Thursday 28 February 2013

Women and the Council

Next week Cneifiwr will be off to see Dyled Eileen in Crymych. The play tells the story of Eileen and Trefor Beasley who fought what was then Llanelli Rural District Council for eight years for the right to receive a rates bill in Welsh. As Eileen pointed out when she was interviewed by the BBC a few years ago, almost all of the council's staff and officers could speak Welsh at the time (something which is rather less true today), so why did they insist on sending out rates demands in English to Welsh speaking households such as the Beasleys?

The council sent bailiffs to the Beasleys' home on some ten occasions, and the house was gradually stripped bare. The council took a piano, a dining table, a carpet, a bookcase, a mirror and even the couple's wedding presents, even though the Beasleys had young children at the time.

Eileen, who died last year, took a stand against the intransigence and stupidity of the council and eventually won, although she and her family paid a great price for their defiance.

Roll the clock forward sixty years, and you have to wonder how much has changed.

A thought which struck Cneifiwr recently as he travelled up to London for the libel trial was how women are so often at the forefront of battles with Carmarthenshire County Council. Jacqui Thompson has taken an often lonely stand against a secretive and bullying authority, and she has also paid a heavy price. Being jeered at by councillors as she was led away in handcuffs by the police was just one episode. Shame on them.

Trisha Breckman also fought a long and hugely costly battle for justice in her planning dispute, and she was also arrested by the police and taken from her home in handcuffs at one point. At least there were no councillors around to jeer at the time.

We now know from Jacqui Thompson's trial that a senior officer of the council sent what was described as "prejudicial" material to the Chief Constable of Dyfed Powys Police before she was arrested for filming. Perhaps the same happened in the Breckman case.

At least the new Police Commissioner is taking the matter seriously and has promised to carry out an investigation.

Delyth Jenkins, whose full story has yet to come out, is another of the council's victims, and she too has been trying to get justice for years. Delyth was bullied and abused for blowing the whistle on council staff abusing the people in their care. She was shouted at by the Chief Executive for her pains, and almost all of those involved in the shameful episode are still working for the authority.

And there are others, men as well as women, who have been victimised or had their names smeared.

True, there are women on the governing Executive Board, but all have been there for years and are now fully paid-up members of the old boys' club.

When it comes to the council's senior officers, make a quick trip to a meeting of the full council, and you will see a whole raft of male officers looking down from their podium. The only exception here is the Head of Law, whose main job seems to be legal fixer for the chief executive.

Perhaps all of this is coincidence, but the culture which is on display says otherwise.

One final thought is that another ingredient in this toxic mix is evangelical Christianity. Not the mild kind of religion that most church and chapel goers subscribe to, but a creed based on the belief that the Bible is literally true, every last word, and that it is in the words of The Living Word Church in Carmarthen "infallible and inerrant" (a bit like the council).

Of course, people are free to believe whatever they like, and hallelujah for that. But if you believe that everything in the Bible is literally true, you are not far removed from people who believe that they have been abducted by aliens. Not only do you believe that Noah loaded a wooden ship with two living things of every kind and that he lived to be 950, but you will also believe that homosexuality is an abomination and that women are subservient to men.

As it happens, members of the Living Word Church were treated not so very long ago to a long sermon justifying a verse in the Bible which stipulates that wives should obey their husbands, just as slaves should obey their masters.


Anonymous said...

I agree with a lot of what you say most of the time but I think this post is a bit off course.

Bear in mind he leader of the council for quite a number of years was Meryl and we currently have Pam P as deputy leader now.

Its true that there is a shortage of women at the top in the Local Authority but that goes for other public bodies such as the Police etc. I suppose the only way round that is to have affirmative action in favour of females - having said that, the head of law is a woman which is probably one of the most high profile positions in the council.

Having read your blog for quite a long time now I think the council is probably bad enough without you hanging sexism around theire neck as well. I dont think the charge would stick.

