Wales politics

Senior Labour AM backs process over Leanne Wood tweet row

Leanne Wood
Image caption Leanne Wood said she was challenging a "misogynistic bully" with the tweet

A Welsh Government minister has backed the assembly's standards process amid a row over a ruling about a tweet sent by former Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood.

A cross-party committee sparked a row when it recommended Ms Wood be censured after she swore at a blogger.

Jeremy Miles, Labour AM for Neath, said he had sympathy with her but the process needs to be followed.

Plaid Cymru said its AMs will vote against the reprimand when it is tabled in the assembly on Wednesday.

A member of the standards committee, David Rowlands, said it would be wrong for the party to do so - arguing AMs should not agree sanctions only when it suits them.

Ms Wood said she was challenging "misogynistic bullying" when she called Royston Jones - a blogger who goes by the name Jac O' The North - an "arsehole" in a tweet. Mr Jones denied the accusation.

AMs will vote on Wednesday whether to endorse the finding of the cross-party standards committee that she is given an official reprimand.

Image caption Jeremy Miles said he had a "lot of sympthay with her position"

The decision was made after Standards Commissioner Sir Roderick Evans found Ms Wood broke the code of conduct over the tweet.

Plaid Cymru party leader Adam Price claimed it missed "context, perspective" and "proportionality". AMs decided to vote against the censure when they met on Tuesday.

Labour AMs had also been critical of the censure decision at the time it was announced - it is not thought the party will be whipped on the issue, meaning members will not be told how they should vote.

But party AMs have told BBC Wales there is an expectation the group would support standards committee findings.

Image caption David Rowlands said condemnation of the standards commissioner was "quite appalling"

At a news conference on Tuesday Mr Miles said: "I have a lot of sympathy with her position, and we all have seen the increasing pressure politicians are under, in terms of people attacking you on social media, as I'm sure we all regard as completely unacceptable.

"But there's also a process which the assembly has for reviewing and deciding on these matters, and I suppose whether or not you have sympathy with a particular case those processes need to be followed," Mr Miles added that this should be the case here.

The censure was unanimously agreed by the four member committee chaired by Labour AM Jayne Bryant and including Plaid's Helen Mary Jones, the Conservatives' Andrew RT Davies and Mr Rowlands, from the Brexit Party.

It has to be passed by the assembly to take effect.

Sir Roderick Evans was accused of "double standards" by Labour AM Lynne Neagle over his previous decision not to sanction a male AM who made a video of a female colleague as a "buxom barmaid".

But Mr Rowlands told BBC Wales condemnation of the commissioner himself was "quite appalling because obviously the commissioner did not make the decision on the sanction - that was done by the committee".

He said it would not be "right" for Plaid to vote against the censure, asking whether the party was questioning the rule book for AMs.

"If we are going to say that we will only agree with sanctions if they suit us, then where are we going with that in general terms?

"Everybody could say 'I'm not accepting the sanctions'," he added.

Image caption Sir Roderick Evans became standards commissioner in 2017

A separate source close to the process said it was "a bit rich for Plaid" to oppose the censure when their member on standards endorsed it.

"I would suggest anyone else in a consumer-facing business would be up before a disciplinary panel" if they used the same swear word, the source said.

If Ms Wood is censured, no further action will be taken. The committee did not seek the more severe sanction of excluding the AM for a period of time.

Under the assembly's standards process, Sir Roderick first decides whether to investigate a complaint. He may then produce a report if he believes an AM has broken the code of conduct.

It is then for the standards committee to decide on a sanction.

In their report, the AMs said they "strongly believe that any form of online abuse should be tackled" but added: "We believe that the appropriate response to dealing with this is not using language which some people may find offensive."

A Labour AM told BBC Wales: "There is a great deal of sympathy for Leanne in the context of the way politicians are treated on social media, and how difficult it can be not to rise to the bait, with the absence of a code of conduct covering social media too.

"The general feeling is that AMs must respect the standards system we have in place and the unanimous recommendations of the cross party standards committee."

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