Sir Keir Starmer’s position on the conflict in Gaza isn’t just causing him difficulty with his parliamentary colleagues – it has also opened up fault lines with his party in Scotland and Wales.
North of the border, Anas Sarwar was reportedly furious with his leader’s initial, robustly pro-Israel line. Now a vote in the Welsh Parliament has put a further spotlight on it after the body passed a motion calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
The dynamics are interesting. The motion was tabled by Plaid Cymru, who are Labour’s supporters (but not full-pledged coalition partners) in the Welsh Government. Ministers abstained, but backbenchers were given a free vote, and backed it: a total of 24 AMs voted in favour, and the Nationalists have just 13.
In itself, this result isn’t going to shake the party to its foundations or anything. But will Mark Drakeford and other frontbenchers come under pressure from members and activists in Wales to toughen their own line? If so, a more serious split between the Welsh and national leadership could yet be in the offing.
Yousaf and Drakeford both squirming over Covid WhatsApps
Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking part in a panel for the CIPR on the role of WhatsApp in government, following a piece I wrote for this site back in May about the need for the law governing public records to keep pace with technological change.
But it isn’t just politicians in London who’ve been caught out. The first ministers of Wales and Scotland are both in difficulty over their private messages during the pandemic.
In Edinbrugh, Humza Yousaf has been accused of misleading the Scottish Parliament after admitting that the Covid Inquiry requested the Scottish Government’s records months before he initially claimed they did. Having initially tried to explain away the failure to hand them over by saying the information was only requested in September, ministers have now published a detailed timeline revealing the request actually came in February.
“The UK Covid-19 Inquiry heard last month that “very few messages appear to have been retained” from key decision makers in Holyrood despite UK ministers handing over similar material “in high volumes””, according to the Daily Telegraph.
This is another thing Nicola Sturgeon is probably glad she’s not First Minister for: Yousaf’s predecessor claims to have deleted all her messages from the relevant period, despite striking a deeply sanctimonious note at the time about knowing how inquiries worked and that there would be one.
As a result, we won’t be able to get an insight into her thinking when key decisions were taken – especially unfortunate given that Downing Street aides are repeating claims that Sturgeon went out of her way to be “different” from England.
Mark Drakeford, meanwhile, seems to have been caught out by the Welsh Conservatives. The First Minister has likewise been accused of misleading his legislature after claiming not to use WhatsApp, and that he wouldn’t know how to delete messages if he wanted to.
Yet the Daily Express reports that Andrew RT Davies, the Tory leader, “received a screenshot appearing to show the First Minister’s WhatsApp profile, countering his claim he never used the service.”
Drakeford has since confirmed to the Senedd that he does have the app on his official phone, but doesn’t “regularly” use it to send messages. Easy mistake to make…