Wednesday 19 October 2016

The Countess and the Council

There is more than enough bad news about to keep us awake at night without worrying about flags and the flying thereof, but recent exploration by the Carmarthenshire Herald and Caebrwyn of Carmarthenshire County Council's policy on which flags should be flown from its buildings and when tells us a lot about the very peculiar and limited nature of the British version of democracy.

You can read the details for yourselves here, but in summary the council has produced an anorakish protocol setting out in mind-numbing detail rules governing the flying of flags and a procedure for dealing with requests from individuals or groups who would like the Council to fly flags for reasons other than those set out in the protocol.

No doubt, the chief executive would be able to explain what the difference is between a protocol and a policy, but it would seem that a protocol is a policy which does not need to be discussed or approved by elected councillors, and the bottom line seems to be that while anyone may submit a written request to fly a flag no less than 28 days before the appointed day, all such requests will be refused.

The justification for this blanket ban is that sending someone up on to the roofs of council buildings in Carmarthen, Llanelli and Ammanford costs money, which is true enough. But in a typically Jamesian flourish, the Herald was told, rather less truthfully, that the council had been forced to adopt this hardline approach because of the number of requests it was receiving.

Nobody, including the council, knows how many such requests were received before the protocol was written, and only two such requests have been received since then. Both of those were refused.

Appended to Mr James's protocol is a list of the days when the council is prepared to fly flags and go to the expense of sending people up on to the roofs of County Hall and the town halls in Ammanford and Llanelli.

It's pub quiz time.

Q1. Who is the Countess of Wessex?

Readers of the Daily Mail and Woman's Weekly will have no problem with that one, but I suspect that most of us would struggle to pick her out in an identity parade.

Q2. What is the connection between the Countess of Wessex and Carmarthenshire, and what has she done for this county?

 If you guessed "none" and "nothing", give yourself a pat on the back.

Q3. When is the birthday of the Countess of Wessex?

The correct answer to that one would scoop you the jackpot on Who wants to be a Millionaire?

Thanks to Wikipedia, Cneifiwr can reveal that she is married to a man who is currently ranked ninth in line to the throne. She used to work in PR and was accused in the press of using her royal connections to further her business interests. Her birthday is on 20 January, an event considered to be so important that flags are flown from County Hall in Carmarthen, as well as the town halls in Llanelli and Ammanford.

Actually, whoever has the job of running up and down all those stairs will get quite a lot of exercise to burn off those excess Christmas calories, because 9 January (birthday of the Duchess of Cambridge), 6 February (Accession to the Throne of Mrs W) and 19 February (birthday of Randy Andy) are also days on which Mr James, no doubt attended by Mrs Linda Rees Jones in a horsehair wig and the Municipal Twinset and Pearls, bearing the sacred protocol parchment, orders staff to shift their stumps and get up on to the roof.

Fourteen of the eighteen designated flag days are reserved for events in the Windsor clan's family calendar.

Birthday of the Duchess of Cambridge
9th January
Birthday of the Countess of Wessex
20th January
Her Majesty’s Accession
6th February
Birthday of the Duke of York
19th February
St David’s Day
1st March
Birthday of the Earl of Wessex
10th March
Commonwealth Day
second Monday in March
Birthday of Her Majesty the Queen
21st April
Europe Day
9th May
Coronation Day
2nd June
Birthday of the Duke of Edinburgh
10th June
Official celebration of Her Majesty’s birthday
13th June
Birthday of the Duke of Cambridge
21st June
Birthday of the Duchess of Cornwall
17th July
Birthday of the Princess Royal
15th August
Remembrance Day
second Sunday in November
Birthday of the Prince of Wales
14th November
Her Majesty’s Wedding Day
20th November
Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted that several key royal anniversaries are missing from the list, and presumably need to be added as a matter of urgency. Where is Charles' second son, Harry, little Prince George and Princess Charlotte, all of whom are higher up the pecking order than the Countess? And why is the Council not honouring Pippa Middleton, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester or Princess Michael of Kent? Why can't we celebrate the date on which Fergie and Andy received a decree absolute ending their turbulent marriage?

