A sacking and its consequences- the IWA Podcast

What does the sacking of Alun Davies as a Minister say about the Welsh Government and the ministerial code?

The Minister for Natural Resources and Food, Alun Davies AM, has been sacked following weeks of controversy. The final nail in the coffin was an email requesting details of farm subsidy payments to five opposition AM’s, including two party leaders.

But what does this say about veracity of the ministerial code, and should the decision about sacking Ministers be taken out of the First Minister’s hands? What does the whole episode say about the way the Welsh Government works and the First Minister’s judgement?

Cathy Owens, Daran Hill and Lee Waters join the IWA’s Jess Blair to discuss in our latest IWA Podcast.


20 thoughts on “A sacking and its consequences- the IWA Podcast

  1. Excellent discussion – I agreed with all that was being said, even when you disagreed with each other. You had a very mature, open discussion and didn’t get into the personalities – that would be interesting mind you and there’s a lot I could say having sat next to Alun D in the chamber and committees for a few years, but I won’t !

  2. It seems to me that at least two of the “panel” are Labour supporters. Shouldn’t there be a bit of balance in these sorts of things?

    I for one will not miss Alun Davies’ arrogance and beligerance.Neither will many of my friends who are interested in the Environment in Wales.

  3. Sigh. Cathy Owens – Labour, Lee Waters – Labour, Darran Hill – Labour. Very depressing that our only decent Welsh affairs body is going down the same old path.

  4. There is an interesting contradiction that lies at the heart of Carwyn’s decision between the legal and political. His first decision to keep AD in post was based on the narrrative that he had acted as an over-zealous AM seeking to promote the economic interests of his constituents. There is apparently a background to all of this in terms of his reputation as a politician. But it would have been quite wrong for Carwyn to have made a decision based on anything other than the facts of the case. There is also the question of the appropriate remedy required for this situation. It has been argued by the opposition and others that this first breach was grounds for dismissal. Does this mean then that any breach of the code is grounds for dismissal? This would be the political equivalent of “lock them up and throw away the key” for any crime committed with no gradation of sentence.

    However this attempt to take a just approach and to come up with a measured and appropriate punishment has left Carwyn politically wounded, and the other parties who now sense blood will now be trying to derail him and his Government’s programme in the weeks to come. So should Carwyn have got rid of him immediately and risk being seeing as making over-reactive judgments or alternatively be seen as a decisive leader in full control of his party; legal v political. My own preference is for a political culture that is based on the rule of law and that those who transgress at whatever level are dealt with justly. Politics on the other hand can be extremely venal and once the blood is up, there is no stopping it. In the end the tensions that exist between politics and the law will always be in tension, especially when they are represented in the same man.

    Lorraine Barrett has said that the discussion avoided personalities and rightly so. I do not know Mr Davies personally and am unlikely ever to do so. But it has to be said that his behaviour the following day is in a bizarre way quite fascinating. Carwyn Jones has told the media that he informed Alun Davies that he was standing on the edge of a cliff. So what is interesting is that he decided to jump. No doubt at some point in the future, the explanation for that decision will emerge but right now seems as if he himself does not know why he acted as he did, as is evidenced by his apology to the five AMs whom he targeted.

    More interesting is the comment in the discussion that the Welsh Government is an unhappy one. I, for one, am curious to know what evidence there is to substantiate this.

  5. The only question that should arise out of this sacking is the relationship between Government and Legislature.

    That is that the Westminster model has a major flaw; in the incompatibility of Government and Legislature and the lack of Democratic legitimacy for the former.

    It is ridicules to staff Government Ministers from the Legislature. It means that the likes of Carwyn Jones are charged with overseeing and questioning their own work in Government. There’s already an administrative firewall between the two.

    The Government ought to be specifically elected and not use AMs (or their equivalent) to fill the jobs. Elected representatives should do the job they’ve been elected to, not subverted to something entirely different.



    In the end, the tensions that exist between politics and the law will always be in tension


    In the end the tensions that exist between politics and the law will never be fully resolvable

  7. @ Gwyn

    What you are asking for is a full separation of powers between the legislature and the administration as exists in the United States where the elected President is responsible for the administration and the Congress is responsible for legislation. The Westminster model, on which the National Assembly is based, has always drawn the Government from those elected to the legislature on the basis that a Government will require laws in order to enact its policies.

    There is no logical reason why Wales should slavishly follow a model inherited from elsewhere but it is hard to see how it will change in the direction you want. We do not have an elected head of state but instead have a monarchy. Were Wales ever to reach the point where it sought to have an elected head of state, it is more likely to follow the example of Ireland of a having a ceremonial president with very little real power of their own (though it should be noted that if the SNP do not envisage replacing the Queen then it is even less likely that Wales would want to do something similar).

    So I would be grateful if you could outline how an elected legislature in the Assembly would relate to an elected administration in Cathays Park while remaining separate institutions.

  8. My own view is that this should never have happened – if AMs are taking public funded land-based grants and subsidies then they should all be fully declared in the register of interests! Along with all others. Then there wouldn’t be any potential dirt to dig…

    As usual, this 3rd rate legislature is the author of its own misfortune as well as mine…

  9. @ John R Walker

    As was explained in the media, the European Court had ruled that the names of those in receipt of grants could not be published and this was the basis for the civil servants’ advice.

