The Death of Self-Responsibility


Calum Davies

@calumtjd

I am an avid watcher of Gogglebox and have often found it to be a decent barometer of the views of non-politicos like myself. Indeed, an article in The Spectator recently showed Keir Starmer failing the “Gogglebox test” when his ambiguous policies on tackling coronavirus caused consternation among the viewers. And with the pandemic and summer scheduling leading to shrinking content and increased focus on the political realm there have been plenty for the Goggleboxers to react to.

Sadly, what I’ve witnessed over the last few months further confirmed a worrying trend in our country: people have become too willing to surrender responsibility for themselves in favour of complaining about the powers-that-be.

The most obvious example on the show is every time there is an announcement of new rules or guidance to tackle Covid-19, there is derision about how unclear they are. This was even the case when the rules were at their simplest at the beginning of all this. It has been well-reported that the UK Government has had a communications problem over the last few months – demonstrated by that very complained-about lack of clarity – but are they actually too difficult to understand?

Yes, there are contradictions within guidance that can make things sound a bit nonsensical, but it seemed a lot of the complaining was down to rules not being so specific as to govern each and every action one took from whether to put one’s left or right foot forward first when walking. It was odd to see people complain that they weren’t being governed by diktat enough. The rules were and are not perfect but a great deal of people were being obtuse in their complaints, failing to exercise any common-sense whatsoever. Why think for yourself when berating politicians is so much fun?

I do not know what started all this: it could be social media pushing people towards having an opinion on everything or the “austerity” narrative of the previous decade making us all think the state is not doing enough and should be spending more of our money and increasingly intervening more in our lives. Whatever it was, the result was so much political discourse over the last few years focussing on asking government to do more so we can do less.

Another example has been the discourse surrounding post-Brexit trading agreements: public figures, inside and outside the political realm, have called on the UK Government to ban the import of certain foodstuffs. Why are people not trusted to make the choice for themselves what they want to buy in the supermarket? They can make the choice to support British farmers and thus the rural economy by buying high quality lamb or they can buy hormone-treated American beef. I know I would prefer to buy the former but why should I be prevented from buying the second? Why are consumers being denied the responsibility of making that choice, let along the freedom?

More recently there has been the debate on maintaining free school meals (FSMs) over school holidays. Devolved governments have guaranteed this but the UK Government is resisting doing so in England after buckling to the pressure of the campaign led by one of my favourite footballers, Marcus Rashford MBE, back in the summer. I have no doubt that his campaign is sincere and motivated by the want to do good for those who had a similar upbringing to his. Additionally, with this only applying to England and Wales (where I live) being a net receiver of Treasury income, it will have little effect on me other than the cost being a small drop in the ocean that is the UK’s ballooning debt.

(Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Although the fact foodbanks need to exist is obviously a tragedy, they show that individuals have felt a responsibility to help their fellow man in need rather than shirk their shoulders and say “not my problem, let the government deal with it”. Our sense of self-responsibility does not simply mean one must simply look out for oneself, but others too.

Calum Davies

Yes, it is wrong for children to go hungry in our country, yet some in the Conservative Party seem to be the only ones that recognise the slipping of self-responsibility here. This country, as the Prime Minister recently stated, can rightfully boast it has made free school meals in some form or another available for over 100 years. Now, those struggling families will rightfully be able to access a more generous Universal Credit system to help with their shopping bill. One could argue that free school meals are, thus, being provided but in a different form through increased welfare payments rather than possibly patronising food vouchers. However, it is the responsibility of parents to feed their children – the state should be the provider of last resort.

My concern stems from that it always harder to take something away than to give it – “Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher” still endures nearly half a century on. Opponents of the Government have already been accusing ministers of taking away FSMs when, in reality, they are not being extended. If the UK Government were to buckle, I am worried that the measure will stay in perpetuity.

If so, then governments that have introduced the measure have then told a certain group of parents in this country they are never responsible for feeding their own kids because the government is doing it for them, in and out of school. Perversely, this could entrench an attitude of decreasing responsibility amongst some of those parents (by no means a majority) for their children, something to which Ben Bradley MP alluded.

There is also a contradiction here that those pushing the most for free school meals are the ones that complain the most about foodbanks. The difference is food supplied by the state, the other local communities. Although the fact foodbanks need to exist is obviously a tragedy, they show that individuals have felt a responsibility to help their fellow man in need rather than shirk their shoulders and say “not my problem, let the government deal with it”. Our sense of self-responsibility does not simply mean one must simply look out for oneself, but others too.

