Welsh politics and media coverage of them are strange beasts.
The front runner to take over as Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford, was interviewed by news outlets, and they said he had “laid out his vision for Wales”. But nowhere was Professor Drakeford challenged about the fact that one of his key ideas had been introduced in another part of the UK months earlier, or that he was in charge of the Welsh health service when huge scandals erupted, or that a major supporter ‘liked’ a Tweet about a Jewish ‘conspiracy’, or that he had earlier denied he had any ambitions.
Just one of these things could have ended a Westminster political career.
Mr Drakeford now describes himself as the “unity” candidate, yet early on he categorically ruled out running to take over from Carwyn Jones. He said: “I’ve no ambitions in politics at all. Do I want to be First Minister? No, I don’t. Am I ambitious to be First Minister? No, I’m not”.
A gushing piece in the South Wales Echo yesterday was headlined: “Leadership hopeful sets out his vision for Wales”.
In the second paragraph of the ‘report’ on Mr Drakeford it stated: “In a 21 page manifesto document, the bookies’ favourite to succeed Carwyn Jones has laid out what he will do if Welsh Labour members vote him in as leader”.
In the internet version of the paper, WalesOnline, a ‘report’ earlier this month began: “It’s safe to say Mark Drakeford is a busy man”.
It continued: “Mark Drakeford may be the favourite to be the next First Minister but in his own words, it wasn’t something he had a ‘burning desire’ to do, but rather something he feels he is the ‘best equipped’ person for”.
Yet Mr Drakeford is a highly controversial figure.
Senior Labour figures have strongly criticised him to us in the race to take over as their leader in Wales for embracing a policy which was launched in Scotland long ago. The ‘baby box’ started to be rolled out there on August 15 after an initial trial and is sent directly to home addresses after registration with a midwife. It includes essential items for a child’s first weeks and months to support mothers and fathers.
But Mr Drakeford said: “For me the whole idea of a baby bundle or a baby box as it was originally (our italics) put to me came at a surgery when some constituents from Cardiff West came together with some representatives of (the union) UNITE..”. Professor Drakeford stressed: “I have never believed that devolution is about an inward-looking idea in which we fend off things that happen elsewhere”.
Yet ‘his’ policy was criticised by politicians in his own party.
One Labour figure said to us: “This is clearly an opportunist move when the policy was first introduced somewhere else”. Another said: “I simply can’t understand it, this is a transparent, crass thing to do”.
Despite this, the mainstream media said Mr Drakeford ‘launched’ the idea at the Little Inspirations Day Nursery in Rhydyfelin, Pontypridd. Apparently ignoring the fact the baby box had already been up and running in another part of the UK, he said in a speech: “Investing in a child’s life at the very beginning… is absolutely in that preventative strand of thinking which we’re determined to try to do more of in Wales”.
Mr Drakeford has long been a contentious politician, yet the Welsh media have failed to pick up on it and have continued to publish admiring pieces about him which have not mentioned his background.
He was at the helm as Welsh health minister when a huge scandal erupted at a North Wales hospital about the treatment of mentally ill patients, which hit the UK media. Tawel Fan at Ysbyty Clwyd was closed in December 2013 after shocking revelations were made by The Daiy Mail. Patients were ‘treated like animals’ as they were filmed crawling across floors, and a report into the scandal in 2015 said there was “institutional abuse”.
Mr Drakeford, now the Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government, apologised and said there would be an “urgent meeting”.
Yet it would appear that serious questions about the treatment of patients in the Welsh NHS have persistently dogged Mr Drakeford’s time as health minister in Wales, although this has not hindered him being touted as the person who may now become the next Welsh first minister.
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. We have also been 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 scandals, also on Mr Drakeford’s watch as 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 an 82 year old woman, 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, after a review recommended changes in practices which should have ensured “patient safety”.
Yet this is not the only time Mr Drakeford has made made headlines for the wrong reasons, and all these unfortunate facts have been ignored by the mainstream media in Wales.
A major supporter of his became embroiled in the anti-Semitism row which has engulfed the Labour party.
Darren Williams was a significant backer of Professor Drakeford’s on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) who jointly-founded Welsh Labour Grassroots, which served as Wales’ branch of the Jeremy Corbyn-backing Momentum group. A contentious tweet that was ‘liked’ by Mr Williams read: “There are conspiracies by Jews – one of them being the #GnasherJew site – there are conspiracies in all walks of life – I believe #GnasherJew is causing a lot of grief for decent Jews in Britain who don’t like fanaticism – so counter-productive”.
But Mr Williams emphasised his support for Professor Drakeford, saying: “Thanks in large part to Mark’s (Professor Drakeford’s) clear-sightedness… Wales has been spared the financially-ruinous PFI (Private Finance Initiative and) our NHS has been protected”. As Welsh Health Minister, he added, Mr Drakeford had ‘skilfully’ defended the ‘achievements’ from “the malicious propaganda of (former Prime Minister David) Cameron and (former Health Secretary Jeremy) Hunt”.
In a statement, Mr Williams defended himself against accusations of anti-Semitism, adding that he feared “certain individuals” misuse accusations of anti-Semitism to target “those who are merely voicing legitimate criticisms of the Israeli state”.
Yet Mr Drakeford appears unconcerned at having a supporter with accusations such as this in the background.
But it is not only the Welsh media which appears to have ignored Mr Drakeford’s past – politicians too have added to the hoopla.
One, the Assembly Member (AM) for Llanelli Lee Waters, put on Twitter: “Devo-max, greater freedom for Welsh Labour, and a name change to Senedd “Mark has got the right instincts on devolution”. He went further, and in another Tweet Mr Waters said, without apparent irony: “Fantastic to see detailed commitments from
@MarkDrakeford on the Foundational Economy“ and he posted a picture of Professor Drakeford holding a Welsh flag.
But the foundations of Mr Drakeford are not fantastic.
You won’t read about any of them, though, in the mainstream media in Wales…
Tomorrow – why a former leading presenter at BBC Radio Wales has condemned the “spin” of the Editor who has disregarded the “dismal” listening figures.