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Opinion

Ghosted: There were 5829 words in Sir Keir Starmer’s conference speech last week and none of them was ‘Wales’

15 Oct 2023 5 minute read
Keir Starmer, Peter Byrne/PA; inset Mark Drakeford, Stefan Rousseau/PA

Ben Wildsmith

The best piece of advice I ever received was never to bother someone whom you suspect is ignoring you. Unless you have knowingly upset them, it’s on the ignorer to raise any dispute; the ignoree should leave them to their sulk.

It’s not easy though. What on earth have I done? you ruminate whilst staring at your unanswered text in doleful confusion.

You might have a bit of a root around on Facebook to see if there is anything to explain your banishment. You mean to say he’s thrown a party and invited everyone except me?

The slight is all the more painful when it is your reward for unending, canine loyalty to someone whose behaviour has often left them otherwise friendless.

In their darkest hour you were there, keeping the faith, and now that it’s all coming good, they don’t want to know.

There were 5829 words in Sir Keir Starmer’s conference speech on Tuesday and none of them was ‘Wales’, let alone ‘Cymru’. Do a document search and you’ll find ‘Anas’, right next to ‘thank’, but ‘Mark’ is only highlighted as a constituent part of ‘market’.

Flavour of the month

We are not, it would seem, flavour of the month. Or any other month, come to that. Wales has returned a plurality of Labour MPs in every General Election since 1922.

The Senedd has been under Labour control since its inception. If anywhere has cause to consider itself the UK Labour Party’s BFF, it is Wales.

If we had been overlooked, that would be one thing. Infuriating as it is, we are well used to the London establishment forgetting that Wales exists until it’s convenient to remember.

At the moment, though, Wales has the dubious privilege of UK-wide profile, thanks to the Conservatives selecting our speed limits as the latest distraction from the collapse of civic society on their watch.

The decision to namecheck Scotland’s Anas Sarwar and ignore Mark Drakeford was deliberate.

Embarrassment

Despite being the sole Labour-governed nation in the Union, the Welsh Government is an embarrassment to Starmer, whose enthusiasm for Union flags is rivalled only by the DUP and Geri Halliwell.

With the Tory press again painting Wales as suffering under an authoritarian, near-communist regime, Starmer’s choice not to lend support is telling.

The benign interpretation is that the forthcoming election will be won and lost in England, with Scotland also edging back into relevance on the evidence of the recent by-election.

The path to power is strewn with hard choices, and Labour diehards might imagine that backgrounding the Welsh party is justified in terms of campaigning.

There was more to worry about in this speech, however, than grubby expedience. The previous Labour manifesto had plans for regional development banks, through which funding would flow to build infrastructure projects.

This devolutionary ambition has been replaced by a centralised National Wealth Fund. From the optics on the stage to the scant policy details made available, it is clear that Starmer’s instincts are to centralise rather than devolve.

Thumping mandates

Along with Drakeford, Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham were also omitted from the speech. This really is quite extraordinary when you think about it.

These Labour politicians all boast thumping mandates from their respective electorates but have been airbrushed out of the party’s national offering. No personal scandal attaches to any of them, and neither are they representative of an ideological fringe.

This is a party that trumpets inclusion. Certainly, that spirit extends to companies like Amazon and Deliveroo, who held receptions at the conference, and to Zilch — a Buy Now Pay Later lender that provided sponsorship.

With workers’ rights supposedly at the top of its agenda, it seems curious that these representatives of the gig economy and consumer debt should be more enthusiastically embraced by the party than its elected leaders around the country.

Cut the ties

If this is indicative of how the next Labour government intends to interact with devolved democracy, then the party here in Wales needs to put on its big boy trousers and become a problem.

For over a century Welsh Labour MPs have been a comfortable, certain block in Westminster. They represent constituencies that are largely to the left of centre in English terms, and which currently have no electorally viable alternative.

If Wales is to be misrepresented by the Conservatives and ignored by UK Labour, then ‘Welsh Labour’ should live up to its name and become independent of the national party.

The arguments for ongoing devolution that kept its support loyal through the Blair/Brown years are clearly being abandoned in favour of an Anglocentric outlook that is at odds with the culture that birthed the movement here in Wales.

Cut the ties and make them work for their Welsh votes.


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Mr Williams
Mr Williams
9 months ago

The word we are looking for is ‘contempt’.
He will be fawning all over us when he wants our votes.

Last edited 9 months ago by Mr Williams
Sarah Good
Sarah Good
9 months ago
Reply to  Mr Williams

He’s not getting mine though.

Dai Ponty
Dai Ponty
9 months ago

Labours attitude towards Wales same as the Tories only when they want your votes both UNIONIST PARTIES

adrian savill
adrian savill
9 months ago

Ethygyl gwych

Gareth
Gareth
9 months ago

If Labour here have not put on ” their big boy pants” to take the Tories to task and even to court over HS2, then they are certainly not going to put them on for Mr Starmer, the keeper of Mr Drakeford’s insurance policy.

