A WAR of words has broken out between First Minister Carwyn Jones and former Cabinet member Leighton Andrews about allegations that a report into bullying was made by Mr Andrews to the First Minister as long ago as 2014 and that one of the AMs he reported as being a target of adverse briefing was the late Alyn & Deeside AM Carl Sargeant.
Mr Sargeant died in November this year after being dismissed from his Cabinet post.
He was sacked from his post on the basis of allegations about his behaviour that were never put to him.
The First Minister finds himself exposed on the issue, after making a series of pious announcements about how the Welsh Assembly would not cover up allegations of bullying and inappropriate behaviour following a series of allegations about the conduct of senior figures at Westminster.
That position has been progressively unpicked by Mr Andrews in a number of tweets, blog posts and very few media interviews.
And in the Welsh Assembly on Tuesday (Dec 12), Mr Jones’ position was left even more exposed by a dramatic personal statement by Conservative AM Darren Millar.
Mr Millar revealed that when he asked the First Minister questions about bullying in the Welsh Government in 2014, he did so at Mr Sargeant’s request and timed the questions to coincide with Mr Sargeant telling him that a formal complaint of bullying had been made against a special advisor (SPAD) to the Welsh Government.
Mr Jones was not in the Senedd to hear Mr Millar’s statement, having left after fielding First Minister’s questions.
TWO ISSUES UNRAVELLED
The issue of the First Minister’s treatment of Carl Sargeant and the latter’s death have become intertwined with a second issue, namely whether or not the First Minister misled the Assembly when he said – three years ago – no allegations of bullying had been made to him about the conduct of either special advisers or specialist advisers.
This article sets out the way in which both issues wind around themselves and why Carwyn Jones finds himself in jeopardy.
There are currently three investigations ongoing that affect the First Minister directly and indirectly. A further investigation – into allegations made against Carl Sargeant – has been discontinued.
The first investigation is into the way Mr Jones investigated allegations against Mr Sargeant; the second is into whether he misled AMs; the final one is the investigation by HM Coroner into Carl Sargeant’s death. Any one of the outcomes of those investigations have the potential to end Mr Jones’ career in ignominy.
While each of those investigations are hazardous to the First Minister’s political health, if Mr Jones is found to have breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct, there is no way for him to ride out the ensuing storm.
WHAT IS THE MINISTERIAL CODE?
‘Ministers are expected to behave according to the highest standards of constitutional and personal conduct in the performance of their duties’.
The ministerial Code, issued by the First Minister, provides guidance to ministers on how they should act and arrange their affairs in order to uphold these standards. In particular, they are expected to observe the 7 principles of public life and the principles of ministerial conduct. The code applies to Cabinet Secretaries, Ministers and the Counsel General.
WHAT DOES THE CODE SAY?
‘It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to the Assembly, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead the Assembly will be expected to offer their resignation to the First Minister.
‘In particular, the First Minister may also refer matters concerning himself to an Independent Adviser’.
WHY IS CARWYN JONES IN DIFFICULTIES?
In November 2014, Darren Millar AM submitted a Written Assembly Question to the First Minister asking: ‘Has the First Minister ever received any reports or been made aware of any allegations of bullying by special and/or specialist advisers at any time in the past three years and, if so, when and what action, if any, was taken?’
Mr Jones’ answer could not have been more unequivocal: ‘No allegations have been made’.
WHAT IS CARWYN JONES ALLEGED TO HAVE DONE?
Mr Jones’ version of events has been challenged by his former Cabinet colleague Leighton Andrews.
Leighton Andrews says: ‘I made a complaint to the First Minister about one aspect of [deliberate personal undermining of Carl Sargeant], 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’.
Mr Jones has maintained that no allegations were made, sparking a war of words between himself and Mr Andrews. At First Minister’s questions on December 5, Carwyn Jones came perilously close to calling his former colleague a liar. Mr Andrews responded by publishing a more detailed account of events and invited the First Minister to repeat what he had said in the Senedd without the benefit of Parliamentary Privilege to protect him from legal action.
Mr Jones has, so far, declined Mr Andrews’ invitation.
Now, fuel has been thrown onto the smoking embers under the First Minister.
In a devastating Personal Statement in the Senedd thisTuesday, the Conservative AM Darren Millar revealed that not only had he been asked by the late Carl Sargeant to ask the November 2014 question, but also that Mr Sargeant asked him to delay asking the question until AFTER an allegation of bullying was made to the First Minister against a named SPAD. By way of corroboration, Mr Millar revealed that he had discussed the matter during October and November 2014 with the Conservative Chief Whip, Paul Davies. Mr Millar also said that other AMs were aware of what was going on.
