IT’S NOT easy being a Welsh Government Minister.
There are so many new words to learn when you get into office and so many old ones to forget.
For example, take the word ‘cut’. It’s a very simple three letter word. But once you become a Welsh Government Minister, you are not allowed to use it.
Instead, at least as far as Welsh Government policies go, the word ‘cut’ has to be replaced with the far more unwieldy ‘transformation’ or the two-word mouthful ‘transformational change’.
ANGRY ANGELA ATTACKS
As you will see elsewhere in this newspaper, Hywel Dda UHB – to nobody’s surprise – has been caught on the hop by people discovering that when it talks about ‘transforming clinical services’ it means ‘cuts and closures’. You could argue that cuts are in themselves transformational, at least in the same way that being guillotined was transformational for the French aristocracy.
On Wednesday (Jan 24), Vaughan Gething was faced with a barrage of topical questions, which he confronted with the enthusiasm and delight of Louis XVI on his final journey to Place de la Révolution.
You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of Angela Burns, the Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire AM who speaks for her party on Health in the Senedd.
Crikey Moses! After a brief initial question, she tore into the Health Board, the Welsh Government, the First Minister, Labour backbenchers, Mr Gething and almost managed to get to Uncle Tom Cobley and all in a positively breathless display of genuine outrage.
Picking up a copy of the Parliamentary Review of Welsh Health Services, unanimously backed by Senedd members the previous week, she handled it between two fingers as though it was a particularly badly soiled nappy.
It was quite bad enough, Mrs Burns said, for the First Minister and his backbenchers to behave in a supercilious and arrogant fashion towards members raising their constituents’ concerns, it was quite another to obtain cross party agreement on the strategic direction of Welsh health services and then ignore the very principles that underpin it.
Mr Gething got to his feet and momentarily looked shell-shocked. Unlike the First Minister, there were almost no Labour members present to prop him up, bray, and snipe at the opposition with sarcastic remarks. However, the Cabinet Secretary is nothing if not smooth and polished. More than capable of bandying around banal generalities, Mr Gething soon adjusted himself into his usual smooth delivery of assurances about ‘meaningful consultations’.
Demonstrating the same sort of faulty memory that could yet come to unglue his leader, Vaughan Gething continued by saying that his boss had not been in any way supercilious.
Mr Jones’ stock in trade is supercilious.
Perhaps Mr Gething had not been paying attention; because having watched the previous day’s First Minister’s Questions and the business statement which preceded Mrs Burns’ questions, you would have to say that Mrs Burns had it pretty much nailed on.
ASK ME NO QUESTIONS
It didn’t get much better for Mr Gething, despite his stream of soothing words and assurances of good intentions. There used to be a saying that you couldn’t knit fog. Well, you certainly couldn’t weave whole fabric out of Mr Gething’s non-answers.
Mr Gething was very clear that he couldn’t answer direct questions because of protocol and the risk that he might have to make final decisions on a consultation which had not yet started. Which was very odd, because the previous day Carwyn Jones had decided he wouldn’t comment because the consultation was ‘open’. Open or closed, Mr Gething was prepared to fall back on the ‘all changes are difficult’ line. As an alternative tack, he attempted a switch to ‘difficult choices have to be made’.
So often did he repeat these lines, or variations on them, that it appeared as though poor Mr Gething had got stuck in one of those time loops beloved of science fiction programmes that need to create a cheap episode to make up for blowing the make-up budget on Slurb the Invincible or some such in a preceding one.
WHERE’S HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT?
Paul Davies had a go after Mrs Burns. Mr Davies doesn’t really do splenetic outrage, but he was clearly peeved – testy even. In a calm and measured way, he berated the Health Board for even proposing, never mind contemplating the closure of Withybush Hospital.
In response, Mr Gething tried a different tactic. While he appreciated that local sentiment was strong, it would be the same across Wales as tough decisions – hard choices – had to be made everywhere across the nation. This was, Mr Gething suggested, a national issue.
