The debate around the Welsh Government’s 20mph scheme has entered the realms of the utterly absurd. By yesterday I, like many, had reached the end of my tether. The discourse on both social and traditional media has become incredibly toxic, with no room for anything other than full support or total opposition.
All rational debate has been drowned out by those who are extremely cross and shout loudest – and those in support who gloat and troll. For anyone engaged with politics to any degree, it’s impossible to ignore. It’s aggressive and in your face, whether you want it to be or not. That petition is all over the news again. It all prompted me to think: what does it say about us as a society?
Sticking to it
Cards on the table, I’m not an ardent advocate of the Welsh Government’s execution of this. Neither am I wrapping my head in tin foil and posting conspiracy theories about the World Economic Forum and Labour’s ‘war on motorists’ (eyeroll). I wasn’t overly bothered by the 20mph scheme, sorry. What bothers me are the lies and hysteria.
I knew it was on the way, because it was supported by all the major parties in the Senedd last term (we’ve all seen the picture of Welsh Conservative Leader Andrew RT Davies supporting the ‘20’s Plenty’ campaign). It was in the Labour manifesto, and they won the last Senedd election. So it was imminent. Other than that, I didn’t give it much thought because it didn’t strike me as controversial.
It turns out I’m quite happy driving along some roads in a more chilled out manner. People seem to be sticking to it for the most part, from what I’ve seen in my area, whether they agree with the policy or not.
It’s not perfect. The Welsh Government shoved a lot of legwork onto county councils who are already cut beyond the bone in terms of staff resources. Some affected roads I’ve driven on really don’t need 20mph, but at least it’s keeping the fields and hedges safe, eh? Still, the vast majority of affected roads I’ve driven on fit the criteria required. No drama.
Trumpian tantrums and tall tales
Yet drama there’s been. And it’s shown that there’s a sizable minority who’ll believe blatant lies so long as it justifies their prejudices. The Tories know this and have shamelessly exploited it, dialled up to eleven. They supported the scheme initially. But now they’ve seen they can use it as a wedge (like ULEZ in London) they’re pretending none of that happened. It’s all very Trumpian.
They’ve peddled non-stop misinformation. They consistently refer to it, repeatedly and aggressively, as a ‘blanket’ policy, which it categorically isn’t. Conservative MSs, MPs, and even their Minister In Wales have been performatively outraged about the ‘blanket’.
A blanket approach means all roads would be 20mph. That’s the impression they’ve given and plenty fell for it, envisioning themselves driving 20mph on the M4, A5, or their local dual carriageway. I’m not joking either: there were people making these points under politicians’ posts, and not once did I see a politician correct them.
It wasn’t even a blanket approach in 30mph zones; there are exemptions. Many people won’t accept that, even though it’s undeniable. This, I suspect, is because they’ve expended so much energy on being cross that they’ll find it embarrassing to back down, so have doubled down instead.
There’s also the argument that the scheme is a waste of money. I’m not convinced some of those saying this actually mean it. Not least because they refuse to condemn, and sometimes cheer on, the stealing or vandalism of speed limit signs. You can’t complain that something is a waste of money then actively, or tacitly, support shockingly expensive signage having to be replaced, and expect to be taken seriously.
Having it both ways
The cost to the economy argument is where I sympathise. With a business that relies on driving, it will inevitably have an impact. But to anyone who believed a word David TC Davies MP said about his outrage at the cost to the Welsh economy: I’ve got some magic beans to sell you.
He and his party have scandalously denied Wales over £6bn so the UK government can spend it on new train services in England. Is Davies too dim to grasp his hypocrisy, or being disingenuous? I’ll leave that for you to decide.
The ‘democracy and freedoms’ angle also doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. As mentioned, it was in the Labour manifesto and they won the election. It cannot be called undemocratic. I’m not a supporter of Mark Drakeford and didn’t vote Labour at the last election, but he and his party won and I respect that; because it’s democratic.
The irony is, many of those shouting that the scheme is undemocratic are ardent unionists and royalists. Need I remind them that Wales is currently/once again governed by a party it mostly didn’t vote for? On top of that, PM Sunak has no democratic mandate to enact his ‘priorities’. The head of state is a King whose only qualification to rule us all is that he’s the eldest sibling of a particular family, who gets to do it for life or until he decides to quit. The mental gymnastics on display over the 20mph farago are something else.
Over 300,000 people have ‘signed’ that petition. Despite its obvious flaws (you can sign it multiple times using aliases, don’t have to be living in Wales, and don’t even need to live in the UK: just like how Tories choose their PM) it’s become the biggest petition in Senedd history.
What does this debate say about us?
It all seems to say that we’re content to be locked in a system that keeps Wales poor; that neglects, ignores, and sometimes abuses Wales (Tryweryn, Epynt, HS2, NPH, PCBs, nuclear sludge dumping, spoil tips, I could go on).
It seems to say that it’s not soaring child poverty, a barely functioning NHS, free school meals for all children, adequate social care for the elderly and those with disabilities, public transport fit for the 21st century, rivers and seas filled with sewage, the democratic deficit this union inflicts on us, erosion of our democratic rights, or threats to our human rights that get us animated and rebellious.
No, it’s being mildly inconvenienced because we’ve been told to drive slightly slower on some roads to reduce traffic-related injuries. That’s what gets the Welsh in an uproar, that’s what we’re heated about.
When future generations look at this saga, in the perspective of our current plight as a country, they’ll think we thoroughly deserved to be in the position we’re in. I long for the day that more people care about what can fundamentally change our lives for the better, can safeguard our country for future generations, and fight battles that matter.
I’m embarrassed this ‘debate’ is happening in the way it is. Perspective is needed. I’m off to read some RS Thomas, and lament about how we’re driving this country.