Jacob Williams
Monday 17th April, 2017

‘Independent’ council candidates, take note!

‘Independent’ council candidates, take note!

As an independent member of Pembrokeshire County Council since 2012, my forthright record of scrutiny at County Hall – and spilling the beans on its shady shenanigans – today receives a plaudit in the Western Mail.

The unexpected nod is part of an editorial, no less.

Apparently I’m doing “a sterling job in holding the locally powerful to account” which “exemplifies the course elected representatives should take, but few do.”

2017 hopefuls, take note!

Of Pembrokeshire’s sixty, there’s an overwhelming tendency across the county to elect ‘independent’ councillors, with over two thirds in 2012.

The problem with Pembrokeshire council politics is those successful ‘independent’ candidates who then group together post-election to form an ‘independent’ party.

In 2012, three quarters of power-grabbing ‘independents’ formally joined a group with fellow ‘independents,’ losing all semblance of the term.

These so-called ‘independents’ are easily controlled, possessing maniacal levels of obedience the properly established parties could only dream of.

What’s more, these eager beavers not only bypass the levels of accountability and scrutiny ‘proper’ party candidates are subjected to, but many still try in vain to deny they’re part of a political bloc!

There has been a growing number of ‘true’ independents elected in Pembrokeshire over successive elections, like me in 2012, who have raised awareness of this issue.

For several years following his 2004 election, Pembrokeshire had a lone councillor/blogger voice in Milford Haven’s Cllr. Mike Stoddart, aka Old Grumpy, who had covered council antics for over a decade beforehand at the Mercury newspaper – which he and his family founded.

Soon after my 2012 election I acquired a huge haul of behind-the-scenes files relating to the council’s ruling ‘independent’ party that were strictly not meant for public consumption.

This blog was in its infancy when I explosively serialised my publication of these secret documents. The ensuing saga soon became known as Partygate.

These files removed any doubt that Pembrokeshire’s ruling ‘independents’ were a party.

Not only did they have well-oiled machinery behind them, but they were ruthlessly unprincipled with it.

I exclusively revealed how two of this independent party’s cabinet members – entrusted with great power and influence at the authority – were so desperate to keep their grip on power that they threw their codes of conduct on the bonfire and breached all the rules.

The gruesome twosome used council computer equipment to make election leaflets and posters for several ‘independent’ candidates at the 2008 and 2012 council elections, all in breach of a ban on public resources being used for party political purposes.

The files, which I showcased, include party strategy documents, prediction charts, campaigning timetables, the lot!

The guilty pair were Rob Lewis – who, despite being suspended from office following a local government ombudsman probe, now seeks re-election in the Martletwy Electoral Division, and David Wildman – who threw the towel in as soon as the ombudsman felt his collar, resigning from the council and moving away to England.

Western Mail
In Pembrokeshire there’s a young councillor called Jacob Williams who has done a sterling job in holding the locally powerful to account. He has exposed a succession of scandals on his own website and has been able to use his elected position to scrutinise further the actions of the authority’s administration and senior officers. In doing so, he exemplifies the course elected representatives should take, but few do.
Editorial

Writing an editorial in today’s Western Mail, which I reproduce below, the newspaper’s chief reporter Martin Shipton discusses the status of ‘independent’ political candidates.

If you’re wondering whether to vote for an ‘independent’ candidate, it may encourage you to ask some questions on the doorstep.

And if you’re seeking election as an ‘independent,’ it may inspire you to make a pledge about your post-election intentions.

Of course, councillors not remaining true to their word has been a recurring feature of the 2012-2017 council term, but that story can wait for another day…

Later this week I intend to post some observations of the impending county council poll.

Western Mail

— Editorial, Monday, 17th April, 2017 —

‘Independents’ can keep true party allegiances from voters


Chief reporter Martin Shipton argues that ‘Independent’ election candidates should have to declare if they belong to a political party

Two weeks ago the vice chairman of Ukip’s Delyn branch, Shaun Owen, made a statement to the media that was strongly critical of his party’s North Wales AM Michelle Brown.

He was, of course, perfectly entitled to do that.

For those of us who want a transparent society, however, it’s unacceptable that he’s allowed to describe himself as “Independent” on ballot papers for a Flintshire ward in the May 4 election.

In failing to tell people that he’s an office-holding member of Ukip, Mr Owen is not providing the voters he wants to elect him with a crucial piece of information about himself.

