Thursday 16 February 2023

Welsh Labour too comfortable by far


One of the big issues surrounding the actions which we need to take to avoid climate change is that, whilst most politicians (excluding the fringe elements who choose to believe that the whole question of man-made climate change is either a hoax or a conspiracy) know what needs to be done, they fear doing it because they know that the actions required will be unpopular. For all the polls which show that most of us want our politicians to act, almost every individual action proposed meets with opposition. And sometimes that opposition even comes from the politicians professing their whole-hearted commitment to action, as in those who support wind energy as long as it’s in someone else’s constituency. A classic example of the problem is transport. There’s plenty of research which shows that whilst building roads alleviates congestion in the short term, in the longer term it simply leads to more traffic. Cutting private car use is one of those things which is popular in the abstract but unpopular in the specific.

To be able to tackle this sort of problem, two things are needed. The first is a government the opposition to which is divided and either unpopular or else trying to appeal to such widely disparate constituencies that the government is likely to be re-elected in one form or another, almost regardless of what it does. There are sham democracies – more like dictatorships as a rule – which more or less fit the bill, but the stand-out example which strikes me is our very own Welsh Government in Cardiff. It doesn’t matter how badly it does, on education, health, or whatever: a combination of deeply-held loyalty to one party over generations and an aversion to some or all of the alternatives makes it likely that Labour could do almost anything and still win. Well, maybe not quite anything, but almost. So if there were a government anywhere in the world which might try and call a halt to almost all road-building, Wales just might be the place. There will be protests, of course. People not getting their by-passes or long-awaited improvements will complain, and the ‘Welsh’ Conservatives will huff and puff in their usual irrelevant and hyperbolic style. But no-one will listen much, and Labour will still end up as the largest party after the next Senedd election, and continue to lead the government.

For the policy to be a ‘success’ however (rather than just avoiding any consequent electoral failure, which is a very limited definition of success) it needs to be accompanied by a rapid and dramatic improvement in the availability, comfort and reliability of public transport. And, ironically, the precise conditions which make it viable for the Welsh Labour government to get away with the first also, sadly, make it possible for it to fail on the second with equal impunity. It looks to be well on course to do so. It really isn’t enough to talk about improvements in the distant future, nor about responding to demand. Encouraging public transport use requires that transport to be available in advance of demand; use needs to be driven by provision rather than provision being driven retrospectively by usage. Fast, frequent, comfortable, reliable, with seats always available – these are key elements, even if expensive in the context of what is a largely rural and sparsely populated country. There is no obvious sign that the government understands this well enough to move away from the Treasury approach of a narrow cost-benefit analysis of each individual proposal.

Nor should we really expect that there will be. That sort of thinking requires the will to break free of the constraints imposed by the UK Treasury as an inherent part of the devolution settlement, and the comfortable – unchallengeable, even – position in which the Welsh government finds itself does not encourage that sort of thinking, even if its members were capable of it. The same factors – complacency, comfort, and unlikelihood of defeat  which make it possible for Wales to try a revolutionary approach also make it nigh-on impossible for us to see it through to its logical conclusion.


dafis said...

Public transport, other than rail, will need a decent set of roads. Some of that requirement will necessitate a bit of road building or at least major works - straightening, re-configuring etc - but the major deficit right now lies in the area of surface quality - potholes and other erosion damage - which in old fashioned jargon was "maintenance" but given the overdue nature of the present situation it becomes a big capital item. Despite their huge expenditures the biggest single output from our Senedd is hot air, rhetoric and downright misrepresentation. Lots of big talk, little or no action and when they get round to acting it seldom takes into account the needs of the public at large. It's getting to the point where we might do better without it, except of course reverting to Westminster would be an even more cataclysmic event.

Cibwr said...

In the Netherlands if there is a new development to be built first thing they do is put in the transport infrastructure (trams) so the workers can get there. If we had the consequentials from HS2 we could build the South East Metro, The Swansea Bay Metro, the North East Metro and massively improve the rest of the rail network....that would be a start.