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Opinion

Our democracy is threatened in multiple ways and on multiple fronts. It’s time to draw a line and work for change

11 Feb 2024 8 minute read
Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash

Martin Shipton

Welsh democracy is in a mess.

Our next First Minister is being elected by a process that is deeply flawed, the Senedd’s electoral system is being changed to one where we won’t be allowed to vote for human beings, and those whose responsibility it was to make sure that a significant public body was run properly happily nodded through a big pay rise for the boss at a time when the organisation was riddled with misogyny and under investigation.

Now, in a grotesque parody of how an election is supposed to work, someone who was the runner-up in an unofficial party election has, after being declared the winner, been given a seat in the House of Lords.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever met Carmen Smith, whose announcement as a Plaid Cymru peer was made on February 9. A former deputy president of the NUS in Wales and an ex chief of staff of the party, from what I’ve heard she’s competent and caring. Be that as it may, it is a democratic outrage that she has been made a peer.

Elections and the House of Lords don’t really sit well together. Like the monarchy, it’s a post-feudal institution – and it retains the power to legislate. Ironically, until now the only elections relating to the House of Lords have seen hereditary peers voting to replace colleagues who have died.

Plaid Cymru has broken new ground. With its former leader Dafydd Wigley approaching 81, he gave notice some time ago that he wants to retire. At the end of February it will be 50 years since he was first elected as the MP for Caernarfon.

After leading Plaid to a spectacular success at the first National Assembly election in 1999, when it won 17 seats, he stepped down from elected politics in 2003.

His career resumed eight years later when he accepted a seat in the Lords at a time when the National Assembly had to seek permission from Westminster to legislate in devolved policy areas.

Replacement

Plaid decided it wanted to nominate a replacement for Lord Wigley, but rather than letting party leader Rhun ap Iorwerth make the choice, as happens in other parties, an internal election was held.

As Nation.Cymru reported last December, former MP Elfyn Llwyd received about two and a half times the number of votes as Ms Smith, but she was declared the winner because Plaid’s National Executive Committee (NEC) decided that its new peer had to be a woman.

Realistically, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was never going to appoint more than one Plaid peer, and that indeed is what has happened. Constitutionally, Mr Sunak had to turn a blind eye to Plaid’s internal election and treat the nomination of Ms Smith as someone simply put forward by Rhun ap Iorwerth.

But that shouldn’t stop us from being outraged at how the choice was made.

The NEC’s insistence on nominating a woman no matter what the result of the party election had nothing to do with gender balance. It was about subverting democracy by depriving the candidate with the most votes of the victory he had won.

When foreign dictators stage mock elections where the result is rigged in advance, we call it out for the corruption it is. Plaid Cymru, on this occasion, has behaved no better. I say nothing about the respective merits of Mr Llwyd and Ms Smith – that was for Plaid members to make a judgment about. But those on Plaid’s NEC who rigged the election in favour of Ms Smith trashed democracy in a way that the likes of Alexander Lukashenko and Robert Mugabe would surely have applauded.

Rigging

An arguably more subtle form of rigging, though in fact no less brazen, is being attempted in the Welsh Labour leadership contest. Crucial to Vaughan Gething’s chance of winning involved gaining an advantage by securing endorsements from the big Labour-affiliated trade unions.

This was achieved by getting the support of a small number of committee members responsible for deciding whether the union threw its weight behind Mr Gething or his rival Jeremy Miles. When members of the Unite committee seemed likely to support Mr Miles, the union’s so-called regional secretary for Wales intervened and disqualified Mr Miles on spurious grounds.

Having scooped up all the big unions’ nominations, Mr Gething has an enormous advantage. Members of the unions concerned have since been bombarded with pro-Gething promotional material, while Mr Miles has no access to the union membership lists.

This is also an anti-democratic disgrace which should never have been allowed to happen. Either unions should only be able to nominate a leadership candidate if they ballot members to see who they want to support, or both candidates should have been allowed equal access to the union members. This is not a trivial or nitpicking point – there are less than 20,000 Labour Party members in Wales, but more than 100,000 union affiliate members.

Turnout

While the turnout has in the past been much higher among ordinary party members than among affiliates, Mr Gething’s team sees a path to victory if his propaganda advantage among union members succeeds in mobilising more to vote for him.

