Drakeford can’t get away with ‘for Wales, see England’ forever
There is a Chinese curse, ‘may you live in interesting times’. These last few weeks have certainly been interesting politically.
In the space of four weeks (if you exclude the period of mourning) Liz Truss has caused more damage to the Conservative party as its leader than any opposition party has been able to heap on it with decades of practice.
Like some Lib Dem Trojan horse, Truss inveigled her way into Number 10. Her promises of tax cuts played well to a small electorate. But the ‘human hand grenade’ pulled the pin as soon as she crossed the Downing Street threshold. With her grip on power and reality tenuous at best, it was only a matter of time before the explosion.
But back in Wales, we saw fireworks of our own. At last week’s First Minister’s Questions, Welsh Conservatives leader Andrew RT Davies quoted a member of the public who said that in their family’s experience the NHS in Wales was akin to a “third world” health service after her father was left rolling on the floor in pain for 15 hours waiting for an ambulance.
In his response, Mark Drakeford demonstrated that he’s more of a politician than I’d previously given him credit for. Because he managed to, as Americans like to say, ‘change the narrative’ by attacking the questioner rather than answering the question.
He responded by saying that “It is absolutely shocking that you think you can turn up here this afternoon with the mess your party has made, to the budgets of this country, to the reputation of this country around the world.”
He went on but I suspect that most of us are already among the millions ‘round the world’ who have watched it on YouTube, so I won’t rehearse it here.
I have previously argued that good government needs good opposition, so I disagree with Theo Davies-Lewis’ observation on this same site that “there is a time and place for the Conservatives to talk about accountability.”
If not at FMQ’s then when is the time and place to hold Welsh Government to account? Don’t get me wrong. The Liz Truss premiership was an omnishambles. But we cannot suspend scrutiny because there’s a bigger mess in Westminster than Cardiff Bay. Would voters expect that of Sir Keir Starmer? Quite the reverse, I imagine.
Drakeford doubled down when he said to Davies: “I’ve not heard ever a single word from him assuming responsibility for the actions of his government.”
It is strange that Davies must be responsible for policies enacted by Number 10, while Welsh Labour expect a free pass when implementing their own.
Many in Wales are, quite rightly, exasperated at the tendency to ‘for Wales, see England’. But isn’t that exactly what Drakeford has done by avoiding answering a direct question on a devolved matter?
And if it is widely acknowledged that the NHS is a ‘weak spot’ for Welsh Labour, then surely it is one that must be challenged until it is no longer a weak spot for Wales?
Each month sees new record waiting times and waiting lists. So, was Drakeford expressing moral indignation, or simply demonstrating chagrin? Is it, after all, a case of power without responsibility?
Welsh Government is yet to publish its Health and Social Care Winter Plan. The National Care Service Expert Group aimed to provide recommendations by April 2022; no sign of any yet. While Davies’ questions were simple, the answers are clearly complex.
In the meantime, Welsh Conservatives are urging the establishment of NHS England-style “data-driven control centres” providing accurate information on hospital and care home bed capacity, identify system pressure points, and act to reduce ambulance delays and A&E waiting times. If one hospital becomes particularly busy, control centre staff could divert ambulances to different emergency departments.
I thought this already existed until my grandmother, having herself waited on the floor for several hours, was taken to the closest A&E where it was known she would have to wait in the ambulance overnight, rather than re-routed to a hospital further away but where she would have been seen almost straight away.
Truss took four weeks to sink the UK economy, but Drakeford has had almost four years as First Minister, and three years as Health Minister, to buoy up the Welsh NHS. The problems didn’t start with Truss, but Welsh Labour have not as of yet found a way to solve them.
With power comes responsibility. Good government is about running public services effectively, and good opposition is about challenging them when they don’t. Surely they can find a way to put the pin back in this particular grenade?
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