Standing up for Wales not just a slogan

On the weekend of Welsh Labour’s Spring conference Huw Lewis says the party is revolutionising its campaigning techniques

With nearly thirteen years as an Assembly Member under my belt, and a lengthy stint as a party organiser before that, it’s probably fair to say that I’ve been to a Welsh Labour conference or two during my time. I always relish that sense of anticipation, the hustle and bustle of the conference floor, fringe events and exhibition stands, seeing those familiar faces, those friends and colleagues from across the country all gathered in one place – it’s a truly special time of year for our movement here in Wales.

However, I honestly don’t remember a run up that’s felt quite like this before. There’s really something stirring out there. There’s a genuine and incredibly exhilarating sense of excitement – amongst the party membership and our trade union colleagues, amongst AMs and MPs, and amongst the many new members I‘ve spoken to in recent weeks who’ll be attending their first party conference this year.

With the local government elections looming large on the horizon, the party feels fighting fit. General Secretary, David Hagendyk, and his predecessor Chris Roberts, deserve great credit for the work they’ve done to usher in much needed change to the party in Wales. The reforms they’ve instituted, championed by Peter Hain, have fostered little short a revolution in our approach to campaigning – enabling us to reach out to many more people, and take our message to communities the length and breadth of Wales.

The fact that Welsh Labour achieved it’s best ever results at the Assembly elections last May was, of course, in many ways testament to that hard work. Nonetheless, that unrelenting appetite for campaigning and continual improvement in our organisation and structures has continued apace since then.

I truly believe we approach May’s local government elections better organised and more professional than ever before. And perhaps even more importantly, Welsh Labour will enter the campaign with the finest slate of council candidates our party has seen here in Wales for many generations. And they’ll be pounding the streets, delivering leaflets and knocking doors with a clear message and sense of purpose.

Because as a party we’re showing that when we said we would stand up for Wales, we meant it. It was always far more than just a slogan for election time – it’s shaping everything we do in government. Even in the face of the cuts we’ve been handed down by a callous Tory-Lib Dem administration in Westminster, we’re showing that not only is there a better way, there is a right, just, and fair way of doing things – no matter the tough circumstances.

In practical terms, that means support for the economy, investment in education, apprenticeships and skills, shielding local government from the worst of the cuts, and the priority we’ve placed on capital projects – despite having the amount of money we can spend on schools, hospitals and housing in Wales cruelly slashed by Cameron, Osborne and Clegg.

People in Wales are coming home to Labour. Not just because of the wickedness of the Tory-Lib Dem administration in Westminster, but because they are judging us by the action we’re taking on the economy. They see that despite the budgetary pressures we face, we are continuing to invest in education, skills, and jobs for our young people. They recognise, too, that only under Labour is the Welsh NHS safe from the kind of market led, profit first/people second, approach being so cruelly inflicted upon the health service in England.

I’ve been out on the doorstep a lot in the last few weeks, and it’s obvious that more and more people are returning to Labour, even if they’ve lent their support to another party in the past, or perhaps haven’t even voted at all at previous elections. There is increasing recognition and understanding out there that it’s Welsh Labour that is the true party of Wales.

As an impartial observer, it’s been fascinating to witness the way in which their leadership contest and the Scottish referendum have led to the re-emergence of the independence question within the Plaid Cymru group in the assembly – reopening old wounds and making them answer deeply uncomfortable questions to which they know they have no real answers.

They simply can’t come to terms with the fact that people in Wales don’t ever want independence. Instead they want a strong Welsh Government, within a strong United Kingdom – a government that stands up and delivers for Wales, reflects Welsh values, and addresses Welsh problems. Welsh Labour is the party of that government, Welsh Labour is the people’s party of Wales.

Huw Lewis is AM for Merthyr Tydfil

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