Why and how the Labour Party needs to change in Wales — Eluned Morgan AM

Welsh Fabians
Aug 30, 2018 · 8 min read

I was brought up as a vicar’s daughter on one of the largest council housing estates in Europe. Here I saw the results of injustice first hand on a daily basis, and since then I have campaigned to ensure that people can strive to fulfill their potential and contribute to society- irrespective of their background or abilities.

Very early on the Labour Party became my family, but the Labour Party in Wales needs to change if we are to retain the confidence of the public to continue to govern Wales after 22 years in power by the next election. Whilst we should be proud of the fact that we have worked to protect the poorest from the worst of the Tory imposed austerity cuts, it will be difficult for us to continue to lead unless we are honest and face up to some of the real issues confronting our party and our nation.

We can no longer take the votes of our traditional working class for granted. We tried to provide leadership over BREXIT and many in our core support base failed to respond. We need to build the trust of many in the middle class whose votes are essential if we are to win in crucial swing seats, giving us the majority we need to carry out our political priorities. Turn out in Assembly Elections is 45%, and fewer than half of people in Wales realise that the NHS is the responsibility of the Welsh Government.

Never in my life time have we seen such depths of division between young and old, the city and the countryside, the university educated and those with alternative skills. Whilst we should be proud that we have a record number of people in employment- many of these are in precarious roles and have to work at several jobs to make ends meet. 50% of the people of Wales have less than £100 in savings, and whilst some of this is undoubtedly because of poor pay and a lack of savings culture, we must protect those who are poor and vulnerable from those who are content to exploit their situation. The biggest and most fundamental problem however is that Wales is still underperforming when it comes to the economy. Far too many people in Wales are living on a knife edge, in insecure work where they are intensely aware of the inequality of our age.

All this is happening before we confront some of the biggest challenges of our age — BREXIT, an ageing population, an obesity and mental health crises, the threat of automation and digitisation to current jobs and the key issue of climate change and sustainability. These new challenges mean that we will need to re-prioritise and redirect public finances in future.

Politics must be more than a struggle for office or power

We need to understand that politics must be much more than a struggle for office or power. I am not interested in being a leader whose job is simply to manage. We have to ensure that all our policies and priorities are based around a framework of Socialist values and principles- a framework which attempts to ensure that people work and act together to transform society, a framework that promotes the common good and that understands that the free market cannot answer some of the most fundamental questions that we confront like how to tackle poverty, addressing inequality, ecological challenges and fighting for social justice.

We must have the confidence to stand and be firm and make the case for immigration and underline the contribution that so many migrants have made to develop our nation.

Communicating better the good work of Labour in Wales

We must also become much better at communicating the positive difference that a Labour Government makes in Wales. How many people in the party let alone the public know that Labour has put a ceiling on the costs of care in Wales to £80 a week compared to the unlimited amount charged in England? How many know that the Education Maintenance Allowance has been retained or that we are building 20,000 homes, whilst there has been a 90% drop in Social Housing being built since the Tories came to power in the UK. We need a revolution in the way that we communicate with the people of Wales, understanding that the world has moved on from printed newspapers and TV. This is particularly true in parts of North East Wales.

Communities exist today in very different forms from the way that they have existed in the past. Communities today are as likely to be virtual, existing in chat rooms and Facebook groups as they are to be found in towns, villages and pubs in Wales. We must learn to communicate better with these new communities, but we also need to recognise that the family in all its various shapes and forms is still the basic unit of society and we need as Socialists to promote policies which support families. As a mother I understand all too well the multiple pressures on families today.

Politics that responds to the grass roots

But we also need to get away from the idea that the state is the answer to all of our problems, in particular when Tory austerity cuts continue to damage Welsh Labour’s ability to deliver public services. We need to broaden responsibility beyond government into our communities — developing a grass roots response to what matters to people. That is why I have initiated the Beyond the Bubble conversation with the party and the public in Wales — to ensure that Government is delivered not just top down, but responds as a result of listening to what people really want and feel.

Reaching out to the whole of Wales

It is also essential that we respond to the needs of the whole of Wales. There is a real danger that we are becoming Cardiff centric in the way we respond politically, although we need to acknowledge that Cardiff and Swansea are key powerhouses for growth. How do we expect to win in Westminster and elect Jeremy Corbyn as leader if we do not respond to what people in our key seats beyond Cardiff are asking of us? We need for example to ensure that we have a real answer on rural poverty — as well as addressing poverty in our poorest valleys communities, and accept that the economic axis in North Wales is into the North West of England.

Building politics on Socialist values

It is essential that we tackle not just the consequences of inequality, but that we attack the causes of inequality — educational opportunities, job opportunities, justice in the workplace and fighting structural discrimination.

We need to understand that you can’t deliver social justice without ensuring economic efficiency. Both must go hand in hand, and that is one of the reasons why I would ensure that the economy is at the top of the agenda if I were elected leader of Welsh Labour.

All of this must be rooted in a clear understanding of what Democratic Socialism means. An understanding that every individual is of equal worth and value and has a right to have his or her opinion heard. This should also be true within the party — which is why I believe we should move to a system of One Member One Vote. Listening to that voice, — before it votes is what will help us to continue in power. The people of Wales are speaking- and I am listening.

Wales still has a proud trade union tradition, but we need to confront the reality that between 2015–2017 trade union membership in Wales dropped by 16%. As trade unionists we need to be challenged to ensure that the priorities which we are promoting are in tune with the priorities of the workers and of society.

More of the same after 22 years in power would be a high risk strategy for any government. It is essential that we renew in office if we are to ensure that our political offering is still palatable and relevant for the people of Wales. We need to change, adapt and respond to these new and challenging circumstances if we are to maintain power. But every new policy must be set against clear Socialist benchmarks of internationalism, protection of the weak and vulnerable, economic competence, and environmental sustainability.

A refreshed vision for Wales

There are really talented members in the Labour group in the Assembly, so why support my leadership?

I will reach beyond the Bubble of Cardiff Bay, and provide a new refreshed and radical vision for the whole of Wales.

As a committed Democratic Socialist and a relatively new member of the Welsh Government I will bring a new energy and vision to rebuilding the whole of Wales through community endeavour, harnessing the potential and confidence of people so that all feel that they can contribute. I will draw on my broader political experience in the European Parliament and the House of Lords as well as my experience working in industry to focus on the challenges of a changing jobs market, an ageing population, obesity, mental health and climate change. Communicating with the public is key to political leadership- a skill which I honed whilst working in the BBC.

I want to lead a party that is on the side of working people — the majority — not the privileged minority. I want to lead a party that recognises that members have more to offer than simply delivering leaflets.

The fall- out from BREXIT could deliver a devastating blow to Wales. People were misled, and the Tories have shown their utter incompetence in the negotiations with the EU. This is why I support a People’s Vote where I would campaign to stop a hard BREXIT. But if the worst happens and we fall out of the EU without a deal, -my 15 years’ experience as a Welsh MEP means that I am aware and can focus on where the impact will hit hardest if the situation occurs. My international relationships will ensure that Wales can forge new international links which will be essential to ensure an outward looking nation — determined to tackle discrimination in all its forms.

Labour cannot rest on its laurels, it cannot and should not have the arrogance of assuming that we will always be in power in Wales. We need to constantly earn the trust of the Welsh public. After 19 years in power offering more of the same will not be sufficient. We need as a nation and as a party to display competence, compassion and creativity in the face of new and future challenges.

Eluned Morgan is an Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales.

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