September 3 2001

Non-political party?

A couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail from a reader on a oil rig in the North Sea enquiring about the disappearance from this columnar territory of the "great monster lunch muncher", also known as Councillor Alwyn Luke.
I replied that, since the appearance of my articles exposing Councillor Luke's insatiable appetite for publicly funded food, the old boy seemed to have been very subdued - probably suffering from indigestion or chronic liver trouble.
However, he has recently resurfaced as Councillor Brian Hall's successor as the Independent Political (sic) group's letter writer in chief.
Unfortunately, like those of his predecessor, Luke's epistle in last week's Mercury contained so many slippery definitions and carefully worded evasions that it could have been written by a professional spin-doctor.
Interestingly, Councillor Luke repeats Councillor Hall's earlier claim that: "the rules of democracy are that those with the largest number of seats run the organisation''.Perhaps they employ the same letter writer!
As I pointed out previously, under normal democratic procedures Councillor Luke's
"those" is a political party.
That party will have conducted an election campaign based on a manifesto setting out its policies
That cannot possibly apply to the Independent Political Group, which has no policies, whatsoever, and openly boasts of having no manifesto.
Later in his letter, Councillor Luke attempts to put the blame for the formation of the Independent Political (sic) Group on Labour, by claiming that, at the first meeting of the new County Council, their leader, then Jackie Lawrence, had said that as the biggest political group " they [Labour] were going to run the county council ''.
Luke goes on to say: "at that time Labour had only 12 of the 60 seats on the council and the independents had 40 - so we were forced to form a group ourselves to ensure that the council was run in line with the views of the majority of the people of Pembrokeshire".
He does not explain the democratic arithmetic whereby Labour, with only 12 out off the 60 votes, could possibly " run the county council ''.
Nor does he tell us how a "party" which had no manifesto or policies could possibly know the collective views of the electorate.
My own interpretation of the views of the majority of the people of Pembrokeshire is that they are against party politics in local government. So, they elected a large preponderance of independents who they expected to, er, bring their independent judgment to bear on the issue is put before them.
If my interpretation is correct, then the voters bought a pup, because what they have got is a ruling party which has neither policies nor principles, but which votes solidly for whatever proposals the Chief Officer's Management Board (COMB) puts in front of it.

What a cheek!

In the course of his letter, Cllr Luke refers to the Register of Members' Interests.
He writes: " I am pleased to say the register is up to date as far as the independent members are concerned, but I cannot speak about the opposition members ".
Given his past record, Cllr Luke would have been wise to steer clear of the question of compliance with the requirement to fill in the register.
The register was introduced in 1995, as the result of a proposal by the Labour group, and incorporated into the council's standing orders.
Five independent members, Councillor Luke included, refused, point blank, to complete the register, arguing that their interests were nobody's business but their own.
It was only in the spring of 1998, after I wrote an article pointing out that Cllr Luke was soon to be anointed chairman of the authority, and asking if a person who showed such utter contempt for his own Council's standing orders was fit to hold that position, that Councillor's Luke was finally shamed into compliance.
I also find it strange that he " cannot speak about opposition members ".
If he had checked the register, as he claims in his letter, it would have been a simple matter to discover whether the opposition members had signed up.
But, perhaps, he prefers to rely on smear and innuendo: the independent group's substitute for a coherent political philosophy.
I also notice Councillor Luke's claim that Jim Codd's recent " landslide victory '' in the East Williamston by-election is evidence of the people's satisfaction with Independent rule.
He would be well advised not to build too large a castle on these particularly shaky foundations.
Could I remind him of the Prendergast by-election in March 2000, which followed the resignation of the sitting Independent, Herbie John.
At that election the Independent share of the vote dropped from 65 per cent to just 15 per cent resulting in a Conservative landslide.

They're the Pitts

While reading a book recently I came accross the following rousing speech

Yet when I consider the whole case as it lies before me, I am not much astonished, I am not much surprised, that men who hate liberty should detest those who prize it: or that those who lack virtue themselves should endeavour to persecute those who possess it.
The whole of your political conduct has been one continued series of weakness, temerity, despotism, ignorance, futility, negligence and the most notorious servility, incapacity, and corruption.
On reconsideration I must allow you one merit, a strict attention to your own interests: in that view you appear sound statesmen and politicians.
You know well if the present measure should prevail that you must instantly relinquish your places.
Such then being your precarious situation, who should wonder that you can put a negative on any measure which must annihilate your power, deprive you of your emoluments, and at once reduce you to that stage of insignificant for which God and nature designed you.

That was William Pitt the Elder on the refusal of Lord North's Tory government, encouraged by George the Third, to come to an accommodation with the American colonies - a refusal that led, ultimately, to the War of Independence.
If it weren't for the fact that Pitt died in 1778 I would swear he was referring to the ruling Independents' opposition to the idea of an elected mayor.


It's tough at the top

At the weekend Old Grumpette and I motored up to Birmingham to see our son off on the plane to Canada.
On the way home on Saturday morning we called in at Malvern where we toured the Priory and other interesting historical sites.
While we were wandering about, I was somewhat alarmed to see Grumpette eyeing up the rather large hill that rises to the west of the town.
My own plans involved a leisurely lunch in some ancient roadside inn, but I could see from the look in her eye that I was destined for an afternoon's mountaineering.
She quickly closed off the pub lunch option by nipping into a baker's shop and buying some egg rolls, though, to be fair, she also bought two cans of Bass to sustain me on the expedition.
On returning to the car and consulting the map I was delighted to find that a road ran almost to the top of this mini-alp, which turned out to be called the Worcestershire Beacon - a thirteen hundred foot monster.
Imagine my disappointment, then, as we came round a corner near the foot of the hill and were confronted by a sign: "Worcestershire CC - no vehicles beyond this point - penalty £400".
So, it was walk or wimp!
About three quarters of the way up we halted for lunch and drank one of the cans.
Old Grumpette was soon on her feet itching to press on to the summit.
"We'll have the other can when we get to the top", she said by way of encouragement.
Talk about cruel and unusual punishment!
That last half-mile was really steep and I could feel the nicotine flaking off the inside of my windpipe as I trudged on onwards and upwards.
At last, after much huffing and puffing, I reached the very top, only to find that Grumpette had forgotten to bring the camera to record the moment for posterity.
To make matters worse, I was so exhausted that I forgot all about the Bass.
This morning, I found her with an OS map of Snowdonia spread out on the kitchen table - her finger slowly tracing the route up Cader Idris.
Time I saw the Doctor about my bad back.

High society

Writing about the Register of Members' Social Interests reminds me of an amusing story about my old adversary, the sorely missed ex-Councillor Eddie Setterfield.
Eddie was one of the first to complete the register and under the heading "Clubs and Societies" he had written: "Nationwide and Cheltenham and Gloucester"

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