11 May 2004


As a candidate at the forthcoming county council elections, I have been advised by a helpful young lady at the Electoral Commission that, during the election period, any overtly political material on my website should carry the imprint "printed and published by..." followed by my full name and address.
Unfortunately, this means revealing my true identity; carefully concealed behind the name "Old Grumpy" since October 1991, when I wrote the first of these columns in the Mercury.
However, recent events seem to indicate that my cover may already have been blown because, last week, when I popped into the Lord Kitchener Hotel for a quick pint, I was startled to hear the landlord call out: "Careful what you say boys, Grumpy's just come in."
If Mucci knows my secret, the likelihood is that it's all round Milford by now.
Though they all deny it, I suspect Old Grumpette, or one of the younger Grumpettes, have let slip after a tongue-loosening chardonnay or three.
I explained to the lady at the Commission that it was not the intention to use the website to promote my own election campaign but she pointed me to section 8.16 of the "Guide for candidates" which says: "For the purposes of the legal requirement, promoting or procuring the election of a candidate includes material criticising or disparaging another candidate at the election (my emphasis)".
I asked about the status of the occasional articles I write about my garden and, more recently, the compost heap.
"I suppose that could be construed as making a pitch for the horticultural vote", she said, and then gave a little chuckle to signal that she was only pulling my leg.
So, three alternatives seem to offer themselves:
(1) Suspend this column for the duration of the election campaign, or
(2) Write exclusively about gardening, the weather and other non-contentious matters, or
(3) Carry on as before, with the addition of the imprint.
The great problem with the third option is that it means revealing my other Christian name. .
On the other hand, the thought of going for five whole weeks without criticising or disparaging the likes of Brian Hall, His Leadership and Squirehouse is more than flesh and blood can stand.
So business as usual it has to be.
And, before Mucci starts gossiping across the bar in the Kitch, my other name is Robert.

Printed and published by Robert Michael Stoddart, Court Farm, Liddeston, Milford Haven, SA73 3QA


What the papers didn't say

Last Wednesday morning a most peculiar document came in to my possession.
It cost me 55p and on the top of Page1 it carried the words: "Western Telegraph. The newspaper that fights for Pembrokeshire."
The front page lead headed: "Supermarket sweep for county" informs the paper's readers that a planning tribunal has upheld an appeal by the German supermarket chain Aldi against a refusal for consent to build a supermarket on the site of Green's Motors.
This momentous revelation was followed up by speculation that another German chain, Lidl, may be planning a store in Tenby and the "news" that Safeway in Haverfordwest is facing a name-change following the takeover by Morrisons.
If the people in charge at the Telegraph got out a bit more they would have known that the story on everyone's lips was the dramatic footage and testimony about Cllr Brian Hall in the previous Thursday's Dragon's Eye programme on BBC Wales.
Not that the Telegraph completely ignored the Dragon's Eye revelations but it did manage the not inconsiderable feat of burying it on Page 3.
One passage in the Telegraph's coverage caught my eye.
It reported that: "There has been much controversy surrounding his [Cllr Hall's] relationship with Dr Michael Ryan, an Irish business consultant employed on a part-time basis by the county council. There has been much speculation by other councillors and the media about whether this constitutes a conflict of interest for Cllr Hall.".
This must have all seemed something of a mystery to readers of Wales' biggest selling weekly snoozepaper because not a word about the Hall and Ryan business, speculation or otherwise, has appeared on its pages.
This despite the fact that, for the past eight weeks, the Editor of the Telegraph has been in possession of a copy of Ryan's letter to Hall dated 16 October 2000 which shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the two of them were plotting to use their public positions to line their own pockets (see Hall-Ryan).
Another thing that struck me about the Telegraph's coverage was the publication of a press release in the name of the Leader, Cllr Maurice Hughes, under the headline "Leader slams 'smears'".
This press press release is beyond irony because it consists almost entirely of smears against others, including the Opposition, Nick Ainger, Old Grumpy, the BBC and, most amazing of all, the Telegraph and Mercury for printing an "unfounded and unsubstantiated" attack on His Leadership in the previous week's editions.
These newspaper "attacks" concerned Cllr Hughes' attempt to rubbish a whistleblower in the social services department by revealing details of her sickness record during an open meeting of the council..
Reporters from both newspapers were present when the offending remarks were made, so it is rather surprising that they allowed His Leadership's attack on their editorial integrity to pass without comment.
Strangely, both the Telegraph and the Mercury omitted a key passage from the original press statement, a copy of which Old Grumpy has acquired.
It reads: "The South Pembrokeshire and Carmarthen West MP Nick Ainger is a Government Whip in the Westminster Parliament and I think most people know about the activities of Government Whips".
Was this particular smear left out to save Cllr Hughes from further embarrassment?
I think we should be told!