What’s happened is, of course, grossly unfair and another example of how our democracy is being undermined. The winner won’t just become the leader of Welsh Labour, but First Minister. This is no way to elect the head of our Welsh Government.

Democracy depends on robust scrutiny and high quality governance to ensure standards are maintained in the public sector. The other day Deputy Social Partnership Minister Hannah Blythyn sacked the entire board of the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service.

They had approved a £12k pay rise for the chief fire officer, even though there was an external investigation going on into a culture of misogyny and sexual harassment similar to that previously uncovered at the WRU.

It was additionally worrying that all 24 board members were elected councillors who were nominated to the board by the local authorities they sit on. All of them were paid extra for being members of the board. Twenty of the 24 are Labour councillors, two are Tories, one is Plaid and another a Liberal Democrat.

Since all the parties are tainted by this scandal, none are especially keen to highlight it, although Ms Blythyn deserves to be commended for taking the firm action she did.

When I sought comment from the 24, none of them wanted to say anything. The moral of this episode is that those given governance duties must take them seriously and not become too pally with those they are supposed to be holding to account. What happened illustrated another weakness of our democracy that needs to be addressed.

Closed List

The fourth area of major concern is, of course, the imposition of the Closed List electoral system on future Senedd elections. Like most people, I suspect, I want to be able to cast my vote for an actual human being – or indeed multiple human beings in an open system of proportional representation that gives me the power to make choices based on my evaluation of the candidates.

My awareness of the Machiavellian shenanigans that goes on behind the scenes in every party has turned me into a sceptic bordering on cynicism.

Putting it bluntly, I don’t trust the party apparatchiks responsible for facilitating the selection of candidates to perform their duties with honesty and integrity. There have been too many examples where people of calibre have found themselves excluded or downgraded because they are considered too independently minded and have not been prepared to pursue a career of unreflective docility.

We recently learnt that Welsh Labour has decided to reserve places at the top of the Closed Lists for sitting MSs who are seeking re-election. That couldn’t happen under the STV (Single Transferable Vote) system, because voters could rank the candidates as they wished. A party candidate who wasn’t popular because they were seen as lazy or for any other reason could be sacked by the electorate. But if they sucked up to the party hierarchy and did their bidding, they would be untouchable.

Our democracy is threatened in multiple ways and on multiple fronts. It’s time to draw a line and work for change.


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adrian savill
adrian savill
3 months ago

Rhybudd i bawb!

Beau Brummie
Beau Brummie
3 months ago

How low will the percentages for voter turnout need to be at the next Senedd or General Elections to render these de facto invalid? These are subjective Qs, but I’m interested in any answers.

We’re stumbling into the darkness.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
3 months ago

Mr Llwyd this is shocking news, we have been duped by a man pointing a finger at England while stealing our future…

I remember well when Drakeford and Gething fetched the Baroness back from London, I knew then by their body language if nothing else that they had been turned, got at, offered a deal neither could refuse…

Henry VII part two…

To hell with them…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
3 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Nearly three years(May 2021) since we got saddled with the Baroness, making this plot at least three years in the making…Solicitor Politicians…

The talk on here of UDI, lets go for it alone in Gwynedd…arise Prince Dyfrig

Last edited 3 months ago by Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
3 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

There was a whole load of stuff both in Cymru but especially in Wasteminster going on about overruling devo etc ‘time for a closer look’…

(with due respect to Seth Meyers, a US late show host who shares his birthdate with my Dad 60 years apart) !

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
3 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

It was 7th Jan 2020 (shivers) the EU Withdrawal Bill “the powers allow UK ministers to act alone or jointly (with Scottish or Welsh ministers) to make provision in devolved policy areas.”…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
3 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

The threat to democracy still has the monthly ear of Rishi@Slash, Burn and Pillage UK, since 1987 and his victory at Wapping this man has controlled our/UK democracy. Another reason to pity the Devil, he has Thatcher and Murdoch will be joining them soon…The Freedom of the Press to break a country on behalf of whom exactly…?

