With ballot papers about to arrive for the Welsh Labour leadership election, it’s been a time to think about what sort of Labour Party and indeed what sort of Wales I want to see in the years ahead. Carwyn Jones will be an enormously difficult act to follow; thankfully, in this election Welsh Labour members have been offered clear choices between the candidates.
Having attended hustings in Cardiff (which I blogged about earlier) and having watched the ITV Wales leaders’ debate, it seems to me that out of the three candidates, Eluned Morgan is the person best placed to build on Carwyn Jones’ legacy and take both Wales and Welsh Labour forward (although I have been impressed with Vaughan Gething, who will be getting my second preference vote). For me there are three key issues on which Eluned Morgan stands out:
First, Brexit. Eluned has set out a clear and absolutely unequivocal position on this; she supports a People’s Vote and, as First Minister, would campaign to remain in the EU. In this, not only is she representing the position of the large majority of Labour Party members; much more importantly, she recognises the enormous damage that any form of Brexit – soft or hard – would do to a Welsh economy that is far more dependent than the rest of the UK on inward investment and agriculture. To his credit, Vaughan Gething has also backed a People’s Vote, while Mark Drakeford has generally been dismissive of it, stating that he stands behind Labour’s policy and expressing his concerns that a People’s Vote risks sending a message to leave-voting Labour people – like his constituents in Ely – that they were too dim to get it right first time. But as I’ve argued before, that is disingenuous – because the proposition this time round is fundamentally different; it’s about passing judgement on political choices that have been made since the 2016 referendum.
Second, on the economy. In a piece in the Western Mail, Eluned Morgan set out how she would aim to bring Wales out of the cycle of poverty and low productivity that have beset our economy for decades – ever since the Thatcher de-indstrialisation of the 1980s. Obviously defeating Brexit – which has created huge uncertainties for potential inward investors – is part of this. But her proposals go much further than that: they are about turning Wales into a modern, digitally-enabled economy in which investment in technology produces the high-quality jobs needed to create an economy that can support the high-quality, generous public services that Welsh people want and deserve. And they look to the longer term, addressing challenges like automation. Implicit in all of this is that we cannot look to anyone other than ourselves – and perhaps least of all to Westminster – to achieve these things. Welsh prosperity can only be made here in Wales, with the key decisions made here in Wales.
The third point is about devolution, and is implicit in much of what has been said above. At the Cardiff hustings, Eluned Morgan spoke about “resetting” the constitutional relationship with Westminster. Other candidates have talked about the importance of getting a Labour Government in Westminster – and of course that matters. But we in Wales – three million out of a UK population of more than 60 million – cannot ensure, or rely on, the election of Labour in Westminster. Moreover, even with a Labour government in Westminster, there is no guarantee that Wales will be anything other than an afterthought – witness the last Labour Government’s indecision over the Barnett formula.
Moreover, we are witnessing a new and confident Plaid Cymru leadership that is looking to the example of Scotland – where Labour has been reduced to irrelevance by being effectively Westminster’s branch office rather than a vibrant party challenging Westminster. With Adam Price arguing that Wales’ new taxation powers should be used to pursue a radical tax-cutting agenda, and the growing hints of rapprochement between the Tories and Plaid, it is all the more important that we do not jeopardise Labour’s agenda for economic revival and social justice by becoming Westminster’s Cardiff surrogate.
It’s particularly important when there is no evidence that the Labour leadership in Westminster understands, or is indeed particularly interested in, the politics of Wales. In his Party Conference speech in September, Jeremy Corbyn did not mention Wales – the only nation of the UK with a Labour government delivering in office – once. When recently he came to Barry for a rally, he devoted his speech to the NHS – apparently without acknowledging that in Wales it is run by a Labour government. Recently, Labour in London published statements about nationalising the UK’s water – apparently unaware that Welsh Water is already a not-for profit mutual. It’s all very well for some candidates in this election to talk about supporting Jeremy Corbyn, but I for one would like to see some evidence that Corbyn supports and understands us – or even acknowledges our existence. The next Welsh Labour leader – and First Minister – must not be a passive supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, but must be the constant voice in his ear challenging him to stand up for Wales. I have argued before that the need for “clear red water” between Wales and London is as pressing as ever; it seems clear to me that Eluned Morgan is the candidate who can deliver that. In particular, we need, as I mentioned, to develop a distinctively Welsh blend of economic strength and social justice; and that means building on devolution, especially our new fiscal powers, and taking greater fiscal control. There is no twentieth-century socialism for Wales that relies on decisions taken in London.
A couple of further points. First of all, Eluned Morgan is the candidate in this election who has reached out beyond the Cardiff political bubble and sought the views of people all over Wales – in those areas where Labour needs to win over supporters in order to win future elections. She is the only candidate who does not represent a Cardiff constituency in this election – and at a time when faith in politicians is at an all-time low, and when they are seen as remote and out-of-touch, a politician who is prepared to reach out in that way – rather than complacently talking about Labour’s growing membership as the key to understanding what people in Wales really care about – that is important.
Second, Eluned has spoken frequently of her upbringing in the vicarage in Ely, where the people living on what was then the largest Council Estate in Europe were constantly coming in and out of the house; and of how these clever, talented people had no stake in the society around them: and of the absolute moral imperative of ending that kind of exclusion. In doing so, she places herself absolutely in the tradition of Aneurin Bevan, who believed the people of Tredegar among whom he grew up had an absolute right to the things that others took for granted, not least to determine the course of their own lives. All the candidates in this election have talked about a Welsh socialist tradition, but this seems to me to go to its heart, much more so than any talk of right or left.
Since 2011, Welsh Labour has used the slogan “Standing Up for Wales”. It has seen Labour win two national elections – the only national elections in the UK that Labour has won in the last decade – and has framed the leadership of Carwyn Jones, whose nine years in office have seen devolution cemented, social justice progressed, and inward investment in jobs in Wales to boost our economy. He has argued Wales’ case with vigour and intellectual force. But as Carwyn Jones steps down, we need a First Minister who can build on his achievements, while offering a credible, radical and popular programme for the future; who looks forward, not back.
Above all, we need a Welsh Labour leader and First Minister who will stand up for Wales. And I believe that Eluned Morgan is the best candidate for the job.