Indeed, the stories of businesses stepping up to the plate and offering to distribute food to the less well-off is not only heart-warming, but very much demonstrates that it is unnecessary for the UK Government to do what campaigners are demanding. This is the “Big Society” in action and it should be applauded. Rashford himself has praised these generous offers. Although I accept the point that his campaign and the Government’s decision to take the political hit is what inspired these actions, they undermine the argument that further state intervention is needed.

It is a shame that this sensitive issue is where the debate about self-responsibility has emerged. Nevertheless, re-instating that outlook is essential to ensuring our society functions and political discourse can cool down after being so fiery of late. The less responsible we become for improving the country as individuals, the stronger the state’s control over us becomes.

If we do nothing to stem the relinquishment of common sense and self-responsibility, we will see the nationalisation of ethics by default. And I am unsure what worries me most if that happens: that we don’t notice or that we don’t care.

In Response


Christopher Harries
@CjHarries14

Over the weekend former Cardiff Bay Conservative intern, Theo Davies- Lewis wrote for that taxpayer-supported entity Nation Cymru about the Welsh Conservatives. Davies- Lewis used the article to muse on the state of the Welsh Conservative party.

To start with, the UK government has not covered itself in glory in handling the Coronavirus pandemic, with numerous missteps and communication foibles. Another failing is allowing constituent parts of the United Kingdom to be seen as treated differently during the crisis. For instance, the rejection of the Welsh Government requests to bring forward support schemes seemingly without offering an extension to the furlough scheme fosters a narrative that undermines the Union.

Now Davies- Lewis suggests that the Welsh Conservatives have acted as the anti- devolution and anti- Welsh brigade for several months. We should not confuse ambition for reform with hostility to devolution. The ‘Devolution Revolution’ that Paul Davies MS advocates fundamentally seeks to reform service delivery. As for accusations of being anti- Welsh is pointing out a fiscal deficit substantive proof? 

Davies- Lewis suggests that the Welsh Conservatives should form their own identity, to some this would be eminently sensible. Yet who would ultimately be the leader of this entity? Would it be the Secretary of State for Wales or the leader of the Welsh Conservative group in the Welsh Parliament? 

The idea that the Welsh Conservatives should have a distinct identity poses several issues not confined to just conundrums over leadership. The electoral breakthrough from the General Election last year came on the back of the Westminster campaign with an unambiguously clear objective -namely to get Brexit done. Would the part have been as effective in December if it was a movement driven by Welsh issues? 

One could suspect that this idealised form of the Welsh Conservative party with David Melding MS at its core would not have had such an impact with the electorate. The party had several elections with Melding at the core, three National Assembly elections in fact where he helped to write the manifesto and did those elections yield electoral breakthrough? 

Melding is a well-read, thoughtful politician, yet his approach towards devolution appears to be out of step with the party membership. Polling from earlier this year suggests that 54-56% of Conservative voters would vote to abolish the Welsh Parliament in a yes/ no referendum. Such polling indicates that a softer approach to devolution may not be electorally prudent.

What Davies- Lewis may not appreciate that the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party historically has a degree of autonomy that the Welsh Conservatives have not had. Aspirations may exist in some quarters for the Welsh Conservatives to obtain greater independence, yet this seems an unnecessary distraction and ignores that the parties fortunes are dependent upon Westminster performance.

Returning to Melding, those who have read his musings on Last of the Unionists will note that he has long been against leaving the European Union and advocates federalism as the future for the United Kingdom. Those of who are unionists, see federalism as incompatible with the unitary nature of the United Kingdom. However, well-intentioned the suggestion of federalism is, it has limitations and would fail to bind the United Kingdom together.

For the Internal Market Bill, an observation it seems that those opposed to the bill often are those in support of the break up of the United Kingdom or are fully-fledged supporters of devolution. 

Where were there objections when the European Union held those powers? The lack of objection previously shows that the real issue is a fear of a more assertive United Kingdom.

Now, for the notion that the Welsh Conservatives are opposed to taking independent decisions within the UK, Davies- Lewis needs to appreciate that conservatives would welcome localised decision making. The reservations, Welsh Conservatives have about devolution is that power is that it is creating a viable framework to break up the United Kingdom.

