September 26 2006

 

 



It seems that a firm date has at last been set for the final decision on the Ombudsman's finding that Cllr Brian Hall's threats to BBC journalist Simon Morris amounted to conduct likely to bring the office of councillor into disrepute.
As the council received the Ombudsman's report in January and a preliminary standards committee hearing in March found that Cllr Hall had a case to answer, there is little evidence of the streamlined decision making promised on the introduction of the new system of local government.
Not that the council is the only body dragging its feet because the Adjudication Panel for Wales has yet to fix a date for the determination of the case involving Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse which the Ombudsman reported on last December.
On visiting the Panel's website, Old Grumpy finds that Cllr Allen-Mirehouse's case is fourth in the queue and, as the panel last sat on 13 July 2006, we might expect a rush of cases some time soon.
One possible reason for the delay in dealing with Cllr Hall's case is that the standards committee has been under strength since last May when independent (in the honourable sense of the word) member Mr Clive Sheridan's term of office expired.
As the council was aware of this upcoming event it is something of a mystery why no steps were taken until recently to appoint a replacement (See Brian the snail).
However, I understand that a new independent member has now been selected and all that is now required is endorsement by full council on October 19.
I must admit to having grave reservations about the fact that two of the six members of the standards committee (Cllrs Robin Evans and Leslie Raymond) are members of the ruling Independent Political Group (IPG).
Indeed, there is something not quite right about elected politicians, of whichever colour, sitting in judgment of their fellow members.
The problem is even worse in respect of the four member appointments panel which interviews and selects the independent (in the honourable sense) members.
This panel includes two members of the ruling group (Cllr Bill Hitchings and Leslie Raymond) plus a community council representative and an independent chairman.
With regard to the independent chairman, Mrs Lynette George, she was in fact appointed by the then Leader of the IPG, Maurice Hughes (See Standard bearers).
No doubt, I will be charged with calling these members' integrity into question, as I was when I expressed my concerns about assistant Cabinet member sitting on scrutiny committees, but those making such accusations only demonstrate their profound ignorance of basic constitutional principles.
The standards committee is a quasi-judicial body which has the power to suspend a member for up to six months.
If one of these councillors was sitting on the bench when a fellow councillor came before it on a careless driving charge, they would have no option but to stand down.
That is nothing to do with their integrity, or lack of it, but is all to do with the simple legal principle that not only must justice be done, it must manifestly be seen to be done.
After all, the reason for this complex system of Codes of Conduct and standards committees is to bolster public confidence in the democratic process.
How can the public have confidence in a cosy inbred system such as this?


I am pleased to see that Milford Haven Town Council is pulling out all the stops in an attempt to forestall the downgrading of Pembrokeshire's fire service.
Earlier this month, the town council organised a meeting attended by representatives from 15 of the county's community councils at which a unanimous resolution to reject the changes was adopted.
The county's three representatives on the fire authority also came in for some stick.
Paragraph 6 of the resolution refers to their ". . . complete lack of judgment and an inability to understand the potential risks that the downgrading of cover . . " will have in the county and accuses them of having ". . . failed to reflect the feelings and concerns of the residents they are elected to represent."
The meeting resolved to pass a vote of no confidence in the three county council members and called for ". . . their immediate removal from the Fire Authority."
And that was before last week's report in the Mercury which claimed that none of the three were present at the fire authority meeting where the cuts were agreed.
At its meeting on 11 September, the town council's public works and planning committee unanimously approved the earlier meeting's resolution.
Old Grumpy notices that among those present at the September 11 meeting was Cllr Anne Hughes.
As two of those whose "immediate removal" is called for are her Cabinet colleagues, Cllrs Brian Hall and John Allen-Mirehouse, she can be assured of a frosty reception next time she visits county hall.


