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Conservatives call for Chief Medical Officer to front next Covid briefing, not Drakeford

21 Apr 2021 5 minutes Read
Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford. Picture by the Welsh Government

The Conservatives have called for the Chief Medical Officer to front the Covid-19 press conference on Friday instead of Mark Drakeford.

They accused the First Minister of planning to use the briefing for “naked electioneering” after an interview with the BBC in which he said he’d “set out what a Labour Government would do in the three weeks that follow the election.”

This follows an intervention by Plaid Cymru Adam Price, who has written a letter to the head of the Welsh Government’s civil service, Permanent Secretary Shan Morgan, to demand that she intervene as the “guarantor of the neutrality of the machinery of the state”.

During what’s known as the purdah period of an election, there are rules in place to make sure that no party can use the resources of the government or the civil service to gain an unfair advantage.

According to Price, to “set out the hypothetical policy choices a future Labour administration might make” would break the purdah neutrality rules.

Conservative candidate, Janet Finch-Saunders said: “Labour’s First Minister has had ample opportunity to provide a detailed roadmap for families, workers and business in Wales, but has deliberately chosen not to do so.

“It is therefore questionable that at this most sensitive stage of the Senedd election, he has decided to make a number of surprise lockdown announcements.

“Welsh Conservatives believe pandemic-related announcements could and should be fronted by senior civil servants such as the chief medical officer, and this should be the case on Friday.

“Sadly, last night’s comment demonstrates these announcements are nothing other than naked electioneering by Labour, and it’s sad to see the First Minister once again using people’s livelihoods as pawns in his political games.”

‘Will respond’ 

When asked about the Adam Price’s letter by Nation.Cymru, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “The Permanent Secretary has received correspondence from Adam Price and will respond to him directly.”

A Welsh Labour spokesperson said: “Mark Drakeford remains the First Minister making important decisions to keep Wales safe.

“We are aware that Mr Price has sent another letter, we understand this will be responded to in due course.”

In his letter, Adam Price said: “It would be completely inappropriate for the incumbent party of government to use the resources and communication channels of the government to make party political announcements less than two weeks before polling day.

“As set out in the pre-election guidance document Elections to Senedd Cymru May 2021: guidance for Welsh Government officials ‘Welsh Government premises and resources should never be used for campaigning purposes’.”

Adam Price said that the document “rightly” recognised the unique context in which this Senedd election was taking place.

However, he also said that the guidance clearly states that: “Welsh Government communications activity during the pre-election period must not be seen or perceived to be influencing, or potentially influencing the outcome of the election on behalf of any political party, or carry any implication that the government is taking a position on any issue related to the election campaign through its channels”.

That section “explicitly restricts” the use of government communication channels to anything other than the provision of public health or other factual information, the Plaid Cymru leader said.

“You may be aware that the deputy leader of the Labour party Angela Rayner has written to the Head of the Civil Service in Whitehall to highlight a possible breach of ministerial rules by the Prime Minister relating to critical comments about London’s Labour Mayor in a Downing Street briefing,” Adam Price said.

“I trust that you will agree that what the First Minister described last night on television about his intention to use the Welsh Government’s platform for communicating the outcome of the 21 day review this Friday to set out the hypothetical policy choices a future Labour administration might make, were the Labour Party to be in government after the election, would extend beyond the scope of the activity permitted under the government guidance.

“I therefore request, in your capacity as the guarantor of the neutrality of the machinery of the state, that you intervene to ensure that any communication through this platform upholds the letter and spirit of the guidance which is in place to ensure parity and fair play for all.

“In light of my genuine concerns around matters affecting the fairness of the election campaign I would be grateful if you could arrange an urgent meeting with my office, ahead of Friday, to discuss further.”

‘Decision’

The First Minister had earlier said that bringing forward the easing of some Covid restrictions has nothing to do with the upcoming election in Wales.

Speaking on a BBC Wales Ask The Leader programme Mr Drakeford said: “The coronavirus rates in Wales are the lowest in the UK – the vaccination rates are the best in the UK.

“That creates a context in which we could restore more freedoms to people more quickly than we had anticipated.”

He added that he would add further details on easing the lockdown on Friday: “I want to do it in the orderly way that we do.

“That decision will lie the other side of the election, but I will set out what a Labour government would do in the three weeks that follow the election, as we have regularly given a forward signal to indoor hospitality to the rest of the tourism industry and other things about what we think the public health context would now allow.”

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