As Johnson blows public trust in the lockdown, Drakeford must now lead by example
Being in lockdown for two months is by no means easy. Friends and family have been separated; people have died alone in horrible conditions; and care homes have been ravaged by this awful pandemic.
But the latest saga in this crisis has probably caused more outrage among the public than any of these things.
There are still many questions that the Prime Minister did not answer about Dominic Cummings’ visit(s) to Durham: How many lockdown rules did Cummings breach? Did he make more than one trip up north? Was it really the ‘right’ thing to do?
Boris Johnson has clearly made up his mind already. Case closed: Cummings acted with integrity and within the law, the Prime Minister told the British public in yesterday’s press conference. He is going nowhere, for now.
However, the public health consequences of such a decision are starkly obvious. The moral and political authority of any government minister giving instructions to the public is now completely diminished. If the UK finds itself experiencing a second Covid-19 peak this year, we’ll know where to find its origins. Don’t worry, though, we’re all in this together.
For the Welsh government, the news could not have come at a more critical time. The First Minister is set to announce the next review of Covid-19 policies on Thursday, after he steered Wales in a different direction to the rest of the UK earlier this month.
The Prime Minister’s actions last night will have implications for Mark Drakeford’s approach for the next three weeks. It is not incomprehensible to think that we will now see increased attempts to cross the border into Wales, risking the progress we have all made to contain the virus in our communities. After all, if the Prime Minister’s special adviser can travel over 250 miles, why can’t you visit your favourite beach in Ceredigion?
But for the first time in the crisis, we should not be too worried for what this means for our communities. Despite the mishaps from Cardiff – including an early calamity regarding testing targets and Vaughan Gething’s infamous visit to the park bench (as well as his battle with Zoom’s mute button) – Mark Drakeford has made clear he will make the right decisions for Wales when it is right for our country.
Admittedly, he recently caused a stir with his comments on nationalism, but on the whole, our First Minister has been more forthright with separating Welsh and English policy than he cares to admit.
His aggressive approach has been necessary; due to the level of disinformation that has spread about restrictions across the UK’s four nations, Drakeford has had to assert the position of the Welsh government and in turn has criticised the policies implemented over the border.
While some say this is a watershed moment for the Johnson administration, it is more so an opportunity for the devolved administrations to separate their policies from each other. After all, the four nation approach, which Drakeford insisted recently he still supported, is now on a weak footing.
This means that the decisions taken in Wales are now even more important to navigating the current pandemic. The Welsh government cannot afford any mistakes for the rest of the month – that means no picnics on park benches, no drives across the country, and certainly no visits to castles.
As the English – and of course many others across the UK – lose trust in their UK government, Mark Drakeford should take note.
For weeks the public have obeyed the restrictions outlined by government, and a level of mutual trust has developed to ensure we are all doing our bit to limit the impact of Covid-19.
But if this crisis has shown us anything, trust is something that is hard-earned and easily lost. The Welsh government must now lead by example.