Jac in the Fart Box

Standards Committee
Complaint against Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda)
Complaints made by: Anonymous male
Published: 18th September 2019 (pdf)

The Complaint

On 16th January 2019, the blogger Royston Jones (Jac o’ the North) posted a tweet referring to the Twitter profile and professional interests of the then recently-returned Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East): “‘Women’s rights and international development’. God help @PlaidCymru.”

A few hours later, Leanne Wood replied: “Do you have to be an arsehole all the time? Have a day off.” Royston expressed his disappointment at her reaction.

On 21st January an anonymous man – not Royston himself – complained to the Standards Commissioner, saying that Leanne Wood has breached the Members Code of Conduct by using “arsehole” in response to a “bland sceptical comment”. Subsequently, she “dropped to the lowest common denominator” and “excessively strong wording….must be challenged before it becomes common currency” amongst politicians.

Leanne Wood’s Defence

  • Royston Jones/Jac o’ the North has been a “persistent, pernicious influence in Welsh politics for many years” and while she supports freedom of speech, Royston frequently posted untruths – including conspiracies involving  herself and the lobbyists, Deryn.
  • She went on to describe him as “abusive and obnoxious” and believes she may have a case for defamation based on some of his articles.
  • “I don’t regret using the only type of language that someone like Jones understands. His tweet warranted a strong and direct response.”
  • Leanne described the comments as “misogynistic bullying” and an attempt to undermine a woman politician.
  • Leanne Wood has refused to apologise.

The Standards Commissioner’s View

  • The tweet by Royston Jones hadn’t attacked anyone and was directed only at Delyth Jewell’s stated political interests; whether anyone agrees with it or not, they were views he was entitled to hold and express like any member of the public.
  • Royston Jones’ post could’ve been reasonably responded to or ignored – there was no need to reply in the manner that Leanne Wood did.
  • The Commissioner accepted that online bullying and abuse of women in public life needed to be challenged and dealt with robustly, but AMs are expected to use social media in a way which is consistent with the Code of Conduct; calling someone “an arsehole” was inconsistent with this.
  • There was a breach of 4(b) of the Members Code of Conduct, which states that: “Assembly Members should at all times conduct themselves in a manner which will tend to maintain and strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in the integrity of the Assembly and refrain from any action which could bring the Assembly, or its members generally, into disrepute.”
  • There was a further breach of 4(g) of the Member’s Code of Conduct, which states that: “Holders of public office should promote and support these principles (of public life) by leadership and example”.

The Committee’s Conclusion

  • The Committee agreed with a statement of support from Women’s Aid that abusers: “can be expert manipulators and controllers and abusive men know that to trigger a response from women they don’t always have to be explicitly abusive; it can be a ‘drip-drip’ of criticisms and put-downs to cause a bystander response, which they can then use against her to bring her down.”
  • While the Committee agreed that online abuse needs to be dealt with and called-out, the appropriate response was to not use offensive language.
  • Subject to the Senedd’s approval, the Committee recommends Leanne Wood is censured.

I’ve got to say I was surprised this even went to a formal complaint. It’s a minor argument, but a symptom of a much bigger problem.

Having defended Jac o’ the North several times in the past, as his politics becomes ever more cartoonish that’s become something I regret. It used to seem like he had something to say and often said it well – sometimes producing top-drawer investigative journalism. But his site has gradually become a concentration of everything bad about Welsh nationalism: machismo, miserablist contrarianism, conspiracies and factionalism with some conservative views towards diversity.

The world needs arseholes and while he has a right to say whatever he wants, the same applies to anyone who wants to robustly challenge what he or his supporters say. It’s worth stressing again that Royston didn’t make the complaint but he’s created the necessary conditions to be seen as the ringleader whether he likes it or not. When it comes to arseholes in general though it’s often a one-way street; the s**t is dished out, but they can’t take it.

The context of this is probably the most important thing to consider and the main reason why this wasn’t any old throwaway remark. It happened days after Steffan Lewis’ death, the day after Senedd tributes and before his funeral arrangements had even been announced.

Also, Royston was trying to poison the well for Steffan’s successor, associating Delyth Jewell with an archetypal political player (usually women) that he and his supporters loathe even though she hadn’t even started her role yet (needless to say it would’ve been an abrupt and possibly stressful period of professional change for her). Around the same time, without irony, she had an article published regarding the harassment of women in politics.

That makes Royston’s comment seem far more calculated and deliberate than it otherwise would’ve been if it had been posted, for argument’s sake, a month later or a month earlier. Perhaps he knew what he was doing, egged on by Ein Gwlad, and got the response he and his supporters wanted. Perhaps he didn’t realise. All things considered, “arsehole” was mild.

Nonetheless, under the rules regarding the behaviour of elected representatives Leanne Wood was in the wrong.

On all other measures, it was the natural reaction of someone who has just lost a friend and colleague and wanted to defend a new colleague – thrust into the spotlight at short notice – from being attacked by a persistent gadfly who rarely lets things go.

The right side is at Leanne’s side.

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