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The state that we are in: Is that it?

03 Feb 2024 11 minute read
Wales from the International Space Station

Brian Roper

A month has passed since my three-part commentary concerning the failure of Wales appeared here and it is a month from now that 18,00 members of Welsh Labour will elect our new First Minister, so it is time to look both forward and back.

Looking back and reviewing the responses to these articles I am pleased to see that they have found resonance, it would appear that people do care about these issues even if they do not share my views.

For my part I now believe that I underestimated the challenges facing Wales.


The litany of failures continues to grow as S4c’s leadership serpentine leadership crisis uncoils, the National Museum is on storm alert, Yes Cymru’s umbrella is leaking and councils across Wales are currently more than £5 billion in debt according to a recent report from the Public Accounts Committee.

In the political sphere the ancien regime of a one-party state is flaccid as a new leader emerges and its failure with its biggest budget heading, health, becomes evident to all as cancer care fails.

Photo Swansea Photographer is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Waiting lists

The recent Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce (LSCT) report shows that “out of 33 countries of comparable wealth and income levels, Wales ranks as low as 32nd for five-year survival for stomach cancer and 31st for pancreatic cancer and lung cancers. This rises to 21st for liver and oesophageal cancers and 12th for brain cancer” while waiting lists grow and health service workers strike.

The minister’s only response to this and the other crises in NHS, seen by many as Wales’ gift to the world, is to plead for more cruel gruel from the Whitehall Bumble.

I previously wrote that the cavalry were arriving in the form of a new Labour leader.

I can now see that I was wrong.

The two riders have yet to saddle up let alone leave the corral.

Bar a last minute spurt, the low key, one might say largely invisible, campaigns of both candidates will fizzle out with barely a political shot having been fired.

This is perhaps unsurprising since they have both, thus far, shared a platform and a manifesto without dissent. It would take a better analyst than me to discern the nuanced difference between a Welsh Labour and a British Labour politician, a career politician and one with a previous life.

Left: Vaughan Gething – Right: Jeremy Miles


It is to be expected that opposition parties will express views.

Plaid Cymru noted that “Education Minister Jeremy Miles has pledged to increase spending on education despite having endorsed a Welsh Government budget which makes cuts in that area, former Health Minister Vaughan Gething has made promises concerning health in Wales despite having had five years in his previous post to make such changes.”

Rhun ap Iorwerth accused the pair of not bringing “fresh thinking and new ideas” to the table, apparently with a straight face.

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds “What we have heard from both candidates so far is that they will be taking the same ‘steady as she goes’ approach. More tinkering, more managerialism, and not the vision for the future that people desperately need. We need a new vision for a thriving economy, a fresh start for our NHS, an innovative democracy, and creating a nation of second chances where everyone has the opportunity to get ahead. We need a fair deal for every corner and every person across our country.”

Fighting talk from a party not likely to form a government anywhere in Britain any time soon.


The self-styled leader of the Welsh Conservatives has attacked Gething for his Pandemic stewardship which will no doubt help his chances with the Labour membership but beyond that he has been uncharacteristically reticent, thinking of his own party’s leadership struggles (again) perhaps?

The attention of the Welsh Conservatives is on the “blanket” 20 mph limit; on repeating the NHS mantra with a novel twist – “People want more nurses, doctors and teachers to tackle our huge waiting times and improve exam results, not more politicians. Labour and Plaid not only want 36 extra Members of the Welsh Parliament but they want to end the historic link of communities having a direct representative. Welsh Conservatives want a referendum before Labour and Plaid rip apart our democracy”.

Business as usual

The Labour leadership contest gets scant attention on their website save for a festive message from their leader “Labour end this year with their worst year in power, culminating in the First Minister standing down triggering a leadership election. I anticipate next year to be business as usual from whoever may end up as leader as they prioritise appealing to Labour members over the Welsh people as they fight to replace him” which somewhat overlooks Labour’s century of hegemony.

As to the candidates Jeremy Miles showed more energy, in obtaining first mover advantage by accumulating early MS pledges of support, than he has since mustered and Vaughan Gething, perhaps startled by the firing of the gun, woke late but is now doing the rounds of this particular Papal enclave but his “campaign” has been damaged by  apparent impotence on Tata Steel issues, involvement in an apparently irregular selection process for the Unite union nomination and the spending  £4m of public money on a farm with little to no commercial resale value as returning ospreys have pooped on the Green Man Festival plans.


Even by the standards of contemporary political discourse it would be difficult to find more banal, fatuous or vacuous statements than those that we have so far been offered by both candidates.

Vaughan Gething on Question Time

What are we to make of the following bon mots:

Vaughan Gething:

“More good, green jobs and opportunities”

“Achieving social justice and climate justice together”

 A “fairer Wales and lift people out of poverty”.

 “Across Wales, people are feeling the effects of 13 years of Tory chaos and austerity. When the Tories aren’t attacking the rights of working people, they’re lining the pockets of their friends, all while communities across the country struggle with the cost of living. It’s time for change.”

“This is a high stakes moment for Wales, but I’m hopeful for what’s to come. I want Wales to be at the very forefront of the green revolution that will shape our future.”

“In this century, it is our Party’s job to create green prosperity that is felt by all.  Where power and wealth are shared amongst our communities, and not concentrated in the hands of a privileged few. I want us to rise that challenge and work for a fairer future, built by all of us.”

