A Chair who interferes in the disciplinary process would cause chaos in Plaid Cymru
I suppose that I should start by declaring an interest. I sit on the Plaid’s National Executive Committee and on its Membership, Standards and Disciplinary Committee. I served on the disciplinary panel during Neil McEvoy’s first hearing and I also attended the hearing that failed to reach a decision as to whether he should be allowed to re-join the party.
However, I have no intention of referring to Neil McEvoy’s case specifically in this article.
What I would like to do however is to correct a number of misunderstandings as to how the party’s disciplinary processes work. A typical example of this is Dewi Evans’s comments here:
“What is not healthy is when differences get personal, and members are being expelled for being in the ‘ wrong ‘ group or being on the ‘ wrong ‘ side of the debate.”
It is totally misleading to suggest that the disciplinary process works in this way. A look at how the procedures of the Membership, Standards and Disciplinary Committee actually work might help readers better understand the party’s position.
The main task of the body is to consider what action to take when a complaint is received that a member or members of the party has or have breached the party’s standing orders.
As the name suggests the purpose of standing orders is to regulate the way in which the party and its members conduct themselves.
If a complaint about a member is received, there are essentially three steps taken by the Membership, Standards and Disciplinary Committee:
1.) Once the complaint is received it’s transferred to a panel of three members (usually). The panel considers the complaint, looks for further evidence if necessary, and holds a hearing if it considers that there is a case to answer.
Following the hearing the panel will come to a judgement whether or not standing orders have been breached, and if it deems that rules have been breached, it will proceed to consider appropriate sanctions.
2.) If the individual who has been deemed to have breached standing orders believes that he / she has not been treated fairly, they may appeal the finding of the panel and/or the severity of the sanction. A panel of three will then consider the appeal.
There is obviously no communication regarding the case between the members of the new panel and those who sat on the original panel.
3.) If a member is excluded he / she may apply to re-join the party after the period of the exclusion expires. The request is considered by the full Membership and Disciplinary Committee rather than a panel.
The task is rather different this time. The main consideration is whether there is evidence that the appellant is likely to breach the same standing orders again.
There are good reasons for this. If an appellant does not understand, for example, that he/she has breached standing orders the likelihood is that the member will breach the same rule again, and another similar complaint will be submitted and the process will start all over again.
Contrary to Dewi Evans’ suggestion, no consideration of any kind is given to the political views of the subject of the complaint – unless those views are contrary to the party’s standing orders, and that view is the reason for the complaint. I am not aware of any case where this has happened.
The process is independent and it cannot be interfered in by anyone outside the Committee. If Dewi Evans was elected to the chair, he wouldn’t have any power whatsoever to allow excluded members to return – no more than he would if he was the Leader, Chief Executive, Assembly Member, MP, National Council member, or a member of the NEC who doesn’t sit on Membership, Standards and Disciplinary Committee.
Again, there is a good reason why these processes cannot be influenced by people who don’t sit on the Committee – which is to avoid interference on political or personal grounds.
My understanding of Dewi Evans’ intentions if he’s elected as chair of the party is that he intends to do just that. An attempt to proceed in this manner would itself cause considerable internal chaos.
Furthermore, it’s implicit in the Dewi Evans’ campaign that there is no need for a disciplinary regime at all – or at least an effective disciplinary regime. But a disciplinary regime that does not penalise those who breach standing orders is of little value.
If the party lacks effective sanctions for breaches of its rules it has no respect for those rules – and if it has no respect for its own rules, it ultimately has little respect for itself.
I now turn to another misleading impression that appears to be implicit in Dewi Evans’ campaign – the perception that many people are currently excluded from the party. That simply is not true. The number of members currently excluded as a result of the disciplinary process can be counted on one hand.
For example, there is a belief at large that a large number of people are currently excluded following disagreements in Llanelli relating to the selection of a candidate to stand in the 2017 General Election.
I believe that I’m correct in stating that only one Llanelli member is currently excluded as a result of disciplinary proceedings, and that individual is quite free to apply to re-join – should he want to do so.
It is true that some members have left of their own accord, and it’s also true that the current Chair temporarily excluded the Llanelli Town Branch and a few other members, following a consistent pattern of unacceptable behaviour by some members. But those exclusions have long since come to an end.
And this brings us to the Chair’s role in the disciplinary process – and the reality of that role is in stark contrast to what is being suggested by Dewi Evans’s campaign.
The duties of the party Chair oblige him to take day-to-day decisions – quite unlike most members of the NEC. This is particularly the case when a crisis arises. If he takes a significant decision in such circumstances, he’ll subsequently ask the NEC to confirm his decision. The current Chair has had to make such decisions on occasion – and he’s shown considerable courage in some of the decisions he’s come to.
Dewi Evans asserts that conciliation is the way to address complaints against members who have breached standing orders. This way of looking at things is fundamentally flawed.
Conciliation is not a way of dealing with members who are in breach of standing orders – it’s a way of dealing with feuding individuals or factions.
Considerable efforts have been made to conciliate between different factions in the past – and the current Chair has played a leading role in some efforts at conciliation.
I believe that it’s reasonable to infer from what Dewi Evans has said that if elected Chair he would not be willing to respond robustly to difficult circumstances, that he would not want members acting in breach of standing orders to face the consequences for doing so.
He would spend much of his time trying to conciliate with members in breach of the party’s rules rather than defending the party from such individuals. He would also seek to disrupt and undermine the disciplinary process – despite the fact that he has no powers to do so.
Electing a Chair who does not want to defend the party’s standing orders, who does not want to take effective action when a crisis arises, but who also wants to disrupt processes beyond his remit, would be a serious mistake.
The last thing the party needs at this very important point in its history is a weak Chair – a Chair who makes a virtue out of weakness.