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.