinary member of the council to address cabinet when a notice of motion they had submitted was under discussion.
Members have the right to submit notices of motion (NoM) to full council where the chairman has the discretion (of which more later) to either allow the matter to be debated there and then, or for it to be sent to the appropriate committee - usually either the cabinet or corporate governance committee - for further consideration.
As a general rule, NoMs regarding policy matters go to cabinet while those involving changes to the constitution are sent to corporate governance
Some time ago, the late Bill Philpin pushed through a reform which gives the proposer of a NoM remitted to the corporate governance committee the right to appear in person to argue their case.
No parallel right exists with respect to NoMs remitted to cabinet.
As well as being inconsistent, this seems to fly in the face of traditional democratic practice which requires that decisions are only taken after all the arguments have been fully aired.
In the past, I have made two attempts to have the same rights extended to cabinet but on both occasions this modest reform has been voted down by the Independent Political Group's block vote.
Now Cllr Kilmister has taken up the case.
The IPG argue that every ordinary member has a cabinet mentor through which they "can communicate their views to cabinet members".
Why being able to communicate my views to Cllr David Wildman (my cabinet mentor) should be considered as an adequate substitute for the right to put my own case directly to the Cabinet is beyond me.
I can only assume that cabinet members fear that allowing the hoi polloi rights of audience might destroy the mystique of the inner sanctum.
Or, put another way, it would deflate their over-developed sense of self-importance.
Cllr Kilmister also sought to introduce some hard and fast rules governing the number of supplementary questions following on from the answer to a member's written question to the leader and cabinet.
At present the constitution allows the original questioner to ask one supplementary.
After that it is entirely within the chairman's discretion whether further questions are allowed.
At the last meeting of full council the chairman, Cllr Anne Hughes, decreed that supplementary questions would be restricted to the bare constitutional minimum.
The reason given for this restriction was that there were 30 questions on the agenda and allowing unlimited supplementaries would take up too much time.
My own view is that the need to hold the cabinet to account is rather more important than whether members have to wait for their lunch.
Cllr Kilmister proposed that there should be no limit on the number of supplementaries but the report before the committee pointed out that both Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have strict limits on the time reserved for questions.
This is hardly a fair comparison because both MPs and WAMs have many opportunities during the week to quiz ministers during departmental question times.
Full council only meets five times a year so unlimited question time shouldn't be too much of a strain even if meetings lasted all day.
Indeed, on checking the council's website, I find that the five meetings of full council in 2009 lasted for a grand total of 12hrs 25mins and only a small proportion of that time was devoted to questions.
Cllr Danny Fellows, a leading member of the IPG said that he had never felt it necessary to put down a written question to council..
He said that he preferred to approach the officer or cabinet member concerned.
"I find I get more done that way", he concluded.
For myself, I think it is preferable that the public's business should be conducted in public.
Another IPG stalwart Cllr David Bryan accused opposition members of "playing to the gallery" by submitting frivolous questions designed to get their names in the paper.
Though he didn't say who would be charged with the duty to rank members' questions for seriousness.
Can this be the same David Bryan whose picture I see in the WT - usually alongside his Tory henchman Cllr Peter Stock - showing off the latest improvement in the traffic management in the Portfield/Priory area.
At least nobody suggested that members should be restricted in the number of questions they are allowed to ask (Shouted down).
It is interesting to note that the three members (Cllrs Luke, Roberts and Howells) who tried to deny my right to freedom of expression back in 2004, all perished at the subsequent election.
The Greek debt epic is finally reaching its climax, with a rescue jointly funded by the IMF and the members of EMU the most likely outcome once the Germans have overcome their reluctance to underwrite what they regard as Greek profligacy, especially as they fear that the Portugal, Spain, Italy and Ireland might soon be along with the begging bowl.
Unfortunately, far from signalling the end of the crisis, this is only the beginning.
Of course, the problems of Greek et al are to some extent the result of the recession caused by the collapse of the world financial system, but all the western economies, including the UK, suffer the same structural problem - that of ageing populations putting unbearable strain on over-generous welfare provisions.
Add to that the fact that the balance sheets of most western countries are a sea of red ink because of the need to boost government spending to shore up their faltering economies, and the room for manoeuvre is very limited indeed.
It is reported that the Governor of the Bank of England privately holds the view that whichever party wins the next election will be forced to impose such savage cuts that it will be unelectable for a generation.
At the beginning of the election campaign the Tories were promising vigorous action to cut the deficit.
When news filtered back from the focus groups and opinion polls that this was not a vote-winner, the macho talk ceased.
Back in 2008 when Alistair Darling said the recession was likely to be worse than anything we'd experienced in the past 60 years, "the forces of hell" were unleashed against him by No 10.
We complain that politicians don't tell us the truth, but often what we want is for them to tell us only those truths we want to hear.
The great fear is that after the financial crisis comes the political turmoil as weak governments try to impose cuts that the people are not prepared to tolerate.
That could lead to serious social unrest and a fertile breeding ground for extremists like the BNP.
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