Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Friday 18 April 2008

Welsh ex-Councillor unwilling to stay weaned off public 'teat'

I thought this was some kind of April Fool's joke when I first read it, but it seems that eight local authorities in Wales took part in a Welsh Assembly Government scheme in 2004 to try and persuade (aka 'bribe') long-serving councillors not to stand at elections again, as a way of bringing in 'fresh blood' and 'fresh thinking'; payments of between £16,000 and £20,000 were made to Councillrs who applied for grants under the scheme. One of those who applied and received money was a Carmarthernshire councillor called Eunydd Thomas.

However now Mr Thomas has decided to stand for election again, citing pressure on him by his supporters who wanted him to. Amazingly a Welsh Assembly Government spokesman is quoted as saying:

"The assembly government made it clear when it launched the Past Service Award Scheme that only councillors retiring at the 2004 elections, and who had no intention of seeking public office at this level again, should apply for an award.

"However, for legal reasons it was not possible to include in the regulations a provision which would prevent a recipient of an award from standing in a future election."

What that last sentence states, in terms, is that the Welsh Assembly Government embarked on a scheme to use public funds to achieve an objective (itself of dubious merit, in my view) in the knowledge that it did not have to legal power to enforce the terms of the scheme. Instead the scheme was to rely on the honesty and integrity of those applying for pay-outs under the scheme. I ask you! We're talking about 'politicians' here, even if they are of the relatively-lowly status of councillors! One might think that such people are, as a category, more honororable than people who stand for higher levels of government, being mostly amateurs known personally to many of the people who elect them. However, the truth is that they are just fallible human beings like the rest of us.

The real problem with this whole scheme is that it was ever dreamed up in the first place. The only criterion that matters about who should sit as a councillor, MP, MSP, AM, etc, is for the electorate to be able to choose from amongst those who wish to stand for election. I fail to see how it is within the remit of the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG), or any other government, to try and 'pre-select' those who should stand, based on some notion of bringing in 'new blood' or fresh thinking'! I can certainly understand that the WAG's (in the circumstances a curiously apt abbreviation!) legal advisors advised it of the difficulty of barring persons who accepted pay-outs under the scheme - after all, they are not criminals or prisoners or otherwise barred from standing for election and any attempt to enforce such a ban would undoubtedly contravene the Human Rights Act. However, if this bizarre scheme was decided upon, I don't see why a clause could not have been added to the rules to provide that anyone who took a payment, but who then subsequently stood for a similar elected position, would have to pay the money back, possibly plus interest. No-one's legal rights to either be elected or to elect whom they choose would be affected, but the public purse would have been protected from being squandered ineffectively.

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