Mark Drakeford. Source: CPMR (via Flickr)
Conservatism, Character and Constitution

The Blame Game

Whose fault is the second wave of Covid? In the UK context, then surely the only fair assessment is that – if you believe governments have got it wrong – then all governments have got it wrong, writes Daran Hill.

Without a doubt, there have been particular failings in all parts of the UK to learn from the first wave and adequately prepare for the second. The result has been a catastrophe right up there with releasing Covid infected elderly people from hospitals to care homes to act as super-spreaders amongst the most vulnerable.

That isn’t a party political point: every government in the UK shares that blame and that shame. None of them have had access to the “Perfect Political Guide to Deal with a Pandemic” to shape their actions.

But what really rankles with me – and what rankles more and more each month – is the narrative that the Welsh Government, Welsh establishment and Welsh media propagates that Wales is good and England is bad. That Drakeford cares and Boris doesn’t. That in Wales things are driven by caution, and in England there’s an agenda to kill people. Plenty buy into it, nurture it, propagate it. It’s right up there with the simplistic stories of childhood so the narrative can be easily spun. In the fact-free, rhetoric heavy, bias endemic modern Wales it seems to be the heroic myth many (if not most) people want to hear.

This goodies versus baddies narrative. It has become so hard-wired in some quarters that anyone who doesn’t buy into the lockdown narratives is basically branded a killer. A low point so far was this hideous article on Nation Cymru which basically alleged the UK Government were delivering state-sponsored manslaughter.

And the bottom line of the nasty narrative is this: socialists care but Conservatives are killers. It doesn’t matter that Boris and Co haven’t been pursuing a herd immunity policy; have introduced mask wearing; have developed self-isolation grants; and have tried county based restrictions like Wales. They are still monsters. And killers.

The First Minister has been on a mission for some months to reinforce this messaging. He has repeated it with a regular, reliable rhythm. And anyone who disagrees is completely, profoundly and dangerously wrong. When North Wales MPs and MSs dared object to county-wide lockdowns as being too broad brush, they were accused by him of inciting law-breaking.

When the Labour group decided not to attend the Senedd in person, they timed their announcement so close to FMQs so that the political groups they weren’t talking to were left alone in the chamber. This wasn’t cross-party working. It was a deliberate attempt to weaponise Covid in a party political sense.

And just before we entered the Wales lockdown, Drakeford threw a wobbly with Paul Davies for daring to suggest the Conservatives would abide by a lockdown they did not support. Visibly furious, he savaged: “The leader of the Conservative Party in the debate this afternoon ended by assuring us that his Members would obey the law. It was an astonishing moment, Llywydd; he said it to us as though this was something on which they were to be congratulated. It comes to something, I can tell you, when a major party like the Conservative Party thinks it needs to assure the rest of us that its members will obey the law here in Wales.”

In doing so, the First Minister not only conveniently forgot he had previously lied about the Conservatives encouraging people to break the law; but that the Welsh Conservatives has backed Welsh Government regulations far more times than they had abstained on them or rejected them. Such facts do not fit the narrative.

So has this Wales-wide lockdown worked? If the intention was to reduce caseload, then the data says no. As Guido succinctly puts it, “Two weeks into lockdown, Wales has the highest case rate in the UK.”

Drakeford is clearly nervous about this issue and has openly pleaded with the Welsh public to “follow the rules”. This could well be because they know that people are flouting the rules anyway… So now the Wales Lockdown is ending and being lifted regardless or not of whether it has made any difference. And mark my words if it hasn’t really worked then that will be the Conservatives’ fault too. They will have undermined its potential by talking about buying saucepans or mop heads, when in fact they weren’t the ones to introduce that great big distraction of a communications cul de sac.

It is always the fault of the Conservatives. Always. If Drakeford could pin the data breach of 18,000 names on a data operator Who just happened to be called Mark Isherwood, he would.

As we move into the next phase of the game we are now being told not just who to blame, but who not to blame. Public Health Wales is now saying that the heads of the valleys communities where Covid is the new cholera are not to blame. PHW has been an excuse generator for months, and its latest one is that “Merthyr Tydfil’s ‘closeness and community’ spreading virus”. So its proliferation in Merthyr, Rhondda and Blaenau Gwent is a natural by-product of neighbourliness and socialist literal touchy feeliness.

And this week these same people – if they can extract themselves from their neighbours’ houses – can roam free anywhere they want in Wales. The only movement restrictions that matter now are between England and Wales. This is another disaster not just waiting to happen, but which is happening from now. This isn’t an anti valleys argument. It’s led by the data. I’d argue as a blanket rule that those in hyperlocal hot spots shouldn’t be allowed to roam free like cavorting wildebeest on the savannah. I’d say that if they came from Dowlais or Dunvant or Dinefwr.

Oh, and don’t worry. None of those spreading the virus will actually be prosecuted. As the First Minister has also made clear, if you’re the ones spreading the disease by breaking the law, there’s a very good chance you won’t actually be prosecuted, because Covid in Wales is now a ‘social justice’ issue as much as it is a health issue or an economic one.

And that’s a central flaw of the Welsh Government approach. It blames those with different political philosophies and not those whose behaviour is actually spreading the disease. That’s the sick truth at the heart of Drakeford’s blame game.

Daran Hill is a professional political consultant, occasional commentator and devolution revolutionary.