Was down in Cardiff yesterday to do AM/PM for the BBC. Enjoyable hour and a half on the settee with John Marek and the Beeb's Phil Parry. It had been arranged for weeks. Just my luck that the Derek Conway story had blown up - particularly since I employed Mrs D part-time for the whole 8 years that I was an Assembly Member. And then I called in to say 'Hello' to the Western Mail's David Williamson in the adjacent office - and what was he doing but writing a story on 'You've guessed it'. That's how I came to feature in David's piece in today's edition.
I didn't make any comment on Derek Conway's position - that's secondary to the main question and just too sensitive for me. The bigger issue is how we react to what has happened. I've probably taken an unusual upfront stance on the issue from Day 1, in that I've never ducked being interviewed about it. I've always reckoned that if I'm spending taxpayer's money, I should be publicly accountable for it. Downside is that I finish up being the one who is always interviewed. Over the last few years I've featured in several programmes discussing the issue - and same thing happened today. No-one else was 'available' to appear on Richard Evans' phone-in on Radio Wales.
In general, I've always thought that employing family members is an OK thing to do. When I realised that I was likely to be elected to the Assembly, I re-designed our house so that my 'constituency office' was in my home. I reckoned this would allow me more time at home and effectively deliver a 24 hours a day service. Mrs D manning the office was an essential part of the equation. No-one else could have free run of the house. Always felt that there was not much objection to it. Other AMs had their own individual reasons. All fair enough, so I thought. But it was only acceptable if it was totally transparent - which it is in the Assembly. In fact, this debate is 'old hat' in Wales.
Under present arrangements, I would not employ a family member if I was elected an MP. There would have to be some changes. The last few days have been deeply distructive of the public's trust and confidence in our system of democracy. I've winced as commentators report their best guesses about how many politicians employ family members. Seems to me that this information should be volunteered clearly and immediately - in my personal opinion of course. I also think we have reached the stage when positions should be advertised, even if the terms of employment might mean that no-one else could apply (who else would want to work 4 hours a day, 3 of them in London and 2 at our home?). In addition I accept that supporting evidence might have to be provided, via time sheets etc.. This would cause outrage amongst traditionalists of course. And I dislike it as much as anyone - but society is changing. There is less acceptance of the tradition of the 'Honourable Member' today. And systems of accoutability are a bit like pregnancy - not at all or the full works. Anyway, that's my developing personal opinion and that's what I've been saying yesterday and today.