Saturday, 1 April 2017

Lee Waters - how not to be an AM

Update 3 April

As a matter of course, this blog publishes replies and comments from those who feel that they have been unfairly or wrongly criticised in these pages, provided that they are couched in reasonable language, are not potentially libellous, obscene or gratuitously offensive to third parties.

Lee Waters has twice contacted this blog in response to articles about him, and Gary Jones, aka Poumista, one of Labour's candidates in Llangennech, has responded on numerous occasions.

Although Gary Jones has not contacted Y Cneifiwr on this occasion, he took to Twitter last night to complain that he had not put up offensive posters in the village.

Cneifiwr is happy to accept Gary's statement that he did not put up any posters. The suggestion that he had was based on a misunderstanding after seeing this Twitter message from last year:


Just when it seemed that the Llangennech row had blown over and that the school would finally be allowed to get on with its plans for the next academic year in peace, Lee Waters AM (Lab., Llanelli) chucked more petrol on the dying embers this week in a bitter speech on the floor of the Senedd.

In Waters' view, it seems, just about everyone is in the wrong about Llangennech except himself and the small group of extremist objectors nurtured for so long by the Labour Party. This time, he turned on the school itself, or in reality the school staff and the head teacher who, he said, had failed to tell him about the plan to turn the school into a Welsh medium school when he visited it 18 months ago as a prospective parent.

This statement is not only extremely unfair on the staff, governors and head of the school who cannot defend themselves against accusations made from a privileged and very public platform in the Senedd, but it is also a gross distortion of the truth.

If we accept Waters' words at face value, he would have gone to the school "as a prospective parent" in October 2015. The County Council's Education Scrutiny Committee did not approve the proposal to change the status of the school until 23 November, at least a month later, and that approval was subject to consultations and further votes by the committee, the full council and the Executive Board.

The substance of Waters' accusation is that the school staff, and presumably the head teacher, concealed the change of language category from him and his family. Clearly, they did not.

If his children had gone on to attend the school, they could have gone into the English stream if that is what he and his wife wanted because the English stream was to remain open for admissions for at least another year. And they could have remained in the English stream until they left the school to go on to secondary education.

Somehow, he forgot to mention that.

It is also fair to assume that someone who had been elected as Assembly Member for Llanelli should have been aware that the County Council had voted unanimously to phase out all dual stream schools in Carmarthenshire in September 2014, when the council was led by Labour.

There are only two possible explanations for this. Either Lee Waters is deliberately misrepresenting the situation to make a political point, or he does not understand education policy.

Either way, this is a disgrace for an Assembly Member who is also a prominent member of that body's Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee, and it was as a member of that committee that he made his remarks on Wednesday.

How much he knows about culture and the Welsh Language, and specifically Welsh culture, is a moot point. How familiar is he with the giants of Welsh literature from the past or contemporary Welsh culture? Has he ever read a Welsh novel or a magazine? Does he watch S4C or listen to Radio Cymru? What expertise does he have in language planning?

Judging by his understanding of education policy, the answers to those questions would seem to be not at all, no, never, none and nothing.

The main point Lee Waters appeared to be trying to make in his speech before he lost the plot was that it's all very complicated, but that does not stop him from pontificating about subjects and policies he does not understand. Worse than that, it does not stop him from undermining and obstructing the positive efforts of his own government.

More on Lee Waters' contributions to Welsh public life later.

A prospective parent?

Waters' private life and that of his family are his own affair, but since he brought his family into this controversy, it is fair to point out that his family does not live in Llangennech or even Llanelli, but around 60 miles away in Barry Island.

There is nothing wrong with Assembly Members not living in the constituencies they represent, although for practical reasons it is a good idea for them to live in the general area. Neil Hamilton has famously taken matters to an extreme by not even bothering to live in Wales, and there is definitely something wrong with that, but what is unusual about Lee Waters is that he has put a lot of effort into giving the impression that he lives in Llanelli when he does not.

A bit like the UKIP leader, Paul Nuttall, in the recent Stoke by-election.

