May 2 2005

Doing the rounds

The other day, in the members' tearoom at the Kremlin-on-Cleddau, one of the ruling Independent Group told me that my recent forays into the foothills of philosophy were boring.
Sorry, but there is no way I am going to dumb down this column to cater for people who can't understand that the phrase "Independent Political Group" is a contradiction in terms.
If he is reading this I would advise him to log off and get back to the Daily Star because I intend, this week, to discuss the fascinating subject of circular arguments.
To kick off I will deal with the now-infamous Attorney General's advice to the Prime Minister ahead of the war in Iraq.
From what we now know, it would seem that, on 7 March 2002, Lord Goldsmith presented Mr Blair with a lengthy opinion on the legality of such a war.
Having stated that regime change would not provide a legal basis for an attack on Iraq, he advised the PM that the preferred option was a second UN resolution to reinforce 1441.
Failing that, there would need to be "hard evidence" that Saddam was in breach of either resolution 678 - the disarmament agreement that led to the end of the first Gulf war - or 1441 itself.
Two rather serious obstacles stood in the way: the express intention of the French to veto any second resolution, and Hans Blix's appearance before the UN during which he said that Saddam was co-operating with the weapons inspectors and that, given more time, he believed that he and his team could bring matters to a satisfactory conclusion.
This was all highly inconvenient for Messrs Blair and Bush who had by now deployed some 150,000 troops to Kuwait in readiness for the invasion.
Indeed, we now know from the minutes of a meeting leaked to the Sunday Times that Bush and Blair had already decided to invade Iraq the previous July and all that was required was some half-decent excuse to put the plan into effect.
With no prospect of a second resolution, and no hard evidence of material breach from Dr Blix, the situation required desperate measures.
So Tony Blair told Lord Goldsmith that, in his opinion, Saddam was in material breach and, armed with this piece of "hard evidence", Lord Goldsmith was able to assure the Prime Minister that an invasion would be legal.



A couple of weeks ago, I was treated to an almost equally brilliant piece of circular reasoning from our beloved county council.
Although the subject matter was somewhat less serious than going to war, it was nevertheless a classic of the genre.
It involved a complaint by one of my constituents about changes the council had made to the way council tax installments are recorded.
Apparently, up until this year, people were provided with a card on which their monthly payments could be recorded.
This has been replaced by a receipt in respect of each individual payment.
My constituent complained that the previous system was much more convenient, especially for the elderly, because a glance at the card told them exactly where they were, whereas the individual slips of paper were easily lost or misplaced.
I rang the revenue section where it was confirmed that such a change had been made.
From this conversation, I gathered that I was by no means the first to raise this issue.
So I mailed the revenue section with three simple questions:

1. Why was the system changed?
2. What consultations were undertaken before the changes were implemented?
3. Is there any prospect that the previous system might be reinstated?

Not having received a reply, I buttonholed Cllr David Wildman, the Cabinet member for we old folks, in the tearoom and he asked me to email him with the details.
Cllr Wildman is considered to be one of the Pembrokeshire Tory Party's leading thinkers and when I read his reply it was easy see why.

"In response to your questions", he wrote,
"1. To improve customer service.
2. No consultations were undertaken in this instance as it is an improvement to the service.
3. No, that would be a step backwards.

All part of the customer-driven service improvement that we keep hearing about, I suppose.
Or is it, as a long-dead philosopher must once have said: absolute power has no need for logic?

Plodding on

Having now received a copy of the Director of Finance, Mark Lewis', statement to the police, regarding Brian Hall's high velocity exploits on 1 February 2001 (see the Time Lord), I have been revisiting the events of last December when my notice of motion calling for the county council to release this document was roundly defeated.
Opposing my motion, the Leader, Cllr John Davies, said that the police had already carried out a thorough investigation of my complaint against Cllr Hall and that the CPS had decided that there was insufficient evidence to proceed .
Of course, this is yet another piece of circular reasoning because the decision of the CPS was in part, at least, based on the evidence provided by the Director of Finance in his statement.
You will recall that Mr Lewis told the police that Cllr Hall's expense claim was "correct in every detail" (see Misinformation) and it not difficult to imagine the effect such a clear cut statement from someone in his position might have on the CPS.
However, I am now given to understand that the Director of Finance made a further statement to the police and I will reserve comment on the subject until I know the outcome of my Freedom of Information request for a copy of this second document.
Mr Lewis' original statement also makes reference to a letter "regarding that day" [1 Feb 2001] written by the former Director of Highways Huw Roberts who was also present at the SWITCH meeting attended by Cllr Hall.
As this letter was written some three weeks before Mr Lewis gave Cllr Hall's expense claim a clean bill of health, I can only assume that it contains some rational explanation for Cllr Hall's movements that afternoon.
I have also put in a FoI request for this document and I am looking forward to learning how Hall managed to eat lunch and drive the 125 miles from Magor to Pembroke Dock in the 52 minutes between 1.08 pm and 2.00 pm.
I hope to report more fully in due course.
During December's debate the leader produced a letter, dated 10 December 2004, from Chief Supt. Paul Amphlett of Haverfordwest police.
At first the council refused to disclose the contents of this letter but faced with the provisions of the FoI Act they eventually relented.
This letter, addressed to the Chief Executive, is, indeed, a most interesting document.
It begins "Dear Mr Parry-Jones, I refer to our recent telephone conversation and your request for clarity regarding the nature of the investigation into Cllr Hall and implications for Freedom of Information."
So, it seems Mr Parry-Jones solicited this letter for the Leader to deploy against me in the upcoming debate.
That's the problem the opposition on Pembrokeshire County Council faces; not only are we up against the Independent Political Group's 38-22 majority but we also face the full might of the council's administrative machinery.
The person who joked that the Independent Political (sic) Group was the political wing of the Chief Officers Management Board (COMB) was nearer the truth than he thought.
Readers will recall that during that debate the Chief Executive got to his feet and made a scathing attack on my integrity; accusing me of bias, lack of objectivity and disregard for due process (see On the carpet).
According to the Western Telegraph, he also said: "We have had certain members of the council and individuals outside the council who have believed they are in a position to investigate members and officers of the council."
The context in which this was said clearly indicated that Mr Parry-Jones though such investigations were out of order.
I simply can't agree with that.
As far as I'm concerned, where public money is involved, anyone has the right to investigate whatever they please.
And it is my intention to keep probing until I discover the truth.
I am encouraged by the fact that despite me repeating the allegations about Hall's expense claiming practices, ad nauseam, he still hasn't succumbed to the temptation to send his lawyers into battle.
Makes me think I must be on to something.


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