6 October 2003

Sound and fury

County Councillor Michael Williams (Tenby, Plaid Cymru), a regular visitor to this website, couldn't help but notice the regular stream of allegations about the business relationship between Cabinet member Brian Hall and the council's economic development consultant Dr Michael Ryan.
Having first hand knowledge of Dr Ryan's fondness for sending his solicitors into battle (see Dai in a spin) Cllr Williams wondered why no action had been taken to stem this flow of damaging reports.
So, he wrote to the Leader, Cllr Maurice Hughes, asking that these allegations, which were bringing the council into disrepute, be either refuted or investigated.
The Leader responded with a two-page rant, headed "private and confidential" in quarter-inch-high capitals: the first page-and-a-bit given over to a character assassination of Old Grumpy, .
I will not dwell on my own part in this letter except to say that his Leadership effectively accuses me of being a liar, which is, to coin a phrase, not only offensive but, also, libellous.
However, I promise to return to that part of the letter when things become a little clearer in the coming weeks.
Having sought to persuade Cllr Williams not to believe a word I say, the letter moves on to an all-out attack on Cllr Williams himself; clearly intended to put the frighteners on him.
This attempted intimidation has proved to be a miserable failure, because its effect has been to strengthen Cllr Williams' determination to have things out in the open.
The main thrust of the Leader's offensive letter concerns an article that appeared in the Mercury some weeks ago under the headline "Libel case row: Where do you stand now Maurice?" (see Dai in a spin) on which the Leader comments: "In my view, your contribution to this article has done more damage to the reputation of this authority than anything else in the past few months.
"Running to the newspapers is not an appropriate action and does incalculable damage to the public's confidence in its elected representatives."
Clearly, written by someone who has difficulty distinguishing County Hall from the Masonic Hall.
I am sure it would suit the ruling Independents to carry on their nefarious activities well away from the public gaze, but in a democracy that isn't, or shouldn't be, possible.
The voters have better things to do with their lives than dig about in council minutes or spend time at meetings in an effort to find out what is going on.
Even if they did they wouldn't be much the wiser because the public face of the County Council bears no resemblance to what happens in the swirling cesspit that exists under the surface.
So, people have to rely on the newspapers for enlightenment.
And newspapers have a duty to provide it.
How else is the electorate to acquire the information it requires to enable it decide how to vote?
Regular readers will remember that, at the back end of 2001, Cllr Mark Edwards (Ind) was carpetted by His Leadership for daring to challenge the Independent Political (sic) Group's official policy by being pictured in the Mercury signing a petition in favour of an elected Mayor.
That a so-called Independent should have his right to freedom of expression curtailed in this way was undemocratic enough, but when the Leader tries to pull the same trick on a member of the opposition, his megalomania is surely beyond recall.
In a democracy, politicians have an inalienable right to use whatever legal methods they like to get their voices heard.
And whether or not the chosen methods are "appropriate" is for the electorate, not the Leader, to decide.
I cannot leave this subject without a reference to a small part of His Leadership's diatribe against me: where he writes: "... I am satisfied there is absolutely no substance to the suggestion that Dr Ryan and Councillor Hall were planning to buy and run the Cleddau Bridge Hotel."
And so am I, because there is absolutely no substance in the suggestion that I ever made such an allegation.
What I did say is that they were trying to muscle in on the masterplanning and project management of a major new development in Pembroke Dock in conjunction with the owners of the Cleddau Bridge Hotel.
The spinmeisters in County Hall must be getting desperate if all that's left in their armoury is an old straw man or two.
And will His Leadership issue a strongly-worded denial if I say I have information that, in October 2000, just 10 weeks after Dr Ryan's appointment, Ryan and Hall were discussing an ambitious plan to take over the Pembrokeshire Business Initiative (PBI)?
All in accordance with their legally enforceable undertaking not to trade in Pembrokeshire, I suppose!
I would put this question to the Leader myself, but, as has yet to reply to the emails I sent him last November and December (see Snail mail), I'll save my breath.

Home sweet home


For the last few days there has been a standing joke in our house with Old Grumpette scanning page two of the Daily Telegraph and announcing: "It was 70 C in Naples yesterday and it would be even warmer in Sicily."
This is a reminder that, had her plans come to fruition, we would currently be sunning ourselves in Catania.
But I fought a determined rearguard action and finally prevailed.
I wouldn't like anybody to get the idea that I'm mean, but a thousand quid for the two of us to spend a week rubbing shoulders with the Mafia didn't strike me as an offer I couldn't refuse.
Then there's that Sicilian red wine, perfectly drinkable and attractively cheap, I'm sure, but not of a quality that would persuade an afficionado like me haul his palate the best part of a thousand miles, when Tesco, 10 minutes walk away, stocks perfectly acceptable Chilean Merlot at less than £4.00 a bottle.
And, if you fancy a change from the vino, where do you find a decent pint of cask-conditioned bitter? You don't, because all they sell is that foul-tasting lager stuff. I only hope the cats are kept under humane conditions.
Then, I reminded her of our disastrous week in Villamoura this time last year when it rained continuously and our bedroom was next to an all-night disco.
There were assorted other excuses like our babysitting commitments and the garden and, as I seemed to be winning the argument hands down, there was no need to mention the smouldering presence of a large active volcano overshadowing the hotel.
Nor was there any reason to humiliate myself by getting involved in a discussion of the real reason for my reluctance to travel - fear of flying.
After all, even when you've been married for nearly 40 years, you don't want your wife to think you're a wimp.
In any case, for reasons entirely unrelated to the weather, I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be at the moment than sitting at my computer, here in rainy Liddeston.
PS I have just been reminded that this was not the clearcut victory portrayed above. Apparantly, in order to be let off the Sicily expedition, I promised Old Grumpette two weeks in Rome next spring, around the time of the Six-Nations.
Must've slipped my mind.
Still, that gives me six months to think up some compelling reasons why that only seemed like a good idea at the time.
Two weeks away from the vegetable patch at the height of the planting season - you must be joking.


A pessimist is an optimist with experience.

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