The next First Minister needs to break up the noxious nexus at the heart of Welsh politics

Tŷ Hywel

Daran Hill

Do not expect me to be objective when it comes to the Welsh Labour leadership contest which has now begun.

It has come about as a result of the discrediting and death of my best friend, Carl Sargeant,

I still struggle to see anything that Welsh Labour does without viewing it through the prism of the past.

I will endeavour to be objective about candidates, but not about issues and process. In recent days, since Carwyn Jones decided to slope off stage, I have wanted two particular things out of the current situation.

The first is a speedy conclusion to the leadership contest, because I believe it is in the interests of both Labour and Wales that the current First Minister buggers off as quickly as possible.

His threat of legal action against the Assembly over the leak inquiry report, and the obfuscation of his answers to both oral and written questions, shows that he has become a danger to Wales’ devolution and democracy.

He is mired in the muck of his own making.

To this end there is a big part of me that has hoped in recent days for a coronation of a successor even before nominations have opened, because that way the whole process would be speeded up and both Carwyn and Wales can move on quickly.

Such an eventuality seems unlikely. Even those closest to the only potential coronation figure, Mark Drakeford, have suggested such an approach is not helpful to Labour and the big discussion it needs to have.

Ok, so I’ll accept that. Let me therefore suggest a major topic for discussion in the leadership election that looks likely to happen – the poisonous culture prevalent in parts of Welsh Labour.

Smears

As Leighton Andrews and others have detailed, this culture was certainly prevalent back in October 2014.

The James Hamilton report may exonerate Carwyn Jones from providing untrue or contradictory answers, but read it in detail and it paints a grim picture of an unhappy ship.

Unfortunately, we have not seen a change in the six months since Carl Sargeant’s death. The smears and lies have kept coming.

Anonymous briefing and undermining is the stock in trade of some of those within government circles and in the immediate vicinity.

I am not an angel and nor could I plausibly ever pretend to be. But my political interventions, for what they are worth, are never anonymous, and they are always public and independent.

My comments wind up those closest to me and often meant that Carl called me a bit of a twat. But hey, that’s me.

I don’t lurk in shadows spreading poison and manipulating every situation for my own personal, political or commercial advantage.

When I do a media interview on politics as an independent commentator, I don’t ring up Transport House or the fifth floor of Welsh Government for a line first.

Indeed, I haven’t even shown this article to anyone before submitting it.

Because whatever my faults – and they are not few – I do still have integrity.

And the biggest piece of advice I can offer Mark Drakeford or whoever else takes over Welsh Labour is to restore that integrity to government.

Clean up

End the culture of smears and division, and root out the whispering ones, be they special advisers, party apparatchiks or lobbyists with a little bit too much access to government.

Take back control properly. Break up the network that was smearing Carl for months before he died, and has been surreptitiously attacking those of us who have relentlessly kept up the pressure for inquiries to be held, to begin, and to uncover the truth.

And that isn’t a job application or an appeal for anything different for me personally or for the others who have fought so determinedly to outs Carwyn Jones.

I want no more access or favour than I’ve had before and, truth be told, this article and others may even make me less popular than I am in certain quarters now.

But what I do want is for Welsh Labour to clean up its act and cut out the cancers. This contest is no more than a few days in and we are already seeing the first signs of smearing and anonymous briefing.

When news emerged to Adrian Masters of ITV Wales that Mark Drakeford and Ken Skates might potentially be in negotiation around the future, it was dissed immediately by “some I’ve spoken to” (notice the plural) as a “sneaky deal”.

Let me be clear on this: during a leadership contest, candidates talk to one another. They make arrangements. They make deals. That is politics. It is not sneaky or underhand.

The sneaky and underhand bit is the poisonous discourse used by the anonymous briefers.

I suspect this “sneaky” comment is just the first of many that will characterise the coming months.

Some people cannot help themselves, they know no other way of operating, and they cannot bear but to interfere surreptitiously and murkily.

Whoever runs the campaigns of the candidates needs to pledge to clean that aspect up, and whoever wins needs to make sure the noxious nexus is broken up.

Because Welsh Labour needs a new culture as much as it needs a new leader.

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