The First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, announced this afternoon that he would stand down in the Autumn. As he departs it is worth considering his record in Government – a Labour leader who, in difficult years for the Party across the UK, won two national elections; who delivered in its entirety the election on which Labour was elected in 2011, and leads a government on course to do so in the current Assembly.
The record of Welsh Labour is deeply impressive. In the face of Tory austerity at Westminster, Welsh Labour in Government has delivered free prescriptions; an NHS that delivers consistently without privatisation, or PFI, or an internal market, and in which there was no junior doctors’ strike; has delivered 41 new state schools across Wales, without academies or free schools, while presiding over a steady increase in educational standards and the maintenance of EMA; has delivered and maintained both a distinctive Welsh version of Sure Start, focussing on delivering services rather than buildings, and Flying Start to support the most vulnerable families. And all of these have been delivered in the post-2010 environment of austerity from Westminster, in contrast to the relatively comfortable early years of devolution.
This is not to say that all is rosy in Wales. It remains the poorest part of the UK, and will be the most severely damaged by Brexit; there remains hardcore unemployment and poverty in many communities. But, in the face of Westminster austerity and a Tory government in London that has treated Wales with open contempt, Carwyn Jones and Welsh Labour have continued to stand up for – and deliver for – Wales. And he has consolidated both devolution in Wales, and the position of Welsh Labour as a clear and distinct political entity; under Carwyn Jones’ leadership, nobody could ever accuse Welsh Labour of being Westminster’s branch office.
In his Welsh Labour Conference speech today, Carwyn Jones made a number of comments about the nature of politics. He warned that in an era of populism, politicians have to connect with voters and be honest with them; that they should never promise what they cannot deliver. He was robust about the scourge of anti-Semitism, expressing his clear view that this product of easy populism simply is not acceptable in the Labour Party. He reminded us that elections are not won and lost on social media, but by the hard work of arguing your case, making it credible and showing that you can be trusted to deliver in office.
The Labour leadership in London has important lessons to learn from the most electorally and politically successful currently-active Labour politician; in the meantime perhaps now is the time to reflect on Carwyn Jones’ outstanding record; and how he represents the values and politics of Labour at their absolute best.