Too much of our leadership election has been "a gift to our opponents", warns Carwyn Jones

Wales' First Minister, Carwyn Jones, warns the tone of the Labour leadership contest is a gift to the Tories. 

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I said at the start of the UK Labour leadership contest that I wouldn’t be openly supporting a candidate, and I’m not changing my stance on that. However, as the campaign has developed, I think it is important to express some thoughts about what we have heard so far. 

I’d like to extend my thanks to Andy, Liz and Yvette (alphabetical order!) for coming to Wales to meet with me and talk about the priorities for Welsh Labour in the coming years. And though I disagreed with some of what Harriet said in relation to welfare reform, I have great respect for the task she is undertaking as caretaker leader in difficult times. We have been in regular touch about party reform and the coming elections, and I look forward to further conversations. I’ve not met Jeremy, but I’ve noted some positive comments he has made in the press about Welsh Labour.

I’ve listened and read a good deal about how the candidates want to take the party and the country forward, and their thoughts on devolution. So I thought it would be useful to set out some of what Wales needs from this contest. Firstly, I’d like to remind colleagues from all camps, trades unions and other affiliates that here in Wales (and in Scotland and London) that we have crucial elections to fight next year. It is vital therefore that we get back to showing our party at its best, and remind people why everyone in the UK needs a Labour Party at the top of our game.

Too much of the debate so far has been nothing short of a gift to our opponents. I fully accept that these elements are coming from people outwith the formal campaign teams. However, to read comments, like those from a prominent trade unionist, about a “virus” that needs to be removed from our party is totally unacceptable and has no place whatsoever in civilised political discourse – let alone an internal election.

The Labour Party has always been broad church, reflecting the fact that we are part of a wider movement. We win when we bury our differences and pull in the same direction. No-one ever pretended that Ministers in the Attlee or Blair governments were all cut from the same political cloth, but they succeeded by using the talents of all and through recognising that the real enemy was the Tory Party. This isn’t some sort of back-to-the-future paean, just a simple reminder about what we can do together. It would be hugely damaging to the UK, and to Wales, to wait for another generation in the wilderness, to shake ourselves from this increasingly self-destructive slumber. Wales cannot afford to have a Labour Party in Westminster that is not pulling together and offering the country a genuine alternative.

One of the questions I’ve been asked most often in political interviews over the last 12 months, is how Welsh Labour has managed to avoid the sort of wipe-out we’ve recently seen in Scotland. There are very many reasons, lots of them social and demographic beyond the control of any politician – but, where we have managed to succeed is setting out a confident, authentic Welsh Labour brand. We’ve not been afraid to go our own way on policies, and we’ve not been afraid to express ourselves in terms that make more sense to a Welsh electorate. To use one of Rhodri Morgan’s famous phrases, we’ve managed to blend the guacamole of New Labour, with the mushy peas of our traditional values. In the coming months and years we will want more freedom to develop our own Welsh Labour identity, and I look forward to hearing more from the leadership candidates about how they can support us in this. We want to remain a proud part of UK Labour. So many of the big questions we face in the future don’t stop or start at the border, but we need the right structures to grow the party in an increasingly federal UK. 

It is not too late for this contest to give Labour real impetus going into the autumn and the Conference season. We shouldn’t forget that this is a Tory Government absolutely devoid of meaningful answers as to what the country should look like in 2021 – that is a huge opportunity and an open field for us to exploit. 

My two fellow leadership candidates from the 2009 Welsh Labour contest, Edwina Hart and Huw Lewis have been stalwart members of my cabinets in recent years – currently Economy and Education Ministers respectively. Diversity of opinion and unity of purpose don’t have to be mutually exclusive commodities in a leadership team. Indeed, if we are to win, we must remember that we need both.