Tuesday, 13 December 2016

FMQs: On Strike

The final First Ministers Questions of 2016 takes place this afternoon, but you won't be getting anything from me.

As most readers know, there was a diplomatic attempt by two backbench Plaid Cymru councillors – Cllr. Alun Lenny (Plaid, Carmarthen Town) and Cllr. Cefin Campbell (Plaid, Llanfihangel Aberbythych) – to hold a debate in Carmarthenshire Council on the (seemingly inevitable) forced sale of Jacqui Thompson's home.

Their motion called for a remedy that wouldn't result in homelessness whilst still accepting the libel judgement. It probably would've dissatisfied both sides, but that's often what the best compromises are.

The motion was rejected (Y Cnefiwr, Carmarthen Planning , Cllr. Sian Caiach) by the the Council's legal officer, Linda Rees-Jones, on behalf of the Chair of the Council, Cllr. Eryl Morgan (Lab, Bigyn). The legal officer believes it could be considered contempt of court and interferes in the Council-backed, publicly-funded "private business" of the Chief Executive. As there was no mention of disobeying the court order or obstructing anything, and the legal process is near enough complete, that sounds like bollocks to me.

It's worth giving this a bump.

You're right to ask yourselves, "What has any of that got to do with the Assembly?"

Throughout this whole saga, our sitting Assembly Members
have gone AWOL - Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr) aside, who's been working behind the scenes and it sounds like he's part of the reason the motion was tabled.

Where were the other AMs representing Carmarthenshire and Mid & West Wales (of all colours)? Where were the local government spokespeople and ministers? They can't plead ignorance because it's been reported in the local and mainstream media on several occasions.

AMs and the Welsh Government could say this is was a private legal matter or a local government matter and nothing to do with them – but it wasn't.
It became their business the moment public money became involved and AMs have had plenty to say on issues that have a judicial element in the past. This is abuse of executive authority under their own noses.

Carmarthenshire Council have acted contrary to regulations and orders the Assembly and Welsh Government passed.

Carmarthenshire have thumbed their nose at the Wales Audit Office – behaviour that would be considered completely unacceptable in England or Scotland. The Assembly's Public Accounts Committee have done nothing despite the number of allegations against the council down the years piling up.

The Welsh Government have intervened in local government before (Anglesey). There were once calls for Carmarthenshire to be placed into special measures, calls which fell silent the moment Plaid Cymru went into ruling coalition with Independents.

What's happening in Carmarthenshire - an almost unique situation in the UK, not only Wales - is setting a dangerous precedent for the rest of the country by pushing the boundaries of what's acceptable behaviour by a Chief Executive. It's creating unelected positions with very broad-ranging powers and the ability to control and stem the flow of scrutiny and accountability - an 18th Century rotten borough backed by a 21st Century bureaucracy.

AMs brushed aside a petition submitted to help prevent this in the future, or at very least lead to a discussion.

I'm not saying Jacqui's all sweetness and light, but she's been handed a disproportionate punishment, which even the judge was "reluctant" to pass but had little choice over. Judges have a reputation for couching criticism in softer language than that, so it was pretty condemnatory on its own.

It should appal democrats everywhere, but while AMs (those mentioned aside) as a group have had a lot to say on many things, on this they've sat back and said and done nothing. Nothing.

It's the sort of thing I'd expect from Labour as an establishment party more interested in power than people, while the Tories and UKIP are hardly on the side of ordinary folk. When it comes to Plaid - a party that's supposed to stand for social justice and be "different" from the others - I'm not angry, just feeling a sense of disappointment tinged with sadness. 😞

Without a shred of irony, Plaid Cymru intend to hold a debate on homelessness and eviction in the Senedd tomorrow. Regardless of the importance of that issue, considering what's being pursued on their party's behalf in Carmarthenshire it's one of the reasons I decided to do this today.

AMs, councillors and ordinary party members will try and distance themselves from it, but when the removal vans and/or bailiffs make a move they're going to have "Plaid Cymru" and "Labour" proverbially stamped all over them underneath Meryl Gravell's rictus grin.

Neither the Assembly or Welsh Government can ride to the rescue and make everything OK - mainly because they've left it too late - but they could've at least shown they actually give a toss. Perhaps that could've made a difference.

As the "
democratically elected body that represents the interests of Wales and its people" haven't lifted a finger, I've decided to do the same by "going on strike" (tongue-in-cheek) and not writing up this week's FMQs in protest. The section currently averages 1,500-2,000 readers a week, 85% of whom live in Wales. So that coverage is valued to an extent.

As someone who takes pride in what they do (from a sense of duty to those of you who read this), and having hopefully become reliable over the years, it's not a decision I take lightly however small a gesture it may be.

It won't make any difference but if it only makes a few extra people look again at the Wild West it'll do its job.

If things in Carmarthenshire do take an uglier turn, Carmarthenshire Council will get most of the flak, but everyone will be right to ask why the Assembly and Welsh Government didn't do anything when they had the chance. I don't think I'll be the only person waiting to go to town on them.


Post a Comment