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IT’S A joy to be back in Llandludno. It’s such a beautiful town and a beautiful part of the country. And it’s fantastic to be here among friends and to feel the energy and the strength of Welsh Labour.
I want to begin by remembering a Welsh Labour hero, Paul Flynn, MP for Newport West from 1987 until he passed away in February.
Paul was a pioneer. He didn’t see being an MP as an end in itself. He knew that he could use Parliament as a tool for social change. He was a fiercely independent backbencher.
He once joked in the House of Commons that “For the past 26 years I’ve been a backbencher by choice. And not just my choice it was the choice of the past five leaders of my party too!”
But I was honoured to have him in my shadow cabinet. He was a brilliant representative for his constituents and a truly wonderful man. Thank you, Paul, for everything you did.
And Conference, let’s all give a big congratulations to our newest Labour MP, Ruth Jones. Ruth, well done on your brilliant by-election win for Labour. It showed that the people of Newport reject austerity and want a real alternative. I know you’ll be a powerful voice for your community in Parliament.
And I want to thank Christina Rees, shadow secretary of state of Wales, for standing up for Wales in Westminster.
And of course, I couldn’t come here and not give my warmest congratulations to Mark Drakeford on becoming the new leader of Welsh Labour and the new First Minister for Wales.
Mark, you care passionately about creating a more equal society. It’s a great pleasure to work alongside you and I’m excited about what we could achieve together if we were both in government.
Thank you also to Eluned Morgan and Vaughan Gething for the positive way you campaigned in the leadership contest.
And I pay tribute to Carwyn Jones for all his achievements as first minister. Thank you, Carwyn.
Conference, these have been intense weeks, intense months, in politics. Let’s be honest, our Westminster political system hasn’t come out of it too well
People watch the back and forth in Parliament. They see the arcane procedure and hear the alien language. It’s another world. For me, that’s not what real politics is about. Real politics comes from the ground up.
Real politics is about the nitty gritty of life in your community, on your street. It’s about the reality of your life at work. Real politics for me is about empowering people who don’t have a lot of money and don’t have friends in high places — so they can take control of their own lives
My job as leader, and our job as the Labour Party, is to champion those people to stand up for those communities and push for change.
First, to change society where all true progress comes from. Then to represent that change in Westminster, which is usually the last place to understand it.
But when the focus of our national conversation is dominated by baffling procedures in Parliament and when nothing seems to change, I understand why people feel frustrated. And I understand that when it comes to Brexit most people just want politicians to sort this out.
So when the Prime Minister announced that she wanted to speak to me to find a Brexit compromise, of course I agreed. I didn’t have any advance notice of her invitation, by the way. I found out when I heard it on TV, like everyone else
It’s scandalous that it came so late in the Brexit process, not at the 11th hour, not even at five to midnight, but at five past midnight after she missed her own deadline of March 29.
Nevertheless, we’re engaging in the talks in a serious and constructive way. But we must see those red lines moving and we must see real compromise.
And I have to say, it is a challenge to negotiate with a government that’s collapsing — when you can’t be sure if commitments made by the Prime Minister will survive the week and when Cabinet collective responsibility has given way to collective irresponsibility, with ministers contradicting each other on the airwaves.
Nearly everyone now agrees that the Prime Minister could and should have tried to build a consensus much earlier. We might be in a very different place if she had. But instead she stuck rigidly to a flawed plan. She ran down the clock and ran out of time.
The extension she has had to agree is a result of her failure, and is yet another milestone in this government’s mishandling of Brexit. Just three weeks ago she said she wasn’t prepared to delay Brexit beyond June 30
But now we’re holding European elections, not knowing whether MEPs will take their seats or for how long. It’s extraordinary.
We cannot remain stuck in this loop for another six months. I urge the Prime Minister not to see this extension as another chance to flog her dead deal.
Let me explain why Labour won’t accept her deal. It comes back to what I said about real politics about representing communities.
Theresa May’s discredited deal reflects the kind of country the Tories want to create: a harsh society where wealth and power is hoovered up by a privileged elite, rather than shared fairly by the majority.