Mandi A
Mandi A
3 months ago

Not forgetting the Executive which ‘oversees’ the Senedd, unelected and unaccountable (and very expensive to run), and the equally unelected and unaccountable extensive powers of the Future Generations Commissioner.

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
3 months ago
Reply to  Mandi A

You seem to have forgotten the cost of giving Westminster a makeover – currently running at £20 billion and rising!

Ianto
Ianto
3 months ago

I have no intention of participating in such a Putinesque insult to democracy.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
3 months ago

I’m really gutted about Elfyn Llwyd, if ever a man was worthy of such a title and he may feel as I do but I would have been as proud as hell, we have met in various ways over the years and every time I was impressed. The first was early on a wet Sunday morning in the old camp at Llanbedr, he was unveiling a plaque to the wartime ATC, there was just a handful of us but he had turned out. As an ex member of 2445 Sqn I took it personally ! When he stood up in… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
3 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Naive and devious fools, this needs to go to court Rhun or you will pay the price…Solicitor Politicians, really cannot be trusted…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
3 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Another time with Mr Llwyd I captured in a photo, he and Harry A were aboard a launch and we were setting off to escort the entrants in the Three Peaks Yacht Race to the start line behind the Barmouth Life-Boat…I think perhaps I might send him a copy. He and Harry were good friends if I remember rightly…RIP Harry A…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
3 months ago

So this has been the Andy and Mark Punch and Judy Show and we thought it was for real. ‘The Fat Shanks’ effect…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
3 months ago

As an adjunct to my Llanbedr memory of Elfyn, a series of pulp-fiction books by the sadly late author Guy N. Smith began with an attack by giant crabs on ‘Shell Island’ and Llanbedr aerodrome. ‘The Night of the Crabs’ became a classic and is highly prized by collectors…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
3 months ago

It is now the year of the Dragon in Chinese Astrology,

We should borrow the day and the Year.

I expect there were a few banks and flashes in China Town…

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
3 months ago

What a fantastic article! It is an absolute disgrace that the corruption, that we are supposed to have rejected by voting for devolution, has been allowed to creep in. There should be no tolerance of corruption in Wales. Thank you for highlighting this, Martin Shipton, most of us would be none the wiser otherwise.

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
3 months ago

To prove their commitment to democracy, the winner of the Welsh Labour leadership contest should call an election and let the public have the opportunity to endorse or reject their leadership.

Annibendod
Annibendod
3 months ago

I would like to hear what Plaid has to say about this internal election. Has Nation.Cymru sought comment from the party?

Last edited 3 months ago by Annibendod
Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
3 months ago
Reply to  Mark Mansfield

How did I miss that !

Wet behind the ears but a lobbyist for Bute Energy and Female !

Democracy in Cymru ends here…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
3 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

I remember, we were busy trying to prevent YG from euthanizing my mother-in-law by failing to hydrate her…we lost they won…

Caradoc
Caradoc
3 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

indeed

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
3 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Hera! Hear!

Caradoc
Caradoc
3 months ago
Reply to  Mark Mansfield

There is an error in your original report. You said: “She graduated with a law degree from Bangor University in 2016″ She did nothing of the sort. She completed the first year of her three year law degree at Bangor. She then took time out to work for the NUS, and never returned to her studies. She is not a university graduate, in law or in anything else. This error has been replicated in other places, including that notoriously unreliable and self editing source, Wikipedia. So, Nation Cymru, Martin Shipton, and others, has somebody been misleading, or failing to correct… Read more »

Caradoc
Caradoc
3 months ago
Reply to  Mark Mansfield

I’ll try again.

Carmen Ria Smith does not have a law degree from Bangor University. She completed the first year of her law degree in 2015-16 before taking a job with the NUS. Yet it has been stated in the Nation Cymru report, link above, that she has a law degree, and in other sources. Let’s get to the facts.

Martin Shipton?

If this message is deleted, an email to the Western Mail is on its way. You never know, Elfyn might be back in the frame sooner than we think.

Caradoc
Caradoc
3 months ago
Reply to  Mark Mansfield

Yes, that is exactly what I said.

Somebody else has drawn my attention to her Linkedin profie, which is rather imprecise in places, and could be construed as claiming that she obtained an LLB from Bangor University.

