Wales politics

Ministerial tramlines and slap-downs

Royal Glamorgan protest
"Welsh Labour is not campaigning for or against any hospital."

Carwyn Jones knew it was coming and wouldn't, I'm starting to believe, have wanted it any other way.

Last month, four senior Labour figures, including his Education Minister, Leighton Andrews and the Shadow Welsh Secretary, Owen Smith stood outside a hospital in Welsh Labour heartlands with placards declaring "Labour says keep A+E at the Royal Glam".

Why? Because the Labour-run health service is deciding whether to remove some specialist services from there, The Labour First Minister must have known trouble was coming.

There are just too many 'Labours' for comfort in those three sentences, after all.

This morning Mr Jones came to the lectern in Cathays Park for his monthly media question session - and knew where we were heading.

The bottom line is this. When it was a case of a small, though vociferous, group of Labour supporters from Flintshire taking on their own government's plans for the health service in north Wales some months ago, the waters rippled a bit. More obvious waves were avoided when dreadful weather stopped this determined gang from button-holing Mr Jones and his brand new Health Minister, Mark Drakeford, at the party's conference in Llandudno.

Flint Hospital Protest
Protesters outside Labour's Llandudno conference

But a group of angry voters two hundred miles away is one thing. Four big beasts in a row, just down the road, spells trouble. When they're holding big, red placards and one of them is a minister in your own government, we're talking real trouble.

Last week the opposition parties (finally, you might say) hunted as a pack and scored a clear victory in First Minister's Questions over what they see as Labour tearing itself apart over the government's plans for the NHS. The usually sure-footed First Minister slipped more than once in the chamber.

But there were blunter questions to be asked. Had Mr Andrews and his Labour colleagues been wrong to use the language of "disappearing" and "closing" to describe the government's plans for Accident and Emergency services at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital? If so, has Mr Jones told them so?

Today was our turn. It was a collective effort and here's how it went:

Q: 'Leighton Andrews said "If Accident and Emergency services disappeared from the Royal Glamorgan hospital then most Rhondda people would have to travel to Cardiff." Do you believe that is misleading, untrue and wrong?'

CJ: 'Well most A+E services are not disappearing even on any interpretation of the programme board's proposal for the Royal Glamorgan hospital. '

Q: 'So Leighton Andrews is wrong, as are his colleagues in Pontypridd and the Rhondda to suggest that A+E will close.'

CJ: 'Well it's clearly the case from the Programme Board's consultation document that nowhere in South Wales will lose its A+E service'.

Q: 'So just to be clear, they are wrong to use words like 'disappear' and 'closing' which is what you bitterly criticised Leanne Wood for last week?'

CJ: 'Neither of those would be correct, of course not. It's quite clear from the document.'

Q: 'So have you told Leighton Andrews, Owen Smith, Chris Bryant, have you told them to stop using the language of 'closing' and 'disappearing' when they refer to A+E services in the Royal Glam?'

CJ: 'I think it's very important to be absolutely clear about what is being proposed. Inevitably Cabinet ministers have to operate within certain ... um, tramlines when it comes to campaigning for local hospitals but individual members, including cabinet ministers, are able to make representations on behalf of local hospitals but certainly it wouldn't be correct and - nor has this happened - for Cabinet ministers to disagree with the process. '

Q: 'So has Leighton Andrews stepped beyond the tramlines?'

CJ: No. This is something that I've looked at and discussed with him. We know that there are certain things that can and can't be done as far as cabinet ministers are concerned, but it is certainly the case that at no point has Leighton ever suggested that the process itself is flawed ... And that is a process that was decided by cabinet.

Q: 'So he can carry on using this sort of language?'

CJ: 'No. It's important the party's name is not used for any campaign - that has been made very clear but Assembly Members are able to make representations regarding the programme board but of course it shouldn't go beyond that.'

Q: 'So Labour for Royal Glam (the name of the local campaign) is NOT something you are comfortable with?'

CJ: 'No. That is something that as a party we cannot condone, nor did we. It's exceptionally important that the public understand that Welsh Labour is not campaigning for or against any hospital. It's for individual Assembly Members to make their views known.'

And there you have it.

'Labour for Royal Glam' is no longer the official name of the campaign in support of the hospital in Llantrisant. It is now the 'Campaign for Royal Glam'. When I started typing this blog entry, it still had the Labour red rose logo in the title tab. Now that I'm finishing it, I've just checked again and it's changed - to a red cross. Someone's been busy in the past hour.

No prizes for guessing where FMQs will be headed tomorrow.