November 12 2001


Standard bearers

Old Grumpy notices that the County Council is advertising for two independent members to join its Standards Committee.
For the sake of clarity readers should distinguish independent in its honourable sense (not belonging to a political party) and Independent in its dishonourable sense (belonging to a party with neither policies or principles)
This Committee will consist of an independent Chairman (a lady barrister, already appointed); two Independent members of the Council (Bill Hitchings and Brian Howells); a community councillor (O E Williams); plus the two independent lay-members yet to be recruited.
The selection of the two lay members will be the job of a four-person Appointments Panel.
At the Policy and Resources Committee in October it was agreed that the four existing members of the Standards Committee should comprise the Appointments Panel.
In effect, giving the committee the power to appoint itself.
Anyway, when the proposals came before full council two weeks later the Monitoring Officer, Huw James, relayed the news to the members that, since the P and R meeting, the Welsh Assembly had issued new guidelines that barred the independent Chairman from serving on the Appointments Panel.
Clearly, The Leader, Cllr Maurice Hughes, must have had advanced warning of the revised Welsh Assembly guidelines because he immediately bobbed up and nominated Mrs Lynette George, Chairman of the NHS Trust, as a replacement, presumably having previously established that she would be willing to accept the post.
Now, I have no objections to Mrs George, whose conduct of Trust meetings that I have attended has always been exemplary.
But we now have an Appointments Panel made up of two members of Cllr Hughes' Independent Political (sic) Group; a community councillor hand picked by the Independents; and a lay member who is Cllr Hughes nominee.
Not a very auspicious start for a committee that came into being as a result of a report of the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life.
Nevertheless, I think I'll apply for one of these two remaining places on the committee.
If I get an interview it will give me the opportunity to ask Bill Hitchings why his secretary described him as "… our Chairman (Lady Councillor) …" on an order to the President Hotel (see Travellers tales) should my fax on this question, dated 5 November, still remain unanswered by his Council's Marketing and Communications Department.
It will also give Cllr Bill and I the chance to revisit our previous encounters; like the time I discovered his claim for a First Class rail fare to Hull, when he had actually gone by car.
And I will also enquire why, on dozens of occasions going back several years, he has claimed 12 miles for driving from Ashdale Lane to Haverfordwest to catch the train to London, and 12 miles back, when, in fact, it is only half that distance?
Still, as they say, poachers often make the best gamekeepers.


Name calling

A couple of weeks ago the Chairman of the Labour Party, Charles Clarke, described the Conservatives as "a bunch of nutters".
The poor, beleaguered Tories shouldn't take this too much to heart.
Sticks and stones and all that!
After all, it was only last April that Industry Minister Nigel Griffiths was on his feet in the House of Commons denouncing one well known Conservative as "the toxic Texan" while, in the same debate, his fellow Labour MP and namesake, Jane, referred to "The fool on Capitol Hill".
Now, just over six months later, George W Bush is their Leader's new best friend.
And I wonder if Tony Blair articulates his ambition to "destroy the forces of conservatism" during his cosy fireside chats with the President?


Bishop of Twickers?

Last week, the Bishop of Oxford made the headlines by sprinkling Holy Water on the pitch of the local football team to dispel a gypsy curse.
Normally I would pour scorn on this Anglican version of voodoo, but Oxford United are currently fourth from bottom of the Third Division, while Carlisle, blighted by the Bishop of Glasgow's medieval curse against my border reever ancestors, are just below them.
Goodness knows what abominable threats have been made against Macclesfield and Halifax who are even lower still.
And then there's struggling Haverfordwest County, whose ground is but a stone's throw away from County Hall where the accursed Bluestone project was conceived.
If there is any truth in this divine intervention business then the Bishops of Manchester and Liverpool must know something that the rest don't.
And, after what I witnessed on Saturday, the sooner the Archangel Gabriel is installed in Llandaff the better.
But,of course, the whole idea that invocations by Bishops can make a difference to sporting achievement is utterly ludicrous.
Twickenham doesn't even have a cathedral.



Devolution is becoming something of a politicians' graveyard.
Here in Wales we have seen the fall of Ron Davies (moment of madness) Alun Michael ( undemocratically imposed - democratically deposed) Lib Dem Leader Mike German (to spend more time with his lawyers) and Tory top gun Rod Richards (ditto).
Scotland has lost Donald Dewar, admittedly several cuts above the others, to the grim reaper, and now Henry Mcleish - who aspired to run a country but couldn't order his own accounts - has gone down the tubes.
The demise of Mr Mcleish is interesting because it lifts the veil on the one-party state that is Central Scotland.
His "crime", on the face of it, was to fail to declare £36,000 - or was it £39,000? - in rents arising from the sub-letting of part of his constituency office.
One of his tenants was Fife County Council, of which Mr Mcleish had been leader, and another, a charity funded by Fife County Council and headed by one of Mcleish's former party workers.
Old Grumpy suspects that when the newspapers have finished digging what will be revealed is an elaborate scheme to divert taxpayers' money into Labour Party coffers.
This sort of thing often happens in one-party states where the arrogance of power leads to a cavalier attitude to the rules.
What emerges is the belief that they are above the law, followed by carelessness and, ultimately, downfall.
Or, in the words of the old Cumbrian proverb: "The more people that pee in the same pot, the more likely it is that someone will get their feet wet".



At this time of year I hang the sunflower heads collected from the garden outside the kitchen window.
Sunflowers have the advantage over the traditional bird feeders because only the tits are acrobatic enough to hang upside down and remove the seeds.
This year, in addition to the common blue tits and great tits, we have been visited by a family of coal tits.
This is all very nice, but is it good for the birds?
Well, from the perspective of Darwinian evolution, the answer is no.
Apparently, studies show that of the blue tits born in any one season only 20%, on average, make it through to the following spring.
This is the brutal business known as the survival of the fittest.
Feeding the birds in winter allows the unfit to survive leading to a weakening of the gene pool.
That said, I notice that the tits have stripped all the seeds off that sunflower I hung up on Saturday morning.
Must get another out of the shed, especially as the weather is forecast to turn colder.
I know it's not good for them but, surely, even Old Grumpy is allowed to lapse into sentimentality once in a while.



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