With a flick of a page, Drakeford’s outrage spoke for all of us
Few politicians do the soundbite well. That’s because capturing a moment in politics is often better done by spontaneity, raw feeling, than by scriptwriters or advisors. It can be in a speech, a comment, or a debate: all provide an opportunity for the first draft of history to be written. Politicians too often rely on the autocue rather than their own arsenal of human emotion.
A future historian will write of October this year and the downfall of Liz Truss with a specific reference under ‘Mark Drakeford’: Speech to the Senedd, 18 October 2022. Little has mattered beyond Westminster in policy or political terms in recent months. There have been strong statements from the First Minister of Wales, but no phone call between him and the Prime Minister. All the while the ramifications of decisions taken in Downing Street have reverberated up and down the country, in people’s pockets and homes.
The First Minister matters for a different reason. We shouldn’t blame Andrew RT Davies, the Welsh Conservative leader, for trying his luck. Calling out Welsh Labour on ambulance waiting times is an easy stick to beat them with. The NHS is a weak spot for Welsh Labour – and the stories of those who have waited for an ambulance, easily found while scrolling through social media, are horrifying.
Yet there is a time and a place for Conservatives to talk about accountability. RT’s particular caucus of Tories, out of their depth and intellectually shipwrecked, will curry little favour with the Welsh public as their parent in London risks livelihoods with experimental economics and probable further cuts that will, in turn, weaken the Welsh government’s budget. How tasteless it was to claim Nye Bevan would be turning in his grave at the “third world” health service in Wales. But that is what Welsh Conservatives have become: outrageous.
The response was calm, at least initially. Drakeford was fiddling with his pen, as he always seems to do, and going through the motions of picking apart the language used about the NHS. It was when RT jabbed the air, just metres away, did the normally professorial Drakeford lose it. And lose it he did.
“It is absolutely shocking that you think that you can turn up here this afternoon with the mess that your party has made, to the budgets of this country, to the reputation of this country around the world,” he started. But more heckling came. The ministerial briefing pages were flicked back and forth, to the point where you thought the page may come off the binder of the First Minister’s folder. His hands were shaking. A face as red as a Labour tie. “You think you can turn up here this afternoon, and claim some sort of moral high ground? What sort of world do you belong in?”
— Owen Williams 🏴 (@OwsWills) October 18, 2022
At last, some unscripted drama in the Senedd. And the faces of the Welsh Labour members said it all. Pure shock. The First Minister’s response, lasting only half a minute, has already been viewed millions of times. It was a remarkable sequence of events that distilled the rage felt not just by the public, but non-Tory politicians at what is happening to this country.
Ironically, I have little doubt that the First Minister would not want to be remembered for this episode. Filled with pure anger. Loathing. That’s not the sort-of politician he is.
But sometimes, at times of crisis, it takes someone to let their guard down to express what they truly feel. In that way, Drakeford played a bigger role today than most of his policies.
Why? Because he spoke not just for his party but for his country too. Nye would have approved.
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