The First Minister’s answer can only be read compatibly with the accounts given by Mr Millar and Mr Andrews if he can claim either that he did not understand the question at the time, or that the question was phrased so as to make his answer entirely truthful without it being in anyway accurate. Mr Jones has suggested that what he calls his ‘lawyerly way’ might have led him into answering the question the way he did, but he has rather undone that suggestion by his subsequent comments attacking others’ accounts.
If the answer cannot be read compatibly with the accounts of his fellow AMs – and it is a significant verbal stretch to perceive how it might be, no matter how ‘lawyerly’ Mr Jones’ way is – then the choices left are stark.
For Mr Jones’ response in November 2014 to hold water he will have to successfully advance the proposition that several other AMs are themselves lying or are/were mistaken. The odds are not in Mr Jones’ favour on that one.
And the alternative position for Mr Jones – that he did not treat complaints as being made formally or that complaints that were made to him were not made in the correct form or format – lays him open to a charge of dealing with Mr Millar’s questions in less than good faith. Moreover, if Mr Jones did not take the allegations seriously because he regarded it as part and parcel of the normal rough and tumble of politics, it runs an absolute coach and horses through the pious approach he took before Mr Sargeant’s death.
Neither proposition, no matter how finessed, lets Carwyn Jones off the hook. The former would instantly end his career as First Minister; the latter would wound him so severely that he would - almost certainly – be persuaded to step down in favour of an alternative leader. In short, and in either of those circumstances, Mr Jones was either a knave or a fool.
WHO KNEW WHAT AND WHEN?
And there is another wrinkle of suspicion that bears consideration: if Mr Sargeant did complain about an over-mighty SPAD, it is open to question whether or not his card was marked. A self-perpetuating club of insiders would not take kindly to having their gilded cages rattled; links are undeniably strong between the national Welsh media and some ministerial special advisers.
That possibility is given some credence by what former Cabinet member Leighton Andrews wrote on his blog.
The Herald contacted Mr Andrews regarding his blog’s content and the First Minister’s remarks regarding bullying. He gave us permission to quote directly from his blog.
‘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’
Mr Andrews asks the question ‘who leaked?’ The ancillary questions to that are ‘who would benefit from such a leak?’ and ‘what would be such a leak’s purpose?’
A QUESTION OF TIMING
Mr Andrews’ sequence of events is of vital importance.
Mr Sargeant was dismissed as a Cabinet Secretary on November 3 and died on November 7. Two days after that event members of the Labour Assembly Group were told by one of their number that their deceased former colleague’s dismissal was leaked to them before Carl Sargeant was dismissed. Mr Andrews’ allegations that news of Mr Sargeant’s dismissal was currency among Labour MPs beforehand and a journalist was informed would be the toxic icing on a cake.
The reason for that is straightforward: at the time he was dismissed and at the time of his death Mr Sargeant had not been given the details of the allegations made against him by anonymous third parties whose versions of events he was given no opportunity to rebut. The leaking of his dismissal suggests that the case against Mr Sargeant had been judged by the First Minister and a decision made that would take no account of his innocence, guilt, or ability to answer the charges. If, has been alleged, the First Minister had previously dismissed one of the complaints relied upon to sack his ‘dear friend’, questions arise about the First Minister’s competence in deciding the allegations. Most tellingly, it is one of Mr Jones’ SPADs who carried out inquiries for the First Minister into the allegations against Mr Sargeant.
The number of people who would and should have known about both the investigation into Mr Sargeant and the decision to dismiss him would have been passingly small. Mr Jones himself and perhaps a handful of other people. Political circles being notorious hubs for gossip, it would take only one leak for ripples to spread.
There is no doubt that if the First Minister does not know who leaked he is being peculiarly incurious.
At the end of Mr Millar’s statement on Tuesday, a number of prominent Labour members exchanged looks that suggested that their consciences might well now be pricking them into reflecting on what they knew.
Mr Jones’ position has not looked more precarious than it does now and, while some AMs have accused others of seeking to settle political scores, it seems that Mr Millar’s intervention might well prove the one that does for the First Minister.
Greens announce candidate in Ceredigion
CEREDIGION Green Party has selected local community councillor Chris Simpson as their candidate in the upcoming General Election on 12th December. Chris, who moved to Aberystwyth in 1982 and who recently retired from his post as Consultant Pathologist said,
“Politics has been a major part of my life for the last 40 years, working in the Green Party locally and nationally. Finally the Climate Crisis is beginning to get the attention it deserves. We need to act now to rapidly decarbonise our economy and adapt society accordingly. We can’t put this off any longer if we want to leave a habitable planet for our children and grandchildren. I am very proud to represent the Green Party at this crucial time in politics.”
Vital that young people engage in politics
Caleb Rees makes speech to Welsh Youth Parliament
Welsh Youth Parliament Member for Ceredigion, Caleb Rees, has called on young people to take part in politics in a speech to the Welsh Youth Parliament last week.