Yet as the law stands, he is doing nothing wrong.

Equally, the former Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales, Winston Roddick, was allowed to describe himself as an Independent when standing for election in 2012, even though he was a card-carrying member of the Liberal Democrats.

In 2012 the Liberal Democrat brand was freshly toxic following the party’s decision not just to renege on its promise to scrap student tuition fees, but to go along with Tory plans that saw them nearly tripled. It is doubtful whether Mr Roddick would have been elected as Commissioner if he’d described himself as a Liberal Democrat on the ballot paper – and he’s shrewd enough to know that.

There are those who argue that Independent candidates should never be trusted because they refuse to accept the discipline that comes with belonging to a political party. I disagree. Over the many years I have taken an interest in politics and written about it, I have known some excellent Independent councillors, a number of whom were originally elected as members of a political party.

The manner of their becoming Independent has usually followed a pattern. They have been trying to do the best thing for the people they represent, but have been thwarted by control-freakery from group officials who insist they toe the party line even when they do not believe what is being proposed is in the interests of their ward constituents.

It is, of course, entirely reasonable for a party group to expect its councillors to vote for policies that were included in the manifesto they were elected to support. But in several instances I have been aware of, group officials have sought to impose their rigid will on councillors in circumstances where no manifesto commitment is in play.

In one case, a councillor I knew left his party because he was instructed not to vote for the creation of a children’s play area in his ward. He did so, resigned from the party, and was a thorn in the side of his former colleagues until his untimely death 25 years later.

Those with power in political parties don’t always make the right decisions, and sometimes good representatives are driven out. It’s healthy for democracy when they stand for election as Independents.

In 2005 the Labour Party was taught a lesson in Blaenau Gwent when it prevented its popular AM Peter Law from going for the Parliamentary nomination by imposing an all-women shortlist. He stood as an Independent and trounced the official Labour candidate who had been imported from London to stand against him.

Not all Independents are former members of political parties. They too can be excellent public representatives.

In Pembrokeshire there’s a young councillor called Jacob Williams who has done a sterling job in holding the locally powerful to account. He has exposed a succession of scandals on his own website and has been able to use his elected position to scrutinise further the actions of the authority’s administration and senior officers. In doing so, he exemplifies the course elected representatives should take, but few do.

Pembrokeshire, of course, is a strange kind of place in local government terms. It is run by an Independent group now calling itself Independent Plus which has become the local establishment.

To distinguish himself from Independent Plus, Jacob Williams – a different kind of Independent – has to point out that he is not aligned with it. Another way of putting it would be that he is an Independent Independent – but that’s probably making things more complicated than they need be.

There is, despite this, some truth in the argument that certain especially local authority candidates consciously disguise their true political allegiance when standing for election. In some cases such individuals are simply broadly sympathetic towards a party, but in others they are actually card-carrying party members. As with the case of Mr Roddick, it’s reasonable to assume that those in the latter category would not be elected if they stood under their true colours.

Something should be done, I believe, about such candidates. I’m pleased to say I’m not the first person to have made such an argument. Four years ago David Hanson, the Labour MP for Delyn, proposed to the House of Commons a Bill that would have sorted the issue out once and for all.

Under his proposal, candidates who stood as Independents would have been obliged to declare their membership of a political party.

Mr Hanson told MPs: “My proposal would add transparency to our democracy and help ensure the public have the information they need to make an informed choice. It will not add undue stress or expense to the election procedure and could be done simply, without the need for a particularly big shake-up of electoral procedures. This small bit of information could go some way to ensuring that voters get what they think they are voting for, rather than for what they are actually voting for without realising it.”

“Candidates who broke the rule would find their election declared void, the member disqualified from standing again and a by-election called.”

Sadly the proposal was voted down and we are left with a situation where candidates can conceal their true political allegiance and get elected under false pretences. This is a stain on our democracy and I hope our Assembly will ban it in Wales.

© 2017 Media Wales Ltd.


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16 Comments...

  • The Western Telegraph was on the case nearly ten years ago when it described the council’s ruling independent party thus:

    “…a farcical ‘independent’ cabal, or a cabinet of puppets, presiding over the last supper of democracy”

    Adding for good measure:

    “What a sad state local government has slumped into: polarised by party politics and overshadowed by the ‘independent’ umbrella of the ruling oxymoron party”.

    Unfortunately, this crucially important information wasn’t published until six weeks after the 2008 election.

