A Chair who interferes in the disciplinary process would cause chaos in Plaid Cymru

Dewi Evans (left) and Alun Ffred Jones (right) are standing for Chair of Plaid Cymru. Alun Ffred picture by the National Assembly (CC BY 2.0).

Cai Larsen

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.

Discipline

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.

Robust

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.

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Max Wallis
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Max Wallis

Cai mentions he was on the first panel into McEvoy’s application to re-join the Party, reporting it failed to reach a decision. But not that the panel voted 6:5 in favour of readmission, with the chair then using her vote against. The decision they reached was reportedly that they’d reconvene and use a briefing on the issues to be prepared by Fflur Jones as chair. Instead of following her committee’s decision, their chair went to Alun Ffred as chair of the Exec., asking for suspension of all rules, disbanding her committee and recruiting a hand-picked new one. For Alun Ffred… Read more »

Idris
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Idris

Max Wallis is an avid supporter of McEvoy and consistently fails to acknowledge his misconduct, instead pedalling the false narrative of the excluded AM at every opportunity. Adam Price has publicly rejected this plan to get Dewi Evans and McEvoy’s other pals elected as chair and NEC members so that they can reinstate McEvoy. As Rhun ap Iorwerth said about McEvoy “his personality is a problem, but it’s far from just a dislike. if anyone is undermining, bullying, threatening, legally challenging time and again it is a problem”. Despite the many voices telling you this you keep supporting him. pretty… Read more »

CapM
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CapM

“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.” and “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.” Am I right in thinking, that from the above, the mechanism which may conclude with appropriate sanctions being applied can only occur if someone complains that… Read more »

Anne Greagsby
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Anne Greagsby

I hope Alun Ffred will complain about Leanne Wood bringing the party into disrepute for calling a blogger an ‘arsehole’. Members like me and Neil McEvoy have been expelled for less.
Or is it one rule for the Plaid elite.. .and other for members he doesnt like.
https://t.co/6JKSkTHr9J https://t.co/Reg0ZnPwWE

Jonathan Edwards
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Jonathan Edwards

On no account must anyone “disrupt and undermine the disciplinary process”. Plaid is faced with chaos. No, I don’t think so. No politburo for Plaid please. This is Wales, not East Germany. The Plaid disciplinary process is mostly fine. It was drawn up by lawyers and is pretty standard. What matters is who invokes it and why. That’s where Plaid is going wrong. As Leader Adam said in his Conference speech, it would be nice to do something about “our quarrels”. Clyw, clyw. Plaid’s lesson from watching Labour for 2 decades has been to import the Labour complaints culture. Toxic.… Read more »

Idris
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Idris

why should anyone take advice from Neil McEvoy’s lawyer? Prepared to defend the indefensible. Sound judgement really isn’t your forte

Jonathan Edwards
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Jonathan Edwards

OK Idris, you want to carry on quarrelling. Dismal