Sunday, 26 March 2017

Election Tour 2017: Stew, a shouty interview and a fox

A small fanfare for Y Cneifiwr's blog which has just notched up one million hits.

Once you have calmed yourselves after that exciting news, settle down for this week's bus tour.

_____________

22 March marked the start of nominations for the council elections in May, and we won't know the full list of who is standing where until late on 4 April. If you don't like elections, you may want to dive back under the duvet and stay there for the next six weeks because despite the commotion of the last couple of months, the main show has yet to get underway.

Felinfoel and Llannon

When it does, all human life will be there, and this week's edition of Y Byd ar Bedwar on S4C provided a powerful reminder of just how dire some of the current batch of elected representatives are.

The programme looked at the school row in Llangennech. There was Hugh Richards (Independent, Felinfoel) looking well past his sell-by date mumbling incoherently from a script which could have been written by his old friend, Meryl Gravell. Meryl told gobsmacked councillors a few years ago that her grandchildren's Welsh had improved no end since leaving Ysgol y Strade and moving to London.


Richards is a former president of the National Farmers' Union Wales who picked up an OBE in 1999 for services to agriculture. In 2008 he was prosecuted and fined for breaching animal welfare laws after he was caught transporting lambs suffering from foot rot to market.

Hugh Richards will be nudging 80 by the time we go back to the polls in 2022.

Even less appealing was Cllr Kim Thomas (Labour, Llannon) who put on a shouty, angry performance for the cameras. She had come in for a lot of criticism for saying that phasing out the English stream in Llangennech was apartheid, and she went even further in her interview with Y Byd ar Bedwar, questioning the value of Welsh medium education and the Welsh language. You couldn't even use it in Swansea, she said.

Despite holding these views, Cllr Thomas is governor of the Welsh-medium Ysgol Cross Hands.

Unlike Cllr Thomas, many parents and pupils know that being able to communicate effectively in Welsh as well as English is a very useful thing to have on your CV, and it opens up opportunities in a whole host of fields, ranging from local and national government (in Cardiff, Cllr Thomas!), the health service, the law, education, the performing arts and the media as well as in the private sector.

The BBC also helpfully reminded us this week that 47% of all Welsh speakers live within a 50 mile radius of Swansea.

If Kim Thomas did not look so angry and miserable, it would be tempting to say that ignorance is bliss.

Pontaman

Meanwhile, over in Pontaman, Cneifiwr understands that Colin Evans (Lab) is probably feeling pretty miserable after being bitten on the nose by a fox that he thought he had shot dead but which still had a lot of life left in it.

Cadno, the Herald's star columnist, will be delighted.

Members of the public should approach the councillor with care. Frothing at the mouth may just be a sign that he is contemplating his comrades in Llanelli Labour or the likely outcome of the council elections, but you never know. Best call a vet..

Abergwili - Fruit and Nut Balls

Veteran Independent leader, Pam Palmer, is hanging up her broomstick at last and handing the reins to Lisa Fearn. Lisa is a familiar figure to S4C's daytime viewer with her appearances in the cookery slot on Prynhawn Da where she magics up delights ranging from potted panna cotta (but probably not LibDem falafal filled pitta pockets) to fruit and nut energy balls.

Think of her as Carmarthenshire's answer to Nigella.

Here's a recipe for stew.

video


She also runs a cookery and gardening school from her home a couple of miles outside Carmarthen and is married to Jonathan Fearn, Head of Property for Carmarthenshire County Council.

If elected, being a councillor married to a senior councillor officer would have its challenges, and conflict of interest would prevent her from taking part in many council decisions.

There is of course absolutely no truth in the old Carmarthenshire saying that the Independents are Mark James's political wing, but if you want an effective councillor in Abergwili who is not torn by the demands of running a business, trips to the TV studio and a slightly limiting relationship with a senior council officer, vote for Dorian Williams, former head of Ysgol Bro Myrddin.

Or face detention.

Llansteffan

And so we wave a fond farewell to veteran Independent Elmer Fudd, or Daff Davies as he was sometimes known.

Daff being prodded by the chief executive


Daff Davies beat off very stiff competition to become the current holder of Worst Council Chairman Ever. Worse even than Ivor Jackson (Ind., Llandovery), and that took some doing.

Elmer briefly rose to fame for championing the Dylan Thomas Memorial Wind Turbine on the farm of some friends overlooking the boozy poet's famous writing shed. The planning decision was eventually overturned, with council tax payers picking up another hefty bill.

In 2012 Daff squeaked in just 5 votes ahead of his Plaid opponent, Carys Jones. It was rumoured locally that Daff ensured victory by bussing his Polish farm workers to the polling station.

Hoping to fill Daff's oversized clown shoes for the Independents is Roger van Praet, a keen trainspotter who works in insurance. Simmer down at the back!



With a very good chance of taking the ward for Plaid is Carys Jones who is standing again.

Carys is from a local farming family; she works part time for UCW Trinity Saint David's and has extensive experience in public finance and supporting community projects.










Saturday, 25 March 2017

Reputations in the Gutter

This was not meant to happen.

As he dispatched his crack legal team for this final push in the County Court in Carmarthen last Thursday, the chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, Mark James, must have been confident of victory. By the end of the day he would have an order forcing the Thompsons to sell their home in weeks rather than months.

The lines had all been carefully prepared. She had brought it all on herself, his lawyers would say, and Mr James, the victim in all this, had been left with no other choice. Justice would be served in an Old Testament kind of way, with no mercy or compassion.

The Thompsons would be homeless, and the council would not rehouse them because, it would be argued, they had made themselves intentionally homeless.

If all of that did not stop her blogging, Dyfed Powys Police might be persuaded to press charges for harassment. They had, after all, been very cooperative and interviewed Mrs Thompson under caution. He might even apply to have her made bankrupt as she was unable to pay the massive legal bills he had run up.

In the event, the hearing at the County Court on Thursday was little short of a disaster for Mr James.

The Thompsons will remain in their home for the next 10 years provided they can come up with £250 a month, and the crushing court costs were slashed by the judge, who added what was left to the damages bill. Mr James will have to find £22,000 out of his own pocket to pay off his lawyers.

It remains to be seen whether Dyfed Powys Police will take Mr James's latest batch of complaints any further, but if nothing else, the PR debacle of the so-called "daft arrest" which triggered this whole saga should make them think twice, and it is hard to believe that the CPS would be willing to play ball.

If that was not all bad enough, the wheels are starting to come off the carefully constructed narrative which Mr James has spun, and the reputation he has been so determined to protect by silencing one of his most trenchant critics through the application of overwhelming legal force is beginning to look rather tarnished.

You can read Jacqui Thompson's own account here and a very anodyne BBC report here.

Gutter

What the BBC report does not tell you about is a development in the case which raises serious questions about Mr James's conduct and caused raised judicial eyebrows on Thursday.

During the course of the proceedings, counsel for the chief executive was asked who would be the recipient of the damages - Mr James in person or the county council, which is what councillors had been told.

The question caught Mr James's crack team on the hop, and they had to ask for leave to confer with their client.

In due course, the court was told that Mr James had changed his mind, as was his right, and that he could "stuff the money in the gutter" if he so chose.

It is only fair to point out that those words were uttered not by Mr James but his counsel, who had just spoken to his client.  But they were spoken nonetheless, and it is fair to assume that they reflect Mr James's own response when asked.

