“Socialism in action” – Mark Drakeford’s Welsh Labour Together speech

Mark Drakeford

Below is the full text of the speech delivered by First Minister Mark Drakeford at the ‘Welsh Labour Together’ online conference today.

Good morning. Bore da. I gymaint ohonom ni mae Cynhadledd Llafur Cymru bob amser yn amser arbennig o’r flwyddyn. Cyfle i gyfarfod, yn bersonol, â ffrindiau o bob rhan o’r mudiad llafur ac i edrych ymlaen at y flwyddyn i ddod. Ond yn 2020 nid oes gennym y fraint honno. For so many of us Welsh Labour conference is always a special time of year. A chance to meet up, in person, with friends from across the labour movement and to look forward to the year ahead. But in 2020 we don’t have that privilege. Covid remains a very real threat. To ourselves, our families and our economy and it just isn’t possible for us to gather as we would ordinarily do. And while it’s great to be here at Sophia Gardens, I’d rather be with you.

These last seven months have been the most difficult many of us have known. Some of us have lost loved ones. We’ve been separated from family and friends. We’ve had to adapt the way we live, work and travel. And, unfortunately, those sacrifices are not at an end. As recent weeks have demonstrated, the virus never went away and is now spreading fast once again. It has been necessary in the last week for us to institute new restrictions to halt the virus and protect our NHS. Steps none of us welcome – but have had to take in order to keep the people of Wales safe through the coming winter.

What gives me confidence that we can get through these next, difficult, few months is that we have shown in Wales what can be achieved when we work together. Shown that when we put our labour values into practical action we can support one another through even the toughest of times. Values of cooperation not competition. Looking out for one another, not divided against each other. Our response to the crisis in Wales over these last few months has been built on those values.

Our test, trace and protect system has worked better than it has done in England because it has been delivered locally; it has been rooted in local government and our NHS and it has been shaped by our values of public service, not private profit. Our support for business in Wales through this pandemic has been the best anywhere in the UK – protecting more than 100,000 jobs – because it has been designed and delivered in social partnership with unions and employers working together in the national interest, not in conflict and confrontation.

It has been our progressive values, translated into positive action through this crisis that has kept Wales and our communities safe. Kept us protected. And helped us solve problems. When the virus hit and our NHS urgently needed new stocks of Protective Equipment to keep those on the frontline safe, industry and government in Wales came together to find the solution. When we urgently needed new volunteers to help deliver food to those who were shielding, local government, the third sector and others came together and 32,000 people signed up to help.

We have shown over these last six months the power of collective action. For us it has been practical socialism in action. As a Welsh Labour government we are now taking the actions to get us through the winter months. We are making sure our hospitals, NHS and care staff are ready for the challenges they will face. We are building extra capacity into our track and trace system to help it cope with additional demand. And we are putting in place regulations that can make our workplaces and communities safe. And as a government we will use the powers we have available, whatever the circumstances, in the assertive and confident way that devolution allows. We will stand up for Wales.

The months ahead look tougher than the months behind because we are all tired and wish the virus would go away. Sadly, that is not going to happen. But we can get through if we continue to work together and recognise the enormous strength that we draw from our public services, especially our NHS.

While this year’s conference is a little different, it is no less important. It is a chance for us to look beyond the dark moments we find ourselves in now and to begin to shape the Wales we want to come out of this pandemic. The Wales of tomorrow. Because in May, when we fight the Senedd elections, we will have the chance to win a mandate to create that future. Where we protect the people, places and services we care for; where we build a greener future for ourselves and our young people; and where we change to meet the challenges that face us now and in the future. Creating a future for the 16 and 17 year olds – our very own devolution generation – able for the first time to vote and to shape the Wales they want to see.

We must use those elections to set out the case – the labour case – for how we can build that Wales of tomorrow with them. To show how it can be shaped by our shared values of social justice, fairness and equality of outcome. A future grounded in our progressive values. Rŵan, fe glywch lawer gan ein gwrthwynebwyr yn ystod y misoedd nesaf bod Llafur wedi bod mewn grym yn rhy hir; ei bod hi’n amser i rywun newydd. Fel petai ddemocratiaeth yn gêm lle mae’n rhaid i bawb gael tro. Ond y gwir yw mai dim ond Llafur sydd wedi cyflawni newid go iawn ac ystyrlon trwy gydol y ganrif ddiwethaf.

Now you will hear a lot from our opponents in these coming months that Labour has been in power too long; that it’s time for someone new. As though democracy were a game in which everybody has to have a turn. But the truth is that throughout the last century it is only Labour that has delivered real and meaningful change. At those pivotal moments of our recent history it has been to Labour that people have looked to articulate a vision of a better tomorrow.

After the war when people wanted protection against the giants of poverty, squalor and want it was to the Tredegar model here in Wales that Labour looked to build the NHS. In the 1960s when a new generation of individuals wanted the skills and opportunity to get on in their lives it was Labour’s Open University and the biggest investment in housing seen in a generation that helped transform the lives of millions of working people. And here in Wales, it was Welsh Labour that scrapped prescription charges; that protected the EMA and developed the Future Generations Act. Labour has always been the party of change.

And now we face another of those pivotal moments in our history. A moment of adversity from which we must again lead Wales on the path of change. We’ll build trust for that work by pointing to our record. To the fact that though Covid has disrupted us, we will be able to say on election day that we have delivered on those promises we made to the people of Wales back in 2016: We have delivered 100,000 new apprenticeships. We have delivered £100m of additional funding to our schools. We have put in place a new £80m Treatment Fund. We have raised the capital threshold for those entering residential care. We have delivered a new national system of free childcare. And we have delivered 20,000 new affordable homes.

In building for the recovery we won’t fall back on easy answers and empty rhetoric. Covid has shown us all – in a sad and tragic way – that slick, three word slogans are no match for the brutal reality of a global pandemic. The Tories can vacate the centre ground and shout ‘Get Brexit Done’ but their incompetence and ideology is careering us into the worst economic mess in a hundred years. Plaid’s easy rhetoric about independence may sound superficially attractive to some, but in many ways is cut from the same cloth – just another slogan peddled because it’s easier than confronting the real challenges facing people and communities in Wales in 2020.

The challenges of poverty, of inequality and climate injustice. So as well as being a moment for change, let it also be a moment for a new kind of grown up politics. A time when we recognise that the complex problems we face cannot be answered by mendacious slogans plastered on the side of a bus. A time when we acknowledge that our economic future lies not in recreating a nostalgic past or in promising a fantasy future. Let this be the time where values, evidence and justice are put back at the heart of our search for a stronger, fairer and more sustainable future. Only Welsh Labour can lead that radical change.

So let us, over these next few days, make plans to seize this moment. To move beyond the politics of deliberate inequality or the divisive nationalism that defines our opponents. To change the way we work, the way we live and the way look after one another so that we address the deeper, fundamental challenges we face. Radical change hammered out through the kind of partnership, solidarity and hard work that has helped us through this pandemic. And throughout our history as a party and a movement.

Rydych chi wedi ein helpu i gadw Cymru yn ddiogel. Gyda chymorth chi gallwn adeiladu Cymru yfory. Cymru sy’n hyderus; yn barod i wynebu heriau’r dyfodol a bob amser ar ei orau pan fyddwn ni’n gweithio gyda’n gilydd.

You have helped us to keep Wales safe. With your help we can build the Wales of tomorrow. A Wales that is confident; that is ready to face the challenges of the future and that is always at its best when we work together. Thank you. Diolch

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