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Opinion

Where next for Labour in Wales under a new leader?

17 Dec 2023 5 minute read
Jeremy Miles MS and Vaughan Gething MS

Beth Winter, MP for Cynon Valley

Following Mark Drakeford’s announcement that he will step down in the new year, the coming election for a new leader of Welsh Labour is a pivotal moment.

Two candidate names have quickly emerged. What we need is someone to address some of the key issues facing Wales and Welsh Labour.

First, that is how to re-engage and re-energise Labour’s support in Wales as a longstanding party of government. That means offering a transformative vision for Wales at a time when living standards are in decline.

But that raises a second point. When the current financial crisis for so many stems from decisions in Westminster, Welsh Government can’t address that itself. This leadership election needs to set out the changes we need from Downing St, as well as in Wales, with questions about how we secure that.

And so thirdly, with a General Election in the offing, that means a new leader communicating to Labour in London what we believe the people of Wales need.

Progressive approach

Thanks to Mark Drakeford’s leadership and support for a progressive approach we have much to celebrate. Welsh Labour has retained a strong commitment to public services and public ownership, a commitment to the principle of universalism. In government it delivered a climate ministry, provisions such as free school meals, a basic income pilot, and the ground-breaking Future Generations Act and Social Partnership Act.

There has been a willingness to work alongside others, such as the partnership agreement with Plaid Cymru. And there has been a voice of opposition to the more draconian policies of Conservative Government.

But not everything has been deliverable, particularly due to austerity and recent inflation, but also constitutional arrangements.

This Conservative Government has overseen the biggest fall in living standards on record for the majority, while the few at the top have accumulated more wealth.

Without a campaign being built across the board in Wales this will continue.

The Welsh Government Budget next week will see a £1.3bn fall and mean service reductions across the board. Welsh local government has identified a £400m black hole.

Poverty, and child poverty in particular, have remained far too high in Wales. More people are struggling with bills.

Pay disputes

The past year has seen public sector pay disputes between Welsh Labour and its own affiliated unions, because of the Conservative spending straitjacket. We continue to see outsourcing decisions for perceived short-term savings.

There is frustration with delays to improving public transport and slowness delivering fair rents. Criticisms remain around the delivery of other key public services.

On another level, the failure to challenge the Westminster consensus and advocate a ceasefire in Gaza has disillusioned key voters.

So where next for Labour in Wales under a new leader and new First Minister with a General Election around the corner? The gap between the progressive rhetoric and the implementation in the Programme for Government should be overcome.

To re-engage and re-energise voters, we need a vision for Wales, which builds on the progressive policies established under Mark Drakeford’s leadership and which gives voters a stake. This should be a transformative vision based on socialist principles.

We need to challenge inequality, deliver sustainability and safeguard the future of public provision. That could mean dealing with the rip-off private housing market, delivering public renewable energy provision, removing profit from care provision.

Internationalism

With Conservatives targeting migrants, we need too to reignite our internationalism.

Welsh Labour has an administration to run, but after a decade of cuts and the current cost-of-living crisis, it needs also to be a political voice that mobilises. Wales needs a much more proactive government. Welsh Labour needs to address the membership decline.

That means, within Wales, we need our own national economic strategy. The commitment to build on the foundational economy in the 2021 manifesto is yet to be realised in a clear national initiative.

The next First Minister needs to develop a strategy that invests, re-invests, and retains wealth in Wales and in local communities – in the hands of those who created that wealth.

And it also means targeting Westminster. The fight must be taken up over fair needs-based funding.

Downing St continues to tolerate wealth in the hands of a few at the expense of regions and countries where poverty remains worryingly high.

Our public sector workers lose out when our finances chain us to Conservative pay deals. Securing prudential borrowing powers, an increased borrowing cap, an increased reserve, securing Crown Estate revenue, reforming and giving Wales a role in the process of Barnett funding allocation all need delivery.

Right now, declining public services as a result can be blamed on Conservatives but that doesn’t mean the public perceive it as such. And in Westminster, Labour has repeatedly warned in recent months of ‘difficult decisions’ over public finances.

Investment

The next Welsh Labour leader needs to win the argument for increased current spending and investment in public services with Labour’s Treasury team. Our experience is clear.

Even in power in the Senedd, Westminster cuts have harmed our communities. A new leadership needs to set out the change people in Wales need from a Labour Prime Minister in Downing Street.

Underlying all this is the need for constitutional reform. The lack of political involvement should worry our political leaders. A new leader must address how we engage people in Wales in decisions made about their futures. They must be able to shape it.

These are just some of the issues that the Welsh Labour leadership election and its candidates must address. Welsh Labour has had a positive message, and has been successful, but the scale of crisis for too many people demands the delivery of transformative change for the better, if that is to continue.


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Dafydd
Dafydd
2 months ago

What planet or substance are you on. The progressive politics that you seem to appreciate has resulted in:- falling living standards reduced business confidence business’s relocating or setting up in England as a result of not investing in the M4 at Newport less housing available due to housing policy that was supposed to do the opposite. The worst education outcomes in Britain. increasing the cost of business in Wales with the 20 mph fiasco against the wishes of the majority. wasting money on dodgy schemes. You will of course lay the blame for all failed policies at Westminsters door rather… Read more »

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
2 months ago
Reply to  Dafydd

Dafydd. Well said! You are though – may I say – wrong in one regard. Gethin fits the bill admirably; English careerist, ethnic background and incompetent. The perfect Labour candidate!