Anniversaries and birthdays of the Windsor clan could fill pretty much the entire calendar and save us all a few hundred quid by leaving the Union Jack flying in permanent celebration.

Perhaps we should start a campaign.

Of the four days not reserved for the Windsors, Europe Day is probably not long for this world, and if you believe the Commonwealth is a significant and meaningful force in the affairs of humankind, you probably also talk to those fairies that live at the bottom of your garden.

At the Carmarthenshire end of the food chain, we have a protocol or policy which would appear never to have been submitted to democratic scrutiny, applied in typically autocratic fashion to honour non-entities with no connection to the county, while blocking requests for recognition of groups of people who live, work and contribute to the county.

That's local democracy for you.

The next links in the democratic hierarchy, the Assembly and the "Welsh Government" in Cardiff, are not actually in the loop at all. Flag flying is so important and so sensitive that control remains in Westminster, where responsibility lies with the Orwellian sounding Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The DCMS issues guidance to local authorities on flag flying, and it is that guidance which is incorporated into Mr James's protocol.

Guidance, not Holy Writ.

So what would happen if Carmarthenshire County Council decided not to celebrate the birthday of the Countess of Wessex or other events in the Windsor family calendar and replace them with days to honour local charities and groups? Would the Lord Lieutenant roar up to County Hall in an ancient Rolls Royce with a detachment from the SAS to take control of our wayward council?

Probably not.

The worst that could happen in all likelihood is a few raised eyebrows, the rattle of teacups, some tut tutting in Establishment drawing rooms and a discreet black mark or two being entered against the names of senior council officers and councillors hoping to get an MBE, OBE or CBE.

But the real message sent out by the flag nonsense is the very limited nature of democracy in the UK with its unelected head of state, a vast and ever-expanding House of Lords and an unelected Prime Minister who would really like to bypass elected MPs and exercise the Royal Prerogative to determine our future.


Anonymous said...

Possibly because flag flying, whoever you're swearing allegiance to, is the opposite of willy waving is the reason why james decided to flex his small, but overworked, temporal muscle.

No doubt the only flag he'd be happy to fly is this one:

Anonymous said...

Often wondered why the flags are flying at county hall. About two weeks ago three flags flying at half mast at County Hall. No idea why? How does this relate to the protocol? Does CCC buy in an extra person every time the flags go up or do they ask someone who works for them to just run the flags up in the morning and then take them down in the evening at no cost.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon@9.38 In addition to the designated days, the council will also mark events such as the death of a councillor or former councillor.

I don't know how they arrive at the claim that flying flags costs money. Presumably a caretaker or someone like that does the job as part of their everyday duties, but perhaps there is a little bit of overtime involved. At any rate, it is surely peanuts.

Cadno said...

In these times of so desperately straitened public finances, surely there is an EXCITING opportunity for the Council to raise some much-needed lolly before they lose all those euro-millions they have spent on that thing that everyone likes over there or there something like that, or possibly a memorial to all those councillors who are stepping down at the next election.
I am talking of a flag-flying pay-for-play policy, where the good burghers of Carmarthenshire sit down with Marky Mark and his Funky Bunch and decide to charge for pinning pennants to the precipitous parapets of Gaol Hill. Possibly a sliding scale could be offered of 'buy one flag pole, get one free', or a cross-booking discount to include different public buildings. County Hall £500, say, the town halls in Llanelli and Ammanford £200 each - or £750 the lot - all the way down to a fiver for sticking a windsock on top of a toll booth at Pembrey.
They could make millions.

Anonymous said...

As it should be - flags at half mast today at County Hall.

Anonymous said...

Is it like elections when a fee is paid to the returning office?