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Opinion

Sneering attacks on devolution in the British press just gives Drakeford a free pass from more constructive criticism

29 Dec 2021 5 minute read
First Minister Mark Drakeford. Picture from a Welsh Government video.

Ifan Morgan Jones

The last few days since Boris Johnson announced that England will not be introducing any new Covid restrictions has seen a torrent of vitriol aimed at the Welsh Government through the press.

Some of the criticism is no doubt justified. There is much to query and criticise about the restrictions introduced by the First Minister last week. In particular, why the focus on outdoor sporting events when the science seems clear that transmission in such settings is negligible?

Even when there may be good underlying reasons for the restrictions, at this late point in the pandemic, after two long years, they need to appear to be logical as well. And allowing people to congregate freely indoors while restricting the numbers outdoors just doesn’t add up for many.

But it’s not logical criticism of the Welsh Government’s choice of restrictions that’s the issue but the way those criticisms have been articulated. I.e. in the most sneering, disparaging way possible, which undermines the very cause the critics want to champion.

In particular, the criticism has been aimed not just at the Welsh Government (fair enough) but at attacking the idea of any measure of Welsh autonomy itself.

Just in the past few days, Telegraph Columnist Madeline Grant has written that Welsh devolution was “inherently biased towards failure and authoritarian politics”.

The Times and Daily Mail wrongly claimed that a ‘bonkers’ Welsh Government were forcing civil servants to sign up to ‘woke’ values, a story that so fitted their pre-conceived impressions that they didn’t realise the UK Government style guide gave the same advice.

Henry Hill, the news editor of Conservative Home condemned the First Minister for claiming that sovereignty was shared between Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland – a case of “straightforwardly misrepresenting the UK to their voters,” he said.

But the most revealing moment came today when MP Michael Fabricant said that he was justified in criticising devolution because “I subsidise Wales and all this nonsense as all English people do.”

These attacks and criticisms go further than disagreeing with the Welsh Government and suggests a fundamental dislike of the idea that the people of Wales should be able to run their own affairs at all.

They don’t just dislike those the people the Welsh voted in, they also don’t rate the ability of the Welsh to ever vote in anyone to represent them who could do a decent job.

Constructive

This disconnect between the British commentariat and the people of Wales would hardly matter if Wales had its own fully-developed public sphere. But unfortunately, it does matter because the Sun, Daily Mail, Telegraph, Times and others are the dominant media in Wales.

And the people of Wales deserve better than an analysis that is so fundamentally disconnected from their own views.

At the Senedd election in May the Abolish the Assembly party were given a platform on par with the other main parties in the BBC debate, underperformed their polling and failed to pick up a single seat. Meanwhile, support for doing away with the Senedd hovers around only 17% of the population of Wales.

In contrast, the latest polling on Covid restrictions – carried out before Omicron and the Christmas party scandal – showed that people trusted the Welsh Government much more on restrictions than the UK Government.

While devo-scepticism seems to be the dominant perspective in the British press, it’s very far from being at all representative of the views of the people in Wales.

And criticising devolution rather than the actions of the Welsh Government serves the Welsh public poorly. It allows the First Minister and his ministers to play the ‘look what the anti-Welsh Westminster establishment are saying now’ card and get people who may otherwise engage in constructive criticism to play defence instead.

Sneering

The pro-Brexit commentariat in particular seems to think that because they successfully mobilised popular support against the EU they’ll be able to do the same against the Senedd and Welsh Government.

But what they need to remember is that Brexit was not just a vote against the EU but against Westminster as well – represented at that time by the pro-Remain Conservative government of Prime Minister David Cameron.

Boris Johnson subsequently managed to portray himself as the anti-Westminster establishment Prime Minister. But that façade has now also collapsed – and his poll ratings with it – in the wake of the lobbying and Christmas party scandal.

