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 a Labour leadership candidate and MP for Pontypridd. 

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Theresa May’s Brexit speech is Angela Merkel’s victory – here’s why

The Germans coined the word “merkeln to describe their Chancellor’s approach to negotiations. 

It is a measure of Britain’s weak position that Theresa May accepts Angela Merkel’s ultimatum even before the Brexit negotiations have formally started

The British Prime Minister blinked first when she presented her plan for Brexit Tuesday morning. After months of repeating the tautological mantra that “Brexit means Brexit”, she finally specified her position when she essentially proposed that Britain should leave the internal market for goods, services and people, which had been so championed by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. 

By accepting that the “UK will be outside” and that there can be “no half-way house”, Theresa May has essentially caved in before the negotiations have begun.

At her meeting with May in July last year, the German Chancellor stated her ultimatum that there could be no “Rosinenpickerei” – the German equivalent of cherry picking. Merkel stated that Britain was not free to choose. That is still her position.

Back then, May was still battling for access to the internal market. It is a measure of how much her position has weakened that the Prime Minister has been forced to accept that Britain will have to leave the single market.

For those who have followed Merkel in her eleven years as German Kanzlerin there is sense of déjà vu about all this.  In negotiations over the Greek debt in 2011 and in 2015, as well as in her negotiations with German banks, in the wake of the global clash in 2008, Merkel played a waiting game; she let others reveal their hands first. The Germans even coined the word "merkeln", to describe the Chancellor’s favoured approach to negotiations.

Unlike other politicians, Frau Merkel is known for her careful analysis, behind-the-scene diplomacy and her determination to pursue German interests. All these are evident in the Brexit negotiations even before they have started.

Much has been made of US President-Elect Donald Trump’s offer to do a trade deal with Britain “very quickly” (as well as bad-mouthing Merkel). In the greater scheme of things, such a deal – should it come – will amount to very little. The UK’s exports to the EU were valued at £223.3bn in 2015 – roughly five times as much as our exports to the United States. 

But more importantly, Britain’s main export is services. It constitutes 79 per cent of the economy, according to the Office of National Statistics. Without access to the single market for services, and without free movement of skilled workers, the financial sector will have a strong incentive to move to the European mainland.

This is Germany’s gain. There is a general consensus that many banks are ready to move if Britain quits the single market, and Frankfurt is an obvious destination.

In an election year, this is welcome news for Merkel. That the British Prime Minister voluntarily gives up the access to the internal market is a boon for the German Chancellor and solves several of her problems. 

May’s acceptance that Britain will not be in the single market shows that no country is able to secure a better deal outside the EU. This will deter other countries from following the UK’s example. 

Moreover, securing a deal that will make Frankfurt the financial centre in Europe will give Merkel a political boost, and will take focus away from other issues such as immigration.

Despite the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party, the largely proportional electoral system in Germany will all but guarantee that the current coalition government continues after the elections to the Bundestag in September.

Before the referendum in June last year, Brexiteers published a poster with the mildly xenophobic message "Halt ze German advance". By essentially caving in to Merkel’s demands before these have been expressly stated, Mrs May will strengthen Germany at Britain’s expense. 

Perhaps, the German word schadenfreude comes to mind?

Matthew Qvortrup is author of the book Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader published by Duckworth, and professor of applied political science at Coventry University.