Delyth Jewell, Plaid Cymru Senedd Member for the South Wales East region
Boris Johnson has handled the Covid19 crisis appallingly from the start. After missing crucial Cobra meetings, he delayed lockdown for a disastrously long period.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that as we watched other European countries’ death rates rising, those governing us allowed mass sporting events and concerts to go ahead, and our posturing Prime Minister told journalists that there was a theory that we could “take [the virus] on the chin.”
But set against their many fateful failings during this crisis, this Tory Government has reached its nadir in defending the actions of Dominic Cummings. They have shown that they’re willing to make a mockery of the sacrifices shown by thousands of people, to save the skin of one maverick man. It has been the final straw.
For a lockdown to work, everybody has to be part of it. Otherwise, it’s just a catalogue of individual sacrifices that are less than the sum of the tragedies suffered. Over the past few days, and to the astonishment of many of us, UK Government Ministers have tried to justify Cummings’ actions by retrospectively relaxing the rules – Matt Hancock even went so far as to suggest that people’s fines might be reconsidered if they had travelled for issues to do with child care.
No 10 quietly confirmed later in the evening that no such reconsideration would be taking place. But it was evident that spokespeople had been given leave to say anything to try to square the circle of allowing Mr Cummings to be the one person to whom the rules do not apply.
These are the actions of a government that has lost all moral authority. For a growing number of people, this sorry farrago has solidified a sense that the Westminster system itself is broken beyond repair, with many asking whether we in Wales wouldn’t be better off without the whole sordid show.
Over the past few weeks, the Covid19 crisis itself has both highlighted the benefits of devolution, and thrown up the dearth of understanding (particularly in the UK media) of how our laws differ from those of England. Whilst English restrictions were arguably lifted prematurely in the interest of the economy, the devolved nations have retained measures in the interest of public health. There are already reports of an increasing R rate in England, whilst in Wales the numbers are being closely monitored before further measures are lifted.
Yet although the Welsh Government has had the autonomy to keep hold of lockdown measures to keep Wales safe, we have still seen the side effects of poor Westminster leadership. Mixed messaging around lockdown measures has led to people travelling in and around Wales against the law, potentially introducing the virus to rural and more vulnerable communities.
The fact that the Dominic Cummings affair has led the UK Government to deliberately undermine its own rules is now the cherry on top of Boris Johnson’s Schrodinger’s cake: the cake he’s thought all along that he can both keep and eat, without the public noticing he was spinning us a line. No wonder he doesn’t seem to think he can go on without Mr Cummings’ direction.
I ask you, isn’t this a wakeup call for us in Wales? There’s a great deal of discussion about the need for us to not revert to the “old normal” after this crisis, to build a better society that retains the values we’ve learned during these lockdown weeks: fair pay for carers and frontline workers, protecting our environment that has finally had space to breathe without the choke of cars clogging our roads, moving to a system that allows flexible working patterns.
If we in Wales truly want to move away from systems that fuel inequality and to create a nation we can all be proud of, our path ahead should point us towards independence. If we want to build something better, our future cannot be rooted in the crumbling corridors of Westminster.
This crisis is a turning point for society in more ways than one. The latest charade with Dominic Cummings will not be the final time that the Westminster system makes a mockery of the sacrifices of decent people who do the right thing in spite of circumstances being stacked against them.
But it can also be the time when we choose to stop embracing this outdated setup. Enough, I say. There is something rotten in the state of Westminster politics, and we don’t need to drive to Barnard Castle for a clear view of it.
This crisis has been characterised by suffering and tragedy, but also self-sacrifice, quiet heroism, and a concern for the common good which points us to a tomorrow we can embrace, if we choose to. Together, let’s forge a better path for Wales. Let’s opt for independence.