by Henry Hill
Thursday, 23
December 2021
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10:30

Mark Drakeford’s nonsense Covid rules are back

Yet again the Welsh leader is using the virus for political purposes
by Henry Hill
First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford (C) taps elbows. Credit: Getty

Mark Drakeford set out yesterday the new set of coronavirus restrictions he will be imposing on Wales on Boxing Day.

The First Minister already grabbed headlines by announcing cash fines for people caught working from the office without justification whilst leaving the pubs open. After Christmas, it will apparently be legal to mingle in the bar of a football stadium but not on the terraces.


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Such surreal notes are becoming Welsh Labour’s signature style. Who can forget when they ordered supermarkets to cordon off ‘non-essential’ isles, even while staying open to sell food?

People were already in-store; the virus-suppressing benefits of the move were surely close to zero. But it supposedly prevented the big shops from enjoying an unfair advantage over small businesses peddling non-essential goods (except that these were shut, and thus not in competition anyway).

Then there was the period early in the pandemic when residents in North Wales were forced to take an hours-long round trip to the Principality’s only testing centre — which was in Cardiff, naturally — because their leaders didn’t want to reach an agreement with health authorities in England.

Older citizens might remember being forced to wait several weeks for the Welsh Government to organise emergency food deliveries, which Westminster had already sorted out, because they insisted on opting out of the London scheme.

Their younger compatriots might instead recall trying to sign up to the national volunteering scheme, only to find once again that Welsh ministers had opted out of it. A Welsh equivalent was eventually set up, but plenty of man-hours in those early days were squandered to no purpose.

Over the course of the pandemic, it feels like every government in the country has at one point or another been held up as the exemplar.

But any side-by-side comparison must take into account that Wales has much lower population density and lacks major infection vectors such as a hub airport. When the Welsh Government did take decisive unilateral action, such as the much-touted ‘circuit breaker’ last year, the results were unimpressive.

None of this means the Welsh Government got everything wrong; their Westminster counterparts certainly haven’t got everything right, by any stretch of the imagination.

But the growing litany of bizarre decisions reflects the sad reality that combating Covid-19, like so much else in devolved policy, seems about being seen to wield powers and do things differently from England.

The result has been an incoherent overall response which has undermined, rather than reinforced, national cohesion in the face of the crisis — as this ugly front page from the Western Mail illustrates.

All of this, of course, despite the fact that the Treasury controls all the financial levers that make lockdown possible in the first place.

Devolution could have served as a ‘policy lab’; different bits of the country trying different things, and then all adopting the best approach.

Instead, devocrats do everything they can to resist systematic cross-border comparisons of policy outcomes. A good look at their records explains why.

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andrew harman
andrew harman
11 months ago

As a Welshman myself (living in England) I find myself thankful for small mercies, Bad though Johnson is, Drakeford is abominably appalling. A – lest we forget – Corbynista, he provides a useful guide as to how a Labour government might have handled this. They would have plunged us into a dystopian nightmare of the worst kind. Although there is an element of political opportunism here, Drakeford is also motivated by a demented dogma predicated on the notion that the populace is there to be controlled and manipulated as units in their grand scheme.
I am finding it hard to feel sympathy for the land of my fathers. If they are stupid enough to keep electing this lot, they deserve it. They would elect a can of baked beans if it had a Labour rosette.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
11 months ago
Reply to  andrew harman

As an Englishman living in Wales, I am politically Welsh because my vote is in Wales. As you say, they keep on voting for this lot – 30 of the 60 seats in the Senedd are Labour. As an aside, the name Senedd is a joke because you are supposed to think of wise old men (maybe, people today).
The point is that there is absolutely nobody to vote for so Labour will always win. There were about ten parties standing in the election this year and half of them had only one policy – independence forced by concentrating on the language. For these politicians the language is the only issue in life – food and subsistence are irrelevant. Only the Welsh Conservatives are (theoretically) involved in other issues. Only they ask questions about the economy. But they are very weak because of history. In South Wales – where all the people live – they hate conservatives because of the miners’ strike.
A couple of months before the Senedd vote Mark Drakeford said that he would support independence in the manifesto and then came the EU/AstroZenica fiasco and the word ‘independence’ was missing when the manifesto was printed. Recently, he has said that the Welsh Government will provide thousands of green jobs and I guess these will be government jobs. He also said that only Welsh-speaking people would be considered for government jobs in the future.
This whole thing is a disaster waiting to happen. I actually support independence followed by EU membership because I think that England doesn’t want Wales and the EU is a better place to be. Independence yes! With this shower of s*i*s no!

