The evening of Beaujolais Day in Cardiff in November 2016, a Labour politician a bit worse for wear, seemed pleased telling me that he would not want to be me in the New Year. He said that everything was already in place and I would find out as soon as the campaign for the local elections began.
On Friday 3rd March 2017 I was found guilty of bullying a council eviction officer by a handpicked Ombudsman Tribunal Panel, or Show Trial, for saying on 21st July 2015 that a Cardiff Plaid led Council would restructure the organisation. The complaint came not from the officer, but from a Labour councillor. The public saw through the nonsense, the great shame is that Plaid Cymru Chair Alun Ffred could not.
The harsh reality was that a poor family was unjustly thrown out of their home. The Council had presented incorrect evidence to court and my constituents suffered. Carrying their belongings with them out of their home, whilst the family and neighbours were crying, was the worst experience of my political life.
Instead of extending solidarity and support to the family, some who wear a left label like a badge in the national movement, used the opportunity to attack me. Labour did the same. None of those people helped that poor woman and her family; we did.
At times of such media hysterics, a cool head, a steady hand and backbone is needed. Ffred showed none of these qualities. Instead, he panicked and effectively sold us down the river. On the Friday evening of conference, I was called out of a strategy meeting to be told about the lame line that Ffred and Plaid had adopted on tv. It was “bullying” and it was “serious” Ffred said. Contrast that with how Plaid have rallied around Leanne Wood after she was censured for calling someone an ‘arsehole’.
When nearing the Newport Conference centre the following day on Saturday March 4th, I took a call from Ffred and was instructed to delete any reference to the eviction from my speech. I found it unacceptable for the Party Chair to censor my speech in that way.
I made reasonable references to the eviction and met Ffred afterwards at his request. Ffred accused me of wanting to challenge Leanne Wood for the Leadership. This was ridiculous, as I knew there was only one person who intended to challenge Leanne. It was not me and it was not Adam Price either.
After a frank discussion, I shook hands with Ffred and agreed with him that I would keep my head down and just work all the hours God could send for the local elections in Cardiff. I was happy and looking forward to taking on Labour.
But Ffred instead then announced that a party inquiry was being launched into my ‘behaviour’. For around 10 months I knew nothing about the nature of the inquiry and I was given none of the complaints. Until eventually I submitted a subject access request and I was then given four complaints, which the party had sent to the Standards Commissioner of the Assembly. The complaints were by two directors of the controversial lobbying firm Deryn, including complaints by their staff, one complaint was by a charity that employed Deryn’s Senior Advisor and a fourth complaint had a Deryn Director copied into the email.
The Standards Commissioner refused to investigate these Deryn complaints and ultimately they were all dismissed by Plaid. But they had done their job. For ten months people were questioning what I could have done and this was all going on during the heat of the Me Too movement. It was following a similar pattern to the Carl Sargeant sacking.
At this point the Chief Executive of the party was still refusing to tell me whether there were any further complaints, despite almost a year having passed since the ‘inquiry’ was set up. So I put this all in the public domain through a press conference, making clear that the complaints were from lobbyists and I considered the inquiry closed. I was permanently expelled from the Plaid Cymru Group the same day.
But what was interesting about the complaints from Deryn was that they contained confidential emails that I had sent to the Plaid Cymru group, meaning at least one of the Plaid AMs was directly sending our group correspondence to the lobbying firm.
As a result, I submitted Subject Access Requests to four Plaid AMs to try to find out what was going on. The subject access requests I submitted, which caused so much consternation, showed that on the morning of Tuesday 7th March 2017, Alun Ffred emailed Leanne Wood asking her to ring him ASAP about me. Ffred also wrote to me saying that he had been given evidence which indicated that I “may have transgressed the Party’s standing orders". Leanne has always claimed to have been outside of the process.
In the afternoon of 7th March 2017, after the Plaid Group had suspended me for the first time, Gareth Clubb the Plaid CEO and Ffred the Chair cobbled together a statement for the press talking about complaints. This was tawdry behaviour. They failed to mention that Ffred was a complainant himself. Another had been advised to complain by a Deryn director, the third was from a former AM, deeply connected to the Bay Bubble.
At a later date the Chief Executive put in his own complaint. This was after I sent a letter to Plaid Plasmawr members in Cardiff, explaining what had happened and what I planned to do about it. This was judged to have been a breach of confidentiality because I was not meant to say anything during this year long process. It seemed I had to sit back while being constantly attacked by the party without being able to defend myself in any way.
When the expulsion committee finally heard my case I was denied my human right to legal representation. Denying this right was actually something the Chair had added to the standing orders during his investigation. It was another two years before the party got a proper legal opinion, where it was confirmed to me that I should have been allowed legal representation. That was two working days before the second hearing panel was due to make a final judgement on my reapplication to the party to end my expulsion. Nowhere near enough time to brief a solicitor and have them travel to Aberystwyth.
All members interested in a Plaid Government should bear in mind that as Ffred was seemingly conspiring with Deryn and by implication the Labour Party, members in Cardiff were readying themselves for the election campaign of their lives. The Plaid grass roots in the Capital desperately wanted to beat the most dreadful Labour Council. Ffred and others though were focused on expelling an AM who the fellow Plaid AMs complained was “too combative” and “always on attack mode”.
The Labour plan revealed to me on Beaujolais Night in a hotel bar in Cardiff was unfolding, but the public did not buy it. The Plaid vote on May 4th 2017 in all our target seats rocketed. Our vote in Fairwater went through the roof, with all Plaid councillors winning more than 2,000 votes each. On the average vote in Cardiff West we beat Labour 35.1% to 34.8%, which threw them into a meltdown they have not quite recovered from, despite assistance.
Where we didn’t win we were positioned in a close second, which we started making good on in the Ely by-election this year, winning a historic seat in a Labour stronghold for the first time there. Ffred and the Chief Executive’s only involvement in the campaign was to write to me and the candidate to demand I stay out of the election. That would have meant losing.
But still more people voted Plaid in Cardiff than ever before. The great pity, thanks chiefly to Alun Ffred, is that for a very long time we were unable to capitalise on the great strides forward made. Instead, we were bogged down with the complaints and constantly dealing with hostile leaks. The irony is that Labour left us alone. A few notable people were doing all the dirty work for them.
So when Cai Larsen says on Nation that a Party Chair interfering in the party disciplinary processes causes chaos, he is spot on. We can all see that with Ffred’s handling of Cardiff West, Llanelli and indeed in other key seats in Wales.
Plaid Cymru must put the national cause first and come together to win for Wales. But Plaid also needs to recognise that winning an election means making the laws of our country and those laws need to be there to support people. You don’t want people making laws who are so willing to abuse standing orders and target individuals. Alun Ffred Jones has shown an extreme willingness to do that. And so the best thing Plaid can do now to prepare for government is to change its party Chair.