Huw Lewis reflects on his experiences as an elected representative.
To my mind there can be few more fulfilling and privileged roles in public life than to be an elected representative for the community in which you grew up. I’ve been very fortunate that that has been my job over the last seventeen years and though, as every single AM will attest, there are sad and tough days, I have loved speaking up on behalf of, and fighting for, the people of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney in the National Assembly for Wales.
The end of the fourth assembly
As the Assembly breaks for May’s election, a range of Assembly Members offer personal perspectives of their time in the Senedd.
Seemingly ever since a rain-jacketed Harold Wilson sidled up to me at the opening of my new primary school in Merthyr as a child (and I gave the Prime Minister short shrift for interrupting my game of toy soldiers) my life has been infused with the politics of the labour movement. I grew up imbibing the transformative things Labour Governments had done over the years. From the birth of the NHS to the creation of the Open University I had seen and been told of what Labour being in power had done for individuals and communities. Coming into the Assembly in 1999 as a new AM, I was privileged to be part of a Welsh Labour Party that was hungry to be in government and eager to build on those great landmark achievements of the past.
From Free Prescriptions to Flying Start; new hospitals to new schools, I am incredibly proud of what Welsh Labour has achieved in the Assembly. The projects I have fought so hard for at a local level such as the transformation of Merthyr Town Centre and the campaign to get a new £33m Merthyr College building completed would not have been possible without the investment and the commitment of a Labour Government.
Politics is at its most powerful when it is about the future; when it is about putting forward ideas and proposals to make tomorrow’s Wales or tomorrow’s Merthyr a stronger and better place to live.
This something I’ve always tried to do as an AM, whether that has been through the work to develop a new Child Poverty strategy; in running for the Welsh Labour leadership in 2009 or as a Minister in government, I’ve always strived to look ahead and work with colleagues, in my own party and across the floor, to ensure that the next generation are afforded more and better opportunities to build a better tomorrow.
That is why it has been a tremendous honour to be a part of Carwyn Jones’ government as Education Minister over the last few years. For me it was a personal highlight because as a former teacher I had the opportunity to set about putting in place the building blocks of the kind of schools system that I would have loved to have taught in.
Though tough decisions have had to be made in my time as Minister, such as introducing a new Categorisation system for our schools and in re-introducing tests, the chance to develop innovative new policies such as Schools Challenge Cymru and the new Curriculum for Wales have brought both personal and professional satisfaction. With record GCSE results and the closing of the attainment gap at every key stage of education last year, I’m confident that Welsh education is on the move again.
And with the Assembly election now just weeks away, the conversation again turns to tomorrow – to what Wales and Merthyr can be in the future, proud as we are of the achievements and the accomplishments of the past.
That is why I will be working flat out for a Labour win in May and to return Carwyn Jones as First Minister so he can continue the transformative work of Welsh Labour in Government.
One thing is for certain, I would not have missed the opportunity to be a part of the opening act of devolution. Even if, occasionally, I may have got a little hot under the collar about the things I care about most I have always greatly respected my colleagues in the Assembly and enjoyed working with them over the last seventeen years.
I’ve written before that the working class coalfield community into which I was born was a very special place – a place of tremendous warmth and mutual support that nurtured progressive values of community and solidarity. Perhaps the most poignant moment for me came in 2006 when as an Assembly we came together to mark the 40th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster and I made a statement in the chamber on behalf of the community. I said then: ‘Aberfan has reclaimed notions of strength, confidence and hope for a bright future for today’s children. Forty years on, let us join to reflect not just on yesterday’s tragedy, but on that hope for tomorrow.’
At a time of such political upheaval – from populist insurgents to the splintering of traditional unions, I want devolution to go on building that hope for a better tomorrow and fostering the kind of progressive politics of mutuality and co-operation that I know so many people right across Wales proudly believe in.