The image of the most highly paid council chief executive in Wales contemptuously chucking £36,000 in the gutter in a county where average earnings are around the £20,000 mark is not going to go down well with the public.

Worse still, the controversial indemnity branded "unlawful" by the Wales Audit Office, was granted after the then Executive Board was told that Mr James would repay any damages to the council:

The Head of Paid Service has confirmed that he is not motivated by a wish to benefit financially and that accordingly should his action be successful any damages awarded to him will be paid over to the Authority and will not be kept by him.'

(Minutes of Executive Board meeting, 23 January 2012).


Two years later in January 2014 the WAO issued two public interest reports taking the council to task for the indemnity and the unlawful pension arrangements it had approved in what amounted to secrecy.

Mr James "stood aside" while a police investigation took place, and an Extraordinary Meeting of the council was held to discuss the findings. Councillors were told once again that Mr James would pay the damages to his employer, even though Mr James had told the press that he might give it to charity.

Mr James would certainly have been aware of the statement made to the Executive Board in January 2012. He was there in person, after all.

It is now clear that both the Executive Board and Full Council were misled, and took crucial decisions on the basis of statements which turned out not to be true.

And things may be about to get worse for Mr James because questions are once again being asked about the statement he made to the Madaxeman blog in 2011. It was that statement which triggered the libel case, with Mr James claiming that it had been shown to councillors and approved by them.

Reputations

It is not just Mr James's reputation that has taken a knock here. The Jacqui Thompson affair has now rumbled on for the best part of six years, and has hung like a millstone around the necks of three council leaders: Meryl Gravell (Independent), who was leader when the indemnity was approved; Kevin Madge (Labour) who was a member of the Executive Board which approved it and who went on to defend it; and now Emlyn Dole (Plaid) who inherited the mess and has taken to arguing that the affair is an entirely personal matter for Mr James.

Worse than that, the affair has tarnished the reputation of the entire council.

The idea that this was all an entirely personal matter is not how Mr James or the council portrayed matters until the chickens began to come home to roost and expose the disastrous nature of the advice dispensed by the chief executive in first adopting the indemnity clause and then triggering it.

Here is Mr James himself writing in Y Gair, the council's in-house staff magazine after his court victory. The first paragraph makes it abundantly clear that this was not an entirely private matter:

As you may have heard or read in the press, the Council last month had to defend an action in the High Court, by a blogger, Jacqueline Thompson of Llanwrda. This was a significant case, not only for the Council, but for local authorities generally. The result has been welcomed by Councils across the UK.

Click to enlarge


Costs

To make matters worse for Mr James, the judge clearly felt that the legal costs the chief executive said he had incurred in bringing the action were inordinate, and the bill was cut from £21,763 to £14,348, with that amount being added to the damages.

Mr James will now have to raid his own piggy bank to pay the bills he has run up.

Even the reduced bill of £14,348 is reckoned by those with experience of these matters to be eye wateringly high for what in legal terms should have been a pretty straight forward affair, but Mr James required the services of no fewer than three barristers, including Mr Adam Speker, whose speciality is media law (libel and slander).

The judge appears to have been as baffled by Mr Speker's involvement in this hearing as everybody else, and he duly struck out that particular claim.

The fee for filling out a simple four-and-a-bit page summary of the costs Mr James wanted reimbursed was a modest £880, not including VAT. Not bad for something that would take about an hour to knock together, with time off for tea and hobnobs.

Elections

Whether by accident or design, the hearing took place just days before the county council goes into purdah ahead of May's local government elections. This means that the first opportunity councillors will have to digest the outcome of the case will not be until the summer.

They should have a lot of questions for their most senior employee and ask themselves whether a Head of Paid Service who "changed his mind" is someone fit to remain in post.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Election Tour 2017: Beefcake, fruitcake and falafel filled pitta pockets

Whatever the outcome of the elections, Carmarthenshire County Council will look and feel very different after May. Among those standing down are Meryl Gravell (Trimsaran), Pam Palmer (Abergwili) and Ivor Jackson (Llandovery) for the Independents; Terry Davies (Gorslas), Pat Jones (Burry Port) and Keri Thomas (Tyisha) for Labour; and Dafydd Thomas (Cilycwm) for Plaid.

We are likely to see several more booted out by an ungrateful electorate, while others who are well past their best-before dates will somehow cling on.

In common with councils across the country, particularly those serving largely rural areas, Carmarthenshire Council is dominated by the 65+ generation. Some of those standing in May will be 80+ if they serve the full term.

The combination of rigidly sticking to day-time meetings on working days to suit elderly members who are reluctant to venture out on winter nights, and the meagre allowance of £13,000 a year mean that becoming a councillor is not an option for most people of working age, unless they are self-employed or have understanding employers.

So while we may see a few new younger members returned in May, it is sad to report that two of the youngest councillors, Calum Higgins (Lab., Tycroes) and Ryan Thomas (Lab, Kidwelly) are both standing down to pursue careers in Cardiff.


Their departure illustrates one of the biggest problems facing us in the west, which is the loss of so many young people due to the lack of decent employment opportunities and affordable housing.

This blog has given both Calum and Ryan a fair amount of stick in the past, but while Ryan Thomas has been a councillor for only a short while, Calum Higgins has contributed much more. It was significant that Labour's youngest councillors rebelled against the cynical and antediluvian attitudes displayed by the dinosaurs in the Labour group, and voted in favour of bilingual Welsh-medium education in Llangennech.

How depressing, not just for Labour voters, that the party should be losing people like Calum and Ryan while the likes of Tegwen Devichand maintain their gnarled grip on the sclerotic movement.

Diolch yn fawr, bois.

Manordeilo and Salem

For reasons which elude Cneifiwr, Calum and Ryan had something of a following among the otherwise sensible menopausal matrons who make up the Take That! fan base, but in an entirely different league is Plaid's Dr Rhys Thomas who will be standing in Manordeilo and Salem, currently held by Cllr Joseph Davies (Ind.). It is fair to say that Cllr Davies has kept a very low profile - low to the point of invisibility.

Rhys is a consultant anaesthetist, flying doctor, a former colonel in the Parachute Regiment who served in Afghanistan and many other places, and an Ironman triathlon competitor. He lives near Salem.


Since leaving the army, Rhys has been instrumental in reshaping the Air Ambulance Service, drawing on his experience of treating casualties in remote areas of Afghanistan. Here is a Guardian piece which explains Rhys's role in developing a service which is a lifeline for rural Wales, and there is another in-depth piece written by Rhys Thomas himself in the December 2015 issue of Cambria Magazine.



Lliedi

On the other side of the county, and at the other end of the quality spectrum, is Labour's Rob James, who has elbowed aside Bill Thomas, arguably Labour's best councillor.

As readers will recall, Rob is currently a serving councillor in Neath, although given his very poor attendance record, serving is perhaps not the right word.

When he first blew into Llanelli, the spin was that here was a bright, talented, young and ambitious new string to Llanelli Labour's bow. He had friends in high places and was set to go far in the Labour Party. Definitely MP material.

A few months later, and just about the only thing that everyone can agree on is that he is very ambitious. Llanelli Labour appears to be falling out of love with Rob.

Here is the view from inside Labour.