Anyone listening to his speech on Wednesday could have been forgiven for thinking that as a "prospective parent" he lives in or near Llangennech, just as anyone reading his blog could be forgiven for thinking that he and his family live in Llanelli:

Like countless families across the Llanelli constituency my wife and I struggle with juggling the needs of our children and the pressures of work.  Picking up and dropping off the kids is a challenge for us. My wife works for the NHS in Abercynon, and I need to be in the Senedd in Cardiff Bay four days a week, and active throughout the constituency on other days.
As I expected, the role is full-on. But I’m keenly aware our family life can’t be just about managing my demands. My wife is a professional in her own right, and my two children deserve the time and support of us both. They need stability in their young lives and that is why, instead of uprooting our children from their schools and friends, we’ve made the decision that I move around instead.
I split my time between Cardiff and Llanelli - where I have a family home which I stay in several times most weeks, enabling me to be busy and active working in the community.

This piece was written in November 2016. Hands up if you think he's trying to tell you that he and his family live in Llanelli, "like countless families in the constituency" who have a "family home" there.

To reinforce the illusion, Lee Waters lodged nomination papers for last year's Assembly elections under an address in Llanelli, and until at least a few weeks ago he was also on the electoral roll for the same address. Oddly, he is also on the electoral roll for an address in Barry Island, perfectly legally, although he may of course vote in only one of those two places.

He is also very coy about his wife's job. She works for the NHS in Abercynon, he says. A casual reader might think she was a nurse or a receptionist in a local surgery.

In fact Mrs Waters is Head of Media and Communications for NHS Wales, a job which commands a salary considerably higher than that of an AM.

As portraits of family life go this is, as someone once said, more accurate than truthful.


Returning to his speech on Wednesday, so worked up did Lee Waters become about his reception that he posted a clip of this tirade on Twitter (follow the links).

As readers will see, he was very keen to portray himself as a man of consensus while wallowing in a sustained wail of righteous indignation with lashings of self-pity. He had tried to calm the situation in Llangennech, he claimed. He had tried to reach out. He genuinely wanted a cross party consensus.

The trouble is that all of the evidence points in the opposite direction, and for someone who has spent much of his career to date in journalism and television, it was particularly unfortunate that his choice of clip should end with a UKIP AM congratulating him on his speech.

Waters described UKIP's intervention in Llangennech as "unfortunate, unhelpful and incendiary", forgetting to mention that Neil Hamilton had come to the village at the invitation of a group with  very close links to Waters' constituency Labour Party.

Not only were several members of the core protest group members of the Labour Party, but one of their number (Jacqueline Seward) is standing as a candidate for the county council, while the party's second candidate, Gary Jones, advised and supported the group, including putting up some particularly nasty, lying posters around the village which bordered on incitement to hatred.

Here's a quick reminder of what one of them looked like:

The poster gives the lie to Waters' claims that he had worked hard to defuse the row. If he had really wanted to reach out and work on a cross-party basis, as he said, why did he allow Labour to become involved in a campaign of vilification, intimidation and scaremongering? Why did he not intervene and tell his supporters to remove the posters which they had been putting up? Why did he not tell them to take down their disgraceful website? Why did he not tell them to cool things and under no circumstances have anything to do with Neil Hamilton?

When it finally emerged that the group had been developing ties with UKIP and even more extreme groups, Waters rightly came in for a good deal of criticism. He thinks this was an organised "cyber mob" unleashed by Plaid. Dismissing his critics as a mob is much easier than having to listen to the voices of overwhelmingly local people who were shocked and dismayed by Waters' conduct in the affair.

Presumably in his eyes the Plaid cyber mob included his predecessor as Labour AM, Keith Davies, who made his views about Waters' acrobatics clear in a recent television interview.

Everything is always somebody else's fault. It's Plaid's fault, the council's fault, the "mob's" fault, Gwyn Hopkins' fault, the school's fault....

Nodding dog 

When he was elected, Lee Waters promised voters that he would not be a "nodding dog", voting as instructed by party whips no matter what his views on any given subject.

And so far, he has lived up to his promise to a certain extent, albeit not in the way voters might expect.

Firstly, of course, his "support" for his government's policies on the Welsh language look for all the world like opposition. It's a riff on the old "I'm all in favour of the Welsh language, but" theme.

Then last month he loyally joined his party colleagues to vote down proposals which would have given legal protection to historic place names in Wales. Anyone who wants to turn their Faerdre Fach into a Happy Donkey Hill should send a thank you letter to Lee.

Back in January Lee made more waves when he attacked a long-awaited decision by his government to find £50 million to pay for a sorely needed bypass for Llandeilo.

Llandeilo has suffered for years from illegal and extremely high levels of air pollution caused by the heavy volumes of traffic which are funnelled through the narrow streets in the town centre, and the deal was negotiated by Adam Price AM.

