Health Minister warns Labour not to get drawn into ‘Tory flag-waving’

Union Flag

The Welsh Government’s Health Minister has warned Labour not to get drawn into what he called “Tory flag waving”.

Vaughan Gething made the comments in an interview with LabourList, where he discussed the challenge for the party presented by increasing calls for independence.

The Minister told his party not to be “drawn into a Tory trap” and said it was “one that the nationalists would be quite happy to see us walk into”. He added that there must be a “proper Labour case for the union”.

The comments come following the news that an internal strategy presentation was leaked to The Guardian that said Labour must make “use of the [union] flag, veterans [and] dressing smartly”.

Gething said: “We should make sure we don’t get trapped into agreeing that the case for the union is a case for Boris Johnson.

“You know, there’s the politics of the flags and everything – I mean I don’t have a problem with people saying they’re patriotic.

“I think it’s one of the things that turned lots of people off in the last couple of elections – the idea that we don’t really like the country we live in.

“And actually I’m very proud to be Welsh and British. I’m also proud to be half Zambian, as well. So, I don’t think it’s complicated to have more than one strand of your identity you’re proud of. So, we shouldn’t run away from it.

“But we shouldn’t get drawn into Tory flag-waving, we love the military and that’s what the UK’s all about. It’s a different set of pictures we need to paint – to be proud of our involvement in all of those traditions, but it’s much more than that.”

‘Red wall’ 

The internal strategy presentation was aimed what the Labour Party calls, “foundation seats”, a new term for the “red wall” constituencies, many of which are in Wales and the north of England, that helped Boris Johnson to a landslide in 2019, as well as other seats it fears could also turn blue.

In the presentation, the party is warned to brace for a backlash from “Scots and younger remain voters”, especially ahead of the Holyrood elections in May.

According to the strategy presentation Labour has “excluded” and “ignored” once-core voters, which it blames on the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, under which the party is described as a “party of protest”, expressing “unpatriotic” sentiments, with “arrogance” and “idealism”.

It is understood that Labour’s new strategy is based on extensive focus groups from Watford to Grimsby, which were conducted in September alongside nationwide polling.

Clive Lewis, one of Labour’s leading ethnic-minority MPs, is critical of the strategy.

He said: “The Tory party has absorbed UKIP and now Labour appears to be absorbing the language and symbols of the Tory party.”

A senior Labour official said: “Different parts of the Labour party have different opinions on what was got wrong and what wasn’t – this is broadly a reality check of what the public thinks of Labour.”

Labour said the presentation consisted of conclusions reached by a third party rather than Labour officials.

A spokesperson for the party told The Guardian: “This is a report by an external organisation from September 2020. It deals with pre-existing perceptions of the party. Keir [Starmer] and Angela [Rayner, deputy leader] have been very clear that Labour has a mountain to climb to win in 2024 but is on the right path.”

Following the leak of the strategy presentation, Vaughan Gething liked a tweet by campaigner Rob Simkins, who hit out at what he called “flag discourse” and warned Labour against what was described as “flag sha**ing”.

Mr Simkins said: “This flag discourse is literally exhausting. Yes we need to not be hollow, ‘flag sha**ing’ unionists in the UKIP/Tory mould but we also need to show the flag sha**ers that the Union Jack isn’t theirs and that it can also belong to normal people, proud of their country. The end.”

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