Caleb Rees said that the ‘wave of young people’ taking part in climate change protests showed that there is an appetite to take part in politics.
“Without a doubt, climate change is going to affect our future and our entire generation and so it was wonderful to see so many young people from all parts of Wales such as Aberystwyth and Ceredigion taking part.
“Personally, this is important to us as a Youth Parliament because it demonstrates young people’s interest in politics and most importantly young people’s willingness to speak out and express their opinions.
“This ties in with the National Assembly’s intention to lower the voting age to 16 years of age, demonstrating that young people in Wales are genuinely interested in having their say and taking part in the political process.
“It is vital that we as members of the First Youth Parliament do our level best to encourage any young person to take part in politics in some way, be it over climate change or not.”
Elin Jones AM for Ceredigion said, “As Caleb said in his speech, more and more young people are seeing the importance of engaging with the political process. This upcoming election will be another opportunity for young people to set out the kind of Ceredigion, and world they want to live in.
“I’m glad that the National Assembly for Wales is proposing to see the voting age reduced to 16 for the next Welsh elections, but unfortunately this is not the case for Westminster.
“I look forward to more inspiring contributions by the Welsh Youth Parliament, including more from Caleb, who is a great spokesperson for Ceredigion.”
First Minister calls for a second EU referendum
THE FIRST MINISTER of Wales, Mark Drakeford, has called for a second EU referendum in response to the imminent change in Conservative leadership.
After the results of the European Parliamentary Elections were announced, Mr Drakeford issued a statement, saying: “I warmly congratulate Jackie Jones on her election as a member of the European Parliament. Jackie, along with Matthew [Dorrance], Mary [Wimbury] and Mark [Whitcutt] served our party as candidates in what has been the most challenging of circumstances.
“Ever since the referendum in 2016, the Welsh Government has respected the result by arguing for a form of Brexit which would protect Welsh jobs and our economy. Labour colleagues in Westminster have done the same, most recently in negotiations with the UK Government.
“The election of a new Conservative leader changes all of that. It eliminates the chances of any agreed form of Brexit and it hugely increases the very real danger of a catastrophic no-deal exit from the EU. We cannot and will not stand by while that takes place.
“Faced with the damage of a hardline Tory Brexit, Welsh Labour believes that the final decision must be made by the public in a referendum. And, for the avoidance of any doubt, a Welsh Labour Government would campaign, in such a vote, for Wales to remain in the EU.
“We will work with any others who seek the same outcome.”
Last Thursday (May 24), Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she will quit as leader of the Conservatives on June 7, with it thought that a new leader could be in place by the end of July.
Many believe the party will elect a right wing leader who would be willing to propose a no deal Brexit, although there has been a majority against that option when Parliament voted on it before. Brexit policy was also key to the European Parliamentary Elections, where the Labour Party failed to attract votes, with its lead candidate Jackie Jones narrowly taking the final MEP seat in Wales.
The party claimed just 15.3% of the vote in Wales and 14.1% UK wide, with many pointing at the party’s indecision regarding its stance over Brexit as the reason for the loss of voters.
Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has been criticised by many in his party over his reluctance to openly support another referendum, as he attempted to appease both remain and leave voters with his Brexit policy. Mr Drakeford had been similarly reluctant to definitively back another referendum, but with this statement has gained the support of many in the party who wish for a second vote.
The European election results were also poor for the Conservatives, getting just 6.5% of the vote in Wales, and 9.09% across the UK. Governments often perform poorly in European elections, as the public express their disappointment with the ruling party, but this was the Conservatives’ worst ever result in a nationwide election by some way.
The party did not manage to come first in a single council area. The Brexit Party gained 32.5% of the vote in Wales, with Nathan Gill and James Wells claiming two of the country’s four MEP seats for Nigel Farage’s party. Plaid Cymru won 19.6% of the vote, with Jill Evans retaining her seat as Plaid beat Labour for the first time in a Wales-wide vote.
Andrew RT Davies, AM for South Wales Central and former leader of the Welsh Conservative Party, said: “The European Elections proved extremely difficult for the two major parties, but a second referendum is certainly not the answer. Labour promised to respect the Brexit vote, but rerunning the referendum would completely tear up this pledge.
“Regrettably, the First Minister has buckled at the first sign of discontent from his Labour colleagues who have been in denial ever since the people of Wales voted to leave the European Union back in 2016. That’s not leadership.
“People in Wales voted to leave and that should be respected and now delivered – anything else will have severe consequences for democracy as we know it in this country.”
In the 2016 referendum, Wales saw a turnout of 71.7% of its eligible voters, with 52.53% voting to leave and 47.47% voting to remain.
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