Rabbits do better in headlights

Somewhere in the thousands of words he has written over the last few weeks, Alastair Campbell said he had been suffering from ‘Covinsomnia’. Maybe it was in a tweet, because I can’t find it now. Anyway, last night I seemed to be suffering from a bout of Campbell Covinsomnia myself. I’m not sure why. I went to bed early and I was relaxed and ready for sleep. I made bread yesterday – Adrian Chiles, you forgot to remind us to grease the tin. I went for a bike ride. I cleared my email backlog during the day. I listened to the new Strokes and Laura Marling albums (yes, I’m getting value now from my Spotify account.)

I’ve been back to sleep since, but whether it was caused by the UK government or not, when I woke in the middle of the night,  I was turning over in my mind the latest woeful UK Government press conference yesterday afternoon. And the latest abject performance by political journalists. Alastair has written on several occasions about the questions he thinks need to be asked. Here are some of mine, with follow-ups for when The Usual Flannel (TUF for short) is given in answers.

  1. Will Matt Hancock’s target of 100,000 tests a day be met by 30 April? Yes or no? (If Hancock is doing the briefing and offers TUF, then ask if he will resign if the target he announced is not met)
  2. How many tests were done yesterday? (If TUF, ask ‘last week?’)
  3. Is testing central to relaxing the lockdown? Yes or no? If so, how many tests per day will be needed before the lockdown can be relaxed? What’s the point of the app if you are not testing intensively?
  4. The chief scientific adviser said the plateau, not yet reached, might last for two weeks or more. How many deaths does the government expect by 30 April? (If TUF, ask 25,000? 30,000?)
  5. Why did the chief scientific adviser say that countries are reporting hospital deaths only when France is reporting combined deaths? If TUF, ask what estimates does the government have for deaths at home or in care home settings overall.
  6. How many additional ventilators have now been delivered since the promise of 30,000 extra was made in March?
  7. Emmanuel Macron yesterday set out a plan for lifting the lockdown in stages. What is the UK government’s strategy for relaxing the lockdown? Could we see a similar staged response? (If TUF, ask what are the detailed work streams which the government is examining to allow a lifting of the lockdown).
  8. President Macron announced that all French people would be able to procure a mask. Does that feature in UK government plans for ending the lockdown?
  9. Does the government agree with the Home Office deputy scientific adviser who told Passport Office workers a week ago that 80% of people in the UK will get COVID-19?(If TUF, ask what is your current planning assumption for percentage of UK citizens who will be infected in 2020)?
  10. Does the government accept that the current death rate indicates that the recent Washington study suggesting 66,000 deaths in the UK by August is right?

There are many more questions. These are just the ones I want asked, and answered, now. A lot less TUF, please. The press conferences so far tell me that rabbits do better in headlights. And I’m talking about the journalists as much as the government spokespeople – who have been TUF-ing it out for months.

So who is ‘extremely vulnerable’ and should be shielding?

On 16 March, ITV reported the Chief Medical Officer for England saying that advice would shortly be sent out to ‘vulnerable’ people who should be taking extra steps to protect themselves against COVID-19, namely by shielding themselves for twelve weeks. He specifically stated that this would broadly speaking be those advised to have the annual flu vaccine:

IMG_4629

The Times the next day published this handy chart on what you should do if you were in a specific group:

Screenshot 2020-03-30 at 12.54.14

The Times table, obviously based on Government briefing, introduced the concept of ‘serious underlying health conditions’ which was clearly intended to be different from ‘underlying health condition’.

Those adults advised to have the flu vaccine include:

Screenshot 2020-03-30 at 12.24.31

Ok, now bear with me. I’ve been looking for up-to-date figures on the numbers getting the flu vaccination annually. Public Health England said 25 million were eligible for free flu vaccinations in 2019. In the previous year about 70% of over 65s took up the vaccination; and 48% of those in an at-risk group and 45% of pregnant women in England. This meant about 7.5 million over-65s had the vaccination; 6.8 million of those in at risk groups. In Wales, a total estimated 868,668 people were vaccinated.

So if the 16 March definition given by Professor Whitty had been used, then many millions of people would have been asked to shield themselves. Shielding, remember means this ‘You are strongly advised to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact‘. Any face-to-face contact. In more detail:

Screenshot 2020-03-30 at 13.26.31

The extract above is from the Guidance issued by the UK Government on 21 March on shielding people defined as ‘extremely vulnerable’.

