Monday 11 May 2020

The problem is in England, not in Wales

In the run-up to ‘that speech’ last night, the devolved governments were criticized in the media for ‘pre-empting’ Boris Johnson’s announcements or attempting to ‘steal a march’ over London. And in the aftermath, the media have reported that the devolved administrations have ‘rejected’ or ‘refused to accept’ what the PM said. It’s a classic example of the innate English nationalism and London-centric view of the world held by the British media. That narrow, blinkered view of events means that the wrong people are being asked the wrong questions.
All four governments were required by law to review the lockdown arrangements last Thursday, and all duly did so. The Scottish government immediately announced the results of its own review on Thursday and the Welsh government (whose cabinet met quite late in the day to discuss the matter) announced the results of its review on Friday. The English government decided to do things differently – they postponed any announcements for three days and went on to brief selected newspapers that the changes were going to be much more far-reaching than was actually the case. And they deliberately failed to tell, let alone consult with, the devolved administrations about their proposals. I don’t know why they thought it was sensible to do any of those things, although my best guess is that they seriously thought that it would build up Johnson’s speech to some great national moment – an attempt, in short, to gain some sort of political advantage. It backfired badly, largely as a result of the PM’s own failings and unsuitability for the role.
Ahead of a sunny bank holiday weekend, the English government deliberately confused the message and led people to believe that in a few days’ time there were going to be significant changes to the lockdown arrangements. It was entirely predictable that some people would conclude that a few days wasn’t going to make a huge difference, and we’ve seen the results of that on the news. Having given unattributable private briefings saying one thing, ministers were left trying to put the genie back in the bottle and failing miserably, succeeding only in sowing doubt and confusion where there had previously been clarity. Going on Sunday evening television to give people less than 24 hours’ notice that he expected them to return to work the next day with no pre-warning for employers and no usable transport system just added to the overall sense of utter incompetence.
So how come the devolved administrations are being criticised for not following suit? If three out of four governments have been straightforward and prompt in reviewing arrangements and clearly telling people their conclusions whilst the other has obfuscated, prevaricated and given out mixed messages in an attempt to secure party political advantage, why has the media criticism been aimed at the first three rather than the fourth? Instead of demanding to know why three governments have dared to act promptly and explain what they are doing clearly, shouldn’t they be asking why the fourth hasn’t? It reflects a London-centric attitude which fails to acknowledge that, on devolved matters, the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland governments have the same legal competence, and the same authority to act, as the English government. The arrogant fashion in which the English government has changed its messaging with no consultation with the other governments in the UK indicates an implicit assumption that London always knows best and everyone else will fall into line. The real question isn’t demanding why Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland aren’t being sufficiently subservient to England, it’s exploring why the English government is so utterly dishonest and incompetent. But English nationalist exceptionalism is still preventing too many from even understanding why the question needs to be asked.


Anonymous said...

Spot on!

Anonymous said...

I agree with much of what you say but I wouldn't be so sure that BoJo's plan has backfired. According to only the polling I have seen, it's pretty popular with Tory voters. And for this PM, that's really all that matters.

Spirit of BME said...

Excellent post.
This episode reveals a lot about the English mind set, in that they view Scotland and Ireland (what remains of it) who have Acts of Union, as Greater England and talk about “country” as meaning the UK or England, which are interchangeable to them.
When it comes to Wales, they know that Wales is a part of England ,which came about from annexation and occupation and therefor there is no signed Union or Peace Treaty , so politicians in Wales should view their dealing with England through this prism and by doing so would educate all about the “legitimacy” of the current regime.