May 29 2007


Eternal youth

Old Grumpy notices that Cllr Anne Hughes has been appointed as the county council's representative on the Milford Haven Port Authority board, where the £6,500 per year stipend will more than compensate for the £4,000 foregone when she gave up her assistant Cabinet member's post for "personal reasons".
The vacancy arose on the retirement of Cllr Arwyn Williams after serving just 18 months of his three year term.
When I spoke to Cllr Williams a few weeks ago he told me he had been forced to retire because he had reached age 65(see Pensioned off).
What you might find rather baffling is that Cllr Williams was one of those short listed for the vacancy caused by his own retirement.
A trip in Brian Hall's Tardis is the only explanation that springs immediately to mind (see Time Lord).


Common nonsense


Localism - the idea that decisions should be taken at the level nearest to the people - is the new political fashion.
Recently, both Gordon Brown and David Cameron have made speeches in support of this new philosophy of government and, of course, the Lib Dems and Nationalists have always been believers.
And common sense dictates that, the lower down the political food chain decisions are taken, the more accountable government will be.
However, Old Grumpy has a problem with common sense as a guide to action.
After all, until Copernicus came along and proved otherwise, common sense had lulled some extremely intelligent people into the belief that the sun went round the earth.
And what in common sense or personal experience would have led to the conclusion that it was possible to film events and transmit them by way of electromagnetic waves so that they appeared, almost instantaneously, on screens in living rooms on the other side of the world.
Or that, if bundled together, the solid bits (atomic nuclei) of the table on which my computer sits would be so small as to be invisible to even the most powerful optical microscope.
To give some idea of how much of what we perceive as solid is actually empty space, it has been calculated that all the atomic nuclei in Snowdon would fit easily into an egg cup.
The fact is that science and much else besides is counter-intuitive.
So, before going overboard in the quest for localism, it would be as well to seek reasons why its benefits might be illusory.
At present, central government is watched over by nine major national newspapers and several television and radio channels, all of which, for professional and commercial reasons, are keen to be the first with the news.
As publishing government press releases will not give you the edge, they are all out there digging for new stories with which to attract readers/viewers/listeners.
This is not so, locally, where monopoly providers have every incentive to regurgitate press releases because they are both free (they come in electronic form complete with photo, so can be downloaded straight onto the page) and safe (nobody is going to sue you for spreading their own propaganda).
A case in point is the article in last week's Western Telegraph on housing improvements in Monkton featuring a nice photo of local member Cllr Pearl Llewellyn and Cabinet member David Simpson.
Logging on to the county council's website, reveals the same press release, word for word.
What is interesting about these taxpayer-funded press releases is that they rarely, if ever, feature members of the opposition.
Cllr Llewellyn, of course, is now a member of the Independent Political Group, having defected from Labour after it sacked her as the party's representative on the Fire Authority (Pearl fired).
She can expect a strong challenge from Labour at the next election and high-profile appearance in the local paper won't do her prospects any harm.

Outstanding questions

As examples of the failure of Pembrokeshire's local newspapers to inform their readers about what is going on, I would offer the following.
(1) A few weeks ago, the Western Telegraph ran a front page story in which it claimed that Pembrokeshire County Council was trousering over £2 million "profits" from Cleddau Bridge tolls.
The following week, the Telegraph published a statement by Cabinet member for highways, Cllr Jamie Adams, in which he claimed the council was actually losing £600,000.
Having started this hare running, why hasn't the Telegraph established the truth?
(2) Also in connection with the Cleddau Bridge, Cllr Adams told the Telegraph that the council had asked the Welsh Assembly to take over the running of the bridge.
However, having assessed the situation, especially with regard to ongoing maintenance costs, the Assembly had declined.
On the same page Christine Gwyther was quoted as saying that the Assembly had approached the council with a view to taking over the bridge but, probably because it was such a rich source of revenue, the council didn't want to know.
Both these accounts can't be true.
(3) In response to questions from Cllr Michael Williams and myself about the leaking of confidential cabinet papers to Milford Haven Port Authority (MHPA) the Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council, Cllr John Davies, to the meeting of council on 13 July last year that: "The draft of the intended report to Cabinet on 6 February 2006 was provided to MHPA on 19 January 2006 in order to ensure that the terms being proposed for approval precisely reflected detailed negotiations between the two parties."
In fact, the only term mentioned in the draft report, which was identical to that presented to Cabinet three weeks later, was that the lease was to be for 999-years. There was no mention of the price or any other terms of the lease (see An unlikely tale).
Not a word about any of this appeared in the local press, though the Mercury, which shares an editor with the Telegraph, had a copy of the confidential report.
Imagine the reaction of the national press if this had happened in Parliament.


Unholy alliances

The farce presently being played out in the Welsh Assembly should give supporters of proportional representation pause for thought.
Following the failure of Labour and the Liberal Democrats (32 of the 60 seats) to get into bed together, an attempt was made to form a "rainbow coalition" of Plaid, Tories and Lib Dems (33 seats) and, when that failed, Labour formed a minority government (26 seats).
In the meantime the three opposition parties have decided that they can get along after all and are now waiting to bring down Rhodri's administration once a suitable opportunity presents itself.
It has all the hallmarks of the Italian system, where, until they did away with proportional representation a few years ago, they could claim that, since the war, they had had more governments than Chistmases.
Of course, PR gives a fairer correlation between seats won and the number of votes cast, but it can hardly be said to accord with the voters wishes when it leads to two parties as far apart politically as the Tories and Plaid sustaining each other in power.
If I had supported Plaid and then found my vote being used to propel the Tories into office, I would feel cheated.
And vice versa.
Interestingly, had the election been decided on the basis of first-past-the-post in the 40 constituencies, Labour would have a handy 24-16 majority.
Such a system would also have the advantage of saving the the salaries and expenses of the 20 list AMs, who are, in any case, neither fish nor fowl.
There are those who will argue that 40 AMs is not enough to fully represent the people's interests in Cardiff, but, as someone once said: "If more politicians is the answer, it must be a very strange question."

Earning your stripes


Grumpette is heavily into painting, though she still awaits her first sale.
By way of reassurance, I keep telling her that artists are never appreciated in their own lifetime, and that the grandchildren will benefit when they find the sketch books in a dusty trunk in the attic.
"Look at that Mark Rothko", I said, "totally unconsidered while he was alive and now his paintings sell for millions."
Indeed, only recently, one of Rothko's paintings, which has far as I could see consisted of three horizontal bands of pink, orange and yellow, sold for $42 million.
It looked like child's play to me - certainly much easier than those intricate watercolours that are Grumpette's stock in trade (or should I say non-trade).
But, no sooner had I set her along that path than she saw a photo in the paper of David Hockney's latest effort.
This is a much acclaimed landscape composed almost entirely of a clump of formal looking trees.
The problem is that it is 40 ft by 15 ft and Grumpette is already complaining that there isn't enough room in our poky little three-bed house for her to give full expression to her creative talents.
I've told her it is all we can afford and that, if she wants something more palatial, she will have to either sell one of her paintings for a seven-figure sum, or retrain as a farmworker (see Des res).

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