George Thomas
George Thomas
9 months ago

The basic truth is that following the boundary changes we will see the Senedd become a lot more for Wales than Westminster. Either Starmer doesn’t see the risk of not speaking about Wales now – when Drakeford goes the Labour vote is more vulnerable than every – or he doesn’t care because it’s so few seats and so little impact on who wins in Westminster. This is why we need an expanded Senedd and this is why we need our politicians pushing to become the best versions of themselves. Yes, this does include an effective opposition from center-right rather than… Read more »

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
9 months ago
Reply to  George Thomas

I would suggest Wales doesnt have the calibre of politician, either in the Senedd or in Westminster, to ever challenge Starmer in a meaningful way or to develop the vision we need for a prosperous Wales. They never have nor ever will truly fight for the tights of Welsh people. They come across as Westminster lapdogs looking after their own interests.

Christine Jones
Christine Jones
9 months ago

Labour represent a slightly left-of-centre, or centrist, British Nationalism. The ideology and policy base fluctuates from time to time but the writing that remains in the rock is one of Unionism. I switched on my TV last weekend, having forgotten about the Labour conference, and saw some pundits being interview against a sea of Union flags. For a few moments I thought they were at the UKIP or DUP conference, until someone mentioned the Thatcher-esque Rachel Reeves. Wales is, and always will be, a pawn in their Westminster game.

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
9 months ago

English Labour are in no way left of centre any more. Left of the THESE Tories yes. But so is Vladimir Putin.
English labour are a right wing party, pretending to be left to keep their union donors onside. They are not even centre right. They are just right wing

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
8 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Good

I think we need to be careful in our broad brush statements. I would disagree with the idea that English Labour is a right wing party. What we have is a left leaning Labour Party membership with a hard right Party Leadership. Just look at the motions that were proposed for the conference but cancelled from ‘head office’. Many members, like me, have dropped out from the party due to the current leadership.

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter Cuthbert

Don’t just drop out of the Labour party and do nothing – that is what they expect you to do and hope you will do.

Join Plaid Cymru and Yes Cymru for an independent Wales !

Dai Rob
Dai Rob
9 months ago

Highlight of the week, is Ben’s column!!!

Riki
Riki
9 months ago

He’s only doing what comes natural to him being from England! What’s our excuse for taking it?!

Aled
Aled
9 months ago

Now, fair play, he didn’t say the word “England” once, either. In the published text he said “Britain” 46 times, “British” 18 times, and some variation of “this/our/whole/the country” 31 times.
England is the country which never dares to speak its own name.

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
9 months ago
Reply to  Aled

Yes, ‘Britain’ as he’s playing exactly the same game as the Tories. I believe that even this year’s Labour membership cards are emblazoned on the back with a Union Flag. Both the Tories and Starmer’s Labour are wrapping themselves in the Butcher’s Apron.

Labour are also adopting the Tories centralising policies also, which is another thing we need to be extremely wary of.

Shân Morgain
9 months ago

Starmer needs to hold tight unity in Labour, Time and again Labour loses because of divisions. Until recently Tories were good at team loyalty. But Labour, supporting debate and democracy in its ranks unavoidably had splits. The worst was way back when a big faction split into a new party which reduced Labour vote so much we got Thatcher … and … and. So Starmer does authoritarian, banishments, micro managing what his ministers can/ not say. In a way he’s right. It’s the path to win. But he can’t afford to have much to do with strong leaders in the… Read more »

Malcolm Jones
Malcolm Jones
9 months ago

I can’t even remember a Welsh labour MP from Wales standing up in the house of parliament and fighting for Wales not like Scotland. You see someone standing up for Scotland All the time . Welsh labour just sit on their hands and watch Wales get ripped off
Like HS2.the Crown estates money Scotland and Ireland keep their money did you hear anything from the Welsh labour MPs when they passed that in parliament.and they steal our water without paying for it they just sit there and say nothing

Riki
Riki
9 months ago
Reply to  Malcolm Jones

Because Labour act as “Governors” for England. But for some reason the population of Wales hasn’t realised it yet. Wales as it is has no future, you have PC who have put the crazies beliefs before Independence, Labour who are Indifferent to the place, or Tories who actively seek to Absorb Wales into England.

J Richardson
J Richardson
9 months ago

I agree with the fact that all politicians are the same – self-serving, misguided etc (including the devolved representatives. But let’s get this straight (as someone whose granny was Welsh) the reason they don’t mention Wales is that they represent the UK government & by needs must be generalist. It was the devolution that has caused confusion and, let’s face it, internal racism that is just destructive to the UK – which is us all. Splitting up into tribal dispute has traditionally weakened the country as a whole & left us all vulnerable. You all just sound small minded and… Read more »

Annibendod
Annibendod
9 months ago
Reply to  J Richardson

A deeply offensive comment that lacks for understanding of the other group’s perspective. The country is Wales. Inflicting a confected British nationalism on us is what is morally repugnant. It is the dismissal of our identity which draws our reaction – a dismissal inherent in your offensive comment. You should apologise.

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
8 months ago
Reply to  J Richardson

It’s centralisation and imperialism that causes areas splitting into tribal disputes as you put it. That is exactly what happened in the USSR and then Yugoslavia and is behind the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Imperialism needs to be defeated, Wales, Scotland and England need to be independent countries and as equals at UN will have a better relationship.

…And as new nations we may be able to reverse the biggest mistake ever made: Brexit.
and take our places in Europe as part of 27+ independent countries.

Annibendod
Annibendod
9 months ago

Keir Starmer gave an interview to Wales Online on becoming the new Labour leader. In that interview, he revealed why Wales was so important to Labour. He said, “We don’t win the election unless we win in Wales.” AFAIC that sentence says it all.

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