Those defined as ‘extremely vulnerable’ are clearly a much smaller group than the vulnerable groups mentioned by Professor Whitty on 16 March. They are defined as:

Screenshot 2020-03-30 at 13.33.24

As an asthmatic, I looked for definitions of ‘severe asthma’. Last Monday, 23 March, I found guidance issued by Asthma UK following advice from the Department of Health and Social Care in the UK. This suggested severe asthma consisted in the following:

Screenshot 2020-03-30 at 13.39.52

The original guidance posted by Asthma UK suggested ‘a high daily steroid dose’ meant – for example – two puffs a day of the Seretide inhaler, which is my own prescription. (for those definitions, see for example this). I would not have defined my asthma as ‘severe’ before reading that – I cycle regularly and feel my asthma is under good control.

The NHS Digital Clinical algorithm used to identify ‘Shielded patients’ however defines severe asthma as follows: ‘Severe asthmatics are those who are frequently prescribed high dose steroid tablets.’ (in the small print, this includes for example prednisolone.I haven’t been prescribed that for over 40 years, after I had been hospitalised for my asthma). This is of course different from the Asthma UK guidance on what is meant by severe asthma, a term which Asthma UK accepts is open to interpretation.

Screenshot 2020-03-30 at 13.48.41

In the detailed explanation of the NHS Clinical Algorithm, you will find the following:

Screenshot 2020-03-30 at 13.52.40

So 19 Million people would have been captured by Professor Whitty’s original suggestion of the vulnerable who should be shielded: these are now classified as ‘at risk’. Now there is a group of ‘at high risk’ people amounting to 1.5 million. These ‘at risk’ and ‘at high risk’ groups roughly correspond to the ‘vulnerable’ and ‘extremely vulnerable’ categories. It is the ‘at high risk’ or ‘extremely vulnerable’ group that have been getting letters and in some cases texts from the NHS as announced last Monday. Letters should have been received by today if you are ‘extremely vulnerable’.

If you think you should be in the ‘extremely vulnerable’ or ‘at high risk’ group but have not been categorised as such, then if you live in England you can log in here to say so. The option to challenge your categorisation may exist in Wales but if it does I can’t find it in this.

19 million at risk or vulnerable. 1.5 million ‘at high risk’ or ‘extremely vulnerable’. To my mind, this just reinforces the lack of clarity in government messaging over the last fortnight.

 

 

Coronavirus Curriculum Planning 2020-1

This is essentially me thinking aloud about the four post-grad modules I am scheduled to teach next academic year. Two weeks ago I said that if I was still here in the autumn – and I am planning to be:

Whatever happens, if I am here in the autumn, I will I know be teaching the social, political and economic consequences of coronavirus on at least two postgrad courses I lead.

In fact, I now think I will be teaching it on all four modules. All my teaching, aside from guest lectures, is in the October-January period, so I need to start some outline preparation. Here goes as I brain-dump some initial course thinking in a public value business school.

Government from the Inside – From the Minister’s Viewpoint (PLT435)

You can find a link to the module overview here. It is essentially an overview of the Ministerial life, from appointment to leaving office. It looks amongst other things at Appointment and the first 100 days, Ministers in Cabinet, as departmental leaders, in the Chamber and Committee, working with and against the Opposition, Ministers and the Media, pressure groups and ministers, evidence for ministerial policy-making, leaving ministerial office. It covers UK and devolved ministerial life.I am planning a book for Palgrave Macmillan based on the course which I have now taught for the last three years.

Students are assessed through an end-of-term essay. These are on topics they choose and are always interesting. Last year one student elected to look at Norman Fowler and the Aids Crisis, which has some parallels with today’s crisis. If I took a coronavirus lens I guess I would look through the course at how the virus has disrupted the marking of Boris Johnson’s 100 days in office; how COBR (A) has worked in co-ordination, including with the devolved administrations, how scrutiny of evidence has developed in Parliamentary committees, how pressure group and media criticism has influenced ministerial policy, and the role of daily press briefings in crises, the collation of evidence in an emerging crisis and the building of ministerial discursive capacity, Opposition input in the crisis, and maybe some futurism about ministerial reputations in the crisis and their likely scorecards after leaving office.

I am already collating materials, from press reports to parliamentary inquiries and government documents, which includes much of the advice that went to SAGE. (To be fair to the UK government, a lot of material has been published in respect of the evidence base and their assumptions). There is also a considerable amount of material on managing crises in the interviews with former ministers on the Institute for Government’s Ministers Reflect series. No question then that coronavirus will feature on this module.

