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Opinion

Shocking Facebook posts prove 20mph row is the most toxic issue since devolution began

24 Sep 2023 7 minute read
Andrew RT Davies

Martin Shipton

Every right-thinking person should be deeply troubled that individuals posting to a Facebook group which claims to have more than 66,000 members have helped turn the debate over 20mph speed limits into the most toxic political issue Wales has experienced in the devolution era.

At the same time, the Conservative Party needs to consider whether it is happy that the toxicity has been fuelled by its own Senedd group leader, Andrew RT Davies.

The Facebook group contains posts that not only vilify First Minister Mark Drakeford in terms that can only be described as obscene, but include threats to harm him physically.

There are also multiple crude depictions on the Facebook site of him as Adolf Hitler – a tactic that ironically mimics methods used by the Nazis to dehumanise and demonise their enemies.

But Mr Drakeford is not the only target of such hatred. Deputy Transport Minister Lee Waters gets much the same treatment, while individual journalists who have expressed support for 20 mph limits have also come in for obscene abuse and threats.

These developments must be recognised collectively as a fundamental attack on our democracy. No one – politicians, journalists or anybody else – should be subjected to such intimidation.

Yet it’s happening and it’s important to understand why.

Press release

One of the members of the Facebook group posted a Welsh Conservative press release which he says was sent to him by Andrew RT Davies in which reference was made to “blanket 20mph speed limits” – something that simply isn’t true, although that hasn’t stopped Mr Davies from repeating the claim on countless occasions.

Mr Davies has also been responsible for personally targeting Lee Waters over the 20mph issue, despite being fully aware that the deputy minister has previously been stalked and abused by far-right activists in his Llanelli constituency.

Of course politicians should be held to account for their actions and robust criticism of those who hold power is essential in any democratic society.

But those voicing the criticisms have a duty to ensure they do not spread misinformation that may – and in this case has – led to false allegations.

Much of the vitriol directed at Messrs Drakeford and Waters stems from an underlying narrative that they have acted like dictators in bringing forward the 20mph scheme.

This is demonstrably untrue. Another irony in this situation is that the first Senedd motion in favour of a standard 20mph speed limit in residential areas was tabled by a Welsh Conservative MS, David Melding, in September 2018. It received cross-party support.

A task force group was subsequently established to look further at the proposal and its final report, recommending the 20mph limit, was voted on in July 2020. Seven of the 11 Tory MSs voted for the motion, with only one voting against. Andrew RT Davies, who had stepped down as group leader, did not vote.

Right wing

Following the Senedd election in 2021, by which time Mr Davies had taken over as leader again, the group was more right wing and decided to change its stance and oppose the 20mph default limit.

But the Tories were outvoted by Labour and Plaid Cymru MSs – all of whom had been elected on manifesto commitments that backed 20mph – and 20mph was passed, with the provision that local authorities could make whatever exemptions they wanted. That’s the system which was introduced on September 17.

Whatever one’s view of the legislation, it’s therefore no more than straightforward Trumpian fake news to suggest that Mark Drakeford and Lee Waters have acted in a dictatorial fashion, let alone the wholly distasteful suggestion that their actions can in any way be compared to those of Hitler.

Yet the Welsh Conservatives and others have fostered the myth that the 20mph speed limit is a “blanket” ban on higher speeds and that the Welsh Government has acted undemocratically in introducing it.

The misinformation promoted by the likes of Andrew RT Davies has also fed into the petition against 20mph limits which at the time of writing is nudging towards 400,000 signatures. The petition is, in fact, very badly worded and contains contentious claims as well as factual inaccuracies.

It states: “The new 20mph law is coming into force on the 17th September and it will mark the end of having socialism in power in Wales.” It is now past September 17, and if Welsh Labour can be categorised as a socialist party, socialism is unarguably still in power.

The petition goes on to assert that a 20mph limit will be introduced “EVERWHERE” (sic). This, as we have seen, is incorrect because local authorities are able to make exceptions, and many have been made.

The author of the petition, himself a member of the egregious Facebook group disputes there is any evidence to support the view that reducing the speed limit to 20mph reduces accidents, citing Belfast as providing “the only true evidence”, which is that reducing the speed limit makes little or no difference.

