Over the last few weeks, as Wales has become the only part of the UK where COVID-19 cases continue to rise, there seems to have been a conscious decision made by the Welsh Government to attempt to shift the blame away from themselves and onto the general public.
On Tuesday, Vaughan Gething appeared on various radio stations and claimed that Wales’ short firebreak (which had been criticised by doctors and other health professionals for being too short) had actually worked. What had happened instead, according to Gething, was that we the Welsh people had failed to change our behaviours, that we were spending too much time together and socialising too much.
On Times Radio he said “the Government can set rules, it can give leadership and provide clear messages… as we have been clear throughout this, but ultimately people need to make their own choices, and if we make the wrong sort of choices and carry on seeing people in our homes and in other settings, I’m afraid that will have a very direct consequence”. On BBC Radio 4 he said: “Unfortunately since the firebreak ended, despite all the messaging and encouragement for more people to do the right thing we haven’t seen the significant and sustained change in our pattern of behaviour…”
The message was clear: the Welsh Government had done their job, but the citizens of Wales had just not listened. It is all our fault, not theirs.
This shift in narrative started as second wave outbreaks began to cluster in south Wales. At the end of October, in an interview with WalesOnline, First Minister Mark Drakeford stated that the reason cases in Wales were so high was because we didn’t have a ‘culture’ of obeying the government. The government had done the right thing, but we were just apparently incapable of listening. That’s our ‘culture’, apparently. Towards the end of November, the 5G truther Tonia Antoniazzi alleged on Twitter that COVID-19 was spreading in schools in Wales because irresponsible parents were allowing their kids to have sleepovers, rather than the more obvious reason that they were spending 8 hours a day inside in schools.
Similarly, it was alleged that social distancing in the valleys ‘went against people’s DNA‘ – working class people are apparently incapable of not going over each other’s house for drinks, of not having parties. Nothing to do with the fact that working class areas are disproportionately at risk of COVID-19 because of overcrowded living conditions making it impossible to self-isolate; that working class people overwhelmingly work in jobs like care and retail where you can’t work from home; that many people have pre-existing health conditions, and so on. No: it was down to irresponsibility, a lack of restraint.
Undod says that this narrative is bogus and must be resisted at all costs.
Working class people have made huge sacrifices throughout this pandemic. We have continued to work in risky conditions in hospitals, shops, care homes and schools as others have stayed home. Working class people have kept the country going, yet now the working class is being attacked and smeared, being made the scapegoat for the second wave of COVID-19.
The fact is that the responsibility for the pandemic lies with the Welsh Government and their masters in Westminster. Cases are spiking because of systemic failures in how our neoliberal society is ordered, not because a tiny minority of people have had house parties. As Undod’s coverage and campaigning has highlighted, their handling of the crisis has been catastrophic and unforgivable, from the first wave right through to the second wave. The COVID crisis has revealed a government that is incompetent, that is blinded by unionism, that is utterly subordinate to capitalist interests like landlordism.
Let’s reflect for a moment:
- Who ignored warnings about Wales’ lack of preparedness for a pandemic, as outlined in Operation Cygnus in 2016?
- Who allowed Wales to have the lowest critical hospital bed capacity in Europe?
- Who refused to lockdown and suspend big events for weeks after being warned to?
- Who failed to supply healthcare workers with adequate PPE and then implied they were overreacting?
- Who privatised care homes in Wales and allowed the virus to be passed into them on an industrial scale, being referred to the EHRC for breaching the human rights of the elderly?
- Who messed up the shielding letters to vulnerable people?
- Who allowed England to steal 5000 tests?
- Who followed the Tories in running a privatised testing and logistics system?
- Who refused the offers of help from Welsh university labs to increase testing capacity?
- Who gave public money and NHS data to Amazon to organise testing which was later abandoned?
- Who consistently said we shouldn’t wear masks?
Was all this the fault of the ordinary citizen of Wales? Of course not. It is the fault and the responsibility of the Welsh Government and only them.
On top of the above failings (and there are countless more examples) the public health messaging by the Welsh Government has been appalling right throughout the pandemic – they have been inconsistent and vague, telling us it is pointless to wear masks, then mandating them a few weeks after; encouraging people to eat out to help out, then saying that pubs and restaurants are a source of infection. Above all, they strongly implied that after the two-week firebreak, people could return to normal! If people have increased social mixing in the last few weeks, it is precisely because they were essentially told that they could do it by the Welsh Government. As with local outbreaks in England, recent spikes are attributable to poor communication: instead of sticking to simple, reliable messaging, the Welsh Government has instead bombarded people with confusing, contradictory and ever-changing rules.
The Welsh government, just like the Tory government in Westminster that they look up to, is attempting to detract from their huge failures by adopting this divide and rule tactic, by cynically blaming the people who have sacrificed the most during this pandemic.
Unity is Strength – Together Stronger
Throughout the pandemic, in response to the failures of government, working class people across Wales and the rest of the UK have engaged in spontaneous expressions of solidarity and mutual aid, looking out for one another in our communities and continuing to go out to work in care homes, the NHS and other frontline settings because we care about each other. We have learned that we are the ones who keep society going.
This empowerment scares the Welsh Labour government, whose fragile hegemony rests on people staying passive and not voting. They know that Welsh people have become politicised during the pandemic, have in many cases looked at our government and First Minister in Cardiff for the first time, and have often not liked what they have seen. Realising their stranglehold over Wales may be coming to an end, Welsh Labour are now desperately attempting to divert the blame for their failures, but all they have achieved with this latest smear campaign is to make it crystal clear how much they resent the ordinary people of Wales.
They are scared of organised resistance, which is why they are trying to turn us against one another, to turn neighbour against neighbour, north Wales against south Wales, to undermine the solidarity that has been built during this dark year. We cannot allow this narrative to take hold, and it is the responsibility of all socialists in Wales to resist it.