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 leaking of the reshuffle – who told what to whom?

I have not given any formal interviews to the media since November 10th, the morning that the Independent Inquiry into Carl’s death was announced, but privately I have been mulling over various unanswered questions.

Two weeks ago, the Western Mail’s Chief Reporter Martin Shipton wrote:

Other allegations are also swirling around the Senedd, with suggestions that outsiders were tipped off from the fifth floor that Mr Sargeant was going to lose his job in Government before he knew himself.

If that happened, it would be in potential breach of codes of conduct covering Ministers, civil servants and/ or special advisers.

It is worth saying a few words about how reshuffles are ordinarily conducted in the Welsh Government, because I have never seen a reshuffle conducted in quite this way before.

I have been involved in six reshuffles. In May 2007, Rhodri Morgan brought me into the Welsh Government as a Deputy Minister. I was appointed in the First Minister’s office in Cathays Park, with Rhodri and his then chief special advisor Mark Drakeford in attendance. In July, following the formation of the One Wales Government, I was moved to a different Deputy Ministerial role – I was in my Rhondda constituency, so the discussion occurred on the telephone.

In December 2009, Carwyn Jones appointed me to his Cabinet as Minister for Children, Education and Lifelong Learning. Again, this happened in the FM’s office in Cathays Park, with Special Advisor Jane Runeckles present. In May 2011, I was appointed Minister for Education and Skills, and I was reappointed to that role in the March 2013 reshuffle. Again, both meetings with the FM took place in his Cathays Park office. I was forced to resign from the Government in June 2013 – a story for another day – with the meeting taking place in the FM’s office in Cardiff Bay. I was appointed back to the Cabinet in September 2014 as Minister for Public Services, again in Cathays Park. In each of the May 2011, March 2013 and September 2014 appointments, chief special advisor Jo Kiernan was present.

When a re-shuffle takes place, very few people are ‘in the know’. They are, usually, the First Minister, his chief special adviser, possibly one or two other special advisors, and the First Minister’s ‘outer office’ of Private Office civil servants and the Head of the Cabinet Secretariat. For incumbent ministers, their private offices will know that their minister is going to meet the FM, but they won’t know what is going to happen to them. Ministerial drivers will know that they are taking Ministers to see the FM, but that is all they know.

In the case of the November 3 reshuffle, as Martin Shipton wrote on November 18, it has been widely speculated that outsiders knew in advance that Carl Sargeant was to be sacked before he did.

So what do we know? From discussions with many well-connected individuals over the last few weeks I have been able to piece together the following:

  • A Labour AM told the Labour Assembly Group meeting on November 9 that he had been texted by someone he regarded as a reliable source that Carl was to lose his job, before the reshuffle was announced.
  • A leading Welsh journalist received a text in advance of the reshuffle’s announcement that Carl was to be sacked.
  • A Welsh Labour MP told another Welsh Labour MP that Carl was to lose his job, before the reshuffle was announced.

So who told what to whom?

Only a very small number of people would have known that Carl was to be sacked.

The next question that arises is this: were the leaks to the Labour AM, the Labour MP and the journalist direct from the ‘Fifth Floor’ – the Ministerial Floor – or were they from intermediaries who had themselves had information leaked to them? If so, who were the intermediaries and what interest did they have in leaking the material, and why was it leaked to them and by whom?

At the end of the day, information must have been leaked from someone – or some people – on the Fifth Floor.

The Permanent Secretary should conduct a full leak inquiry, if she isn’t doing so already, into all calls, texts and emails sent by relevant people on the day of the reshuffle and the days leading up to it. Someone, or some people, leaked the news about Carl Sargeant’s sacking. This has never happened before in any Welsh Government reshuffle. It is unprecedented. So who leaked? And to whom? And how many people knew?

 

My tribute to Carl on Radio Wales

I recorded this tribute to Carl Sargeant for Radio Wales on the afternoon of Carl Sargeant’s death. My thanks to BBC presenter Felicity Evans for her sensitivity. The picture is Carl doing Karaoke at Connahs Quay Labour Club in 2013, the night of the tenth anniversary party for his time as an Assembly Member.