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
2 months ago

An interesting article that sums up Welsh Labour and Santa’s Little Helper, aka Plaid Cymru. Every problem in Wales is because of the Tories – who are you going to blame for the incompetence and inadequacies of the Welsh Labour government once “Sir” Stammer is in number ten? Apparently Welsh Labour, along with Plaid Cymru have been the voice of opposition to the Conservative government er…shouldn’t the latter be the voice of opposition in the Senedd, holding the Welsh government to account?? Amongst many problems facing Wales, not least is that poverty and child poverty in particular remain (note the… Read more »

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
2 months ago
Reply to  Dr John Ball

Plaid Cymru has been holding the Welsh government to account, but it goes unreported as we still do not have a full domestic media here in Wales to give regular reports to our own population. The future leader of Wales will need to remove our country from the centralised system of the UK so that Wales isn’t forced to suffer policies inflicted on us against our own will. A federal system will not work for the UK while England remains a single political unit and with 58 million population and still able to out-vote Wales, Scotland and NI. This new… Read more »

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
2 months ago

Really?? Plaid Cymru is fast asleep and not offering anything in the way of serious opposition. Ap Iorwerth might be taking a different route but the picture of the former Deputy First Minister aka Price standing alongside the real First Minister every five minutes rankles.
I wholeheartedly agree with the remainder of your contribution. There is no way that federalism will work (incidentally, a form of which is Plaid Cymru’s official policy) because real power will remain in London.
Independence and a sovereign state is the only way forward.

Annibendod
Annibendod
2 months ago
Reply to  Dr John Ball

You keep making this category error John. It’s wearing thin. Plaid’s policy is a British Confederation which necessitates Welsh, Scottish and English sovereign statehood as a founding basis for such a political union as you well know. There is nothing new in this idea. It harks back to Gwynfor’s “Brittanic Union” and it in essence akin to the EU as opposed to the UK. You are deliberately misrepresenting the policy. A great pity. If you disagree with an EU-style British Confederation then so be it. That is your right of course. But please do stop misrepresenting Plaid’s constitutional policy. It… Read more »

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
2 months ago
Reply to  Annibendod

What’s wearing a bit thin is the pretence that Plaid Cymru believes in anything. I admire individual members working in their communities but the leadership is locked into the exclusive little club in the bay. Look again at the pretend Deputy First Minister. There are two fundamental issues. In the over long and pretentious independence document produced by the party, the plan is a series of referenda, the outcome of which – if undertaken – could well result in a strong vote against independence. Phew, that was close sighs P C ‘s leadership as it cuddles up to Labour. More… Read more »

Annibendod
Annibendod
2 months ago
Reply to  Dr John Ball

No it doesn’t John. Your falling out with Plaid notwithstanding, it absolutely does not mean powets being retained at Westminster. That is a lie and you know it.

Richard E
Richard E
2 months ago
Reply to  Annibendod

We all know that John B has a long standing atipathy to Plaid going back decades – but he is right to hold their postions to account. Few others are..! Indeed some of his views are wide spread within Plaids loyal and often low profile membership. The view of many in the leadership remains that only Labour can deliver for Wales and its Plaids job to see that they do. A simple view for certain ✔️ A correct view possibly ? A risk free stratigy ? History teaches us however that delivery of the steps forward towards self determination only… Read more »

Annibendod
Annibendod
2 months ago

Beth, Wales cannot have an internationalist outlook until its horizons cease to be bounded by Westminster. To be able to act on the international stage we must first stand on the international stage. I agree, constitutional reform is required and the necessary reform is the dissolution of the UK. No Socialist worth their salt can support the continuation of this imperial vestige, this Tory State. I’m sure your values as a socialist would find a far better home in Plaid Cymru. I believe your party has lurched rightwards into the murky waters of narrow anglo-British nationalism and it has left… Read more »

Dr Andrew Potts
Dr Andrew Potts
2 months ago

“Welsh Labour has had a positive message.” I only wish I knew what it was. Blame Westminster. Send more money. Never mind, we have the prospect of Wales being ‘led’ by the former health minister (declining NHS) or current education minister (declining PISA scores). Add that to not having the Conservatives to blame in Westminster for much longer and where does that leave us? How about actual reform of and progress with the services/powers you already have? Actual policies rather than a list of demands.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
2 months ago

How on earth can Welsh Labour whoever leads it in 2026 campaign and say to the Welsh public that they deserve another 5 years and how they have fresh dynamic ideas when they’ve been by then in power for 27 years. We all know what the Welsh Conservatives are all about. Copy & paste English legislation onto Wales and repatriating powers back to Whitehall and allowing our only International Airport Cardiff to die so thousands of jobs go and we hemorrhage millions out of Wales into English airports leaving Wales the backwater they wish us to become. But whoever takes… Read more »

Annibendod
Annibendod
2 months ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

Clywch, clywch!

max wallis
max wallis
2 months ago

With no-one of stature in the Labour leadership, ready and able to shake-off the legacy of Covid-autocracy/unaccountability and the stranglehold of Stonewall ideology, their future has surely to be a drubbing at the polls – forcing coalition politics which can bring forward new talents and alliances.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
2 months ago

Certainly a lack lustre pair of candidates. Having said that I doubt any leader of the Welsh branch of Starmers Labour Party will change the course of the lives of most people in Wales. Starmers LP are monetarists obsessed with the same old fake economic nonsense of ‘balancing the books’.
In the meantime £billions is extracted from Wales to Westminster and England while they throw us a few crumbs by way of the Barnet formulae. Nothing has changed on that front I dont see Miles or Gething challenging the established order.

Gwion
Gwion
1 month ago

NationCymru is forgetting to focus on a very…very important issue…

Is the next laeder pro Cymru like many younger voters or a BritNat like many Labour MPs and Counillors. Will he support the policies of RCT & Bridgend councils that many perceive to be Anti Welsh and English Nationalist or will he show ‘Welsh Leadership’?

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