Let Labour ‘finish the job’ in Wales says Keir Starmer after praising pandemic response
Liam Randall, local democracy reporter
Keir Starmer has called on voters in the north of Wales to let his party “finish the job” after praising the Welsh Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The UK Labour leader was campaigning in Wrexham today (Thursday, 22 April) ahead of next month’s Senedd elections, where his party is hoping to avoid a repeat of its disastrous 2019 general election defeat.
Wrexham was one of three so-called “Red Wall” seats in north east Wales, which Labour lost to the Conservatives in Westminster.
A YouGov poll released shortly ahead of his visit to the Wrexham Lager brewery suggests Labour could hang on to those seats in the Welsh Parliament.
Sir Keir said he believed First Minister Mark Drakeford’s “careful” approach to tackling Covid-19 had been well-received by the public and had helped to rebuild trust in the party.
He said: “I’ve been struck that people openly talk about Mark’s leadership over the last 14 months. The pandemic has been the one thing everyone has been worried and talking about.
“I think Mark has moved us on in reconnecting and rebuilding trust in a material way. What I would say to people is that Mark Drakeford and Welsh Labour have done an incredible job during the pandemic.
“Let them finish that job – we’re not through it so don’t let the Tories into Wales.”
During his visit to the brewery, which opened in the town centre in 2011 after iconic lager brand was revived, Sir Keir was given the opportunity to pull a pint and sample some for himself.
Welsh Labour has attracted criticism from some pub landlords, who are unable to serve customer outdoors until Monday – two weeks later than premises in England.
The Labour leader said he understood the frustration of business owners but felt Mr Drakeford, who joined him for the visit, had taken the right approach.
He also made light of an incident which saw him thrown out of a pub in Bath earlier this week after he was confronted by the landlord over lockdown restrictions.
Keir Stamer said: “Mark Drakeford has carefully followed the scientific evidence and taken decisions accordingly.
“Is it frustrating to be in restrictions with lockdown? Of course it is. But is it necessary in the circumstances? Yes, it is.
“Wrexham Lager has given me a very warm welcome and the staff here have been fantastic. Far from throwing me out, they invited me to pour a pint and then to have a drink of it.”
Labour has been accused of “ignoring” the north of Wales by some voters in the build-up to the election.
In their manifesto, the Welsh Conservatives have pledged to deliver a “new deal for north Wales”, including by creating a freeport at Holyhead.
But Mr Drakeford insisted his government had prioritised the region.
He said: “I understand the perception and it’s why I appointed Ken Skates to be the Minister for north Wales in the cabinet I formed when I became First Minister and I think he’s done an outstanding job.
“We have a cabinet committee that is dedicated to north Wales. I attend it, Ken chairs and it makes sure that all the things that matter to people in north Wales are in front of every minister every day that we are in government.
“The manifesto we are talking about today and the offer it has for north Wales, it links the whole of the north.”
Labour has placed the creation of a new medical school in the north of Wales as one of its main priorities if the party is returned to govern, alongside progressing plans for a regional metro transport system and funding the redevelopment of Theatr Clwyd in Mold.
However, the Conservative candidate for Wrexham slammed the Welsh Government’s management of the health system on the eve Mr Drakeford’s visit to the town.
Jeremy Kent, who is standing against Labour’s Lesley Griffiths, called for the party to apologise after the region’s health board spent more than five years in special measures.
The First Minister insisted Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board had turned a corner after being removed from the highest category of monitoring in November last year.
He said the Conservatives should apologise instead for “starving” Wales of investment.
He said: “The tide has turned on Betsi. It has a new chief executive and a new financial settlement from the Welsh Government that will provide millions of pounds every year to make sure it can go on providing the services that north Wales needs.
“It has done a remarkable job during the pandemic. Keir and I were at a health centre today talking to the GPs and the practice nurses who have delivered the vaccine to people in that community.
“Betsi is the only health board in the whole of Wales that has now provided more than half a million vaccinations to its local population.
“There is more to do in mental health and rebuilding it for the future, but I think the health board is in a different position today than it was when it went into special measures.
“If there are apologies to be offered, it is an apology from the Conservative government in Westminster for the way it has starved Wales of resources over ten years of austerity that prevented the investment that was necessary, not just in the health service but in public services across the board.”