Metropolitan provincialism and the Welsh Language

I wrote an article for the Welsh language magazine Barn on some of the recent London-based media items on the Welsh Language. The article follows in both Welsh and English.

Barn

 

Taleithgarwch Dinesig a’r Iaith Gymraeg

 

 

Leighton Andrews

 

Dros yr haf cafwyd erthyglau neu eitemau anwybodus yn y Guardian, The Times a Newsnight ynghylch yr iaith Gymraeg. Oherwydd y cyflymder ymateb a ganiateir gan gyfryngau cymdeithasol heddiw, gorfu iddynt oll amddifyn eu hunain rhag beirniadaeth sylweddol cefnogwyr yr iaith Gymraeg, boed rheini yn siarad yr iaith ai peidio. Dywedodd fy nghysylltiadau i yn y ddau bapur newydd yn ddioed y bu’r ddadansoddi golygyddol mewnol yr un mor hallt. O ganlyniad cyhoeddodd y ddau bapur yn fuan wedyn erthyglau ystyriol a oedd yn fwy cefnogol i’r iaith.

 

Roedd ymateb staff yn y BBC a gynddeiriogwyd gan Newsnight yn gyhoeddus a buan, er i ffynonellau swyddogol dewi tan ar ôl darlledu ymddiheuriad llugoer braidd Newsnight. Wedi hyn oll, cyfaddefodd y BBC y gallasai’r item fod wedi bod yn drafodaeth well pe bai siaradwr Cymraeg yn bresennol.

 

Mae’r traethiadau ysbeidiol hyn yn amlygu problem ehangach pan ddaw hi’n fater o drafod yr iaith Gymraeg a Chymru. Mae gan y Deyrnas Gyfunol un o’r sectorau papur newydd mwyaf canoledig yn Ewrop. Roedd gan y BBC, ysgrifennodd ei chyn-olygydd gwleidyddol Andrew Marr unwaith, duedd diwylliannol ddinesig ryddfrydol. Bu agwedd Newsnight tuag at rannau eraill o’r BBC, hyd yn oed oddi fun i’r uned newyddion a materion cyfoes yn Llundain, yn drahaus erioed. Bu i Marr a Martin Kettle y Guardian, bitïo methiant cyfryngau Llundain i drafod y Deyrnas Gyfunol a’i dadlennu hi iddi hi ei hun, gan fethu i helaethu dealltwriaeth pobl mewn gwahanol ardaloedd, dinasoedd, rhanbarthau ac o wahanol genhedloedd o lefydd a diwylliannau eraill. Galwodd Kenneth O. Morgan a Raymond Williams ill dau yn unigol yr agwedd hon yn ‘daleithgarwch dinesig’ (‘metropolitan provincialism’).

 

Ar ôl bron ugain maligned o ddatganoli, dylem allu disgwyl gwell, ond nid wyf yn disgwyl i hynny ddigwydd. Dyna pam y bu i’n Tasglu diweddar ar newyddion digidol ac anghenion gwybodaeth y Cynulliad godi’r posibilrwydd o blatfform newyddion digidol i’r Cynulliad.

 

Mae ystafelloedd newyddion Llundain yn darganfod y Gymraeg yn unig pan maent am wneud hwyl ar ben beth sydd iddyn nhw yn rhyfedd, neu yn egsotig neu yn wyrdroad o’r norm iaith Saesneg. Y storïau na chȃnt eu hadrodd yw’r rhai am amrywiaeth siaradwyr y Gymraeg; am lwyddiant addysg ddwyieithog; taw dwyieithogrwydd yw’r norm yn Ewrop a thu hwnt; a’r llwyddiant gwleidyddol a ddangosir trwy’r polisïau i feithrin y Gymraeg dros y 60 mlynedd diwethaf.

 

Ges i fy magu yn ddi-Gymraeg: er fod fy mamgu o Ddinas Cross yn Sir Benfro, a symudodd i’r Barri ar droad yr ugeinfed ganrif, yn medru’r iaith, ni throsglwyddodd yr iaith i fy nhad. Nawr gallaf gynnal sgyrsiau yn Gymraeg, wneud areithiau yn Gymraeg, gynnal cyfweliadau yn Gymraeg, ac yn bwysicaf oll gallaf siarad Cymraeg fel tadcu i’m wyres hynaf. Mae hanes y Gymraeg yn hanes llwyddiant Prydeinig a gresyn na all golygyddion Llundain weld hynny.

