Staying in neutral part one

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Most remote?

On polling days like today, some of the media normally steer clear of partisan politics.

It’s known as ‘purdah’.

You will therefore invariably see any number of vacuous items about the background of General Elections (GE), or most remote polling booth in the UK.

This is actually quite a hard habit to shake off, so our Editor (Welshman Phil Parry) too will back away from any story which might favour a particular party, and in today’s pieces, will concentrate on his personal history of covering elections over many years, as well as a political history lesson.

‘Let’s write a historical piece about elections today…’

The first election he covered was the 1987 General Election (GE) when he worked for Cambrian News Agency supplying stories for all the UK newspapers and broadcasters, as an extremely green 22 year old reporter.

He was stationed in the Caerphilly count, and tasked with the responsibility of phoning the results back to his office, where they were then fed on to the wires.

This was the MP seat of the former Secretary of State for Wales Ron Davies, who was then a Labour opposition spokesman and a rising star, so that made it an important count.

Ron Davies won his Caerphilly seat easily

Ron won his seat easily, which was always going to be the case, but he has several clear images of the night.

The key one concerns the Liberal Party (as they were then called) candidate Michael Butlin. He very ostentatiously opened what looked like a bottle of bubbly during the count.

Ron Davies with Tony Blair – both could celebrate their victories

This was highly ironic in the circumstances as Mr Butlin came a distant third! He slipped into relative obscurity, but Ron’s political career soared from then on, yet crashed spectacularly.

He spearheaded the Welsh pro-devolution campaign in 1997 (a vote which Phil also covered in a draughty leisure centre), and the referendum was won with the narrowest of margins – 50.3 per cent to 49.7 per cent.

Ron Davies briefed Phil in the Welsh Office

As a journalist he watched what happened next avidly, and their paths crossed many times in the years that followed, including being rung at home by Ron.

One of Phil’s meetings with Ron was being briefed by him in his London office when he was Secretary of State (SoS) for Wales after he had interviewed him on another matter, during his years presenting the now-defunct BBC Wales TV current affairs programme, Week In, Week Out. 

Ron Davies usually answered questions well

On other occasions he was a regular panelist on a weekly debate programme Phil hosted on BBC Radio Wales (BBC RW) called The People’s Assembly.  He was a fine contributor and usually answered the questions well.

First Ron was the architect of devolution’ in Wales, but then in the media, he was the ‘architect of his own destruction’.

Ron Davies admitted to a ‘moment of madness’ on Clapham Common, but was a very good MP for Caerphilly

In October 1998 journalists were summoned to Downing Street and told that Ron had resigned as Welsh Secretary after admitting to the Prime Minister (PM) “a serious lapse of judgment” on Clapham Common the previous evening, but denied any sexual element. He was the first of Tony Blair’s ministers to resign.

Ron claimed he had been robbed by a Rastafarian man, whom he had just met but was about to dine with, in the presence of others.

Ron DaviesHis car, telephone, wallet and House of Commons pass were stolen, and six people were arrested.

Ron went on television to apologise for his “moment of madness”, while on his hand was scrawled the word “sorry”.

But it continued, and for a young journalist from South Wales such as Phil, it was extraordinary to see – like watching a car crash in slow motion.

The Sun reported that Ron had engaged in a sex act in daylight with a stranger at Tog Hill in 2003.

This was a picnic area eight miles North of Bath in Somerset, and it was only 17 days after his third wife had given birth to their first child.

The newspaper had received a tip-off and sent a photographer.

Ron Davies was never far from the headlines

The published pictures showed Ron leaving the bushes, but they claimed unpublished pictures captured the act. He told The Sun: “These allegations are completely false and without substance.”

Ron said to other journalists:  “I have actually been there when I have been watching badgers”.

But he told the House of Commons (HoC), cryptically: “We are what we are. We are all different, the product of both our genes and our experiences.”

Another quest for risk to stop mountain bikers for Ron Davies?

In June 1999, Ron had disclosed that he was bisexual and said he was having psychiatric treatment to curb a “compulsive” quest for risk.

In the 2008 local elections he was elected to Caerphilly council, as an independent councillor.

In fact, he has never been far from the news. In September 2016, footage emerged apparently showing him placing (or as he said, clearing) rocks and logs on Caerphilly Mountain, after a row over how mountain bikers were using the area.

Politics can be funny if it isn’t so serious!

So that was it. One of the most talented Welsh politicians of his generation was brought down by scandal and hubris.

Facts like these are a bit more interesting than ‘the most remote polling booth in Britain’…

 

The memories of Phil’s decades-long award-winning career in journalism (when commenting on major political stories was always paramount), as he was gripped by the rare disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order it now!

‘BUY MY BOOK!’

Regrettably publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.

‘Staying in neutral’ parts two and three are also published today.