You may wonder how these two, and Cllr Pearl Llewellyn came to represent your interests on the fire authority.
Well, Pembrokeshire County Council is entitled to three places and because of the political balance rules two go to the ruling IPG and the other to the opposition.
As Labour is the largest of the opposition parties that third seat is allocated to them.
Labour, being a democratic party, elected Pearl Llewellyn to the post.
With the Independents things are rather different.
To understand how this works you have to go back to the council's new constitution; adopted in late 2001 in anticipation of the introduction of the Cabinet system.
This constitution gave delegated powers to the Cabinet to make appointments to outside bodies and school governing bodies.
At its very first meeting, the Cabinet further delegated this power to the Leader.
As if he didn't already have enough powers of patronage with his de jure powers to appoint Cabinet members and his de facto powers to appoint chairmen and vice-chairmen of committees - all of which attract special responsibility allowances, of course.
This raises an interesting point of law because of the ancient principle Delegatus non potest delegare which, roughly translated, means a delegate cannot delegate.
The following definition has been downloaded from the Internet: One of the pivotal principles of administrative law: that a delegate cannot delegate. In other words, a person to whom an authority or decision-making power has been delegated to from a higher source, cannot, in turn, delegate again to another, unless the original delegation explicitly authorized it.
Be that as it may, in addition to the fire service, the Leader also has the power to appoint two out of three members of the police authority and six out of the ten local authority representatives on the National Park committee.
All these positions bring additional bunce, most of all the police authority, which, the last time I enquired, brings in an extra £6,500 a year.
Undoubtedly, it was the his expertise in the criminal justice system, and not any thought of adding to the £38,000 he already gets for his council duties, that persuaded the Leader to appoint himself to this particular body.
All this raises an interesting constitutional point because, had the Leader been present when the Cabinet, to which the power to appoint was originally delegated, was considering his name as a potential member of the police authority, he would have been obliged to declare an interest and leave the meeting.
It is not altogether clear how he managed to separate himself from the decision when he was acting as the sole arbiter.

 


Tony Blair looks like surviving the Labour party conference so it is with a heavy heart that I wave goodbye to a bottle of best £3.99 Chilean merlot.
This tragic loss is the result of two wagers I struck with SF about TB's departure date.
Firstly I bet, at odds of 2:1 in my favour, that he would be gone by the date of the conference.
A couple of weeks ago I had high hopes of pulling this off but then it turned out that, junior minister Tom Watson had driven across Scotland, on the eve of his letter demanding the Prime Minister's resignation, to visit Gordon Brown's new baby and not to plot a palace coup.
There are I believe some people who swallowed Mr Watson's story just as there are people who insist the moon is made out of green cheese.
However, following this bodged assassination attempt, Mr Brown seems to have developed cold feet and now we are supposed to believe that not only are he and TB bosom pals but that GB says it has been a privilege to work with the Prime Minister this last ten years.
On the face of it, that would seem to put paid to my second bottle of merlot because my other bet - at evens - was that TB would be gone by Christmas.
But, thanks to Cherie's timely intervention, all it not lost.
It appears that the sight of Gordon telling conference that he idolised Mr Blair was too much for Cherie who snorted "Well, that's a lie" before stalking off.
That puts poor old Brown in a bit of a quandary because, if it wasn't obvious before, it must be obvious now that Tony and Cherie are determined that he will not inherit the crown.
So does the Chancellor stay his hand and allow time for the Blairites to undermine his position, or does he seize the moment and plunge in the dagger while he is still in front.
Of course, there is some dispute as to whether Cherie actually uttered the offending words.
Downing Street is putting it about that the reporter misheard and what Cherie actually said was "Excuse me. Can I get by?"
Or was it "That's a nice tie", or "He's a great guy", or "The end is nigh".
There are so many words that rhyme with lie that the possibilities are endless.
However, it was left to Neil Kinnock to provide the perfect politician's explanation.
He told the BBC that he had known Cherie since she was a little girl.
She was a QC, and a judge, and a "very astute woman" who, he said, simply wouldn't make such a gaffe.
This sounds very similar to the argument deployed by Labour's Cllr Ken Rowlands during the Leader's mansion affair (See: Misconceived).
It is, of course, logically flawed because it moves from a hypothesis (I cannot believe X is the sort of person to do that sort of thing) to a factual conclusion (therefore X didn't do it).
And while a hypothesis can be tested by a fact, it cannot generate a fact.
So, if Mrs Blair did say that Gordon was lying, Lord Kinnock's hypothesis goes out of the window.
As T E Huxley famously said: "The great tragedy of science; the destruction of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact."