Naturally there are merits to the assessment that Wales needs a strong opposition. The Devolution Revolution outlined by Davies and the Welsh Conservatives is the means for such opposition, rhetoric must now be backed up with detail.

Victim Blaming


Christopher Harries
@CjHarries14

Earlier today, Politico published a tawdry opinion piece by Farhad Khosrokhavar which sought to pin the slaughter of Nice upon what he dubbed fundamentalist secularism.

Let us be under no illusion. Fundamentalist secularism did not inspire the decapitation of Samuel Paty or the slaughter of the Notre-Dame de l’Assomption Basilica in Nice. The inspiration for such slaughter was radical Islam.

Secularism did not force Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov to behead Paty, nor did fundamentalist secularism force the Kouachi brothers to storm the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and commit murder.

Plain and simple, this is an attempt at victim-blaming. Indiscriminate violence or a death sentence is not a legitimate response to what some perceive as blasphemy. 

Rather than France’s supposed love of blasphemy stigmatising and humiliating moderate Muslims, the gratuitous violence by their fellow adherents in response to blasphemy profanes the faith of other Muslims. For those Muslims who quietly observe their faith, respect the law and live in peace to be seen as of the same faith as those who commit such atrocities is the real humiliation.

Let us stop trying to absolve perpetrators of such barbarism of responsibility. Would we try to excuse perpetrators of a crime like rape and instead try to blame the victim, on the basis that maybe their outfit or conduct encouraged such a crime to befall them? 

Mark Drakeford and his crazy laws are Wales’ most non-essential items


Matthew Paul

Andrew RT Davies, the plain-spoken, breakfast-means-breakfast former Welsh Conservative leader, wasn’t always at perfect ease in the director’s chair. RT’s barnstorming, “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll BLOW your house down, I will” style hit the spot at party conferences and in big, well lubricated after-dinner speeches. It was rotten on the telly and Davies never cut through with the public in the way he enthused his fans in the party.

It might just be that RT now, as Shadow Health Minister, isn’t facing an urbane, slippery and sly opponent like Carwyn Jones, but the hopelessly lightweight Vaughan Gething: a man so useless they need two people to do his job. It might be that Davies is better as a team player than a leader. Either way, over the last few weeks he has built up some momentum in opposing Welsh Labour’s repressive, arbitrary and unnecessary public health laws.

When Mark Drakeford brought in –without the slightest scrutiny from the Senedd– measures restricting the sale of ‘non-essential’ items so amazingly bone-headed that even a jaded Welsh public was confounded with astonishment, RT got stuck in:

“To the folks @asda, @Tesco, @sainsburys, @AldiUK, @LidlGB & co ahead of your meeting this afternoon with the Welsh Labour Government. In the absence of any common sense emerging at the top of government, please do take a stand for your customers. Wales is behind you.”

Mark Drakeford’s rattled response to RT’s tweet was a letter –written in his official capacity as First Minister– to the Shadow Health Minister, accusing Davies of encouraging supermarkets to break the law, and purporting to order the Welsh Conservatives to do what they are told in the future.

On any fair reading of his tweet, RT wasn’t suggesting anyone break the law. He wanted supermarket bosses to talk sense to Ministers, in the absence of any sense emerging from the Welsh Government.

But in any event, the tweet wasn’t capable of encouraging Asda etc to break the law, for the very simple reason that the ban on ‘non-essential’ items isn’t the law. Non-essential items aren’t mentioned anywhere in The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 3) (Wales) Regulations 2020, which bring the firebreak into force. Or in any of the dozens of other ill-thought out and unscrutinised statutory instruments that have spewed forth from the WG during the pandemic.

The ‘rules’ about non-essential items are found instead in guidance. Guidance, as its name suggests, isn’t law. It is correct to observe that Regulation 20 of the (No. 3) Regulations says shops “required to take reasonable measures under regulation 17(2) must have regard to guidance issued by the Welsh Ministers about those measures.”

Regulation 17 (2) imposes a responsibility on shops “of minimising the risk of exposure to coronavirus at regulated premises, or the spread of coronavirus by those who have been at regulated premises”. Among the measures listed in the Regulation (which deals mostly with social distancing) are “otherwise controlling the use of, or access to, any other part of the premises”.