Labour has always said we respect the result of the referendum. But we cannot respect the way the Tories have tried to use Brexit to make the lives of working-class people harder. Because for the Tories Brexit is about more than just leaving the EU.
For them Brexit is a smokescreen behind which they want to push through the most uncaring dog-eat-dog version of the future they can get away with.
That explains why Conservative MPs are so hostile to our proposal for a customs union that would protect jobs — because their real agenda, what this is really about, is doing trade deals with the likes of Donald Trump that would deliver chlorinated chicken to our dinner tables and open up our NHS to giant US healthcare corporations.
The Conservatives will always put profits before people. That’s what the real difference is.
Seventeen million people voted to leave the EU, but they didn’t vote for Britain to become an offshoot of Trump’s America. They didn’t vote for a race to the bottom.
That’s why we’ve put forward a sensible alternative plan that would ensure a close economic relationship with the EU after Brexit. It would abide by the result of the referendum without wrecking our economy.
Labour will carry on talking to the government to see if we can secure an agreement that achieves that aim.
If it’s not possible, we believe all options should remain on the table including the option of a public vote.
But conference, I am very worried about the divisions in our society. The Tories took their endless infighting and projected it onto the nation as a whole. And we’re all living with the consequences.
Many people who voted to leave feel angry that the Brexit they hoped for hasn’t happened yet. Many who voted to remain feel anxious that the Brexit they dread will still happen. So how do we go forward from here?
We could all retreat to our respective side of the argument and let bitterness drive us apart.
We could allow ourselves to be defined only as “Remainers” or “Leavers” — labels that meant nothing to us only a few years ago. But where would that take us? Who wants to live in a country locked in an endless spiral of recrimination and division?
What we need is understanding. Understanding of why so many people felt so alienated and dissatisfied with the system that they voted to leave.
And understanding of why so many others believe that the only way to protect our open and diverse society is to stay in the EU.
Many people have got this the wrong way around. They think the first question is Leave or Remain, as if either is an end in itself. They’re wrong. The first question is what kind of society do we want to be? And on that we can find so much common ground.
You see, Labour doesn’t believe that the real divide in society is between people who voted to remain or to leave the European Union.
We believe that the real divide is between the many — who do the work create the wealth and pay their taxes — and the few — who set the rules reap the rewards and dodge their taxes.
And look, I know there’s a lot of rivalry between north and south Wales but really we don’t want to set the hard-up family in Cardiff that voted to remain against the hard-up family in Wrexham that voted to leave.
Tory austerity means both families are up against it, but they’re not up against each other. So our mission is to back working-class communities in all their diversity.
Only Labour has been consistently trying to find a way through the deadlock that can bring people together, so we can get on with the job of making sure our country works for the many, not just the few.
People are fed up with the vital issues that affect their daily lives being ignored because of Brexit.
Due to Tory austerity public services are under pressure, violent crime is rising, life expectancy is falling, our climate is dying — none of these things are being addressed. None of these things are being addressed.
But this isn’t just about neglect. It’s about deliberate government policy. The Conservatives found a billion pounds for a deal with the DUP to keep themselves in power, and wasted four billion pounds on “no-deal” Brexit planning, while they have cut a billion pounds from Welsh budgets.
Those Tory cuts have had a real effect. Wales faces the highest rate of relative poverty in the UK, with almost one in four people living in relative income poverty.
And it’s clear where the blame lies. It’s the Westminster government’s cuts and changes to benefits that are behind the increase in poverty in Wales.
When the United Nations sent Philip Alston, an expert on poverty, here last year to write a report, he recognised the work of the Welsh government to mitigate the worst impacts of austerity.
But he said — and I’m quoting him directly — that “it is outrageous that devolved administrations need to spend resources to shield people from government policies.”
He’s right. In fact the remarkable thing is how much the Welsh government has achieved despite the cuts from London.
You don’t have the internal market in the NHS. You don’t have prescription charges. You have a much better housing policy with no damaging right to buy and soon letting fees will be banned which could save renters almost £200 per tenancy.