Jeremy Miles

Jeremy Miles:

“Many people have lost hope, they have lost the belief that things can change for the better. It’s true that we face many challenges ahead – but I am hopeful for the future. I’m hopeful because our party has risen to the challenge before.”

“We have accomplished things that people told us couldn’t be done. The NHS, the minimum wage, even the act of founding this party in the first place to give a voice to working people in a system that had tried to shut them out.”

“Here in Wales we have consistently shown that there is another way, a better way, a Labour way of doing things. As a Minister I have increased Educational Maintenance Allowance when others have scrapped it. I have delivered the policy of free school meals in primary schools together with councils, And I have led the biggest reform of post-16 education in decades.”

“We know a Labour victory at the next general election is crucial for that more positive future. A UK Labour Government led by Keir Starmer, working with our Welsh Labour Government, can achieve so much more for Wales.”

“Together, we will end the cycle of Tory crises that has worn down so many.”

“And be in no doubt – a Welsh Labour Government which I lead, will always stand up for Wales. And so I hope that you will join me in the coming weeks as we embark on a bold, ambitious and exciting vision for Wales’ future.”


We have had a long wait but we now have Manifestos from both candidates.

Was it worth the wait?

I fear not.

Jeremy Miles says that “There is no route to the more compassionate country that we want to be which doesn’t pass through the more prosperous country that we need to be.” What does this mean?

The following blandishment is hardly more encouraging “an expansion of energy efficient retrofit for existing homes and buildings; creating a national Future Skills map, anticipating future skills needs; and a review of business support to ensure its delivery is fit for the future of the Welsh economy” and I fear that the “Make it in Wales” campaign to attract more talent to Wales and bring talent from the Welsh diaspora home” is unlikely to draw the emigres home prior to retirement: home to what?

If this is really “bringing new and imaginative ideas” to the election then I shudder to think what the alternative might look like.

Vaughan Gething promises “Educational opportunity at every age and stage of life. Putting the weight of the First Minister’s office behind achieving excellence in our schools and colleges, working with teachers and school support staff” – who would not agree but given the PISA scores-how?

“More powers for Wales and across Wales. An ambitious, progressive nation taking its place on the world stage with a thriving future for Cymraeg” – what does this mean in practice?

“A Welsh NHS, safe in public hands and always the budget priority. Services focused on improving both physical and mental health and social care fit for our future” – more Bevan without the money?

“Green job creation at the heart of protecting Wales’ future. A just transition that tackles poverty and protects our planet, with good jobs and community wealth” – sounds familiar?”

Accelerating social housing construction. Reliable, affordable public transport. Working in social partnership, with powers and funding devolved to local government – haven’t we been here before?

Allowing for a predictable pinch of self-aggrandisement in both cases the difference between them, if there really is any, would take a micrometer to gauge.


Where is the vision, the energy and the drive which Wales craves?

It is not surprising that both will “work with Keir” but will they favour Wales over party?

Will they get back the Welsh money squandered in the HS2 debacle with its risible claim to have been of benefit to Wales before been skewered?

Will the 20mph “review” which both candidates presumably agreed to behind closed labour Party doors, do anything beyond parking the issue (sic) beyond the election?

How do they propose to reduce Welsh dependence upon the largesse of both main neoliberal parties in Whitehall?

Plaid Cymru’s Hywel Williams (Arfon) has said that “Independence is a viable option for Wales’s future and the status quo is not – those are two of the most striking conclusions of the Independent Commission on The Constitutional Future of Wales.” Do the candidates agree?

And, we need to talk about TATA.

Tata Steel

The (Conservative ) Secretary of State for Wales says “ The Welsh Government doesn’t have the resources to come up with the kind of money necessary for a rescue package, so it has been up to the UK Government to come up with a deal…The fact is that Tata is sustaining huge losses at Port Talbot and without our intervention they could have shut the operation down entirely and walked away…Some Labour politicians have suggested that the Tata plants should be nationalised and that the state should fund steel production. This is also fantasy politics, as I can’t imagine that a Labour government under Keir Starmer would have such an idea on its agenda.” Where do you stand on the issue?

Is it any wonder that the Wales online poll on 26 December 2023 reported that 95% of respondents thought that things in Wales had got worse in 2023.

In addition to vision, energy and drive people need hope.

This Labour leadership contest has so far had all the hallmarks of a coronation in an hereditary monarchy.

But is, even now, not too late.

Perhaps the candidates would care to respond to the issues raised?

So, Jeremy and Vaughan, let’s hear from you.

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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
5 months ago

Well, unless you can awaken one of those cave-dwelling heroes of the past, the first past the post will be a riderless horse…At least Mabon has some ‘blood’ in the game…

G Horton-Jones.
G Horton-Jones.
5 months ago

Don’t place your faith in the likes of Jeremy and Vaughan.
The Labour party in England has a track record of using the people of Wales to prop it up while undermining and devaluing their aspirations for a better life under their control

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
5 months ago

No, you don’t say! 😀 Sadly, the people of Wales fall for it every time. The trouble is, in south Wales at least, there isn’t any viable opposition really. There’s Plaid, but…

5 months ago

More of the same for Cymru, second to the needs of the London masters, either Labour or Tory.

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