Rob James is a right can of worms. Extremely ambitious and playing games all the time to try to get where he wants. Always running with the 'Hare and the Hounds'. Definitely centre of left to the more moderate members and on the other hand an extreme Corbynista..... the only person grooming Rob is Rob himself. The more astute members saw through him a long time ago and even Tegwen and Co seem to have now. He seems to cut quite a lonely figure these days and there is no evidence of him being 'sponsored' by Cardiff. He moved here because his wife to be lives here and this is to be his home for some years to come. His 'coup' on Bill Thomas for the Lliedi County seat was silent and deadly using members that don't usually turn up and probably Corbynista who thought they would get someone of their 'ilk' on the Council. Very poor show. Bill has doggedly served that ward. Apparently the other Bill Thomas (Rural for Swiss Valley) who is Chair of the Ward was supposed to have given Bill a reference to go straight through to the selection, but says he didn't get the email.  Rob is very much style over substance - not much under the surface. 

If that were not enough, it is becoming increasingly clear that Rob is something of a loose cannon. He was publicly reprimanded by a fellow Labour candidate a few weeks back for saying in an interview with the Herald that the council chief executive should be suspended and investigated. While most people in Carmarthenshire would agree happily see Mark James run out of the county, Rob's fellow party member had to point out that mouthing off in the press like that could easily backfire and give the chief executive a very useful legal stick with which to beat huge amounts of compensation out of the council.

More recently, for reasons best known to himself, Rob took to another social media platform to suggest that another NPT councillor, a widow, had been getting very "cosy" with a councillor from distant Aberystwyth. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. The poor lady was not best pleased.

And then a couple of weeks ago he put in an appearance at Neath Port Talbot's annual budget bash. He was the only councillor to get up to speak, and to shouts of "sit down!" from fellow Labour councillors, he launched into a paean of praise for the Labour-run council which had, he said, kept the salary multiplier between the chief executive and the hoi polloi much lower than is the case in Carmarthenshire.

If Rob had done his homework more thoroughly, he would have discovered that Labour was running Carmarthenshire along with the Independents during the period when Mark James's pay packet was pumped up to its current grossly inflated levels, and that it was the Labour-Independent coalition which approved the unlawful pension contributions opt out, with Labour leader Kevin Madge bringing in a top London QC at great expense to defend the scheme.

Knit your own yoghurt

But this council election is not all about Plaid and Labour. Other parties are also available. If you cannot stomach the thought of Ayatollah Aubel and his Tories, how about the LibDems?

Carmarthenshire's LibDems more or less became extinct after their last elected councillor, Ken Rees, defected to UKIP (this is Carmarthenshire, after all), but news reaches Cneifiwr of a rather select buffet at Dryslwyn to launch the party's election campaign.


A grand total of four LibDem candidates will be standing in the more genteel bits of Carmarthen East and Dinefwr constituency, and you can join them on 23 March for a sumptuous feast of falafal filled pitta pockets at an informal supper. Ample parking for the Volvo. Beards and sandals frowned upon.

With Welsh agriculture facing annihilation thanks to Brexit, the English-only invitation is entirely free of any Welsh lamb or beef, or indeed anything else that suggests meat.

Don't all rush at once.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Election Tour 2017: Some complete misunderstandings

The previous post ended with the ravings of Dr Felix Aubel, Carmarthenshire's best known Tory. Since then the leaders of all of the parties represented in the Senedd, except of course for Neil Hamilton (UKIP), signed a pledge not to stoke the fires of racism during the council elections.

Specifically, the statement commits candidates not to "address immigration in a way that builds resentment against different races or nationalities".

How does Andrew RT Davies square this lofty declaration with the activities of one of his most prominent supporters, you may wonder.

The answer, it would seem, is to refer to the small print. Following complaints about some of his social media postings, the Tories have reacted by saying that Aubel's views do not "in any way" represent the views of the party. Cough. However, Aubel is not standing for election in May, so presumably he will not only remain a member but continue to represent the party on public platforms such as Pawb a'i Farn, it being OK to whip up "resentment against races and nationalities" provided you are not standing for election.

Both the BBC and Golwg360 picked up on this story, and Aubel told the BBC that it had all been "a complete misunderstanding".

When he wrote, "When will today's Christian Europe say 'Enough is Enough', just like the Christian Spaniards did at the end of the Middle Ages?" he had simply been responding to a Swedish neo-Nazi with an open question, he told the BBC. Just as anyone would in Trelech who bumps into a Swedish neo-Nazi.

The BBC helpfully reminded readers that he had been referring to the very bloody campaign waged by the Spanish against Muslim and Jewish subjects in which countless thousands were tortured before being burned alive. He did not support religious persecution, Aubel said.

The trouble with this is that Aubel's Twitter feed is awash with "misunderstandings" and xenophobic material put out by a whole menagerie of far-right extremists.

Here he is replying to someone called Patricia Bernier ("English and proud, supporting Brexit 100%", etc.) who warns that "we will fight the importation of Islam every step of the way". 


Note that, unprompted, Dr Aubel brings his pal Ulster Crusader into this cosy chat. Here's how Crusader describes himself:

Proud British Brexiteer.Northern Irish/English roots.I support UKIP, President Trump,Geert Wilders,Marine le Pen. Opposed to radical Islam, liberals & leftists.

By some unfortunate freak coincidence, Ulster Crusader's Twitter page is decorated with a picture of lots of brave English knights of old wearing the Cross of Saint George, busily hacking a greatly outnumbered Muslim army to bits.




So there we are. Dr Aubel is a respected minister of religion and leading light of the Conservative Party in Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion who has been completely misunderstood. He always tells the truth and is most definitely not a bigot.

For an even more richly illustrated example of Dr Aubel's misunderstandings, have a look at BlogMenai.

Ms Understood

Another much misunderstood political figure in Carmarthenshire is deputy leader of the Labour group on Carmarthenshire County Council, leader of Llanelli Rural Council and holder of numerous other public positions, Cllr Tegwen Devichand.

On Tuesday evening Cllr Devichand successfully saw off a vote of no confidence as leader of Llanelli Rural Council. The rather lengthy motion questioned her suitability for the post, but the Labour troops rallied to her defence.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Devichand told a journalist that she had reported "the blogs" to the police and claimed that she was no longer under investigation by the Labour Party for sharing material put out by Britain First. She finished by warning that she would set her solicitors on the newspaper if it printed anything she considered to be an untruth about her.

Cneifiwr still has not heard from the boys in blue, so perhaps she has been complaining about different blogs. Possibly the blogs which Cllr Jeff Edmunds claims published statements he said he made when he thought he was talking to a Labour Party member - blogs which have eluded all Google searches.

If the Labour Party really has called off its investigation into this high profile member, it has not told anyone, including the party's campaign manager, Rosemary Emery, who tweeted this on 10 March in reply to a query about Michaela Beddows and Tegwen's Facebook account:


Perhaps there has been another misunderstanding, which is probably what Tegwen's daughter, Sharen Davies, will tell the ombudsman as he sets about investigating complaints that she called a fellow councillor corrupt.

With any luck, our tour will continue over the weekend, with even more misunderstandings.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Cneifiwr's 2017 election bus tour - Theresa May wants me for a sunbeam

Only the other day Oggy Bloggy Ogwr was having a bit of a moan:

As an aside, however glorious it is to see Labour eat itself in Llanelli, reputations take a hit and Carmarthenshire live up to the title "Wild West", this whole thing is starting to get a bit boring now. Just what is it about Carmarthenshire? 

Perhaps it's something in the water; perhaps nothing interesting ever happens in Bridgend. Who knows? But Cneifiwr is confident that whatever the outcome, Carmarthenshire will once again put on a spectacular display of electoral fireworks this year.

