Here our Editor Phil Parry looks at the extraordinary record of First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford after the astonishing news that the man he voted for as leader of Labour, Jeremy Corbyn, has now been suspended from the party over anti-Semitism.
Earlier he has described how he was helped to break into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and making clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.
He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Cymru Wales TV Current Affairs series he presented for 10 years, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off.
Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.
Following the remarkable news that the left-wing former leader of Labour, Jeremy Corbyn, has been suspended from the party over anti-Semitism, now seems an appropriate time to examine the record of the man who backed him – the First Minister of Wales (FMW) Mark Drakeford MS.
You are unlikely to see this done by journalists in the mainstream media.
Mr Drakeford was Welsh health minister when a series of huge scandals erupted on his watch, and he was ultimately in charge when another rocked a leading Higher Education institution.
His favourite as leader, Mr Corbyn, led his party to the worst Westminster election result for Labour since 1935 last December, and he could have opened himself up to legal action following his controversial decision to scrap plans for an M4 relief road even though the planning inspector said the case was “compelling”.
This project may, now, be taken over by central Government, and the possibility has caused an enormous spat between Cardiff and London.
Yet it appears he has not been challenged about these recent facts by the mainstream media in Wales, as well as events in the more distant past.
In an ‘interview’ with Mr Drakeford in the Cardiff-based South Wales Echo, after a year as FMW, he told the reporter about his job: “I think the thing that probably surprised me the most is the relentlessness of it. If you’re a minister you answer questions once a month so one weekend is ruined once a month, if you’re First Minister you answer questions every week. So every weekend you have to find a lot of time for doing it”.
There were, however, any number of more controversial incidents to challenge Mr Drakeford about than just on the ‘relentlessness’ of being FMW.
He was in charge of health in Wales when families of patients at Tawel Fan Mental Health Unit in Ysbyty Clwyd were told that their loved ones had been filmed crawling across floors (by a UK newspaper) before the building was demolished. A report into the scandal in 2015 said there was “institutional abuse”, and Mr Drakeford’s star has risen since.
He was the Welsh Government Minister for Health and Social Services at the time of the scandal, but went on to become the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government, before being appointed FMW. After the revelations he apologised and said there would be an “urgent meeting”.
But the Welsh health service hit the headlines for other reasons too while he was at the helm, which he has also not been confronted with.
The Eye were given exclusive details by whistleblowers who had worked at Brecon War Memorial Hospital of how an elderly stroke victim was allegedly slapped in bed by a carer, and visiting families were forced to bring in food to keep their starving relatives alive. Journalists on the website were also told that falsification of notes at the hospital was “routine practice”.
One whistleblower said: “The night culture at Brecon hospital is amateur at best, dangerous at worst. (Staff were) drunk on duty, nurses (were) put to bed as they were drunk, then woken up before days-staff turned up. A convicted sex-offender was working as a care assistant.” A police investigation followed which lasted several months.
The disturbing news of the events at the Brecon hospital came hard on the heels of earlier alarming information, which also came to light when Mr Drakeford was Welsh health minister. At Ysbyty Cwm Cynon in Mountain Ash, 10 hospital workers were suspended following the death of an elderly woman who was found with “unexplained and serious injuries” on a ward. Meanwhile nurses at a hospital in Bridgend were investigated by police for allegedly drugging elderly and difficult patients to enjoy a quiet night shift.
One nurse exposed what was happening at the town’s Princess of Wales hospital before the death of 82 year old Lillian Willams. She had one of her legs amputated but died in 2013 after a catalogue of neglect at the hospital, which is part of the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University (ABMU) health board. In total two deaths occured at the hospital, following a review recommended changes in practices which should have ensured “patient safety”.
Yet curiously Mr Drakeford has not been pressed on any of these matters during ‘interviews’. Instead he has merely been forced to address the Welsh Government’s (WG) poor record on the health service in Wales.
Last year it was reported that the number of patients waiting 12 hours or more in A&E units had gone up from 2,235 in October 2015, to 5,581 in October 2019. The percentage who had to wait more than four hours to be treated, admitted or discharged rose as well, to its highest on record at 26.6 per cent – meaning just over one in four patients attending A&E endured having the start of their treatment delayed by more than four hours.
In the interview with the Echo, Mr Drakeford admitted these figures were a ‘point of concern’, and said the pressure on A&E departments was “enormous”. The paper ‘reported’ last year that he had told them the Welsh NHS is ‘treating more patients more quickly and more successfully than ever before with more people going through the door’.
