If you ask one or two in the know about Cardiff Council and its machinations, it’s quite possible you’ll hear words to the effect of ‘It’s not Huw Thomas who runs the council’. And if it’s not the leader of the council who is leading, you might naturally ask, who has taken on that burden? And who might this person be, that despite his power, was seemingly deemed unpopular enough that he did not appear at the photo opportunity to launch Labour’s recent manifesto? Well, the name you will then hear being uttered, perhaps somewhat conspiratorially, is one that may ring some bells; “Russell Goodway, of course.”
Which leads to the next question: who is Russell Goodway, and why should he be the power behind the throne? For those of a certain age, Goodway will be a highly recognisable and notable figure, the erstwhile leader of Cardiff Council before they fell from power in 2004. His backstory also goes some way to explaining the local politics of Cardiff today.
The man, the legend
A union official’s son, Goodway has been involved in politics since his time at Swansea University. He became a community councillor at 19, county councillor at 28 and the youngest council chief in Britain at 35. By the time he was ousted as leader in 2004 (and replaced by Rodney Berman as leader of a minority Liberal Democrat local government), he had been in the role for 12 years. His reputation was tarnished by a succession of controversies and scandals during his time as leader of Cardiff Council and goes some way to explaining why on their return to power in 2012, he was not amongst the favourites to be leader.
These controversies, although unknown to younger voters, will be part of the baggage that Goodway carries with many with a longer memory, and details can still be found in the public realm. They include:
- A faked letter planted to boost his image in the Echo, dubbed Echogate.
- Payment of inflated councillors’ allowances that the then district auditor alleged – to vehement council objections – were unlawful. Many, including Goodway, refused to repay the overpayment. No prosecutions ensued.
- His controversial tenure as both Lord Mayor and leader of the council at the same time.
- Damaging and alienating battles with leading figures such as the late former First Minister Rhodri Morgan, and former Welsh Secretary Ron Davies about locating the Assembly at City Hall.
- Past questions as to whether Cllr Goodway even lives in Cardiff.
- Motions of no confidence in autumn 2003, following a loss in a Pentwyn by-election, and Goodway’s poor public image.
- After losing his position as council leader in 2004, he remained an Ely councillor, and took on the role of CEO of Cardiff’s Chamber of Commerce in late 2004. In early 2008, the chamber collapsed following an overpaid training grant from ELWa and other debts of an estimated £1million. 35 staff were made redundant, and the organisation went into liquidation. It’s unclear exactly what role Goodway played in the demise but as the incumbent CEO it won’t be amongst the greatest moments on his CV.
In addition to the lows and other lows of Goodway’s time at the helm, his reign as Council leader was also punctuated by constant feuding within the local Labour Party, which spilled over into national politics, in particular in the person of First Minister Rhodri Morgan. As reported in Wales Online, the spats between him and Goodway made their way into the public arena, after Goodway accused the First Minister of trying to manipulate the situation around the election in favour of an independent candidate – essentially as Goodway saw it, creating a situation where he would be defeated at the May 2004 council election.
In comments made on 15 June 2004, Rhodri Morgan said he was very pleased that Mr Greg Owens had taken over as leader of the Labour group on Cardiff Council.
“It’s important that the shadow of Russell Goodway is removed from the group as soon as possible. It’s necessary to de-factionalise the group, so people are no longer regarded as pro-Russell Goodway or anti-Russell Goodway, but judged on their ability to do the job. Greg Owens is a very reasonable man and the best possible leader to bring the factions together.”
Furthermore, the First Minister said he did not think Mr Goodway should have stood in Cardiff at the council elections.
“His connection with the area was so thin,” he said. “His qualifications were terribly tenuous and he just passed through the Labour Party and national legislation by a tiny little fraction.
“He was also farcically involved in renting a former council house in Ely.
“I think he would have been better standing in the Vale of Glamorgan (where he has a long-standing home).”
The Empire Strikes Back
Despite the chequered record and this tempestuous past, Goodway remained as a Councillor in Ely, became CE of Community Pharmacy Wales in 2009 and was awarded an OBE under a UK Conservative government in the 2020 New Year’s Honours list for services to local government. More pertinently with respect to the current state of Cardiff, he came back into Cardiff Council’s Cabinet after Labour’s 2012 election victory as Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Finance, under the leadership of ‘Supernan’ Heather Joyce.
This period saw the Council appoint a number of senior executive officers who would be crucial in the development of Labour’s reign over the coming decade, but Goodway’s ascendancy would be cut short by the untimely resignation of Joyce, due to her husband’s ill health. The ensuing election for leader saw Phil Bale installed, who enjoyed increasing influence in the cabinet, from which Goodway and allies such as Huw Thomas and Lynda Thorne were removed.
They did not, of course, take this lying down, and the next three years were characterised by their attempts to destabilise the party and undermine Bale, typified by a vote of no confidence in 2015. They also had a tilt at the idea of creating a Mayor for Cardiff. Their manoeuvres eventually took their toll, and despite Bale leading the party to victory in 2017, he was ousted shortly afterwards.
What happened next is subject of some speculation, but there are rumours that the leadership election was undertaken with a view to moving beyond factionalism. However, so one version of the ‘Kingmaking’ story goes, those on the right stood back at to gather the vote behind Huw Thomas, leaving him a clear path to the leadership. Whatever the manoeuvres, back came Lynda Thorne into the cabinet, and back came Russell Goodway this time as Member for Investment and Development.
It might be left to the reader to surmise what influence this appointment may have had on the ‘development’ of the city over the last five years. Cllr Goodway’s supporters often defend his behaviour by pointing to his record of delivery. However, it is noticeable that he has failed to deliver either a bus station or an arena in his five year term of office, despite referring to these as his priorities in 2017. Furthermore, it would be remiss of us not to direct you to the Calamity Cardiff website that details some of the most disastrous decisions from Cardiff Council that has led to abject building projects in the city centre, lack of council and affordable housing, felling trees, disappearing green spaces and the degradation of the city’s heritage.
More specifically it makes reference to the Cardiff Bay Arena, which has been the subject of the most recent controversy for the Council, after clearing work brazenly began on Silurian Park and the surrounding area, just a fortnight before the elections. Disturbing birds during nesting season is just the tip of the iceberg, however, as a number of questions – from transparency to sustainability – have been raised, in particular around the financing of the project with £200 million of public funds. As Goodway’s pet project that is already a few years behind schedule, it will take more than a few eggs to stymie this development.
More broadly, it is the work of speculation to conceive what another five years of Labour city rule might lead to for our capital city, but on the basis of who and what Huw Thomas has enabled so far, the progressive voters of Cardiff need to be thinking long and hard about their vote. Whilst Welsh Labour in the Senedd have signed up to a package of leftist policies in their agreement with Plaid Cymru, Cardiff Labour in County Hall, a few yards down the road, have already embarked on a very different path.