THE CONSERVATIVE Party is investigating senior Senedd members and staff’s attendance at a lockdown lock-in held on December 8.
The allegations concern a meeting in the Members’ tearoom between Labour backbencher Alun Davies and Conservative group members and their support staff.
Conservative Chief of Staff Paul Smith, Darren Millar MS the Conservatives’ Chief Whip, and Preseli Pembrokeshire MS, the Conservative Group Leader Paul Davies attended the meeting.
The incident took place on December 8, barely a week after hospitality businesses in Wales were forced to close.
Those present claim they met in the members’ tea room to discuss legislation for possible inclusion in the Welsh Conservative manifesto with the former Labour Cabinet Minister.
On December 8, the Senedd finished early because of technical issues with webcasting equipment. The record of the adjourned shows the Plenary Session attended by members ended around 5:45 in the evening.
The Sun newspaper alleges that drinking continued until the early hours of the following (Wednesday) morning.
‘WE DIDN’T BREAK THE RULES’
Those attending deny any breach of the lockdown rules.
A joint statement from Paul Davies, Darren Millar, and Paul Smith said: “We are profoundly sorry for our actions.
“While we did not break the rules, we recognise that what was part of a day’s work would not be seen to be following the spirit of them, especially given the tough time the country has been going through.”
Monmouth Conservative MS Nick Ramsay was named among those present in the tearoom at the time. His name was not, however, attached to the joint statement referred to above.
On Wednesday (January 20), Mr Ramsay denied he attended any ‘gathering’ on the day in question
However, his statement is profoundly unhelpful to the others named.
Through his solicitor, Mr Ramsay confirmed he was at the tea room on his own at the Senedd, without an invitation from anyone else, after work.
“He was hungry, and he wanted to get something to eat. He was working on an article for the Argus (his local newspaper). He sat on his own and was socially distanced,” said his solicitor.
“He attended the tea room at approximately 6 pm. He had chicken curry. He left at about 8 pm. Others came in whilst he was there, but it was not a ‘gathering’ Mr Ramsay was part of.”
Taking Mr Ramsay’s words at face value, he spent two hours in the tea room, and there was ’a gathering’, with people coming in and out.
Two hours is a long time to discuss an uncontroversial potential manifesto pledge with a Government backbencher.
Again, taking Mr Ramsay’s words at face value, an inference exists that the ‘gathering’ continued after he left.
If The Sun’s claims that the ‘manifesto discussions’ extended to 2:00 am are accurate – and an internal probe by the Senedd Commission is bound to find out – those involved are doomed.
MILLAR’S WORDS HAUNT TORIES
Darren Millar’s presence intensifies the Conservatives’ embarrassment at talking the talk but not walking the walk.
In May, Mr Millar led calls for Wales’ Health Minister Vaughan Gething to be sacked for eating a bag of chips in a park with one of his own children.
When it comes to words a speaker might regret in the future, Darren Millar’s video demand for Vaughan Gething’s dismissal is one hell of a hill to choose to die upon.
It doesn’t help when your party leader doubles down on the same issue, by alluding to it in a television interview months later.
“I don’t think anybody should break the rules,” Paul Davies said, seizing the moral high ground in an ITV Wales interview from September.
“The rules were there whether you were travelling to Barnard Castle or you were travelling to buy some chips. No one should have been breaking the rules.”
Suppose the Conservative Party follows the logic of their previously stated positions. In that case, Mr Millar’s and Mr Davies’ futures look bleak indeed.
Number 10’s response was less than a ringing endorsement.
Speaking at a lobby briefing, Boris Johnson’s press secretary, said she had not spoken to the prime minister about whether Paul Davies should stay.
She added: “The prime minister needs everybody – no matter their status, no matter their position in life – to be going above and beyond in following the rules on Covid.”
To his credit, Vaughan Gething rejected the opportunity to knife Mr Millar when asked about the lockdown lock-in.
With a Senedd election only months away, the revelations have thrown the Conservatives into disarray.
