Monday, 20 May 2013
No more Mr Nice Guy
Anyone interested can now view footage of last week's Annual General Meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council online. As predicted, the first part of this annual pageant was extremely dull, but things perked up somewhat after the two hour municipal buffet when Peter Hughes Griffiths, leader of the Plaid group on the council and leader of the opposition, got stuck into Kevin Madge's self-congratulatory leader's report.
The speech begins 1 hour 39 minutes into the archive here. The simultaneous translation does not do justice to the flow of his delivery, so if you can understand Welsh, click on Cymraeg at the top right hand corner of the screen.
Peter Hughes Griffiths has been consistent in wanting to run a responsible and constructive opposition, and that is one of the themes of his speech. He goes on to deplore the spin which has become such a dominant feature of this council; the neglect of the county's smaller towns and villages in favour of major developments in Llanelli; the gulf which separates the council's claims that it listens and consults with communities from the reality; the shabby way in which the county council has tried to shuffle the blame for local cuts onto community councils; and the concealment of criticism contained in reports from the Public Ombudsman. He highlights the way in which this Labour-led council has refused to back calls for a living wage to be paid to the lowest paid council employees; and the hypocrisy and dishonesty of Labour's propaganda about European regional funding (applauding it in the press while voting to cut it).
These are fair and legitimate criticisms, but the response by Pam Palmer (leader of the Independents) which follows shows that there is not a cat in hell's chance of any of this being taken on board.
Responsible and constructive opposition has meant giving the ruling coalition the benefit of the doubt and swallowing plans and proposals when there is often room for very considerable doubt. There have been many changes to the council's constitution and standing orders which have had the effect of undermining the rights of opposition councillors and the erosion of democratic accountability. Some of those changes have come back to bite the Plaid group, and they could well come back to haunt Labour when it finds itself out of power.
It has meant backing schemes which may well add further burdens on the tax payer when the usual "won't cost you a penny" promises turn out to have been wishful nonsense from the start.
The relationship between Plaid and the council has become one in which one side does a lot of giving, while the other does all the taking. Apparently conciliatory gestures and concessions such as the setting up of a committee to look at why the Welsh language has lost so much ground are nothing of the kind. Everybody else, including the Language Commissioner and the Welsh Government, was shocked by the census results in Carmarthenshire, and for the council to do absolutely nothing was not an option. The acid test will be what happens when the committee reports, and nobody who cares about the language should be under any illusions about what to expect from the council's leadership.
Peter Hughes Griffiths has also repeatedly called for a broad-based council administration which would make use of the pool of talent and experience which exists among the elected councillors. That is the very opposite of a tribal, partisan approach, and needless to say it has been ignored.
There are still four years to go before the next council elections, and the Plaid group on the council must wonder what it has achieved by being the nice guys. It certainly did not help any of the councillors who tried to raise questions of real public concern during the last year, only to find themselves caught up in a mesh of often spurious procedural rulings.
It is possible to be a responsible and constructive opposition without giving legitimacy to the cynical and second rate administration which currently rules the roost.
Time for the gloves to come off, beginning with withdrawal from the shadowy backroom fixing that goes on in the "Business Management Group".
Posted by Cneifiwr at 14:03