The clear red water between UK and Welsh Labour is evaporating

Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford, who has been attending Brexit discussions with Scottish and UK Government ministers. Picture by NHS Confederation (CC BY 2.0)

Daran Hill

Back in 2002, the First Minister for Wales Rhodri Morgan made a seminal speech on public services in Wales.

It was known at the time as the Clear Red Water speech. Looking back at it, with the benefit of two decades of hindsight, two things stand out to me.

The first is that it is notable that such a distinctive vision was set out for a Welsh Labour Government when a UK Labour Government was also in existence. Indeed, the rationale for the speech was based on setting out a specifically “Welsh” approach which Rhodri emphasised in terms of services being free at the point of use, universal, and unconditional.

It was developed as a precise and specific counterpoint to alternative, but not alien, philosophies which were driving public service provision in England. Catapulted onward, and with the benefit of hindsight, this was all done almost a decade before the beginning of austerity and an even greater divergence in policy between England and Wales.

The second aspect that stands out to me is that this was the last example where the leader of a government in Wales actually attempted to set out a rationale for the delivery of public services by means of a speech articulating a clear philosophy.

Yes, we’ve had plenty of First Minister speeches dealing with constitutional issues and legal powers, but there has not been a further attempt to try and set out clearly what is the driving force for the delivery of public policy.

As time has passed, it is almost as if there has been less clear thinking on the ideological basis by which the Welsh Government is operating.

This is distinctive, perhaps, from the harder-nosed business of delivering on policy commitments. It is about setting out principles on which public policy is based.

Perhaps with the arrival of the more intellectual Mark Drakeford as leader of Welsh Labour, this lack of philosophising will be remedied.

Airbrushed

But maybe it is also true that as of now the biggest re-orientation delivered by Drakeford to Welsh Labour has been to narrow the gap in policy divergence between Labour in Cardiff and Labour in Westminster in relation to Brexit.

It seems that unifying Labour at the two ends of the M4 on a single Brexit policy has been the central thrust of his agenda.

We are now in a situation where every week the First Minister stands up in the Senedd to read out pretty much the same Brexit statement as the week before – in some sort of curious Welsh homage to Theresa May’s propensity to take exactly the same repetitive approach.

And every week another Labour member voices their extreme unhappiness that the Drakeford line mirrors the Corbyn one so fully that the People’s Vote element of party policy is airbrushed out.

March

I have written previously about the second referendum being just one part of Labour’s policy platform. But it seems that as time has rolled on that instead of it being more prominently shouted about, which is what many Labour members expected, the commitment to it is getting fainter and fainter.

And this despite Labour itself leading a debate which cemented the People’s Vote at the centre of policy in the Senedd.

This week even Cabinet members are in open revolt. Vaughan Gething and Eluned Morgan are now both even organising buses to the People’s Vote March in London, as Cabinet collective responsibility becomes as watery in Wales as it is in Westminster.

Meanwhile, with Theresa May on the ropes, Mark Drakeford has now written to her urging a political solution that is a carbon copy of what Jeremy Corbyn is advocating.  The most surprising omission from the letter is any suggestion of a People’s Vote.

The most surprising inclusion is, perhaps, the challenge from Drakeford that Teresa May is putting party before country, since an increasing number of Welsh Labour politicians are of a view he is doing exactly the same.

The clear red water that Mark first defined in the speech he actually wrote for Rhodri nearly two decades ago can be seen to be evaporating.


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