In a key-note speech delivered last night at the IWA North Wales branch’s annual dinner, Carwyn Jones set out the key themes for Welsh Labour ahead of the May elections.
The death of Liberal radicalism…
The Welsh Liberals of the early 1900s would truly be turning in their graves if they could see what has happened over the last few years in terms of where the Party has now drifted, thanks to the rise of the ‘Orangebook’ phenomenon.
Now let’s be clear. The assimilation of modern Liberals into the bosom of the Conservative Party is not something that suddenly happened last May – far from it. This ‘merger’ started long before then. Indeed with hindsight, it’s fair to say, the ‘deal’ was sealed with Nick Clegg’s election as Party Leader and this is why.
The publication in 2004 of the ‘The Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism’ was a defining moment for that Party. All the leading Lib Dem lights we now see so readily embracing the Tories in coalition, had their input into that book – without exception. I am talking about Clegg, Cable, Huhne and Laws. However, the die was cast in terms of where the Lib Dems were heading and it looked decidedly more Thatcherite than Grimondite.
The free market is now the ‘altar’ for these modern Liberal leaders – whether it be on the NHS, our pensions or social policy. It was evident even in 2004 that the Liberal path – the true path of Liberalism had been departed…
On the streets of Pontypridd, of Wrexham, of Swansea or Newport, Lib Dem voters don’t see a coalition of the willing, they see a Lib Dem Party who have sacrificed some of their most important principles to enter a coalition. What took place last May in London as they went into Government with the Tories, will not be forgotten in Wales for many, many years.
The 12th May was the day the Liberal Democrats surrendered any claim on being radical, on being progressive on being an engine for ideas. They have now left the field.
Coalition versus Assimilation…
As we have proved in the Welsh Assembly Government on two separate occasions since the advent of the Assembly, coalition government doesn’t mean the smaller party has to somehow morph into its larger partner. Far from it.
The Welsh Lib Dems didn’t merge with Welsh Labour back in 1999 in coalition. And certainly, no one can claim that Plaid have been subsumed into Labour as a result of One Wales. Yet, the current UK Government coalition makes the Lib Dems looks like a wholly owned subsidiary of the Tory Party – and the Party’s Leadership has somehow willingly allowed this to happen.
So, I say to all Welsh Liberal Democrats – voters and members alike. If you still think of yourself as a radical. If you still believe in social justice. If you want to build a better society, then there is a home for you in Welsh Labour.
That is my message. Come home. Come and join us. Help us build a better Wales together.
Standing up for Wales…
Because of our values and radical traditions it falls to Welsh Labour yet again to be standing up for Wales. In the coming months this will be Welsh Labour’s benchmark – on the economy, jobs for young people, welfare reform, public services, the environment, broadcasting, investment and infrastructure.
Standing up against the Tory / Lib Dem broken promises over tuition fees, standing up against getting rid of the essential Educational Maintenance Allowance for our young people, on the VAT rise, on scrapping the St. Athan military academy, on fuel prices.
I will be standing up for Wales. Welsh Labour will be standing up for Wales.
On a new Welsh radicalism…
So where next for Welsh radicalism? Where is the fire, the passion of ideas and ideals still burning for our country?
Well I can tell you, as far as my Party is concerned, that ‘fire’ is raging within Welsh Labour, as we prepare for the election on the 5th May. To be radical, we will have to re-invent ourselves economically. It can be done even by small countries – without question. But it needs leadership, drive and the right policies in place.
We are not a party who believes in public good, private bad. We believe in seeing a burgeoning and thriving Welsh private sector being the engine of recovery. I want to lead a country where business feels Government its on its side, not on its back.
We also recognise the need for innovation. We simply cannot stand still. We need to be equipped with the right skills to ride the crests of new economic ‘waves’ – new industries, new green industries. For example, locking in the generation of new forms of low carbon energy with a new manufacturing base – a base in possession of the new skills and the means to produce generation equipment right here in Wales.
The new emphasis must be skills, skills, skills for all. Wales is too small for anybody to be left behind.
Hope not despair…
We must have a message of hope. Too much of what is coming from London is a picture of despair. We can’t pretend things are easy at the moment but there must be light at the end of the tunnel and in Wales, we politicians have to provide that hope.
We must be ambitious to succeed. To get rid of the “we can’t do it” way of thinking.
Is this a new radicalism? Yes I believe it is.
Yes versus No…
All political parties now recognise that the Assembly will improve the lives of the people of Wales if has the ‘tools’ – the power – to make laws more effectively and efficiently than we do at present. That is the simple and central message of the ‘Yes’ campaign.
In contrast, the ‘No’ campaign message is one of fear, regression, moving backwards, and in recent weeks has moved, interestingly, to one of being stridently anti-Labour in its rhetoric. It is in short, a message of strong conservatism – conservatism with a small ‘C’.
From the Welsh Labour perspective, we believe there is nothing wrong in creating a strong Welsh identity, proud of our history, language and traditions, but also a British identity, with a realisation that we have benefited much from the Union.
It is perfectly possible to be comfortable with both identities with no need to be either anti-Welsh nor anti-British. A devolved Wales as a full partner within the United Kingdom. That is what we strive for and that is what we are on the cusp of creating, if the referendum has a positive outcome in March.