The Welsh Labour leadership election is an opportunity to examine the economic and social stress Wales finds itself in today — and to highlight concrete, socialist solutions for the country, writes Beth Winter MP.
The flag of Wales against the first of the Three Sisters, which guards the entrance to Glencoe. (zmeel / Getty Images)
As we embark on a New Year, my thoughts on politics in Cymru have been with one eye reflecting on the past while the other is firmly focussed on the future.
From the early struggles for democracy in Merthyr and Newport in the 1830s to the collective action of South Wales miners in almost every decade since the 1890s, Wales has a rich tradition of working-class struggle. Indeed, it was the cooperative delivery of health in the South Wales town of Tredegar that provided inspiration for the establishment of the National Health Service.
This commitment to fight for change persists among us socialists, underpinning our outlook and our actions. We seek a fairer, more equal society based on dignity and social justice. A society that puts people before profit, in Cymru but also, as internationalists, worldwide.
We are at a critical juncture in Cymru with the departure of Mark Drakeford as Welsh Labour Leader and First Minister of Wales. The campaign to succeed him has commenced between two contenders — the Education Minister, Jeremy Miles and the Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething. Hustings commence at the end of January with the successful candidate announced in mid-March.
This leadership election provides a critical opportunity for a much-needed open discussion on a future vision for Wales.
Welsh Labour has been in Government in Cymru since 1999. This is an achievement and has meant Wales has been able to steer a more progressive path to that pursued at a UK level — including a willingness to work across parties as per the Cooperation Agreement; a commitment to public ownership; the aspiration to become a Nation of Sanctuary; the roll out of universal Free School Meals in primary schools; the establishment of the Climate Ministry; the Universal Basic Income pilot; the passage of the Future Generations Act and Social Partnership and Public Procurement Act.
But having an open discussion also means recognising limitations to what’s been achieved — the continuation of historic deindustrialisation; poverty levels, especially child poverty, remain painfully high; investment in vital public services remains problematic; austerity persists with the worst cost of living crisis in living memory; a real term reduction in funding to Wales coupled with the re-centralisation of power in Westminster; the lack of involvement of far too many voters in the political process.
Having a clear socialist vision should be the basis for political, social and economic progress in Cymru. There are five key areas on which I think the leadership debate in Cymru should concentrate in order to move towards this vision. Further articles on each of these will follow in the coming weeks. The five areas are:
Wales needs its own long-term national economic strategy. A new Welsh Labour leader, assuming the role of First Minister, will need to set out the spending and investment agenda Cymru needs. Central to this in the leadership election is a discussion of what modern socialist economics requires in order to recover from austerity — how do we address inequality and secure the redistribution of wealth, what needs to be spent to deliver world-class services, how do we build community wealth — or, as we call it, cymunedoli, how will we deliver on our commitment to public sector pay restoration, and if we don’t currently have the finance to deliver those requirements, from where do we generate it. How also do we measure our economic and political success? By continuing the obsession with ‘economic growth’ or, for example, by prioritising improvements in the health and wellbeing of the people of Cymru?
Inextricably linked to the economic strategy is the prioritisation of tackling the existential climate emergency. Positive steps have been taken with our declaration of a Climate Emergency and the creation of the Climate Ministry which has produced comprehensive plans, but the agenda is not without continued challenges. Cymru, for instance, still does not have the finances to deliver on its commitment to retrofit homes and reduce household energy bills.
There is a need to remain outward facing. Despite reserved powers for foreign relations, Cymru must remain an inclusive and internationalist nation that is proud to welcome newcomers and to set out views on events around the world. We must renew our commitment to being a Nation of Sanctuary and we need public office holders like the First Minister to give Cymru a voice on conflicts like that taking place in Gaza. The sale of arms produced here in Cymru to countries that violate human rights laws should be stopped.
Constitutional change is an essential link in this vision. The final report of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales is imminent. Labour must engage fully in this process without shying away from consideration of all possible outcomes. The measure of which option for Cymru is most beneficial will depend on which works best in the interests of the working class of our country. But the debate needs to take place as openly and as widely as possible involving individuals and community groups throughout Cymru.
Underpinning all this is the necessity for the continuous engagement and organisation of the people of Cymru in politics, ensuring communities are involved in determining our future and collective vision. It is vital that political leaders, including the two leadership candidates, realise that their role is not simply to manage and administer services. They also have a political voice and should use it to represent the interests of the people of Cymru, whichever colour of government sits in Westminster.
An alternative to the present economic and political system is possible for Cymru. It isn’t new — it’s called socialism. And it’s time that was back on our agenda. I hope this leadership election is the start of that.Original post