Mr Gething’s words would have had more weight on that score had he been accompanied by members of the Welsh Assembly from his own party. Apart from Mark Drakeford seated to his right, Mr Gething appeared terribly alone. The rest of the chamber was devoid of a Labour presence, demonstrating just how seriously west Wales’ concerns were being taken by all those south Wales AMs upon which the party depends for its majority.
Simon Thomas, incongruously seated next to Neil Hamilton, was next to tackle Mr Gething’s dead bat defence.
Pointing out the way in which the First Minister had sought to use the Parliamentary Review in an effort to deflect either criticism or inquiry, Mr Thomas told the Cabinet Secretary that the review was published too late to influence any proposals advanced by Hywel Dda.
After ungallantly pointing out that Labour’s candidate in the 2015 General Election, Paul Miller, had stood on a platform of restoring the paediatric services to Withybush – which had been removed temporarily without consultation – and had still not returned, he suggested this was the opportunity to test the strength of the Parliamentary Review’s framework.
NO STOPPING A CONSULTATION
Mr Gething lost his way a little as he said it wouldn’t be right for him ‘to attempt to instruct’ the health board to stop its consultation now. That would be the consultation that has not started, as the Cabinet Secretary had previously made clear just minutes before.
Difficult conversations needed to be had, tough choices had to be made, and the public would be properly engaged in the process of helping to make those tough choices after taking part in those difficult conversations.
You could see the cogs clicking away as Mr Gething spun new golden platitudes out of old strawmen.
Joyce Watson, whose support for retaining services in the past was less than fulsome, said it was very important that the public was told Withybush was not closing immediately. As this had never been suggested anywhere, it was hard to see what point Joyce Watson was trying to make; but having been thrown a life preserver, Mr Gething clung to it. He agreed that there was no plan to close Withybush in the immediate future. A relief for those attending outpatients next week to have their bunions filed.
Mr Gething then proceeded to point out that other hospitals were also mentioned in the options that had been leaked and that there could be those hard conversations and tough choices to be made in respect of them. But never mind, there would be a genuine and meaningful consultation and, if not, there would be a meaningful and genuine one. That’s what he expected the Board to do. Although, of course, he couldn’t tell them that was what was needed, because he might end up having to make one of those difficult choices after hard and tough conversations.
Neil Hamilton was next. Reaching for his pantomime pitchfork, he rather nastily skewered the Cabinet Secretary on its tines.
Remarking on Mr Gething’s status as the government’s fire blanket for successive health board failings everywhere, he posed the rather more difficult question of whether the threat to Withybush could be boiled down to death by a thousand cuts?
Tellingly, he suggested: “It must be regarded as a ridiculous proposal to close Withybush—even in contemplation in the medium term, let alone the short term. The health board should, when it produces the list of options for people to discuss, avoid causing unnecessary alarm and consternation by producing extreme proposals that are not going to be followed through.”
He then rather neatly suggested the real problem was a complete lack of accountability in the health service. Community Health Councils, Health Boards, were not elected bodies and the truth was that everything ended up on the Health Secretary’s desk. ‘People on the ground feel they have no voice at all,” Mr Hamilton said.
Vaughan Gething could see the home stretch coming.
There would be a meaningful conversation about tough choices in a difficult consultation, in which the views of clinicians would be heard as well as those of the public. It would be rather mean to point out that there is a difference between hearing and listening.
Particularly as those conversations will be tough, difficult, hard, meaningful, and genuine.
Then Mr Gething concluded on a point that he must now be grateful he did not open with.
Concluding he volunteered, he didn’t want to be in the position in the future where the Government will be asked: ‘Why didn’t you do something about a part of the service that really has gone wrong?’
That remark rather fortunately leaves the question unasked as to what all the previous tough choices after hard conversations and meaningful consultations over the last twelve years were actually for.
That would be a difficult – if not unanswerable – question.