The areas of a shop used to display a product have nothing at all to do with the type of product being sold, but the WG are trying to stretch the meaning of this provision beyond any logical tolerances, to impose restrictions on the things shops that are specifically permitted to remain open by the Regulations are allowed to sell.

Using guidance under Reg. 17 (2) for this purpose is probably unlawful, and almost certainly unnecessary. If the Welsh Government has any evidence to the effect that during the spring lockdown, measures to limit the spread of Covid-19 were undermined by people going on unnecessary outings to Tesco and gratuitously dawdling in the homewares section, they haven’t chosen to show it to the public. 

Regulation 20 in any event only says shops must ‘have regard’ to the guidance. They can perfectly properly consider the guidance, and tell customers (as did the Parc Tawe branch of B&M Bargains) to use their own judgement as to what is essential. What’s more, even if a shop were shown not to have had due regard to the guidance –perhaps because they thought the guidance was stupid and mad– it and its managers commit no offence under the firebreak regulations: Regulations 29 and 30 (which deal with enforcement) do not create any offence of failing to comply with Regulation 20. It isn’t clear what power –if any– the Welsh Ministers think they have to enforce these arbitrary restrictions.

Drakeford’s other stated justification for his crazy rule: creating a ‘level playing field’ with local shops which are obliged to close, is both probably unlawful –you don’t use health protection regulations to protect businesses from competition– and plain irrational. No First Minister with his head even half screwed on (and, looking at the gap between Drakeford’s jacket collar and his neck, you do sometimes wonder) would think that sending shoppers off to Amazon for their ‘non-essential’ stuff does anything to protect the businesses that have shut their doors.

The results, predictably enough, were just as irrational. In efforts to make Wales look like the most Philistine nation in the western hemisphere, books were banned from sale (this must be wrong: newsagents –which commonly sell books– are permitted to remain open, as are various libraries). Tesco banned women from buying sanitary products. Aisles were cordoned off and murder tape stretched across displays of greeting cards. A Labour MP on Any Questions strained every cog and gear of her intellect, before tentatively concluding that a kettle probably wasn’t essential because you can boil water in a saucepan.

Imposing arbitrary and irrational rules on people makes them angry, so it was no surprise to see a complete chump in Bangor called Gwilym Owen rampaging around his local Tesco, tearing off the Covid-covers and howling at the unfairness of it all: “Rip the f***ers off!” Mr Owen bellowed. “Kids’ f***ing clothes, it is a disgrace.” He has ended up in front of the Magistrates, and something of a local hero. Not all heroes wear capes, so another wag paraded around a Newport supermarket in just his underpants, on the basis that the shop deemed clothes unnecessary.

RT was absolutely right to call the Welsh Government out on this thoroughly bad law, and Drakeford should be ashamed of himself for trying to browbeat the Tories into supporting it (and for –presumably deliberately and if so in breach of the Ministerial Code– misrepresenting Davies’ position as encouraging supermarkets to break the law). Gwilym Owen’s ire was only directed at inanimate manifestations of the lousy rules, but it was just a matter of time before some fool like him ended up cleaning a supermarket worker’s clock, in a furious barney over a kettle or frying pan.

Vive la France


Christopher Harries
@CjHarries14

Another week, another act of barbarism on the streets of France. A febrile atmosphere is developing as the secular, French Republic comes to know the pernicious Islamic extremism. 

Rhetoric could be excused and dismissed, yet slaughter on the streets is far more difficult to ignore. Violence is not a new phenomenon, yet the frequency is making it difficult to forget. The murder of three including decapitation at the Notre Dame Basilica in Nice followed mere weeks after the beheading of Samuel Paty. Paty, a history and geography teacher from a suburb of Paris, ended up butchered for daring to show a Charlie Hebdo cartoon of the prophet Muhammad to a classroom of students.

The Charlie Hebdo cartoon that provoked fury and led to the beheading of Samuel Paty.

Earlier this month, President Macron positioned himself in a speech as a defender of the French Republic. In the speech, Macron announced a plan to tackle separatism. Particularly Islamist separatism while acknowledging France had failed its immigrant communities. 

In the wake of the beheading of Paty, Macron announced “We will not give up caricatures and drawings, even if others back away” action was also taken with the state forcing the closure of a mosque which had published videos agitating action against Paty, the deportation of foreign nationals and the dissolution of some non-governmental organisations.

This rhetoric from Macron has provoked outrage in the Islamic world. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey has described Macron as mentally ill, while there are boycotts of French goods.

