A tweet from a local (Conservative) Assembly member and county councillor has set me off to read a Daily Mail hack-job on the Welsh government and its policies. It makes for bleak reading but I have yet to find any resemblance to the Wales I know.
Has the author, Robert Hardman, ventured any further than the M4 corridor in his researches? It seems doubtful.
The first section attacks the Welsh Government’s purchase of Cardiff Airport for more than the expected value, plus extra millions for investment, saying Bristol Airport attracts six times the custom and the subsidised bus service from Cardiff is going empty.
Perhaps we should not be surprised by this attack. The Mail is a Tory-supporting rag and Tories no longer believe in investment (look at the way George Osborne cut capital projects to shreds, after he became Chancellor) – except when they do (HS2 is costing increasing millions every day, Who benefits, I wonder).
If Cardiff Airport was making losses, then it seems perfectly sensible for the administration to take it over and turn it around. But that won’t happen in a day, or even in a year (nationalisation happened at the end of March 2013) and it is unrealistic of Mr Hardman to pretend that it should.
I live in Mid Wales, where the only airport is fictional (Llandegley International) and the buses are full. We could do with a few more, in fact. Perhaps Mr Hardman could exert some influence on the Westminster government to provide a little more Aggregate External Grant (AEG – the way central government funds local government and regional assemblies) funding to help with that?
Next, Mr Hardman wheels out a few hard-done-by Welsh people, starting with an NHS nurse from Pembrokeshire who has had to pay for a hip operation because of an 18-month waiting list.
It is hard to combat that kind of criticism without knowing all the details. However, my own experience of the Welsh NHS is of being seen promptly for the pre-op and being able to choose the date and time of the operation. Perhaps Mr Hardman is cherry-picking special cases in order to make his point?
Next up: A group of West Wales parents who want their children taught in English as opposed to Welsh. They live in Cardigan, where education is run by Ceredigion County Council, whose main political groups are Plaid Cymru, the Independents, and the Liberal Democrats. Why is Mr Hardman blaming Labour, then?
He wants us to believe the problems are nothing to do with funding: “Wales gets the same subsidies as other parts of the UK which are worse off but receive a better service,” writes Mr Hardman.
He’s wrong, of course.
Take the NHS. Wales has had billions clawed back from its health service by greedy Tories in Westminster, in a transparent attempt to force standards down and direct blame at innocent parties. Mr Hardman’s article buys into that deceit.
When I discussed this with a Welsh NHS surgeon less than two weeks ago, he said there was a huge difference between the service being delivered and the way it is described by politicians, who he described as “snakes”. I cannot help but sympathise with the people who provide the service; their work is what I see.
That is not to say that there are no problems in the Welsh NHS! If I suggested that, I would be guilty of exactly the same kind of blanket behaviour as Mr Hardman. Of course there are problems.
But his use of the Mid-Staffs scandal to bolster his argument gives him away. Mid Staffs did not have a hugely inflated mortality rate; the statistics were manipulated to provide the Tory Health Secretary with the headline he wanted.
Moving on again, we come to a person with what seems to be a genuine grievance about mistreatment of his mother by Welsh hospital staff. Again, I cannot comment on the individual case because I don’t have the details.
All I can do is reiterate that it is wrong to claim that a service covering an entire country of the UK must be entirely abominable, on the basis of one case.
… and I see that Mr Hardman concedes this point, admitting that most NHS professionals are dedicated and conscientious. He blames the Labour-run Assembly Government.
But I have to come back to my main problem with this article: Mr Hardman has not described the Wales in which I live. Why, then, should I believe his criticism of the Labour administration?
The article concludes with a bizarre story about Year Six school pupils being indoctrinated with anti-English propaganda using two dolls. “What, I wonder, is the Welsh word for ‘Orwellian’?” carps Mr Hardman.
It’s the same as the English word, but Mr Hardman needs to revise his definitions. If he wants ‘Orwellian’, he need look no further than the English Tory Party’s ‘bingo and beer’ budget advert.
“The people of Wales deserve better,” Mr Hardman concludes. Yes they do.
Better than his article.
Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike
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