    I must admit that the attention given to both indiscretions has been a source of reassurance for me. Wales has in its past been the location for some pretty dubious political practices. Yet both (or even all three) have been the subject of considerable media attention as well as Assembly debate. For those who believe in political shortcuts, this has been a bad week.

  10. Not only did Alun undermine Carwyn’s fragile credibility but he also made a circus clown of Wales’s top/only investigative journalist Martin Shipton who so bravely tipped him for First Minister in his hour of need. Martin is in deep shock and may never recover his gravitas.

  11. @ Richard Harris

    I was also surprised by Martin Shipton’s article. It did seem to show a lack of perception regarding Alun Davies’ character. There seems to have been a great deal of pathology at work in his behaviour which I note Rhodri Morgan has described as a mid-life crisis. Outwith the political arena, one can only hope that Mr Davies takes the time to work through his issues.

  12. Regarding Alun Davies, the motor racing track and Natural Resources Wales.
    NRW’s reply to Carwyn Jones was that Alun Davies’s input as AM for Blaenau Gwent did not effect NRW’s response to Alun Davies Minister for Natural Resouces.
    Effectively it meant that although AD had broken the ministerial code he had done so ineffectually.

    Alun Davies, AM for Blaenau Gwent’s lack of ability in influencing NRW was enough mitigation for Carwyn Jones to retain AD as Minister for Natural Resources even though he’d displayed( very) poor judgment in his role as minister. It was Carwyn Jones’s decision and his decision illustrates Carwyn Jones’ ability/wisdom/political acumen in the role of First Minister.

    When Carwyn Jones actually sacked Alun Davies, he did not have any other choice so that decision doesn’t say anything about Carwyn Jones’ leadership abilities.

  13. @Rhobat Bryn Jones

    “As was explained in the media, the European Court had ruled that the names of those in receipt of grants could not be published…”

    Two wrongs don’t make a right!

  14. There have been a few comments about the podcast panel. The reason for choosing these commentators is that we formed the core team that ran the cross-party Yes for Wales campaign in the run-up to the 2011 referendum. Whilst we have our political views (it would be odd if people working in and around politics didn’t), we are all professional observers, analysts and commentators. However, I take the point that we should have the widest range of voices. We did ask a Conservative AM to take part in this discussion but she was not available this time, but we will seek fresh voices to add to the regular contributors in the future.

    Thank you for the feedback

  15. @ CapM

    You make a good point here but your interpretation is a little skewed, in my view. The breach of the code is based upon the concept of undue pressure on an independent public body, not ineffective pressure though I take your point. The only real way of knowing whether the actions taken were experienced as pressure is by asking the person or persons at the other end of it. This was done and the response was that the communication did not influence their change of position. Therefore there was no undue pressure since they did not act differently as a result of it. Had they stated otherwise, my view is that he would have been dismissed immediately. While I accept that this can be interpreted as ineffective, it is not relevant to the decision in hand.

    For NRW however, it was in a difficult position. If it had stated that it had been influenced, it would in effect be declaring that it was not capable of acting as an independent body and questions would then be raised about its fitness for purpose. If it was also still a possibility at the time that Alun Davies could remain in office then NRW would not want to make things more difficult by testifying against him. That is why the only thing possible is to accept at face value the word of NRW.

    There was a political sub-text to this which is what would have been the political consequences of sending a minister to the backbenches with a perceived grievance. I’m not suggesting that this was necessarily a factor in Carwyn’s calculations but it is true to say that Alun Davies’ current position is clearly the result of his own troubled behaviour and that he has no-one to blame but himself. In that sense, Carwyn is left with no internal political difficulties resulting from his decision.

    We can argue this all day but in giving Alun Davies a little rope, the minister appears to have decided to hang himself.

  16. “The reason for choosing these commentators is that we formed the core team that ran the cross-party Yes for Wales campaign”

    so you’re all yes men and women then 😉 Any chance you could have someone on the panel who isnt for endless devolution of powers and creeping seperatism?

  17. Am pleased that Lee Waters has said they will look for a more diverse panel in future.

    As already mentioned, it’s a bit ridiculous that 2 of the panel are ex Labour employees, whilst the other one, Daran Hill, has been Alun Davies’ biggest defender in the media.

    I’m not sure of the relevance of the ‘yes’ campaign!

  18. I very much agree with Lee’s point about a lack of talent but am suprised to here reference to Mick Antoniw as being a possible dep minister. From what appears in the senedd he seems completely rubbish and is driven far more by party politics than effective policy making. On the subject of Alun – anyone who observed him closely over the years could see he was not cut out to be am Minister. He made many mistakes, upset just about everybody, and (as we have seen) no heavyweights came to his support when he hung himself.
    Wales needs better than him. Saddly they we won’t find that on the Labour back benches.

  19. Alun Davies did one public service on his way down off the cliff: he allowed the Welsh public to know that 5 AMs were in receipt of government grants and that these hadn’t been declared in the register of interests. I read that the European Court of Justice has sanctioned this lack of disclosure but that is clearly no reason for those politicians who seek to be as accountable and transparent as possible from themselves publishing this information in the register so that the electorate knows the facts. It is surely important to disclose that one of the sources of income for an elected member is the government itself.

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