Last edited 11 months ago by Chris Wheatley
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
11 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

How would Wales even survive as an independent country? And what would it do to become the kind of net contributor it would have to be before the EU would consider letting it in? I don’t know much about Wales or Welsh politics but it does seem like Labour there survives based on a) the other parties being so bad and b) England giving you a lot of money.

Last edited 11 months ago by Katharine Eyre
Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
11 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Yes. I am an engineer and there are many possibilities for Wales which are never discussed. I have tried to get into forums for discussion but nobody wants to know. They only want to talk about the language. I am not against the language, btw, and I get by in Welsh – my wife and family are fluent speakers. My daughters teaches in Welsh. But there are other things to talk about as well.
Advantages in Wales are:

  • a large unpopulated area in mid-Wales which can be developed in an environmentally-friendly way,
  • a fabulous coastline which is at the mercy of the weather but there are many opportunities if transport is improved,
  • a possibility of developing a west-facing container port which would avoid the congestion around Felixstowe and provide alternative holiday shipping routes, also routing around the UK/EU border for deep sea shipments from the west,
  • Water as a commodity,
  • the best area in the world, second only to China, for developments in tidal power. This has been investigated but England pulled out of the deal. This is the most important advantage of all.
  • a small population of only 3 million which makes things very easy to manage (not for the present idiots, though).
  • the possibility of developing a large forestry industry to provide sustainable timber.

You see, I am passionate about this but today nobody is talking about anything at all.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
11 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Well, full marks for effort and thought invested…but those all seem like fairly expensive investments. Financing? Hmm. Looking to the EU isn’t an option, you’d have to be independent first and that’s a big risk. Plus, the EU has been stringing North Macedonia, Albania & Co along for 15-20 years now, holding out the perspective of membership which it is now walking back on but can’t find a way to tell them “it’s not happening”. Disappointing them but saying yes to Scotland/Wales – 2 countries likely to be long term net recipients? It’s an absolute no-no strategically. I think this is one of the reasons the EU are trying so hard for Brexit to fail. If the British (or the English really) fold and beg to be let back in, this particular strategic dilemma dissolves. I feel a tendency among Pro-EU Welsh and Scots to think you’d just be let back in, no questions asked. I do not think it would shape up that way.

Last edited 11 months ago by Katharine Eyre
Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
11 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Wales has a fully staffed house in Brussels in an effort to prepare the way for independence. Unfortunately it will be staffed by people of the same calibre.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
11 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

It’s interesting that the population is 3 million. The population of Singapore is 5.5 million.
Also, the populations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are each less than 3 million.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
11 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

An interesting list.

  • a large unpopulated area in mid-Wales : development would be fought tooth and nail by every greenie in the UK and beyond
  • a fabulous coastline … many opportunities if transport is improved – will also mean more roads, building and development, see above about Greenies (in every party)
  • a possibility of developing a west-facing container port this one interests me, same deal with greenies etc, but worth fighting for. What ports and routes do you favour?
  • Water as a commodity UK has plenty of water. Water supply infrastructure is more important
  • tidal power. I’m not impressed by what I’ve seen of tidal power efforts so far – anywhere in the world.
  • a small population of only 3 million which makes capture by lefties easier, see Scotland, Australian states, NZ. But at least NZ has to pay its own way. The others are supported by central govt funding and even top-ups when they blatantly squander it.
  • the possibility of developing a large forestry industry good luck with that, see greenies etc.

By “Greenies” I mean in general, anti-development of any sort (except for huge impractical “renewable” schemes) types using spurious environmental grounds and incessant lawfare to block progress. AKA “B-nanas” : Build Nothing Anywhere Near Anything

Last edited 11 months ago by Brendan O'Leary
bob builder
bob builder
11 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

If you see such an opportunity, then I suggest doing (one or more) of these things yourself.

Roger Sponge
Roger Sponge
11 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

What a picture of dreary, inward looking part of the UK you paint.
I’m all for a sense of place, history and language. But when does picking at the sores actually stop?
And what’s the evidence that “England doesn’t want Wales”?

David Slade
David Slade
11 months ago

Covid truly is a remarkable virus, able to distinguish between which aisle to go down in a shop and which goods are essential, true to its partying spirit it will leave you alone in a pub in Wales but strike you down at work. However it comes over all prudish in Denmark, France Scotland etc. where night clubs must close and 8pm curfews must be enforced.

It really is amazing what you can genetically engineer in a Chinese laboratory.

Last edited 11 months ago by David Slade
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
11 months ago
Reply to  David Slade

When omicron gets onto Austrian territory, it gets party mad and irresponsible so the pubs and bars have to shut at 10pm on NYE…instead of midnight (the previous rule)! This, of course, will make a massive difference.

