Conservatism, Character and Constitution

Governments can do fear, and they do it well

Over the past couple of weeks we have had announcements on the development of a Covid-19 vaccination, information hitting us in quick succession, news of hope that we are approaching the end of this pandemic. The beginning of the end, to coin a phrase, writes Jonathan Morgan.

I have always believed that when governments respond to major challenges, it isn’t just about demonstrating leadership in exceptional times which counts, however vital. It’s the ability to reach people beyond the data, the graphs and news stories, and to inspire that feeling of hope.

Governments can do fear, and they do it well.

Not only have people had their freedoms removed, restored, removed and restored again, but there has also been a growing sense that many people would happily continue to be without these freedoms even when a vaccine is available.

That is remarkable. Just think about that for a moment. We have become so used to our changed circumstances since March that we would happily continue in this post-Covid life where our freedoms continue to be restricted.

A few days ago, the UK Government asked the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to assess the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, one of the frontrunners in the race for a coronavirus cure. If approval is given then the public will expect news of a roll-out, and sharply.

I am proud of what the UK has done in the field of pharmaceutical development. We are world-leading, it is an area of science which has seen a heavy investment by global companies in our research and clinical expertise, and looking at the data we have contributed more than any other country in seeking a vaccine.

Two weeks ago in the Senedd, the First Minister was asked about the development of the vaccine and plans to roll it out in Wales. There was a lot of chat about challenges and being clear about the effectiveness of the vaccine, to whom it would apply and how quickly. Although the conversation between him and the Leader of Plaid sounded more like two people chatting through the “what ifs” as opposed to setting out a coherent plan.

So I asked myself the question: why is this being downplayed? I would imagine that everyone, including a First Minister who has relished being in the limelight more than he had bargained for, would want a vaccine to work. It allows life to return to normal, not new normal, but normal. It means people can have their freedoms restored, they can see friends and family, return to work, go on holiday. We can look forward to 2021 in a way unimaginable a few months ago, and yes, an election in May too!

Perhaps there’s something in this. The control element of leftist ideology has never really played out in this country. We’ve avoided political extremes, the sort of power-grabbing interfering and controlling aspects you’d see in nations less reliant on democracy. Since March, never in peacetime has a government exercised so much control.

It’s clear that Boris doesn’t enjoy it. He values liberty and personal freedom and both lockdowns in England pained him. However, as this crisis has played on, I sense that Drakeford and his ministers are enjoying the power a bit too much.

The Scottish Executive recently announced a vaccine roll-out plan, indicating how many people could be vaccinated and how this would start with front line staff, and members of the public who are most susceptible to the virus. The ambition in Scotland is to reach a million people by the end of January, where they have identified the capacity of health services and the expertise of the army to deliver once they have the go-ahead. They appear battle-ready.

This week in the Senedd, the ambition and pace of the First Minister could not have been more different.

He outlined how a planning group in Wales had met regularly since May. A planning group which for seven months has met and for which there appears no plan that he could share to give people confidence that the Welsh Government is ready to go. A seven-month task and finish group that’s all task and no finish sums this Welsh Labour Government up to a tee.

There was no commitment to publish a plan for Wales setting out how the Welsh Government is identifying the physical and staffing capacity to deliver the vaccine, except to wait until he’s happy that the go-ahead for the vaccine has been secured. What was more worrying was the little insight into how a vaccine would be delivered across Wales, to whom and by whom.

There was no indication as to who would be prioritised, how many people could be vaccinated in the immediate short term and what capacity within primary and pharmacy care has been identified to undertake this. Absolutely nothing. No plan, just a series of answers to questions merely mulling over what might need to happen.

The Welsh Government need to set out a plan now. Not next year. Now.

The public will want clarity about the rollout here in Wales, and for that plan to be properly debated in the Senedd. My fear is that even if the Welsh Government does produce something, then they’ll do so during the Christmas recess to avoid scrutiny. That has become one of their defining characteristics during this Covid crisis.

If he needs an answer beyond what he has already struggled to articulate, and a plan that has been thought through, then it’s simple, just pick up the phone to Nicola!

Jonathan Morgan is a former Welsh Conservative Assembly Member & Shadow Minister for Health and Social Services