The claim she has a law degree is repeated in various places including in this ridiculously adulatory article: https://bnnbreaking.com/world/carmen-ria-smith-the-youngest-life-peer-set-to-make-history-in-the-house-of-lords

I wonder why?

By the way, having a law degree does not of itself make you qualified for a life peerage. Just to be clear.

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
3 months ago
Reply to  Caradoc

You couldn’t make it up! Plaid Cymru has lifted incompetence to star ship levels. Rhun is a joke.
However, there is a very serious issue here. I know what degrees I’ve got and all my friends and family know what degrees they’ve got – and not got!
It’s the kind of mistake you simply don’t make – her integrity is in doubt, and that of the party.

Annibendod
Annibendod
3 months ago
Reply to  Mark Mansfield

Diolch Mark. I’m sure Carmen is a capable person. The question here is whether or not it was made clear at the time of the vote, the order in which the candidates would be chosen. If it was clear then it is much ado about nothing. If it wasn’t then there are obvious and valid concerns about the process and something that the party must correct. I’m far more concerned about the proposed closed lists system right now. Martin Shipton is right to raise concerns about this. He is also right to argue in favour of rigorous democracy in Wales.… Read more »

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
3 months ago
Reply to  Annibendod

I’m surprised that the issue of closed lists hasn’t been noted by those who’ve proposed it and decisions been taken to go back to the drawing board given that they are basically trying it on big time with the electorate must by now realise that closed lists are a non-starter as far as the vast majority of the electorate are concerned. But, there again I’m not surprised, as, despite pledges by Welsh Labour to ‘do politics differently here’ it’s all beginning to look all too same old, same old, just like Westminster complete with the stitch-ups that make a mockery… Read more »

Caradoc
Caradoc
3 months ago
Reply to  Annibendod

It is not much ado about nothing at all Annibendod. You cannot have failed to make the connection between the case of Lady Brown and the closed lists issue. Martin Shipton clearly did (and may I join the chorus of praise for his insightful article). Party apparatchicks have smelt this opportunity coming for a long time- they can’t wait to get on board. The Lady Brown affair has tested the waters, and must serve as a warning and wake up call to us all. We should also use it to warn the stupid of the threat of a Welsh political… Read more »

Iago Traferth
Iago Traferth
3 months ago
Reply to  Annibendod

It is someone else’s fault.

Andrew Thomas
Andrew Thomas
3 months ago

Thank you Martin great work again from Nation.Cymru also a shoutout to Emily Price for her exposure on the shenanigans in YesCymru and getting trolled for it great work all round Nation.Cymru

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
3 months ago

If there was ever any question that Plaid Cymru has completely lost the plot, the announcement that Carmen Smith is to replace Dafydd Wigley must be it. In a desperate attempt to show its political correctness (or wokeness?), it ignored an election in which the successful candidate achieved major success and decided to ignore the result and appoint the loser. Sod democracy! Aside from the Stalinist approach to democracy, what qualifications does Ms Smith have? I’m sure she’s a very pleasant person, but what business, management or real political experience does she have – aside from working inside the party… Read more »

Dewi Evans
Dewi Evans
3 months ago

Plaid’s decision (well, its National Executive) to agree a system where an inexperienced member of the party ends up in the House of Lords – is a joke. Based on a few dozen votes I understand.

One has to feel dreadfully sorry for all those poor Tory supporters who have donated 100s of thousands of pounds to their party before aspiring to the ermine and their rightful place on the Red Benches.

Now if they had joined Plaid, well …. A few votes! And you’re in!

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
3 months ago
Reply to  Dewi Evans

In my Cymru we will all be equally important, no more forelock tugging serfdom, no more linked-in backscratching societies. As far as I can see they are all rejects from the Thursday Night Club…

Dai Ponty
Dai Ponty
3 months ago

2 Things threaten Welsh Democracy 1 English people far more of them and they tend to vote for the right wing 2 Tory Party they want to reverse our democracy and take back control and trat us more like a colony

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
3 months ago
Reply to  Dai Ponty

You omitted Plaid Cymru

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
3 months ago

Sad day in Old Colwyn tomorrow for the booksellers and bibliophiles of Cymru and South London…

Bob Owen is bound to be there…

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