Boris Johnson’s tawdry Westminster circus of chaos calls for a different kind of politics in Wales
Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru MP
Saying that Boris Johnson has made a real pig’s ear of governing may be the understatement of the year.
An endless merry-go-round of sleaze operettas. A bizarre, cloth-eared speech to business leaders. Rebellion against a shoddy social care plan that will make poorer households pay for the care of the wealthy. Endless broken promises. Boris Johnson has always ad-libbed on a whirlwind of chaos, but now he’s spinning out of control. At this time more than ever, we need a different kind of politics in Wales.
As infantile chaos reigns in Westminster – we’ve seen a different kind of politics emerge in Wales this week. Plaid Cymru’s Cooperation Agreement with the Welsh Government will deliver policies that will protect Wales from the worst impact of Boris Johnson’s failed record of regressive incompetence.
The past month haven’t been a freakish anomaly in British politics. Patronage, dysfunction and antagonism are built-in features of the Westminster system. Even during a pandemic, where people sought desperately to trust their governments to act for the common good, Westminster was mired by cronyism and corruption scandals. Meanwhile, in Wales, our values of openness and constructive co-operation swung into action – our devolved institutions gaining stature and respect in the process.
That is why today, as Plaid Cymru members vote on the Co-operation Agreement policies agreed between Adam Price and Mark Drakeford, I urge members to put that principle of cooperation over division at the forefront of their minds.
The combined economic impact of Covid and Brexit, the climate emergency, and the housing crisis – people in Wales face multifaceted and intertwined challenges which require closer co-operation than before.
The common thread in all these crises is that they hit the poorest in society the hardest. Household bills are skyrocketing while the Tory UK Government is hard-bent on inflicting escalating hardship on people year after year. Westminster’s Universal Credit cuts and higher taxes for those on low incomes require a boldly progressive government in Cardiff Bay.
Free school meals
In that challenging context, I am so proud that Plaid Cymru have succeeded in convincing the Labour Government to extend free school meals to all primary school pupils, over the lifetime of the agreement. It will ensure that children in Wales have the best start in life and a guaranteed nourishing meal every day.
Making the system universal will eradicate the stigma that prevents many families living in poverty from making best use of all support available.
The other crisis – the environmental and ecological one that threatens the very basic elements of life such as access to clean air, water, food and shelter – requires radical action and leadership from Welsh Government.
Our landmark Net Zero 2035 commitment reflects the kind of leadership needed post-COP26. We will commission independent advice to examine different possible ways to achieve net zero carbon by 2035 – the current target date being 2050. I am personally proud that we have convinced the Labour Government to back our campaign to devolve the management of the Crown Estate and its assets in Wales – a topic on which I currently have a Private Member’s Bill in the House of Commons.
Our shared ambition to establish a publicly owned energy company for Wales, Ynni Cymru, will aim to expand community-owned renewable energy generation. This will place more power in the hands of Welsh communities, showing that decarbonisation can work the benefit of our people and democracy.
The third crisis this agreement will go a long way in addressing is the housing crisis. A generation of young people in my community in Llŷn, just like in many other areas of Wales from Pembrokeshire to Conwy, have been priced out entirely. The two-pronged approach of tackling the second homes crisis and building more social and affordable housing will help young people the length and breadth of Wales.
Our agreement means that a series of measures will be introduced, including a cap on the number of second and holiday homes, measures to bring more homes into common ownership, a statutory licensing scheme for holiday lets and greater powers for local authorities to charge council tax premiums.
Attacks on Welsh democracy
As a Westminster MP since 2015, I have seen attacks on Welsh democracy move from being subtle hints at the time of the Brexit referendum to the active dismembering of our powers this year. This grown-up, progressive agreement reflects not only a commitment to improving the lives of people in Wales, but also one that reflects a confident democracy that will stand up to Westminster.
Our 60-member chamber is ill-equipped to cope with the scale of the challenges ahead. And with the number of Welsh MPs being slashed from 40 to 32, the argument for a stronger national parliament for Wales is stronger than ever. Our plans to reform the Senedd will create a parliament comprised of between 80 and 100 Members. We also aim to begin to bring in proper representation with both a proportional voting system and gender quotas enshrined in law.
A strong, modern Welsh parliament will stand in stark contrast with Westminster’s 19th century model of patronage, patrimony and partisanship. Fewer and fewer people still believe that an institution designed to be an adversarial debating chamber for 18th century landowning men to play at amateur politics while safeguarding the class interests of the aristocracy and the empire could ever serve the interests of 21st century Wales.
The typically Welsh instinct to find common ground for the common good will make our agreement a success – I am sure of it.
Boris Johnson’s tawdry Westminster circus of chaos no longer holds us in its thrall.
It’s time to focus on delivering real changes for our nation and all those who call it their home.