While the Brownies and Blairites fight it out in Westminster, I am told that a battle is on for the soul of the South Pembrokeshire Tory party.
From what I can gather, the party has been subject to the sort of entryism that Labour suffered at the hands of Militant in the 1970s.
But, in this instance, rather than a bunch of reds like Derek Hatton and co, the infiltrators are members of the pro-hunting lobby, the Countryside Alliance.
It appears the the Tally Ho! merchants managed to sign up enough new members to dominate a recent AGM where they used their voting power to gain control of the party's commanding heights.
There is, I am told, even talk that some of the old guard are on the point of resigning on the grounds that they don't see hunting as an election winning issue.
Perhaps they remember the avalanche of bad publicity during the last General Election when a group of pro-hunt campaigners arrived on Nick Ainger's doorstep early one morning.




You might think that the military coup d'etat in Thailand has nothing to do with Pembrokeshire politics, but you would be wrong.
The other morning an opposition member of the Thai Parliament was on Radio 4 explaining the necessity for the coup.
He said that the Thais have an aversion to single party rule, with the result that, traditionally, government has been conducted through a series of loose coalitions.
However, the ousted Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was the leader of the largest minority party, had engineered an overall majority by buying the support of Independent members with positions on the government payroll.
This struck Old Grumpy as remarkably similar to the tactics used by the Tories to seize control of the county council.
Cllr John Davies and his cronies should be warned that I have several contacts in the TA.
It will not, I'm sure, have escaped their notice that the Drill Hall is well within mortar range of their HQ.

During photosynthesis, as every GCSE biology student knows, plants take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen.
Some of the keener members of the class will be able to tell you that this reaction; carried out using energy from the sun, proceeds by way of the general chemical formula 6CO2 + 6H2O -> C6H12O6 (sugar) + 6O2.
This ability to manufacture complex molecules from simple components is known as autotrophy.
If you reverse the direction of the arrow, you have a rough representation of the chemical process by which heterotrophs such as ourselves obtain our energy.
It is because of this photosynthetic production of oxygen that the Amazonian rain forest has come to be known as the earth's lungs.
However, a few moments thought should convince you that, if that is all that was going on, the planet's carbon dioxide supply - already a tiny 0.04% (one part in 2,500) of the atmosphere - would soon all be locked up in wood, and life would come to a halt.
The truth is that the Amazonian forest - in common with all mature woodlands - is carbon neutral i.e it produces just as much carbon dioxide as it absorbs.
This carbon dioxide has two main sources; the respiration of the trees themselves and the respiration of the fungi, bacteria and animals (heterotrophs) that feed on the trees - alive and dead.
During the early part of a tree's life cycle, when its leaf area is high relative to its mass, it is a net absorber of carbon dioxide i.e. photosynthesis easily outweighs respiration.
As the tree reaches somewhere near its full size, much of what is produced by photosynthesis is used in maintenance so, while it is still a net exporter of oxygen, a large amount of carbon dioxide is also produced.
Eventually, of course, the tree dies and, in a reversal of previous processes, its carbon content is returned to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide; produced as a bye-product of burning or the rotting carried out by heterotrophs.
What is true is that forests act as a carbon sink i.e. a large quantity of carbon is permanently locked up in an ever changing population of trees.
Another carbon sink is the large quantities of fossil fuels buried in the earth's crust.
The difference between fossil fuel deposits and forests is that, without human intervention, the carbon content of fossil fuels will never be returned to the atmosphere.
So, provided replanting takes place, it makes sense to generate power by burning mature trees, rather than coal, oil and gas.
After all, the carbon content of the trees will anyway be returned to the atmosphere by natural processes, so why not extract the available energy on the way?
Another fashionable green myth involves the almost cult-like status of biodegradable plastics.
When plastics biodegrade they give up their carbon to the atmosphere.
Surely, if carbon dioxide-induced global warming is the issue, what we need are non-biodegradables that can either be endlessly recycled or buried in the ground from whence came their parent hydrocarbons.

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