Thursday 29 December 2016

The Marriage from Hell

When poor old Kevin Madge was unceremoniously mown down as leader of the Labour group and Leader of the Council on Carmarthenshire County Council just after the 2015 general election, the pathologist's report showed that he had been stabbed several times in the front with blades made in Llanelli, while buried in his back were a collection of hat pins and sharpened knitting needles marked "Property of  Abergwili WI".

What did for him was probably a lethal combination of factional scheming and the much delayed realisation on the Labour benches that Kev had spent so long in the company of Pam and Meryl that his tattered old red flag had long since turned a dull shade of grey. Whether he was up to the job is unlikely to have entered the equation.

The Independents may not be the brightest lamp posts in the street, but they have always had a grim determination to keep their gnarled old fingers on the levers of power. And so it was that Pam Palmer sold the keys to the municipal limo for a very high price: half the seats (and "senior salaries") on the Executive Board, a Deputy Leader's salary for Pam and a stranglehold on the Council Leader.

What Pam and the Independents got was significantly out of proportion to their numbers. If board seats were allotted on the basis of votes actually cast in council elections, the Independents would have three, or at most a generous four, out of the 10 seats available. Not bad going for a party which does not even bother publishing a manifesto to tell voters what it stands for and is a completely talent-free zone.

And so it came to pass that Emlyn Dole closed his eyes and thought of Sir Gâr as he consummated his marriage to Morticia Palmer, in return for support from her and her political Addams Family of assorted mad aunts, Uncle Festers, Things, Itts, Lurches and an ageing Puggsley (Giles Morgan).

Quite what the marriage contract says remains a secret, but it would be reasonable to assume that in return for that very generous settlement, Emlyn Dole could at least rely on Pam to provide votes to make sure that key coalition and council policies are delivered. Even if, as we saw in the previous post, Pam is not always sure quite what it is she is voting for.

Apart from the hideous, toe-curling moments whenever she gets up to speak, Pam had at least delivered the votes until last week when she and Jane Tremlett (Ind., Laugharne) abstained in a vote at the final meeting of the Executive Board for 2016 on 22 December.

This is highly unusual if not unique in the recent history of Carmarthenshire County Council where pre-meeting meetings are held to iron out any differences so that the public and press can be treated to a show of choreographed unanimity as the municipal rubber stamp is applied.

There would almost certainly have been a hat-trick of Independent abstentions if Meryl Gravell had turned up, but as so often she was detained on business more urgent than carrying out the job for which she is handsomely paid. Shopping at Leekes, perhaps.

The main item up for consideration on 22 December was a consultation on the future status of the primary school in Llangennech, and a decision whether to recommend plans to phase out the current dual stream set-up in favour of what will technically be a new Welsh-medium school.

Just as with previous council meetings, a hard core group of objectors turned out, having tabled a series of questions for Gareth Jones, the member responsible for education. The same old questions, reheated and rejigged from the same objectors, and Cllr Jones politely and patiently jumped through the same hoops as before. He even managed a smile.

Unless you had read the consultation reports and spoken to other parents who live in Llangennech, it would be easy to imagine that the group which attended last Thursday's meeting represent the prevailing mood in the village. That is emphatically not the case.

The objectors long ago dug themselves in with deeply entrenched views that no amount of reason will shift, and their cause has attracted the usual extremists.

Part of the problem is the legacy of misleading terminology and past fudges which Carmarthenshire shares with other local authorities. The misunderstandings run so deep that meaningful dialogue is impossible. Dual stream schools were always a fudge, and they do not produce bilingual children or deliver a bilingual education.

But post-factual politics are as alive and virulent in Llangennech as everywhere else. As Michael Gove almost asked this year, who needs experts when you've got Pam Palmer on hand?

None of this was in the slightest bit unexpected, but no sooner had the objectors had their say than up popped Cllrs Pam Palmer (Ind., Abergwili) and Jane Tremlett (Ind., Laugharne) to praise the objectors and then abstain in the vote.

The remaining Independent pair (Jim Jones and Mair Stephens) both voted with their Plaid coalition partners, although given that Mair Stephens is the council's "Welsh Language Champion", anything other than a vote in favour would have looked very odd indeed.

With seven votes in favour, two abstentions and no votes against, the recommendation will now go before the full council on 18 January. What will happen there is anybody's guess because both the Labour and the Independent groups are deeply divided when it comes to the language. If councillors are given a free vote, the proposals will almost certainly pass.

Back in 2014, and in common with all other councillors bar one, the current leadership of both groups (Pam Palmer for the Independents, and Jeff Edmunds for Labour) voted for a package of measures which included a commitment to moving all of the county's primary schools along the so-called language continuum, and Llangennech is the first school to move.

That there should be opposition is no surprise. Over the county border in Cardigan there were very vocal protests when Ceredigion County Council proposed phasing out the English stream in the town's primary. The change went through, the clamour subsided and none of the objectors' fears or dire predictions were realised.

The difference between Cardigan and Llangennech would seem to be only that local government elections are approaching, and Pam, Jeff and their supporters have decided that there are votes in turning the language into a political football.

Last Thursday's debacle should now prompt Emlyn Dole to consider the future of his deputy and one other board member who refuse to support a key council policy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In fairness it was labour/inde who first came about pushing the welsh medium schools from labour in wag . Personally i disagree with it . Reason 1 not all families want welsh . 2 some children are put on "regusters" as they cannot cope with being taught in welsh due to it NOT being the Welsh used at home . The childs confidence is then knocked down . 3 how much is it going to cost to change the schools /books etc over to welsh and are oarents going to be paying more out of their pockets on this "living" wage that doesnt even feed families . 4 the effect on other schools already at their fullest in nearby wards will put more preasure on staff where there is already reduncies. 5 the future child/ren will most definately suffer . It should be freedom of choice 5 how many hildren have been removed from welsh schools due to difficulries with grammar ?. What happened to normal Welsh lessons in schools ? Languages should be a choice .