Thursday, 14 May 2015

A bonfire of the Vanities?

Carmarthenshire council is in upheaval. On Monday evening [11th May] the ruling Labour Group toppled its own leader, Cllr Kevin Madge. Kevin, by all accounts a basically decent bloke, had consistently failed to stand up to senior Independent Councillors and Senior Officers and may have been quite a liability on the doorstep in the general election and rumoured to have been sent home to lie low rather than campaign with the Labour Candidates.

 The new Labour leader, Jeff Edmunds, is a much more plain speaking and formidable character, notably with form for actually standing up to Carmarthenshire County's Chief Executive, Mark James, on one or two occasions. From personal experience I can tell you that this is not a profitable move career-wise, and may well be indicative of that most crippling of defects a Carmarthenshire County Councillor can posses: a conscience.

Jeff also has a habit of exhibiting honesty and transparency. His current post is executive board member for finance. He is incicdentallly, also a distant cousin of mine, my mother being a member of the same branch of the Edmunds family

After I had requested information from him on how a council asset had been sold for £850,000 with the county only receiving a quarter of the proceeds, he kindly spilled the beans on the deal. Due to the intervention of Mr James, the lion's share of a car park sale [land owned by CCC, leased by the Scarlets] was given to the Scarlets to clear some of their debts. Jeff and the officers concerned were apparently overruled and hundreds of thousands which could have bolstered council services were spent to recoup the Scarlets Rugby Region shop fitting expenses!

By Wednesday afternoon, May 13th, the new potential leader was apparently unacceptable to Labour's council coalition partners, the redoubtable Affiliated Independents. This group is a mixture of councillors who have a right wing bent and whose personal political ideologies seem to range from  "don't know" through degrees of neoliberalism to aggressive neofuedalism. They have had, up to now, impressive loyalty to each other and the Chief Executive. Some might argue this defeats the point of voting for an independent candidate over a controlled political party with an agenda and strict allegiances, but that is a post for another day. I suspect they had some serious reservations about Jeff. Honesty is a dangerous habit in Carmarthenshire and perhaps he was not trusted to cover their backs?

Perhaps that is unkind. I do tend to assume the worst of some of my right honourable colleagues, (with good reason, as many residents of the county they have been inflicted upon would likely agree) but they are surely not always driven by corruption or self-centredness. Perhaps this particular decision was based more on mere pettiness or even a genuine mass conversion to the Nationalist cause.

In any case, it seems a deal was done for Plaid Cymru's group leader, Emlyn Dole, to lead the council in coalition with the Affiliated Independents. Plaid have 29 councillors, the AI, 21. I have no idea why or how but the details will doubtless emerge over the next few days. Who gets the Plaid executive posts will show the direction of travel. Politically this group of Plaid Councillors has views spread out from the political centre left to centre right and from primarily culturalist to reasonably inclusive.

All will be revealed soon. If you live in Carmarthenshire I recommend stocking up on aspirin.

Sian Caiach

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