James Joyce
James Joyce
11 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Thanks to you and David Slade for enlightening me on the properties of this remarkable virus. A virus that can distinguish the aisles of the supermarket and the time, and also surely the holiday–Chinese engineering at its best. Trust the science–this is a very smart virus!
The Chinese bat lady should get the Nobel Prize for this amazing accomplishment.

Malcolm Ripley
Malcolm Ripley
11 months ago
Reply to  David Slade

Don’t forget it count as well, tell the difference between a meal and a snack, know if you are drinking alcohol or a coke. It is even able to tell within a group how many related families there are that live together, even I find that tricky at weddings and christenings!

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago

Wales is giving South Africa some competition in respect of who has introduced some of the dumbest lockdown restrictions and rules. In fact some of these were taken from the early South African playbook.
I think now Wales is leaping ahead with their lunatic rules, while South Africa for now has seen some sense. Fingers crossed.

Andrea X
Andrea X
11 months ago

Along with Sturgeon (under whose sceptre I am fortunate enough to live), they are two peas from the same pod and show why (health) devolution has been such a failure.
Catastrophic (true or fictitious that they may be) events must be dealt with nationally and not at tenement block level. I hope that when this is over (and I shall be long dead) the devolution settlement will be modified to remove such stupid and totally self inflicted mistakes.

Last edited 11 months ago by Andrea X
Samuel Gee
Samuel Gee
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

I think the better point in the article is that health devolution provided an opportunity to test different approaches to benchmark best practice. A national conformity approach does not do that. But it needs coordinating nationally and hence good will. So we have the worst of all worlds. An uncoordinated and uncooperative variety of approaches based just on being different to England for the bloody minded heck of it.

Andrea X
Andrea X
11 months ago
Reply to  Samuel Gee

Indeed, but AFAIK (and from very little knowledge) it happened nowhere. I have experience of Italy where the various regional administration were out-masking each other with no coordination from the centre and leading to absurd rules.
As someone pointed out elsewhere, you cannot close, say, nightclubs unilaterally and the send the bill to the mother house expecting for it to be paid promptly.

Last edited 11 months ago by Andrea X
Sarah Atkin
Sarah Atkin
11 months ago
Reply to  Samuel Gee

You’ll find the ‘let’s be different from England because…ugh…well, they’re English’ is true in education as well as health. Wales and Scotland have seen educational standards decline during the devolution era. The status quo is not an option. Drakeford cannot make decisions to close down businesses for political reasons (not scientific or data driven) and then go cap in hand to the Treasury for more money.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
11 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Atkin

The SNP never say “England” lest they be accused of racism or transphobia or something. It’s always “Westminster” as if it were some looming Stalinist tower of oppression.

Graeme Laws
Graeme Laws
11 months ago

Someone resident in Monmouth works in Coleford, all of about four miles t’other side of the river Wye. He or she goes to work. Criminal offence. If ever solid proof were needed that the Welsh Government has lost the plot, here it is. The small cohort of language zealots who have control of more or less everything in Wales have done and are doing a rotten job. That there is no prospect of dislodging them is profoundly depressing.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
11 months ago

“‘Non-essential’ isles”
Hahaha – what is a “non-essential isle”? Some of the Outer Hebrides maybe?

Andrea X
Andrea X
11 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

It did look odd when I first read it, but couldn’t quite say why.

David Slade
David Slade
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Yeah, my spelling is atrocious.

Andrea X
Andrea X
11 months ago
Reply to  David Slade

It’s in the article 😉

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
11 months ago
Reply to  David Slade

But the spell-checker no so much.

James Joyce
James Joyce
11 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Ireland?

Andrew D
Andrew D
11 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I assumed he meant Anglesey

Andrew Currie
Andrew Currie
11 months ago

So, basically then, from the point of view of this article and (most of) its comments:

  • Drakeford does things differently to Johnson, not because he is of a different poltical hue, but solely so as not to do the same thing as England (in which case someone needs to tell Sadiq Khan where London is);
  • One Welsh newspaper once had an “ugly front page” (can’t imagine a UK paper doing anything like that);
  • Wales should be grateful to England for giving it lots of money (because Welsh people don’t pay taxes).

For the record (and despite the name), I am a Welsh-speaking Welshman living in Wales, and I think Drakeford’s rules are nonsense too, but I don’t think they’re nonsense because he’s Welsh. From what I’ve seen,virtually everywhere has made inconsistent and illogical rules in futile attempts at preventing the spread of covid. The author admits as much, but for some reason doesn’t seem inclined to mention anywhere else. As for controlling the financial levers, I’m sure the treasury is desperate to hand these over, if only someone – anyone – would take them!
Nadolig Llawen i chi i gyd.