On my drive back to North Wales I often think about the week that has been, the announcements made, the casework I’m dealing with, and why there are still so many mobile blackspots on the main arterial routes between North and South Wales writes Darren Millar MS.
Driving back last week my thoughts turned to the UK Government’s Internal Market Bill. It’s a subject currently close to the heart of every political anorak in the country but the very last thing likely to come up in conversation with real people who simply want to get on with their lives.
I tried to switch my attention to other things; the beautiful Welsh countryside, the scale of the Newtown bypass, the Senedd seating arrangements, etc. but my efforts failed. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it!
Described as “an attack on democracy”, “a race to the bottom”, “an enormous power grab” and (my personal favourite) “the day devolution died”, the Bill is likely to consume much more of my thought life for some time yet.
Although I don’t agree with these descriptions of the Bill I have no doubt that there will be many people, especially here in North Wales, who would be celebrating if they really thought that the UK Government’s plans could bring twenty years of devolution to a sudden halt. It’s not that they don’t like devolution, but they have felt precious few benefits from it having been failed by Welsh Labour-led Governments for more than 20 years.
Far from being a nail in the coffin for devolution, the Bill actually transfers scores of new powers directly from Brussels to Wales. That’s not a power grab by any definition.
What surprised me most about the backlash to the Bill is how quickly different parties in Wales objected to the notion that the UK Government could dare spend extra money in Wales as I don’t recall any of them raising objections to the EU spending any. Why on earth would anyone object to more investment and more jobs to Wales at a time of looming economic crisis?
But not that any of that matters to the energetic First Minister, Mark Drakeford. He told us last week that although he’s not planning tax rises during a recession, as soon as we come out of it is a different matter. You have been warned.
When the South Wales Argus reported that the Bill could enable the delivery of the M4 Relief Road, the Welsh Government were very quick to point out that “the M4 is a matter for the Welsh Government, not Westminster, and our decision has already been made.”
Rejecting £1 billion of extra investment in Wales at a time of economic uncertainty seems barmy to me, but I guess barmy is normal when it comes to the Welsh Government’s understanding and management of taxpayers’ money.
Of course, the UK Government couldn’t invest in a relief road without the Welsh Government’s consent, even if they wanted to.
It amazes me that the Welsh Government has decided to play party politics with an issue that they have repeatedly promised to deliver for the people of South Wales simply because it’s a Conservative Government in Westminster wanting to help.
This attitude underscores the need for a devolution revolution in Wales. We need to see an end to the attitude of disagreement for disagreement’s sake. People are desperate for a new Welsh Government with a new approach that will actually work with the UK Government, no matter what its future colour, to deliver for Wales.
Of course, bellyaching over decisions made by the Westminster Government is nothing new for Welsh Labour. Since 2010 the Cardiff based Government has prioritised playing politics over delivering adequate services for the people of Wales.
But the Welsh Labour-led Government’s obsession with trying to distract from its poor performance by criticising the Conservative Government at every turn is wearing very thin (just ask people in North Wales who are fed up with the excuses for the lack of improvement at the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board).
Some may say that while playing politics in this way might not be productive, it is to be expected. But it is those low expectations that have come to define this Labour-led administration and it is those low expectations that we must challenge.
Instead of looking towards London with suspicion, it is time that Wales had a Government that worked with Westminster and not against it.
Think of it, Wales could have two Governments working in tandem on either side of Offa’s Dyke to unleash Wales’ potential in a way that Labour has failed to do over the last 20 years.
Two Governments that could deliver more jobs, better hospitals and safer streets for the whole of Wales.
Two governments that would offer hope and aspiration to everyone in Wales, no matter where they live.
That’s the sort of Wales that we need and that we will deliver next May.
Darren Millar is the Member of the Senedd for Clwyd West, the Shadow Minister for External Affairs & International Relations and the Director of Policy for the Welsh Conservatives.