Stand and Deliver
Fifty years ago, Harold Macmillan was asked by a journalist what he considered was most likely to move his government off course and cause it problems. The great Edwardian responded, “Events, dear boy, events.” This response hits at a fundamental truth of politics and is matched only by Harold Wilson, Macmillan’s contemporary, whose most famous aphorism is: “A week is a long time in politics.” Things can and do change overnight.
In coming months expect much sudden change to occur. Economic fortunes still remain mixed and major announcements of new jobs or closures still have a very potent capacity, as does local reaction to proposed health service changes. The pressure Lesley Griffiths was placed under at the end of last term due to the interpretation of a report as a political pretext is a precursor of what is to come. Similarly, the agility and cunning of Leighton Andrews in exploiting problems in English education shows how similar events can also be seized upon as an opportunity by Welsh ministers to attack their English counterparts. Such an approach will also continue for as long as the UK Government is plagued by bad luck and internal tension.
There is a counterpoint to this. Politics is often very granular, broken down by not just events and surprising new challenges but also by the business of governing. For government must always continue. Even during election periods the civil service continues to make sure things continue to happen. (“Or continue not to happen,” quipped Jim Hacker). Even within a single department, there are always a range of competing demands and priorities, some of which are deeply unglamorous, but that does not mean they should not be done. The business of legislation that the Assembly now finds itself engaged in is a case in point. Bills of the size of the ones on Social Services this year will keep plenty of people occupied in a level of detail we have not really experienced before.
The routine tedium of administration is often the see to the saw of the big events. Yet set somewhere between the bureaucracy of the planned and the tales of the unexpected lies the need for leadership and direction. That is what moves a government from the mediocre to the inspirational and what makes leaders stand out.
Carwyn Jones has previously placed delivery at the very core of his government, establishing a Delivery Unit and stressing the central value of implementation in the policy process, something which has often been lacking in the application of Welsh Government over the past ten years. He needs to drive this forward too and not be deflected by events or dragged into minutiae. The coming year needs to be characterized by delivery on delivery.
Daran Hill is Managing Director of Positif Politics
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