You have comprehensive schools which haven’t been outsourced to the private sector like in England. And the early years education you’ve developed in Wales looks after kids in the poorest communities and gives them a fair start in life.
All of this is because you have Labour in power. Contrast the Welsh Labour government with the UK Conservative government.
When the Welsh government stepped up to protect the steel industry, where was the Westminster government? Gone Awol.
And while the Welsh government targets 70 per cent of all electricity to come from renewable sources, the Westminster government rejected the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project.
Labour would reverse that decision. A Labour government in London would invest in Wales and work with the Welsh government on a strategy to direct cash to where it’s needed.
The days when governments could get away with sitting back and leaving all the major decisions about our economy and our lives to mysterious market forces are over.
It hasn’t worked, it doesn’t work, and it will never work. Let me give you an example of what we should be doing instead.
We are facing a climate crisis. There’s no bigger threat to our future. And fundamentally the destruction of our climate is a class issue. Because it’s working-class communities that suffer the worst effects as our environment declines — whether it’s air pollution, flooding or stratospheric food prices while the rich can pay their way out of trouble.
We need to act. We need nothing less than a green industrial revolution. Labour will put public investment into renewable energy on a massive scale. And that’s not a burden. It’s a huge opportunity to bring new manufacturing and engineering jobs to places that have never recovered from the destruction of industry at the hands of Margaret Thatcher.
Historically the industry that changed Britain and changed Wales was, of course, coal. The miners who dug it out were the backbone of this country but they were treated appallingly by their bosses and the Establishment.
That was vividly described by the great Welsh poet Idris Davies. He wrote:
My fathers in the mining valleys
Were slaves who bled for beer
Who had no Saviour to acclaim
And whose god was Fear
And they sold the fern and flower
And the groves of pine
For a hovel and a tankard
And the dregs are mine.
So in these rain-swept graveyards
Where my fathers sleep,
Shall I sulk, and curse them
Who made their lives so cheap?
Or shall I pause, and pity
Those luckless lads of old
Those sullen slaves whipped onward
To load my lords with gold?
Coal powered the first industrial revolution which propelled us into modernity. But it was done on the backs of the working class and at the expense of our environment.
So the green industrial revolution will be about unwinding both of those injustices. It will harness green technologies to tackle the climate crisis and provide well-paid high-skilled and secure jobs.
And we will provide the education and technical training needed for people to be able to do these roles. Technology and manufacturing don’t have to be a threat to the environment.
Just look out to sea. What do you see off the shore of Llandudno? One of the biggest offshore wind farms in the world, producing a massive share of the energy needs of Wales and creating local jobs in manufacturing. The situation couldn’t be more urgent, not just here but around the world.
We’re seeing ice caps melting, coral reefs dissolving, droughts in Africa, hurricanes in the Americas and wildfires in Australia.
Cyclone Idai recently killed more than 700 people in south east Africa largely in Mozambique and affected three million more. And floods in Iran have killed 70 in recent days with international relief efforts dangerously hindered by US sanctions.
Conference, as socialists we know that all of these issues from the local to the international are about the distribution of wealth and power.
But power doesn’t only come from above. The power to transform the world really comes from below, from social movements from trade unions and from communities.
What was the greatest social achievement of the 20th century? Obviously it was the NHS free healthcare as a right for all. But the NHS wasn’t dreamt up by politicians in Westminster, it was based on the Medical Aid Society in Tredegar, organised by working-class communities in the Valleys.
That local idea changed British society and reverberated around the world. When I was in Mexico last year I was speaking to the new socialist president there, my friend Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and he told me that if he could import one thing from the UK to Mexico it would be our NHS.
It goes back to what I said earlier about real politics not being about obscure customs in Parliament. There are political leaders in every community driving change. Many of them would never call themselves leaders but they are
I’m thinking of the mother who organises residents in her block to get the damp removed and the fast-food worker who organises her colleagues to demand a living wage.
So when we defeat this government and we will it will be as communities together. And we’ll go into government as communities together.
With Labour in power in Westminster and in Cardiff Bay, and Labour organised in every community across the country, we will transform Wales and transform Britain so that they work for the many, not the few.
That’s what real politics is about.
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