Tuesday, 17 July 2012

No confidence - Case for Change Round 2

Lesley Griffiths is due to face a grilling over the Case for Change report debacle,
but is she being treated fairly here? Is a no-confidence vote an over-reaction?
(Pic : New York Daily News)

Tomorrow, Health Minister Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham) faces a no confidence vote in the Senedd over the row last week with regard the independence of an academic report on changes to the Welsh NHS.

It's going to be a rough day for her, but I'm fully expecting Lesley to survive, even in the (unlikely) event of her losing the no confidence vote. As Gareth Hughes has pointed out, she's in the job until Carwyn Jones decides otherwise.

If you have the time actually look the report summary for yourselves. It's a highly readable piece of work that presents its case effectively and conclusively. There's very little in there that we can't all agree on. The issue is whether things have been put in there to make the case - as the e-mails revealed - "more persuasive".

That's the damaging thing as far as I see it. Any "independent" report from now on will have question marks around it. For example, the recent report about university mergers in south east Wales - which just so happens to echo Welsh Government policy very closely too.

I don't think we've seen enough grounds for a no-confidence vote. A committee session to get answers (which will happen tomorrow morning), a warning to civil servants to prevent something like this happening again and an apology in the Senedd. Case closed, wrists slapped, a red-faced minister and then, hopefully, we can get back to the matter at hand.

However, we live in Wales. We don't do things like that, do we?

The vote and the implications

People have asked me why I haven't "got off the fence" and joined a political party, whether Plaid or anyone else. If they wanted a specific example, this is it.

It's probably obvious to most of you that I consider myself a Plaid Cymru "supporter", but that doesn't mean I support everything the party says or does, including this no-confidence motion. In fact, take away my support for independence, I'm probably one of those rare creatures - a "natural Liberal Democrat", who has a love-hate relationship with Labour, and thinks that the Tories and Greens occasionally talk sense. If you're confused right now, imagine what it's like for me.

I said in my last post on the issue, that "ministerial scalps" should be reserved for obvious examples of incompetence or corruption. Alun Michael went honourably, but should never have been there in the first place. Christine Gwyther couldn't do her job properly - perhaps based on her conscience and personal beliefs - but those motions failed.

I'm not sure if it's good or bad that these mistakes get picked up much better at a devolved level than in Westminster, as devolution tends to amplify them.

Lesley Griffiths has been a poor Health Minister - I make no bones about it. However, I've seen nothing in this "scandal" that warrants a call for her head. You could argue Lesley has "misled the Senedd" by presenting an "independent" report that was leaned on to support a pre-determined conclusion. That's serious, but not sackable in this particular case.

This no-confidence motion is slightly childish and attention-seeking. I suspect this has been driven by Plaid (who've made good use of FOI requests down the years), but taken up with aplomb by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

It's the Conservatives who have been the most vocal in calling for a scalp, with Plaid and the Lib Dems taking a back seat, egging them on. That's smart. The Tories have been played very well by an increasingly shrewd Leanne Wood (or maybe in this case Elin Jones), who you've got to say is the de-facto leader of the opposition at the moment, with Kirsty Williams being - as always - an exceptional stateswoman compared to her peers.

So, are the opposition to put up, shut up, and form a governing rainbow coalition that can put their own health reforms through. No? Then what's the point of this?

Is it worth humiliating a government minister so they might cause future embarrassment to the likes of Keith Davies (Lab, Llanelli)?

The job of an opposition is to "oppose" (well, herp-de Mr Derp) – fair enough. This could be a case of the wrong action being taken for the right reasons. You can only play the no confidence card so many times until you look like the boy (or girl) crying wolf.

Don't think I'm going to let Labour off the hook. Their handling of NHS reforms has been a disgrace. They've managed to turn reasonable proposals most of us would agree to, into a political football that's probably put people off the idea.

Instead of trying to win hearts and minds, they took the Welsh Labour path of obfuscation, finger-pointing, accusations of scaremongering and top-down over-management. They probably thought we (the public) were too ill-informed, or hysterical, about NHS changes - because Labour would be in the same position - to have a rational debate. So they had to step in forcefully to press the issue. Wrong move.

