Has Mark Drakeford been aiming coded digs at Keir Starmer?
Gareth Ceidiog Hughes
Politicians often talk in code.
It can be impolitic for them to be quite as direct as they like, and therefore they opt for a more indirect approach.
Sometimes they wish to communicate dissent while presenting their party as a united front. Sometimes they don’t want to get into too much trouble with their parties and calibrate their dissent to the level they believe they can get away with.
These days this can be done via subtweets. But subtweeting without the actual tweets has been going on in politics for a long time. Plausible deniability is much-cherished.
This kind of thing is not limited to politics of course. It can be found in numerous contexts in which human beings communicate, from dinner parties, to work meetings, to rap music.
In the parlance of ebonics, rappers aim what are referred to as subliminal disses at each other. They are also referred to as “subliminals” or “sublims”. The Cold War between the Notorious BIG and Nas is a famous example of this. In their tracks, they directed subtle barbs at each other without naming their opponent. But if one reads between the lines, and has enough background information, it is possible to decipher who and what they were talking about.
Which brings me to the First Minister, Mark Drakeford, who has given the distinct impression of having subliminally dissed the leader of his party in Westminster, Keir Starmer.
A few days ago, Drakeford have a speech to the Labour Party conference in Brighton, and he had a few interesting things to say.
The conference was dominated by internecine warfare between competing factions of the party. The leadership moved to consolidate its grip over the organisation in a number of ways.
It tried and failed to scrap the One Member One Vote (OMOV) system for leadership elections, which had been blamed by some within the party for enabling Jeremy Corbyn to become leader. It wanted to reintroduce the Electoral College system, which would have shifted power away from ordinary members and into the hands of the unions and the party’s MPs.
It should be remembered that Drakeford is an ardent supporter of OMOV and championed its introduction in Welsh Labour leadership elections.
Starmer did however get some significant changes through. Leadership candidates will now need the support of 20% of Labour MPs rather than 10% – to get on to a party-wide ballot. This gives them more control over who members have the opportunity to vote for.
The rule changes include making it harder for local parties to deselect sitting MPs, and the rule allowing “registered supporters”, who pay a one-off fee to vote in leadership elections, has been canned.
It was reported that allies of Starmer see these changes as a way to “limit” the power of Jeremy Corbyn supporters.
In this context it is interesting that Drakeford had this to say in his speech: “Now, there have been occasions when it has been fashionable to look askance at those who work actively in the Labour cause.
“As if that commitment, by itself, cuts us off from the wider band of Labour voters. But the truth is that where Labour is in power there is a very different story to tell.
“Different because we are only in that position of being in power because of the day-in, day-out commitment of the hundreds and thousands of trade unionists and labour people whose activism helps us win.
“That is what builds a Labour platform in power – a platform to take decisions and change lives for the better.”
Dropped a pledge
Starmer recently dropped a pledge made in his Labour leadership campaign to nationalise the railways.
During his oration, Drakeford just so happened to point out that in Wales “our railways are back under public control”.
Coincidence? Perhaps. But then again, maybe not.
Drakeford also said: “Conference, experience of winning in Wales tells us that it cannot be the limit of the ambition of this great party to wring marginal and reluctant concessions from the rich, the powerful and the privileged.”
Keir Starmer received criticism from independence supporters in Wales and in Scotland by making a “toe-curlingly awful” blood donor analogy when arguing in favour of the union during his own speech in Brighton.
Keir Starmer said: “Gordon Brown said recently, ‘when a Welsh or Scottish woman gives blood, she doesn’t demand an assurance that it must not go to an English patient’.
The comments have been described by supporters of independence as “terrible”, as well as “offensive” and “utterly dire”, and it has been suggested that they show that he doesn’t not understand devolution either.
This because the Welsh Blood Service, which is part of the European Blood Alliance, has been in existence since 1997. This means blood from Wales already travels across international borders.
It just so happens that Mark Drakeford quote tweeted the Welsh Blood Service following the speech. Now he was merely encouraging people to give blood.
But as the social media expert Owen Williams said: “Worth noting that the @WelshBlood tweet is 10 days old. You’d have to either know of it already, or go hunting for it.
“I’d argue that the tweet above is a deliberate bit of Drakeford-esque shade at the Labour leader in England.”
In the run up to the party conference a hostile briefing directed at Drakeford popped up in the Daily Mail.
The First Minister was scheduled to speak at The World Transformed event in Brighton, which was running at the same time in the same seaside resort as the UK Labour Party conference.
But an ally of Labour leader Keir Starmer told the Daily Mail newspaper that the First Minister’s presence will cause problems because it will be harder to dismiss it as a ‘Trot fest’.
“We can’t dismiss the other conference as for crackpot Corbynites when the First Minister of a devolved nation is speaking. His presence is an unhelpful distraction,” the unnamed source said. So it could be that Drakeford has been returning fire.
Meanwhile, Welsh Labour sources have been briefing their disquiet because they feel like the party in Wales does not get the respect or the recognition it deserves for winning elections while their Westminster colleagues flounder.
If this is all put all this together, it does appear as if relations between Mark Drakeford and Keir Starmer are not entirely harmonious.
Has Drakeford dissed Starmer? Yes, I think so.