6 May 2002


The scrutineers

News reaches Old Grumpy that the Cabinet met last Friday to decide who would chair the newly formed scrutiny committees which will monitor the Cabinet's activities.
You may think that choosing your own scrutineers is a bit of a rum business, but that, I'm afraid, is what passes for democracy in Pembrokeshire.
I was not surprised to hear that Cllr Alwyn Luke has been chosen to oversee Highways: the bailiwick of his chum Cllr Brian Hall.
Given that the expense claiming practices of both Hall and Luke have been a regular feature of this column, they will, in future, be referred to, collectively, as the highwaymen.
As a service to readers I have consolidated my Luke "The Monster Lunch Muncher" genre into a single volume. (Luke. The collected works).
I intend to do the same for Hall and other frequent visitors to the columnar territory in the not too distant future.
The most polite way of describing the other three scrutiny committee chairmen: Cllrs Rosemary Hayes, David Wildman and Tom Richards, is Independent Group stooges.
Cllr Wildman, you may remember, was elected as a Conservative but decided that the Independents offered better prospects - a decision he will not regret as he trousers his £17,500 salary.
Cllr Richards rarely speaks in council debates, though I have heard it said that he is more effective in the mornings.
As for Cllr Hayes, the present council chairman, her reputation as a creature of the establishment was well and truly cemented by her failure to answer the questions put to her by Labour leader Joyce Watson, at the December meeting of full council, preferring instead to peddle the patently false story put into her mouth by the council's hierarchy (Cover-up exposed).
Gwynneth Dunwoody, she ain't.

Culture of independency

Old Grumpy has been speaking to the two Independent candidates in the forthcoming Rudbaxton bye-election; caused by the resignation of county councillor Phil Llewellyn.
My interest flows from the recent bye-election in Martltwy where one of the two Independent candidates was running under the flag of the Independent Political (sic) Group and the other as an independent Independent.
My first port of call was Richard Hancock who confirmed that, if elected, he would be joining the Independent Political Group.
His next statement: "I don't think politics should be involved in local government", brought the obvious question: "Why, then, join a political group that congregates in secret before all important council meetings to decide how to vote?"
Mr Hancock's less than compelling reply was that, if successful, he would do "what is best for the community".
I am not quite sure how surrendering your individual judgement to the majority view of a political group lacking policies or principles helps to achieve that honourable objective.
And if the purpose of these secret group meetings is not to agree the party line, what is the point of holding them in the first place?
The other Independent contender, Mr Islwyn Howells, was less certain about his future relations with the Independent Political Group.
"It remains to be seen", he replied when I asked him if he would sign up if elected.
"I will go there with an open mind", he told me.
"So, you won't rule out joining the Independent Political Group"? I said.
"Now you're putting words in my mouth", he protested.
"Not really", I countered, "surely having an open mind means not ruling things out".
All this linguistic and logical confusion was, by now, making my brain hurt, so I let the matter rest.
However, Mr Howells did assure me that he had not been asked to stand by anyone from the Independent Political Group.
On the other hand, Mr Hancock confirmed that he had been solicited to stand by "a Cabinet member" and is therefore, I suppose, the official party candidate.
He was reluctant to name names, but he assured me that it was not Cllr Brian Hall - the party's unofficial campaign manager in the Martltwy bye-election - or the Leader, Cllr Maurice Hughes.
Subsequent enquires reveal that the recruiting sergeant on this occasion was none other than Peter "All over you like a duvet" Stock.
I suppose you have to ask yourself what interest Cllr Stock, the supposedly independent member for Portfield, has in who is elected to represent the people of Rudbaxton.

Bully boys

Totally unconnected with the above, I am grateful to Professor A J Hayak (The Road to Serfdom) for the explanation as to what attracts people to join authoritarian regimes.
According to Hayak the appeal lies in "… the taste for power as such, the pleasure of being obeyed and of being part of a well-functioning and immensely powerful machine to which everything else must give way".

Monkey business

The good people of Hartlepool have chosen a monkey to be their Mayor.
This has caused a good deal of comment in the press, though those of us who study the political scene in Pembrokeshire can see nothing remarkable in the election of a single monkey to high office.
Last Friday, the Times published a sniffy editorial deploring the monkey's elevation; pointing out that the new Mayor, a mere call centre worker, would be in control of a £100 million annual budget.
Would it have felt the same had the official Labour/Tory/Lib Dem candidate been a call centre worker?
Or does belonging to a political party somehow make a person better qualified to run a local authority?
In any case Old Grumpy would bet that the educational standards of call centre workers are, on average, better than those of the members of the Independent Political (sic) Group that controls Pembrokeshire County Council's £130 million budget, many of whom belong to that worryingly large minority who leave school without a single qualification to their name.

French cricket

Shocking news from France on this morning's Today programme on Radio 4.
No, I am not referring to the antics of M le Pen, but an item about a campaign by the cricket authorities to popularise the game on the continent.
With this end in mind, the Today programme reported, top coaches have been in Paris over the weekend instructing seventy-odd French youngsters in the finer points of the game.
Now it is bad enough that the French can already wop us at football, athletics, tennis and, most painfully of all, rugby, without inviting further humiliation on the cricket field.
Just imagine turning on Test Match Special on the third day of the Oval Test and hearing that the French have just beaten us by an innings and plenty to take the series 5-0.
I know it is unlikely to happen in my lifetime, but I shudder for the grandchildren.
Let the French stick to their traditional summer sports: boule and throwing paving slabs at the gendarmerie.
The longer they go on thinking that "taken in the covers" is a euphemism for losing your virginity, the better.


Practical politics

At the height of the Spanish Civil War the Marxist poet Stephen Spender went to see the leader of the British Communist Party, Harry Pollitt.
With the Great Depression by now a receeding, if bitter, memory, the left's hopes of a working class revolution in Britain were becoming increasingly remote.
Spender asked Pollitt if there was anything he could do to help the party's cause.
"Go to Spain and get thyself killed - the party needs a martyr" Pollitt replied.

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