November 21 2006

 

 

Paper tigers

"Comment is free, but facts are sacred." wrote C P Scott; editor of the Manchester Guardian for the 57 years between 1872-1929.
The rest of the editorial, which precedes Scott's much quoted dictum, is just as interesting, if rather less pithy.
In a Guardian comment in 1921, when he had already been editor for the best part of 50 years, Scott wrote: "A newspaper is of necessity something of a monopoly, and its first duty is to shun the the temptations of monopoly. Its primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted. Neither in what it gives, nor it what it does not give nor in the mode of presentation must the unclouded face of truth suffer wrong. Comment is free, but facts are sacred."
All newspaper editors and reporters should have those words as the screen saver on their computers.


Facing both ways

 

An interesting report appeared in last week's WT recording the proceedings of Tenby Town Council and headlined: "Anger at bid to hike car parking charges".
What was remarkable about this - other than the fact that there was an interesting report in the WT - was that one of the leading opponents is Cllr Michael Evans who, according to the Telegraph, was calling for Tenby to unite with other interested parties "to fight the planned charges".
What the Telegraph neglected to mention is that Cllr Evans is a deputy member of the Cabinet that imposed the charges in the first place.
As such, he would have been entitled to attend the secret pre-Cabinet conclave where these things are mulled over before being forwarded to the official Cabinet meeting for rubber-stamping.
This ability to switch effortlessly, as circumstances dictate, between membership of the ruling clique and membership of the opposition is, surely, both the attraction of the Independent Political Group and its glaring contradiction.
In addition, as the owner of several businesses in Tenby, it might be thought that Cllr Evans had a more than passing interest in the town's parking regime.
If I am right about that, the Code of Conduct would require him to declare that interest and withdraw from the meeting.

Jobs for the boys

Acting on a tip off, as they say, I put down a question at the last meeting of the county council, asking for details of relatives of senior officers and members who had temporary summer jobs with the authority (see Family favourites).
True to form, the Leader retreated behind a cloud of pious waffle, which concluded with me being told that it would take too long to find the the information.
So, I refined my search by making a Freedom of Information request for the names of those employed on the traffic survey in Tenby.
The council must have concluded that there was no point in further withholding information that I already knew , and last week they sent me a list.
It came as no surprise to find the names of A Parry-Jones and B Parry-Jones among those listed.
Now, it would be unfair if the Chief Executive's sons were debarred from taking temporary jobs with the council purely on account of their father's position.
And it would be equally unfair if people in the know had an advantage.
So, I will be seeking to ensure that, in future, these jobs are advertised and open to all.
As a result of my previous article on this subject, other interesting information has come my way and I have now submitted another FoI request in an attempt to find if any relatives of the Leader and his Cabinet were similarly blessed.

Self-appointed

Private Eye's "Rotten Boroughs" had an interesting story about a Peterborough councillor who is facing a standards committee after failing to declare an interest during a selection panel meeting where his father's appointment to the police authority was on the agenda.
As usual, here in Pembrokeshire, we do these things with rather more style and panache.
Back in 2002, in preparation for Cabinet government, the council drew up a new constitution which delegated the power to make appointments to outside bodies to the Cabinet.
At its very first meeting the Cabinet decided to further delegate this power to the Leader.
It is possible that this action contravenes the principle delegatus non potest delegare (a delegate cannot delegate) though that needn't concern us too much.
In due course, this change was incorporated into the constitution, though, so far as I am aware, it has never been approved by full council which has sole powers concerning "adopting and changing the constitution."
Whatever the rights and wrongs of that, there was no question of declaring an interest when it came to appointing two members of the IPG to the police authority (£6,500 per annum) because the Leader decided he was the best man for one of the posts.

 