First Minister calls for a second EU referendum
THE FIRST MINISTER of Wales, Mark Drakeford, has called for a second EU referendum in response to the imminent change in Conservative leadership.
After the results of the European Parliamentary Elections were announced, Mr Drakeford issued a statement, saying: “I warmly congratulate Jackie Jones on her election as a member of the European Parliament. Jackie, along with Matthew [Dorrance], Mary [Wimbury] and Mark [Whitcutt] served our party as candidates in what has been the most challenging of circumstances.
“Ever since the referendum in 2016, the Welsh Government has respected the result by arguing for a form of Brexit which would protect Welsh jobs and our economy. Labour colleagues in Westminster have done the same, most recently in negotiations with the UK Government.
“The election of a new Conservative leader changes all of that. It eliminates the chances of any agreed form of Brexit and it hugely increases the very real danger of a catastrophic no-deal exit from the EU. We cannot and will not stand by while that takes place.
“Faced with the damage of a hardline Tory Brexit, Welsh Labour believes that the final decision must be made by the public in a referendum. And, for the avoidance of any doubt, a Welsh Labour Government would campaign, in such a vote, for Wales to remain in the EU.
“We will work with any others who seek the same outcome.”
Last Thursday (May 24), Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she will quit as leader of the Conservatives on June 7, with it thought that a new leader could be in place by the end of July.
Many believe the party will elect a right wing leader who would be willing to propose a no deal Brexit, although there has been a majority against that option when Parliament voted on it before. Brexit policy was also key to the European Parliamentary Elections, where the Labour Party failed to attract votes, with its lead candidate Jackie Jones narrowly taking the final MEP seat in Wales.
The party claimed just 15.3% of the vote in Wales and 14.1% UK wide, with many pointing at the party’s indecision regarding its stance over Brexit as the reason for the loss of voters.
Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has been criticised by many in his party over his reluctance to openly support another referendum, as he attempted to appease both remain and leave voters with his Brexit policy. Mr Drakeford had been similarly reluctant to definitively back another referendum, but with this statement has gained the support of many in the party who wish for a second vote.
The European election results were also poor for the Conservatives, getting just 6.5% of the vote in Wales, and 9.09% across the UK. Governments often perform poorly in European elections, as the public express their disappointment with the ruling party, but this was the Conservatives’ worst ever result in a nationwide election by some way.
The party did not manage to come first in a single council area. The Brexit Party gained 32.5% of the vote in Wales, with Nathan Gill and James Wells claiming two of the country’s four MEP seats for Nigel Farage’s party. Plaid Cymru won 19.6% of the vote, with Jill Evans retaining her seat as Plaid beat Labour for the first time in a Wales-wide vote.
Andrew RT Davies, AM for South Wales Central and former leader of the Welsh Conservative Party, said: “The European Elections proved extremely difficult for the two major parties, but a second referendum is certainly not the answer. Labour promised to respect the Brexit vote, but rerunning the referendum would completely tear up this pledge.
“Regrettably, the First Minister has buckled at the first sign of discontent from his Labour colleagues who have been in denial ever since the people of Wales voted to leave the European Union back in 2016. That’s not leadership.
“People in Wales voted to leave and that should be respected and now delivered – anything else will have severe consequences for democracy as we know it in this country.”
In the 2016 referendum, Wales saw a turnout of 71.7% of its eligible voters, with 52.53% voting to leave and 47.47% voting to remain.
Mixed reactions in Wales to the dramatic European Election Results
THE BREXIT PARTY has dominated in Wales, winning 32.5% of the vote, two of the nation’s four MEPs and coming top in 19 of 22 council areas.
Nigel Farage’s party won an unprecedented triumph for a six-week-old political party.
The Brexit Party has thumped the traditional two parties in Wales who both have suffered a huge collapse in their vote.
Nathan Gill (Pictured) looked triumphant at the count in Haverfordwest posing for the press with a Winston Churchill V for victory, and demanding that his party was not a flash in the pan, but here to stay until Brexit was delivered.
Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Paul Davies AM, said: “These results are extremely disappointing for our hard-working candidates and the Party must now reflect long and hard on them.
“Here in Wales, Welsh Conservatives will continue their hard work in the National Assembly holding the Welsh Government to account and will welcome a healthy campaign in the run-up to the next Assembly elections in 2021.”
Labour’s Vaughan Gething AM said: “The results in Wales show that in Welsh Labour we have some questions to ask ourselves. Pro-referendum and remain parties gained more votes than leave parties.
“The room for a middle of the road approach has disappeared & attempting more of the same will not serve us or Wales well.”
Mark Drakeford congratulated Jackie Jones on retaining the party’s seat.
He warned that the election of a new Conservative leader would increase the chances of a “catastrophic no-deal exit from the EU”.
“Faced with the damage of a hard-line, Tory Brexit, Welsh Labour believes that the final decision must be made by the public in a referendum.
“And, for the avoidance of any doubt, a Welsh Labour government would campaign, in such a vote, for Wales to remain in the EU,” he said on social media.
Ex-Welsh Government minister Alun Davies blamed the huge drop Labour in Labour support on both Mr Drakeford and the party’s UK leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
“This is the reality we face. Poor leadership from London and no leadership from Wales,” he said
The result in Wales was a significant change on 2014 when Labour won 28.15% of the vote and Ukip 27.55%. Then, the Tories were third with 17.43% and Plaid Cymru came fourth with 15.26%.
Turnout across Wales this year was up on 2014 at 37.29%, compared to 32% five years ago.
Wales’s MEPs are now Nathan Lee Gill (The Brexit Party), James Wells (The Brexit Party), Jill Evans (Plaid Cymru – Party of Wales) and Jacqueline Jones (We;sh Labour).
Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds has praised the party’s success in the European elections, claiming they’re a clear example of the Welsh Liberal Democrat fightback.
Welsh Liberal Democrats won 13.6% of the vote, enough to secure 4thplace, but not enough to win a seat. The Liberal Democrats are on course to finish 2nd across the UK.
The Brexit Party were the largest party in Wales, their 32.5% of the vote was enough to win the 1st and 3rd seats, whilst Plaid Cymru won the 2ndseat with 19.6% of the vote and Labour the 4th seat with 15.3% of the vote.
Incredibly, the Conservatives finished 5th meaning Labour and the Conservatives won only 21.8% of the vote between them. The Green Party finished 6th.
Jane Dodds said told The Herald: “I’m proud of the entire Welsh Liberal Democrat team that allowed us to secure this successful result. We have secured our best ever European election result and our best result in Wales since 2010. To finish 4th and come close to electing Wales’ first ever Welsh Liberal Democrat MEP is a real achievement.
“We achieved this result because of our longstanding, unambiguous and passionate campaign to stop Brexit. Poll after poll has repeatedly shown that the Welsh people want to be given the final say and the opportunity to choose an Exit from Brexit. We stood up for them and we have been rewarded.
“It is deeply disappointing the Brexit Party have won two seats in Wales, particularly since their share of the vote was less than the combined vote share of us, Plaid Cymru and the Greens – the three pro-remain parties. We will continue to oppose the Brexit Party and all they stand for with all our might.
“Labour and the Conservatives must take a long, hard look at these disastrous results. They’re supposed to be the two leading parties. Yet in Wales and across the UK they’ve seen their share of the vote plummet. They have been punished for their incompetence and their attempts to deliver Brexit.
“This result shows the Welsh Liberal Democrat fightback is in full effect. Voters are listening to us again, supporting us again and believing in us again. These results show we’re on course to return a strong and effective Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Group in 2021.”
Political organisation Wales For Europe suggested that the results show a swing towards remain.
A spokesman told The Herald: “On the balance of votes across all parties, pro-Europeans have won.
“The Brexit parties have lost.
