The pandemic’s legacy could be the end of political fatalism in Wales

Mark Drakeford the First Minister of Wales. Picture by the Welsh Government

Dewi Rees Heald

I have worked with UK-wide organisations and institutions often enough to know their pattern. It did not surprise me when a friend working in government described Brexit negotiations among the four parts of the UK along these familiar lines – the UK government believed that what was best for England would be best for everyone, the Scottish government refused to co-operate, the Northern Ireland delegation argued among themselves and only the Welsh thought that they ought to go along with negotiations in the hope of trying to make the best of things.

I have heard this portrayal of the UK’s constituent parts now so often that it has become something of a cliché. Even a B&B owner in Derry told me some years ago that he was proud of his politicians arguing with each other (“it’s what we do best” he said) and of Scotland’s drive for independence but no-one could figure out what Welsh people actually wanted from the UK. I suggested the ability to shoot lasers out of Merthyr Tydfil for want of anything more substantial to tell him.

However, amid all the devastation being wrought by COVID19 during 2020, perhaps one as yet unnoticed consequence may be that Wales abandons its low-key fatalism. While Charlie Evans wrote in Nation.Cymru this week that the Conservatives could win the 2021 Senedd elections by offering to ask Westminster for a better deal than Labour could get, there are signs that a global pandemic is forcing Welsh politicians to be more assertive about their differences with England.

 

Annoyed

Make no mistake that this has not gone unnoticed in Westminster political circles. The Welsh could usually be counted on to fall into line with most UK government initiatives or at least not dissent too loudly, but the very clear diversion of Welsh policy on Covid-19 from England has woken up the media over the border.

Not only did the Welsh First Minister have the temerity to insist that ‘Welsh law applies in Wales’, but the police were to be found in the days after the re-enforcement of the ‘Stay At Home’ message, stopping cars heading into Wales and turning English people around with the explanation that they were not allowed to travel into Wales, even if the rules on travel had changed in England.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams also took to correcting UK newspapers reporting on school re-openings in England as if they applied to all of the UK by adding corrections in red pen to their headlines.

We know that this annoyed the media in England because The Sun set out to manufacture a scandal about the Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething. Taking a photo of him out with his son, they alleged that he was ‘on a picnic’ in contravention of lockdown rules. The fact that The Sun had not had this concern for lockdown rules when Stanley Johnson visited his new grandson in England did not trouble them. Mr Gething was quick to alert people to the story and that he had been within the rules to be on a family walk and to get chips for his son, who was hungry. It was then raised by a Conservative member of the Senedd.

Better

Rather than cow the Welsh Government, they seem to have been encouraged to diverge further from UK policy, with the announcement on 14th May that Wales will not give any COVID19 relief funding to companies that are based in tax havens. This policy has already been adopted by other countries such as Denmark and France but there is no sign that the UK government has any intention to follow suit, despite some social media campaigns.

On the day that the ‘Stay Home’ and ‘Stay Alert’ policies diverged, ITV Wales news reported on people in Manchester and Liverpool who could no longer go to their caravans in north Wales. One comment was that it was “like a new border had been put up”. Psychologically, it could be that COVID19 leaves a legacy in both Wales and England with a clearer divide between the two countries.

Do not expect the British press to be happy about this, especially if the Welsh approach to Covid-19 produces better results than the approach in England. However, it may just be that when the dust settles on the devastation caused by the global pandemic, Wales’s traditional political fatalism is one of its casualties.

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David Thomas
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David Thomas

Fully agree. Unfortunately the “British Press” responded by sending a wraparound with the UK Government’s “Stay Alert” message to all outlets in Wales and England on Thursday but not to Scotland and N Ireland. What will it take for them to get the message?! Will they send a wraparound with “Stay at Home” to Welsh outlets this week? Don’t hold your breath.

Phil
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Phil

Hi David I think you should have write the English press as Scotland and Ireland seem to have their own news supplied via their own media within both countries while Wales still has ours dictated to be the English news ..
I dream of that day when our Welsh politicians stick up for Wales rather than cower down to the English elite and accept what scraps we are privided

Phil
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Phil

Sorry should have said” wrote ” predict text

Wrexhamian
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Wrexhamian

“Written”, Phil. Keep practicing! You’re right, of course, about the ‘British’ media being an English media with a Briish message. Daniel Sandford’s piece of petulance for the BBC was another instance of it. As for Cymru’s pre-covid response to edicts from Westminster, the first paragraph of Dewi’s article sums it up perfectly. But he leaves us with a big question that for the moment must remain unanswerable: Will the Welsh Government continue to put Wales first once the virus is under control? Mark Drakeford”s ridiculous comments on ‘right-wing nationalism’ suggest he’ll revert to doing as he’s told. For this reason,… Read more »

j humphrys
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j humphrys

More McEvoys? Keep the production line going, then!

W. Habib Steele
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W. Habib Steele

Newspapers in Scotland are Scottish editions of English newspapers (Express, Sun, Record etc). There is only one national Newspaper that is pro-Scotland, that’s The National, and even it is owned by Newsquest, which is owned by the UK subsidiary of the US company Gannet. In 2019 it was reported that Gannett was being bought by the US company New Media Investment Group.

j humphrys
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j humphrys

Stop/reverse MUD dumping in Wales? get to wnp.Wales.

E Williams
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E Williams

“Psychologically, it could be that COVID19 leaves a legacy in both Wales and England with a clearer divide between the two countries.”

It would be nice to think so, but when/if this is over I think those east of the border will still see Wales as a playground to visit fully provisioned when they tire of suburban hell. While most of us in the west will just go back to being annoyed while sitting on our hands.

Robin Moulster
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Robin Moulster

We should definitely stay alert to Johnson and his cronies

John Ellis
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John Ellis

Well, one impact of all this strikes me as incontrovertible, at least to judge from all the news media which I consume: all of them, without exception and at virtually every mention, are now routinely reporting that the easing of the ‘lock-down’ heralded by Bunter a week ago applies to England and to England only. Indeed, for once it’s Wales rather than Scotland that is now usually cited as the comparator to the line being put out from Westminster. Though I’m less convinced that this marks any lasting significant assertion of autonomy from the Drakeford government, given his complete rejection… Read more »

Kerry Davies
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Kerry Davies

The coronavirus law allows the restriction of non-essential travel it doesn’t prevent the occupation of residences. To evict people from places they legally occupy opens a can of legalistic worms impossible to unravel without impinging on the civil rights of everyone.
Imagine trying to word a law that allows eviction from second homes that MP’s with 3 or 4 homes would vote for?

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

Surely, anyone who has travelled to their holiday home after Wales’s lockdown travel-restrictions were imposed is breaking the injunction and should be asked to leave. Imagine if the police came across someone who had no legal right to be in the UK. They wouldn’t say, “Well, you managed to sneak here undetected, and you’re here now, so we’d better let you stay”. The holiday homes issue isn’t a matter of human rights, it’s a matter of public health.

Steve Duggan
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Steve Duggan

It’s good to see the Welsh finally standing up for themselves – it has to be built on and act as the foundations for independence. It is the first time I’ve seen the UK government and right wing press spooked by Wales. We’ve had enough of sitting back and taking it on the chin! As the article states the election next year is crucial, we need a fully pro-Wales party in charge of the Welsh Parliament in order to push the momentum being established now forward.