Bitter recriminations have whistled around the media, involving briefing and counter-briefing from within the Conservative Party’s own ranks.
Candidates who are justifiably angry and at the sharp end of voters’ reactions have been told to shut up. Meanwhile, the hunt is on for who leaked the story.
This writer can confirm he was told about an unspecified issue involving chief whip Darren Millar before Christmas. Supposing it referred to Mr Millar’s personal life, he shelved it.
Just after the New Year, he was told Central Office was examining an issue concerning the Chief Whip and Chief of Staff.
More details emerged about an alleged party in the Senedd during lockdown which involved Senedd Members and their staff. At this stage, ten days ago at the time of writing, the story’s bones were in place. Shortly afterwards, we discovered national media already had much of the same information.
We probed further and, this Tuesday afternoon decided we had enough to publish. We invited the Conservative group press office to respond.
With the Welsh Government under increasing criticism after Mark Drakeford’s disastrous appearance on Radio Four on Monday, an opportunity to spike the Conservative guns was desperately needed.
One theory runs that Alun Davies, the Labour Member concerned, was turned in by another member of the Labour group – a Regional Member of the Senedd – who dislikes him.
It is not going too far to suppose that throwing Alun Davies under the bus to get at the Conservatives’ big guns was a price Labour thought worth paying.
The Labour press office’s statement and Alun Davies’ carefully-phrased appeared in Cardiff-based media minutes after we broke the story online.
We hadn’t even requested a comment from Labour before publishing our original article.
Having a statement ready, showed remarkable foresight by Labour’s spin machine.
None of the above distracts from the embarrassment the Conservatives have suffered.
That has not prevented a certain amount of gallows humour.
Among the tarter observations made to The Herald by one insider was that after going so aggressively at Vaughan Gething over ‘Chipgate’, things couldn’t have rebounded on a more deserving Welsh Conservative than Darren Millar.
Paul Davies is widely respected as a decent man whose own moderate and constructive instincts were pushed aside in favour of more combative and aggressive messaging.
The Conservatives’ tone in their media statements and appearances has notably calmed down in the last couple of months.
Some insiders claim Paul Davies’ failure to clamp down on his candidates’ anti-devolution rhetoric is a sign of weak leadership. They say failing to be upbeat about devolution could reap the whirlwind at elections to the Senedd.
However, the blame doesn’t all lie with Paul Davies; the nonsensically fractured leadership model the Conservatives have in Wales is also to blame.
Conservative MS David Melding wrote that an alien landing at the Conservatives’ annual conference in Llandudno who asked to be taken to the leader, would have three possible candidates: Simon Hart MP, Lord Davies of Gower (the Party Chair), or Paul Davies MS.
Where there are three centres of power, there are competing interests and egos. That causes friction. And friction produces a lot of heat and not much light.
If Paul Davies stood down, there are not many options to replace him.
David Melding and Angela Burns (the most moderate and most politically able respectively) are standing down.
Darren Millar would be out of the running.
Nick Ramsay’s problems with his Monmouthshire constituency rule him out.
Laura Anne Jones succeeded the late Oscar Ashgar last year, although she has previously been an Assembly Member.
In the last leadership election, Suzy Davies, runner up to Paul Davies, finished eighth in her party’s list primary in South Wales West. She faces a ferocious constituency contest in Bridgend.
That does not leave a vast pool from which to draw a leader: Russell George, Janet Finch-Saunders, Mark Isherwood and the elephant in every room, former leader Andrew RT Davies.
Andrew RT Davies failed to command the backing of the Senedd group and left in a huff. The composition of the Senedd group has not much changed since then. However, Andrew RT Davies’ former Chief of Staff and devoted Senedd abolitionist Chris Thorne is head of campaigns for the Conservatives in Wales. It’s a combination that may play well with the faithful but repel the voters and the Senedd group.
The lack of an obvious alternative could play to Paul Davies’ advantage. Besides, any new leader’s appointment would, necessarily, be interim. If the Senedd election goes badly, they become a footnote. If it goes well, they might still be picked off in a subsequent poll of party members favouring another candidate more appealing to them.
