Will a new Welsh Government Cabinet make any difference to the UK?

By Rob Ford

In the thrills of twitter conversations on a normal Thursday afternoon, Welsh political anoraks sat, watched and refreshed as the Welsh Government drip fed new Cabinet members, one by one to its blissful followers.  This innovative approach to reshuffled executive governance updates is a debate by itself on the impact of new media on democracy, with many commentators alluding to the growth, by the second, in the number of twitter followers the @welshgovernment account received.  But what does this reshuffle mean for Wales, or more widely, what does it mean for the UK?

Whilst the ‘main man’ Carwyn Jones remains fairly firm in position, calls of changing deckchairs on a sinking ship were made from opposition parties, and possible rightly so.  Whilst the Welsh Government welcomed a new Health Minister in former Special Advisor Mark Drakeford, many of the veteran operators adjusted to a new office and new business card, but the same Government building.

With ravenous objections to health reforms, rising youth unemployment and drastic falls in exports, Welsh public needs a ‘pick me up’ to boost confidence.  Whether the long reigning Welsh Labour Government (albeit in coalition for some time) is to blame, needs some consideration, especially given the wider context of the block grant that is passed down by the UK Government, and unfairly so the argument goes.  Having to spend pennies instead of pounds will be the call from Welsh Labour, whilst others outside of Wales may argue that you should only have had pennies in the first instance.  The wider questions of what this means for the future of the UK is perhaps an even more interesting one.

The lack of a ‘European Minister’ may not seem unusual to non-Welsh politicos, but delve a little deeper and the decision seems odd given the rhetoric coming from the Welsh Government.  When David Cameron announced that a referendum would follow the general election, the outcries in Wales were heard from the tops of Snowdonia to the depths of the Valleys.  While the UK as a whole is a creditor the EU, Wales is a receiver of funds, and the farming industry in Wales would be non-existence if it were not for the Common Agricultural Policy.  The Leader of the Welsh Government has said, almost on weekly basis, that Wales’ future must be in the EU, we are all Europeans after all, he says.  More recently, the First Minister, who represents Bridgend, has tried, and failed somewhat, to emulate the great Tam Dalyell by dubbing his concern the ‘West Bridgend’ question, where the views of the devolved nations, namely Wales in this case, are not considered.  Whilst Mr Cameron may be dancing around the room at a reduced EU budget, Mr Jones at the other of the M4 danced to nothing, realising his pocket money had been reduced.  Given that the First Minister has been inadvertently tasked Wales with presenting a united front against an in/out referendum, the lack of a Welsh Minister for Europe does seem counter to the argument.  Surely he has not come round to Tory way of thinking?

And for those who get their kicks from constitutional settlements, the outcomes and influence of the new Ministers in relation to the Silk Commission on the UK will be quite emphatic. Those who are not familiar with the Silk Commission, read Calman Commission, those note familiar with the Calman Commssion, read ‘what devolution powers are and what they should be’.  Whilst it is accepted that the devolution settlement in regards to Wales is messy and complex, the potential outcomes of Silk would dramatically change the makeup of the UK.   The potential for tax varying powers, business rates and energy consenting powers would give Wales a fairly firm democratic platform to operate from.  The next step would be independence, and no-one other than zealous nationalists would purport that at present.  Cabinet member grandee Jane Hutt,  who maintains her Finance Minister brief (the closest thing we have to a ‘Treasury’), has seen her brief ‘beefed up’ with the foundations for a more expansive Treasury, if only in fledgling form.  And so should we expect the power to tax?  Can Ms Hutt make the argument to the UK Government for more powers?  Well she has enough experience to know how, when and what to ask for.  With more and more powers potentially being devolved, what happens to England, Scotland and Northern Ireland? Is the Westminster Government the de facto Government of England?  Does the growing divergence from the central powers benefit the SNP’s nationalist 2014 referendum?

Ultimately, whilst the new Cabinet makes waves in Wales, affecting everyday lives in Wales and it also has the potential to significantly change the UK; does anyone outside of Wales take note?  I await the bombardment of comments to answer that question!