Where next for Labour in Wales under a new leader?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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