We have already had several complaints to the police (at least that's what Jeff Edmunds and Tegwen Devichand claim); the quinquennial ritual of complaints about Cllr Siân Caiach by chief executive Mark James (also the county's returning officer - no conflict of interest there then!) to the Ombudsman for Public Services; more complaints to the police from Mr James against blogger and community councillor Caebrwyn; a mysterious caravan fire near Pontyberem; and now a letter from the Ombudsman to Cllr Sharen Davies (Lab) following complaints about her conduct in a council meeting. 

In another sure sign that an election is in the offing, Llanelli Labour's very own human megaphone, Rosemary Emery, is cranking up her social media accounts for a spring offensive. 

And nominations for all those wishing to stand in this year's council elections on 4 May don't actually open until 22 March.

Five years ago, Cneifiwr celebrated the council elections with a bus tour around some of the more interesting wards. The bus has been standing in as a chicken coop ever since, but after a lot of frantic hammering, quantities of baler twine and a few gallons of red diesel, the old beast is ready to hit the road again.

In recognition of the success of the big red Brexit bus which had £350 million a week painted on its sides, Cneifiwr's bus has £5.41 daubed in red paint along its bodywork. This is the sum which Google would pay if this blog agreed to carry adverts tailored to Cneifiwr's readers. Surgical stockings, Viagra, electric chairs (not of the mobility kind) and back numbers of Y Cyfansoddiadau most likely.


Teenage Tantrums

Let's start in Carmarthen South where young Charlie Evans is hoping to unseat Cllr Alun Lenny for the Tories.

Charlie tells us, or at least he did until he locked his Twitter account, that he is passionate about Theresa May, Jesus, education and something called Conservative Friends of the Commonwealth beneath a picture of a union jack flying at half-mast from a lamp post in what looks like the Devon Riviera.

___________ 

Update 12 March: After what seems to have been a heavy duty spring clean, Charlie has now reopened his Twitter account. Lots of very intense religion in place of his recent political discussions.

___________

He says he is currently campaigning vigorously in Carmarthen, and was boasting about his "snazzy" literature and calling card. When it was gently pointed out to him that his literature was in English only, Charlie came over all defensive.

Nobody had complained, he tweeted. People were far more interested to talk to him about public services. That would presumably be the public services that Theresa May is busily running into the ground in a Christian, caring sort of way.

Anyway, Cneifiwr decided that if nobody had complained, he would - as a voter.

Charlie was having none of it, and promptly had a go at Welsh medium education.

Charlie's "passion for education" clearly does not extend to understanding how the education system works in a part of the world where he thinks he is qualified to become a county councillor. If his claim were true, he would be running into young monoglot Welsh speakers all over Carmarthen.

Before anyone could ask him where these "hundreds of kids" are who have been uprooted, he stomped off and locked himself into his Twitter bedroom, leaving Uncle Simon Hart to tell a cruel world off for mocking his boy. Charlie used to work for Uncle Simon.

Dysgu Cymraeg

Simon Hart decided the best form of defence was attack, and so he rounded on Charlie's critics, claiming they were mocking him for learning Welsh. That was not true, of course, but a couple of inquisitive souls wondered how Simon's own efforts at learning the language were coming along.

The MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire regularly heads up the rankings of highest expense claimaints among Welsh MPs, and his claims are nothing if not thorough. In the 12 months to May 2016, for example, his claims included £1.34 for a biro and several hundred pounds for Welsh lessons from a modest total of £62,049.02:

And here are some more:

With hundreds more items to plough through, Cneifiwr gave up at that point, but anyone wanting to dig deeper can do so here.

This is of course an excellent investment, but it is only fair to point out to Simon as a Tory who is keen to slash public expenditure that he could have signed up for an intensive Welsh course in his own constituency. Pembrokeshire County Council will get him on the road to fluency for just £100 for 180 hours of study over a year. Cneifiwr has heard that the tuition is first class.

Campaigning in the digital age


Voters hoping to have a word with Charlie will now just have to wait until he comes knocking because he has locked them all out of his Twitter account, and the website he advertises on his Twitter page is defunct.

Perhaps this is for the best because Charlie's previous forays into social media have sometimes attracted unwanted attention, and for one so young he has already clocked up quite an interesting political CV.

During the 2015 general election campaign, someone had the bright idea of launching "Milifandom". 15,000 Twitter users signed up to say that they fancied Ed Miliband.

Not to be outdone, someone claiming to be a 13 year old girl called Emily launched the "Cameronettes" in appreciation of sex god David Cameron. Inexplicably, Emily attracted only 150 followers.

The Cameronettes attracted a lot of media attention, and Emily complained that she had been subjected to online bullying. She also rejected requests from the press to identify herself, and it was left to the Daily Mirror to announce that Emily was in fact an Exeter University student called Charlie Evans.

Charlie initially denied that he was Emily, before coming out to the Daily Telegraph.

Six months later Charlie/Emily fell dramatically out of love with David Cameron when he announced that he felt "sick to be a Tory" after George Osborne announced plans to cut tax credits. Shortly after that Charlie told Huffington Post that he had decided to leave the Conservative Party because all that "one nation" and green stuff was a sham.

What caused Charlie to fall back in love with the Tories is not clear, but it would seem to have something to do with Brexit and cuddly, caring Theresa May. At any rate, Charlie can now once again indulge his "one nation" passions as an enthusiastic member of Bring back the Empire Conservative Friends of the Commonwealth, whose patron is that caring one nation Tory and former Secretary of State for Wales John Redwood.

Unless Cllr Alun Lenny is unmasked as 13 year old Llinos Wyn, founder of the Dole-ettes, he probably does not have too much to worry about in Carmarthen South.

A wailing and a gnashing

Leaving Carmarthen we now head to Trelech, where quietly competent Cllr Jean Lewis (Plaid) can be pretty confident of being returned in May.

Rather better known on the national stage is another Trelech resident, Carmarthenshire's answer to the Reverend Doctor Ian Paisley, the Reverend Doctor Felix Aubel.

For reasons known only to himself, Dr Aubel seems to do his political campaigning well away from Trelech, preferring to terrorise the residents of Ceredigion instead, perhaps hoping that his flock won't notice. He is also an almost permanent feature on Pawb a'i Farn, S4C's answer to Question Time. There he can be seen shouting down anyone who disagrees with him, either as a panel member or a member of the audience, as he roars his support for the use of nuclear weapons, raves against refugees and immigrants and generally bangs the Tory drum.

His Sunday sermons are probably not for the faint-hearted.

One of Dave Allen's best jokes involved the late Dr Ian Paisley delivering a hell and damnation tirade in Belfast.

"There will be a wailing and a gnaaashing of teeth", he raves as he looks forward to Dr Aubel's thermo nuclear holocaust on the Day of Judgement when all good Tories will enter Paradise and the nationalists will be swept into the fiery pits of hell. "A wailing and a gnaaashing of teeth!" Not much hope for the people of Trelech, then.

"Please, Dr Paisley, what shall I do? I don't have me own teeth any more", calls out an elderly biddy from the congregation.

"TEETH WILL BE PROVIDED!" roars the good doctor.

It is fair to say that Dr Aubel has more than his fair share of bees in his bonnet. There's the evil EU, socialists, nationalists and the BBC to start with. Then there are the Muslim hordes and tidal waves of refugees.

