The persistent personal undermining of Carl Sargeant

This is hard to write, but it needs to be said. Yesterday I told a couple of journalists that there had been deliberate personal undermining of Carl Sargeant from within the Welsh Labour Government over several years.

I am not going to name names today. But I made a complaint to the First Minister about one aspect of this, of which I had direct evidence, in the autumn of 2014. An informal investigation was undertaken. I then asked for it to be made formal. I was told it would be. I was never shown the outcome. There was no due process.

After some weeks, Carl and I talked about this, and came to the conclusion that nothing would be done, and we should just get on with our jobs. Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, a General Election was due; we both had legislation to take through – I had the Violence against Women Bill, which Carl had provided the drive for, and a White Paper on Local Government to get out; we each had a long list of family, political, constituency and ministerial commitments; and in politics you don’t waste time and energy, your most important resources, on pointless activity.

I have some of this documented in my personal diaries. When you keep a personal diary in politics, you do so for a number of reasons. In part, possibly, for publication; in part, to keep a note of how things develop at interesting times; sometimes, just to keep a sense of chronology; in part, to work things out in your own mind; sometimes to let off steam, or for private therapy. Some things you think you will never publish. I am currently reading the latest volume of Alastair Campbell’s diaries, in which, amongst other things, he is reflecting on how and in what form to publish: he is given the advice, valuable and wise, not to use the diaries to settle scores.

There are two points I want to make. The first goes to the question of due process. Carl’s solicitor, his family and friends, believe that he was not given the benefit of due process over the complaints made against him, and that the interviews given on Monday by the First Minister prejudiced any inquiry in themselves.

Friends in north Wales tell me those interviews fuelled Carl’s despair.

But in terms of due process, they undermined what had been set in train when the issue had been handed off to the Labour Party last Friday.

There was no due process either when I made my complaint to the First Minister in 2014.

The second point goes to Carl’s state of mind. For too much of the 2011-16 Assembly, the atmosphere on the Fifth Floor, the Ministerial Floor in Ty Hywel, was toxic: minor bullying, mind-games, power-games, favouritism, inconsistency of treatment to different ministers, deliberate personal undermining on occasion. The undermining was of ministers, deputy ministers and special advisers. Some of this undermining was shared as gossip with people outside the government: I know this from comments made to me by a prominent outsider close to government who always likes to affect an awareness of what is really happening ‘on the Fifth Floor’.

I found that the atmosphere was unquestionably worse after I returned to government in September 2014 than it had been in the period May 2011- June 2013. Carl was unquestionably the target of some of this behaviour. The relentless drip-drip of disinformation – and worse – had a strain on his and others’ mental health.  The First Minister was made aware of this by several ministers, including myself. Nothing was done.

In a normal workplace, it would have been tackled.

It was damaging to the mental health of ministers and special advisers.

Speaking personally, I know that my own mental health has been a lot better since leaving politics.

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