AM warns Welsh Labour – ‘no time for complacency’
IS JEREMY Miles planning to jump into the Welsh Labour leadership election? The Counsel General and Neath AM has given his party a stark warning that people see it as “complacent” and it could lose power at the next Assembly election.
In a speech in honour of Aneurin Bevan, he sets out both a vision of how things could go wrong for the party that has held power in Wales since 1999 and a series of ideas for how Labour can address the new challenges facing people today. His call for Labour to give Wales a vision of “justice and aspiration” is just what you might expect to hear from a contender on the campaign trail.
Mr Miles said his speech was not about a leadership bid and he stressed that he had not made “any decisions”. He said he hoped the party will have a debate about ideas and not just the “runners and riders”. But Mr Miles has been considered an AM to watch since he joined the Assembly in 2016 and his promotion to Counsel General confirmed his standing as a rising talent. His speech will only intensify speculation that he may want to play an even bigger role at the heart of Welsh politics.
Here are 10 of his key messages: ■
Labour has been in power in Wales since the founding of the Assembly in 1999. For a brief moment in 2007 it looked as if the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats were on the verge of forming a coalition – but this came to naught, with Plaid joining Labour in government.
However, Mr Miles warns Labour that its grip on power may not continue, saying: “[Even] here in Wales, after almost 20 years in government, it’s not inevitable that we’ll keep winning elections.”
He warns that an image of complacency has driven away voters across Wales, saying: “[We] must do much more than we are doing to reconnect with those voters in the west, in the north and even in the south Wales Valleys who see us as the establishment party, complacent in our electoral success, and lacking a vision they can relate to.”
He says: “When you have been in power for so long, it is a challenge to renew. It gets harder to be creative. Every change of direction is a risk. But we are not in politics to defend a legacy, we are not in politics just for effective delivery and to meet our targets. We are all in politics to change things, to shake things up, to challenge things.”
At a time when divisions between the left and the right in the UK party are glaringly obvious, Mr Miles focuses attention on the goal of taking power. He argues Bevan’s lesson to the party is “how to marry idealism with power”.
He says: “Bevan’s enduring legacy for us as a party is the lesson in how to marry idealism with power. We came into politics because we are idealists. But we need to be in power to change our country.”
He argues that “if we are going to stay in power, we must challenge ourselves – and recapture our hunger for radical change”.
The AM sets out big ambitions and has a series of seats in his sights. He wants to win back Rhondda, where Leanne Wood ousted Labour’s Leighton Andrews in 2016. Mr Miles also wants to take Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire and Preseli Pembrokeshire – seats that Labour has held in the past – from the Conservatives.
And he hopes to snatch Arfon from Plaid Cymru.
Taking Preseli Pembrokeshire would be a particular prize. It is held by new interim Conservative leader Paul Davies, and in Westminster it is represented by former Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb.
As the party marks 70 years of the NHS, Mr Miles wants to see passions soar.
He says: “Marking this anniversary should challenge us all to rediscover Bevan’s anger and passion and to bring about the change that Nye – in all his bloody-minded, single-minded radicalism –, would be fighting for today.
“Bevan’s legacy is that we are not powerless to shape society.”
Mr Miles uses his speech to champion the ideal of equality.
He says: “We talk a lot today about social mobility, about meritocracy, about diversity. All of which have their place, of course, but if we are honest they are a substitute for what should be our larger goal – genuine equality of the sort that Nye fought for. They’re an admission that the real goal – a society where everyone genuinely has an equal chance – is nowhere near. If you like, they’re a marker of an individual succeeding against the odds – but our real goal is to change the odds.” ■
Laying out his vision for the difference education can make to people’s lives, he says: “Some of you will have heard me call for Wales to become a ‘second chance nation.’ A universal right to lifelong learning would give every citizen the chance to reboot their career at any stage in life, knowing that as we move in and out of different types of work, requiring new – maybe digital – skills which we may not yet have, the state is ensuring that we have the support we need along that path.”
Noting the pressures on family budgets, he says: “As income from work becomes more and more uncertain for more and more people, it should be incumbent on the state to do all it can to drive down the cost of basic necessities of everyday life, [such as] energy, transport and even broadband, whose crippling costs burden so many people today. Let us have not-for-profit providers in each of these, offering an ownership stake for each person in Wales, belonging to us all, and delivering – cheaply – the basics that none of us should have to worry about.”
He says: “The National Health Service wasn’t about catching up with other countries – it was about leading the way. And technology can help us to break out of a cycle of trying to catch up, and to imagine what we can do to get ahead, to leapfrog. Bevan’s challenge to us today is, yes, how we can transform his NHS through technology, but more than this, to improve all public services and crucially – through technology – to make sure they don’t become the preserve of the few in an age of austerity.”
> Jeremy Miles