In fact, the 20mph scheme in Belfast only applied to 76 streets in the city centre, 27 of which were fully or partly pedestrianised at the time of the study, and the average vehicle speed was less than 20mph anyway.

A better comparison would be with Spain, which in May 2021 reduced the urban default speed limit to 30 kilometres per hour (18.641mph). Deaths on urban roads declined by 10% in the first eight months of application, according to government data.

Carnage

The petition also states that one of the 20mph trials in Monmouthshire was “reverted” because of “absolute carnage” on the trial roads in the village. I doubt that, given that the dictionary definition of carnage is “the killing of a large number of people”.

On the issue of the petition generally, I share the view of Yes Cymru’s North Wales director Ethan Jones, who in an article for Byline Times Cymru expressed sorrow that the people of Wales had signed the anti-20mph petition in such numbers rather than more important issues like “soaring child poverty, a barely functioning NHS, free school meals for all children, adequate social care for the elderly and those with disabilities, public transport fit for the 21st century, rivers and seas filled with sewage, the democratic deficit this union inflicts on us, erosion of our democratic rights, or threats to our human rights”.

It’s no surprise that Andrew RT Davies sees the large numbers of people signing the petition as a triumph and a vindication of his stance on the issue.

This should prompt us to reflect on what he and his party are up to. The UK general election is getting closer and is most likely to be held in around a year’s time. The Conservatives are facing defeat and there’s little sign that Rishi Sunak is turning the tide for them.

They know that after the corruption of Johnson and the incompetence of Truss, the damage to the economy and the continuing cost-of-living crisis, it’s not possible to fight the election on conventional terms. Instead they are fighting it on culture war issues.

Culture war

In Wales the 20mph speed limit row is now a culture war topic that can be used by party campaigners in Wales, but also in England as a further stick with which to beat Labour.

Right-wing papers like the Daily Mail have previously cited NHS waiting times in Wales as examples of what England can expect if Labour returns to power. They’re already trying to use the 20mph row in the same way.

There will be other issues that the Conservatives home in on as well, like migrants arriving in small boats, but they’re vulnerable on immigration because they’ve been in charge of the policy area for more than 13 years.

They think they’re onto a winner with the 20mph row in Wales, even though many local authorities in England have already made such a change.

It’s important that in Wales we recognise what the likes of Andrew RT Davies are doing and why. Decent Conservatives – those that are left – shouldn’t tolerate the antics of a Poundland Trump for whom the truth, Welsh Government ministers and journalists he sees as troublesome are no more than collateral damage.


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Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
7 months ago

I look forward to seeing Andrew RT Davies on the stand charged with incitement to violence followed by his morally bankrupt cohorts who remain silent on the grounds of ‘I was just following orders Guv’. We’ve heard all that somewhere before haven’t we? The higher the signature figure goes on this petition, the more meaningless it gets.

Dai Rob
Dai Rob
7 months ago

Great article Ships! RT is despicable!!!

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
7 months ago
Reply to  Dai Rob

I second that.

Nobby Tart
Nobby Tart
7 months ago
Reply to  Fi yn unig

I third it.

Steve Thomas
7 months ago

Very good article Martin, we’ll done

Jeff
Jeff
7 months ago

This has been inflated for effect. This is what I expect from Mr Davies. This is what there are prepared to do at elections.

Hogyn y Gogledd
Hogyn y Gogledd
7 months ago

Such a trustworthy man.

davies 20.jpg
GCJ
GCJ
7 months ago

Excellent article. There needs to be better governance of social media when threats and intimidatory tactics are considered an acceptable method of expression. Recent accounts of damage to signs show how things can quickly escalate out of control. We can only hope that the police are taking appropriate measures to prevent this happening. Having recently travelled within towns across the border it seems that 20mph is accepted without question in many places without any apparent dissention. The Tory right wing press has a lot to answer for in stirring up anti Welsh Government propaganda!

