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‘Welsh government should not be just of the Labour Party, but of the labour movement’

David Nicholson speaks to Welsh First Minister MARK DRAKEFORD about his ambitious socialist programme for government if re-elected and his relationship with Keir Starmer’s Labour Party

SPEAKING to Welsh Labour leader Mark Drakeford about his party’s manifesto for the next Welsh Senedd, his relationship with the trade union movement, his political legacy and the differences between Welsh Labour and the wider Labour Party shows why opinion polling shows him to be the most trusted British party leader.

During Drakeford’s successful bid to become party leader in 2018 he promised not to stand for re-election if successful in the Senedd election, so I asked him what his timeframe for stepping down was.

Drakeford explained that his timeline for standing down in time for a successor to make their mark as leader was dependent both on how long it takes for Covid-19 not to be a threat and the time needed to put “Wales on a path to an ambitious future — stronger, greener and fairer.”

I was surprised by his blistering attack on the reckless character of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

“Covid-19 is not over and that does make a difference in timing,” he says, saying he hopes that in 12 months’ time coronavirus will become merely a chronic problem like seasonal influenza. 

“There is no guarantee of that and I worry hugely about the recklessness of the current Prime Minister in relation to decisions about international travel.

“I think the biggest threat to us managing coronavirus as a chronic condition is the reimportation of the virus from other parts of the world, particularly if that means new variants arriving here.

“But I do not think that we can rule out that the Prime Minister will move recklessly to allow foreign travel in a way that will result in the virus being reimported into the United Kingdom and into Wales. 

“All the hard work that everybody has done will be put at risk in the process.”

When I ask Drakeford about which one of the policies he was putting to the public would stand as his political legacy he becomes really animated. 

In answer, he offered five policies ranging from new coal-tip safety legislation to a national forest and tidal power renewable energy.

“I am so pleased that we are making a commitment to the first new national park in Wales since 1957.

“When you talk to young people about our manifesto they tell us spontaneously that they like our commitment to ban single-use plastic and our creating a new national forest.

“Something that will link north and south Wales, will be a tourist attraction, an economic opportunity, as well as a great contribution in the field of global warning.

“But if I really had to choose one though, it would be tidal energy because it would create jobs for future generations and in parts of Wales where those sorts of jobs have been in short supply.

“We are so lucky that here in Wales we are surrounded on three of the four sides of the country by some of the highest tides in the world.

“And if we do it right we will create a manufacturing capacity because the rest of the world will need those technologies. 

“Oil is going to run out and the whole world is going to need alternatives and Wales can lead that global development in finding effective ways to harness energy from the sea that is completely renewable and does not harm the planet.”

What has come up time and again in discussion with trade unions and the Wales TUC on their post-election priorities is the need for legislation on social partnership and the way public-sector money for procurement can be used to force companies to become better employers.

Drakeford’s government has already issued a draft social partnership and procurement Bill for consultation and he is at pains to stress that his government will bring forward the Bill in the months following the election.

I also ask him, as the architect of the clear red water strategy between Welsh Labour and the Tony Blair New Labour government, whether he will also seek to have a clear socialist distinction between his own government and the Keir Starmer-led British party. 

As a point of clear difference the First Minister tells me that his government will have solutions to issues that are specific to Wales, such as the involvement of the trade union movement in government decision-making.

“The social partnership model we have already built up has held us in good stead during the pandemic. Every three weeks when the cabinet has had to make difficult decisions we have held a meeting of the national social partnership council to rehearse with our partners the issues that are at stake and to hear the things that matter most to them.

“We do that before we make decisions to make sure that our decisions are informed by that sense of social partnership and the views of our trade union colleagues.

“I have always wanted us to be a government not simply of the Labour Party, but of the labour movement in Wales. 

“Our commitment to the social partnership model and getting that Bill onto the floor of the Senedd is part of that wider way of wanting to do business here.”

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