As I write, it has been two years since I was elected to the House of Commons as the MP for my home community of Cynon Valley. I knew before I arrived that Westminster was a bubble, divorced from the real world, but I was not prepared for the scale of the disconnect. It has been a complete culture shock.
Petty factionalism, personality clashes and focus groups dominate the short-sighted news agenda. White noise, as Unite boss Sharon Graham calls it. While there are lots of honourable MPs who want nothing other than to represent the interests of their constituents, the overriding culture at Westminster is one of short-termism and self-interest, political point-scoring and one-upmanship. This culture serves nobody but the rich and powerful.
Meanwhile, people back home are worrying about how to pay the rent, feed their children and heat their homes. The contrast with the concerns of the Westminster bubble could not be more jarring. I sometimes have to remind myself why I stood for parliament. I stood because I love my community and I see every day the challenges we face. It is the privilege of a lifetime to represent my home community. Above all, I want to make a difference and I am determined to be the strong voice that the people of Cynon Valley need and deserve.
The Cynon Valley is an old mining community in the South Wales Valleys. We are a proud community, but we suffer some of the highest levels of poverty and ill health in the United Kingdom. The South Wales Valleys have been subject to various attempts at regeneration since the 1960s, through decades of EU funding, throughout the history of devolution. These attempts have been well-meaning, and many have made a hugely positive difference. But they have clearly not gone far enough.
Recent research I commissioned from the Bevan Foundation found that 42% of working age people in Cynon Valley were out of the labour market, the highest proportion of any UK constituency. If we are going to solve these seemingly intractable problems, we must go further and faster than ever before.
I want a society that puts people before profits. I want an economy centred on the wellbeing of future generations, not perpetual growth. To achieve this, we need bold, radical, socialist policies. Policies that will transform the way we live and work.
I was elected on a progressive Labour manifesto that understood the scale of the problems we faced and that offered genuine, deliverable solutions. For the many, not the few. That manifesto still sits in pride of place on my mantelpiece. My commitment to those socialist principles is unwavering.
Our adversarial, London-centric political system has short-changed people in Cynon Valley for too long. It is time for a different approach. When I brought Cynon Valley residents together to speak about the climate crisis, they were clear: co-operation, not competition, must be the way forward. This is the spirit that we see thriving today in Wales.
The co-operation agreement between Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru signals a different type of politics, a ‘grown-up politics’, where the needs of the people of Wales are held above party politics. Together, Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru will deliver universal free school meals to primary-aged children, expand childcare to all two-year-olds, take radical action on unaffordable housing.
Together, they will work towards a National Care Service and a publicly owned energy company for Wales. Together, they will consider constitutional reform to strengthen the democratic rights of the people of Wales.
The proportional system in the Senedd has helped to foster this culture of co-operation and partnership working. This is an advantage that many of us would love to see in Westminster and one that has the support of a large majority of Labour members.
In Mark Drakeford, we have a leader who is capable, collegiate and above all, committed to doing the best by the people of Wales. Crucially, he has listened to the grassroots campaigners who drove these issues up the agenda. Here in Cynon Valley, I try to follow that lead and ensure partnership working is at the heart of everything I do, from crowdsourcing my first PMQ to asking local people for their input on the climate crisis and convening a non-partisan economy advisory group to explore the post-Covid economy of the Cynon Valley.
In Cynon Valley, we cannot afford more business as usual. We cannot accept more short-termism, more political point-scoring or professional credit-taking. It is time to cut the white noise and embrace this grown-up politics for the good of the many. Clear red water is becoming clear red action here in Wales, and people in Westminster need to sit up and take notice.