International Business Management (BST448)

This is one of the core modules on Cardiff Business School’s MSc. in International Management. I have been teaching this module for the last two years and it has had a significant ‘tech’ focus, which has enabled the exploration of themes around globalisation, based on my recent research. In postgrad terms it’s a large module with about 140 students, a very high proportion of them from China. Who knows how or if this will change next year? The COVID-19 outbreak has sparked all kinds of writing about the future of globalisation, networks, re-localisation, etc. The COVID-19 outbreak also lends itself to a straightforward introduction for management students to PESTLE analysis.

There are significant opportunities here obviously to look comparatively at governmental and political responses, business impacts in different sectors, the role of technology in surveillance of the disease (and obviously surveillance more generally), and how the disease may affect international business development, including global value chains. It may allow students to bring their own country by country observations to the forefront.

Think I will definitely be teaching COVID-19 and its impact on the the global economy this course, but it may require some re-writing.

Leading Policy and Delivery (BST652)

I was involved in co-developing our new part-time MSc in Public Leadership . This autumn I will be teaching the module about leading policy into delivery over three sessions. I guess that COVID-19 will become one of the cases that we will interrogate as it will be directly relevant to everyone’s immediate experience. Our students come from a variety of public service backgrounds.

Unlike the ministerial module above, the focus will be more about the impact on public service delivery. So I can see us covering its impact on the relationship between the making of policy and its implementation on the ground; thefeedback loops between frontline delivery and policy-making; collaboration between services,  both devolved and non-devolved; integration of third sector in delivery; what this means for target-setting, capacity- building, resilience planning, governance.

Much of this would have been discussed on the module in any case. But there is quite a lot to plan for here. And I think the agenda will expand as time goes by.

Strategic Planning and Innovation (BST680).

This year we began teaching a postgraduate Diploma in Healthcare  Planning in Wales. I am one of two academics teaching on the Strategic Planning and Innovation module. To a degree, our emphasis, as the NHS Wales Deputy Chief Executive, Simon Dean, said at Cardiff Business School in 2019, is that what matters most is the planning, not the plan. Though this was devised before the COVID-19 outbreak, we already had considered planning for unexpected emergencies and crises and ways in which governments did this in a variety of spheres, from terrorist outbreaks to a no-deal Brexit. COVID-19 forces consideration of previous planning exercises for pandemics.

This module from my perspective probably needs some adjustment but less overall than the others, as the key themes are there in outline, but need drawing out with reference to the current crisis, and the evidence materials published by the UK Government already mentioned above are directly relevant.

That was a brain-dump on behalf of my course planning. Now I need to allocate time for teaching preparation for each of these modules.

 

Waiting for Godot

As people assemble their recommended Corona-lit – the latest being King Lear, which some argue Shakespeare wrote in lockdown from the plague – I’d like to make a pitch for Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

For those of us not yet suffering from the virus, but watching its exponential growth in the UK, the flouting of government advice on social distancing, and the example of Italy which exists in a Covid-19 timezone 15 days ahead of us, as Thomas Jones writes in the LRB, all we can do is wait, acting on the best advice, for the storm that is coming.  Beckett called his play a tragi-comedy. The tramps go on waiting for that is all that they can do. (There is, of course, an element of hope in their continual waiting). Today all we can do is wait, observe the advice, treat each day as it comes.

Waiting for Godot has lots of funny lines – but back in 1987 I saw a production at the National Theatre in London  with John Alderton, Alec McCowen and Colin Welland that seemed to be playing it as Laurel and Hardy. As Michael Billington wrote in the Guardian at the time,’you surely need to feel that the vaudevillian exchanges are a way of staving off the terror, the silence, the apprehension that life may ultimately be devoid of significance.’

As I wrote ten days ago, as a lifetime asthmatic with ropey lungs I’ve been apprehensive about Covid-19 for weeks. I said then:

We are living with uncertainty, in a way that few of my generation and those younger have ever experienced. Indeed maybe only those with experience of living through the war have anything similar to compare it with.

It wasn’t until I read Jo Baker’s Beckett novel A Country Road, a Tree, that I thought much about how Beckett’s wartime experiences as a member of the Resistance, on the run in France for long periods, had shaped the writing of Godot. (Beckett’s experiences of crossing France initially to escape the occupation of Paris, ‘bearded, filthy and broke’ are described in Deirdre Bair’s biography. His time in Roussillon, in the Vaucluse, is referenced in Godot).

