Monday, 4 July 2011

Will they be allowed into the club?

It’s crunch time for the two Liberal Democrats that were barred from taking their seats in the National Assembly because of their membership of prescribed bodies. Political parties will get a copy of the Gerald Elias QC inquiry into the matter and then come to a conclusion.

But one gets the feeling that minds are already made up.  Yes, even though every Assembly Member has a free vote on the matter and many giving the outer appearance of judicial reasonableness. Like the three monkeys of old, they have no thoughts until they get a sight of the Elias report and it is only then they’ll decide what to do.

Describe us as cynical if you like, but those of us that have been around politicians awhile know that what is said seldom matches up to what is done.

It won’t be the conclusions of Elias that will determine action. What will, you ask? Sheer naked politics, that’s what will decide the outcome.

Well, no surprises there then. It was always thus. Yes, party advantage will determine the votes. Forget the fact that there’ll be no party whip on the two motions that will welcome the two into the club that is the National Assembly. No it is the tribalism of Welsh politics that will determine the results.

The case against one seems more clear-cut than the other. John Dixon was a member of the Care Council for Wales and should have resigned before submitting his nomination as candidate on the South Wales Central list. He resigned from the Council after he was elected, but by then it was to late. He stood as a candidate when he was ineligible so to do, end of story, dead in water.

The truth of the matter is that the Liberal Democrats did not expect that the good folk of Cardiff Central would have the temerity to ditch the Liberal Democrats in favour of Labour.

The knock-on effect of Cardiff Central changing hands was  that the Liberal Democrats were entitled to a place on the regional list seat. So John Dixon was unexpectedly elected. It is doubtful whether his resignation as Member of the Care Council –a remunerated position - would have been left so late if he had thought his election was at all likely.

Now in the case of Aled Roberts, there was every expectation that he would be elected. As such he was careful to check the rules, but not careful enough, it would seem.  Although to be fair to him he was given duff information by the Electoral Commission. He was directed to an old list, which did not include the Valuation Tribunal for Wales, which is an ineligible organisation of which he was an unpaid member. 

Now the Electoral Commission bare a measure of responsibility for Aled Roberts being in the mire, they should keep their records up to date. Taxpayers are entitled to ask what are they there for, if they can’t give candidates the right advice? But that, as they say, is a question for another day.

The fact that Aled Roberts took all reasonable steps to ensure that he complied with the rules but was ill served by a body that should have known better, may provide mitigation but the rules are the rules and he broke them. If there is any justice in the world it should be the Electoral Commission in the dock and not Roberts. But, alas the world is full of injustice and Aled Roberts fate will now rest in the hands of politicians. That's poetic justice.

So will Elias’s report change anything, unlikely. If it’s a typical lawyer’s report, there’ll be no conclusion or recommendation. So where will that leave things? Well, where it started, in the hands of the politicians.

Assembly Members will vote on the fate of the two according to their prejudice and what will be to each party’s advantage.

So what then will be the verdict?  Will it be thumbs up or down to both or will Alex Roberts be saved? My gut instincts tell me that they’ll both hang together and the second candidates on the regional lists will take their seats after the summer recess.

Now in the light of the Elias report my gut instinct might have to be revised.
Here are some relevant paragraphs from his conclusions. Firstly, Aled Roberts

Accordingly, in the circumstances pertaining, I find that Aled Roberts did everything that he could have reasonably been expected to do in ensuring that he was not a disqualified person for the purpose of nomination or election to the National Assembly. 
So on the basis of that if Assembly Members were a jury they would have to vote for him to take up his place as a Member.

The case of John Dixon is somewhat different, he clearly did not behave with due diligence.

At the time of his selection as a candidate and immediately prior to signing his nomination form, John Dixon read the guidance provided to candidates by the Electoral Commission. 
He agrees that he would have read the reference provided to the 2006 Disqualification Order and the additional caution. 
He acknowledges that he had a responsibility to check the 2006 Order. He further acknowledges that at no time did he check the Order (either in its 2006 or 2010 form).  
Perhaps because he was lulled into a false sense of security by his experiences in earlier elections, he honestly believed that he was eligible to be a member of the National Assembly. 
 Now Keith Bush, the chief legal adviser to the National Assembly warns in his report that
the Assembly’s decisions on the motions seeking such resolutions in relation to Aled Roberts and John Dixon are quasi-judicial in nature and therefore subject to being challenged in the courts if not taken in accordance with correct legal principles 

But nevertheless that's what they'll have to do. For if they don't, the decision can, and undoubtedly will, be challenged in the courts. In the light of this it would be sheer prejudice and party politics if a vote was not taken tomorrow to reinstate Aled Roberts.

So where does that leave things.  An example, will be made of Dixon and  he'll have to plough his political trade elsewhere. Roberts will be allowed into the club.

Politically, the Liberal Democrats  should have known the rules and ensured that all their candidates complied with the regulations. The need to have a root and branch look at their organization.

But the body that has most egg on its face is the Electoral Commission, if they can't advise candidates properly about the rules, what are they for? Are they fit for purpose? Heads should roll.
Stop press
As I've indicated throughout this blog John Dixon was dead in the water. Now the Liberal Democrats have finally seen the light and withdrawn the motion that sought to reinstate him. So this morning there will be a rushed job to swear in the second name on the South Wales Central list, Eluned Parrot as an Assembly Member. 
And don't they just need her in place for the vote on the motion to put  Aled Roberts back. The Liberal Democrats  need every vote they can muster for Aled Roberts's reinstatement ain't a done deal yet, not by a long chalk. 

Many Assembly Members are still of the opinion that the Liberal Democrats should have checked the rules of eligibility for all their candidates. They didn't, the rules were broken so goodbye Aled, welcome back Eleanor. These unconstucted AMs see the mitigation of Aled Roberts in the Elias report as a red herring. Their mantra continues to be "he broke the rules and should be punished." 
How many hold this view is difficult to say but the arithmetic of the vote would indicate it's too close to call. My guess is that many will take the opportunity to take a tea break and abstentions could well save Aled Roberts's political skin.


  1. What seems to get forgotten is that the rule they've broken isn't a meaningless piece of red tape. It is there to stop candidates using their positions on public bodies for political advantage. The AMs will have to make up their own minds, but it seems to me that if this rule is voted down because it has become inconvenient a dangerous precedent could be set.

  2. Good analysis. Thanks very much.

    Let's see.

  3. Gareth is right, Gerald Elias's report is a smokescreen, this is simply another opportunity for Labour to get one over on the Lib Dem for daring to go into Coalition with the Conservatives.

    As for Helen Mary's party advantage comment, it would be incredibly disingenuous to give the impression that lots of people in all walks of Welsh life aren't already using their positions for political influence and advantage, but unlike the Lib Dems their cases are never publicized and they are never challenged about undue influence or rule breaking because they are acceptable to the Welsh political elite.

  4. John Broughton4 July 2011 at 23:31

    Ignorance of the law has never been a defence for the ordinary person why on earth should the LD2 be treated differently?

  5. This is a very simple matter in my opinion. The key question is were they both eligible to stand as candidates on May 5th. If they were not then they cannot be elected it as simple as that. In both cases they resigned after they were elected and therefore were not entitled to be considered as potential Assembly members at the time of the election. It is easy to blame the Electoral Commission but the other question is where were the full time officials of the Liberal Democrats who should have provided their candidates with the correct information. When the legislation was considered by an Assembly committee in November 2010 the Liberal Democrats were present. You would have thought that after this meeting they would have provided their candiates with the correct information.

  6. Eligibility at the time of application.

    Wasting of taxpayers time and money.

    These two should never see the light of day again!