Friends of the Earth Cymru have today attacked Plaid’s Deputy First Minister over his announcements on transport spending, accusing him of “greenwash”, and acting contrary to Plaid policies. Nice word, but I think FoE are rather missing the point. The Western Mail’s editorial comes closer to the real point in my view, with its suggestion that the Minister is re-announcing money which has already been announced at least once in the past.
The latter practice is one to which we have become accustomed under Labour since 1997; it has become standard practice for government ministers - and mostly, they seem to get away with it. In answer to the opening sentence of the Western Mail’s editorial (“Perhaps it was naïve to assume the One Wales administration in Cardiff Bay would be above the kind of statistical sleight-of-hand that have (sic) characterised spending announcements over recent years”), I can only say, “Yes, it was. Very”.
And that’s why FoE have somewhat missed the point (although I don’t disagree with the substance of the concerns that FoE have about the announcements from an environmental perspective) in the way that they have attacked the Deputy First Minister and his party over the announcement. It betrays the same sort of naivety; the same underlying belief that with Plaid ministers something would somehow be different. Why on earth would anyone expect that?
The government is still led by the same people who led it prior to last May; government policy has, in practice, changed little. The same civil servants are still providing the same advice; and ministers rarely go against the advice that their ‘experts’ give them. The ministers claim that it is they who make the decisions; and most of their announcements are peppered with the ‘I’ word. But few, if any, decisions are in any way at variance with the advice that the ministers are given; ‘decision-making’ can often be a rather illusory concept. It takes a very brave minister to take a decision at odds with ‘expert’ advice, and the words 'brave' and 'minister' are not words which I would often use in the same sentence.
So the government carries on doing what it was doing before, and producing the same old justifications; the opposition carries on disagreeing. One party has switched from opposition to government, that's all. Had the rainbow ever come to pass, all four parties would have ‘swapped sides'; but the government would still have continued to make largely the same decisions - and the opposition would have largely continued to argue against them.
(This isn’t just a Welsh phenomenon – look at the way the Tories in London are today displaying their outrage at post office closures - just like Labour did when the Tories were closing thousands of post offices, and using many of the same arguments).
Cynical? Yes, of course. But it's what people in general see when they look at politics, and is one of the reasons for believing that 'they're all the same'. Does it have to be this way? No, it doesn't. But change, real change, depends on having a government which has a real vision, and the determination to make things happen rather than simply a lust for power. For that, we are still waiting.
Management speak has it that ‘the perfect should never be the enemy of the good’, and that's true as far as it goes. But the ‘bad’ doesn’t become the ‘good’ just because a different bunch of people are in charge. One would have to be pretty green to swallow that one.