With lives at stake Governments in Wales and Westminster need to be held to account
Adam Price, Plaid Cymru leader
Politics is a finely trodden line – a daily trapeze act of balancing tone within argument.
The key is in the equilibrium, where critical observation doesn’t succumb to obtuse one-upmanship.
A time of huge anxiety brings with it heightened emotion, where the constructive is often conflated with the critical. But if the scourge of Covid-19 has taught us anything it is that there is no such thing as a surplus of scrutiny.
Governments in Wales and Westminster are rightly asking all of us to step up our response. But the same must be true of them – and crucially the opposition who hold the executive to account.
Those who suggest that a preoccupation with point-scoring has engulfed the discourse will never be appeased. Probing and foreboding is not the nirvana of party politics – it’s the deal we strike to deliver democracy.
Putting pressure on the Welsh Government to directly call for the postponement of the Wales v Scotland Six Nations match wasn’t being contrary in a time of crisis – it was a clarion call of conviction.
When the World Health Organisation, on March 11th, called for “urgent and aggressive action” to combat COVID-19 I believed them. Arguing for more testing wasn’t an attack on the science or the guidance, rather a plea for a Welsh response in line with the advice of international experts.
In these unprecedented times he or she who questions should be seen as the pragmatist not the precentor – a sharer of ideas in a barren land of any past experiences we can draw upon.
Many of our concerns are echoed by Labour MPs. Jonn Ashworth, Kevin Brennan and Geraint Davies to name but three have been pertinently polite but forcefully forensic while arguing for a different course of action from those in power.
This is not the time for a “Bain Principle” in reverse (a rather obscure convention within the Labour party which means that their approach to a motion or amendment is dictated by the identity of its proposer, not by its merit or substance. In short, if it’s an SNP idea, it’s a bad idea.)
Doubling down and double-speak shouldn’t become the new normal.
But we can’t shy away either. When NHS staff and constituents call for our help to keep visitors away we must be a voice for them.
When the self-employed are short-changed and treated differently we must look after them.
Pressing for swifter, firmer and clearer action from those who govern is sound stewardship not soundbite politics.
Everyone I know and have met in the course of this crisis – Matt Hancock, Simon Hart, Vaughan Gething, Mark Drakeford – are decent people doing what they believe to be right in very difficult circumstances.
Demonising or pillorying politicians may make us feel temporarily better – but it achieves nothing.
Speaking truth to power, however, remains fundamental even in the most trying of circumstances and sometimes criticism, where lives are at stake, will need to be direct.
This should never be personal. But if Government is collectively failing then to be silent is to be complicit, which will help no-one in the weeks and months ahead.