Printed and published by Robert Michael Stoddart, Court Farm, Liddeston, Milford Haven, SA73 3QA


Before the final chapter of the Bluestone saga comes to be written, we will probably have to endure a lot more of the sort of stuff that appeared on the letters' page of last week's Western Telegraph in the name of a Mr Michael Shaw of Solva.
He writes: "The CNP [Council for National Parks] is the unelected lobby group seeking to overturn the democratic decision reached by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park to approve the Bluestone holiday village" and that the CNP is "trying every last delaying tactic to get the decision overturned in the High Court."
There is a basic illogicality in this position because, if the CNP does succeed in getting the decision overturned, the court's ruling will be entirely based on the unlawfulness of the National Park Committee's action in granting consent.
And, as I understand the position, an unlawful decision is incapable of being democratic, no matter how many people vote for it.
That is the basic principle of demoracy under (my emphasis) the rule of law on which our freedoms ultimately depend.
Of course, it is understandable that politicians - especially those finding themselves in a temporary majority - consider the results that flow from the application of this principle irksome, but what they are promoting is not democracy but crude majoritarianism.
Of course, the majority can always impose its will by changing the law but, in mature democracies, that is a protracted process requiring much Parliamentary time and, frequently, trouble.
Until the law is changed "unelected lobby groups": Greenpeace, FoE, etc, etc, will, perfectly legitimately, attempt to thwart the will of the majority through court action or other means.
Personally, I find little merit in the constant stream of environmental scare-stories that emanate from these bodies but, so long as they use peaceful means to promote their views (and there is nothing more peaceful than arguing your case before the High Court) I can see no possible grounds to object.
Suppose, for instance, the County Council has just voted 60:0 to compulsorily purchase YOUR house to make way for a road widening scheme.
An opinion poll shows that 99.999% of the Pembrokeshire population approve of the decision.
You are adamant that you don't want to be relocated.
In a liberal democracy the confiscation of private property is a serious matter and Parliament has built any number of safeguards into the compulsory purchase legislation to protect the individual from arbitrary action by the state.
In a situation where the local authority has failed to jump through the required legal hoops, is it suggested by the majoritarians that the owner of the property should bow to public opinion and decline to use the powers given to him by Parliament to mount a challenge in the courts?

Playing safe

At this time of year I usually pass on some of my surplus plants to the neighbours.
But this election business is full of pitfalls.
I notice at 8.28 in the candidates' guide that "A person is guilty of the corrupt practice of treating if "...he or she, directly or indirectly, gives or provides ... any food, drink, entertainment or provision in order to influence any voter to vote or refrain from voting."
So, on the assumption that plants are "provision", no geraniums or tomato plants for the neighbours this year.
And any Hubberston voter who I happen to meet in the pub shouldn't think me mean or ill-mannered if I fail to buy them a pint.
Just keeping well on the right side of the law!
Though, interestingly enough, I can find nothing in the guidelines that prevents a voter putting one behind the bar for the candidate.

Printed and published by Robert Michael Stoddart, Court Farm, Liddeston, Milford Haven, SA73 3QA

Grumpy the Gardener

Despite all that has been going on, I am pleased to report that, following the recent spell of warm weather, my vegetable patch is a picture.
The broad beans are well through and the spuds are looking magnificent.
We have been eating strawberries from the greenhouse since the first of May and the tomatoes are well in flower.
But my pride and joy is the row of potatoes I planted under polythene in the middle of February.
I had a little moyle into the side of the row the other day and already there are potatoes the size of an egg.
I intend to leave them for another week to bulk up bit and then I will enjoy the highlight of the culinary year.
You can keep your caviar, smoked salmon and fillet steak - there is nothing to beat that first feed of new spuds, straight from the garden into the pan and served on their own with a generous coating of Welsh salted butter.
Just a pity I can't share the fruits of Old Grumpette's winter digging with the folks next door.


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