Fay Jones is the Member of Parliament for Brecon & Radnorshire.
The fight against Coronavirus has been fought on two fronts. The first continues to be the most important – to limit the spread of the virus and to save lives. The second is to help our country back on its feet and drive economic growth again.
As we move from one phase to another the political games have resumed and in Wales, that presents a different set of challenges to the rest of the United Kingdom.
Not everything has been perfect. However, I believe the British Government’s handling of the Coronavirus has been strong and comprehensive.
On a number of different levels we have provided clear leadership: driving progress towards an ever increasing target for daily testing; working with partners around the world to ensure there is a strong supply of PPE; and, crucially for our future, providing one of the most generous and wide ranging packages of financial support in the world to individuals, businesses, charities and many other organisations.
In a number of ways, Wales is lagging way behind. Our testing capability is dramatically weaker than in England, we have differing policies for containing the disease within care homes and a number of opportunities – such as the GoodSAM volunteer network – available in England have been denied to Wales.
To make matters worse, the Welsh Government has deliberately chosen to opt out of UK Government financial schemes only to then announce identical plans days later.
Colleagues in the Conservative group in the Welsh Parliament are lobbying hard for change and I support them in this. That is their role and their prerogative.
But I cannot, out of fear of being labelled ‘anti-devolutionist’, allow some of the politically motivated gesture politics to go unremarked. It is because I respect devolution that I write this article.
On Friday last week, the First Minister gave a statement deliberately timed to undermine the Prime Minister’s one to the country on Sunday evening. As is proper, Boris Johnson came to Parliament to discuss the detail of his Exit Plan on Monday.
But Mark Drakeford and his colleagues in Cardiff Bay had reacted to the statement with synthetic outrage, arguing that messages were ‘confused’. I used my question to the Prime Minister to clarify that there were no mixed messages and that this political pot-stirring was deeply unhelpful.
But people in Wales are confused. They are confused as to why the ‘Exit Strategy’ published today by the First Minister provides no clarity as to the way ahead, no schedule for returning to normal. The British Government’s plan offers a conditional way ahead; it may be that we have to amend our plans as we go forward but at least we have a plan.
No one expects fixed dates set in stone, but we have to remember that the Welsh public has shown nothing but good faith in immediately accepting the lockdown. They deserve at least an understanding of what comes next – and when.
It is especially important for my constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire. Easily the most beautiful part of Wales, we thrive on agriculture and tourism . But sadly, not this year.
July’s Royal Welsh Show is cancelled, preventing 250,000 visitors from travelling to Builth Wells to celebrate the very best of Welsh farming. Some 50,000 party-goers will have to skip the Green Man festival in Crickhowell in August. And Hay on Wye’s world-famous literary festival, which generates around £25 million to the local economy each year, is forced to move online (prompting the Prime Minister to commend its ingenuity and rename it ‘Hay on WiFi’). Brecon and Radnorshire’s diary for 2020 has been almost wiped out.
But I am describing tough, smart Welsh people here; we will survive, and indeed thrive… if both our Governments support us. There is no monopoly on certainty. You can never be too sure that your Government is planning for you to succeed, and for Wales to reopen again when the time is right.
We must learn the lessons of the crisis – and ensure that public health and economic prosperity is never denied to Wales because of political gamesmanship.