 

 

 

 

Metropolitan provincialism and the Welsh Language

 

Leighton Andrews

 

This summer the Guardian, The Times and BBC Newsnight all ran ill-informed articles or items about the Welsh Language. With the speed of response allowed by social media today, each was immediately placed on the defensive by the concentrated criticism from supporters of the Welsh Language, whether they spoke Welsh or not. My own contacts at the two newspapers very swiftly told me that the internal editorial post-mortem was also fierce. Both publications subsequently published critical pieces more supportive of the language.

 

The reaction from BBC staff appalled by Newsnight was public and prompt, although official sources were silent until after Newsnight broadcast something of a half-hearted apology. Subsequently, the BBC has admitted that the item would have been better debated with the presence of a Welsh-speaker.

 

These spasmodic commentaries demonstrate a wider problem when it comes to UK coverage of the Welsh Language and Wales. The UK has one of the most centralized newspaper sectors in Europe. The BBC, its presenter and former political editor Andrew Marr once wrote, had an urban cultural liberal bias. Newsnight has always demonstrated an arrogance to other parts of the BBC, even within its London news and current affairs operation. Both Marr and the Guardian’s Martin Kettle have lamented the failure of London media to report the UK to itself, helping a widening understanding by people in different districts, towns, cities, regions and nations of other places and their cultures. Kenneth O. Morgan and Raymond Williams separately called this attitude ‘metropolitan provincialism’.

 

After almost 20 years of devolution, we should expect better, but I do not expect that to happen. That’s why our recent Task Force report on the Assembly’s digital news and information requirements raised the possibility of an Assembly digital content platform.

 

Newsrooms in London only discover Welsh when they want to poke fun at its perceived quaintness or exoticism or deviation from the English-speaking norm. The unreported stories are about the diversity of Welsh-speakers in Wales; the growth of Welsh-medium education; the fact that bilingualism is the norm in Europe and beyond; and the political success that Welsh language policy demonstrates over the last 60 years.

 

I grew up not speaking Welsh: though my grandmother from Dinas Cross in Pembrokeshire who moved to Barry sometime before the turn of the twentieth century had the language, it was never passed to my father. Now I can hold conversations in Welsh, makes speeches in Welsh, do interviews in Welsh, and more importantly speak Welsh as Tadcu to my elder grand-daughter. The story of Welsh is a British success story, and it’s a shame that London editors can’t see it.

 

Labour meltdown on Europe

I am heading to mainland Europe today, so I don’t have time to write a developed post on the disaster that UK Labour policy on Brexit has become in the last 48 hours. I’m glad Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones has made clear the position of the Welsh Labour Welsh Government. Here are a few bullet points:

  • Though it didn’t do far enough for me – I want the final Brexit terms put back to the people in a referendum – Keir Starmer with his six points was mapping out a route for Labour to vote down an inadequate Brexit outcome in Parliament
  • It’s become obvious that the Tories are in complete disarray on Europe
  • A united Labour could have united the country against them, as I argued in the New European the week after the election – here Uniting the UK.docx
  • Labour voters are overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in European Union, as today’s Yougov poll shows
  • So Corbyn’s interview on Sunday, and Barry Gardiner’s idiotic opinion piece in the Guardian, have managed to undermine Keir Starmer, alienate the vast majority of Labour voters, and split the Labour Party
  • Chuka Umuna is showing good social media leadership on this issue, and the PLP needs to demonstrate that it won’t accept hard Brexit.
  • If the PLP won’t stand up to Corbyn/Gardiner on this, then Welsh Labour should split from UK Labour.

Digital News and Information from the Assembly

Twenty years ago this September, the people of Wales voted in favour of having their own National Assembly. It’s the only political institution the people of Wales have ever voted to have. This week we have published our report on how the National Assembly can deepen its relationship with the people of Wales through digital communications and social media.

Our focus has been on the Welsh citizen – the potential user of the Assembly platform and services. Our starting point is that all Assembly communications should be designed with a citizen/user interest at their heart, with a presumption of Open Data, seeking to build long-term relationships with the citizens of Wales.

