A disruptive manifesto

Ken Skates outlines Labour’s manifesto priorities.

“As a party we need to be radical and bold.  We need a challenging offer; a disruptive manifesto…”

At that very moment, as I stood in a draughty Brecon Guildhall during a public meeting about what Welsh Labour’s priorities for the coming election should be, two young boys having a kick about just outside the hall took my message a bit too literally and I got the disruption I asked for.

The Assembly election 2016

With just days before Wales heads to the polls we’ve asked each of the six main parties to outline why they deserve your vote.

We’ll be running these pieces over the next week. To see the series as a whole please click here.

A window some six feet behind me shattered into a thousand pieces; shards of glass cascaded across the room and a full size Mitre Delta football came flying towards me at great speed.

A little startled and shook up, we checked everyone was ok and restarted the meeting. However the disruptive theme has carried on ever since.

When Carwyn Jones asked me to help put together the Welsh Labour manifesto for the 2016 Assembly elections I knew it was important to think hard not only about what we wanted included in the manifesto, but how we wanted to go about the process.

We’re incredibly proud of what the Welsh Labour has delivered in government over the last five years.  A Stronger NHS with health and social care spending 7 per cent higher than England; a Growing Economy with record inward investments through companies like Aston Martin and TVR and new momentum in our Schools as a result of record GCSE results.

But the hard fact is that for parties in government the challenge of manifesto construction is that much harder than it is for everyone else.  You’ve got a record of delivery and despite the big successes you’ve also picked up a few scars along the way.

Renewing yourself in government is one of the hardest political hurdles to navigate. It’s not what you did yesterday that matters to voters it’s the vision you set out for tomorrow that really counts. That’s why we wanted to do things differently in 2016 and we took our manifesto engagement beyond traditional party structures, holding meetings and events that stretched beyond the normal political safety zone of party members and affiliates.

What struck me as I started my tour across Wales talking to people about their priorities for the next five years it was clear that they wanted a party to lead the next government for the whole of Wales.  They didn’t want a government for one section of society or a few special interests; they wanted it to deliver for every individual, every family and every business right across Wales.

I know it sounds simplistic to say that – but it was true.

As I conducted more meetings and travelled 4,000 miles across Wales, it was striking how often people reflected back to me both a frustration with politics in general as well as a more specific criticism that political parties – of all stripes – were becoming smaller in their reach. Often I heard the view that people felt that there had over time been a ‘narrowing’ of politics as politicians were perceived to be speaking to an increasingly shrinking section of the electorate.  They wanted politicians to open up; for policy to open up, and be representative of the whole country once again.

This was a tough message, but I knew it was an important one.

This was in part where the strapline of our campaign for 2016 ‘Together for Wales’ came from.  I also wanted to make sure the manifesto we developed reflected the desire of the people I met. Our pledges had to provide support to everyone and this had to be a genuinely national manifesto.

That’s what led us to set out the package we have.

For Young People a commitment to invest an additional £100m in Welsh schools over the next Assembly term and for Individuals looking for work a promise to create 100,000 all age apprenticeships to give them a route into higher skills.  For Small Businesses a pledge to cut the business rates they pay and for those in need of life saving care an £80m Treatment Fund for life-threatening illnesses.  For Older People a doubling of the capital limit for those going in to residential care so they can keep more of the money they’ve worked for and for those in north Wales a Metro to improve travel across the region and better link jobs with prosperity.

And perhaps the promise that has resonated most on the doorstep over the last few weeks, for Working Parents of three and four year olds a pledge of 30 hours free childcare, 48 weeks of the year.

Our engagement with groups outside of the traditional party processes also paid dividends.  The idea that Cymdeithas yr Iaith could have influenced our manifesto in years gone by is proably hard to imagine, but by listening, talking to and engaging with them we have renewed our Welsh language offer and committed to a million Welsh speakers by 2050.

It’s clear that there is a huge amount to do over the next few years to achieve the Wales we all want to see. A world class economy with world class public services in tandem with fairness and justice for all.

I hope that what we have put together with this manifesto over the last year, with the help of all those people in Brecon and across Wales, will help us take a step towards that vision.

Ken Skates is the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism. He led the Welsh Labour manifesto process.

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