Worst Instincts

Christopher Harries

The manner that the Welsh Government have gone about implementing the so-called fire break risks undermining the process. The decision to restrict consumer choice in those shops permitted by the bureaucrats to open has descended into farce. The disparity in interpretation by retailers across Wales has led situations like the refusal in the sale of items like sanitary products.

The subjective restrictions imposed on retailers have exposed Mark Drakeford and Vaughan Gething to ridicule. Nothing demonstrates the worst excesses of the paternalist instinct at the heart of the Welsh Government than the perverse sight of shops with shelves of stock covered to prevent the public from buying the wares upon them.

In recent years, commentators have remarked on the empty shelves of shops in Venezuela or the fake shops of North Korea. Yet here in Wales we have the experience of aisles closed off not for an absence of stock but due to political choice. The First Minister, Mark Drakeford has justified this draconian measure on the grounds of fairness. Yet the Welsh Government is the architect of this inequity having forced businesses deemed to be non-essential to close.

This myopic measure does not help small businesses impact by the firebreak lockdown. Restricting sales in supermarkets merely force consumers into taking their custom to an online outlet like Amazon. The only measure that will help businesses forced to close by the Firebreak Lockdown is to end the arbitrary national lockdown.

The argument of fairness lacked credibility while justification on the grounds of scientific advice fell short. If the shopping experience posed a risk to consumers, that risk would remain irrespective of which aisles were open to consumers. This action, like the closure of pubs at a set time, is because the relevant ministers have embraced the illiberal instincts which is at the heart of their politics.

The Welsh Government’s disproportionate action is fitting for that famed quote from the politician and historian, Lord Acton: ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’

Most would accept the need for government action in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Yet for such intervention to be effective requires public support, fear alone will not suffice. Measures must be seen by the public as reasonable, driven by science not merely the whims of a minister. Will the public see the implementation of the Welsh government’s diktats as reasonable or as unnecessary interference?

The consequence of policy perceived to be disproportionate is that the public comes to see other measures in regards to tackling the pandemic as unnecessary.

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