Saturday, 18 February 2017

Llanelli Ice Cream Wars

At last, a blogpost about something other than Llangennech Labour.

When historians sit down to analyse the turbulent times we live in at some point in the future, one phenomenon which will probably puzzle them as much as it does us is why the explosive growth in Labour Party membership numbers has been accompanied by a massive slump in the party's electoral fortunes.

Unlike us, historians will know whether or not the decline we are now witnessing really was terminal.

If you are reading this, future historians of Wales, you may also want to examine why in some places the influx of new members with all their hopes for change actually achieved the reverse, with the gnarled and rotten old guard strengthening its grip on the party.

Llanelli is a case in point. The same old faces are increasing their grip on the party, intimidation and bullying are rife, and just two families and their friends dominate the show in a town with a population of around 50,000.

Power grab

This week saw a small coup d'etat on Llanelli Rural Council. No dead and not many injured, but the Labour Party's reputation was shot to pieces as 75 year-old Tegwen Devichand seized control.

By all accounts, the meeting was extremely heated, with Cllr Sharen Davies, Devichand's daughter, once again in the thick of it, heckling and shouting down her opponents. Several councillors left early, citing intimidation and personal abuse, with Sharen Davies accusing one councillor of corruption.

Cneifiwr understands that formal complaints have been made about the conduct of some of the Labour councillors, and that the legality of the motion which triggered the change of control is being challenged.

In a separate move, Cneifiwr understands that Labour Party HQ is conducting an investigation into other allegations made against Cllrs Devichand and Davies in particular.

The following account is based on a summary provided by Cllr Martin Davies, the Plaid leader on Llanelli Rural Council, and a similar explanation appears in this week's Herald.


To explain what has happened, we need to go back to December 2012 when two defections from Labour to Independent (Cllrs. Akhtar and Bowen) meant that the Plaid/Independent coalition had the numbers to take  control of the council. Plaid and the Independents could have done this in January 2013, but to save on costs, disruption and extra work for staff, and after a request from Councillor Bill Thomas (Labour), the then leader of council, to 'leave things as they were', the opposition parties waited until the new council year in May 2013.

[Cllr Thomas is no longer a member of the council. Correction: He is. Ed]

Committees are established at the AGM in May, and since 2008, save for two exceptions (the death of Cllr Edwards, and a clash of interests by Cllr Cundy) they stay and have stayed unchanged throughout the council year. If the leader changes, it has repercussions for the entire membership of all committees. A number of changes will now be required and this of course will lead to more administrative work. 
From the council's point of view this week's power grab by Cllr Devichand is entirely pointless; it will have to be ratified at the next monthly meeting in March, and then changes will have to be made to the committees. Such changes will have to be put on the agenda of (presumably) the March meeting. Of course, election purdah kicks in on March 28, therefore being leader of council is of no benefit except as a political weapon, in time for this year's elections.
A former Plaid councillor, Cllr Stephen Donoghue, 'crossed the floor' to Labour in November, giving Labour the numbers it needed, and it could have tabled this motion some time ago. Just recently Cllr Devichand was very critical of a WAG bid to change the council's name, citing it to be a waste of money. But it appears that wasting scarce Rural Council money on unnecessary changes is OK.
The effect of Cllr Devichand's manoeuvre, therefore, is to put her in charge of the council with just six weeks to go before its goes into election mode, with a lot of time and resources now having to be spent on changing the council's administration.

In something of an understatement, Cllr Martin Davies added, "It concerns me that events like those witnessed this evening risk bringing the Rural Council into disrepute."


Explaining her actions to the Herald, Cllr Devichand justifies this abrupt change of control so close to an election by arguing at some length that she and her Labour colleagues felt obliged to move because attendance at council meetings had been so low.* Stretching credibility to snapping point, she also claims that she had no wish to become leader, but did so at the urging of her fanbase.

[*Although she did not say so, she was referring to the Independents. Ed]

If you believe that, you'll believe anything.

Countering that argument, Cllr Giles Morgan (Independent) told the newspaper that the main reason why the Independents' attendance figures were poor was because of intimidation and bullying, principally by Cllrs Devichand and Davies.

As readers of this blog will recall, one particular incident involving Cllrs Devichand and Bowen ended up with the Public Services Ombudsman, with allegations of pushing, shoving, foul language, punches and slaps being traded.
Fozia and Shahana

Readers may also recall that Fozia Akhtar dramatically resigned from the Labour Party in 2013, accusing Tegwen Devichand and her daughter Sharen Davies of bullying.

It is now clear that there has been an equally dramatic reconciliation between these formerly warring parties.

According to local sources, Fozia's large extended family signed up en masse to Labour, and ward party politics being what they are, that gave them sufficient clout to call the shots in Llwynhendy where Sharen Davies is a county councillor.

The Gucci handbags and knuckle dusters were put aside and a deal struck. The Devichand clan and friends would support Fozia's candidacy in Llwynhendy, in return for Fozia's clan's support for Sharen.

In addition, it was agreed that both clans would support installing Fozia's sister, Shahana Najmi, as candidate for the county council in Lliedi alongside young Rob James who has moved down from Neath and is very keen to reboot his so far unsuccessful political career.
Rob's arrival in Lliedi and the parachuting in of Shahana meant that "sadly", the two incumbent councillors, Bill Thomas and Jan Williams had to be put out to grass. 

According to recent reports, Bill Thomas may yet throw his hat into the ring in the May elections as an unaffiliated independent.


