Intimidation of witnesses

A few weeks ago, Paul Martin of BBC Wales ran a story saying that some people were reluctant to give evidence to the Inquiry currently underway into whether the First Minister had breached the ministerial code. Separately, last week ITV’s Adrian Masters published an article  about the concerns expressed by some witnesses that the hearings were being held in Welsh Government buildings. Both stories are true and I have incorporated in my evidence material from some reluctant to have their names used.

But matters are worse than that. There have been several attempts, which I suspect have been coordinated, to undermine people who have spoken up in support of Carl Sargeant. I am aware of a number of public servants whose employers have had malicious or anonymous mail about them.

In my own case, my employer, Cardiff University, has had a series of FoI requests on matters which have nothing to do with my work, clearly intended to damage my reputation or undermine my relationship with the University.

Cardiff University, I am pleased to say, has been robust in my defence, as has the Universities and Colleges Union, UCU.

Here is a selection from the FoI requests. I will publish more in due course.

I would like to know details of any disciplinary investigations and/or sanctions involving Leighton Andrews, details of any complaints made against him and details of all complaints raised formally or informally by him since January 1st 2017.

Could I please request under the freedom of information act, Leighton Andrews’s diary since November 5th this year and details and content of any communication – text, emails, calls, WhatsApp messages – between Leighton Andrews and employees of Wales Online/Media Wales/Western Mail, BBC, ITV, Golwg, The Times, The Daily Mail, Guido Fawkes and Skwawkbox since November 3rd 2017.

Please provide any communications relating to Leighton Andrews’ behaviour and public comments since November 5th 2017, details of all meetings between Leighton Andrews and his superiors (both departmental and within the wider organisational structure) since November 5th 2017, and all communications relating to either permission or requests to allow Leighton Andrews to conduct non-university business during normal working hours since November 5th 2017.

Please provide (under the Freedom of Information Act), any communications, notes or minutes relating to the commercial, financial or organisational impact on the university of Leighton Andrews’ recent public comments since the beginning of November 2017. I would also like copies of any communications between Leighton Andrews and email addresses ending in @assembly.wales, @senedd.cymru, @gov.wales, @wales.gsi.gov.uk, and @parliament.uk.

In my opinion, these FoI requests are malicious, and designed to undermine my reputation and discredit me.

In November, a few days after Carl Sargeant’s death, following my blogpost about the toxic atmosphere on the Ministerial Floor in Ty Hywel for much of 2011-16, the First Minister told senior Welsh Labour A.M.s that people were being ‘lined up’ to attack me. Within days, an anonymous MP was slagging me off to the BBC . The First Minister went on television and attacked me in December. Subsequently, journalists have told me that people close to the First Minister have been making insinuations about me and also about a member of my family. I am aware that another attack on me is currently being prepared. Others, in public service, have suffered worse.

In my opinion, these attacks are designed to intimidate and to discourage people from giving evidence to the inquiries that have been established. Some people feel too exposed to give evidence. These attacks on friends of Carl – who are not elected politicians – are vile and disgusting. Remember, all of this is happening today, in post-devolution Wales, not in Senator McCarthy’s time in the USA. It is deeply damaging to devolution, to the reputation of Welsh Labour, and the reputation of the Welsh Government. I have kept the chair of Welsh Labour informed about the attacks on me, and I am grateful for his supportive approach. But the attacks need to stop, and Welsh Labour colleagues need to take action to ensure that they do.

Review of Adrian Masters’ Nothing has changed.

I reviewed Adrian Masters’ book Nothing has Changed for Wales Arts Review. Here’s a longer version of the review:

I’ve known Adrian Masters since he worked for BBC Radio Wales and came to interview me in my Tonypandy home prior to my election to the National Assembly in 2003. I’ve forgotten now what the item was about, but I think Adrian had been interviewing people in the Rhondda on the issues that mattered to them and then come to candidates for their views.

Adrian has always been one of the most thorough of interviewers in Welsh broadcasting – fair, but firm. His infamous red notebooks contain many secrets, some of which he shares – without revealing sources where they didn’t want to be named – in this volume of his 2017 election diaries. His title of course comes from the statement by the Prime Minister after she reversed her disastrous manifesto pledge on social care during the election campaign. By the early hours of 10 June, however, as Adrian says, ‘Everything has changed’.

This was an election where, as Adrian reminded us, the Conservatives started well-ahead of Labour in the polls and senior Labour figures thought that the party would do well to hold 200 seats. ITV Wales’s own Yougov poll had the Tories well ahead of Labour at the beginning of the campaign, poised to win 21 seats. I remember this well from a Twitter spat at the time between my friend the late Carl Sargeant and my Cardiff University colleague Roger Scully.

Though the substantive election inquests have yet to be published, this election seemed to one of two halves, reflected in the cross-over in the opinion polls and the dramatic final outcome. For the third General Election in a row I watched an exit poll come in and said ‘I don’t believe it’. Only unlike the previous two general elections I wasn’t sitting in a BBC Wales studio at the time.

Adrian’s book takes us back to the days before the election, which genuinely seem like a different electoral world. As he says ‘certainties have been lost, rules bent or broken and leaders have risen and fallen.’ His account starts with the terrorist incident in Westminster, moves through the death of Rhodri Morgan and the further terrorist outrage in Manchester, and concludes with Labour picking up Welsh seats like Vale of Clwyd, Gower and Cardiff North.

Adrian is in no doubt that the Labour surge can be put down to changing and more positive reactions to Jeremy Corbyn’s performance, a strong showing by Welsh Labour under Carwyn Jones’ leadership, and argues that ‘the tributes to Rhodri Morgan also cemented the view of Welsh Labour being different.’

Where Adrian scores most heavily in these diaries is on background colour. Messages come in from different party representatives, both elected and backroom, which may have surfaced on Adrian’s Twitter feed at the time but may not have made it into broadcast reports. Things that Adrian was told then on background now surface – unattributed – in their mistaken glory.

What is written from a Labour perspective reflects conversations I was having with people at the time, but it is interesting to get an all-round view of how Conservative, Plaid and other party insiders were feeling. I can make guesses at some of the sources on the Labour side in particular, but while Adrian quotes them here to give a sense of the contemporary mood, he doesn’t embarrass them with personal unmasking. Nor would you expect him to do so.

Where people were willing to be quoted, Adrian makes good use of the material he gathered. ‘By any sensible consideration, I’m toast’ says Paul Flynn at one point. Later in the campaign he tells Adrian ‘More optimistic now. There is a favourable Welsh dimension because of Carwyn and memories of Rhodri.’ As late as the last week of the campaign a Conservative AM tells Adrian that they (he doesn’t specify gender) now think they will elect ‘a rugby team and a few reserves’. They went down to eight.

Adrian’s personal account of the ITV Wales debate is fascinating, and gives a good sense of the challenges facing a broadcast journalist trying to both maintain balance and keep the flow of the debate. His account of the behind-the-scenes row within the Conservative Party as to whether Andrew RT Davies or Alun Cairns was to appear for them is entertaining and becomes a sub-plot within the text, as does Adrian’s battle to get an interview with the PM. Campaign insider accounts of the use of Facebook and social, media to mobilise young people are interesting and valuable.

Throughout this book, Adrian demonstrates what a good print journalist he could have been. His account has pace, is well-written and thoughtful, with contemplative passages added to the contemporary diary and reconstructed notes. Reading it in the aftermath of Carl Sargeant’s tragic death made me reflect on how long ago it all now feels. Yes,  everything has changed.

Mental health and politics

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:

Jane Roberts png

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:

politics from Wales says Yes

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.