19 October 2004

email: oldgrumpy.mike@virgin.net

Brilliant I&DeA

Robert Louis Stevenson said that politics is the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary.
However, a booklet has come through the post from the I&DeA (don't ask), in which it is claimed that research carried out by the Work Psychology Partnership has found that elected county councillors require "a skill-set worthy of a company director or CEO".
And I had always thought that some of them might be hard-pressed to run the cake stall at the village fete
But Old Grumpy is big enough to admit when he gets it wrong and in this case, it seems, I couldn't be further from the mark because among the essential qualities the boffins have identified are the ability to:

Look for new methods and topics for critical challenge and scrutiny;
Quickly analyse and assimilate complex information, taking account of wider strategic content;
Present arguments in a concise, meaningful and easily accessible way:
Be inquisitorial, and ask for explanations and check for implementation of recommendations;
Be objective, rigorous and resilient in challenging processes, decisions and people.

And, if that proves all too demanding, you can always join the Independent Political Party where you will need spatial awareness (handy for finding your way to County Hall); highly-developed hand-brain coordination (for synchronised voting); well-polished shoes (to help you toe the party line); brass neck (so that you can call yourself an Independent while being a member of a political party); an amply upholstered bum (for sitting in your hands/the fence); and a blind eye (for scrutinising inconvenient facts).


Not such a good I&Dea

Somewhere deep in the inner recesses of my mind, I knew that I had come across the I&DeA before.
OK, I'll let you into the secret - it means Improvement and Development Agency for Local Government.
Plenty to work on there, then!
After much rummaging about in the shed, I found the document I was looking for - an invoice for £1,175 in respect of three residential training sessions at I&DeA's "Leadership Academy" for the deputy Leader Cllr John-Allen Mirehouse, better known to regular readers of this column as Squirehouse, the Laird of Angle.
According to the invoice, the Laird's three training sessions, which "included tutorial costs and one night accommodation for each module", were scheduled for 17/18 July 2002; 19/20 September 2002; and 17/18 October 2002, but my vast archive of members' expense claims reveals no sign of any claim for relevant travelling expenses regarding any of these dates.
However, my records show that he was present at a meeting of the Council on 18 July and on the19 September he attended three meetings: Scrutiny Committee (County Hall); PPMB Partnership (Narberth) and something I can't quite decipher in Swansea.
It could, of course, be that he attended on some rearranged date, or, alternatively, he might have mitched off school, in which case the lack of any discernible benefits from this training regime cannot be laid at door of the I&DeA.
Unfortunately, I cannot be so charitable about the I&DeA's role in educating another of the Academy's graduates, Cllr Maurice Hughes.
I know for certain that he went London for these high-powered training sessions, though his leadership skills don't seem to have made much of an impression on the voters of Merlins Bridge who booted him out at the recent elections; leaving him sitting at home with a head full of redundant management theory.
Perhaps we could send him back for deprogramming, and ask for a refund!