  • Flashbang

    All I can see coming from this election are a few name changes, all sorts of underhand deals with lots of jostling for Special Responsibility Allowances and finally more of the same incompetence, venality and corruption from both the elected and the staff at County Hall.

    Not much to look forward to for the electorate.

    I hope you can change this by recruiting massively and forming the power bloc to end the crap the taxpayers have had to put up with for decades. Good luck with that Jacob.

  • Dai Trump

    I hope this time around things will change but I have a bad feeling about it especially having seen some of the people who have crawled out of the woodwork putting themselves forward for election.

  • Vivien Stoddart

    I’m pleased to read that the Western Mail’s chief reporter Martin Shipton agrees with me, that “Independent” election candidates should have to declare if they belong to a political party.

    Mr Shipton goes on to say “certain local authority candidates consciously disguise their true political allegiance when they stand for election. It’s reasonable to assume that those [card carrying party members] would not be elected if they stood under their true colours.”

    This dubious practice has been rife in Pembrokeshire for many years, and continues in this current hotly contested election.

  • Keanjo

    Can it be a coincidence that the deterioration of Local Government started with the advent of the Chief Executive and overgenerous payment to Councillors?

  • Paul Absalom

    I can see a change coming, at least 6 need to go. Hopefully the group will not get such a strong hold and the hopefuls that are standing as independents will not join the group.

    I predict out will be David Pugh, Tom Richards, Keith Lewis, Huw George, and Umelda Harvard. Close contests will be Jamie Adams, Brian Hall and Ken Rowlands.

    The Council will look a lot better if I am correct.

  • John Hudson

    We are well used to having closet Tory “independent” candidates, but this time round, a long-term leading “independent” councillor is now openly standing as a Tory party candidate.

    This has happened before, as has a successful Tory candidate refused to join the Conservative group of councillors, preferring to remain unaligned before joining the Independent (Plus) Political Group.

    Perhaps, based on their appalling record, the time is finally up for a post-election organised “Independent” or “Independent Plus Group”.

    Whatever name its members cloak or mollify themselves in, they all perpetuated control by a political grouping and cabinet that nobody voted for.

    The post-election political group numbers game matters, as it is the number of each declared political group that determines who controls the council.

    We might end up with a majority of 30 or so unaligned “true” independent councillors who will somehow have to sort out the council’s leadership, cabinet members, and agree council policy.

    May we look forward to a period where unelected council officers continue to formulate policy as directed by the Welsh Government?

    Not being involved in this election, due to living in an uncontested constituency, has anybody seen any county-wide policies or promises for the future?

  • Neil Burman

    True independents, and I am standing for Carmarthenshire County Council in Trimsaran, are not weighed down by party dogma but merely representative of the wishes of their electorate.

    These ideals have not been represented by them in Carmarthenshire nor by Plaid Cymru and Labour.

    Corruption has been rife in Carmarthen and nothing has been done about it. If I am elected, and it is because of these events that I am standing, I shall campaign for full council decision making by debate and not by the coterie who have brought this council disgrace.

  • Dai Trump

    Mike, I don’t know if you would agree with this observation or not but I have always felt that from its outset PCC has operated as a partnership between its senior officers and the senior members of IPPG, sadly to a large extent the former leading the latter.

    In the early years to some extent that did not matter as much as it does now because some of the senior officers were experienced and could get the job done despite some councillors still acting in district councillor mode.

    Sadly things change, experienced officers and councillors retired, the IPG as it was got even more power hungry and an awful lot of inexperienced and incompetent senior staff from outside of the county found their way in to heads of service and directorship positions under the all powerful god Bryn.

    Once the cabinet was set up the member/officer partnership was sealed in blood and from then on PCC was not following the yellow brick road but another road to disaster.

    What saddens me about the current election is the few candidates who have crawled out of the woodwork, past councillors seeking election who are as bad if not worse than anything currently scurrying round CountyHall, also that you and to a lesser extent Jacob are facing opposition, good luck to you both.

  • Phil Gwyther

    Surely not even voter apathy could put the IPPG back in power after all they have done. So there is going to be some unseemly horsetrading between the factions to establish a ruling group.

    I have no problem with that, so long as the overall mood is that proper scrutiny and debate starts to take place and councillors are prepared to do some homework and make their own decisions rather than follow instructions.

    The crunch point is who will be the leader? And will he be strong enough to be seen working for the people and not the senior officers?

