Tuesday, 30 June 2020

A brave policy

It would be hard to argue that the Welsh government’s performance during the coronavirus pandemic has been brilliant. Errors have been made and they’ve been slow to act at times. Part of this may be the result of an over-willingness to seek consensus with an English government which has shown itself to have not the slightest interest in working with anyone else. Part of it may be down to a lack of power to vary some aspects of the response to the pandemic. And part of it may be down to the porous nature of the long eastern border of Wales, which makes divergence more difficult. None of that is enough to excuse the Welsh government for all its failures – a government which truly put Wales first and foremost would have diverged sooner and faster from the increasingly shambolic approach being taken by England rather then held back because of the largely political fear of being seen as ‘too nationalist’. Scotland’s response has not been perfect either, although the less equivocal political leadership and greater willingness to diverge there has helped.
Despite the imperfect response in Wales, the polls suggest that the Welsh government, like its Scottish counterpart, is significantly more trusted than the English government. The more cautious approach is in tune with public opinion, and the willingness to at least attempt to answer questions rather than bluster and lie has been notable. That some people are frustrated with the slower pace of release is unarguable; we still have less freedom than is being enjoyed across the border, and that seems set to continue for a while at least. However, public support for that position seems to be holding up. Whether that continues probably depends on what happens in England. If the release of lockdown leads to an upsurge in cases in England, the First Minister can probably count on becoming even more trusted, but if it doesn’t, then the frustration will grow. The evidence to date is that the former is rather more likely than the latter and like most I broadly support the Welsh approach even if I’d quibble with some of the details. Only time will tell.
The utter incompetence of the English PM and his disastrous handling of the pandemic has left the Conservative Party in Wales in a particularly difficult position – they had to decide whether to hang on to Johnson’s coat-tails or to strike a more independent position. They have chosen to ‘resolve’ that conflict by making repeated demands that Wales should follow England more closely. Being as kind as I can, I assume that they sincerely believe that Johnson has got it right and Drakeford has got it wrong, despite all the current evidence suggesting precisely the opposite. Because if I didn’t make that assumption, I’d be obliged to assume that their demands for copying England amount to a demand that we should increase the Welsh infection and death rates to match the English ones. They’re taking a huge gamble on Johnson’s competence in the face of all the evidence to the contrary. If they’re wrong, then effectively demanding that Wales should ‘level up’ the death rate rather than act differently would be a highly original election strategy. Sir Humphrey, in his customarily understated way, would probably call it ‘brave’.


dafis said...

The Bay team are not terribly bright, but compared to the Westminster rabble they are near geniuses. Was Johnson brain damaged by Covid, or did he harbour that condition from earlier in his life ?

Spirit of BME said...

Comparing parts of HMG with each other at this early stage I think is a bit of a stretch.
HMG in Wales (HMGW) like HMG in Scotland (HMGS)certainly sat the same test paper, but HM Union Government (HMUG) I think had a few more pages of questions to answer.
HMGW and HMGS have an election within twelve months and enhancing their brand and street cred is a clear consideration that will drive their thinking, therefor acting differently was a must to try and prove their value.
Leaving aside the scale and volume HMUG had to apply themselves to, at this stage the science has been abandoned by them in favour of reflating the economy and rebuilding government income. Such concerns do not weigh on HMGW as it is beyond their brief, but if they are thinking there might be another bag of money coming their way, I would not be too sure.
Sometime in the near future HMUG will present a new Emergency Powers Bill to Parliament that might address this issue and a small paragraph could well introduce the old colonial powers of “English Paramountcy” where in the next event HMGW and HMGS will cease to have the powers they currently have.