Pearl fired

Cllr Pearl Llewelyn has resigned from the county council's Labour group on after being sacked as the party's representative on the Mid and West Wales Fire Authority.
According to my moles, Cllr Llewelyn's demise follows her decision to defy group policy by voting for the downgrading of cover in Haverfordwest at a recent fire authority meeting.
Cllr Llewelyn's decision to vote for the cuts seems rather strange because, just a couple of weeks earlier, an eagle-eyed reporter from the Mercury spotted her outside Haverfordwest Fire Station demonstrating against the changes.
This ability to ride two horses simultaneously will stand her in good stead if and when she throws in her lot with the Independent Political Group.
Labour's action raises an interesting question about the future of the IPG's two representatives on the authority: Cllrs John Allen-Mirehouse and Brian Hall, who also voted for the cuts.
Will the Leader now use his powers under the constitution to replace them, or are we to assume that the downgrading of fire services in the county town is official IPG policy?
I now hear that, having left the Labour party, Cllr Llewelyn has decided to become an independent.
It is not clear whether this means she is about to become a pearl of wisdom by joining Old Grumpy as a genuine independent, or whether she is about to cast her pearls before swine (figuratively speaking, of course) by throwing in her lot with the crypto-Tories in the Independent Political Group.
The smart money is on the latter - after all, they control the special responsibility allowances.
PS. It seems the smart money was right because a highly-placed mole has just rung to say that a large purple object; believed to be Cllr Alwyn Luke, chairman of the council's Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) (see The master forger), was going round the tea room on Monday telling anyone who would listen: "She's come over".
Sounds like something out of John le Carre.
PPS. Mystery surrounds a press release purportedly issued by Cllr Llewelyn on Monday morning in which she denounces her former Labour colleagues as a bunch of power-hungry hypocrites
People who have read it say the quality of the prose and the accuracy of the punctuation would seem to indicate that Pearl may have engaged the services of a ghost writer.
In addition, as she doesn't own a computer, it is suspected that the e-mail was transmitted from county hall.
But, according to my tea room moles, Cllr Llewelyn wasn't in county hall on Monday.
Putting two and two together, conspiracy theorists have concluded that authorship of this press release probably rests with someone in the marketing and communications department.
Of course, as council officers are required to be politically neutral, any such involvement by the council's press office would be unlawful, though not unprecedented (see Politically neutral?).
According to my calculations, Cllr Llewelyn's defection will mean the the IPG will gain a seat on the planning committee at Labour's expense.
The council's 10 seats on the National Park committee are presently divided (rounded figures in brackets) IPG 6.33 (6) Labour 2, Plaid 0.83 (1) Lib Dems 0.5 (1) whereas with Cllr Llewelyn's defection to the IPG the figures are now IPG 6.5 (6 or 7), Labour 1.8 (2), Plaid 0.8 (1) and Lib Dem 0.5 (0 or 1).
It will be interesting to see how the IPG and the Lib Dems resolve this dead heat.
One way would be for the Lib Dems to recruit one of the two independent members (I might be tempted by a six-figure transfer fee) otherwise it will have to be pistols at dawn.
PPPS. I have just received an email pointing out that I have misspelt Cllr Llewellyn's name throughout the above piece.
I apologise for that, but in my defence I would point out that it is the same spelling as is used in Cllr Llewellyn's press release.
This would seem to indicate either that Cllr Llewellyn can't spell her own name, or the press release was written by someone else.
You decide!

Brian's big day

On Thursday we will have Cllr Brian Hall's appearance before the standards committee, following the Ombudsman's conclusion that Cllr Hall acted in a manner "likely to bring the office of councillor into disrepute" by mouthing off threats of violence against a BBC journalist while representing the county council at a do in St Davids.
Unfortunately for Cllr Hall his audience included a senior BBC executive and a Tory Welsh Assembly member (see Dragon's Eye) who reported the matter to the journalist who reported the matter to the Ombudsman.
These events took place back in January 2005 and the Ombudsman's report has been with the county council since January this year.
In April, the standards committee met in secret (see Hall of fame) and decided that Cllr Hall had a case to answer, and now, after a series of delays through the summer, the matter is up for determination.
So, by the end of the week, we should know the outcome, though I wouldn't entirely rule out a further postponement with a view to getting through to next May and the completion of his term of office as chairman of the fire authority.
After all, if the Ombudsman's findings are upheld, it will be difficult to reconcile his behaviour with leadership of a body dedicated to public protection.
The meeting, which starts at 11.30 am, is open to the public.

Domestic bliss

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a debate on 'Woman's Hour' - one has to keep in touch with one's feminine side - about the proper division of household labour between husband and wife.
A hard-line feminist was putting forward the view that there should absolute equality of effort, while a housewifely type favoured a more relaxed regime.
I had visions of the feminist and her partner running round with stopwatches, timing each other
That seems like a recipe for discord and I would recommend the frictionless system, based on a few easy-to-understand rules, operated by Grumpette and myself.
Rule 1. Cooks don't wash up.
Rule 2. First up makes the tea, last up makes the bed.
Rule 3. Grumpette is in charge of the hoover, iron and washing machine, while I have dominion over the rotavator and other garden tools.
Rule 4. When we go out, I drive there and Grumpette drives back.
It is not possible, of course, to have perfect fairness with such set of simple rules.
For instance, collecting cod and chips from Denny's counts as cooking, and whenever we go out I am burdened with more than my fair share of the drinking.
Cutting the lawn is regarded as a household chore, and negotiations are ongoing about the status of the new patio.
And the system can only work if operated flexibly, so, if it comes to rain while Grumpette is out, I am expected to bring in the washing.
Of course, the system can only work if people play the game.
But, being human, there is always the temptation to cheat.
For instance, the other day I came back from the shops (a shared activity) earlier than expected and caught her in the garden winter digging.
Now, I believe in sticking to the rules and last Sunday, when Grumpette was up on the roof pointing the chimney, it didn't even cross my mind to have a sneaky ten minutes with the hoover.
Unfortunately, people like me, who play to the rules, always get put upon.

Sentimental fool

SF has become a grandfather and the way he is going on you would think he's the first.
It's rather unsettling to see someone who believes in scientific socialism coming over all gooey and sentimental on account of a baby.
He tells me the young fellow qualifies for three of the home nations through his various grandparents.
No shortage of hybrid vigour there, then.
A week ago, I was advising him to steer the boy in the direction of England because the way things were going they'd be giving caps to anyone with two sound legs.
However, after the way the World Cup holders (remember) overran those brilliant Springboks last Saturday, I have now had to reconsider.
I am now withholding further advice until after this weekend's games.
On the basis that you're only as good as your last match, it could turn out that the lad's best hope for a shedful of caps lies nearer to home.
In the meantime, SF's initials have been changed to SG which is short for soppy grandad.

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