Rhetoric will not suffice, further steps must be taken to challenge this pernicious ideology. Thinking about this subject reminds of the paradox of tolerance outlined by the philosopher, Karl Popper. As Popper described it “in order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance.” 

As Ayaan Hirsi Ali outlined in The Spectator, in practical terms, Macron can do this by utilising French Law, such as a denial of citizenship to those foreign citizens deemed to have assimilated. Tackling the dissemination of ideological extremism by other nations and strengthening immigration considerations.

It is also worth considering that the perpetrators of the two recent acts of savagery were not born in France. In the case of the murder of Paty, the perpetrator was an eighteen-year-old refugee called Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov. While the perpetrator in Nice according to France’s chief anti-terrorism prosecutor, is a Tunisian national who entered Europe last month, having crossed the Mediterranean. 

This highlights some of the risks posed by illegal crossings, namely we cannot be sure of the identity or intent of those making the crossing. Given the illegal crossings over the English Channel, we should be vigilant that a wolf may seek to enter the United Kingdom in such a manner. 

To talk about France is not to ignore the issue here in the United Kingdom. We have experienced the violence of Islamic extremism from suicide bombings and acts of barbarism. We should take similar action to avoid a replication of such recent horrors on our streets. 

The Labour Civil War

Tomos Llewelyn

The news is out: Jeremy Corbyn MP has been suspended by the Labour Party. Big in the Labour world with implications for politics at large, especially the civil war that has been brewing ever since Sir Keir Starmer took to the helm of the near sunken ship.

The reasoning behind this explosive decision has everything to do with the inquiry into the matter of allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour party by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) coming to its conclusion and the publication of a report detailing the parties’ failings and unlawful acts with regard to the Equality Act of 2010.

The findings themselves were quite astonishing: Worse than mishandling the complaints of anti-Semitism from the party’s activists, worse than gross negligence or sweeping the problem under carpet; the report found that the party broke the law with regard to ‘acts of harassment and discrimination’ during Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure as leader. To add salt to the wounds of those caught up in all of this, the commission went on to state that Corbyn’s office itself ‘politically interfered’ with the complaints process. This was of course done in order to quell the issue for it to not develop into an electoral headache, don’t forget he had to fight two general elections.

Corbyn’s response, a statement on Facebook, included the line: ‘the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party’. Corbyn, in typical fashion I might add, dodged the issue and shifted the blame to his opponents including in particular this time, factions within his own ‘former’ party as well as the usual suspects of the media and the Conservative Party. This was deemed unacceptable by the new Labour leadership with Starmer stating in a speech today that: ‘those that deny this is a problem are part of the problem’ and ‘those that pretend it’s exaggerated or factional, are part of the problem’. This is of course a direct reference to Corbyn’s statement. Corbyn (still the MP for Islington North) was then suspended from the party ‘pending an investigation’.

At the very heart of the British left, the Trotskyite-Twitter sphere itself, a great disturbance has been felt echoing throughout. A great wave of resentment, already present but now intensified tenfold as their martyr fell. Just as Starmer demoted the natural successor to Corbynism: Rebecca Long-Bailey into non-existence, he has ejected the Grandad of Socialism himself.

Is Sir Keir out of his depth? Will the Labour party now eat itself? Only time will tell.

Our Parliament Is Out Of Order

Crispin John

As often happens during Recess, the media try to keep people’s interest alive in politics by publishing a piece or two that’s more “general interest” rather than “current affairs”. In spite of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the associated political hubris, BBC Wales have republished an updated piece on unparliamentary language. We’ve seen the same sort of thing in several versions before, and to those of us who are interested in Parliamentary proceedings, it’s actually quite interesting.

After all, did we not laugh, or shake our heads in bemusement as Dafydd Elis-Thomas kicked Leanne Wood out of the Chamber for referring to Her Majesty the Queen as “Mrs Windsor”? Did we not also have a bit of a chuckle when Elin Jones, the current Presiding Officer, sent Lord Elis-Thomas a strongly worded letter for calling the Conservative benches “right wing shits”?

But therein lies a difference – and it’s causing a problem. You see, Lord Elis-Thomas used the Standing Orders of what was then the National Assembly to kick Wood out of Siambr Hywel for unparliamentary language. Jones however simply sent him a letter when he was guilty of the same offence.