In our report we set out how the National Assembly can use modern digital communication and social media channels to identify what people are thinking and concerned about, to collect evidence, information and opinion, and to engage in real-time with people in local communities and communities of interest. The same media can then allow the Assembly to share with citizens directly how their elected representatives, individually and collectively, are seeking to respond to those issues.

Our proposals in some areas are radical. We want the Assembly, its Members and staff, to understand that they are content creators: the Assembly is a content platform which captures facts, information, data, commentary, opinion, and analysis, both written and audiovisual, that leads – or sometimes consciously doesn’t lead – to action. Properly organised, this is a profound, valuable and democratic digital space which reflects the nation’s conversations about the issues which are of most concern to it. It should be innovative, creative, and inspirational.

Our group contained people with a diverse range of relevant skills, including the media, education, digital content and social media developments, which has enabled us to make practical proposals for improving the Assembly’s operations.

Our recommendations are diverse. They include these suggestions:

  1. The Assembly should lead the way and establish an integrated content service using social media and other channels (such as dedicated email newsletters) to engage directly with the people of Wales.
  2. The Assembly should put people – rather than the institution and its processes – at the heart of topical news stories and aim for an emotional connection.
  3. The Assembly should create content that helps people understand the connections, differences and working relationships between the Assembly and other key organisations in Welsh public life to address the democratic information deficit.
  4. Senedd TV must be more user-friendly, with a simple tool allowing anyone to quickly find and clip footage which can be included in video packages or embedded on Member pages, external websites and social media platforms.
  5. Smart social media analytics should be adopted to identify online conversations and communities, and allow the Assembly to become involved in these discussions.
  6. The Assembly must exploit every alternative to the press release as a means of promoting its work. Maps, infographics, blogs and neat summaries all have the potential to articulate difficult messaging in a memorable way.
  7. A dedicated, easy to use National Assembly for Wales area should be established on the Hwb resource repository with resources for teaching that are mapped to the needs of the new curriculum currently being developed.
  8. The Assembly should establish strong contacts with Welsh Higher and Further Education Institutions to facilitate easier engagement with the Senedd and explore the potential of developing a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) about its work.
  9. Social media platforms best suited to engage with young people and learners should be adopted, in line with current trends. The Assembly should embrace the potential for digital engagement utilising other platforms such as Skype, Facetime, Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality.
  10. Further thought should be given to the visitor experience at the Senedd and the Pierhead, including the use of projection, video walls, Virtual and Augmented Reality on the estate, inside and outside the Senedd and Pierhead.

We also recommend that the 20th anniversary of the Assembly opening in 2019 is at the heart of a campaign to promote the stories of devolution, and recommend to the Llywydd that she consider organising A Festival of Welsh Democracy to coincide with that anniversary.

In voting for a National Assembly twenty years ago, the people of Wales created a new democratic institution operating, it is fair to say, in a fragmented public sphere. Though the National Assembly was born at the time of digital developments in our media, in practice we built a new Welsh public polity in the absence of a coherent Welsh public sphere. It was not our job as a group to consider the Welsh media and its structural challenges – committees of the Assembly have been looking at those themselves. Our task was to help the National Assembly establish how best to build a deep, genuine and continuous dialogue with the people of Wales. This is our report. Let the debates begin!

 

Why Theresa May doesn’t get how dangerous the DUP deal could be.

i wrote this for The New European in May.

No UK Prime Minister has attended the British-Irish Council since 2007.

Leighton Andrews

When she met the Irish Taoiseach in January, Theresa May made it clear that she wanted to try to ensure, post-Brexit, a ‘seamless, frictionless border’ between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. The UK Prime Minister subsequently made her case for the maintenance of the UK as a ‘precious union’ when she attended the Scottish Conservative Conference. She said that in the UK, ‘we are four nations, but at heart one people’. She claimed that ‘facts and logic’ were on the side of the UK.

At one level, it is reassuring to hear, after the damning of experts and expertise last year by Michael Gove, and the tabloid huffing and puffing over Spain’s claim to Gibraltar, that facts and logic matter. But negotiations, particularly when they involve sensitive issues of national sentiment, require emotional intelligence as well. Informal relationships matter.

