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
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.