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10 reasons Alun Cairns should row back on the Severn Bridge name change

11 Apr 2018 6 minute read
Severn Bridge picture by diego_torres. Alun Cairns picture by Cabinet Office (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

1 – There was no consultation

The people of Wales voted to ‘Take back control’ in the 2016 EU Referendum.

That, however, seems to have meant hoarding control in London rather than letting it trickle down to the people who voted for it.

The Westminster Government is already clawing back devolved powers, and this announcement gave the impression that they don’t care what the people of Wales think at all.

Times have changed. After almost 20 years of devolution, ‘Number 10 has decided’ just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

2 – It’s a political stunt gone wrong

Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns knew full well that the announcement would annoy a lot of people.

That was, of course, part of the appeal. It would annoy the right sort of people – nationalists and republicans – who would blame the Welsh Government for supporting the plans.

They weren’t going to vote Conservative anyway, so it would hardly do the Tory Government at Westminster any harm.

The problem for Alun Cairns is that the backlash has not only come from the usual suspects.

As the petition to stop the renaming – now at almost 35,000 signatures – shows, a far wider cross-section of Welsh people are fuming at his decision not to consult them before cracking on.

3 – The Royals are abandoning ship

Whoosh! That’s the sound of the Royal escape pod leaving the mothership.

This story in the Western Mail is significant because it shows the Royal PR machine, through its intermediaries, distance themselves from the whole debacle.

Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine, puts Charles firmly on the side of the Welsh people: “Prince Charles is being informed on this issue and he would probably say, ‘Well, why on earth [weren’t] these people consulted?’”

Royal commentator and author Christopher Warwick also emphasises that the decision “would have been nothing to do with” the prince.

He is also keen to play down any suggestion that the backlash against the plans suggest that Wales opposed the Royal family.

“Many Welsh people may well support the royal family but object to not being consulted over the naming,” he says.

Translation: Nothing to do with us, guv. Let Alun Cairns take the rap.

4 – Prince Charles needs to keep the public on side

The Royal PR machine is going to have its work cut out with Charles because, unlike his mother, he isn’t adored by the masses.

Fairly or not, he has not quite won the public over and the last thing he wants is another blemish against his name.

This debacle is a warning that his Royal PR team needs to tread carefully in the future.

Despite being a hangover from a feudal past, the royals are only there now because the public want them to be.

If the UK Government truly have the Royals’ best interest at heart they should announce that the name change won’t be going ahead.

5 – The name was deliberately divisive

As noted above, the name was chosen deliberately to rile some people in Wales.

The UK Government however need to remember that while people in Wales have their differences, we are conscious of the need to get along.

Royalists and Republicans respect each other’s wishes, as do Welsh nationalists and British nationalists. They aren’t interested in one-upmanship.

If the shoe was on the other foot, and the bridge was named the Saunders Lewis or Llywelyn the Last Bridge with no consultation, I’m sure Welsh nationalists would be just as annoyed as everyone else.

Nothing damages your cause like being seen to be forcing your own views down the throats of others. If you want to make sustained political progress, you must take the majority with you.

6 – There’s no goodwill towards the Westminster Government

The Westminster Government chose the timing for this announcement poorly.

Having in the last year cancelled the electrification of the rail line to Swansea, got cold feet on the Tidal Lagoon, and tried to grab back devolved powers, patience was already wearing thin.

If the people of Wales felt that the Westminster Government was a benevolent benefactor working in their best interest they may have been more forgiving.

Using Wales as a political football has just rubbed people up the wrong way.

7 – The name is extremely dull

Wales has thousands of years of history but you wouldn’t think it looking at the way almost everything seems to be christened Royal this and that.

We already have a Principality Stadium, a Prince William Cup, a Prince of Wales Trophy, a Prince of Wales pub, a Prince of Wales Hospital, a Prince Phillip Hospital, a Prince Charles Hospital…

The name of the bridge is either woefully unimaginative or a deliberate attempt to smother that vibrant history and culture.

With such a boring name, it’s hard for even the most ardent Royalist to feel enthused by it.

8 – Bristol doesn’t want it either

Since the announcement almost a week ago one response to the Welsh criticism has been to point out that half the bridge is in England, and will be owned by Highways England.

Shouldn’t Bristol city and county, on the other side of the Severn, have a say?

Well, fair enough – but they don’t want it either. An opinion poll by the Bristol Post showed that only 14% supported the name change.

9 – The world media are beginning to tune in

The Royal Family attract attention from across the globe and it is only a matter of time before the Severn Bridge debacle begins to make headlines elsewhere.

Stories have already appeared in the United States and Canada – is this the kind of international coverage the Royals and the Westminster Government want?

10 – Protests will only escalate

Another, much larger protest is planned in Cardiff this weekend against the name change. Protests on the bridge itself have also been mooted.

With the petition continuing to tick up, there seems to be little hope for the Westminster Government that this storm will dissipate any time soon.

There will also be the ceremony to mark the name change to manage. Will Charles turn up, knowing he’s making himself unpopular in doing so?

It would be a good idea for the UK Government to reverse the decision now before the whole thing descends even further into farce.

It needn’t be an embarrassing climb down. A statement that the Westminster Government has learnt its lesson and will now take time to listen to the people of Wales would be very well received.

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