The General Election has so far seen a way higher profile for Wales than anyone expected – and for all the wrong reasons. For over a week the main political stories have revolved around what some Conservative candidates have said either on social media, or more seriously, in the courtroom; or, from an explicitly political angle, to each other. It has become a matter of who knew what and when, and the extent to which cover ups have been fashioned and blind eyes turned.
The upshots so far have been that Ross England has been suspended as the Conservative Assembly candidate for the Vale of Glamorgan, and Alun Cairns has stood down as Secretary of State for Wales. Both of these decisions were taken days after they should have been, much like the apology to and regard for the rape victim at the centre of the situation. Even the normally sure-footed Welsh party chair Lord Davies of Gower has become embroiled, by indicating investigations should come before that apology was given. Nobody has emerged with any credit because even when they have done the right thing, they have done it either too half-heartedly or too begrudgingly.
At every twist and turn of this miserable tale, the Conservatives have reacted either wrongly or slowly or both. Their instincts have always appeared to be too reactive, too clumsy or too process bound. The lessons that need to be learnt for the future are many, including more cohesive decision making, vastly improved communications, and, absolutely critically, improved candidate screening. All of the events of the last ten days could have been avoided if an apology had been issued to the rape victim and Ross England had been immediately suspended as a candidate when the story originally broke.
At the end of the second week of awfulness, Alun Cairns remains the candidate for the Vale at the General Election. Whether or not that is sustainable throughout the campaign remains to be seen. But it is absolutely certain that even if Cairns stays, the media and his political opponents – including some within his own party – will maintain the pressure to end his career either through resignation or through the ballot box.