YouTube is full of clips from the UK Parliament showing various speakers, from Baroness Boothroyd, to John Bercow, and Lindsay Hoyle, making denouncements from the Chair and admonishing members or kicking them out. No such material presents itself for the Welsh Parliament, for this prepubescent institution is yet to find its constitutional cajonas.

Let us take, for example, the recent case of Neil McEvoy, who turned up in the Senedd Siambr with a strip of gaffer tape over his mouth and a placard complaining that he had been “gagged by a racist”, because one of his amendments had not been selected for debate. This was, according to Standing Orders, conduct that questioned the Chair’s authority. McEvoy is now only being called for questions he’s tabled or amendments that have been selected, until he apologises.

The same did not apply to Gareth Bennett, MS for the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party and previously for UKIP. After his speech on transgender rights, he was told simply that he wouldn’t be allowed to speak until he apologised. There wasn’t any suggestion, apparently, of him being allowed to table questions in the interim. It’s a double standard, and demonstrates to me that the rules are being made up as we go along. If Members are going to take real liberties with Standing Orders, then by all means kick them out. Have the guts to do it – and certainly don’t shilly-shally with this “until you apologise” malarkey. But at the same time, we need to ask why we’ve got to where we are.

Writing on this website a week or so ago about Mark Reckless’ move to Abolish, my learned friend Daran Hill made a good point. He questioned whether or not people within the Cardiff Bay Establishment realised that people are driven to “fringe” or “anti-Establishment” outfits by the very nature of the Senedd’s attitude to what they would term as “newcomers”. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Members apparently “guilty” of “unparliamentary” language recently are exactly those people for whom the Cardiff Bay elite hope not to be renewing security passes next May.

The fact of the matter is that it isn’t just the language of our Parliament that’s problematic. In fact, the discourse is the last of its issues. As soon as the UKIP Group, and then the Brexit Party Group, started to lose Members, privileges were taken away. Leaders questions were reduced, and they always came last, rather than rotating with the main opposition spokesmen. Committee places were dropped. Members, and staff, were out of the loop on consultation about Senedd business. But this was all evident before people jumping ship. I know – for I was there. Even when UKIP had its full complement the Group was left on the sidelines.

So it’s not just the language that’s become intemperate. The Parliament itself needs to grow up and stop acting like a spoilt toddler.

The Government has rightly come under fire in recent months for its unwelcome habit of dodging Senedd scrutiny. As much as politicos and opposition politicians complain about this, and rightly so in my view; there is only one actual body that can do something about it – and that is the Senedd and its Presiding Officer.

If the Senedd is to aspire to its marketing strapline of “representing all voices in Wales”, then it can make a start by listening to those Members whose message they may find difficult. Only then can we truly take the heat out of the debate and find common ground to deal with the immediate problems that face us. Running up to an election, this is a tall order – but if the Senedd wishes to challenge those who would seek to curtail its powers or, indeed, have a Referendum on its very future, then the time to start talking is now.

Revelation


Christopher Harries
@CjHarries14

The people of Wales have in the last few days been unwittingly subject to a miraculous act. The First Minister, Mark Drakeford has inadvertently performed the political equivalent of the miracle in the Gospel of John. In the Gospel, Jesus cured a Celidonius of blindness while Drakeford may have gifted the Welsh public sight.

Since the onset of Devolution, Labour has dominated politics in Cardiff Bay. That dominance has been impervious to failings or scandal.

In the absence of media scrutiny and public interest, events that would cause substantive damage to the public trust if they were to happen in Westminster can pass without impact on the public perception of the Welsh Labour Government.

Imagine the furore if in Westminster a Minister had sought to pressure the civil servants at their command to obtain private information on opposition figures. Or if the Prime Minister were to act unlawfully in the way he made arrangements for an inquiry connected to the suicide of a colleague? These are just some of the scandals that have passed here in Wales without the Government facing real scrutiny or judgement.

To focus on scandal is not to ignore failings, like the management of the Welsh Health Service which has seen five of seven health boards in Wales taken into special measures. Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board remains in special measures more than five years after being into placed into such measures by the then Health Minister, one Mark Drakeford.

Let us not forget that Labour has governed Wales in one form or another for over twenty years. Yet how often has the Welsh Government been held to account for failings that harm the people of Wales?

