Labour’s rule over Wales has been so dismal it makes even the SNP look good

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The devolved Welsh government was put on this earth, it sometimes seems, to make the Scottish government look competent. Vaughan Gething will begin his stint as First Minister under some very large clouds.

Healthcare, which was Gething’s former brief? The NHS in Wales has done so poorly that English hospitals in 2022/23 found themselves treating 40,000 refugees from across Offa’s Dyke. Waiting lists are longer – with patients waiting an average of 24 weeks for hospital treatment in 2022, compared with 13 in England.

As for Covid, which occurred on Gething’s watch, Wales continued to discharge hospital patients into care homes without testing them for two weeks after Matt Hancock finally got his act together.

Education, where Scotland recently made headlines because the performance of pupils in the international PISA tests had plummeted after the SNP revamped the curriculum? The one consolation for the SNP was that Welsh pupils performed even worse. In 2022, Welsh pupils were near bottom-of-the-class among OECD countries in mathematics and reading – both with scores of 466. Pupils in England scored 492 in maths and 496 in reading.

The economy – which is Gething’s most recent brief? Wales has the weakest economy in Britain. Council tax has risen faster in Wales, too: up by 32.4 per cent in Wales since 2018 compared with 29.8 per cent in England. Mercifully for Welsh taxpayers, the Welsh government doesn’t have the same powers to vary income tax that the Scottish government has – otherwise, they would no doubt be paying more from their pay packets, too.  

Crime? Yes, you’ve guessed it. Recorded offences have increased faster in Wales than in England, up nearly 50 per cent since 2016. And so it goes on.

Wales’ miserable performance relative to England – and also Scotland – matters because we will soon be in an election campaign in which Sir Keir Starmer is determined to make competence a central issue. He will presumably be counting on voters not taking too much notice of the living laboratory that is Wales, because it offers very little to suggest that Labour is capable of making a better fist of things than either the Conservatives in England or the SNP in Scotland. He will be hoping that the Scots, in particular, won’t have heard of what has been going on in Wales, given that Starmer may very well need a good number of Scottish seats to be sure of an overall majority.

Trouble is, there is little in Gething’s record to suggest that things will get any better in Wales after he takes charge, and a good deal to suggest that things could get worse.

The Covid Inquiry’s Welsh leg couldn’t have come at a more unfortunate time for him. True, you can attack Boris Johnson’s government for being a bit slow off the ball, but Gething has admitted he hadn’t even read the report produced for Exercise Cygnus – carried out in 2016 to prepare Britain for a future pandemic. The Welsh cabinet didn’t discuss Covid until 25 February 2020, a month after the country’s Chief Medical Officer warned that the disease posed a serious risk. So much for the narrative which Gething and Mark Drakeford tried to promote that they were somehow the wise, sensible ones dragged down by a bumbling Boris Johnson in London.

And then there were the chips. In May 2020, Gething and his family were photographed eating bags of chips on a picnic bench on Cardiff waterfront – all very nice except that, at the time, Gething’s own government had banned people from sitting on a park bench for a prolonged period. It may have been a stupid, petty rule, but as we found out with Partygate, the public takes a pretty dim view of ministers who break rules which they have imposed on others.

Labour will be advertising its wares in this year’s general election by claiming that it is the new broom to sweep up the mess left behind by the Tories. Yet in one-party Wales – which has been governed by the party for over a quarter of a century — Labour is an extremely old broom, and one whose few remaining bristles are incapable of making much of an impact on its own detritus. 

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