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 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.

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.