The Talking Point #9: Carwyn needs a fair hearing….but shouldn’t push his luck

(Title Image: Channel 4 News)

Alongside the Carl Sargeant Inquiry, the wider issue of harassment and bullying in politics isn’t over by a long shot.

The First Minister was forced into accelerating the timetable for an independent inquiry following political pressure from within and outside his own party.

Timescales here are important for the Sargeant family to get the closure they clearly want and deserve.

The Coroner’s inquest might take several months, while an independent inquiry will also take several months. If the inquiry process is started immediately – there’s no reason why it can’t as the two won’t prejudice each other – then based on the length of time other inquiries have taken we might get answers by the summer of 2018.

Carwyn’s position as First Minister is, for now, safe because the signs are that Labour AMs are willing to hear him out while, UKIP aside, there’s no clamour for a no confidence vote amongst the opposition.

That could change. Based on the First Minister’s answers to the Leader of the Opposition during yesterday’s FMQs, there are signs he might’ve misled AMs on the issue of bullying in the Welsh Government – a polite way of saying he lied, which is the most serious thing a politician can be accused of by the legislature itself (yes, really). Carwyn’s not out of the woods yet and the crisis isn’t over – but for the time being that means he’s not culpable for anything either.

It’s right that claims made by Leighton Andrews and others about the working culture within the Welsh Government are explored further. It’s also right, as said, that the issue of harassment is properly addressed, whether in this inquiry or a separate inquiry.

What makes this scandal, tragedy, political crisis – whatever you want to call it – different from previous ones is that the Welsh Government and Labour aren’t going to be able to hide and will be under closer scrutiny than they’ve ever experienced since 1999.

The usual response to a scandal/crisis, since devolution, has been for Labour and the civil service to close ranks, offer soundbites to what’s left of the Welsh press, either promise to learn lessons or make out there’s no problem in the first place, then let the whole thing blow over until the next one.

There’s no question that this has taken a heavy toll on Carwyn and he needs time to grieve too, but the early signs are that he’s starting to take the piss a little bit and if he’s not upfront about things now it can only get worse. It’s not business as usual anymore.

The risks of this process being seen as a whitewash are enormous, not only for Carwyn Jones’ political future but the reputation of the Welsh Government and the National Assembly.

For years AMs, their hangers-on and commentators like myself have lived in a smug little bubble where we all – as a political class and commentariat – host and attend conferences with guest speakers using the Bay as the backdrop, pat each other on the back to say how progressive we are and try to give the impression that we’re above the vulgarity of Westminster.

That comforting illusion has been shattered forever and everyone is going to have to come to terms with it from top to bottom.

The First Minister and his staff will get their day in the proverbial dock. Everyone who needs to say something will get a chance to say it. Everyone who needs to answer questions will have to answer them.

Regardless of what we might think of Carwyn’s actions, if it’s anything we should’ve learnt over this bleak fortnight it’s that you can’t have justice without fully knowing both sides to a story and those facts being dealt with objectively.

We should pause for the time being and let that process start.

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