The shadow cabinet is doing a joint cabinet meeting with the Welsh Labour government for the first time. Photo: Getty
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The Tories belittle Wales, but Labour is learning from it

The Welsh economy is bucking generational trends and leading the UK out of recession.

Two recent moments sum up the modern Tory party’s attitude to Wales. The first was at their spring conference in Llangollen, when the Prime Minster stooped snake-belly low to describe Offa’s Dyke as ‘a line between life and death’ in the most disgraceful episode of his character assassination of the Welsh NHS. The second, rather less serious but no less telling, occurred in Committee Room 10 just a month ago, when the Tories decided the PM’s special dispensation for pubs to open late during the World Cup should only benefit England, even though the licensing laws and the football leagues extends to everyone in Wales - and support for Roy’s boys to most of us, despite Brazil being a bit of a rocky road.
 
Both instances reflect a Tory party that has abandoned its historic ambition to represent and speak for the whole of the UK. Instead, they now sees our national and regional borders as mere political dividing lines to be leveraged, in their new mission of retaining power, however shrunken the mandate. Labour, by contrast, with our roots and representation in every corner of these isles, remains the only true One Nation party. Our ambition to serve not just England, but Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland too, remains undimmed.
 
That is why Labour’s Shadow Cabinet gathers today in Wales in a historic joint meeting with our colleagues in the Welsh Labour Government, to learn from them in Opposition and to plan with them how we might work side-by-side in Government. Our focus will be on the economy of Wales, its challenges and its successes. Because, despite the grinding, politically-motivated negativity of the Tories towards Wales, the Welsh economy is bucking generational trends and leading the UK out of recession.
 
On exports and investment from overseas, under Labour leadership, Wales is outstripping the rest of Britain, save for the soar-away South East. And on tackling youth unemployment, the scourge of so many of our communities, Wales is second to none, with the number of 16 and 17 year olds out of work down almost 14% last year, against a UK wide average of just a 1.6% fall. That unprecedented performance can clearly be traced to Welsh investment in trade and industry, as well as in our young people.
 
Unlike in England, Labour didn’t scrap the Future Jobs Fund in Wales, we enhanced it as Jobs Growth Wales, a true partnership between public and private sector to get our young people into work. And this month we will see that scheme reach another landmark, as its 10,000th young person looks set to join the workforce in Wales. Every part of Britain should be sharing that commitment to invest in our young people, competing over which areas can offer them the best opportunities, just as countries like Germany do to such great effect.

Our joint meeting today is being held on the test-bed floor of GE aviation, a world leading manufacturing firm that overhauls jet engines and invest millions in young Welsh apprentices.  These apprenticeships are much sought after - and little wonder as they change the lives of young people in my constituency. Offering them skills, experience and a decent wage – in short, hope for the future. 

These examples of decent employment opportunities and a government that works on the side of ordinary young people shouldn’t be the exception.  Young people in every part of the UK should feel like they have the opportunity to get on and a sense of hope. That’s why the offer of meaningful work through Jobs Growth Wales is such a powerful message that the Labour Government in Wales gets it and genuinely cares.

England can learn from Wales on how to get our young people back into training and the security of decent work. Instead, the Tories maintain their trend of solely mentioning Wales to smear and score cheap, party-political points. This type of divide and rule politics – that they are so fond of – only weakens the bonds that unite people across Britain, whichever party is in power at Westminster, and rebounds on those politicians who practice it.

In contrast, the Labour Party will approach the next election with a brighter vision for a united Britain.  Optimistic for the future - especially for our young people, bold about supporting them to not just meet the challenges of the 21st century workplace, but surpass them. I’m proud that Jobs Growth Wales has given hope to so many thousands of young people in Wales, but I won’t be satisfied until we can deliver something similar across the whole of our country.

Owen Smith is Labour MP for Pontypridd and Shadow Secretary of State for Work & Pensions.

Photo: Getty
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The campaign to keep Britain in Europe must be based on hope, not fear

Together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of.

Today the Liberal Democrats launched our national campaign to keep Britain in Europe. With the polls showing the outcome of this referendum is on a knife-edge, our party is determined to play a decisive role in this once in a generation fight. This will not be an easy campaign. But it is one we will relish as the UK's most outward-looking and internationalist party. Together in Europe the UK has delivered peace, created the world’s largest free trade area and given the British people the opportunity to live, work and travel freely across the continent. Now is the time to build on these achievements, not throw them all away.

Already we are hearing fear-mongering from both sides in this heated debate. On the one hand, Ukip and the feuding Leave campaigns have shamelessly seized on the events in Cologne at New Year to claim that British women will be at risk if the UK stays in Europe. On the other, David Cameron claims that the refugees he derides as a "bunch of migrants" in Calais will all descend on the other side of the Channel the minute Britain leaves the EU. The British public deserve better than this. Rather than constant mud-slinging and politicising of the world's biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, we need a frank and honest debate about what is really at stake. Most importantly this should be a positive campaign, one that is fought on hope and not on fear. As we have a seen in Scotland, a referendum won through scare tactics alone risks winning the battle but losing the war.

The voice of business and civil society, from scientists and the police to environmental charities, have a crucial role to play in explaining how being in the EU benefits the British economy and enhances people's everyday lives. All those who believe in Britain's EU membership must not be afraid to speak out and make the positive case why being in Europe makes us more prosperous, stable and secure. Because at its heart this debate is not just about facts and figures, it is about what kind of country we want to be.

The Leave campaigns cannot agree what they believe in. Some want the UK to be an offshore, deregulated tax haven, others advocate a protectionist, mean-hearted country that shuts it doors to the world. As with so many populist movements, from Putin to Trump, they are defined not by what they are for but what they are against. Their failure to come up with a credible vision for our country's future is not patriotic, it is irresponsible.

This leaves the field open to put forward a united vision of Britain's place in Europe and the world. Liberal Democrats are clear what we believe in: an open, inclusive and tolerant nation that stands tall in the world and doesn't hide from it. We are not uncritical of the EU's institutions. Indeed as Liberals, we fiercely believe that power must be devolved to the lowest possible level, empowering communities and individuals wherever possible to make decisions for themselves. But we recognise that staying in Europe is the best way to find the solutions to the problems that don't stop at borders, rather than leaving them to our children and grandchildren. We believe Britain must put itself at the heart of our continent's future and shape a more effective and more accountable Europe, focused on responding to major global challenges we face.

Together in Europe we can build a strong and prosperous future, from pioneering research into life-saving new medicines to tackling climate change and fighting international crime. Together we can provide hope for the desperate and spread the peace we now take for granted to the rest of the world. And together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of. So if you agree then join the Liberal Democrat campaign today, to remain in together, and to stand up for the type of Britain you think we should be.