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MARK DRAKEFORD’S election as Welsh Labour leader, succeeding Carwyn Jones, is a positive decision that assures a competent, experienced and principled person at the head of the party in Wales.
Credited as the inspiration for former Welsh first minister Rhodri Morgan’s reference to “clear red water” flowing between Welsh Labour and Tony Blair’s New Labour in London, Drakeford has impressed as health minister and then finance minister.
On his health watch Drakeford pushed through legislation to phase out parking fees at hospitals in Wales and also fought for a pay rise for staff to make the NHS a living wage employer.
As with Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, Drakeford was among a minority of Welsh Labour MPs and AMs who backed Jeremy Corbyn when he first stood for the Labour leadership “to demonstrate that the ideas he represented continued to have a solid strain of support in the Labour Party.”
While Leonard and Drakeford are responsible for matters in their own countries, their closeness to the Labour leadership in Westminster augurs well for a united progressive challenge to the Tories and their allies.
The new Welsh Labour leader, a sturdy supporter of political devolution to Cardiff Bay, surprised some people by his reluctance to see tax and benefits systems devolved, emphasising the benefits of a UK redistributive model.
Devolution of this model would mean redistribution of poverty among deindustrialised, rundown and forgotten regions while the City of London and other oases of plenty would bear no responsibility to anywhere else.
Within the devolution model, Drakeford supports a solidarity state that operates “a great social insurance policy in which we pool our resources and redistribute them according to need.”
This illustrates a pragmatism to the new leader’s principles, backing the outcome most likely to have a positive effect on the lives of the people that he and his party are supposed to represent.
His approach to the European Union exemplifies this too, rejecting the clamour for a so-called people’s vote, which drew harsh criticism during the election campaign from his opponents Vaughan Gething and, less vituperatively, Eluned Morgan.
Both candidates accused Drakeford of being too close to Corbyn — “toeing of the Corbyn line,” in the Morgan judgement and “He obviously just wants to carbon-copy Labour in London,” according to Gething’s camp.
While Drakeford backed Labour’s Remain line and fought for it in the referendum, he appreciates that Wales backed Leave more strongly than other parts of the UK.
He also knows from canvassing his own Cardiff West constituency that, despite the blizzard of propaganda proclaiming a massive change of heart among the electorate, this is a dubious judgement.
“There is nothing courageous about calling for a People's Vote,” he told an election hustings, which might have cost him some votes to Gething and Morgan, both of whom backed the efforts to overturn the Leave decision.
After all, many Labour members are far more concerned about relations with the EU than with Labour voters.
Drakeford has also warned that people have a tendency, when told that they voted in a particular way because they were lied to and misled, to interpret this as being told they are stupid and to react angrily.
If this understanding mirrors Corbyn’s approach, then that is not such a bad thing.
Having Labour leaders who are socialists across the whole of Britain, working against the Tories’ capitalist austerity agenda and fighting a general election to put Corbyn in 10 Downing Street, should unite all Labour members, supporters and voters to make that come true.
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