Welsh devolution is popular in Wales for the same reason – because it’s seen as being outside that same Westminster establishment. That is why Mark Drakeford and his ministers are quite happy to take potshots at the UK Government in their press conferences, and why the First Minister was ‘accidentally’ heard calling Boris Johnson “awful” in an S4C documentary.

They know exactly how opposition to the UK Government is perceived in Wales, which is that people like it – and, as the Senedd election showed us, it was exactly the areas that voted for Brexit that happily voted for Mark Drakeford’s government too.

As a result, it is those attacking Welsh devolution in the London-based press that come over as the sneering Remainers that just can’t hide their true feelings towards those they consider beneath them.

If they really want to damage Mark Drakeford, they should focus on constructive scrutiny of his restrictions, not on mocking attacks against the idea of Welsh semi-autonomy.

The latter will get people’s hackles up, and will be used by the Welsh Government to increase their own popularity – the former might hit home, and be genuinely helpful to the people of Wales, too.


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22 Comments
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Jack
Jack
11 months ago

I disagree, sometimes strongly, with most of the restrictions Wales has introduced in the last 10 days or so. I think they’re harming business and communities without really doing anything substantial to stop the spread of the virus.

I live in Wales so I’m entitled to my opinion. Others in Wales may disagree & that’s fine.

Frankly people in other countries, whether they like Wales’ restrictions or not, should just leave us alone. Your contributions are unhelpful.

Wrexhamian
Wrexhamian
11 months ago
Reply to  Jack

Johnson won’t stop his asssault on devolution, Jack. It eats at him, and if devolution survives his depredations until he’s kicked out of office, he’ll view it as unfinished business. I was about to say that Johnson and the Daily Telegraph don’t care that Welsh Government policy is none of their business, they’ll still poke their noses in; but that’s wrong: they do care, and to the point of anger, precisely because it’s none of their business, and they think it damn well should be. As for Wales’ new covid regulations, IMJ is right that indoor high-attendance events should have… Read more »

Grayham Jones
11 months ago
Reply to  Jack

It’s time to close the borders with England we in wales have got it right we in wales have got to stop being little Englanders and be proud to be welsh it’s time for a new wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 kick all English party’s out of wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

Brian Coman
Brian Coman
11 months ago
Reply to  Jack

I agree that everyone should have freedom of speech. But strange things are happening here. We have Tory voters supporting Drakeford, even though he is a Corbyn fan. We have Welsh Labour, a Unionist Party that sound very nationalistic on every subject ,except a Wales only enquiry on the last two years. We have Plaid joining Labour even they are against everything they do. At this moment we have a ban on park runs, funfairs, charity swimming events,all outside. events.We are told not to go to England for our freedoms.I thought we lived in one country as a whole. Their… Read more »

Rob
Rob
11 months ago

Well said. The issue is with who is in government in Wales, and not how Wales is governed. Blaming devolution as a whole and not the Welsh Labour Government actually gets Labour off the hook. Ann Clwyd did this on ITV’s Sharp End a few years back. Blamed the state of the Welsh NHS on the ‘Assembly’ whilst conveniently ignoring the fact that it was her party was in power. I too am critical of further restrictions. Omnicron symptoms appear to be mild, and everyone by now has had the opportunity to get themselves vaccinated. Whilst I appreciate that some… Read more »

j humphrys
j humphrys
11 months ago
Reply to  Rob

The mild symptoms are for those who have been innoculated. Too early to tell yet.
Your point about travel to England means you suspect they have handled it badly there?

Last edited 11 months ago by j humphrys
Arwyn
Arwyn
11 months ago

Have we reached the Rubicon yet?

Paul
Paul
11 months ago
Reply to  Arwyn

Many of us were born on the far bank.

Arwyn
Arwyn
11 months ago
Reply to  Paul

I do wish they’d get a move on though.

