The shadow cabinet is doing a joint cabinet meeting with the Welsh Labour government for the first time. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.

Getty
Show Hide image

Northern Ireland election results: a shift beneath the status quo

The power of the largest parties has been maintained, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

After a long day of counting and tinkering with the region’s complex PR vote transfer sytem, Northern Irish election results are slowly starting to trickle in. Overall, the status quo of the largest parties has been maintained with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party returning as the largest nationalist and unionist party respectively. However, beyond the immediate scope of the biggest parties, interesting changes are taking place. The two smaller nationalist and unionist parties appear to be losing support, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

The most significant win of the night so far has been Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit who topped polls in the Republican heartland of West Belfast. Traditionally a Sinn Fein safe constituency and a former seat of party leader Gerry Adams, Carroll has won hearts at a local level after years of community work and anti-austerity activism. A second People Before Profit candidate Eamon McCann also holds a strong chance of winning a seat in Foyle. The hard-left party’s passionate defence of public services and anti-austerity politics have held sway with working class families in the Republican constituencies which both feature high unemployment levels and which are increasingly finding Republicanism’s focus on the constitutional question limiting in strained economic times.

The Green party is another smaller party which is slowly edging further into the mainstream. As one of the only pro-choice parties at Stormont which advocates for abortion to be legalised on a level with Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, the party has found itself thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the prosecution of a number of women on abortion related offences.

The mixed-religion, cross-community Alliance party has experienced mixed results. Although it looks set to increase its result overall, one of the best known faces of the party, party leader David Ford, faces the real possibility of losing his seat in South Antrim following a poor performance as Justice Minister. Naomi Long, who sensationally beat First Minister Peter Robinson to take his East Belfast seat at the 2011 Westminster election before losing it again to a pan-unionist candidate, has been elected as Stormont MLA for the same constituency. Following her competent performance as MP and efforts to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic voters, she has been seen by many as a rising star in the party and could now represent a more appealing leader to Ford.

As these smaller parties slowly gain a foothold in Northern Ireland’s long-established and stagnant political landscape, it appears to be the smaller two nationalist and unionist parties which are losing out to them. The moderate nationalist party the SDLP risks losing previously safe seats such as well-known former minister Alex Attwood’s West Belfast seat. The party’s traditional, conservative values such as upholding the abortion ban and failing to embrace the campaign for same-sex marriage has alienated younger voters who instead may be drawn to Alliance, the Greens or People Before Profit. Local commentators have speculate that the party may fail to get enough support to qualify for a minister at the executive table.

The UUP are in a similar position on the unionist side of the spectrum. While popular with older voters, they lack the charismatic force of the DUP and progressive policies of the newer parties. Over the course of the last parliament, the party has aired the possibility of forming an official opposition rather than propping up the mandatory power-sharing coalition set out by the peace process. A few months ago, legislation will finally past to allow such an opposition to form. The UUP would not commit to saying whether they are planning on being the first party to take up that position. However, lacklustre election results may increase the appeal. As the SDLP suffers similar circumstances, they might well also see themselves attracted to the role and form a Stormont’s first official opposition together as a way of regaining relevance and esteem in a system where smaller parties are increasingly jostling for space.