There is growing concern in both the UK and Ireland that the hard Brexit currently being pursued will not only be damaging to the economy north and south of the border but will lead to the re-imposition of border controls. That itself raises fears about historic tensions re-surfacing. Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan said last week that there was ‘no upside’ to Brexit. Tony Blair, as UK Prime Minister one of the architects of the peace process, warned in Ireland last week that the potential ‘hard border’ presented a real threat to the workings of the Good Friday Agreement.

In that context, it is perhaps surprising how little engagement has taken place by senior Conservative politicians with institutions like the British-Irish Council. The sitting Taoiseach has only missed one out of the 28 British-Irish Council meetings that have taken place since its inception. No UK Prime Minister has attended since Gordon Brown in 2007. David Cameron never went (though Nick Clegg, as the Liberal Democrat Deputy PM did on several occasions): and the current Prime Minister, Theresa May, has never attended either as Prime Minister or as Home Secretary. Additionally, UK Cabinet Ministers other than what Whitehall used to call the Territorial ministers (the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) have attended roughly just half of the meetings.

The sitting Welsh First Minister has attended 23 out of the 28 meetings and the sitting Scottish First Minister, 21 out of the 28 meetings. Aside from when the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended, the sitting Northern Irish First Minister has failed to attend only once.

The British-Irish Council is a strange entity. Indeed, Jonathan Powell, formerly Tony Blair’s chief of staff, described it in his book on the Good Friday Agreement negotiations as a ‘bizarre’ organization. Jonathan says that it was created because the Unionists wanted it as a means of solidifying ‘East-West’ relationships alongside the ‘North-South’ relationships.

Bizarre it may be, but it has now endured for almost twenty years, and held 28 meetings in that time. In my days as a Welsh Minister, I attended two meetings, as well as contributing to working groups and events organised under its auspices. The BIC seemed valuable more for the opportunities to build informal relationships with counterparts from Ireland and the other devolved administrations, rather than for any formal business carried on. What is startling is how little attention has been given to it by senior Conservative politicians. Former Conservative Prime Minister John Major is known to be worried that the current Conservative government is paying too little attention to the situation in Northern Ireland.

The presence of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man obviously adds another layer to the meetings, but it is the one formal forum where the devolved administrations, the UK Government and the Irish Government convene together. In the context of Brexit, it could play a useful informal role, if taken seriously.

Internally in the UK, inter-governmental consultative mechanisms such as the Joint Ministerial Committee exist but have significant flaws, as the Welsh Finance Minister told the House of Lords EU Committee in March. There is a strong case for strengthening such mechanisms, ensuring at the very least proper preparation for the meetings.

In her comments on what might happen to powers repatriated to the UK after Brexit, the UK Prime Minister initially sounded as if she were opposed to strengthening the powers of the devolved administrations, saying she did not want the UK to become ‘looser and weaker’ through additional devolution. The Great Repeal White Paper is vague on these issues, but confirms that the devolution settlements will have to be reviewed in the context of the Brexit negotiations. This is not altogether surprising, as membership of the EU is specifically referenced in devolution legislation. But it does raise the consequence of a clash of referendums: the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have endorsed their EU-linked devolution settlements in referendums with results more emphatic than the margin in the Brexit referendum.

The sense, however, of a UK Government determined to resurrect an old-fashioned unionism with a stronger Westminster at the core, comes through at every move by Mrs May and her Cabinet colleagues, Her opposition to a ‘looser union’ puts her on a collision course with pro-union politicians such as the Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, who has argued extensively over past years for precisely such a ‘looser union’ as the best way to protect the UK’s future as a state. Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown takes a similar view and has argued that Westminster’s version of parliamentary sovereignty no longer applies.

Facts and logic are all very well – but will Theresa May invest the necessary time and energy in building the informal relationships that could smooth the Brexit negotiations? The data doesn’t lie. Her approach, and that of her Cabinet, to the British-Irish Council, suggests that respect for institutions beyond Westminster is limited. Mrs May is storing up trouble, both for the UK’s long-term relationship with Ireland and other EU members, and with the devolved administrations. It’ll be a bumpy ride.

Leighton Andrews is Professor in Public Service Leadership at Cardiff Business School and a former Welsh Government Minister.