Poor vaccine management may spark a nascent anti-devolution movement
Of all the bizarre and counter-productive decisions made by those in charge during the pandemic, Mark Drakeford’s decision to deliberately slow the Welsh vaccine rollout might be the worst.
The First Minister has decided to space out the distribution of Cardiff’s existing vaccine stocks so that those administering the jabs aren’t left for weeks with ‘nothing to do’ until the next shipment comes in. As a result, thousands of vulnerable people are going to be left unnecessarily unprotected.
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The backlash has been fierce, and not just from Labour’s traditional opponents. But to those familiar with Welsh politics, this latest blunder will not come a surprise. (That Scotland is somehow doing even worse might, though.)
Right from the start, the Welsh Government has placed a higher priority on doing its own thing than on acting swiftly and effectively. Its ministers opted out of both the GoodSAM app, which recruited and organised volunteers in England, and Westminster’s scheme for securing priority food delivery slots for at-risk residents. Home-grown equivalents were delivered weeks later.
Meanwhile its fixation on delivering north-south ‘Welsh’ solutions, rather than programmes which extend across the border to England, saw at one point people from across Wales facing hours-long drives to access a single testing facility in Cardiff.
And Labour’s mismanagement of the Health Service in Wales did not start with coronavirus. One NHS Trust in North Wales — which often feels neglected by Cardiff — has been in special measures for more than five years. That gives the Welsh Government more direct control, but hasn’t done much good.
So bad did it get that during the 2015 General Election David Cameron branded Offa’s Dyke “the line between life and death”.
Yet despite all that Drakeford’s ratings (at least, perhaps, until now) have remained stubbornly high. Like Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister has yet to squander the surge in popular sympathy enjoyed by those in charge when voters ‘rally round the flag’ in a crisis.
He is also benefiting from a long-standing devocrat tactic of equating any criticism of devolved governance as a direct attack either on devolution itself or, indeed, the nation as a whole.
This was best exhibited a few years ago when one Welsh minister accused Michael Gove, then the Education Secretary, of harbouring “invincible colonial attitudes” after he had the nerve to compare English and Welsh educational outcomes in an article for the Western Mail. Schooling is, of course, another policy area where Welsh Labour’s mismanagement is the stuff of legend.
In Wales, as in Scotland, devolved politicians have managed to almost completely divorce their public image from their record of governance on bread-and-butter issues. Instead they constantly shift the blame for problems onto ‘Westminster’, and insist the remedy is yet another expansion of their own powers.
This is very much like what successive British governments did with ‘Europe’, and it will end similarly badly for our Union as for that one.
Perhaps this vaccine story will finally mark the turn of the tide. Unlike his Scottish counterpart, Drakeford faces a nascent anti-devolution movement which is both uninterested in maintaining Cardiff Bay’s cosy consensus and spooking the local Conservatives into a more aggressive position too.
With the next Welsh Parliament elections just a few months away, it’s a bad time to drop the ball.