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Friday, July 18, 2008

An odd sequence of events

When I posted yesterday afternoon that a senior Assembly Member had been asked to leave a Cardiff Bay public house on Wednesday night for smoking in the bar it seemed like an innocent enough piece of gossip. However, events nowadays have a habit of moving very quickly, far more quickly than I remember during past controversies.

I could speculate that one of the reasons for the swiftness at which these stories develop is down to a combination of 24 hour rolling media and the over-sensitivity of party machines to the prospect of scandal, but I digress.

I was not there on Wednesday but I am told that Rhodri Glyn Thomas walked into the Eli Jenkins carrying a lit cigar following an animated discussion with a BBC journalist. He was accompanied by an ITV Wales reporter, though the bar was packed with AMs, Assembly support staff and other journalists. A Welsh Liberal Democrat intern drew the attention of the bar staff to the lit cigar and Rhodri was asked to withdraw.

As far as I know the first public reference to this incident was my blog post, which is curious given the huge number of media and political witnesses. By this morning other bloggers had passed comment as well.

This morning I received a phone call from a Western Mail and South Wales Echo journalist who had read my blog and wanted more details. I referred him to the ITV Wales journalist. By lunchtime ITV Wales were running the story so as not to be left out and other papers and media outlets were following suit.

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Head of Media had one call and I had another both asking if we were calling on Rhodri Glyn Thomas to resign. We both considered such a question to be ridiculous. We told them that it was a minor incident worthy of a diary piece at best, it is certainly not a resigning matter.

Nevetheless by that time the story had a life of its own. The Tories, in a spectacular example of over-reaction put out a press statement calling on the Heritage Minister to explain himself and apologise or consider his position. Contrast this with the magnaminous resistance put up by the Tory Health Spokesperson earlier this week to supporting a demand by North Wales Conservative MP, David Jones for the head of Assembly Health Minister, Edwina Hart over the issue of neurosurgery.

In the meantime both Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Assembly Government were staying officially neutral on the whole issue. As I caught snippets of news between engagements it became obvious that they were taking the matter very seriously indeed, to the extent that both Rhodri Glyn Thomas and Ieuan Wyn Jones pulled out of a high profile official engagement this evening and talk was not if the Heritage Minister would survive but how long.

Apparently, Rhodri Glyn Thomas is too accident prone, so much so that a few minutes ago he announced his resignation. It could be argued that Rhodri might not have had to go if he were good at his job. After all, he has upset a fair few in Plaid Cymru with his failure to deliver a Welsh Language newspaper as promised and by the non-appearance of the Welsh Language LCO. It is also the case that he was not really on top of the broadcasting part of his brief either. I understand that the Assembly Government response to the OFCOM review of broadcasting was submitted after the deadline. Still, it is a truly bizarre and over-the-top conclusion to a few minor mishaps.

What is interesting about this whole chain of events is how they were started off on blogs. It seems that the mainstream media felt obliged to cover the incident so as not to be left behind, even though the matter is not really newsworthy in its own right. Has the Welsh blogosphere claimed its first Ministerial victim?
Or it might be that the cigar is actually just a smokescreen!
Its almost enough to make me give up blogging. If I hadn't lost my seat, I would surely have been there, and would have poked a bit of fun at Rhodri's expense. Its totally ridiculous.
Just demonstrates the mind-blowing triviality of the Arsembly
I concur - this whole resignation business was plain silly and what's more makes the WAG look very silly. I would not be surprised to see this cigar story published in the UK national press.

Meanwhile after 10 years of WAG, Wales is at the bottom of the UK economic league tables; the Welsh school education system is behind in key subjects (re: recent published OECD report/stats), and the Welsh federal/national university is filing few patents than many former third world universities (resulting in a brain drain of PhD level scientists seeking permanent jobs outside Wales) ... in another 10 years where will Wales be c/o WAG?
If Rhodri Glyn Thomas had been caught playing leapfrog with a male prostitute, one could understand his resignation.

But to resign over an accidental smoke in a pub in Cardiff Bay beggars belief!
Bloody Hell! I was there Weds night and it was all a bit of a lugh at Rhodri's expense - but resigning????
Rhodri Glyn Thomas resigning if absolutely baffling, it was a minor thing, that, although slightly embarassing, should not be a matter for resignation. Even a simple statement would have been overkill, the story would've been dead by next week, probably before then.

His resignation however, is potenionally even more damaging and embarassing to the Welsh Assembly and Plaid Cymru.
Who could vote for Plaid after Plaid acted in such an outrageously stupid way? But 'that's Plaid for u', more up its own backside than your average party'.
The fall-out within Plaid Cymru resulting from this incident is interesting, but I'm also interested in the nature of the "Welsh Liberal Democrat intern [drawing] the attention of the bar staff to the lit cigar" - is this intern a passionate anti-smoking campaigner, or was it a cynical move to make cheap political capital out of what sounds like an innocent mistake?
Just adds more fuel to the bonfire that is the arsembly. Bonfire of the quangos was misplaced. All parties have shoed themselves to be utterly useles with all being guilty of either gossip peddeling, tittle tattle, overreation and being half wits
Anon 7.18pm: Just because an intern works for the Welsh Liberal Democrat group does not make them a Liberal Democrat. He or she is just getting work experience and often who he or she ends up working for is a matter of chanec.

Equally you do not have to be a passionate anti-smoking campaigner to point out to the authorities somebody breaking the law. I suspect that this was all there was to it. I doubt if the intern even recognised Rhodri Glyn Thomas though those around him or her would have done.
As soon as you blogged on this, various media made enquiries and then blew the whole thing out of proportion - claiming incorrectly that RGT was seen "puffing away" in the pub and that "he had to be asked to leave"... if he had been smoking in the pub and if he had been asked to leave then the journalists who had witnessed this incident would have had to report it. So in reality RGT is a victim of malicious blogging and inaccurate reporting rather than a scalp --- at the end of the day, though, RGT had to go because there really is no smoke without fire.
A very sensible and balanced piece Peter. This was a humourous event that provided some light relief at the end of a long assembly term. It was not a resigning issue.

My take on it would be more along the lines of Plaid being desperate to get rid of him and this was a handy excuse. What with this and the very public assasination of their president that is going on, they could soon develop a bit of a reputation as the nasty party of Welsh politics. Just wait till they realise they have been tricked by Labour over the promise of a referendum. The blood will be on the walls, and my guess would be that it will be Ieuan Wyn's blood!
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