A good idea of the sort of thing which bothers Dr Aubel can be gleaned from his Twitter feed, where it turns out that he is an avid reader of the Daily Express. Among his current pleasures is reveling in the apparent demise of UKIP, and there for once he is right. Who needs UKIP when Dr Aubel is busy out kippering anything that Farage's barmy army can come up with?

Dr Aubel is also a fan of an account called Ulster Crusader and regularly retweets his rants. Crusader's Twitter profile reads:

Proud British Brexiteer.Northern Irish/English roots.I support UKIP,President Trump,Geert Wilders,Marine le Pen. Opposed to radical Islam, liberals & leftists.

Here's one recent piece of fan mail warning of the sort of thing which is now an everyday sight in Trelech:



As far as we know, Dr Aubel won't be standing in Trelech in May, but perhaps Ceredigion will be more fortunate.

#carms2017


Saturday, 11 March 2017

Lumpy Carpets - Part Two

In the previous post we left Caebrwyn preparing for her interview with the police to discuss Mr James's latest complaints of harassment. Meanwhile, Cllr Siân Caiach is sitting down to address a kitchen sink full of complaints of lèse-majesté against Carmarthenshire County Council's chief executive.

Among the complaints is her response to news on this blog that Private Eye had named Mr James "Shit of the Year" in its prestigious New Year honours list back in January when she wrote:

Some people, specifically civil servants, seem to get honours and awards for just doing their jobs, but this one is, in my opinion, richly deserved. 

More on this to follow as the facts emerge, but what is already becoming clear is the extent to which council staff are monitoring the press and internet for any criticism of Mr James. It's not just a few local newspapers and a couple of blogs which are being trawled, but a significant number of Facebook and Twitter accounts and other websites. In one case, County Hall even took direct action and asked a provider to remove content, presumably accompanied by warnings of dire legal consequences.

The obsession with protecting Mr James's reputation stands in stark contrast to the chaos and incompetence which reign in parts of the council, as we saw in the case of Mr Eirian Morris, who recently won his case for unfair dismissal.

The bill for defending this case will in all likelihood leave little change from £250,000. The tribunal hearing itself ran for a full week, with a battery of barristers and solicitors earning their keep. The council has been ordered to pick up the full cost, and it is likely that there will be significant additional amounts in compensation to Mr Morris.

The case was brought by Mr Morris's union, Unison, which said in a press release:

After the second five-figure payout to an employee for unlawful treatment in two years, Unison has condemned the council’s employment practices as woeful. The trade union lambasted executives for having spent public money on unwinnable cases and said it should instead concentrate on improving how it supports staff.

_____________________

So what was all this about, and what does it tell us about the culture which has developed in County Hall?

Eirian Morris is a likable and intelligent man with a great deal of experience in the management of leisure facilities. He clocked up 34 years of unblemished service in local government, 27 of which were as an employee of Carmarthenshire County Council.

He is, in short, the sort of employee any organisation would be proud to have. With only a relatively short time left before he could look forward to putting his feet up on a reasonable pension, the easy option would have been to keep quiet about what he saw going on at Pembrey Country Park, but he chose instead to compile a dossier which he took to senior management, blowing the whistle on what he considered to be fraud, theft and corruption in the park.

As has happened with other whistleblowers in Carmarthenshire, Mr Morris paid a heavy price. He lost his job in what the tribunal decided was a completely unfair redundancy scheme, and faced retirement on a much reduced pension. In his own words, the council "put me through hell".

The verdict will go some way to compensating Mr Morris for what he has gone through, but he insists that he was never in it for the money.

Perhaps the legal department in County Hall is even more incompetent than Sir David Lewis thought when he described them as "cavalier at best, incompetent at worst", but it should have occurred to them at a very early stage that Mr Morris had a very strong case for unfair dismissal.

Instead, huge legal bills were racked up preparing the council's defence, and the penny only seems to have dropped days before the tribunal met. Mr Morris received his first offer to settle out of court with a compensation package a week before, and the council, seemingly desperate, upped its offer on the morning of the first day.

Mr Morris's counsel advised him to accept, but he said he was determined to fight on because he wanted to make a stand for all those who had suffered injustices at the hands of County Hall, but who lacked the means and the determination to see it through.

In the event, counsel for Mr Morris made mincemeat of the scheme concocted by the council's HR and legal specialists to get rid of him. Among other things, Mr Morris ended up as the sole individual in a "pool" of candidates for redundancy, and shortly after he was made redundant, the council advertised three posts for which Mr Morris would have been a qualified candidate.

Mr Morris was unfairly dismissed in the unanimous view of the panel.

The second part of the case revolved around whether not Mr Morris had been dismissed because of his whistleblowing.

Here the tribunal decided that Mr Morris had not, and under cross examination he was unable to substantiate some of the allegations he had made.

However, this part of the verdict should not be seen as a vindication of the council's stance, and serious questions remain about the way in which Mr Morris's allegations were handled.

He took his concerns to the then Director of Regeneration, Dave Gilbert, who was also deputy chief executive, and a senior HR manager in July 2014.

The allegations included claims that two individuals were engaged in criminal activity, including siphoning off monies from park takings by accepting cash payments for the use of some park facilities. Further, there were irregularities in the recruitment and appointment of staff with close personal relationships to one of the park managers.

The council invoked its whistleblowing procedure and appointed another council officer, Mr Noelwyn Daniel, as contact officer for Mr Morris.

The tribunal was less than impressed with Mr Daniel, who seemed to be very confused about the information he had received from Mr Morris. He had typed up notes for transmission to the council's internal audit office, he said, but could not explain what had happened to the handwritten notes he said he had received from Mr Morris. He was also shown at least one and probably several photographs to back up Mr Morris's allegations, but had failed to ask Mr Morris for copies.

The verdict notes laconically that the way Mr Daniel conducted his duties was "less than impressive".

Mr Daniel was recently appointed acting head of IT for the council, much to the surprise of many IT staff.

The allegations were investigated by an officer from internal audit, and what she found was a chaotic mess of inadequate procedures and poor documentation.

Unsurprisingly, she was not able to establish that significant amounts of money had been siphoned off, probably because questionable cash transactions do not usually leave a paper trail.

She also established that employment procedures had not been complied with (where was HR in all of this?), and Mr Morris's allegations eventually resulted in disciplinary proceedings against one manager.

It would seem reasonable to conclude that there was plenty of smoke, and one of the questions which needs to be asked is what steps could and should have been taken to find out if there was also a fire.

It has been reported elsewhere that a recording exists of a meeting in which a senior council officer when confronted with the allegations said words to the effect of "don't call the police", and it is hard to understand why the police were not brought in, even more so because of subsequent events at Pembrey, including an assault and a deeply flawed tender process for the catering facilities, something which is understood to be the subject of ongoing legal action.

If, as seems to have been the case, investigations were limited to an examination of paper trails, you don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to realise that the investigation was flawed from the outset.

One of the other issues which the tribunal looked at was proposals by the council to restructure its operations at Pembrey. That there had been discussion about changes for several years prior to Mr Morris's redundancy is beyond doubt, but whether by coincidence or not, proposals crystallised and led to Mr Morris's dismissal only after he had gone to see senior managers.

Not recorded in the verdict is a very public row which blew up in 2013 when Unison claimed the then Labour-led council was trying to privatise the park. The council reacted with a furious and extraordinary press release accusing the union of "cheap-shot lies".

According to various sources, there is a very interesting and rather murky bigger story behind all of that.

