May 20 2008

Cottage industry


During a recent television appearance the leader of the county council, Cllr John Davies, described my persistent references to his 2,700 sq ft herdsman's cottage (No udder conclusion) as "Good old Pembrokeshire politics at its worst".
So, for the past 20 years, I have been labouring under the illusion that I was fighting against the "Good old Pembrokeshire politics", especially the planning system which routinely bends the rules to accommodate the powerful and those with powerful friends (Worker's paradise) (Time to count your spoons) (All comparisons . . . ) (Bending the rules).
Indeed, Cllr Davies' herdsman's cottage is a case in point.
And a classic case at that because, after the planning committee had made its decision, it emerged that he had sold the dairy cows on which the need for a herdsman and the cottage were based.
For whatever reason, Cllr Davies neglected to tell the planning department of this change of circumstances.
Explaining this rather unfortunate oversight, Cllr Davies told the television reporter "I have sold my dairy cows but I certainly have not sold my herd."
By now, we should be used to the Leader talking in riddles (Duty bound) (Self-destruction) (Slippery customers).
Not that he needs to be concerned because, as Hannah Arendt (Origins of Totalitarianism) said: "Authoritarians have an extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of the man who can fabricate it."
And, with almost two-thirds of the votes on the county council at his command, the Leader's powers of fabrication are almost unlimited.
Cllr Davies was also at pains to deny that he was a Tory or that the Independent Political Group (IPG) was a Tory front.
Indeed, he pointed out that there were some card-carrying Labour members in the IPG.
This is a reference to the three Labour candidates whose last minute defection to the IPG left the Labour Party without candidates in three of their most winnable seats.
My Labour Party sources tell me that the Leader's boast of card-carrying Labour members is likely to be short lived because, by joining the IPG, they have breached party rules and expulsion beckons.
Not that the ringleader Cllr Ken Rowlands will care because it is widely rumoured that he will be rewarded with the £14,000-a-year special responsibility allowance that comes from being the cabinet member with responsibility for the environment.
Another who faces expulsion from the Labour Party - if he hasn't already resigned - is former trades union boss Cllr Danny 'Quango' Fellows who committed the sin of standing against an official party candidate in Milford East.
My moles tell me the blow of losing his party membership will be softened by his swift elevation to one of the scrutiny committee chairs (£8,400 p.a.).
Whether these promotions are based on the talents of the individuals concerned, or whether they are examples of the Leader indulging in "good old Pembrokeshire politics at its worst", I will leave you to decide.

Joined-up government

According to the county council's website there are now five members "not affiliated to any group": Cllrs Malcolm Calver, Phil Baker, Brian Hall, Grumpette and myself.
Based on the number of candidates who went around during the election campaign claiming they would "be their own man", I had hoped it might be more.
No doubt the IPG's recruiting sergeants have been on the phone.
So what is it that persuades people to join up and "rat" (as a letter writer to the Mercury put it following the 2004 election with respect to Cllr Anne Hughes (Party animals)) on their promises?
Obviously, the £250,000 of taxpayers' money the leader has at his disposal in the form of special responsibility allowances must have a bearing, but that can't be the whole story.
My own theory is that a crucial factor is the comfort of belonging to the biggest gang, and, therefore, always being on the winning side.
After all, who wants to be left out in the cold; having to think for themselves, when they can rely on intellectual titans like John Davies and John Allen-Mirehouse to tell them how to vote.
Also, from my conversations with members of the IPG there is an impression that being part of the ruling clique will help you to "get things done in your ward", as they put it.
And getting things done in your ward is seen as the surest way to get yourself re-elected.
All I can say is that any such use of the authority's resources for political advantage would be against both the Code of Conduct and the law (ask Dame Shirley Porter).
And, as an election winner, being a member of the IPG is a rather serious no-no.
In evidence,Old Grumpy would submit the election results from 2004 when eight sitting members of the IPG, including the Leader Maurice Hughes and three of his Cabinet colleagues, were ousted (Night of the long faces) and, more recently, on May 1 when six of them went down the tubes.
It was also worthy of note that the two former IPG Leaders who stood: Maurice Hughes and Eric Harries, both failed to make much of an impression.
Unfortunately, armed with his taxpayer-funded war chest, Cllr John Davies has managed to plug the breach.
He will no doubt claim that "the ballot box has spoken" and given him his large majority.
More like the money box, I would suggest.

