'No conniving' and 'no conspiracy'

UPDATE 15.50

Why is Dafydd Elis Thomas defying the party whip and refusing to take part in the vote of no confidence later this afternoon? Partly because he's in Bangor in his capacity as the university Chancellor handing out degrees to new graduates but it's also because of this:

"I think Plaid has put itself in a position of being the supporting cast to a play which is produced by the Welsh Conservatives and that gets under my skin ... This whole debate that's taking place this afternoon is a debate which puts prejudice before evidence and I don't want to be part of such discussions."

In his interview in Welsh he compares to his colleagues to "poodles" (cwn bach) who are playing "second fiddle" (ail feiolin) to the Tories.

What happens now? The group "is yet to decide."

It seems the bookmaker Paddy Power is more decisive:

Our trading department has informed me that we can offer 4/1 on your selection 'Dafydd Elis-Thomas to publicly announce a defection to the Labour Party in 2012'.


His critics have had their turn. This morning it was Professor Marcus Longley's turn to strike back.

There was no evidence of a pre-conceived conclusion in his report on the future shape of the NHS in Wales, he said, or in emails exchanged before its publication; there had been no attempts by the Welsh government to influence his independent report; he was not out to make the government's case for them.

He was measured and adamant that last week's row amounted to no more than arguing over grammar. It was a matter of "real dismay" that people were talking about (and avidly watching - the Democracy Live website was a busy place this morning) a row about process, rather than what's important for him: the future of the Welsh health service.

It was the softly, softly, almost apologetic approach of William Graham AM that led to an acceptance that questions around the wording of some emails he'd exchanged with government officials were "legitimate and sensible". Like most emails between professionals they were "quick exchanges" that were "dashed off" said Professor Longley. He had not taken "great pains to make sure that every last phrase I used in every email ... could not be misinterpreted if taken into a context such as this".

But any suggestion of bias, influence in those emails? Not true. "Killer facts" mean blunt, clear clinical outcomes the public could understand. "We" referred to Professor Longley and his team. They'd "hoped" for more incisive evidence because that would sharpen the public's understanding of the report, not because they already knew what conclusion they wanted on the final page.

Marcus Longley's chief accuser, Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar is a member of the committee. He sat and listened as Professor Longley and Labour members fired shots - in anger - at his claim that the report, on which the government set such store, was based on 'collusion,' that the Professor's job had essentially been to make the government's case for it. It was not, said Professor Longley, categorically not and he was glad he'd finally had the chance to say so.

Why then, asked an unbowed Darren Millar, had Lesley Griffiths told her fellow cabinet members he'd actually been commissioned to "articulate" the case for change? "That is not the phrase I would have used" came the response.

Next in line, the minister who did - Lesley Griffiths. Her defence of Professor Longley and her officials didn't waver. By her side, NHS Medical Director Dr Chris Jones.

He had not suggested to Professor Longley that his report should be "more positive" he said. The email on which that allegation was based was not - as the Health Minister suggested last week - "presentational" advice. It was a total misreading and misunderstanding of an email read out of context.

His anger was palpable:

"I've had to hear a lot of statements made in public about conniving, conspiracy, some sort of immoral behaviour, seeking to mislead the public. Now as a doctor that's accusing me of serious professional misconduct and that is very difficult for me. It's worse also because the comments made have been absolutely untrue".

So now it's over to the opposition.

They remain unconvinced - unconvinced enough to press ahead with this afternoon's vote of no confidence in the Health Minister. They can't win it, but wanted to inflict some damage. They can't win it even with every single opposition member present - but they won't be.

Plaid's Dafydd Elis Thomas is staying away, defying his party's three line whip, sharing "full and frank exchanges" with his group and expecting the sanctions and the trouble that has been a long time coming.

Lesley Griffiths will face the vote knowing her future's secure but knowing that cementing and underpinning the changes to the NHS she is expected to deliver hasn't got any easier today.