Nobody doubts the sincerity of the Welsh Government and its ministers in tackling the Covid-19 crisis. For anyone who has behaved responsibly and followed the rules, even when disagreeing with the logic and impact of some of them, it is especially galling to be back in this situation where infection rates are spreading and some members of the public are openly and wilfully responsible for an increase in infections. We share the First Minister’s anger, and the Prime Minister’s too.
The containment regulations unveiled this week by both governments are more congruous than at any point since May. Once again, the different governments are introducing the same sort of responses. Of course, there are some differences, such as the Welsh Government stopping alcohol sales in shops after 10pm (clearly one of the biggest factors in the resurgence of Covid), but in broad terms there is a unity and symmetry again. There is (at least currently) an emphasis on local lockdowns common across all parts of the UK, with the suggestion being made by the Chief Medical Officer for Wales that hyper-local options might also be considered, such as locking down Llanelli rather than the whole of Carmarthenshire. Interestingly, such an approach would have the backing of both the Conservatives and of Plaid Cymru in the Senedd, both of whom have been pushing for more localised solutions this week. But that is where the Conservatives have stopped and, for the first time since we remembered VE Day, there is not much of a gap between them and the Welsh Government when it comes to Covid containment policies.
In contrast, Plaid Cymru seems to be energetically pulling away from the Welsh Government stance and demanding a heavier handed response. They want a broader programme of containment across Wales accompanied by much more intensive restrictions on a local level. In making this call, they are seeking to try and capitalise on the second wave as a failure of existing policy. Having cosied up to Welsh Government for months, they are now showing their differences more energetically, knowing that the closer the Welsh Government is to the UK Government, the better it is for Plaid in being able to damn them both. The same rules apply in reverse for the Conservatives.
All of which is bound to be exemplified when the BBC begins to interview opposition politicians as part of its reaction to Welsh Government press briefings. This innovation is certainly welcome for anyone who believes in a plurality of voices, with Drakeford & Co having been given something of a free run in this respect for the last five months. It is absolutely no coincidence that the First Minister’s personal ratings have risen during this period while both Adam Price and Paul Davies have flatlined. Indeed, once more this week, Sir Keir Starmer was given a BBC broadcast slot to respond to the Prime Minister the night before. Yet again, no such offer was made to either of the leaders of the main opposition parties in the Senedd. At least they might at least have an opportunity to impact come October, which presumably explains why Plaid has started pushing this week for the Welsh Government to hold its press conferences on a daily basis. Saying all that, BBC Wales decision is at least a recognition they should be broadcasting a plurality of political opinions – and a de facto recognition that in not doing so for nearly six months they have been unbalanced in their broadcasting. After all, if there is no problem, why fix it?