I was teaching the final seminar in my module on Ministerial Life yesterday, and it was about Losing Political Office, something about which I am obviously an expert! Aside from looking at the usual kinds of ministerial exits – sackings, forced resignations, principled resignations, defeat at the ballot-box etc, I ended with an examination of the impact on loss of office which Dame Jane Roberts has undertaken. Jane was the former Leader of Camden Council and is a trained child pyschiatrist and has done good work in Wales as well on behalf of the Welsh Government. In her writings, she says:
Political mortality is not a comfortable subject to discuss. We shy away from lingering long over exits of any kind. The nature of political office and its intoxicating allure for many makes contemplating its end deeply painful.
She emphasises that this is in part because
Politics is about the promise of the future.
My summary slide of some of Jane’s arguments is here:
In the trauma of the last few weeks, the emotional devastation has obviously been strongest with Carl’s immediate and wider family. But I have been struck by how many of his close friends are now themselves receiving counselling, and I am personally grateful to Cardiff University for facilitating that for me. Teaching, itself, has been therapeutic, and my colleagues and my students have been terrific.
I wrote five weeks ago how my mental health had improved after leaving politics. The last five weeks, I have to be honest, have not been great. A crisis like this has shown me who my friends really are. There are people I thought for years I could count on who suddenly became unavailable. There are other people in public life whose behaviour has been shockingly dishonest, and some who have indulged in name-calling, smearing and personal attacks. That has been deeply distressing to see and experience, and has simply compounded the grief at losing Carl. The emotional bullying has continued, in other words, and Welsh Labour needs to deal with it. Whether the hurt and anger will fade, only time will tell. While things continue as they are, there can be no closure, and the wounds will fester. However, truth will out.
On the positive side, there have been people, including in my own party but many in opposing parties or in the media or the civil service, or old friends who have suddenly got back in touch, who have reached out with a kind word or a private message or a hug. They know who they are, and I am deeply grateful to them.
Back in 1999, in my book Wales Says Yes, I wrote the following:
Five years ago, four Assembly Members from four different parties bravely spoke out about their own mental health in a deeply moving debate in the Senedd. I have supported mental health charities in the past, and the Rhondda Labour Party donated some of its receipts from a fundraising dinner with Alastair Campbell to Time to Change Wales. Alastair and I also did a photocall for Time to Change Wales when Cardiff City played Burnley a couple of years ago, as you can see in the featured photo. We were 2-0 up till close to the end, then they equalized in the last minute, in case you wondered.
At the end of the day, mental health and wellbeing in the workplace depend on leadership from the top. If bullying – well-defined here by ACAS – is allowed to continue unabated, it poisons relationships and undermines organisational effectiveness. When I give evidence to the Inquiries coming forward, I will be giving evidence also on behalf of people who were bullied and who witnessed bullying, but in their present roles cannot themselves speak out. And I will not be silenced.