Mark Drakeford, the Labour leader in Wales and First Minister of Wales, has called for internal party reforms on the basis that Labour “has not caught up with the devolution that they advocate for government across the United Kingdom”.
During a webinar hosted by Labour in Communications, a network of Labour-backing public affairs experts, Drakeford was asked whether Labour is properly supporting devolved leaders and involving them in the internal structures of the party.
The First Minister replied: “I think there are a number of different strands in an answer. One is that the Labour Party itself has not caught up with the devolution that they advocate for government across the United Kingdom.
“There are still decisions made at the NEC [national executive committee] that patently ought to be made by the Welsh executive, because those decisions only apply to people who live and are members of the party here in Wales.
“So, inside the party, there is a job of work to be done in bringing up to date the way that we do our business, to reflect the presence of metro mayors and the presence of devolution.”
Drakeford expressed disappointment in 2019 when Labour’s NEC refused to back the devolution of reselection processes. He told LabourList at the time that the rulebook was “incomplete and untidy” and did not “make sense for Welsh members”.
Speaking to Labour in Communications this week, Drakeford added: “I think there is something very enveloping about the Westminster world. I think even very good people once they’re there, they are there for the week, aren’t they?
“The people they talk to, they meet, the perspectives they share, are all seen from that Westminster perspective. You have to work very hard indeed, I think, always, to be recognising that is only one fragment of the wider political world that is the United Kingdom.
“So I’m not surprised by it, because it’s a sort of cultural pull that Westminster exercises over people, partly because of physical conditions, but also the weight of history and culture, and all that.
“I think Keir is very keen to be out, to be active physically in places that are not London and so on, but it’s like trying to walk up a down escalator, isn’t it?”
Asked for his advice to Keir Starmer, Drakeford recommended – while acknowledging that “I’m in an easier position because Wales is a Labour country” – that Labour should always “speak in an authentically Labour voice”.
He said: “The politics of trying to sound like you’re somebody else because the focus group has told you that you need to do that is a very short term sense of how you fashion your future.
“I think people vote Labour when they hear the Labour Party say things they recognise as belonging to the Labour tradition. Now, that’s a broad church and there’s a great deal of room along that spectrum to fashion a political offer, but it has to be authentic.
“People have to think you’re saying it because that’s what Labour believes, not because you’re involved in some sort of political tricksy triangulation, in which you’re trying to steal somebody else’s clothes for the temporary purpose of winning a few more votes.”
Drakeford also advised Starmer on creating “a sense of identity”, saying: “One of the things that I think we have managed to do in Wales is, when people vote for Labour in Wales we are very proud of that fact.
“We like the people who vote for us. We have that sort of relationship I hope by working very hard at it and renewing it all the time. We have that sense of identity. To be Welsh and to vote Labour are two identities that live right on top of one another.
“I think in some parts of the country we have had a problem that people who we hope will vote for us sometimes think that the Labour Party doesn’t like them that much. We’ve got to get that right. We’ve got to.
“That ‘Labour works’ mantra, I would use it for every part of our country… We need an identity between the party and the people in that locality that says we’re on your side, we’re part of you, and we are hugely proud when we persuade you to vote for us.”
Asked for his reaction to Bury South MP Christian Wakeford defecting from the Conservatives to Labour, Drakeford said: “There is more rejoicing in heaven over the repentance of a sinner. So, of course in that sense, of course I do.”
Labour in Communications is doing a series of events called “Labour in Power”, which aims to highlight the successes of Labour’s elected leaders across the UK, from First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford to mayors such as Andy Burnham.