What does this episode tell us?

If you are Carmarthenshire County Council, there are no lessons to be learned from the Eirian Morris case.

In a characteristically sour piece of self-justification, Cllr Meryl Gravell (who is politically accountable for the entire period covered by this saga) put out the following statement to the Herald:

We are satisfied that the Tribunal did not support Mr Morris's claim that he was made redundant due to the protected disclosures (whistleblowing) he had made. We do however accept that there was a flaw in an element of the redundancy process that resulted in part of his claim being upheld. We will review these processes urgently whilst noting the finding of the tribunal that even if these errors had been corrected there was still only a 50% chance of Mr Morris's redundancy being avoided.

No apology for the ordeal he was put through; no acknowledgement that without Mr Morris's courage in coming forward the mess at Pembrey would have gone unnoticed; no thanks for all those years of loyal service.

Cllr Gravell's statement is about as grudging as you can get, and nothing in it suggests that the council will take a closer look at itself and the culture which it has developed.

The tribunal and the way the problems at Pembrey were reported to councillors suggest very strongly that the main concern of senior officers has, as so often in the past, been news management. Or to put it another way, there has been an only partially successful attempt to sweep things under the carpet.

As for the politics of the affair, there are already some Labour activists busily suggesting that Plaid bears responsibility, when in fact almost all of these events occurred on Labour's watch.

The message that voters want to hear from Plaid and Labour is not the usual Punch and Judy blame game, but a commitment to work together after the elections, not in coalition but constructively, to tackle the problems at source. Changing the culture of any organisation has to start at the very top.









Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Lumpy Carpets - Part One

After a couple of weeks spent down in Llanelli, it's time to head back to County Hall in Carmarthen where it's very much business as usual.

Four years after winning the libel trial against blogger Jacqui Thompson, the chief executive and a gaggle of highly paid council staff have been busy launching what Mr James is surely hoping will be his final grand offensive against the Llanwrda housewife.

Last year Mr James went to the police with a dossier put together by council staff to complain that he was the subject of criminal harassment. One of the items handed to the constabulary was a blogpost in which Mrs Thomspon referred to "lumpy carpets" in County Hall (she was actually quoting a newspaper).

Unsurprisingly, the police went through the motions and decided not to pursue the matter.

Undeterred, Mr James, or more likely council staff burning the midnight oil on his behalf, has now come up with a second dossier for the attention of the police, and he has complained yet again of harassment.

Jacqui Thompson has been asked to attend an interview under caution on 16 March. On 23 March she will be attending a court hearing in which Mr James is applying for the forced sale of the Thompsons' family home.

But Mr James is not just keeping the police and courts busy. Another set of complaints has gone off to the Public Services Ombudsman alleging that Cllr Siân Caiach has breached the Code of Conduct for councillors.

The two complaints are understood to be closely related, and if the Ombudsman opens his filing cabinet, he will find that his predecessor dismissed another barage of complaints against Cllr Caiach in 2012, telling him that he needed to grow a thicker skin.

The timing of all this activity is interesting, so long after the trial. Cneifiwr pointed out last year that the complex series of legal depth charges being laid would go off in the spring of 2017 to coincide with another important date in Mr James's diary when he dons his other very well remunerated hat as returning officer for this year's council elections.

Seasoned observers of Mr James's very long career know that meticulous planning is one of his strengths, but perhaps it is just pure coincidence that the grand offensive has been timed for the precise moment that the council goes into purdah ahead of the elections.

Coincidence or not, Mr James's actions will now be immune from scrutiny during normal term time, and he must be hoping that the show will be over by the time the new council gets down to its first real business in June, with the new crop of councillors being presented with another fait accompli.

But you can't make an omlette without breaking a few eggs, and there will be collateral damage. Plaid Cymru in particular must be squirming at the thought that the election campaign will be overshadowed by Mr James's pursuit of what, in theory at least, is a purely personal legal matter, albeit one which was almost entirely funded and resourced by the council itself.

As for Cllr Caiach, isn't it funny how Mr James's complaints to the Ombudsman always seem to happen around election time?

The fact that Plaid inherited the mess from previous Labour-Independent administrations may not cut much ice on doorsteps. Voters are not known for their fair-mindedness in matters such as these, and it will be interesting to see how Labour plays its set of rather grubby cards.

Part two of this story will follow at the weekend.




Sunday, 5 March 2017

Llanelli roundup

Opinion among regular readers of this blog will be divided at the news that, so far at least, Cneifiwr has not been arrested and locked up for writing about the tribulations of the Labour Party in Llanelli.

Perhaps Tegwen Devichand and Jeff Edmunds had someone else in mind when they said recently that they had both complained to the police; in Jeff's case the mystery remains as to which blogs published statements he had made in the belief that he was e-mailing a member of the Labour Party in good faith. It certainly wasn't this one, or indeed any other blog Cneifiwr can find which writes about Welsh politics.

Perhaps the pair were just confused when they told the press that they had gone to the police. It's easily done. Just as Tegwen said that she could not remember sharing Britain First propaganda plastered with pictures of electric chairs, even though she opposes the death penalty, she says.

Perhaps Dyfed-Powys Police told them not to waste police time, or perhaps teams of officers are trawling through blogs and social media accounts, and have not yet pounced.

Whatever the case may be, it is time for an update.

Chaff

Chaff is the name given to little strips of metal fired into the sky by the military to try to deflect incoming  missiles or to fool ground-based radar systems.

Readers of this blog will have noticed Gary "Poumista" Jones, Labour's candidate for one of the seats in Llangennech and veteran of the Spanish Civil War, spraying industrial quantities of chaff in the comments section of this blog as he tries to spin a narrative that the decision to phase out the English stream in Llangennech had nothing to do with Labour.

Here he is replying to a statement made by Cllr Gwyn Hopkins:

"The choice of schools was - almost certainly- endorsed by Councillor Keith Davies" is very vague, it either was or it wasn't? Also WESP was not endorsed by full council?

The answer to both of your questions, Gary, is yes, it was.

This week's Herald contains an article which sets out in considerable detail the history of the Llangennech decision, and here in a nutshell is the sequence of events.

Remember that Labour ran Carmarthenshire County Council in coalition with the Independents until May 2015.


8 July 2014 - the Education Scrutiny Committee unanimously approves a Welsh in Education Stretgic Plan (WESP) which the council was obliged to prepare under the terms of the (Labour) government's 2013 School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act. The meeting minutes show that among those present at the meeting was the late Cllr Keith Davies, who was Executive Mamber for Education at the time.

The WESP included a provision to change all of the county's dual stream schools to Welsh-medium schools.

28 July 2014 - The WESP goes to the council's Executive Board (i.e. cabinet) and is approved unanimously. Among those voting to phase out dual stream schools are Kevin Madge, Jeff Edmunds, Tegwen Devichand and Keith Davies.

10 September 2014 - The WESP is approved by full council unanimously, with Madge, Davies, Edmunds and Devichand all in favour.

May 2015 - UK General Election. Not long afterwards Kevin Madge is ousted as Labour leader. Jeff Edmunds takes over, and the Independents end their coalition. Labour goes into opposition.

23 November 2015 - The Education Scrutiny Committee meets again and approves a proposal to establish a Welsh-medium school in Llangennech. The only Labour member present, Cllr John James, votes in favour. Cllrs Pat Jones and Ryan Bartlett are absent.

A long and convoluted consultation process gets underway. Tegwen Devichand turns up outside the school in Llangennech to protest.

