Theatre in Wales

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“Accountability and Wales it's very opaque”

A Political Diary

Ministers, Opposition & Commentators , Politics of Wales , February 28, 2020
A Political Diary by Ministers, Opposition & Commentators February 2020 saw an unusually sharp debate on the Party-Government distinction.

9th February: The views of outsiders do not count for much. It is the insider view that stings.

“Politics Wales” had an unusual level of critique, the more pertinent as it came not from a politics professor or opposition spokesman. Andrew Davies, with experience in both Cabinet and as Chair of a Health Board, was a guest invited to comment on the mooted closure of the A&E Department at Llantrisant.

“This really goes to the nub of the problem”, he said, “where accountability and responsibility lie. In Wales it's very opaque. It's very, very unclear...It's very clear in Scotland and England where accountability lies. In Scotland there's very clear water. There are the services on one hand and the government on the other. Every year an annual accountability is held.”

He talked of the instances of micro-management against large policy objectives.

“In Wales it's very unclear. It's often behind closed doors. There has to be clarity about where accountability lies. At the moment it's very unclear. It's a bit like the hokey-cokey. Government will intervene. When it comes to the big strategic decisions...they abdicate that responsibility....The problem we have in Wales is that there is a lot of rhetoric around the collaborative model.”

The nub of the problem that Davies referred to was a video posted on Twitter by Alex Davies-Jones, MP for Pontypridd. It was headed “on the campaign to save our A&E at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital”. Naturally the response was that it was nothing to do with Westminster and was the responsibility of a Minister from the Labour Party. An Assembly Member, Dawn Bowden, subsequently took to Twitter, by the report of Nation.Cymru, to deny that the Welsh Government had any say in the decision. “She said that the NHS was “funded by the Welsh Labour Government” but was “managed by people who are paid to do so”.

The opposition disagreed. “There seems to be some confusion, denial, or just a slopey-shouldered attitude to Wales NHS in Welsh Labour,” Andrew RT Davies told Nation.Cymru. “I was not surprised to read Dawn Bowden’s public denial of just who manages our NHS.” Plaid Cymru... “a spokesperson told Nation.Cymru it was “no wonder our NHS is suffering when the party responsible for running it deny any responsibility”.

Ifan Morgan Jones took to an editorial:

“Ultimately, then, the buck stops with the Welsh government. If they allow Royal Glamorgan A&E to close (and there are no doubt some good reasons for closing it) that is a political decision they are making. Governments have to make tough and unpopular decisions all the time.

“But if they feel that the A&E should stay open there’s nothing stopping Vaughan Gething convening a meeting with the NHS Chief Executive and Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board and telling them so.
“There are two possibilities here of course, and both are equally scary. 1) Labour politicians are trying to deliberately mislead people about who is in charge of the NHS in Wales. 2.) Labour politicians are themselves confused about what is devolved and what isn’t.

“I’m now leaning towards the former option because despite receiving an avalanche of messages on social media pointing out that Labour do run the Welsh NHS, yesterday the politicians were at it again.

“A group of Labour AMs and MPs uploaded a picture of themselves holding a ‘Save Our A&E sign’ outside Royal Glamorgan Hospital.

“The picture included two AMs, Huw Irranca-Davies and Mick Antoniw, who were essentially campaigning against their own co

“It’s one of the most politically brazen things I’ve ever seen and almost Trumpian in its manipulation of people’s political ignorance.

“It’s particularly disappointing as it’s a political move whose success depends entirely on voters’ confusion about who runs the health service in Wales.

“According to a BBC/ICM survey in 2014, only 48% correctly identified that health was a devolved matter.

“This campaign not only depends on that confusion but also seeks to entrench it. Seeing Labour politicians campaigning against an NHS run by Labour will only mislead people further, to Labour’s benefit.

To his credit, in a press conference on Monday, First Minister Mark Drakeford called for Labour politicians to stay away from the campaign.”

“We’ve been here before. In 2017 then-Education Minister Leighton Andrews had to resign after campaigning against the closure of a primary school in his Rhondda constituency.

“First Minister Carwyn Jones told him his campaign was in direct opposition to guidance over shutting schools with surplus places issued by himself as Minister.

“Mark Drakeford needs to show a similar gumption and make it clear that Labour politicians cannot actively campaign against an NHS run by their own political party. Whether he can or will do so will tell us a lot about his strength or weakness as First Minister.

“And if Labour politicians want to go rogue and continue to campaign despite that, they need to make it clear that they’re ultimately campaigning against their own Labour-led Welsh Government.

He moved to devolution itself. “To retain devolution, Labour needs to make clear that whatever their own strengths and weaknesses, the power to deliver better public services reside within Welsh devolution. And they need to make the case that it’s better to have the power there, than over at Westminster. Passing the buck to Westminster or the Health Boards at the first sign of trouble doesn’t do that.”

It rose, as it should do, to First Minister's Questions. Adam Price: “Now, I completely understand why Labour backbencher members want to campaign against health closures under your Government, but surely the position of Ministers is different. Accountability for the health service must lie with Ministers collectively in the Welsh Government, otherwise what is the point of the Welsh Government?”

The First Minister's response' Price's interpretation as “nonsense”. “Here is paragraph 4.7”, he said, “in the ministerial code: ‘Ministers are free to make their views about constituency matters known’…..What (Jane Hutt) did is entirely consistent with the ministerial code…(she) has a better understanding in her little finger of the probity and decency required of ministers than his question this afternoon demonstrates for a moment.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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