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

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.

 

The Assembly needs a Public Administration Committee

In his autobiography, Rhodri Morgan devotes a couple of entertaining pages to his time as chair of the Public Administration Committee. This committee can look at a wide range of issues. It has changed its name and expanded its remit over the years, looking at issues such as the machinery of government, the role of ministers, the operation of the civil service, government communications, and so on.

During my time in the Assembly, there was no such equivalent. Given recent events, perhaps there should be. I will be suggesting this to the Llywydd.

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.

Twenty years ago today, Wales voted for a National Assembly.

Twenty years ago today, Wales voted to create a National Assembly  the only political institution the people of Wales have ever voted to have.

I wrote this in February about the campaign. I have posted some pictures from 1997 on my Tumblr site. My book on the campaign can be bought from Seren. Today we are holding a conference on the anniversary, with the Wales Governance Centre and the Institute for Welsh Affairs.

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.

 

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!

 

Twenty years since Yes for Wales

Twenty years ago we had launched the Yes for Wales campaign, which was of course dependent on Labour winning the 1997 General Election campaign and implementing its referendum promise.

In September, we are planning a conference to mark the twentieth anniversary of Wales’s historic vote. More soon.

In the meantime, I wrote this about the launch of the 1997 campaign recently. You’ll find some entertaining photographs from the campaign on my Tumblr site here