October 7 2008

Media blackout

Old Grumpy was disappointed that the local press wasn't represented at last week's meeting of the county council's standards committee where Cllr Wyn Evans (IPG) was found guilty of breaching the Code of Conduct by speaking in favour of a friend's planning application (Overtrained)
Too busy tracking down someone who was having his head shaved for charity and regurgitating county council press releases, I would guess.
In a healthy democracy, there is a constant tension between those who hold power and those whose task is to stop them abusing it.
Among the latter are the opposition, of which I am proud to be a member, and the media.
The media plays a very important part in this process because it has the ability to inform the public of what is going on.
At a national level, despite occasional excesses, the press and broadcasting media do a first rate job of drawing attention to abuses of power by the ruling classes.
Can you imagine any of the daily papers failing to inform its readers about a case where a member of the governing party had lied to investigators during the course of an inquiry.
In "1984", Winston Smith had the task of rewriting history at the Ministry of Truth.
This involved going through old documents expunging facts that the regime found inconvenient.
Think how much trouble might have been saved had these facts not been allowed to become history in the first place.
Nothing about this matter has yet appeared on the WT's website and I await tomorrow's edition with interest.


Any newspaper that took its democratic duty seriously might also draw its readers' attention to the fact that two out of the six members of the county council's standards committee - Cllrs Robin Evans and Leslie Raymond - are members of the same political group (IPG) as Cllr Wyn Evans.
As I pointed out last week, in his report the Ombudsman stated: "The provisions of the code of conduct relating to the declaration of interests are designed to secure public confidence in the decisions taken by council by avoiding not just the reality of bias, but also the appearance of potential bias (my emphasis) on the part of members taking those decisions."
I can hardly think that that having two fellow party members on the panel adjudicating breaches of the Code of Conduct satisfies these conditions especially the bit about "the appearance of potential bias".
After the standards committee had decided that Cllr Wyn Evans had breached the code it then had to decide what punishment, if any, to impose.
The possibilities ranged from no further action, through formal censure, to up to six months suspension.
During this phase of the proceedings, Cllr Robin Evans asked "the defendant" if he would agree to having "one-to-one training" with the Monitoring Officer.
Naturally, Cllr Wyn Evans was keen on this idea, though I suspect he would have agreed to display his bum in Burtons' window if it meant avoiding suspension.
In any case, I hardly think members of the tribunal should be seeking the defendants approval for whatever punishment is to be meted out.
Cllr Raymond's contribution was even more bizarre.
He pointed out that the application site was not in Cllr Wyn Evans ward and the reason he had spoken out on the issue was because the local member was the applicant's brother-in-law who clearly had a declarable interest in the matter.
So what?
A couple of years ago, I put down a Notice of Motion calling for the replacement of these politicos on the standards committee with people from outside the council.
Of course, I was accused of impugning the integrity of the two members concerned when what I was doing was questioning the integrity of the process, especially with regard to the public's perception of bias.
But, as you can imagine, such fine distinctions are beyond the grasp of members of the Independent Political (sic) Group.

Interesting times


The Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times" is particularly apt during the present financial meltdown.
Where will it all end I ask myself, as events that seemed incredible only yesterday become today's commonplace.
We have now reached the stage where even countries are going bust.
Unfortunately, government attempts to address the crisis only seem to make things worse.
Take, for instance, the perfectly reasonable proposal that the state should recapitalise the banks by purchasing preference shares.
Such a move would dilute (devalue) the holdings of he present shareholders and, once news leaked out that the government and the big banks were in discussions, it was inevitable that there would be a wholesale flight from bank shares as investors looked to dump their soon to be devalued stock.
That, of course, put further pressure on the banks by closing off the option of raising capital by means of a rights issue.
It has just been announced on the radio that the Chancellor is to fill the hole in the banks' balance sheets by shovelling in £50 billion of taxpayers money.
While that might provide some temporary respite, it must be remembered that the infill material has been excavated from the rather large crater that is the public finances.
In the fullness of time, that hole will have to be filled by either tax increases, or public spending cuts, or both.
To compound the problem, these efforts to repair the public finances will take place against a background of falling economic growth because, while government intervention might keep the banking system afloat it will be a long time before it is restored to full seaworthiness.
As old Adam Smith observed, economic phenomena are closely interconnected.
The problem is that the links are not always obvious and action in one area can have unforeseen effects elsewhere.
So expect more examples of the law of unintended consequences as the financial system tries to unwind the excesses of the past ten years in the days and weeks ahead.
And there is always the nightmare scenario that, despite this massive injection of taxpayers money, the banks will still go down.
As a pessimist (defined as an optimist with experience), I do not discount that possibility.

Misplaced apostrophe's


My grammar correspondent Isa Pedant has drawn my attention to the "Pembrokeshire Association of Local Councils (sic) Diary." which includes "Entry's (sic) for date 10/25/2008".
Right number of apostrophes - pity they're in the wrong place.
I approach this subject with some caution because Isa (shouldn't that be I'sa) has, on several occasions, e-mailed to point out my own infelicities in this respect.
I e-mail back to explain that I was off school with measles when we did apostrophes, though after I cited chicken pox (commas) mumps (spelling) and a shoulder dislocated playing rugby (split infinitives) he replied, with just a hint of sarcasm: "It seems you were a rather delicate child".
However, since leaving school I have made strenuous efforts, in the name of lifelong learning, to master the apostrophe, and I now consider myself something of an authority on the subject.
I even know the difference between its and it's.
So much so that I am prepared to take issue with my treasured copy of Fowler which includes a section on the greengrocers' apostrophe in which he gives apple's, cauli's and cabbage's as examples of this common grammatical monstrosity.
Fowler also says that it is correct to use an apostrophe to indicate that a word has been truncated, though he concedes that it is no longer necessary to use the form 'phone, to denote that tele has been omitted from the front of the word, or 'cello [violoncello] because these have now been accepted as words in their own right.
On this reckoning cauli's is correct because the apostrophe replaces flower, and, for the same reason, pot's and tom's are perfectly grammatical.
And please don't e-mail to point out that there shouldn't be an apostrophe in the heading on this piece.
I was just checking that you were still awake.

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