Both Labour and the Independents have been in power for far too long in County Hall, and the choice before Plaid was far from ideal. But politics in a democratic society is all about compromise, and Emlyn Dole has shown that he is not an exponent of tribal politics.
As Anon commenting on the previous post pointed out, Emlyn is his own man, and the Plaid group on the council has always guarded its independence. The idea that he had to seek permission from Leanne Wood or anybody else can safely be ruled out.
How much freedom of manoeuvre Plaid will have now that it is leading the council is another matter.
With the fate of the Liberal Democrats fresh in everybody's minds, Emlyn and his colleagues would do well to remember that being perceived, fairly or otherwise, to have compromised your principles too far can produce very harsh results at the ballot box.
A coalition with Labour would have been better for two reasons, but it is interesting to note Cllr Lenny's comment on the previous post. Labour broght nothing to the negotiation, it seems.
First, apart from Meryl Gravell and to a lesser extent Pam Palmer, the Independent benches are a talent-free zone, and Meryl and Pam are the sort of talent Carmarthenshire could do without. The Labour group does have some capable players who could have helped raise the level of the game, but that was not to be.
Second, there was much more likelihood that Plaid in coalition with Labour would have been in a position to deal with the problem of an over mighty chief executive.
The Independents have retained their five seats on the Executive Board, even though four would have been a better reflection of their actual numbers in the council. They clearly demanded and received a high price for their support, and keeping Mark James may well be part of the package. Time will tell.
In the longer term the best thing for local government in Carmarthenshire would be a heavy defeat at the polls for the Independents. Whether that would be more likely to happen with the Independents out of power is anybody's guess, but Carmarthenshire's Independents are in reality not much more than a vehicle for ensuring that Meryl Gravell and Pam Palmer keep their hands on the levers of power. Without seats on the Executive Board and the patronage which goes with it, Pam and Meryl would have lost their raison d'être.
For Labour this is an opportunity to recharge the batteries and decide what sort of party they want to be. Let's hope for their sake that Plaid insists on rolling back the undemocratic and authoritarian changes to the constitution implemented by Labour in coalition with the Independents which make it so hard for any opposition to make its voice heard and hold the Executive to account.
We will find out in due course what the new coalition will look like and what its priorities are, but it will have to deal with huge spending cuts, and the likelihood that there is much worse to come.
That's the bad stuff, but what sort of things might we see from a Plaid-led council?
In no particular order, here is a shopping list.
- Securing the earliest possible departure of Mark James without a massive pay-off.
- Start actually building social housing rather than just talking about it.
- Go for a big increase in the numbers of affordable homes being built and insist that developers stick to the quotas they sign up to as well as the terms of Section 106 agreements. If that means fewer housing developments for which there is no local need, so much the better.
- Tackle the festering sore of planning. Fresh blood is needed, and action is needed to root out one or two rotten apples who are much too close to some of the developers.
- Crucially, the council needs to restore the independence and integrity of the planning department and stop treating it like an arm of the executive to push through pet projects.
- The press office needs to be cut down to size, and the awful Carmarthenshire News scrapped, along with the 'Newsroom' which is not only p*** poor, but also a shocking waste of money.
- Later this month, the council will finally publish the results of its review of the WLGA governance peer review. All the indications are that the result will be a very watered down version of the WLGA recommendations. This must not be the final word on making the council more open and accountable, and much more work needs to be done to encourage public questions and participation.
- The council is notoriously averse to criticism and defensive. This has led to several serious failures to protect whistleblowers doing their civic duty to bring abuses to light. One way of doing this might be to create a whstleblowers' champion who reports not to the chief executive or other senior officers but to an independent lay member.
- Just as with the WLGA recommendations, the council has been dragging its feet and watering down the recommendations made last year on the Welsh language. The council has a hugely important part to play here, and the policy must be pursued with new vigour. Start by making Cefin Campbell chair of the cross-party advisory panel and get to work on making Welsh the working language of successively more parts of the administration to create career opportunities for young Welsh speakers.
- Insist that all new appointments have to be bilingual. The argument that you can only recruit the best if you import monoglot English speakers is nonsense - just look at what that policy has brought us.
- There is growing evidence that the council's Modernising Education Programme has concentrated on bricks and mortar at the expense of what goes on in schools. Carmarthenshire has for some time performed significantly less well than most neighbouring authorities. This decline must be reversed.
- And finally, the council has a key role to play in protecting employment rights. There is growing pressure on all councils to outsource social care, and all too often the result is substandard care and exploitation of low paid care workers. The council needs to establish effective monitoring to ensure that all of its "partners", in social care and other fields, sign up to and adhere to the council's own policies on pay, equality and the language.
Emlyn Dole is a highly intelligent and thoughtful man, and will certainly be a refreshing change from what has gone before. He made it clear in his interview with the BBC yesterday that he wants to make a difference, and he deserves to be given a chance.
Chwarae teg a phob lwc iddo fe. Fair play and good luck to him.