A few weeks ago I noted that a couple of newly elected Liberal Democrat members of the Welsh Assembly had made rather a shambles of following the rules for this year’s Welsh Assembly elections and had been disqualified from taking up elected office as a result.
At the time, I was rather less than convinced by the excuses put forward in their defence and with the BBC now reporting the conclusion of an inquiry into this mess by the Assembly’s standards commission, I remain less than convinced by the merits of their arguments:
The BBC report, for example, states that:
A disqualified Liberal Democrat member of the Welsh assembly was the victim of out-of-date guidance for candidates, a report has found.
Legal advice for AMs said Aled Roberts did everything reasonably expected.
But further down the page it adds…
Although the English-language guidance was up-to-date, Mr Roberts followed Welsh-language guidance that pointed him towards regulations on proscribed organisations from 2006. They were replaced in 2010.
The report finds Mr Roberts, a North Wales AM, “did everything that he could have reasonably been expected to do in ensuring that he was not a disqualified person for the purpose of nomination or election to the National Assembly”
Except check against the English language guidance in order to make sure that the Welsh version was up to date – remembering, of course, that the change in regulations which caught Roberts out was debated and approved by the Welsh Assembly and, therefore, by members of his own party.
Being generous, Roberts does have an arguable case. However, as indicated in comments under my original post, there may be rather more to his situation than meets the eye as it’s been suggested that if Roberts isn’t reinstated as an AM then his replacement from the Lib Dem’s own party list is regarded within his own party as something of a loose cannon who may, its speculated, be amenable to crossing the floor and joining another party.
Which party exactly is not specified, but given the results of the election, which left Labour with exactly half the total number of AMs, an AM crossing the floor to join Labour from any other party would give it the outright majority in the Assembly that it narrowly missed, obviating the need for Labour to cut deals with any of the other parties to get its policies through the Assembly.
Be that as it may, the other AM who made a complete cock-up of the regulations does not appear to have anything at all to offer up in mitigation for his mistake:
Mr Dixon, who was elected an AM for South Wales Central, followed the Electoral Commission’s English-language advice.
Although he acknowledged he had a responsibility to read the 2006 and 2010 order “he further acknowledges that at no time did he check the order (either in its 2006 or 2010 form)”.
“Perhaps because he was lulled into a false sense of security by his experiences in earlier elections, he honestly believed that he was eligible to be a member of the National Assembly,” the report says.
Who cares what Dixon ‘honestly believed’?
The simple fact is that he didn’t bother to read the revised regulations at all, i.e. he was negligent, and as such he can have no complaint whatsoever as having been disqualified after the election for failing to comply with the regulations.
And yet, despite the very obvious differences between the two situations, the Lib Dems have tabled motions seeking to reinstate BOTH as Assembly Members, which is a complete and utter nonsense in Dixon’s case as he had no defence to offer for his actions other than his own negligence and incompetence.
By all mean plead Roberts case, given that he has a plea in mitigation, but not Dixon’s as he has no one to blame for his failure to abide by the regulations but himself and ignorance born of negligence cannot reasonably be held up as an excuse for his own incompetence – not in any sphere of life and least of all in a prospective member of a legislature.