Re the point about the commisioner examining the arrest issue - does he have power to do this ? did she complain to the IPCC was there a finding ? I think that all the police have to say is that there was a breach of the peace and that they feared a repeat to make the arrest lawful.

As regards placing her in cuffs - putting her in a cell and making her sign a document before release is despicable. Having said thatI would bet my house that the arresting officers are embarrased as hell to continually have the photo shown. The ginger one looks angry and the blonde looks bewildered !

Cneifiwr said...

Thanks for those thoughts, even if we disagree this time.

It's something that's been nagging away at me for some time, and yesterday someone commented on the Carmarthen Journal piece that there seemed to be misogyny at work. Hard to prove, I know.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Cneifiwr here and I think this slant, and particularly the evangelical thread is peculiar to Carmarthenshire Council. Women, it seems, should know their place, Meryl, Pam and the Head of Legal certainly do, those that don't are marginalised and smeared.

Anonymous said...

PC 23 Men 5 Women
Lab 15 Men 7 Women
Ind 15 Men 6 Women (one of which was elected as Labour)

No party does particularly well but Plaid's record is absolutely dismal.

Anonymous said...

Pffft, anon 17.08. That's like arguing that the Police Force doesn't suffer from institutionalized racism because there are serving black Police Officers. I can understand how it comes about that people defend the bodies in question with a wholehearted belief that the old boys club/sexism/misogyny isn't an issue.
But it IS ya’ know.
It's just so the cultural norm we get used to filtering it out, it's so soaked through as to be almost intangible but it's as real and poisonous as radioactivity.
I'm sure we've all come across an old newspaper, magazine etc and snorted incredulously at a comment or whole tone of a piece that is so gobsmackingly sexist or homophobic or racist to this day and age as to be outrageous, yet, evidently for the general public in that era it was absolutely normal, un-noteworthy, just the accepted background radiation level.
It may take three or four decades for us to see things clearly from an objective, more progressive perspective(I hope!) Snort incredulously at some of the events & reporting of this case & read it out loud in mocking tones for entertainment value.
I tell you what, It's worthwhile playing the 'middle-class, middle aged white man' game.
If Ms Thompson was say, Mr Thompson a middle class, middle aged white man.... Do you honestly think Mr Davies would have tried to physically snatch the phone from that man’s hands? As a disturbance was not being caused, would the filming would have even been reported to Mr James? Would Mr James have called for Mr Thompson’s arrest? How would it have been handled?...... How would the Police have handled the situation? If it was say, Eric Pickles sat in the public gallery filming footage of our elected representatives’ at public meeting I suspect the whole thing would have been handled veeeeery differently. It stinks, it stinks! Of old school boys conspiring to shut the little lady up & make sure she stays in her ‘place’, teach her a lesson.
And of course not without good reason, why would the council welcome awkward questions being asked? Insistence that it complies with national procedures & law? More involvement with its electorate? Greater transparency ? When they’ve got it all stitched up nicely in these parts thank you very much!!(allegedly!) Social change was always hard fought for.
Y Cneifiwr has a much broader picture of CCC that I do, obviously broad enough to pick up patterns & anomalies...So if it's flagged up that CCC is locking horns with a disproportionate number of women, then, it’s worth considering that this will be the tip of the iceberg, the VERY few with passion,time, courage, intelligence, downright righteous indignation and a great ability to articulate, that WEREN’T intimidated, didn’t see an insurmountable brick wall & back down.
So then, it surely has to be asked, how come? Why is this pattern occurring?

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @23.59 Certainly more could be done by all parties to try to attract candidates for local government who are not over-70s males. Nationally, Plaid is second to none when it comes to women - all of the key posts are held by women.

The main point I was making however relates to senior council officers. Unlike the political parties, appointments here are subject to equalities legislation. So why are there so few women in senior positions in the council? Perhaps they just don't fit into the blazered rugby management fraternity.