Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Checking It Twice...

Westminster held its first (partly) digital PMQs today, but the Welsh Assembly was way ahead of them with their first remote meeting held on April 1st. To this point the only hitches had been technical - AMs, like the rest of us, getting to grips with the video links. Then this afternoon health minister Vaughan Gething broke the cardinal rule of the virtual meeting:

Always check your mic is off before you start badmouthing your colleagues.

For those unable to view: Cardiff Central AM Jenny Rathbone [Lab] asks the Health Minister a question about PPE. Vaughan Gething [Cardiff South and Penarth, Lab] answers, finishes, and the chair Elin Jones [Ceredigion, Plaid] tells him to switch his mic off. It's too late - Gething's muted the sound instead of the mic and can be heard talking to somebody in the room with him. Most of it is indistinguishable and overlaid by the sound of the chair repeatedly telling him to switch his mic off... at least it is indistinguishable until you can clearly pick out Gething saying of Rathbone 'what the f*** is wrong with her!?' Cue giffable reactions of other AMs on screen. A recess is duly called to sort things out.

Naturally responses range from ROFL through to calls for Gething's resignation. Personally I think the latter's a bit OTT; if he had deliberately ranted back at Rathbone then fair enough, but the comments were obviously never meant to be public. (And, yeah, you can argue that he shouldn't react like that to a colleague at all but, seriously, if you have never felt moved to profanity by a work colleague you are a much luckier person than I.)

A lot of the comments about it are saying it is a perfect example of his attitude to scrutiny. Maybe. But, in this instance, I'd imagine the frustration comes more from Rathbone - who is no stranger to unacceptable remarks - as a fellow Labour AM choosing to be publicly critical of the government instead of dealing with it in house. You'd normally expect to hash out this kind of stuff personally or as a political group, rather than give the press a story about major dissent within the ranks on the day's biggest issue.

Either way, I think if something like this happened when I was in chair I'd issue a general reminder about conduct, ask the member to apologise to the individual / body as a whole, and leave further sanction up to their political group in the short term and the Standards Committee, if need be, in the longer term.

In more serious news the Welsh testing target of 5,000 per day has been dropped without a replacement. I respect the First Minister for apologising and admitting that government doesn't have the capacity, but I still want to see full transparency on what they're doing to get those figures up. Adam Price has been asking why Wales isn't getting its own mega lab either - I mean, I get that there's a shortage of reagents, but when we get hold of them we'll still benefit from the concentration of staff and equipment.

PPE is a major worry too. Wales is almost out of fluid resistant masks and gowns and, though official sources say there is no PPE shortage in Welsh hospitals, you kind of wonder why if that's the case the public are frantically sewing scrubs and masks, 3D printing face visor bands, and donating any gear which looks like it might pass muster...

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