(Title Image: BBC Wales)
Just before First Minister’s Questions this afternoon, AMs gathered to pay tribute to their former Plaid Cymru colleague, Steffan Lewis, who died last week at the age of 34 following a year-long fight with bowel cancer.
There were a lot of speakers as you can imagine but, in the interests of brevity, I have to be selective whilst hopefully doing justice to it.
“The nation’s perfect son”
Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr), said how there was incredible depth to his character from the outset – addressing the Plaid conference at age 14, always asking questions and using the experiences of Gwent to shape Wales’ future. While Steffan might not have lived to see independence, he’s laid the foundation:
“He was thorough, he could think outside the box, and he could think strategically. He was incredibly loyal and honest, and he was very prepared to say when he disagreed with something or he didn’t like something. But he was also a team player, prepared to work extremely hard for the success of all of our shared goals.”
– Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda)
Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Mon) said that becoming an AM meant everything to Steffan, but he was unselfish, seeking to help people even after his diagnosis.
Steffan, famously, has his computer turned off so he could listen and contribute to debates and Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) was often left to be his “secretary” as a result. When he first met her following the 2016 election he said, “let’s show them how it’s done”.
“Steffan was a total inspiration to me personally, to this party of ours, to this Senedd and to Wales; a shining star, as many have said, with a huge talent and courage, especially these last months, as well as resilience of spirit, a resilience that we all need now. Our prayers are with Steffan’s family, yes. Our loss is as nothing compared to their loss.”
– Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West)
The Llywydd, Elin Jones (Plaid, Ceredigion), said Steffan always spoke with clarity of thought and originality; he was both ordinary and extraordinary. He knew “every detail” of Welsh history but didn’t romanticise it, instead using it to plan for the future.
“Thoughtful, sensitive & committed”
The First Minister often found himself in Steffan’s company due to their work on Brexit and he considered him to be one of the most decent and able politicians of his generation. He understood the importance of working together for common goals and they successfully did so in publishing the Brexit white paper.
“He was, as you all know, a thoughtful, sensitive and committed individual, but he was a funny person, somebody whose company you wanted to be in, somebody who you learnt a lot from, even in those more casual moments. It’s very difficult….to remember that it’s barely six weeks since he last spoke in this Chamber, and difficult to remember it’s only six months ago since many of us ….set off to walk together across the front in Llandudno. It was a beautiful day; it was one of those high summer’s days when the sun shone and you couldn’t but be optimistic about the future.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)
David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon) – who Chairs the External Affairs Committee (to which Steffan was a member of) – said Steffan brought thoughtful arguments without any agenda other than the best for Wales.
“I, for one, found his contribution to the debate on Brexit to be invaluable, and some of you will know that I was asked before Christmas in a TV interview to name those I respected in other parties. Without disrespect to others in the Chamber, Steffan was one of those names that I mentioned.”
– Carwyn Jones AM (Lab, Bridgend)
Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley) recalled a trip with the British-Irish Parliamentary Association where Steffan jumped over security barriers he was so enthusiastic, with a depth of knowledge and passion that was “quite incredible”. Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) later cited Steffan’s encyclopedic knowledge – the two engaging in debates on cross-border implications of land transaction tax.
“I just wanted to echo what others said in terms of how brave Steffan was in using that horrible experience of suffering from cancer for a greater good—to be so willing to talk about the experience, to do interviews, to make public statements, to take part in debates, knowing how important it was for other people suffering from cancer and their families and their friends. He went into detail, which I think must be so important, significant and beneficial for other people suffering from cancer and their families and friends.”
– John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East)
“He brought his dream a little closer to everyone’s reality”
Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.), said the chamber often fell silent when Steffan spoke – he always had something intelligent or powerful to say and often added something new to old debates. He had enormous respect for the principled stance Steffan took on many issues.
“Steffan’s authority, however, on constitutional matters was no dry or abstract thing; he spoke with energy and passion. But he also respected the views of others, like myself, who often reached different conclusions. What I found most noble and convincing in Steffan’s constitutional insights was the need for deliberative parliamentary democracy. “
– David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central)
UKIP’s David Rowlands said that while there were political disagreements, Steffan was always polite and friendly and he hoped his family would find comfort in his achievements.
“I think, in his own way, he has had an effect on everyone in Wales, and, whether you agreed in the nationalist policy, or whatever party political view you aspire from, I think that he sold the message of his party so well that he drew everyone else in Wales a little nearer to his dreams, and I think, whatever happens down the road for this great country of ours that he was so proud of, he brought his dream a little closer to everyone’s reality.”
– Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth)
Getting sentimental about the deaths of people you don’t know is a bit silly, but I’m not ashamed to admit that when I got the news last Friday it did sting.
Firstly, there’s a selfish reason. When someone the same age as you dies you’re confronted by your own mortality. Before you’ve properly hit middle age you think you’re invincible when you’re not.
It’s easy to say “redouble efforts to find a cancer cure”, but I know full well from my scientific background that it’s like trying to put together ten 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles when all of the pieces are thrown into a big pile and you don’t have any pictures.
Secondly, there’s anger that we only saw a tantalising glimpse of Steffan’s potential. A naturally gifted parliamentarian, respected by absolutely everyone for his intellect and insight and, as said last week, a man wise beyond his years who carried a heavy personal burden with stoicism and courage.
As long as present and future AMs live by and learn from the exemplary manner by which Steffan conducted himself and approached his role, a little bit of his legacy will always live on.