This was pork barrel politics, said Waters, who was joined in criticising the scheme by UKIP and the Tories.

Lee Waters was back on message in October last year when he joined Labour AMs in voting down proposals for an Autism Bill which would have brought Wales into line with legislation in England and Northern Ireland and given people with autism a legal identity.

For anyone who knows someone on the autistic spectrum, and especially those who care for people with more severe forms of the condition, this is an issue of vital importance.

Lee Waters not only did as he was told by the Labour whips, but went the extra mile to the disappointment and shock of many of his friends and supporters, by adopting tactics which came close to the sort of wrecking and filibustering which is a speciality of some Tory MPs in Westminster.

Three times he intervened in the debate to ask why supporters of the Bill were not offering to extend legal protection to people with Tourette's syndrome.

The Bill was duly sunk.

Perhaps someone should buy Lee Waters a copy of Paul Flynn's excellent book, "How to be an MP".


Anonymous said...

You ask how much he knows about literary figures. Lee Waters rather impudently takes the name of the poet "Amanwy" on Twitter - a man better thought of in the area than his brother James Griffiths, despite the inclination of councils to name roads after the Labour Party figure. My father remembers Amanwy, when he was caretaker of the school in Ammanford, encouraging the Welsh culture in the school, holding talks in his spare time and break times in the school about Welsh poetry for those pupils who were interested.

I don't know what Amanwy's views on Welsh language education were or would have been now, or if Amanwy knows much of his poetry, but I have a feeling the emphasis of their work on encouraging Welsh language culture were in different directions.

Anonymous said...

Not so much a 'nodding dog', more of a 'celwyddgi'.

Cai Larsen said...


Un pwynt bach. Byddai'n gwbl gyfreithlon i Mr Waters bleidleisio yng Nghaerfyrddin a Bro Morgannwg mewn etholiadau lleol - cyn belled a'i fod wedi cofrestru yn y ddwy sir. Fyddai hynny ddim yn wir mewn unrhyw fath arall o etholiad.

Anonymous said...

What work does he actually do ? Besides work the press ?

Anonymous said...

I've only met Lee Walters once, back when he was an ITV Wales reporter and before I was in any way aware of his political leanings. For some reason I had assumed that he was a Welsh speaker and had greeted him in Welsh. In return I received a sneer and a frosty response in English.

From that one brief encounter I came to a few conclusions that have stayed with me to this day as I have watched Walters move seemlessly from media to Third Sector to IWA to Labour AM:
- that he is rather arrogant and self important
- that he takes offence easily
- that he has some deep seated "issue" with the Welsh language.

From experience of chatting to individuals who have a "complex" relationship with the Welsh language or bi-lingual education and exploring the reasons behind their views, I often quickly find that the root cause is either genuine ignorance or some perceived injustice experienced during their formative years on which they blame the Welsh language - maybe the actions of a certain Welsh speaker (a teacher or a school bully perhaps) or an imagined group of Welsh speakers (some less self aware Labour politicians like to project all Wales' woes on the myth of the "crachach").

Given Walters' Aman Valley upbringing, it is unlikely that his views stem from ignorance.

Lee Waters said...

I really shouldn't engage in anonymous personal attacks, but there are some facts I want to put straight.

I took part in this week's debate with the intention of giving a policy speech and had not intended talking about Llangenech but Leanne Wood continually interrupted me to bring up the school, as Plaid tabled an amendment specifically about the school. Having personally attacked me I felt obliged to respond. Simon Thomas made the point that all the statutory processes had been gone through before changing the language status of the school, and I then raised my own experience of visiting the school to illustrate the point that the change in status was not openly discussed and there are lessons we need to learn from this.

I've addressed your points on the way the issue has been handled previously on this blog and feel there's no profit going into it again as you are clearly not prepared to accept my account.

In terms of my other policy positions, I have challenged the Llandeilo by-pass because it flies in the face of the climate change commitments that Leanne Wood and I both care passionately about. And it has been given the go-ahead despite having no up to date plans or cost/benefit analysis. The last analysis dates from the mid 90s and showed a return on investment of £1.16 for every £1 invested, which the Treasury Green Book regards as 'low' value for money. Indeed, had Plaid had their way in setting up an Infrastructure Commission on an independent statutory footing there is no way this scheme would have met the viability test, which Adam Price knew full well which is why he got it excluded from consideration by the Commission. I think that's double standards on two fronts, and I have said so.