Devolution has created a situation where politicians in Cardiff Bay have been able to evade being accountable for their failings. The public often apportions blame to Westminster rather than to those responsible in Cardiff Bay. This situation is exacerbated by a client media that seems to be averse to subjecting Ministers in Cardiff Bay to the sort of scrutiny afforded to those in Westminster.

The First Minister may have inadvertently given the Welsh public the miraculous restoration of sight that has largely been missing for twenty years. The debacle of restrictions applied to the sale of non- essential goods in retailers allowed to remain open has given the Welsh Government greater scrutiny or wider media attention since the onset of devolution.

With the next election for the Welsh Parliament looming closer, this miracle should be welcomed by all. Increased interest in the politics of Cardiff Bay may help to address the apathy that has become increasingly apparent with each election.

With the devolved Government finally seen to be responsible for measures that adversely impact on the lives of individuals, this could be the decisive moment of political awakening and with it change.

In the wake of scrutiny and public anger, the opportunity is there for the Welsh Conservatives to demonstrate that they are a government in waiting. Offering enhanced scrutiny as well as a substantive agenda for change that delivers for the people of Wales.

Let us hope that the restoration of sight to the people of Wales is not fleeting but permanent like that restored to Celidonius.

Worst Instincts


Christopher Harries
@CjHarries14

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.

Trump’s YUGE Debate Win

Tomos Llewelyn

My analysis of the final debate can be compressed into one conclusive statement: Donald Trump won. Many pundits and Biden backing outlets are calling it a draw, meaning only one thing; the President must have truly performed.

Let’s rewind briefly and remember the first debate. The stand out moments were the interruptions and insults, their multiplicity as well as the sartorial gaucherie of the format. Much of the criticism was levelled at the moderator: Chris Wallace and the Commission on Presidential debates’ rules. For the final debate with Kirstin Welker presiding as moderator, the indecorum had practically vanished. She has been praised for her handling of the discussion and the Commission praised for employing mute buttons for use during the opening statements for each question. In all honesty however, the candidates themselves were likely embarrassed by the feedback from the first debate and were attempting, at least for the most part, to avoid a repeat. The second debate was of course cancelled due to Trump’s refusal to participate virtually due to his covid-19 diagnosis.

This brings us to the final debate where as I previously indicated, Trump dominated. Take some of the topics that should have been weak points for the President, such as the coronavirus pandemic. While Biden once again tried to paint Trump as a liar who downplayed the virus, Trump hit back much harder this time by drawing attention to Biden’s apparent indictment of the President’s travel restrictions from China: his cries of xenophobia and fear-mongering the day after the ban. It’s worth noting that Biden denied this, however the damage was seemingly done as the former Vice-President’s confidence was clearly diminished after this exchange.

Even on the issue of race relations, a perceived weak point in the President’s record, Trump was able to list his accomplishments with regard to ‘historically black Colleges and Universities’, ‘opportunity zones’, prison and criminal reforms while slamming Biden for the 1994 crime bill which lead to the incarceration of ‘tens of thousands of young African Americans’. Biden responded by calling the move a mistake and jokingly calling the President Abraham Lincoln, a wisecrack that Trump abruptly shut down thereafter. This lead the President to strike while the iron was hot and paint Biden as the Washington insider, being a politician for 47 years with little accomplishment in the areas he is currently purporting to champion, ‘he’s all talk, no action’.

Climate change came up again and Biden once more would have likely won the hearts and minds of a majority of Americans on this issue. However, the American public rate the issue as being less important than many others this cycle and in actual fact, the President was able to focus the discussion on Biden and Harris’ previous opposition to fracking. Fracking is a contentious issue in the state of Pennsylvania, a constituency Trump is pinning his hopes on winning in order to obtain a majority in the Electoral College. Pennsylvanians have disproportionate numbers of workers in the fossil fuel sector. Biden, on an issue that should have been a strong point, was on the defensive again.

Accusations of corruption cropped up throughout the debate where Biden appeared to leave the discussion heavily scathed as Trump was able to reel off specific instances of potentially corrupt acts involving his son and brothers whereas Biden’s specifics consisted only of listing countries where Trump had bank accounts in the past.

On the issue of restoring the character of the nation, a central theme of the Democrat’s campaign, Biden was on message. Unfortunately for him, many even on his own side see this issue as empty and not enough to win over the country that voted Trump into office in the first place. All in all the race is well and truly NOT over. Watch this space…