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
7 months ago

The Welsh Tories have become a hate group who are using American Republican tactics of misinformation, disinformation and fake news to foster hostility as seen with Brexit that resulted in Labour MP Jo Cox being attacked and murdered by a far-right deranged Ukip supporter. See, it only takes one idiot to take things into his or her hands to confront and attack Welsh Government minister because Andrew RT Davies and other Welsh Tories have demonised those implementing policies which they oppose using Facebook, X (Twitter) or on other social media platforms to whip up those unstable into a frenzy. And… Read more »

Brian Williams
Brian Williams
7 months ago

Dyma’r erthygl orau, yn fy nghof i, mae’r newyddiadurwr profiadol hwn wedi ei ysgrifennu. Ardderchog Mr Shipton

Gareth
Gareth
7 months ago

In a move that can only be seen as a deliberate act to stir up trouble, A R T Davies posted a photograph of Lee Waters , with the words ” the man who imposed Labour’s blanket speed limit” He then went on to claim it will cost the economy of Cymru £9billion. How low the leader of the Tory party in Cymru has sunk, and people claim we are a one party state, I wonder why, when this act shows the class, or lack of, of the opposition .

Dai Ponty
Dai Ponty
7 months ago

The leader of the Tory party in Wales has incited violence with his false accusations inciting violence against people is a criminal offence so why has Davies not been arrested there are nut jobs out there look at what happend to the Labour M P who was murdered by a RIGHT WING NUT JOB

Will Jones
Will Jones
7 months ago

I drove from Wrexham to Carmarthen last week and the 20mph makes hardly any difference to the time taken

George Thomas
George Thomas
7 months ago

Though I’m not sure 20mph is the right move, Welsh Tories are cosying up to some of those who previously rejected any covid measures and it’s all getting a bit ugly.

It doesn’t mean the result they’re pushing for is wrong but the process to get there is doing a disservice to our growing democracy. That being said, it could be argued that way this was brought it has done the same.

Gareth
Gareth
7 months ago
Reply to  George Thomas

So a party that puts a policy in its manifesto, gets elected on said manifesto, then gets the policy passed in the Senedd, with the support of the opposition. What part if this is doing a disservice to our democracy? Please can you explain. Remember at one point the Tory party fully backed this policy. ( 20 is plenty photo opportunity).

Steffan Gwent
Steffan Gwent
7 months ago
Reply to  Gareth

The poll tax was in the 1987 General Election Tory manifesto but it led to unforseen political trouble as it was an unpopular policy. Now Plaid/Labour are being punished on the doorstep as history is repeating itself.

Gareth
Gareth
7 months ago
Reply to  Steffan Gwent

You have given an example of a unpopular policy. Can you explain why this was a disservice to democracy when it was what the people voted for, just like Brexit, it is part of how democracy works . What was anti democratic or did democracy a disservice in any of these.

Gareth
Gareth
7 months ago
Reply to  Gareth

Each of the above followed the democratic process.

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
7 months ago
Reply to  Steffan Gwent

There was also huge opposition to the Poll Tax right from the get go, and the Tories lost 6 of their 14 seats in the election of that year. Subsequently in the 1992 General Election they were down to 6 MPs in Wales and in 1997 and 2001 there were no Tory MPs in Wales. Since 2005 Wales has unfortunately seen an increase in Tory representation at Westminster, but hopefully we’ll see them reduced once again to the ideal number of zero. Hopefully this pattern will repeat itself in the May 2026 Senedd elections. Meanwhile, hopefully the Tory group in… Read more »

Richard
Richard
7 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

Padi

These people represent 20 per cent of our population – neighbours, friends and family for sure.

We need to respect their vote and views. It is just so sad that their reps in our legeslature ‘ represent ‘ them in such a way.

Tory voters need to feel they have a stake in “ Cymru newydd “ and a voice.on all issues.

ARTD and the likes of Janet ( U turn) Finch Saunders just devalue the trust their loyal 5th of our population have in the system.

Annibendod
Annibendod
7 months ago
Reply to  Richard

Quite right Richard. Much as I loathe the populists and far right agitators in the Tory party right now, I agree with the points you have made. Commentators here who choose to play down the public reaction to this policy do our Senedd a misservice. I fear this brings our hard fought for institution into disrepute. Doubling down on cloth earedness helps no one.

