January 29 2001

Merlotgate

Next Saturday sees the highlight of my sporting year - Wales v England in Cardiff.

The English have blown two consecutive Grand Slams on the last day of the season and if they lose on Saturday, I will be applying for Welsh Nationality

How farsighted of me, then, to have invited two prominent local Labour party movers and shakers to my sixtieth birthday bash last year where I plied them with unlimited quantities of Chilean Merlot and the best cheese and onion sandwiches that money could buy.


Cronygate

Rooting around in The Shed the other night, I came across a "Dear John" letter from the County Council's Personnel Department.

This letter informed me that my application for the position of Chairman of the authority's Standard's Committee had been unsuccessful.

Although I cannot say I was surprised by this rejection, I was rather disappointed because when I read the job description for the post in the Western Telegraph I thought it had been written with me in mind.

Still, we must bear these setbacks with a patient shrug.

Actually, I applied for the job so that I could cry foul if they appointed one of their cronies less well qualified than myself.

In the event, my moles tell me, the leaders of the minority groups (Tories, Labour, Lib Dems and Plaid) formed an anti-crony coalition and the two candidates eventually short-listed were a retired barrister, who had formerly practiced in Zimbabwe, and a solicitor from Newport.
My "Dear John" letter is dated 23 June 2000 and, my moles tell me, no interviews have yet been held.

If I was a conspiracy theorist I might conclude that somebody is hoping that this inordinate delay will cause the two candidates to pull out, clearing the way for one of the aforementioned cronies to step into the breach.

More likely is that the ruling Independent junta are simply postponing the day of reckoning for as long as possible.

I have several matters that I intend to put before this new committee and I am a patient man - they can run but they can't hide.


Lunchgate

Just before Christmas, while attending a meeting of the County Council, I found myself being stared at constantly by Cllr Alwyn Luke.

During a Planning Committee meeting two weeks the same thing happened.

This time I stared back whereupon Cllr Luke twisted his face into an ugly snarl and mouthed what I, an inexpert lip reader, took to be "bastard".

Just in case Cllr Luke is in any doubt as to what I mouthed back I can tell him it was "fascist"
What is annoying Cllr Luke is that I have been telling the world about his expense claiming habits, particularly his seemingly inexhaustible appetite for taxpayer-funded lunches.

And I mean the world because, recently, in response to a piece I had written detailing his apparent ability to travel between Haverfordwest and Fishguard at twice the speed of light, I received an e-mail from a reader in Canada suggesting he should be called Luke Skywalker.

My correspondent also had ideas about who in the County Council is best fitted for the role of Darth Vader. Readers may e-mail me with their own suggestions.

As I hinted a few weeks ago, what I have so far revealed about the gourmand Luke is merely the tip of the iceberg.

There are, for example, several instances where Luke Skywalker appears to have made the journey to and from Haverfordwest by pony and trap.

Take the Public Protection Committee of 18 November 1999 when, according to his expense claim Cllr Luke left home at 8.30 am to attend the 10 o'clock meeting.

The minutes record that the meeting ended at 11.10 am and Snailwalker's expense sheet reveals that he arrived home at 2.30 pm enabling him to claim lunch allowance - "more than four hours away from place of residence including the hours 12 noon to 2.00 pm"

This particular meeting caught my eye because three of his colleagues from Fishguard were also present.

All three left home at 9.00 am.

Cllr Bryan Howells was back in Fishguard at noon. Cllr Lloyd Evans must be a bit of a boy-racer because he was home by 11.56, while Cllr Bryn Colnett seems to have stopped off for a pint at the Harp because he didn't make it back to base until 12.40.

The important thing is that none of them claimed lunch allowance.

Nor would Luke have been able to do so had he, as required by the rules, claimed only "reasonable travelling time".

Unless, of course, three hours twenty minutes is considered reasonable to complete the 16 mile journey.

If this was a solitary example I might put it down to an honest mistake but I have identified at least a dozen occasions when Cllr Luke took more that two hours to complete the homeward leg.

It wouldn't matter how long he took except that he used these protracted journey times as the basis for claiming for lunch.

If he wants to use County Hall as a Day Centre that is his business, but he shouldn't be allowed to do so at public expense.

The question that I have been wrestling with over the past few months is whether to post the full details of his shady activities on this website, or whether they deserve a more formal setting.

His attempt to intimidate me has only served to increase the iron in my soul.

 

Portfield Gate

It would be ironic, indeed, if Peter Mandelson, the man credited with masterminding Labour's stunning victory at the last election, should be instrumental in the party's defeat at the next.

Whole forests of newsprint have been devoted to this subject already.

Did Mr Mandelson lie? Did Alastair Campbell really say that Mandelson had flipped? And a plethora of other equally interesting and extraordinary questions.

But none of these get to the root of the matter.

We are told, by Tony Blair that Mr Mandelson did nothing improper by ringing a junior minister in the Home Office to enquire about the legal situation regarding Mr Hinduja's nationality application.

It is true that the Prince of Darkness didn't ring Mr O'Brien and say "could you arrange for my friend and Dome supporter S P Hinduja to be given a British passport".

But, by merely signalling his interest in the application, he was putting the Home Office minister under pressure.

If the enquiry had been made on behalf of a refugee with a poor command of English that would be fair enough.

But the fabulously wealthy Mr Hinduja, with an army of lawyers at his beck and call, hardly needed a senior Cabinet Minister to contact the Home Office on his behalf.

It seems that, like a lot of politicians, Mr Mandelson has a poor grasp of the distinction between the political and the judicial.

The granting of nationality is a judicial process.

This means that, in a democracy under the rule of law, all applicants - rich or poor alike - have an absolute right to equal treatment.

This is exactly the same type of undemocratic behaviour that sullies the proceedings of the County Planning Committee.

The only difference is that, because of a supine local press and a toothless opposition, the influence-peddlers in the County Council get away with it.

For example, in the infamous case of the planning application for Enfield, Portfield Gate, Haverfordwest (see previous issues) the equivalent of a Cabinet Minister - Director of Economic Development, Roger Barrett-Evans - totally misrepresented

national and local statutory planning policies in order to sneak the application through.

What, so far, has not been brought into the open is the relationship between Mr Barrett-Evans and the applicant's agent Mr Brangwyn Howell.

Mr Barrett-Evans admitted at one meeting that he knew Mr Howell "personally" - not surprising; really, as they worked together for Dyfed County Council.

When Tory leader Phil Llewellyn sought to press the question of this relationship the leader, Maurice Hughes, jumped up and said that Mr Howell had ceased to be the applicant's agent before Mr Barrett-Evans became involved in the summer of 1999.

Strange, then, that in the inspector's report Mr Howell should be identified as being present as the "applicant's agent" at a site meeting with the Inspector held on 30 November 1999 and that the Welsh Assembly's notice of refusal, dated 25 May 2000, should be addressed to him at Hill Lane Haverfordwest.

Imagine if the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Daily Telegraph and the Observer were on to this case.

These people's feet wouldn't touch the ground.

 

 

 

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