“Above and beyond”: Rayner praises Welsh Labour government on Covid

Elliot Chappell

Angela Rayner has said she is proud of Welsh Labour for going “above and beyond” the support on offer from the UK government to protect people in the pandemic and argued it is Labour values that are “seeing us through this crisis”.

Addressing members this evening as part of ‘Welsh Labour Together‘, she declared that the Welsh Labour government is “standing up for Wales and showing the rest of the UK the difference that a Labour government makes”.

Rayner started by thanking First Minister Mark Drakeford and his cabinet for the work they have done to protect people in the pandemic, and told the audience this evening that “every day we see the difference that Labour in power makes”.

Commenting on last night’s vote in the UK parliament, Rayner highlighted that while the Tories voted down extending free school meals over the holidays, Labour has “made sure that every child will get fed and every family has that security”.

The party chair, deputy leader and Shadow First Secretary of State said: “Last night, the Tories voted against proper economic support for people and businesses in areas facing restrictions.

“In Wales, Labour has gone above and beyond the support on offer from Westminster to support businesses, safeguard jobs and protect people’s incomes by delivering the most generous business support package anywhere in the UK.

“In England the Tories are lining the pockets of management consultants and Serco shareholders, spending billions on a test and trace system that has collapsed. In Wales, the system is working effectively because it is run locally and as a public service, focused on saving lives not boosting profits.”

The latest figures show that people using regional Covid test sites, local test sites or mobile testing units in England are now waiting around 48 hours for their results, which is twice what the Prime Minister had promised by the end of June.

The update on the UK government’s test and trace system also found that it was only able to reach 59.6% of Covid “close contacts” in England between October 8th and 14th, which is the worst result since the service launched in May.

The deputy Labour leader compared the difference between the Tory approach to Covid and the strategy pursued by the Welsh government led by Drakeford, arguing that Boris Johnson has “clearly lost control of the virus and he has no plan.”

She said: “In England the Tories are following a course of action that their own scientific advisors have said will not be enough to bring infections down, and that the Prime Minister himself admitted only has a chance of working.

“So as I said in parliament yesterday, I am proud of the Welsh government, I am proud of Mark Drakeford and how you are putting lives and livelihoods in Wales first.

“The Prime Minister has clearly lost control of the virus and he has no plan. Infections are rising, hospital admissions are rising and tragically so are deaths. Boris Johnson should follow Mark’s lead, follow the scientific advice and act now to control infections, protect our NHS and fix the testing system.”

Members of the scientific advisory group for emergencies (SAGE) have advised that Downing Street implement a ‘circuit break’ lockdown. Labour figures have repeatedly demanded Johnson follow this advice but he has ignored the calls.

Keir Starmer recently used a televised speech to the public to advocate for the national measure following reports that ministers ignored the advice from experts, warning that “the government’s plan simply isn’t working”.

But Johnson has continued to insist that the local, tier-based approach to the pandemic is working despite rising cases and told MPs during the latest session of Prime Minister’s Questions that it is the “sensible” approach.

Drakeford announced during a Covid briefing earlier this week that Wales will go into a national “time-limited firebreak” lockdown on Friday, describing the measure as a “short, sharp, shock” to “slow down the virus and buy us more time”.

Rayner told members at the online event this evening: “The Welsh Labour government’s attention is rightly focused on dealing with the response to the coronavirus pandemic and doing what is needed to protect people and jobs.

“But Welsh Labour Together is a chance for us to come together as a party and think about what comes next and plan for the future that we can build together.

“Next May we have a vital set of elections in Wales. There is so much at stake and so much on the line for our communities.

“The coronavirus crisis has changed everything, for all of us, and of course it will change how we organise and campaign in the elections. But what hasn’t changed are our values.

“It is those values of fairness and compassion that are seeing us through this crisis, and it is these values that must be the foundation of our recovery. Out of this crisis we can and we will build a better, fairer, more equal society.”

The event this evening formed part of a series of online workshops, panels and rallies in the Welsh Labour Together conference, which was arranged by the party to replace the usual annual gathering when it was cancelled due to the pandemic.

The Welsh Labour leader launched the week of events last Thursday with a Q&A session with party members in Wales, in which he discussed the internal market bill, holiday hunger, the transition to a green economy and more.

In his keynote address to the conference earlier today, Drakeford highlighted the approach Wales has taken to the crisis: “We have shown over these last six months the power of collective action. For us it has been practical socialism in action.”

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