On the Autism point, my view is that services need to be improved for all neuro-developmental conditions and we should not elevate the importance of one because of a well organised lobby. I am supporting calls for improved funding and if the new Integrated Autism Service which is being rolled our proves inadequate I've said I have an open ind about the need for future legislation.

Dai Lloyd's Bill on place names was rejected because it was technically flawed, not because I didn't support its intent.

As for my knowledge of the 'giants of Welsh literature' I'd say it was on par with Leanne's, but I don't think you've questioned her right to have a view on Welsh language policy. Funny that.

Cneifiwr said...

Thank you Lee.

The thing which prompted this blog post was your accusation that the school had concealed the change in status, and I don't think you have addressed that. If you visited the school before 23 November 2015, which is what you intimated, the process had not even begun. And in any event you should have been aware of the council's policy as AM. Furthermore, it would not actually have effected your children either way.

I hope very much that you will apologise to the head and the governors for what you said last week. It was unfair and unjustified, and unlike you, they cannot stand up in the Senedd to put their view across.

Steve.G said...

The author did say it is legal to do so.

Anonymous said...

I suspect the English taxpayer will soon refuse to fund those schools in Wales that choose to teach in languages other than the English language. And, in truth, I don't think any of us could blame them. It may be that there are also concerns over funding of some of hospitals in the north which appear to insist on employing 'bilingual' staff, whatever that means.

These are changing times. We would do well to be the agents of our own changes.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 19:42

You are aware that French/Spanish/German is mandatory at Secondary level yes? So your statement that "I suspect the English taxpayer will soon refuse to fund these schools in Wales that choose to teach in language other than the English language" is utter cachu.

I come from the Valleys... pretty much the place that decides who runs the Assembly. I know people across quite a few counties that made up Glamorgan. Many of my generation who do not speak Welsh wish we could. Many wish our schools had put more effort in teaching us. Refusal to pay for Welsh would not go down well. I'd welcome it... I think it'd bring Marcher and Old Wales together in a way not seen for a few centuries. Underestimating people's love of their nation whether they speak Welsh or not would be a huge folly.

Times have been changing for decades with decolonisation. But that has led to bilingual states... not monolingual. We don't live in the dark ages anymore.

Anonymous said...

"I suspect the English taxpayer will soon refuse to fund those schools in Wales that choose to teach in languages other than the English language."

OMG, an April Fool gag surely. This cretin has obviously never been near a school, in Wales, England or indeed anywhere else.

I'd also say this - one of the reasons Wales costs so much is that 30 % of Wales in made up of English people, and of that 30% about 70 % are economically inactive. To send us your oldies then blame us for their cost is laughable.

Carmarthenshire is like an OAP home in the Midlands. Who pays for that?

The Welsh-haters are a useless bunch, and have never done anything for this country. They're usually also racists who hate other minorities too.


Anonymous said...

"It may be that there are also concerns over funding of some of hospitals in the north which appear to insist on employing 'bilingual' staff, whatever that means."

Care to elaborate: which hospitals? I work in one of them, and it's the first I've heard...

Given that large numbers of the people we treat are retired English people who moved here, I'd like England to fund bilingual patients, or at least patients who learn to say thank you in the language of the majority in Gwynedd. Perhaps that's one to think about. Meanwhile, fuck the anti-Welsh, wherever they are, and whoever they are (that includes the Welsh anti-Welsh)

Anonymous said...

The English taxpayer does not fund Education in Wales.
We are allocated money by the Barnett Formula. This is supposed to represent our fair share of UK expenditure for devolved areas, like education and health etc. The Welsh Government then decides how that money is allocated.
There are many who will tell you that we don't actually get our fair share, this is because significant sums are spent by Westminster on 'British' projects which are almost always in England.

Jac o' the North, said...

One for Lee Waters. Tell us how many of the Third Sector rackets funded by your party, for its cronies, would pass the Treasury Green Book criteria?

Anonymous said...

Lee Waters lives on Barry Island, his children attended the local primary school, where Lee was the Chair of Governors of Barry Island Primary School for a decade, up to Jan 2013.

Jac o' the North, said...

Are you saying that Lee Waters does not live at 25 New Zealand Street, Llanelli, and may never have lived there?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

He lives on Barry Island, I'm not going to give out his exact address because it's his family home etc.