Uncertainty defined Beckett’s wartime experience. In the UK, Brexit uncertainty has been displaced by the much deeper and more existential uncertainty of COVID-19, even for those of us who were passionate and unrepentant Remainers. Uncertainty is bad for our mental health. But that’s our current state.

 

Remembering Sarge, one year on

We lost Carl a year ago today. My Radio Wales tribute that day can be found here.

Once again, I want to thank Felicity Evans for her sensitivity in interviewing.

I won’t be posting more on this as I expect to be giving evidence at the Inquest in a couple of weeks time.

This is getting boring now….

Last week I had a letter from the Welsh Government saying they had received an FoI request related to any complaints about me in my time as Minister for Education and Minister for Public Services. The FoI requests were detailed and precise in terms of my time in those roles, so they clearly came from a political insider. I reproduce the letter below.

Those of us who have spoken up for the family of Carl Sargeant over the last six months – and yes, it is six months yesterday since we lost Carl – have grown accustomed to being on the receiving end of these bullying tactics designed to undermine us. Letters and FoI requests sent to employers have become the norm. In other cases, these have affected public sector employees unable to speak out to defend themselves.

Most people in the small circle of Welsh Labour politics know who the likely source of the letter is. I won’t stoke his ego by naming him.

Let’s be clear. Since Carl’s death there has been an active cover-up. There has been a deliberate attempt to intimidate witnesses. Lawyers’ letters have been sent to independent media outlets to silence them. One of the sources of the leak of Carl Sargeant’s sacking was only named by the media after the Leader of the Opposition went on the record in the Assembly Chamber.

The personal attacks are getting boring now. No doubt they will get worse once the QC-led inquiry commences.

Tomorrow I think I will publish my evidence to the leak inquiry.

 

 

 

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.

Misleading the Assembly: an update.

The BBC today carries a story  pointing to further evidence that the First Minister has misled the Assembly, in respect of an answer that he gave to Adam Price AM before Christmas to a question asking whether I had complained about the treatment of Special Advisers. In his answer, the FM said:

There is no record and I have no recollection of such a complaint.

Under FoI, the following exchange of emails has been released, showing that in fact I made a specific written complaint in December 2014. This is entirely separate from the complaint I made to the FM in November 2014 asking him to investigate the conduct of his senior special adviser, a complaint which he has claimed I never made.

The December complaint was sent to the head of the First Minister’s Office, Des Clifford, after my private office was told that the Special Adviser working to me on public service/local government reform could not accompany me on visits to London.

It’s important to say I don’t blame the civil servant who sent the email questioning whether the Special Adviser should go to London. She was simply a channel for the message. But this was an example of the persistent undermining of some ministers and bullying of some special advisers which took place during the 2011-16 Welsh Government. It was debilitating and designed to wear people down. It poisoned relations on the Fifth Floor and got in the way of good government. This petty internal politics, relentlessly pursued, was all about control and power-plays. It could and should have been stopped, particularly after four Cabinet Ministers raised concerns about it during 2014

Here is the exchange released under FoI:

From: Andrews, Leighton (Ministerial) <Leighton.Andrews@wales.gsi.gov.uk> To: (OFMCO – Office of the First Minister) <@gov.wales> Cc: Sent: Wed 17/12/2014 15:47 Subject: RE: Minister for PS – London meetings

I am slightly surprised at this email. I don’t recall any questions being raised when [name redacted] or [name redacted] accompanied me to meetings in London when I was previously in the Cabinet. Has there been a change of policy? I would be very concerned if I thought that [name redacted] was being treated differently from other special advisers. For the record, I think that the presence of a special adviser at such meetings is different from the role of a PS in these meetings. We are holding a number of high-level discussions on the subject of public service reform and you will see from the calibre of the people that we are meeting, both in January and this week, that we have scheduled discussions with people from whom we can learn about the process of public service reform in other places. [name redacted] needs to be in these meetings so that she can share in that learning and ensure that it is shared with officials when I am not available to discuss these issues with them and to inform her own contributions to future internal discussions on public service reform. You will appreciate that I have deliberately scheduled these visits in recess to avoid any disruption to normal business.