An anonymous commentator left a comment on my last post earlier today, that harks back to the claims that Community Health Council's (CHC's) have been "bullied into silence" from the centre (reported recently elsewhere), as well as accusations of nepotistic appointments and being denied their say on the reforms. Sadly, even if it is true, I'm not shocked by stuff like that any more. If there's proof of that, I think it would be far more serious matter than the credibility of the report.

By underplaying the seriousness of this blunder, Labour have given the opposition more ammunition that they originally had, dragging a respected academic's name through the mud as deflection from weaknesses closer to home. They should have been upfront on this a long, long time ago.

These reforms are urgently needed. Like it or not, Labour have to be given the opportunity to deliver them as they are the ones in power. Someone is going to have to bite the bullet and see things through. For now that person is Lesley Griffiths.

She deserves a chance to turn things around. Being Health Minister is - as Betsan Powys has often described it - "the toughest job in Welsh politics". Only the economy brief deserves as large a "period of grace".

If we're still in this position 6-12 months from now, or if something far more serious emerges, a no-confidence vote would be justified. Until then, AMs need to put the toys back in the box and get their umbrellas ready for the summer recess.

There's schadenfreude in seeing government ministers done up like a kipper - but only when they really deserve it. Based on the arguments and evidence presented so far, this isn't one of those occasions.

The case for change in that regard, is pretty flimsy.


UPDATE : 18/7/2012

After one of the most cringe-worthy debates I've seen in the Assembly chamber - and some incredibly nauseating spin and counter-spin on Twitter - I'm really glad I can't be bothered to do a full follow up right now. This was a serious issue, reduced to arguments over wording, while missing the bigger issue of Lesley Griffiths' performance as Health Minister and NHS reform.

Lesley Griffiths subsequently survived the no-confidence vote by 29 votes to 28. 


  1. Labour are completely on firm ground. The Tories messed up by calling for her resignation straight away. That showed a lack of tactical nouse and misjudged the mood, and that in many ways has summed up the rot in the Welsh Tories. It's not Andrew RT Davies' fault either. They are not an effective group and haven't been in shape since Bourne and Jon Morgan lost their seats.

    Plaid and the Lib Dems have been a bit more cautious and you'd expect that from Leanne Wood and Kirsty Williams who've both worked with Labour in the past.

  2. This story only really has legs because of the Labour record of 'Sexing up' reports. It will take decades for them to regain the trust of the people, and e-mails like these (albeit rather innocent ones) don't help at all. They will be held guilty until proved innocent!

    I agree it is a good report, and there is really nothing there to disagree with. It will be a test of Leslie Griffith's mettle how successful she is in getting them through in a consensual way.

  3. Thanks for the comments.

    Anon 19:21 - Apart from Labour being on "firm ground" (they have a case to answer for, just not as serious as the opposition and general public might think), I agree 100%.

    Siônnyn - The minister holding one of the most important portfolios in devolved Wales facing a no confidence vote is worthy of legs in itself. The problem is, I doubt this is really going to have that much of an impact other than momentary embarrassment for all concerned. Hopefully we'll see a change of tact on NHS reforms, like you say. I think all parties would take that.

  4. After tomorrow's no confidence vote we'll end up with the worst of all worlds, a further loss of public trust in any changes to Health services, a damaged Minister still in post, the further discrediting of an academic and his report raising questions about all future reports and a Government and Opposition whose only priority it seems is to continue playing party politics over NHS reform.

    Another sorry episode in Welsh politics and no one in officialdom is even interested in where the Health debate goes next.

  5. I hope, ACOP, that this has allowed everyone to "let off a bit of steam", get their objections to health reform in, then they'll come back in September ready to thrash out something that everyone can agree with.

    Judging by some of the things that have happened in the last hour or so though (Betsi Cadwaladr LHB releasing their planned reforms minutes after the no-confidence vote that shows significant changes and Dafydd-El having the whip withdrawn), I suspect this is going to be a slow burner. Sigh.