Brian's revenge


The appearance of Brian Hall's name among the unaffiliated has sent the conspiracy theorists in county hall into a feeding frenzy.
One explanation being touted is that he is refusing to rejoin the IPG unless he is restored to the Cabinet.
I am told that that isn't going to happen because it would likely precipitate a mass walk-out by his erstwhile Cabinet colleagues.
Another is that he is in talks with the five-member Tory Group which needs just one more member to (a) make it the biggest opposition group, and (b) push it up to the 10% of the total membership that would entitle its leader to an £8,400 special responsibility allowance.
A couple of weeks ago (Money talks) I reported that rumours were circulating that one of the card carrying Tories in the IPG was being courted for this role, but that speculation has ended now that it has emerged that all those who qualify under this heading are in line for a special responsibility allowance when the Leader announces his team.
Far be it for me to enter into this speculation but the more likely explanation, I would suggest, is to be found in the final paragraph of Cllr Hall's resignation speech (Resignation statement) where he accuses his IPG colleagues of stabbing him in the back.
At the moment, the IPG has 37 members. With Cllr Hall on board, as the mathematicians among you will already have spotted, that would rise to 38.
Interestingly, the transition from 37 to 38 is the tipping point under the political balance rules when there are 12 seats available as is the case with scrutiny committees and the National Park.
The formula, for anyone interested in such arcane matters, is (Number of seats held by the Group) / (Total number of councillors) X (number of seats available on committee/outside body).
With 37 members this works out at 7.4 which rounds down to 7 and with 38 it comes to 7.6 which rounds up to 8.
What better way to avenge your perceived betrayal than to deprive those responsible of coveted committee places.

Numbers games

While I've got my mathematicians hat on, I will deal with another quirk of the political balance rules which require that the majority party in the council, if there is one, must hold the majority of seats on all committees.
With an even number of committee places, the smallest possible majority is two.
So you could get the situation where a party had a single seat majority on the council but a two-seat majority on all committees.
The way round that anomaly is to have odd-numbered committees when the minimum majority is one.
Originally, PCC's scrutiny committees were comprised of 10 elected members, but, early in his reign, John Davies pushed through an amendment to the constitution increasing that to 12.
Was it pure coincidence, or "Good old Pembrokeshire politics at its worst " that seven of eight additional seats went to members of his party.
Having become aware of the problem with even-numbered committees, I put forward a notice of motion calling for membership of scrutiny committees to be increased to 13.
As I recall, these extra seats would all have gone to Labour and Plaid Cymru.
The Leader opposed this amendment on the grounds that 13-member committees would be unwieldy and it was torpedoed by the IPG block vote.
As I pointed out at the time, this unwieldliness argument didn't hold too much water because the children and young persons (CYP) committee, which has four co-opted members representing various interests in the sphere of education, is 16 strong.
And I haven't heard any reports of its proceedings stretching long into the night.
There is another constitutional problem with the CYP because it is actually two committees - one dealing with education, when the co-opted members have a vote and another dealing with children's services when the co-opted members are barred from voting.
Because of the rule that the majority party must hold the majority of the seats the IPG has nine representatives on this committee.
However, when the committee moves into children's services mode, that majority goes from 9-7 to 9-3.
This seems to be against the spirit, if not the letter, of the political balance rules and it will be interesting to hear what the Leader has to say when I submit a notice of motion designed to remedy the situation.

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