Theatre in Wales

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“Time for Some Serious Ambition and Proper Leadership”

A Political Diary

Historian and Political Scientist , Politics of Wales , July 31, 2019
A Political Diary by Historian and Political Scientist “Time for some serious ambition and proper leadership”, wrote Laura Macallister 27th April. “From our national public service broadcaster” she continued. BBC Wales is getting it not for the first time. The task to be done: “They have to inject high-standard journalism.”

She continued: “Former cabinet minister Leighton Andrews wrote a report on digital democracy which encouraged the Assembly to see itself as “as a content platform which should reflect the nation’s conversations about the issues which are of most concern to it”.

“But, as extreme takes on politics and life become normalised, content means little without high-quality, confident news journalists to test and scrutinise it.

“I don’t know anyone who would argue that we don’t have a fundamental democratic deficit in Wales. After 20 years of devolution, more than four in 10 people don’t know who their First Minister is and it’s not that long ago that fewer than half knew the Welsh Government was in charge of the NHS.

“...There’s an obvious danger in putting all our eggs in this media solution but, evidently, without an intelligent, trustworthy platform to conduct proper debate and a mirror to reflect our lives back to us, our identity as a nation is left hopelessly reliant on the vagaries of sporting success and a few international celebrities.

“BBC Wales is a national, public service broadcaster, it is not a region of England. Therefore, it should surely pursue its own distinctive strategy for the benefit of Wales and its people.

“Good Morning Wales lost its way - and its audience - some time ago. It has become classic betwixt and between, with mostly flabby interviewing and a lack of interest in, never mind rigorous scrutiny of, those who run Wales.

“It was not always thus and there’s an irony that as devolved powers have grown, the flagship news programme has become less, not more, interested in robust journalism about Wales.

“So, here’s what I want - a new approach to radio news and politics that treats Wales not as it is, but as it might be, that pushes horizons, that makes our politicians and decision-makers fearful (in a nice way). Positive and interesting programmes, rigorously produced, with well-researched interviews led by some of our most talented journalists who don’t accept the first response, the clever, confident ones who owe no-one in power any favours.

Laura Macallister was on the BBC, ironically, for a two-part tie-in with Martin Johnes' book “Wales- England's Colony”. Her view on 20 years of the Senedd: “it's not had enough of an impact on ordinary people's lives as yet....Until there is a better connect between what goes on here and dividends from devolution then I suspect the levels of turn-out in Assembly elections and engagement with this institution will remain pretty much where they are and I think that's a disappointment.”

“Managing the reputation of the organisation takes priority over improving it”. So wrote Helen Mary Jones 8th May for Nation Cymru. She continued: “And where complaints and concerns of patients and their families have been dismissed and ignored.”

Archive on 4 presented a good programme on the 50th anniversary of the Investiture. Towards the end (44:53) Tim Williams commented: “the politicians who had created modern Italy, Cavour, said “we have made Italy, now we must makes Italians...What happened in 1997 we made Wales but we didn't make Welsh people. There is a dissonance between the creation of a national institution and the actual economic and cultural reality of Wales on the other. We achieved self-government but what do we want to do with it?”

Martin Johnes concluded: “Devolution still feels fragile. There is a disconnect somewhere between the people of Wales and public commentators. It just adds to the lack of confidence that exists. It creates anger around symbolic moments, particularly where Wales can be perceived as a victim. We seem to prefer to tell stories where Wales has suffered rather than prospered where Wales was a victim of colonialism rather than as a partner.”

2,500 women and men from 79 countries were in Ottawa for the Open Government Summit 2019. Equally representatives from civil society and government were joined in commitment to the Open Government Partnership. Each government produces action plans every two years which outline commitments to transparency, accountability and participation.

Jess Blair was there and wrote:

“Those from Wales, published this year, comprise six areas. These are to increase engagement with a wider range of stakeholders; to enable citizens to find out more information about Welsh Government; to increase the amount of open data that is published by the Welsh public sector; greater clarity about Welsh Government grants; to make Welsh law more accessible; to raise awareness of Welsh Government finances, specifically about where the money comes from and how it is spent.”

“The government in Indonesia has introduced a complaints mechanism that has been heavily advertised across the nation. This has led to an increase in women raising incidents of sexual violence or harassment. In Austin, Texas a where a commitment has been made around increased data on homelessness in an effort to support more people affected by it. Break the Roles is a worldwide initiative on gender.”

“When we look at how government can open up in Wales, we should be looking at these examples and bettering them. What we have now is a great starter for ten, but this is an iterative process and our work on transparency and participation cannot and should not end here...It’s notable that when the Welsh plan launched last week, it was with no fanfare.”

“No Welsh Government official or Minister was in Ottawa. In contrast, Scotland was represented by its Head of Open Government. The representative spoke on multiple panels and was able to push the Scottish work to a global audience. “The Welsh Government”, wrote Blair, “should put ministerial heft behind the open government process – and at the very least ensure that Wales is represented on a global open government stage.”

“The siloed approach government often takes in policy development inhibits the kind of cross-governmental vision that a full action plan should ideally have. Welsh Government would do well to ensure that the principles of open government become an aspect of every department’s work and that action plan development involves cross-departmental input. Open government could have massive potential in Wales. With low political engagement, a small and inhibited media and a relatively weak civil society, surely measures around transparency and participation are an obvious aid.”

The Welsh Open Government Network is at

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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