“The result is yet more evidence that over the past three years Wales has changed its mind on Brexit, as has the UK as a whole.
“It confirms polling evidence that if there were a referendum tomorrow, Wales would now vote Remain. The case for a new referendum remains strong.
“But there is no room for complacency, especially in a situation where the Tory leadership election is likely to increase sharply the risks to the country, not least to Wales.
“We still have a real fight on our hands against a nasty populism that seems to be endemic across the Western world.
Despite the passionate effort of many activists, the pro-EU side did not cover itself in glory in this campaign. In any new referendum – which must remain the key goal – victory will only be won by an effective, unified cross-party campaign.
“The result also sends a clear message to Labour’s UK leadership: it now has every reason urgently to adopt a more robust line and to proclaim it clearly and loudly. The leadership in Wales has even more reason to use its influence to ensure there is no delay.”
THE RESULTS –
Vote totals and share
Brexit Party – 271,404 – 32.5%
Plaid Cymru – 163,928 – 19.6%
Labour – 127,833 – 15.3%
Lib Dems – 113,885 – 13.6%
Conservatives – 54,587 – 6.5%
Green – 52,660 – 6.3%
UKIP – 27,566 – 3.3%
Change UK – 24,332 – 2.9%
• Brexit Party: 38.1%
• Plaid Cymru: 15.6%
• Lib Dems: 12.2%
• Labour: 11.2%
• Conservative: 10.0%
• Green: 7.0%
• Brexit Party: 32.8%
• Plaid: 31.1%
• Labour: 12.5%
• Lib Dems: 7.8%
• Green Party: 4.9%
• Conservative Party: 4.9%
• Ukip: 3.2%
• Change UK: 2.7%
• Plaid Cymru: 37.2%
• Brexit Party: 32.9%
• Lib Dems: 16.3%
• Green Party: 6.8%
• Labour: 5.1%
• Conservatives: 3.7%
• Ukip: 2.4%
• Change UK: 1.4%
Lib Dems slam ‘botched’ scheme
THE WELSH Liberal Democrats have slammed the Conservative Government for their “hapless treatment” of EU citizens after the Home Office released guidance on the new EU Settlement Scheme.
The Home Office has confirmed that for the duration of the trial period, until 30 March, EU citizens applying to stay in the UK must either use an Android phone or travel to one of 13 ‘document scanning’ centres instead.
For Holyhead, the closest ‘document scanning’ centre is Trafford.
According to an analysis by the Welsh Liberal Democrats, EU citizens travelling from Holyhead would face costs of £55 on the train for at least a six and a half hour round trip. The drive would be a 224-mile round trip costing around £56 in fuel.
The only document scanning centre in Wales is in Caerphilly. Travelling from Pembroke to Caerphilly and returning the same day by rail would cost £32.10 (the cheapest available fare at the time of enquiry), the cheapest off-peak fare from Aberystwyth would be £77.10 return. By car at an average of 40mpg, the cost of travel would be at least £27 to and from Pembroke, while from Aberystwyth the cost would be at least £25. Both car journeys represent round trips of over 180 miles.
Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds said: “Too many people in Wales are deeply anxious about their right to stay. Many of them fill vital roles in the health service, our schools and the tourism sector. They want to register as soon as possible, but Theresa May’s hapless treatment of EU citizens could result in a new Windrush scandal.
“For anyone who doesn’t have an android phone, this botched scheme means they will have to travel. For people in Holyhead, that means facing a 224-mile round trip and paying over £50 for the privilege. This postcode lottery is simply unacceptable.”
Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Ed Davey MP said: “Following significant pressure, the Prime Minister said there will be no financial barrier for any EU nationals who wish to stay. How long did that commitment last?
“It is Conservative Ministers who have made a mess of Brexit. They should either pay the cost for EU citizens or change the application system and ensure EU citizens are made to feel welcome in the UK.
“Ultimately, the best way to avoid all of this mess is by giving the people the option to remain in the EU with a final say on Brexit.”
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