Such an approach went well with Jeremy Corbyn.
And, of course, the Senedd election could be delayed, leaving any interim leader in limbo as party members whinge at not having had a say in electing them.
Whatever – or whoever – happens next, the Conservatives will need good luck and a following wind to cling onto their current relative strength in Wales’ opinion polls.
Parents warned to look out for respiratory illness in children
RESPIRATORY Syncytial Virus (RSV) is circulating amongst children and toddlers in the Hywel Dda area (Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire)
Hywel Dda UHB Medical Director and Deputy Chief Executive Dr Philip Kloer said: “Because of the COVID restrictions, there have been few cases of RSV during the pandemic, but this virus has returned and in higher numbers now people are mixing more.
“RSV is a common respiratory illness which is usually picked up by children during the winter season, and causes very few problems to the majority of children. However, very young babies, particularly those born prematurely, and children with heart or lung conditions, can be seriously affected and it’s important that parents are aware of the actions to take.”
Parents are being encouraged to look out for symptoms of severe infection in at-risk children, including:
*a high temperature of 37.8°C or above (fever)
*a dry and persistent cough, difficulty feeding, rapid or noisy breathing (wheezing).
The best way to prevent RSV is to wash hands with soap and water or hand sanitiser regularly, dispose of used tissues correctly, and to keep surfaces clean and sanitised.
Most cases of bronchiolitis are not serious and clear up within 2 to 3 weeks, but you should contact your GP or call NHS 111 if:
- You are worried about your child.
- Your child has taken less than half their usual amount during the last two or three feeds, or they have had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more.
- Your child has a persistent high temperature of 37.8C or above.
- Your child seems very tired or irritable.
Dial 999 for an ambulance if:
- your baby is having difficulty breathing
- your baby’s tongue or lips are blue
- there are long pauses in your baby’s breathing
New Quay RNLI rescues person cut off by the tide
NEW Quay RNLI’s inshore lifeboat was launched on service on Saturday September 11 following a report of a person cut off by the tide at Traeth Gwyn, New Quay.
With three crew members on board the inshore lifeboat Audrey LJ it launched on service at 11.15am and did an extensive search of the beach before finding the casualty who had been cut off by the high spring tide.
Brett Stones, New Quay RNLI’s helm said, “There was an initial confusion on the location of the casualty but an update from the New Quay Coastguard Rescue team, who had fought their way down from the cliff top through thick undergrowth, allowed us to locate the person.
“We then transferred the casualty and two of the coastguard team onto the boat. We dropped the casualty off at Llanina Point and brought the two coastguard officers back to the lifeboat station. The inshore lifeboat was then rehoused and ready for service by 12.25pm.
“Remember if you see if you see anyone in difficulty or you find yourself in trouble on the coast call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.”
Ben Lake shows support for farmers on Back British Farming Day
BEN Lake MP has today shown support for British food and farming on Back British Farming Day, recognising the crucial role farmers in Ceredigion play in producing food for the nation.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) provided MPs with the emblem of the day – a wool and wheatsheaf pin badge – to enable them to join the celebration of agriculture. Food and farming is a key business sector, worth more than £120 billion to the UK economy and providing jobs for almost four million people.
The NFU chose the day to launch a new report which asks for Government to complete a comprehensive report on UK food security later this year, covering the country’s production of key foods and its contribution to global food security. This would be the first meaningful assessment of UK food security in over a decade.
Commenting, Ben Lake MP, said: “I’m proud to wear a pin badge today to show my support for Ceredigion’s fantastic farmers and growers. The day presents an opportunity to thank the farmers who feed us, as well as take care of our countryside and maintain our iconic Welsh landscapes.
“I fully support the campaign which is asking us all to value locally produced food. I will be calling on Government to adopt agricultural policies that ensure farming in Ceredigion can thrive and ensure our self-sufficiency does not fall below its current level of 60%, alongside a greater ambition in promoting Welsh food to aid UK food security.”
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