November 29 2012

 

Outnumbered

Monday's corporate governance committee was another depressing example of democracy, PCC-style.
Up for debate was a Notice of Motion I had submitted calling for the number of members on five committees to be increased by one.
Presently, these committees have either six or twelve members.
As I have explained previously, even numbered committees run into a problem with the statutory political balance rules which requires that the majority party on the council should have a majority of seats on all its committees.
The smallest possible majority on an even numbered committee is two.
So, on six member committees the minimum majority is 4-2.
Before the election, the Independent Political Group (IPG) held 39 of the 60 seats, so the two-thirds : one-third split on six-member committees was a fair reflection of the overall political balance.
Following its dismal showing at last May's election, the Independent Plus Political Group (IPPG) - as it is now known - has had its majority cut to 32 - 28, but it is still entitled to four seats on six member committees.
In percentage terms this means that, in respect of six-member committees, it has 66% of the committee seats on the back of just 53% of the seats overall, while the opposition members with 47% of the seats on the council have just 33% of the committee seats.
This cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as political balance.
With a seven person committee the split would be 4-3 (in percentage terms this leads to 53 - 57 and 47 - 43) which, while not perfect, is a huge improvement.
As it happens, the members who are most affected by this imbalance are those described as "unaffiliated", or, if you prefer the description used by the IPPG's chairman Rob Lewis, "idiots" or "uglies".
There are 13 ugly idiots on the council (22%) and out of a total of 42 seats on the committees which are the subject of my NoM they hold five(11%).
According to my calculations that would rise to 17% if the changes I am proposing were adopted.
And it it not just in terms of quantity of seats that the scales are tilted against the ugly idiots, but the quality isn't up to much either.
Of the five, three are on the licensing committee (one more than we are, strictly speaking, entitled to), one is on the urgency committee which last met in September 2002, so that is hardly the centre of power, and the other is on the corporate governance committee.
My reforms would give unaffiliated members one seat on each of the senior staff and democratic services committees, plus an extra seat on corporate governance.
You might think that, in the spirit of fair play which is the bedrock of democracy, nobody could object.
After all, these unaffiliated members are duly elected and their exclusion from committees means not only that they are disenfranchised but the people who elected them, too.
In addition, it's a rather strange sort of democracy where members who told the electorate the truth about their independent status i.e..didn't run off and join a political group once the votes were safely in the bag, should be disadvantage by their honesty
Unfortunately, Leader Jamie Adams doesn't see it like that because at yesterday's corporate governance committee (12 members, 7-5 IPPG majority - actually 7-4 because Sue Perkins(Lab?) didn't turn up) he opposed my NoM and it went down to defeat with the "The Party" voting, as they invariably do, as a block.
Of course Cllr Adams has good reason to dislike my attempts to curb his party's powers.
Firstly, with a 4-2 majority and an IPPG chairman with the casting vote, the opposition has to prise away two members before they can hope to challenge the hegemony of the ruling group
Second, in his little speech to the recruitment meeting on May 8, part of his sales pitch to potential IPG (as it was then known) members was that only by joining the party could they "be fully embraced in the committee structure of the council which is something which, as an individual councillor, is taken out of your hands."
It wouldn't be much of a selling point if it turned out, after all, that "individual" councillors were being "fully embraced" in the committee structure.
He also told that meeting that "the council gets value out of members by ensuring people with the relevant skills" are given places on the committees "where they can contribute the most".
But not the ugly idiots who declined/were not invited to join the ruling group.
It is interesting to note that these 13 "idiots" include several members who have held senior positions in both the public and private sectors and roughly half of them are university graduates so it might be thought that the public interest, if not that of Cllr Adam's party, might be best served if their "relevant skills" were put to use.
Cllr Adams got a bit shirty when I quoted from his recruitment speech during the corporate governance meeting.
He said he couldn't understand how I could know what he had said when I wasn't at the recruitment meeting.
I'm afraid his reasoning is a bit deficient on this point because I wasn't in Westminster yesterday, but I do know what was said in Parliament.
When I find the time, I will post up a full transcript of Cllr Adams' sales patter together with my analysis of the serious misrepresentations it contains.

Meritocracy?

Another who wasn't well pleased by what I had to say at corporate governance was our old friend Cllr Brian Hall.
During my submission in support of my NoM, I expressed the view that I was probably wasting my time because facing me across the table was the Leader and "six of his place men".
Cllr Hall was clearly nettled by this and chuntered on at some length that he had been made chairman of the environment scrutiny committee (SRA £8,700) because of his vast experience in the field of highways and transportation and, therefore, the appointment had been made on merit.
Older readers will be familiar with Cllr Hall's achievements in the field of taxpayer-funded transportation which put him in a class of his own (Duty bound) (Mystery tour) (Is your journey really necessary) and the daddy of them all (Time Lord) and this is by no means an exhaustive list.
But it is not his expertise in this field that got him the job as chairman of the environment committee.
That is a rather complex story which goes back to the period following the 2008 election when Cllr Hall was angling to regain his Cabinet seat from which he had been forced to resign in February 2007 (Hall resignation - what really happened).
At that time, John Davies already had 38 members in the bag, so he was able to face down Cllr Hall , who, left with the option of either signing up or sitting next to me and the other idiots on the unaffiliated benches, took the easy way out.
The 2012 election dealt Cllr Jamie Adams a much weakened hand, and with only a few days to the AGM he had only 30 of the 60 members signed up ( Simon Hancock still to jump ship and Cllr Hall holding out for a top job).
One of my IPPG moles tells me that, when the prospect of Cllr Hall rejoining the Cabinet gave rise to mutterings of revolt, Cllr Adams offered him a scrutiny committee chair.
So, Cllr Hall was appointed on merit.
His appointment had the merit of ensuring that Cllr Adams had a majority.
I suppose the fact that Cllr Hall is one of its senior members tells you all you need to know about the IPPG.

Stormy weather

As we are constantly being told: weather is not climate.
Not, that is, until some extreme weather event occurs that advances the global warming cause.
The latest example is super-storm Sandy which hit New York a couple of days before the US Presidential election and before that Hurricane Katrina which almost washed away New Orleans in 2005.
Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ; the UN body charged with pulling together climate research from across the globe, admits that these is no proven connection between climate change and extreme weather events.
The floods currently affected large parts of the UK are another example of severe weather being used to promote the idea that the climate is changing in dangerous ways.
But there is nothing even remotely unusual about these floods as you will hear if you listen carefully when the newsreader says "the worst floods for 40 years", or "since 1962", or some such.
There is no rule that says rivers must stay within their banks, indeed some of the country's richest farmland is the result of rivers breaking out on to their flood plains and depositing silt.
Below is a graph produced by Chris Landsea of the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that I downloaded from the Internet.
What it shows is that the trend line for US hurricane activity has been essentially flat for more than 100 years.
Indeed, apart from 2005 when Katrina struck, the chart shows that hurricane activity in the second half of the series has been significantly less than in the first.

 

 

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