Llanelli Labour throws its weight behind the objectors and works closely with them. Gary Jones takes a prominent role, and helps put up posters around the village which claim that Plaid is trying to force English speaking children out of Llangennech.

Extremist Welsh hater Jacques Protic, who lives somewhere up in the north, also becomes involved at an early stage and contributes to a web site created by the objectors. The process culminates with the group bringing in Neil Hamilton and UKIP.

18 January 2017 - The final step in the process as full council meets to approve the plan. Cllr Ryan Bartlett (Lab) votes in favour. Cllr John James votes against, along with Cllrs Madge, Devichand and Edmunds.

As lying and hypocrisy go, this is hard to beat.

There is an interesting footnote to the 18 January meeting when most Labour councillors vote against the plan, including Cllr Kim Thomas (Lab., Llannon) who described it as "apartheid" despite being governor of a Welsh medium primary school. Among those who spoke was Cllr Sharen Davies, Tegwen's daughter.

She had gone to a Welsh medium school, she said, but had switched to English medium because she felt should could not cope.

Barely a month later and she has changed her story, telling would-be voters in Llwynhendy that she was educated through the medium of Welsh:

Click on picture to enlarge

Some of those "dear residents" may be left wondering after reading the first line of her address whether they can believe anything else she says.

Meanwhile, Lee Waters is understood to have had another change of heart. After sitting on the fence for the best part of a year while the controversy raged, he eventually came down on the side of the objectors. When the brown stuff hit the fan, Lee blamed it all on Gwyn Hopkins. Cneifiwr understands that he is now telling his constituency party behind closed doors that they have to get behind the plan and the government's target of one million Welsh speakers.

We haven't seen leadership like this since a nineteenth century French politician, Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin is said to have exclaimed, "There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader".

Re-arranging the deckchairs

With only two months to go to May's council elections, the clock is also ticking on Jeff Edmunds' leadership of the Labour group on the county council.

According to the local gossip, Jeff took quite a lot of persuading to stand again as a councillor and even more arm twisting to carry on as leader. Expect a small coup as the dust settles in early summer.

That could be quite an interesting contest, with the Tegwen-ites drawn up against the rest. Rob James, who has parachuted in from Neath, is ambitious and has friends in Cardiff. He will be able to count on the support of Lee Waters, but that may not help his cause, with some shrewd observers commenting that Lee is not very good at connecting with his grass roots and lacks "emotional intelligence".

Whatever happens, Rob James is unlikely to want to put in five years of hard graft as a backbench county councillor, if elected, and there is even talk of him being groomed to take over from Nia Griffith in time for the 2020 UK general election.

Justice for the Llangennech One!

Many years ago Cneifiwr attended a training course on employment law. One of the cases we were presented with involved a postman who had stabbed another postman. He was given a written warning.

Some time later another postman stabbed a colleague (posties clearly had to worry about more than unfriendly dogs back then) and was sacked. He successfully sued for unfair dismissal, citing the previous case.

Employment law may well have changed since then, but Cneifiwr was reminded of this case as he pondered the differing fates of Michaela Beddows and Tegwen Devichand in the Labour Party.

According to reports a couple of weeks ago, the reason for Michaela's suspension was that she had shared material produced by the English Defence League on her Facebook page. Suspended pending an investigation.

Tegwen Devichand shared material from the no less extreme Britain First, but although we have been told that an investigation is ongoing, she has not been suspended.


On the face of it, there seem to be grounds for launching a campaign to secure justice for Llangennech's most famous mum and get her reinstated.



Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Llangennech: "He laughed at me"

Reporting on yesterday's First Minister's Questions in the Senedd, Oggy Bloggy Ogwr writes:

There was yet another inflammatory “contribution” by UKIP leader, Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales), on the Llangennech school row. He accused Plaid Cymru of setting loose “internet trolls” to launch character assassinations, and Jonathan Edwards MP (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) of a personal campaign of intimidation targeting an individual protesting against the changes. There's now a case to stop proceedings  and (re)launch an “independent” public consultation.

Rhun ap Iowerth AM was quick to point out that Jonathan Edwards had never named an individual protester or led a "personal campaign of intimidation". What he had done was to write to Jeremy Corbyn drawing his attention to the activities of some Labour Party members and activists in Llanelli and Llangennech, their collusion with UKIP and other extremists, and what he termed the "nasty, divisive campaign" being orchestrated by the Llanelli Labour Party.

Jonathan Edwards' letter (here) was immediately followed by an announcement from the Labour Party that it was suspending a member pending an investigation, and it named her as Michaela Beddows.

Beddows was the public face of a campaign which has run for two years. It was characterised by its increasingly shrill and aggressive tone which left many ordinary parents, school staff, governors and others feeling intimidated. There were personal attacks on a number of individuals who disagreed with the group.

For nearly all of those two years, the campaign had the field to itself. Beddows and others made extensive use of social media and was given an unquestioning, uncritical platform by the local press (the Herald was the only newspaper to express reservations) and the BBC. Last week's false reports in the Western Mail, Llanelli Star, South Wales Evening Post and Carmarthen Journal were just the latest examples of just how one-sided media coverage has been.

This blog reported on the campaign a couple of times and began to suspect the involvement of extreme elements from outside the village, but it was only when firm evidence emerged of the depths to which the group had sunk and their collaboration with UKIP and radical right-wing elements that the floodgates opened.

That the Labour Party in Llanelli was very intimately involved with the group and was aware of its activities is beyond doubt, and the behaviour of some Labour councillors, such as Kim Thomas (Llannon), deeply shocked many ordinary people.

What has happened over the last two weeks was not directed by Plaid Cymru (this blog does not take orders from anyone), but was the genuine expression of people from Llangennech and across Carmarthenshire who had finally had enough.

________________

In recent days one more story has emerged, unreported by the local press at the time, of the tactics employed by the Beddows group.

What alerted Cneifiwr were some comments on Twitter about a mysterious incident which caused Labour's Gary Jones (aka Poumista) to become very twitchy and warn a local man to "be careful what you post" as the matter had been reported to the police. It was not a threat, just a warning, he added.

A great deal was going on at the time (last week), so Cneifiwr decided to file the comments away for another day. All there was to go on was that the incident took place at a meeting of Llangennech Community Council, and that both the police and the Ombudsman for Public Services had become involved.

It turns out that the comments related to a meeting of Llangennech Community Council held on 12 September 2016, which had on its agenda the proposal to establish a Welsh-medium school in the village.

In the event, the council voted 9 to 1 in favour of the proposal.

According to reports, there were some half a dozen rowdy protesters in attendance from the so-called "dual stream group", and they called for the Plaid Cymru councillors to stand down, saying they had been on the council "for too long". Oddly, they did not call for the early retirement of any Labour councillors even though one of them has been a member for far longer than anyone else.

Not long after the meeting, one of the protesters -  Michaela Beddows, again - sent complaints about two Plaid councillors to the Ombudsman, claiming that one had pushed her, and another had laughed at her.

It seems that the police were also called in, but quickly dropped their investigation.

On 8 October, the Ombudsman wrote to the two councillors telling them that he was dismissing the complaints against them unconditionally, and he enclosed a copy of a rather scathing letter to Ms Beddows.

Gary Jones, who normally does not hesitate to contact this blog, even in the middle of the night, chose for some strange reason to contact Jac o' the North instead, asking him to tell Cneifiwr that he did not want the incident dredged up again - even though he had just brought it up on Twitter.

