What Wales is looking for in Labour’s next leader

Wales needs the next Labour leader to develop and refine the policies which demonstrate that our party stands for a different and better future – not a more competent administration of the status quo. We have to offer a genuine alternative for the future of our country.

Of course, personal qualities matter in politics. But for me, the crucial test is always political belief, rather than personal characteristics. When I cast my vote, it will be predicated on the person whose policy agenda and political values are closest to mine, rather than because someone comes from a particular part of the country or
belongs to a particular group.

I will also want to see an ability to construct and communicate a persuasive narrative to inspire voters to believe that there is a better way and to win confidence as a credible leader of the UK in uncertain and difficult times. I believe that whoever leads next must retain our best ideas from the last two manifestos to form the basis of the party’s new policy agenda. But a compelling narrative must lead the debate and create a sense of mission and hope in the minds of voters. Our messaging must be simplified.

Many of our policy proposals are supported by a wide swathe of voters. The reversal of the decline in our political fortunes will not be found in reversing long-standing – and popular – aspects of the Labour Party. The next Labour leader must continue to espouse and refine policies which mark us out as the party of hope.

Nowhere is that agenda more important than in Wales. Wales needs the incoming leader to speak up for our essential interests as the UK leaves the European Union. The UK will now leave the EU – however, the banal mendacity of getting Brexit done will be exposed over the whole of this parliament. Quitting our largest, closest and most important market fixes nothing. Instead, it creates a new set of dilemmas, which will be with us for years to come.

We need a new Labour leader who will continue to speak up for manufacturing industry and a balanced economy, which trades as freely as possible with our European neighbours. Leaving the EU should not mean taking leave of our senses. We have to be an outward-looking country, committed to acting internationally with others, welcoming and determined to dissolve barriers, rather than erecting new ones.

Our Welsh economy needs to recruit people to work in private businesses, public services and universities. We must not fall into the trap of submitting to social conservatism. We must lead an open, inclusive approach to our fellow citizens, wherever they were born, whatever their race or religion. Our food producers and manufacturers need to trade without barriers. We need a new relationship with the EU, based on a form of associate status. The new Labour leader will need to help make that happen.

The future of the UK is at greater peril now than at any time in recent history. The next leader must speak up for a reformed UK, based on maximum self-determination for each of the four nations, while retaining the practical benefits that the UK brings to its constituent parts.

Labour won more seats in Wales than the Conservative Party won in total outside England. The UK government elected in December was defeated by the SNP in Scotland, by Welsh Labour in Wales and is friendless in Northern Ireland. Its leadership is instinctively attracted to the hollow rhetoric of imperialism and the instruments of colonialism. Its prescription for the union – a flag-waving insistence on the presence and power of the London-based government in all parts of the UK – will simply add new impetus to the fissures already manifest in it.

The new Labour leader must commit to a broad-based constitutional convention, bringing together progressive forces to agree a blueprint for the future of the UK as a voluntary association of four nations, in which we make a new reality of the 100-year-plus policy of Home Rule all round. The Welsh government’s 20-point plan should be a key contribution to that debate.

The next Labour leader must speak up for Wales in this parliament, resisting attempts to dilute devolution and supporting efforts to strengthen the current settlement. While the future of the UK depends on a fundamental reform of the current arrangements, there are important short-term goals to be pursued in the present settlement to bring greater coherence to Welsh devolution. The leader must make a strong commitment to resist efforts to roll back devolution, for example through the UK government’s proposed shared prosperity fund.

They must also be committed to supporting strengthened devolution as a result of the outcome of the Williams review of rail; the Thomas report on justice; the devolution of air passenger duty; land tax in Wales and reform of the Barnett formula. A majority Conservative government is likely to act as a brake on even the most obvious rough edges of the present devolution settlement. We need a UK Labour leader who will speak up for the measures, which the Welsh Labour government needs to discharge our responsibilities effectively in Wales.

Whoever is next to lead must bring the internal arrangements of the party into line with devolution, strengthening the autonomy of Welsh Labour. It is essential that Welsh Labour remains part of the UK Labour family, but the current arrangements do not reflect the constitutional developments of the past 20 years.

We need greater control of our own rulebook in Wales, an enhanced right to shape political campaigning and the decentralisation of staff to support devolved functions. The incoming Labour leader should also commit to working positively to implement any changes proposed in the second phase of Lord Murphy’s democracy review in Wales.

The social partnership approach we have developed in Wales should be adopted as the UK Labour method of building alliances for progressive change. Over the next five years, Labour will be out of power at Westminster but we can still exercise direct political decision-making by winning devolved, local government and mayoral elections. Our partners in the trade union movement and allies in civil society can help set out a distinctive, radical and popular alternative to hardline neoliberalism.

This will require a leader who sees it as their mission to act as the leader of the wider Labour movement, rather than just the parliamentary Labour party. London – and the Houses of Parliament – exercise a centrifugal force on any leader, extracting time and energy and blotting out opportunities to invest in the broad base of progressive politics. The coming leader must devote the next five years to building the party, and its support, on a far wider partnership basis, using the social partnership model developed in Wales as the basis.

Wales is unique in the UK, having a Labour government for the last two decades. Many of the policies that were so popular in the 2017 and 2019 manifestos were made in Wales and are an everyday reality here – from free hospital car parking and free prescriptions for all, to the retention of the education maintenance allowance and the most generous system of support for university students anywhere in the UK. Wales and Welsh Labour seats will be key to Labour winning the next general election – winning in Wales will help the next Labour leader become our next Prime Minister.

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