Thursday, 15 October 2020

Drakeford channeling Chamberlain?


There was something very 1939ish about the First Minister’s announcement yesterday that he had sent a final letter to Herr Johnson seeking an undertaking about travel from Covid hotspots, and that, as Chamberlain put it, “I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received…”. Drakeford didn’t go as far as adding that “… and consequently, this country is at war…”, although reading some of the reaction in England one might be forgiven for thinking that he had done. In essence, Drakeford was asking little more than that people in Covid hotspots in England should be subject to the same rules about travel to parts of Wales with a lower prevalence of the virus as people in Wales are. It’s an entirely reasonable and sensible request, but the English nationalists have chosen to interpret it as some sort of attack on them.

It was predictable that the ‘Welsh’ Conservatives would find something to be outraged about, and they have reverted to their customary response about the law being ‘unenforceable’. In the sense that the police don’t have the resources to prevent people from breaking this law, and can’t apprehend everyone who does, they are factually correct. But that position is rather undermined by the fact that the same could be said of burglary (many cases of which don’t even get investigated due to a lack of police resources), and, as far as I’m aware, decriminalising burglary isn’t yet part of the Conservative agenda. (Daylight robbery, on the other hand…). That’s not to gloss over the problem that when an action currently undertaken by many is suddenly criminalised, a limited number of prosecutions and punishments doesn’t immediately stop the criminal activity. The same could be said (and was) about drink driving and failure to wear a seat belt, but what we have seen over time is that criminalising both of those slowly led to a change in social attitudes, and that change in attitudes has probably been more influential over the long term than the threat of apprehension and punishment.

The difficulty in the current case is that we don’t have the ‘long term’ in which that can happen; controlling the spread of the disease requires urgent action now. The most effective way of bringing that about would be through a feeling of social solidarity, a general feeling that we owe it to our fellow citizens to keep them safe rather than simply following our own selfish desires, backed up by the resources to ensure that people are financially able to do the right thing. It would be better if we didn’t need laws and fines to bring about changes in behaviour, but the problem is that the Tories, aided and abetted by New Labour, have spent the last four decades destroying that sense of social solidarity, encouraging selfishness, and purveying the myth that the resources aren’t available. A crisis like the pandemic shows why that solidarity is important – but a four-decade long process can’t be reversed in a few weeks, never mind the days that we have available to us.

It takes a very special kind of crassness and incompetence to turn a mild-mannered Clark Kent look-alike into someone who looks increasingly like an independentista. Unfortunately for Drakeford, the Conservative Party has an apparently inexhaustible stock of crass incompetents; he needs to prepare for much more of the same.

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