Gary went on to suggest to Jac that the school row had boosted Labour membership in the village. The new members included Michaela Beddows and a number of the other members of the school campaign group which, with the active support of the local Labour Party, used the sort of tactics normally associated with the extreme right.





If Gary would like to get in touch to put his side of the story, he is most welcome.


Monday, 27 February 2017

Llangennech - Gwyn Hopkins

For the last two weeks this blog has been dominated by Llangennech and the wider story of the Labour Party in Llanelli. There is considerable overlap between the two, but barring any new surprises, the Llangennech story seems to be coming to an end. The turmoil within the local Labour Party, on the other hand, still has a long way to run.

In the case of Llangennech, the blog will publish some more material dealing with the lessons learned in the hope that this may be of use to other communities and researchers.

Today Cneifiwr publishes Cllr Gwyn Hopkins' response to some of the comments on this blog, along with a copy of a letter he wrote to the Llanelli Star.

Some readers will also have seen Cllr Hopkins' letter in the latest edition of Golwg which puts Llangennech in the wider context of primary school provision in the Llanelli area. Freedom of choice has been one of the main arguments deployed by objectors, but in his letter Cllr Hopkins asks how much freedom of choice there is for parents wanting truly bilingual (i.e. Welsh-medium) education for their children in Llanelli and Llangennech.

The following map starkly illustrates how little Welsh medium primary education is available in the area.

That there is considerable demand for Welsh-medium bilingual education was brought home to me over the weekend when I had the privilege of attending a three-day non-political event for families with children in Welsh-medium primary schools. Sixty families came, mainly from Newport, Cardiff and Swansea, and they were overwhelmingly ordinary working class people who had spent a lot of their hard-earned money to be there.

The enthusiasm and determination of the parents stood in stark contrast to the negative tone we have heard from some in Llangennech and elsewhere.

Cllr Hopkins will be standing down as county councillor for Llangennech in May after many years of service to the village. It is a great pity that the row, which has at times been intensely personal, should have clouded his final couple of years in office, but he can retire in the knowledge that he did the right thing, and future generations will owe him a debt of gratitude for the stand he has taken.

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With apologies for the slightly strange mix of fonts and background colours which the software has applied, here first is Cllr Hopkins' response to comments on this blog:

Although – in retrospect - I agree that more should have been done to communicate and explain the County Council’s proposals with parents, this task was surely the responsibility of those making the decisions during 2014.  Here are the facts relating to the decisions made:
 
·         During the period May 2012 – May 2015 Carmarthenshire County Council was ruled by a Labour-led Independent/Labour Coalition. Kevin Madge (Labour) was Leader of the Council. 
·          During this period the Council’s ten – member Executive Board (Cabinet) was Labour-led.  It had 5 Independent and 5 Labour members with Labour’s Kevin Madge as Chairman (who had a casting vote, if necessary).  There were no Plaid Cymru Councillors in the Cabinet.
·         Also, during this period the Cabinet member for education was Labour Cllr. Keith Davies (who died in August 2015).
·         The Welsh Labour Government’s Standards & Organisation Wales Act (enacted on 4/3/2013) instructed Local Education Authorities to prepare a Welsh in Education Strategic Policy (WESP) to expand Welsh medium education by creating more Welsh medium schools.  This statutory policy was duly prepared and contained the directive “to convert 3 dual stream schools into Welsh medium schools by 2016”.
·         The WESP was approved unanimously by the Cabinet (not the Council) on 28/7/2014.  The choice of schools was – almost certainly – recommended by Cllr Keith Davies but was undoubtedly endorsed by the Cabinet.  The County has only 12 dual stream schools in the age range 4 – 11 to choose from, in any event.
 
Thus, subject to final endorsement by the County Council on 18/1/2017, the decisions relating to creating a Welsh medium primary school in Llangennech were recommended by the Labour Cabinet member for education and made by the Labour-led Cabinet – not by Llangennech’s two Plaid Cymru County Councillors who played no real part in the decision making process until 18 January.  The Cabinet, and Keith Davies in particular, should then have made arrangements for Cabinet members (Keith himself included), to meet with parents to explain the rationale of the decisions that they themselves had made (with appropriate LEA officers in support).

The allegation the Cllr Gwyn Hopkins refused to meet with parents is untrue.  He was never contacted by any parents to meet them about this issue.  Moreover, it is up to the individuals responsible for making policy decisions to explain and justify them, not people who played no part in the process.

The County Council received over 1400 submissions supporting and opposing the County Council’s proposals. There were 720 submissions against – 18 e-mails and 702 in the form of prompted, pro-forma letters (not much more elaborate than a petition).  The objectors organized a door knocking campaign to “persuade” inhabitants to oppose the proposals (not infrequently “helping” them to complete the forms) both within and outside Llangennech ward.  Even the door of Robert Sully, the former County Council Director of Education, was knocked and he lives in Llys y Pinwydd in Pemberton ward. There were also reports that they were knocking doors in Llanelli, 3 miles from the ward.  As far as being a valid, scientific and reliable statistical exercise this falls down heavily at the very first validity hurdle because the individuals collecting the data were very far indeed from being unbiased on the issue.  As such, the operation was a complete farce, totally unreliable and, therefore, impossible to take seriously.    

On the contrary, there were 698 submissions in favour – 119 e-mails and 579 letters.  The supporters did not organize a door knocking campaign to obtain any of these and very few of the letters were in the form of a template.  The vast majority are submissions written by individuals independently although, admittedly (as was the case with the objecting submissions), some are from individuals not living in Llangennech ward.  There is no doubt whatever that these are of much more value than the 720 proformas.
Gwyn

________________ 

Set out below is a copy of Cllr Hopkins' recent letter to the Editor of the Llanelli Star:

Dear Editor,


Nigel Hughes accuses me of “spewing fake news” (letters 24 February).  Any alleged “fake news” that I have ever articulated pales into total insignificance compared to his outrageously absurd lie about me, with respect to the proposals to merge Llangennech Junior and Infants schools.  He writes: “proposals which he (that’s me) had devised”.  A solicitor relative of mine is of the view that this claim is so mendacious that I would be justified in suing its author.  I am considering it.  In any event, I challenge Mr Hughes to produce a shred of evidence to substantiate this incredibly stupid and ridiculous assertion.   Indeed, it puts even Donald Trump’s “post truths” and “alternative truths” completely in the shade.

However, I have to say that if I had in fact devised the Welsh Labour Government and Labour-led County Council policy of expanding Welsh medium education that occurred during 2013 – 15, I would be absolutely delighted to admit it.  In fact I would not stop boasting about it.  Alas, as a backbench member of the Council’s opposition group, it was not to be!

As someone who has taught Statistics to degree level for a number of years, I assess Mr Hughes’ method of deducing that 95% of the people of Llangennech are against the County Council’s proposals as absolutely ludicrous.  His pathetic process would fail the most elementary of statistical validity, objectivity, scientific, reliability and legitimacy tests. 

On January 18th the County Council voted 38 – 20 in favour of establishing a Welsh medium primary school in Llangennech as from 1 September 2017.  That would be described as a comfortable victory if it was the final score of a rugby match.  The issue is, therefore, over and done with - bar the shouting.  However, Mr Hughes and other protesters are intent on doing a lot of pointless shouting.  Moving on to consider other important matters would seem to be much more sensible and likely to be a lot more productive.