Paul
Paul
11 months ago

The ‘arguments’ they make are, in their essence, unchanged from those made by people holding similar positions in previous years (and centuries). They are of a fundamentally racist character. They quite literally see Welsh people as lesser beings. Or, as one resident of Abersoch put it, ‘vermin’. These views are easily explained, but they remain racist. I dislike it intensely but, in the current context, I welcome it. They need to do more of it. It clears the decks for the independence fight to come.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
11 months ago

The Tory press are blatantly attacking the Senedd because they are cheerleaders of both Brexit and the Conservative party who have always been hostile towards Wales and Welsh devolution. And as highlighted recently by Nation Cymru. The Tory supporting Telegraph did a piece ridiculing the Welsh Government as “woke” when their policy was basically copy & paste of Conservative Government guidelines. And sure, the pandemic has masked both Welsh & Conservative Government handling of Covid and the wider economy, especially the hypocritical Tories, who have used Covid to their advantage to hide the wanton damage done by Brexit., who also… Read more »

Last edited 11 months ago by Y Cymro
Grayham Jones
11 months ago

We in wales have got to stop being little Englanders and be proud to be welsh stop reading English newspapers and stop listening to the English news start fighting for your children and grandchildren future in wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 it’s time for a new wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 kick all English party’s out of wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

Charles Coombes
Charles Coombes
11 months ago

I feel that the Welsh government has made the correct decisions. They acctually care about the health of people and are trying to protect them.
When you go into any business you take a risk thus as they say your wealth may go up or down and you may not get back all you put in.

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
11 months ago

Let these right wing mouthpieces of the british ruling class continue their sneering attacks on the welsh govt – they are boosting support for Welsh independence every day 😉. And from my observations of discussions on social media over the last few days the attacks are boosting support for independence in welsh labour circles too

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
11 months ago

My answer: I don’t read the English papers, so their putrid opinions are irrelevant to me.

Last edited 11 months ago by Mr Williams
aledgwynjob
aledgwynjob
11 months ago

Good article by Ifan. Surely It would make much more political and strategic sense for the Westminster Government and their lackies in the mainstream media to focus relentlessly on the fact that it is a Labour-run government imposing these restrictions. And to make the point that this type of governmental over-reach is indicative of a socialist mindset seeking top-down control over society. With ideology more often than not always triumphing over the actual facts on the ground. You would think that this would be particularly helpful for the Tories right now with Labour ahead in the opinion polls. Perhaps it’s… Read more »

j humphrys
j humphrys
11 months ago
Reply to  aledgwynjob

Correct, but what if/when the Lab. old guard try to turn the tide, Canute-like?
We are all expecting better things!

Jessica Powell
11 months ago

This. The inability to do basic fact checking or engage more deeply than ‘I dislike this thing Welsh Govt is doing, therefore the concept of Welsh Govt must be inherently bad’ just discredits a lot of the commentary from the outset. I doubt most of the outlets really care though – they’re not interested in improving Welsh governance or encouraging debate within Wales. Just as an anti-westminster establishment vibe goes down well in Wales, they know a dollop of ‘us and them’ will pull in readers.

Notta Bott
Notta Bott
11 months ago

Funny to see all the T*ry MP’s parroting the same rubbish on twitter too, WhatApp message must be doing the rounds. Blatant attack on our Government.

aled rees
aled rees
11 months ago

welsh labour will become more nationalist in their stance,it’s only a matter of time.patience brothers and sisters,patience.

Jed
Jed
11 months ago

If only you ran a news website that could commission and publish such constructive criticism.

Dail y Goeden
Dail y Goeden
11 months ago

I’m late to this piece from 29 December – apologies.
But: (1) Well done Ifan MJ for this piece – twenty comments before mine show that you’ve reminded us to scratch where it’s itching.
(2) As you write, “This disconnect between the British commentariat and the people of Wales would hardly matter if Wales had its own fully-developed public sphere. But unfortunately, it does matter because the SunDaily MailTelegraph, Times and others are the dominant media in Wales.”
On into 2022, people.

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