Best wishes, Leighton Leighton Andrews AM/AC Minister for Public Services Gweinidog dros Wasanaethau Cyhoeddus

From: @gov.wales To: @Wales.GSI.Gov.UK Cc: @gov.wales; @wales.gsi.gov.uk; @Wales.GSI.Gov.UK; (Special Adviser) @wales.gsi.gov.uk> Sent: Mon 15/12/2014 12:52

Subject: RE: Minister for PS – London meetings

Thanks but that’s not my understanding. Any future visits like this need to be cleared with the FM, as he’s keen that SPADs are in the office as much as possible. I also understand that [name redacted] mentioned to [name redacted] that there is likely to be a SPAD meeting on 6 January which would need to attend. [Name redacted] or I will let you know as soon as that is finalised. Grateful if you could let me know on what basis [name redacted] needs to accompany the Minister to these meetings rather than a Private Secretary so I can let the FM know please.

Prif Ysgrifennydd Preifat i Prif Weinidog Cymru Senior Private Secretary to the First Minister of Wales Tel/Ffon: Fax/Ffacs: E-mail/E-bost: @wales.gsi.gov.uk _____________________________________________

From: @wales.gsi.gov.uk On Behalf Of PS Minister for Public Services Sent: 15 December 2014 12:39 To: PS First Minister; PS Minister for Public Services Cc: (Special Adviser); DS Minister for Public Services; (Special Adviser)

Subject: RE: Minister for PS – London meetings , Further to the below, the Minister is also planning to visit London for the day on the 6th of January for some meetings which we couldn’t fit in during this week. They are: • ; • – to discuss experience of being a cooperative council; • – expert on public service reform, ; • – to discuss city regions, LEPs and links to Local Government Reform. {Name redacted] will be accompanying the Minister on this visit, she has discussed this with {name redacted].

Many thanks,

Uwch Ysgrifennydd Preifat i Leighton Andrews AC, Gweinidog Gwasanaethau Cyhoeddus Senior Private Secretary to Leighton Andrews AM, Minister for Public Services Llywodraeth Cymru / Welsh Government. Ffôn / Tel: YP.Gweinidog.dros.GC@cymru.gsi.gov.uk / PS.Minister.for.PS@wales.gsi.gov.uk Yn hapus i ohebu yn Gymraeg neu’n Saesneg / Happy to correspond in English or Welsh _____________________________________________

From: (Perm Sec – OFM) On Behalf Of PS First Minister Sent: 20 November 2014 11:13 To: PS Minister for Public Services Cc: PS First Minister; (Special Adviser); DS Minister for Public Services

Subject: RE: Minister for PS – London meetings Thanks , the First Minister has noted.

Prif Ysgrifennydd Preifat i Prif Weinidog Cymru Senior Private Secretary to the First Minister of Wales Tel/Ffon: Fax/Ffacs: E-mail/E-bost: @wales.gsi.gov.uk _____________________________________________

From: (Perm Sec – OFM) On Behalf Of PS Minister for Public Services Sent: 18 November 2014 18:07 To: PS First Minister Cc: PS Minister for Public Services; (Special Adviser); DS Minister for Public Services

Subject: Minister for PS – London meetings , ,

Can you please make the First Minister aware that the Minister for Public Services is intending to set up a series of high level meetings in London over 3 days during winter recess in December to discuss innovative practice in public services in order to inform his thinking in terms of next steps on Public Services Reform. The list of individuals/organisations we are approaching for meetings include: • (arranged); • National Audit Office – taken on various previous role of Audit Commission on Local Government inspection and regulation; • Audit Commission – previously Audit and Regulation of Local Government; • Local Government Association – membership organisation and lead on improvement of Local Government; • – Innovation enterprise; • New Local Government Network – think tank on Local Government; • Smith Institute – independent think tank on public policy; • –(arranged); • Lambeth Council – early adopter of co-operative council model; • – expert on government reform and improvement (arranged); • – ; • – expert on public service reform,. We are also seeking to arrange bilaterals with UK Ministers.

Kind regards,

Uwch Ysgrifennydd Preifat i Leighton Andrews AC, Gweinidog Gwasanaethau Cyhoeddus Senior Private Secretary to Leighton Andrews AM, Minister for Public Services Llywodraeth Cymru / Welsh Government Ffôn / Tel: YP.Gweinidog.dros.GC@cymru.gsi.gov.uk / PS.Minister.for.PS@wales.gsi.gov.uk Yn hapus i ohebu yn Gymraeg neu’n Saesneg / Happy to correspond in English or Welsh

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.

 

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.