Party animals

If you want to annoy a member of the Independent Political Group, all you need to do is preface your remarks with the words "your party" and watch their blood pressure rise.
It is easy to see why the old boys get so fired-up about this because most people in Pembrokeshire take the view that there is no place for party politics in local government and are often rather dischuffed when they discover that once the votes are safely in the bag their "independent" councillor has suddenly decided that it is politically expedient to join a party.
Of course, members of the Independent Political Group go to great lengths to deny that it is a political party.
However, as someone once said: if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.
Well, the IPG certainly has all the attributes of a political party; defined in my dictionary as "a group of people united in a cause, opinion etc".
And if you'd seen them going through what a former colleague at the Mercury described as their "synchronised voting routine" you would realise just how united they are.
Furthermore, the County Council's own website describes Cllr Malcolm Calver and myself as "County Councillors - not affilliated to any party" which means, logically, that the other 58 are affilliated to a party.
And they can be at something of a loss when you ask them why, if the are not a political party, they need to gather together before all important meetings if it is not to be schooled in the party line.
When I asked one IPG member this question he replied: "It's to avoid any surprises [at the meeting itself]".
"Like an outbreak of democratic debate?" I suggested
The main difference, I suppose, between the Independents and orthodox political parties is that the latter tend to base their unity around some ideology or another which they promulgate in a manifesto during election campaigns.
On the contrary, from what I have seen of the election "manifestos" of IPG members, and I must admit I do not have access to the complete genre, they are mostly along the lines: "I am a good old boy, I have always been a good old boy and if you vote for me I will continue to be a good old boy. And what's more I am the LOCAL good old boy. Oh, by the way, I have vast political experience, having been chairman of the Village Hall Committee since 1923."
At the last election, Cllr Jim Codd went so far as to put adverts in the local paper denying any connection with "any party or group"even when it is a matter of record that he was a fully signed up member.
Others, like Cllr Ann Hughes, having run around declaring they were independent independents during the election campaign, engaged in verbal gymnastics in order to conceal the fact that they had taken the bait.
It is testament to the emptiness of new Leader's promise that the council would be run to "the highest ethical standards" that these two nonentities now find themselves in receipt of an extra 90 quid a week as assistant Cabinet members.
So, if it isn't some shared political philosophy that holds the Independent Party together, what is it?
Sadly, I have to report that the glue is an amalgam of those two least attractive human characteristics - the love of money and the lust for power.
The fact is that Cllr John Davies, the Leader, has in his gift Special Responsibility Allowances of some £250,000 a year.
His creation of four new assistant cabinet posts means that 28 of the 60 councillors now qualify for extra dollops of dosh.
In addition Cllr Davies has absolute power to appoint two members to the Police authority at £6,250 each and two members to the Fire Authority - currently unpaid, but soon to be placed on the same footing as the police authority - and six members of the National Park committee at a grand each.
Tony Blair would kill for such patronage.
If cash was the only motivation it wouldn't be so serious but the pursuit of power, especially power for its own sake, is something against which a proper functioning democracy should set its face.
Writing about events in 1930s Europe, the philosopher Frederich Hayek said of people who are attracted to political movements whose sole objective is the accumulation of power: "The only tastes that are satisfied are the taste for power as such, the pleasure of being part of a well-functioning and immensely powerful machine to which everything else must give way."
Put simply, this is the "boys' thing" of belonging to the biggest gang.
It is sad to see people who are old enough to know better falling into the trap.
Even sadder, in a democracy, is that the electorate should let them get away with it.

Dark forces


About 18 months ago, I referred to an article by the Harvard economist and Nobel laureate, Prof Martin Feldstein, in which he warned that Monetary Union could either tear Europe apart, or lead to conflict between the EU and the USA, or both.
That article can be found by going to Google and searching "Martin Feldstein EMU and international conflict"
Feldstein's thesis is that because the European Central Bank cannot possibly create optimal currency and interest rate conditions in all parts of the EU simultaneously - just as the Bank of England can't pull the same trick in the much smaller UK - resentments will build up in the less powerful countries because of the perception that their economies are being sacrificed on the altar of French and German interests.
The danger is not that the present government of Spain or Greece, or wherever, will suddenly declare war on the Franco-German axis but that unemployment and economic stagnation will unleash political forces that nobody can control.
We have already seen the rise of Fascism in France (Le Pen) Holland (Pim Fortuyn) Austria (Haider) and Italy (Umberto Bossi and his Northern League) and it is not impossible to imagine something similar happening here if our economic fortunes were to suffer a sudden and severe reverse.
According to the Sunday Times, a leaked EU report of a commission chaired by former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok has reached a similar conclusion.
The report says that the Euroland economy is in decline and, unless steps are taken to address the problems of an ageing population and low economic growth, "... the risk in the medium to long run is nothing less than the sustainability of the society Europe has built, and to that extent, the viability of its civilisation."
And the report warns: "In sum, Europe has lost ground to both the US and Asia; its societies are under strain; and some ugly political forces are beginning to manifest themselves."
Be aware!

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