Wales and the world are changing fast. I’m proud of what we have achieved as a Welsh Labour Government in the first two decades of devolution — but I also know that just offering more of the same isn’t good enough. The next generation of political leadership will require the courage to be different, build on successes while acknowledging shortcomings, to shape a future that works for Wales, and Welsh Labour.
We saw at last year’s snap General Election that the public, in Wales and beyond, are yearning for a radical alternative to more Tory austerity. Welsh Labour must put forward an inspiring and transformational offer to the public in 2021.
We already face huge challenges in this mission, not least the twin attack of a botched Brexit negotiation and continuingTory austerity. From rejecting the tidal lagoon in Swansea, to dithering over the North Wales Growth Deal, to the continuing human catastrophe of Universal Credit the Conservatives have proved that they don’t care about our country or our communities.
As the Welsh Labour leadership contest develops, there will be many opportunities to set out how a radical Welsh Labour Government can fight the Tory threat, and to outline a vision for the future. For me though, there are some obvious priorities for the future.
As a matter of urgency, we need to craft a response to the changing world of work and new forms of inequality. Today, more than 40% of Universal Credit recipients in Wales are in work, while Resolution Foundation research shows that more than three-quarters of people in low paid jobs are still in low pay after a decade of work. Tellingly, an increasing proportion of people who are working remain poor This pernicious cycle benefits no one and is as lacking in economic sense as it is in simple decency. It will only end when we have a UK Labour Government committed to ending failed Tory austerity. However, Welsh families in poverty can’t simply wait and so we must continue to take all possible actions in Wales to reverse this appalling trend. Helping people into work and increasing the number of jobs in Wales that pay a genuine living wage a priority.
The importance of fair work was reinforced to me when I worked as a solicitor representing trade union members. This is why it was right for Welsh Labour to establish the Fair Work Commission in response to calls from the Wales TUC. However, I want to go further and recognise the importance of Good Work.
We need an economy that creates more secure, well paid jobs and that distribute the rewards of hard work more fairly. We need to work with business and trade unions to drive up productivity, harness and incentivise new investment and build the critical infrastructure needed to boost economic growth — including transport, broadband and childcare.
I want to ensure that we get the best possible return public spending — learning from pioneering work in Labour run Preston and Plymouth. Public authorities including local government, the NHS and the Welsh Government itself spend billions each year buying everything from food to cars to stationery. I want to ensure that this spending delivers not just the lowest price but the greatest social value for the people of Wales.
The UK Government’s Industrial Strategy contained barely a mention of trade unions. In contrast, I know unions are critical partners in driving up productivity as well as driving up fairness at work. I want Wales to be the best place to set up and grow a business and the best place to be an employee. The two things should go hand in hand.
Throughout all of this I recognise the historic role played by the trade union movement in our party. Labour was founded by working people through our trade unions. It is a history I am proud of and a link I will not sever or weaken.
We also need to do more on tackling inter-generational disadvantage. We are still a country that is scarred by poverty. We know that around half of a child chances in life are determined by the successes of their parents. We must re-double our efforts to unleash the talents and potential of every child in Wales. Breaking the link between the circumstances of a child’s birth and their future prosperity is the cause that brought me into politics. It is a fight I would put at the heart of my leadership.
I would establish an inter-generational poverty commission, chaired by a new Minister with specific responsibility for developing policy in this area, to bring new policies forward, both for immediate action and our 2021 manifesto. Action in this area will be the defining mission of our government if I am elected.
This will include working with local government and housing associations to find new ways to expand the building of more housing. Housing is at the centre of tackling social injustice. A lack of access to affordable housing remains a key driver of inequality throughout life and in the next Assembly term we will need to do far more. There is of course a significant economic return to be made building homes that are fit for the future. All innovative ideas will be considered and no policy stone will be left unturned.
If it is anything, his leadership contest should be about good will and good ideas. It should be about defining what we are for, not simply what we are against. It should be about celebrating achievements and not trashing them — but also acknowledging where we as a Government, and as a party, have fallen short.
Moreover, we should be honest about what this campaign is — and what it isn’t. More than ever, the threat to our Welsh Labour Government looms large. With the possibility of new leaders for both the Nationalists and the Tories, the possibility of a grubby deal to put the Tories into power is a real one. We must cast aside the complacency that suggests that the Welsh Labour leader is also First Minister whenever the Assembly election is held. The opportunity lead our country into the future has to be earned, not inherited. We will have to run — and win — the campaign of our lives to return a majority Welsh Labour Government in 2021. However that is what I want to do as leader.
Win or lose I want my conduct to help others to make their own path. We are a party that welcomes people from all different backgrounds and life experiences. Under my leadership, Welsh Labour will be a showcase of our inherent strength as a party: a party for all.
Wales needs a government with a long-term strategy to make it fairer, stronger, and ready for the challenge of a changing world. This is my ambition and that is why I am standing to be the leader of Welsh Labour.
Vaughan Gething is the Assembly Member for Cardiff South and Penarth.