Gareth
Gareth
7 months ago
Reply to  Richard

Richard, I hear what you are saying, but, a couple of years ago, Alun Cairns was forced to resign as Sec of state, due to his involvement in the collapse of a rape case. When asked by BBC Cymru would the local Tory voters stand by him, the answer was yes, as they vote for the Tory party not the candidate, and if he stood they would vote for him. It would seem they care not for the behaviour or views of the individual, as long as they have a Tory rosette. This makes it hard for opponents to have… Read more »

Richard
Richard
7 months ago
Reply to  Gareth

When my late wife told me “ i hear what you say “ i did in the back of my mind just wonder if she actualy did ? 😊

Huw Jones
Huw Jones
7 months ago
Reply to  Steffan Gwent

Can you provide the evidence that Plaid/Labour are being punished on the doorstep. I suspect not!

Llyn
Llyn
7 months ago

The least surprising element the 20mph thing is the violent rhetoric and criminality (destroying road signs) by the far-right and the nod and a wink given to these violent extremists by a Conservative party in Wales led by a man downplayed the far-right Washington riots of 2021 which resulted in four deaths. Have a look at the Twitter responses to news that Senedd members have received death threats because of this issue – most seemed to indicate that support for a 20mph default speed limit in Wales was a death sentence!

Richard
Richard
7 months ago

Ownership of ones words – however originally meant lies with the author in ALL cases. The damage from the BEXIT “ debate “ is only now begining to start to repair. Making or exagerating distorted claims may play well with the party faithful – to justify sudden personal U turns – but the effect on community cohesion and whipping up the populace helps no one. The 20 mph debate and personal responsibilty is an issue now for ARTD to think about and consider. How ever patrician and scoulding our First Minister is – in his academic led / top down… Read more »

Annibendod
Annibendod
7 months ago

ARTD is a political buffoon, a man whose ego far exceeds his political intellect. Sadly, he and his chums will tap into the frustration folk feel at the bungled manner in which this change has been implemented. WG can’t ignore the fact that 400k people have signed a petition against the change. Compromise is needed. Look at restoring arterial routes to 30mph. I don’t think most have any real argument with residential areas being 20mph but folk are getting very frustrated simply trying to get to work. I note some commentators saying how little difference it’s made crossing Wales –… Read more »

Gareth
Gareth
7 months ago

So strong is the public feeling against this change, that a rally in Cardiff against it, drew a couple of hundred or so people, against a petition of over 400 thousand, and included protests against ULEZ and the cashless society. What a joke the claim that this petition is the view of the people of Cymru.

Silenced!
Silenced!
7 months ago

Sadly, the Tories are good at motivating the poorly educated with not much going on in their lives to hate others

Erisian
Erisian
7 months ago

The leader of the Conservatives & Unionists in Wales (I can’t bring myself to call them Welsh) is an exceptionally empty vessel who makes an unholy amount of pointless noise.
Out of ideas, policies and time…It’s all he and nasty friends have left.

Philip Davies
Philip Davies
7 months ago

The Left frequently endures political opposition with ill grace: Scratch the surface of even a well-mannered Socialist and you’ll often see a dogmatic and dictatorial communistic bigotry driving their ideals! For the governed it is like being back in school and suffering constant authoritarian intolerance of all dissent. Disagreement, to such people, is decried as the unacceptable misbehaviour and mischief of lesser minds, improperly catechized in the ‘True Faith’. EU Membership was one such unquestionable assumption in the view of some. ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ is another actually very questionable notion. That narrow and intolerant sense of absolute righteousness is priggishly offensive… Read more »

Bethan
Bethan
7 months ago

I don’t use social media and I hear about these types of things second hand, so it’s difficult for me to imagine the severity of instances like this. I miss out on being wound up by what sounds like truly vile online behaviour, but, I believe it’s bad because it’s very clear that something is driving everyone crazy. It’s a mild 10mph change in speed limit in locations that already had slow speed limits. I’m starting to think politicians and media are deliberately causing this stir just as an elaborate joke at the public’s expense to prove that they can… Read more »

Andy Thompson
Andy Thompson
7 months ago

I’d never heard of Nation Cymru until a few minutes ago when I clicked a Facebook link. Tell me, are you affiliated with the Labour party? Certainly seems that way reading the 20mph article.

Last edited 7 months ago by Andy Thompson
Martyn Jones
Martyn Jones
7 months ago

I posted a response, which did not praise Welsh labour, removed within minutes, says it all.

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