September 24 2001

Two perspectives

Writing in the Sunday Times, John Humphrys tells of a friend of his who dreads the end of the pips before the news because she fears that the first item will be an announcement that the bombs have started to rain down on Afghanistan.
I have exactly the same feeling except that my fear is that I will hear of another attack on one of our major cities.


One party state

Old Grumpy was fascinated by the reasons provided by Cllrs Llewellyn, Edwards and Wildman for their defection from the Conservatives to the ruling Independent Political (sic) Group.
Councillor Wildman's " explanation ": that the decision by the Tory-three to switch sides would allow the council to function more '' efficiently '' particularly caught my eye
It is worth pondering what this means.
Does he mean that, because the political wing of the Chief Officer's Management Board (COMB) now as a majority of 41 - 19, rather than as previously 38 - 22, the services provided by the council will be better?
Is he suggesting that we can look forward to improved GCSE and A-level results; even more timely refuse collections; and a more responsive social services department?
For myself, I can't see any reason why three additional hands shooting up to rubber-stamp whatever COMB has decreed will make any difference at all.
After all, the Independents already had a two-to-one majority; enough to give them absolute control of the council.
So, I assume, what Councillor Wildman means is that there will be less debate and general argy-bargy.
No longer will council meetings have to drag on while members listen to Councillor Wildman's erstwhile leader, Phil Llewellyn, denouncing the '' democratic deficit '' resulting from the Independents abuse of their majority to stifle debate, nor to suffer his " nit-picking " over the budget proposals.
But such " efficiency " is only won at the expense of democracy.
And, in any case, efficiencies gained from totalitarianism are wholly illusory.
After all, both Stalin and Hitler were able to crush the opposition and rule by decree rather than debate and look what misery that brought on the heads of the German and Russian peoples.
What those of a totalitarian mindset overlook is that regimentation is no match for pluralism (what Milton Friedman calls the free market in ideas) when it comes to delivering either material comfort or political freedom.
Pluralism doesn't stop the majority getting its way, but, by allowing the minority to put forward counter-arguments, it does rescue the majority from delusions of infallibility, plus, of course, the minority might be right.
For, what is often not properly understood, a majority vote and the truth and not necessarily the same thing.
For instance, if a referendum had been held in 1540 on whether the Sun went round the Earth, or vice-versa, there would have been an overwhelming majority in favour of the geocentric view.
In 1543 Copernicus published his great work proving the heliocentric opposite.
What I'm trying to say is that the mere fact that 38 out of 60 members vote for something doesn't make it true, and increasing the number to 41 doesn't alter that fact.
All a majority means is that one action is taken rather than another but that is no guarantee that the action is right.
That is why intelligent politicians listen to what the opposition have to say rather than bully them into silence.

United we stand...

It is strange that less than two months ago Cllr Phil Llewellyn seemed to appreciate the threat to democracy posed by the Independent Political (sic) Group.
On August 3 he told the Mercury: "With no manifesto pledges for the county, no direction or clear leadership except from the chief officers management board they are deceiving the people of Pembrokeshire by hiding behind this coalition of convenience".
Now he's joined in the deception himself, a decision that he claims "will now allow me to make a more positive contribution to the future of this county…"

With that sort of ability to turn logic on its head, he should find himself at home with his new-found chums.


...divided we fall

Old Grumpy spends a lot of time sitting in the public gallery at the County Council.
Occasionally, I am joined by members of the public who have some particular interest in an item of business on the agenda.
This might range from a proposal to close their local school, to plans to build a McDonald's restaurant on their doorstep.
What always impresses me about these protesters is their deep understanding of the principles of democracy and their deep sense of grievance that their rights are being trampled on.
Invariably, their case is lost despite a passionate appeal by their elected representative (usually a member of the governing Independent Political (sic) Group that has brought a proposal forward).
They award brownie points to their elected member for so forcibly standing up for them, though, within 10 minutes, he may well be instrumental in trampling on someone else's rights in an area where his seat on the gravy train is not at risk.
So it is that the Independents pick off the people one by one without any individual having to take responsibility.
It is a truly remarkable situation where members can move seamlessly from government to opposition and back again without anyone apparently noticing.
The most recent example is that of Councillor George Grey leading the protest about the newly introduced arrangements for the provision of school transport for children Johnston.
What is overlooked is that Councillor Grey is a loyal and obedient member of the party that voted through these changes
If these proposals, however unjust, had been somewhere else, where Councillor Grey's electoral prospects were not an issue, you can bet your life he would have voted with the majority
Could I commend two quotations , both from men who fought injustice.

Firstly, Reverend Martin Luther King: " Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere ''.

And, secondly, the Reverend Martin Niemoller, who was persecuted by the Nazis.
'' In Germany they came first for the communists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Catholic.
Then they attacked the unions and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
And then they came for me and there was nobody left to speak up ''.

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