UK Labour seems ashamed of Welsh Labour – but shouldn’t it be the other way round?
Is UK Labour ashamed of Welsh Labour? Should it be?
The next general election is getting closer by the day, and there’s little doubt that the Conservative Party will seek to undermine Labour’s credibility across Britain by condemning the Welsh Government’s record on public service delivery.
We had a hint of what can be expected the other day, when Andrew Gwynne, the Shadow Minister for Public Health, was interviewed on Times Radio. After promising that an incoming Labour government at Westminster would decrease waiting times for ambulances, seeing a GP, A&E and specialist health care, Gwynne was challenged by presenter Aasmah Mir, who put to him: “There are people who will be casting their eyes towards Wales and saying, ‘Hang on a second – if you were serious about fixing the NHS, you would have sorted things in Wales, where Labour are in power and waiting lists are higher’.”
Gwynne responded: “Yes – and of course I’m a Shadow Minister for the health service in England. If I am elected, I will be responsible for the health service in England. Devolution means we do things differently and that was true under the last Labour government, when there was a Labour government in Wales and the NHS in England under a Labour government far out-performed any of the NHSs elsewhere in the UK.
“So look – don’t judge the next Labour government on what’s happening in Wales. Judge the next Labour government on what we achieve here in England, as we did in 1997 to 2010 when we inherited an NHS that was similarly on its knees after a long period of Tory government. The NHS was far from perfect in 2010, but when we left office we had the lowest waiting times in history, the lowest waiting lists in history and we had the highest patient satisfaction in history. That is the record of Labour in the NHS here in England.”
It’s clear that Gwynne was distancing himself, and by extension UK Labour, from Welsh Labour. Surely there’s no doubt that if NHS waiting times in Wales were shorter than those in England, Gwynne would have sought to bathe in the reflected glory, praising the Welsh Government for its successful stewardship of the health service.
Given the figures he can’t do that, but equally he doesn’t want to openly criticise Welsh Labour, knowing that would be seized on by the Tories and their right-wing friends in the media. Instead he takes a middle course, using devolution as a cover for ideological divergence that may lead to different outcomes.
Gwynne doesn’t mention UK Labour’s explicit intention, already articulated by his boss, Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting, to bring waiting times down with the help of the private sector.
But for those who can read between the lines, there is little doubt that he, and by extension UK Labour, has no time for the virtues of public sector purity espoused – at least in theory – by Welsh Labour. From such a position it’s not a huge leap to the conclusion that yes, UK Labour is ashamed of Welsh Labour.
How should Welsh Labour react? Ask any Labour MS or party member in Wales whether they want the party to win the next general election, and they’d all say yes.
Their mitigation for longer NHS waiting times here would be that Wales has higher proportions of people who are old, sick and poor, that more money is needed and that the health service is understaffed.
Some would go further and rail against some of the positions the party is taking under Starmer.
Blaenau Gwent MS Alun Davies has, for example, consistently criticised Starmer’s refusal to countenance a return of the UK to the European single market and customs union – moves that would undoubtedly benefit the Welsh and wider British economies.
As a politician who argued enthusiastically for another EU referendum in the last, hung, parliament, Starmer knows that the hard Brexit we have been lumbered with makes no sense. But instead of showing leadership and vowing to include a return to the single market and customs union in the general election, he’s decided on the advice of focus group moguls to run a mile from anything to do with Brexit.
The thinking is that swing voters in the former red wall seats that Labour needs to win back don’t want the issue resurrected. Yet there is ample polling evidence to show that the allure of Brexit has evaporated for most people who are now grappling with the cost of living crisis.
Starmer’s – and hence UK Labour’s – unwillingness to rock the boat is taking him into territory that should make anyone who considers themselves to be on the left feel uneasy, to say the least. The introduction of draconian measures by the right-wing Tory government aimed at curtailing public protest was opposed by Labour at Westminster, but Starmer has now said the legislation should be allowed to “bed in” before there is any question of repealing it.
Just as egregiously, Starmer has jumped on the “bash the migrants” bandwagon, signing up to the Tory agenda of cutting the numbers of those allowed to enter the UK legally on work visas.
The highly regarded economist Jonathan Portes issued the Labour leader with an appropriate challenge via Twitter: “If Starmer is going to complain about the number of work visas issued, the honest thing to do would be to tell us which of these occupations he wants to cut numbers in.”
Portes continued by listing the top Tier 2 and Skilled Worker visas by occupation issued in 2021-22: Band 5 nurses, 53,820; Care workers, 35,494; Programmers / software developers, 29,061; Senior care workers, 26,880; Medical practitioners (speciality registrar), 25,087; Business analysts / architects, 18,563; Management consultants, 15,471; Natural / social science professionals, 11,427; Chartered / certified accountants, 9,147; Finance analysts, 8,294; Sales / business development managers, 6,393; IT professionals, 5,931; Band 3 nurses, 5,393; Chefs, 5,368; HE teaching professionals, 4,948.
These 15 categories of professionals total 261,277 individuals who were issued with work visas because their presence in the UK was seen as economically advantageous, and in many cases essential.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who finds UK Labour’s decision to be complicit in the demonisation of such workers by newspapers like the Daily Mail nauseating. Britain is only importing them because they are needed. And there are other, lesser skilled workers who are also required to make our economy and supply chains function effectively.
Suggesting otherwise is no more than pandering to racism and it should not be tolerated, least of all in a party that purports to have progressive values.
This article began by questioning whether UK Labour was ashamed of Welsh Labour, and asking whether it should be.
It seems to me that a more pertinent point of debate is whether Welsh Labour should be ashamed of UK Labour. As things stand, I’m edging towards the affirmative.
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