Senedd’s anatomy tour continues

(Title Image: via Youtube; they’re a type of edible seaworm before you ask)

Standards Committee
Complaint against Dr Hefin David AM (Lab, Caerphilly)
Complaints made by: Cllr. Vaughan Williams and anonymous male
Published: 19th September 2019 (pdf)

The Complaint

Following a football international on March 29th 2019, Hefin David responded positively to a tweet from a constituent which criticised what they believed to be the politicisation of the Welsh men’s national team by pro-independence groups.

Following an exchange, Cllr. Williams (formerly a Plaid Cymru town councillor, now an Independent) asked whether it was Labour policy that Welsh football supporters shouldn’t display their political views? To which Hefin replied, “You are an utter knob.”

The exchange continued in an increasingly ill-tempered manner, with Cllr Williams criticising what he described as childish behaviour. Hefin then said: “Mae popeth yn ymwneud â Llafur Cymru among nat trolls. Fy marn i yw eich bod yn coc oen”, translated as “It’s all about Welsh Labour among nat trolls. My view is that you’re a lamb’s cock.”

“Coc oen” is perhaps the equivalent of calling someone “dickhead” in English.

Hefin David’s Defence

  • The comments were in the heat of the moment and were a reaction to an unsolicited, “vexatious and aggressive” approach by Cllr Williams. He sought to defend a constituent from aggression on social media.
  • As a Welsh-learner, he thought “coc oen” was a relatively mild insult (rather than abuse) amongst Welsh-speakers and it was a “tongue-in-cheek” attempt to close the discussion down.
  • He accepts it wasn’t something he should’ve done or would care to repeat and he’s taken advice on how to deal with social media hostility in the absence of any clear guidance.
  • Hefin David apologised to the Committee for his use of “unparliamentary language”.

The Standards Commissioner’s View

  • Twitter is open social media which is based and thrives on “unsolicited” approaches and Hefin David’s first tweet was itself unsolicited.
  • He saw nothing aggressive or vexatious in Cllr. Williams’ question and it was legitimate given Hefin’s apparent support for separating sport and politics.
  • The Commissioner was satisfied that Hefin’s tweets were abusive and not “tongue-in-cheek” or merely insulting (though there was a lengthy legalese narrative on the difference between an insult and abuse).
  • The Commissioner expressed concern that political debate was becoming more polarised and verbal abuse of those with different views is becoming more common on social media. Those in public life have a responsibility to detoxify public debate and the fact there isn’t any clear guidance is a moot point – AMs shouldn’t need guidance to realise it’s unacceptable to verbally abuse members of the public.
  • 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

  • Consideration should be given to there being a more explicit guide for AMs’ behaviour on social media linked to the Code of Conduct.
  • There was a breach of the Members Code of Conduct, but as an apology has been made no further action is needed.

The context isn’t the same as Leanne Wood, though there’s no doubt that Hefin David was (by the rules) in the wrong too.

The question which triggered it was a reasonable, albeit provocatively-framed, one (and potentially an interesting discussion); but respect cuts both ways and you should always play the ball not the man or woman.

Being a politician in an era of instant 24/7 contact must be like putting your head in a washing machine on spin cycle, with constant notifications, requests for attention and a fair bit of abuse too – that’s why I don’t @ AMs all that often as it would just add to the noise.

Nobody can condone what Hefin (or Leanne for that matter) said but it’s unrealistic to expect politicians as a group to only take abuse, insults and snide remarks and not dish it back out when pushed too far. Having said that, politicians have to think carefully about how they come across on social media – over-the-top statements will attract over-the-top responses in kind and Twitter is an awful medium for serious discussion about anything.

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