The following article appears on the Telegraph website here:
Mark Drakeford's ban-happy miserablists and technocratic authoritarians are giving an international masterclass in poor governance
When politicians become such extraordinary figures, fiction withers and dies in the face of them. Through ‘Chipgate’, ‘Shedgate’ and now ‘HandkerchiefGate’, shambolism defines the Welsh Government’s bungled pandemic response.
Welsh Labour messaging suggested a markedly slower lockdown exit was about safety when Downing Street was pushing people back to work.
Alas we can’t all be ‘Marbella Man’ working remotely on £2,000 a day from the Costa del Sol as an advisor to the troubled Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board.
Differentiating from Downing Street hasn’t prevented a new national lockdown creeping across Wales from Barry to Broughton.
There is little reason for confidence. In the third major data breach since March, Public Health Wales disclosed the address and date of birth of everyone testing positive for Covid.
Gaffe magnet Health Minister Vaughan Gething didn’t instigate a meeting with the agency until news broke and didn’t tell First Minister Mark Drakeford for two weeks despite 18,000 patients being involved.
The same Minister for Excuses told ITV Wales’ Sharp End he ‘wouldn’t rule out’ forcibly vaccinating Wales. Earlier Gething used the Rhondda lockdown to claim incorrectly that a group from Lindsay Cons Club visited Doncaster Racecourse contributing to the outbreak.
He bullishly claimed the Lighthouse Labnear Newport would be open in time for Autumn and the Welsh Government’s ‘Test, Trace, Protect strategy’, yet it remains in limbo.
While testing falls in almost every local authority in Wales, a pandemic of delayed diagnoses and postponed operations looms over the horizon promising misery as urgent surgery is deferred. Routine surgery waiting lists are up seven times in a year. Failing to war game rising winter demand may turn the Welsh NHS into a Nation Covid Service.
Hapless Education Minister Kirsty Williams apologised ‘directly and unreservedly’ after she heralded a Welsh Government algorithm for A-Level and GCSE grades before u-turning back to teachers’ estimates.
Ministers break their rules undermining public confidence. Carwyn Jones, ex-First Minister, was snapped using a handkerchief to cover his nose and mouth inside a Porthcawl ice cream parlour.
During a virtual Senedd, Drakeford’s computer broke so he went round to Gething’s office despite two metres social distancing. Previously Gething was photographed eating a takeaway in Cardiff Bay despite his own rules.
Declaring stag and hen parties to be a things of the past and contemplating students remaining on campus over Christmas comes easily to ban-happy miserablists and technocratic authoritarians like the ‘twenty first century socialist’ First Minister.
Covid has also provided the opportunity to consolidate the institutions of devolved government. Drakeford calls for a ban on visitors from England and Gething “won’t rule out” quarantining English tourists even if the legality is unclear. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has rejected calls from Welsh Ministers for a travel ban, yet they still harbor ambitions for a slate curtain.
The Welsh Political Barometer suggests Welsh Government buffoonery hasn’t yet caught up with Labour. Playing the Chief ARP Warden Hodges from Dad’s Army, Drakeford can take to the airwaves for choreographed, scripted and biased appearances every few days. Devolution’s separation of power and accountability enables hammed-up anti-Downing Street posturing for a soft nationalist audience.
Worryingly, the Senedd is repeatedly defied and sidelined by ministers. Important announcements, including facemasks in schools and shops are released to the media, a discourtesy ill-befitting the recently self-designated national parliament.
After last week’s ministerial no-show at Plenary, they absurdly relied on their expanded lockdown accusing opposition party members of ‘not keeping people safe’ despite the Presiding Officer confirming this was “in line with regulations”. They literally did not turn up for work.
Yet last week Economy Minister Ken Skates travelled down from North Wales to Cardiff for a press conference at the ITV Wales studio barely 150 yards away. Ministers sitting in their Chateau Cathays Park offices say it is unsafe to attend the Siambr even when their addresses are closer.
The MP for Cardiff West has been to the Commons, yet Drakeford who holds the Senedd seat wont go to Cardiff Bay. He even accused North Wales Conservatives of encouraging people to break the law after they said County-wide lockdowns were disproportionate. Salad days for Senedd scrutiny is one thing. Now Welsh Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems may try to delay the 2021 devolved elections
No one suggests the Greater London Assembly elections should be deferred beyond May. Yet countermanding Wales’ poll would push back the independent Covid Inquiry the Welsh Government refuses to hold before the election.
The Welsh media’s cosy relationship with ministers makes for unbalanced coverage of Wales’ lockdown. ‘Playground Wales’ mentality saw ‘Chipgate’ being reported elsewhere. Indiscretions that would unsaddle UK Government Ministers are overlooked.
The Prydain Review’s ‘Shedgate’ scoop was ignored all the better to foster the image of the First Minister living in a hut that turned out to be a two-storey annex.
Attempts to portray Drakeford as a ‘pretty ordinary sort of a guy’ appear almost simpering. Yet whether the First Minister likes cheese, ‘misses a big old plate of chips’, or how well he does at ‘Drake or Drakeford’ does no justice to the gravity of the moment.
Donald Trump was pilloried by the Cardiff condescendi for highlighting how dreadful a prospect "rolling lockdowns" as a “norm in Wales” would be. Welsh Labour’s masterclass in poor governance now even obtrudes into the US Presidential election over three and a half thousand miles away.
Until next May, the people of Wales will endure Government by fiat, crushing the economy and squashing society, in a Bermuda triangle of unaccountability where the normal rules of political gravity don’t apply.
Matt Smith is a Conservative who stood for Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales. He was a policy analyst at Vote Leave. He has written about Welsh politics for The Telegraph, Conhome, BrexitCentral, CAPX, GlobalVisionUK, Institute of Welsh Affairs and Gwydir. Read more about Welsh politics at www.mattsmith.org.uk/news.