  • Dave Edwards

    Jacob, your Hall of Infamy regarding political turncoats has not yet mentioned Jon Harvey.

    Last time he stood against Young Grumpette (sorry Tessa) in Lamphey as a Tory, and this time he is standing against a Tory, and me, in Pembroke.

    Why he joined and then left the Tories might interest the voters.

  • Jon Harvey

    Dave, nice to make your acquaintance. I had hoped to bump into you during the many hours I have spent canvassing in the ward but alas this hasn’t been the case.

    I have been called many things in my time but political turncoat is a new one for me!

    It’s a matter of public record that I stood in Lamphey as a Conservative candidate in 2012. My knowledge of Pembrokeshire politics at that time was limited. I have since become disillusioned with the Conservative party at both the national and local level and I am no longer a member.

    As I point out in my election literature, Conservative councillors have long voted with the IPPG. My opposition to the IPPG is also well documented having got a vote of no confidence in them passed by Pembroke Town Council.

    You also fail to mention that I also stood as a “true” independent against the IPPG candidate, as well as a Conservative and Labour candidate in the 2013 Burton by-election.

    I have always believed in fighting a campaign fairly and have never been one to criticise other candidates personally. The voting public will rightly make their own choice come polling day.

    I would respectfully suggest that the voters may be more interested and concerned about those councillors who have been elected on a Labour ticket and then have defected to the IPPG?

  • Dave Edwards

    Hi Jon – it’s nice to debate with you via Jacob’s blog as obviously we have been in different streets lately.

    Whilst I accept that you are no longer a Tory Party member, I still fail to see why, with your anti IPPG sentiment to the fore, you chose to stand last time against the daughter of the most prominent anti IPG family in Pembrokeshire (Tessa in Lamphey).

    Surely, opposing prominent IPG grandee Johnie Allen-Mirehouse in Hundleton, within three miles of you, would have been more appropriate?

    Maybe if you answer my question as to when you joined and then left the Tories I will understand a little more.

    On your very pertinent point regarding “Labour Defectors”, there has been no one more publicly critical than I have been both inside and outside the party, on this site, BBC, S4C, Western Mail and others.

    Again, for the record, I joined the Labour Party on 1 August 1964 and am still a member as the democratic socialist principles of fairness, equality and using the common wealth for the common good fire me up today as much as they did then.

    Finally Jon, when all this is over we must meet for a socialist supper of fish, chips, guacamole and a glass of Cuban chateau Castro!

  • Jon Harvey

    Dave, In answer to your question, perhaps I was a little less educated in 2012. I was appalled by the Blair/Brown administration and felt that there was a better alternative. I am honest enough to admit that I was wrong.

    As a self-employed man working at little above minimum wage I fully understand the struggle that the majority of hard working residents in the county have in meeting ends meet.

    I regard Tessa as a friend and she has done a great job and perhaps you may understand I was standing against the then current councillor rather than her. As a resident of Stackpole perhaps you would be better standing in your own area (Mirehouse’s) ward rather than being parachuted by your party into Pembroke?

    I will certainly take you up on your offer post election. Being a simple man of limited means is it ok if we skip the guacamole and chateau Castro and just settle for a bag of chips and a pint?!

  • Dai Trump

    Jacob you and Mike and his wife and daughter are political targets in this election, everyone sees it and everyone knows it, the IPPG can’t be held to account if you are not around.

    Some of the promises being made by some of the prospective candidates are out of this world and show how little they know about local government in Wales, the Assembly and the relationship with Westminster.

    They make promises that can’t possibly be delivered on a local level and therefore fail the moment they are elected.

    The problem for us who have to vote is where there are several independent candidates, who are closet Tories, Labour or other party members and are those claiming to be truly independent going to be seduced by the dark side once elected.

    There must be a better system than this, is it not the abolition of the cabinet system?

    If the ‘independents’ win the day again is there not some legal challenge that can be mounted to stop them forming a group to carve up the juicy positions for themselves.

  • Dave Edwards

    Jon, thanks for the explanation. You ask why I didn’t stand in Hundleton ward.

    I have done so three times in the past, even as far back as when it was part of the Pembroke St Michael ward in Dyfed County Council.

    Sadly, it is not fertile Labour territory. Whilst none of the three us who are contesting St Mary North lives in the ward, I did live in Whitehall Drive for six years.

    Sorry you don’t care for guacamole – maybe mushy peas would be more acceptable.

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