The Welsh Labour Government First Minister Carwyn Jones seemed momentarily discomfited by the first question he was asked by a member of the audience in the BBC’s live “Ask the Leader” public debate series last night.
A member of the audience Laura Jones weighed in with the first question “Why did you screw up the NHS in Wales? “ – a leading question which Jones (a former barrister) should have been able to bat away with ease.
But rather than an outright denial, there was a momentary pause – and a loss of eye contact – before the First Minister came back to say ” Let me give you as full an answer as I can. Our budget was cut by 10% by the Conservative Government. But despite that we spent more on Health than ever before.”
Blaming the Conservative Government for everything has been a hallmark of Labour’s administration in Cardiff Bay. Carwyn Jones went on to say that in 2011 the Welsh Labour Government spent 42% of its budget on Health and that figure was now 46%.
However the question, of course, had not been about the amount of money spent, but on Labour’s actual performance at the helm of the National Health Service in Wales. Laura Jones and other members of the audience reminded the First Minister that the North Wales Health Board – [the ridiculously named “Betsi Cadwaladr NHS Trust”] – had had to be put into special measures under Labour – and still remains in special measures today.
Vaughan Gething – who is hoping to be re-elected Labour AM for Cardiff South and Penarth – was the Welsh Government’s Deputy Health Minister when the Betsi Cadwaladr crisis erupted. The situation remains unresolved.
BBC Political editor Nick Servini said the programme was “a tough half an hour for the First Minister”. Servini said diplomatically “Was he on the ropes or not? – I don’t know – but certainly the audience landed some punches and he didn’t get off to a particularly good start.
Servini noted that Carwyn Jones had first had to deal with an incredibly direct question – ‘Why did you screw up the NHS?’.
Servini said the First Minister had answered not by denying the charge – or by giving a strong defence – but by blaming the Conservatives at Westminster . This , Servini said, reinforced the view of many of the First Minister’s critics in that he is ” too quick to blame others – rather than take responsibility at times” .