The occasions where I have agreed with the First Minister of Wales have been few and far between writes Crispin John.
In fact, they are as rare as spirit level bubbles, tartan paint, and a long weight in a builder’s merchant. Amidst Mark Drakeford’s bluster in announcing a potential six-month delay to the Senedd elections, due in May, there was one nugget of truth in what he said.
“The Senedd badly needs an election”, stated the First Minister.
Actually, the People of Wales badly need an election, but let’s all focus on the point that matters, which is that a ballot to refresh the tired and ailing Welsh Parliament is long overdue.
The Fifth Assembly has been dogged by trouble, almost from the outset. It was clearly a shock for those in the Establishment to see seven UKIP Members elected, riding on the coat tails of the populist pro-Brexit vote, something which Labour and Plaid in particular have never seemed to be able to come to terms with. Staff within the then-Assembly Commission told me that they thought it was marvellous to have some new faces shaking things up a bit. Members themselves disagreed. The fact that a previously minority party had taken over the office space of the Liberal Democrats and forced all but one of them out of office was a source of contempt amongst the Cardiff Bay Establishment.
The subsequent manoeuvres amongst these political chameleons will be something for the history books, or possibly for a niche pub quiz, yet for all of the Twitter outrage by Labour and Plaid Members of the Senedd that this shouldn’t be allowed to happen, they bottled the chance to outlaw switches by Regional Members when they pushed through the Senedd and Elections Bill. Instead, they focussed on ramming home votes for 16- and 17-year-olds. Ironically, any change to the election by as much as six months would render tens of thousands of these young people, who would have had the right to vote on 6th May, disenfranchised and disenchanted.
There are two take away pieces from Labour’s latest move, backed by Plaid, to potentially delay polling day.
The first is that it demonstrates a lack of planning, forward thinking and ambition. Amongst the countries to have held successful elections during the pandemic are France, Croatia, Poland, Singapore, Serbia, South Korea, oh, and the United States of America. In most cases, academic research indicates that there was no subsequent spike in transmission attributable to voting. How come all these countries can manage to hold a democratic ballot, but it seems too much for Wales? Isn’t that a bit insulting to our fledgling Parliament which ought, by now, to be able to find its wings?
Perhaps that brings me to the second point in all of this. The tone of the Welsh Government has changed in recent weeks. No longer are they blaming Westminster. They’re blaming you. Yes, there are Covid-19 rule breakers out there who should be accountable for their actions. And yet the Welsh Government’s recent statements about personal responsibility don’t quite seem to ring true amidst a backdrop of draconian restrictions and public confidence in their ability to handle the crisis plummeting. Only on Monday, the Health Minister held a briefing where he said he was frustrated by people breaking the rules. However, the most frustrating thing was that when questioned about targets and plans for the roll out of vaccines, Vaughan Gething had not one word in reply. Not one.
Any potential delay to the Senedd elections is, in my view, a cynical move from an embittered and exhausted Government, propped up yet again by their friends in Plaid. This isn’t about public health, nor has it anything to do with contingency planning. It is little more than an attempt to ride back into power on the coat tails of a Covid-19 vaccine, secured not by Wales but by the UK Government in Westminster.
It didn’t end well for the hitchhikers of the Fifth Assembly. We owe it to Wales to ensure they are better served by the next Welsh Parliament.
Crispin John is a political commentator and analyst, and former Chief of Staff for UKIP in the Welsh Parliament.