Shahana Najmi is a serving councillor on Llanelli Town Council and a former mayor.

One of her claims to fame was that she ran the John Street Post Office in Llanelli, a business venture which came to an abrupt end amid a swirl of rumours, with Shahana herself being locked out of the building minus her very smart handbag and mobile phone.

The post office was run by a company called Starnine Ltd, with Shahana Najmi being the sole remaining director when the company went bust and the receivers were brought in at the end of 2013.

Her time as mayor of Llanelli was also not without controversy, and she came in for considerable criticism when she headed a Labour delegation, including herself and the deputy mayor, to Agen in France for that town's annual Prune Festival at considerable expense to Llanelli's taxpayers on, cough, vital council business.

One remarkable aspect of this trip was not just that it was a Labour-only affair, but also that a series of past Llanelli mayors, including Bill Thomas (Lab), had passed up the opportunity to sample the delights of the prune. Bill Thomas told councillors that he had been invited twice before, but had not gone. 

Times may be hard, but Shahana clearly knows a trough when she sees one.


Rob James was said to be "tamping" when he discovered that Tegwen Devichand had further extended her powerbase onto his newly adopted patch, but last week he brushed himself down and gave an extended interview with all the usual guff about standing up for his new community to the Herald.
The Herald interviewer pointed out rather unkindly that his attendance record as a councillor in Neath Port Talbot over the last five years had been the subject of some criticism. Or to put it another way, once he had bagged his seat, his enthusiasm for standing up for his voters had waned rather dramatically. For much of 2016 he clocked up a record which is almost as bad as Keri Thomas's (Labour, Tyisha), with 0% attendances on the four committees he was nominally a member of.

Ah well, he replied, being a councillor was not all about showing up to meetings. True enough, but if other councillors followed his example, local government would grind to a halt.

And anyway, he continued, he had a day job, and that had made attending to council business difficult. 

It would have been rude to ask why he had decided to stand for election in the first place.

Rob continued to brazen things out by telling the newspaper that his attendance record in Neath Port Talbot  had improved dramatically over the last six months (i.e. since bloggers pointed out just how bad his stats were), and were now running at 90%!

This spectacular improvement can be put down to two things: a very poor grasp of basic maths and Rob's resignation from all committee posts.

According to local sources, he was also disqualified or politely asked to resign from two school governorships in Neath after failing to turn up to any meetings at all.

The Herald interview was by and large a pretty unremarkable mix of self-justification and platitudes, but Rob James went off piste spectacularly at one point to call for a vote of no confidence in the chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council.

Remarkably, this earned him a very sharp rebuke from Paul Harries, another Labour candidate who is standing in Swiss Valley.

In a letter to the Herald, Harries pointed out that reckless statements like this could end up costing the taxpayer huge amounts of money because if it ever comes to the point where the council attempts to free itself of its Head of Paid Service, the highly litigious Mr James would be able to point to Rob James's interview and claim unfair dismissal.

With three months to go, Labour's election campaign is already proving to be comedy gold.



Anonymous said...

Who needs soaps on t.v ?
It is beyond belief until you read the proof !
Poor old Or should i say new labour ?
Re Shahana . Is she still a Llanelli magistrate ? Or has that gone to shade ? She is a landlady i know because the mysterious brother rents out her house next door to her . Vague memories of him in school and a restaraunt years ago in west end that ended abruptly . Now just a walk about around 1am through the sites of llwynhendy !

Jac o' the North, said...

There's something almost classical in the decline of 'Welsh' Labour; the loss of vitality and authority opens up opportunities for crooks and bigots, opportunists and bullies, while those who cling to the old values are increasingly marginalised, and powerless to halt the inevitable collapse.

God! it's wonderful to watch!

Anonymous said...

Y Cyneifiwr - another great 'scoop' with this post on the Llanelli Ice Cream Wars.

The blood-letting, intrigues and ruthless power struggle happening within the local Labour Party in Llanelli reads like a storyline from a Mafia film.

If I was a Labour member in Llanelli, I wouldn't be accepting an invitation to a branch meeting on St Valentine's Day!

Stan said...

"If you are reading this, future historians of Wales, you may also want to examine why in some places the influx of new members with all their hopes for change actually achieved the reverse, with the gnarled and rotten old guard strengthening its grip on the party".

A very interesting statement indeed, Cyneifiwr. I'm not privy to how much of this Corbyn support has infiltrated the Labour wards in NPT but we are now up to surely more than 50% of existing Labour councillors either deselected or standing down. Yet I see no evidence that the purge has been instigated or carried out by a Momentum led influx. In fact some of the very councillors who signed national letters that were highly critical of Corbyn have seemingly sailed through their re-selection processes. And I am hearing that the initial interview of councillors (certainly in Port Talbot) prior to them enduring the re-selection/de-selection process was undertaken by precisely that gnarled and rotten old guard you referred to.

Great blogging again, by the way.

Anonymous said...

This blog of fiction,I'm sure you could win an award for the created lies of drama. by far this to me is a blogger who seeks fame made of lies hoping for the victims to respond,
Thank you I now actually have more respect for all mentioned.

.blogging!! change it to jelously!!

Anonymous said...

anon. 03.37
sounds uncannily like the perfect grammar/syntax used by Ms Akhtar!

Anonymous said...

I love this blogger , , he or she represent's the people of Llanelli & show's the Truth on their blog .
Thank You Blogger for your wonderful page & for all your support , keep up the good work !