What then about one of the biggest scandals Wales has ever faced; at Swansea University (SU). Was he at least asked about this during the interview, given that as Higher Education is a devolved issue he is, ultimately, responsible? No.
His silence came as key figures connected with a multi-million pound land scheme were, with others, at the heart of a police investigation into the whole affair, and during which several senior officials have been relieved of their duties. Among those who have been sacked is Richard Davies, formerly the university’s Vice-Chancellor (VC), and the Dean of his School of Management Marc Clement, who were dismissed for “gross misconduct”. The police investigation continues.
In the inquiry underway, South Wales Police have said the regional crime unit executed “a number of warrants as part of an investigation into alleged bribery offences”. The Eye have been alone in naming the top-level executives whose homes and offices have been raided.
There are connections too, with a leading Welsh thinktank named after a celebrated former FMW. Senior executives at the Morgan Academy, which says it addresses the “wicked issues” of public policy in Wales, are based at the university’s controversial management school, formerly led by Professor Clement. The Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru Member (MS) Helen Mary Jones headed up the academy in the past and has said there had been “no due process” in the inquiry running alongside the police investigation which has resulted in the dismissals of Professor Clement and others from the school.
Yet SU itself has been no stranger to bad headlines either. Only The Eye have exposed how a convicted fraudster was given a job at the university.
The School of Management at the troubled institution employed on a contract, criminal Steve Chan. This came despite the fact that our journalists have shown Chan was jailed for years in America after a massive fraud.
He had been imprisoned by a court in Boston for four years and three months, and ordered to pay millions of dollars in compensation. Chan’s jail term was followed by three years of supervised release, after he admitted one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and one count of mail fraud – he was also ordered to pay restitution of $12,596,298.
Yet none of this has appeared in the mainstream media.
So has he, then, been questioned about the appalling disaster for Labour at the General Election last December given his firm support for Mr Corbyn (he was the only Welsh Labour leadership contender to vote for him)?
In a way yes – in his ‘interview’ with the Echo, he said he admitted that the result was ‘concerning for members’ and that “Those are very disappointing (my italics) seats for us to lose”.
Disappointing for Labour is right, as Mr Corbyn’s suspension from the party over the way it handled complaints of anti-Semitism is shown.
To further put this ‘disappointment’ in context, apart from the General Election being the worst result for Labour since 1935, it secured for the Tories the party’s biggest majority for 32 years. Labour found itself with only 203 seats, and during his time at the top, Mr Drakeford’s man as Labour leader, Mr Corbyn, secured such low figures they were only beaten by Michael Foot who was another electoral disaster.
To some, perhaps, Mr Drakeford’s repudiation of recommendations contained in the report into a new M4 relief road around Newport, could also be seen as a disaster.
The inspector who conducted a lengthy inquiry, Bill Wadrup, gave the route south of the city his overwhelming backing. He said that creating the highway from Junction 23 to Junction 29 would be a good use of public funds, that environmental objections were overstated, and the project was in the public interest. Mr Wadrup concluded that the criticisms “do not, either jointly or separately, outweigh the proof of public benefits that the scheme would bring”.
But to be charitable, perhaps journalists in the mainstream media are not prepared to endure the kind of abuse I suffer online. I have been called on Twitter (incorrectly) a “lying bastard” a “misogynist”, a “git” and one critic said “I’ll whack him (me)“. The latest insult after a story The Eye published last night is to label me (again wrongly) an “anti-devolutionist”.
Much of what is said about me on social media is libellous as well as being incorrect. But, it seems, the attackers are unaware of this fact.
Meanwhile it is obvious that Mr Drakeford has set his face against the ‘benefits’ of a new M4 as described by Mr Wardrup, and created a commission instead. But as one successful Cardiff developer, Paul McCarthy of Rightacres Property (RAP) told The Eye: “…what worries me is the impact the decision not to build the relief road will have on tourism”.
Mr Drakeford wasn’t, though, quizzed ‘relentlessly’ about any of the alarming controversies during his time at the top.
Instead the Echo ‘reported’ that he ‘chuckled’…
Our Editor Phil Parry’s memories of his astonishing lengthy award-winning career in journalism (including the political stories he has covered) as he was gripped by the incurable disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major new book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now! The picture doubles as a cut-and-paste poster!