25 November 2003



Sacrificial lambs


As you will have read already in the local papers, at their last meeting on October 23rd members of the County Council voted unanimously to reject the offer of £20,000 golden goodbyes for long-serving members in exchange for their promise not to stand at the next election.
From what Old Grumpy hears on the grapevine, it might not have been such a clear-cut vote if those who were set to collect had not been compelled to declare an interest and leave the meeting.
Word reaches me that several of the potential beneficieries are seriously miffed about missing out on this bonanza.
You may be wondering what brought on this sudden and uncharacteristic bout of self-denial.
Well, it wasn't altruism, you can be sure, because a couple of weeks before the meeting the talk was that the Independents were all for it.
As reported earlier, His Leadership, Cllr Maurice Hughes, told members of the Independent Group at their secret meeting two days prior to the Council meeting, that the word among his constituents in Merlins Bridge was that these vast, unearned payouts were political poison.
"Don't come knocking on my door at election time if you pass that" was the message he was getting.
Old Grumpy is reminded of the story of the poet Stephen Spender and the Leader of the British Communist Party, Harry Pollitt.
During the 1930s, Spender, a committed leftie, asked Pollitt if there was anything he could do to help the party.
"Join the International Brigade [in the Spanish Civil War] and get theeself killed - the party needs a martyr", Pollitt told him.
Now, giving up £20,000 is some way short of martyrdom but it was done for the same cause.
Following the secret meeting, one of my moles inside the Independent Group (someone has suggested it should be renamed the Pembrokeshire Independent Group) told me that such was the Leader's determination to have the proposal squashed that it was even decided who lead the attack and what they would say..
So, when the matter came up for discussion, I was able to whisper in the ear of the editor of the Mercury, Richard Harris: "Islwyn Howells is next up".
Sure enough, up popped Cllr Howells and proceeded to lambast this immoral scheme.
Strangely, Cllr Howells also found time for a little homily on his status as an independent member.
"I stood as an Independent and I am an Independent" he said.
Maybe I've missed a trick but, despite several Merlot-fuelled hours thinking about it, I cannot see what purpose is served by an Independent councillor (someone who applies his own independent judgement to the issues) attending a secret political group gathering where decisions are taken on how the members will vote at the upcoming meeting.
Perhaps one of the party's intellectuals will explain.
Then again, perhaps not.

Balance of power


Last week there was something of a constitutional crisis when the House of Lords dug its heels in over legislation on foundation hospitals, and the right to trial by jury.
It was not quite in the same league as recent events in Georgia but, for the UK, it was about as good as it gets.
During last week's dispute between the two Houses of Parliament there was much talk about the right of the elected chamber to have its own way.
This will-of-the-people-must-prevail stuff is very popular with majority parties in elected assemblies - Cllr Maurice Hughes is forever harping on about the Independent Party's 2:1 majority on the County Council - but the arithmetic simply doesn't stack up.
According to the University of Keele's excellent election results website New Labour's 62.5% share of Common's seats is founded on the votes of just 24.2% of the electorate - hardly what you would call an overwhelming popular endorsement.
Things are even more skewed at local level where Maurice Hughes' Independent Party, supported by a mere 12% of the voters, holds 66% of the seats.
This is not a party political point because a similar pattern has emerged at every General Election since 1950.


Let me say, straightaway, that I am delighted that England won the World Cup.
I would have preferred that it had been achieved with a bit more style but, having beaten the Australians in their own back yard, it would be churlish to quibble over aesthetics.
However, much as I appreciate being given full bragging rights for the next four years, I think the national press have gone way over the top.
The Sunday Times sports section devoted 23 of its 32 pages to England's victory and today's Daily Telegraph - three days after the event - gives over no fewer than seven pages to our heroes.
Tomorrow it will be the triumphant return to Heathrow and after that we will have to suffer innumerable champagne receptions as the politicians try to get their two pennyworth of reflected glory.
Thank goodness for the Matt cartoon in the Telegraph which shows two old boys in the saloon bar with one saying to the other: "Football in '66, rugby in 2003, we should let someone else have a look in."
The truth is that hardly anybody plays rugby, at least not seriously.
To get 20 teams for the knockout stages they had to recruit the likes of Uruguay, Namibia and Georgia to make up the numbers.
There were only four teams with a realistic chance of taking the honours so to win the cup required victory in two serious matches.
Instead of being triumphalist, England should be asking themselves, why, with all their resources, it has taken so long.
If this level of hype continues for much longer I will seriously consider investing in a red rosette.
In the midst of this mass-hysteria the English should remember they are in the land of the stiff upper lip where, as Rudyard Kipling put it, the people ".. can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same."


I rarely read the colour mags, which are almost entirely given over to celebrity-obsessed garbage.
However, in moments of terminal boredom, I have been known to have a furtive glance.
And this week's Daily Telegraph version contained an absolute gem with an article about interior designer Russell Sage.
Russell was commissioned to give a makeover to a French chateau, including hand-painted murals.
"I instructed Corin and Grant [the artists] to get high on Cognac and paint at night" Russell tells the Telegraph.
"I wanted them to let go. I didn't want them just to paint red - they had to feel it, taste it", he explained.
As a result "a leather sofa that Russell found in the chateau is covered with splodges of paint from the redecoration" and has become a centrepiece of the drawing room.
This is all written with the utmost seriousness and passed off as the last word in creativity.
Well, Old Grumpy can tell Russell that I was on to this more than five years ago, when, late one night, with visitors expected the next day, I attempted to paint the living room ceiling after consuming a bottle or so of the best Chilean..
The marks not covered by the hastily-purchased new rug can still be seen on the carpet.
Old Grumpette was not impressed and now insists on calling in a professional decorator whenever the house needs a facelift.
The perfect outcome, don't you think?



It is not so long ago that Europe Minister, Peter Hain, was telling us that the new European constitution was merely a "tidying up exercise".
Now we read in the newspapers that the Government is threatening to use the veto if proposals in the draft constitution which would give Europe more control over taxation, defence and social security are not modified or dropped.
Use the veto to thwart a tidying up exercise? sounds like spin to me.
An even bigger crisis faces the European Union over a decision by a meeting of the European Finance Ministers to ignore breaches of the Stability Pact by France and Germany.
The rules are quite simple: no member of the single currency should run a current account deficit greater than 3% of its GDP.
These rules were brought in at the insistence of Germany in order that the single currency would be a Euro-Mark rather than a Euro-Lira.
Nobody argues that France and Germany are keeping within the rules but when it came to the crunch the Finance Ministers were unwilling to impose the fines that the Stability Pact requires.
Yet again, political expediency has trumped the rule of law.


back to home page