The forthcoming Senedd elections – whether held in May 2021 or postponed to a later date – will take place amidst the most challenging circumstances the people of Wales have encountered since the Second World War. At time of writing, the Coronavirus pandemic has claimed more than 2,500 lives in Wales and, notwithstanding recent progress towards the availability of a vaccine, it is a tragic inevitability that that figure will substantially increase. The pandemic has exacerbated an economic decline that had already begun before the virus claimed its first Welsh victims, causing businesses to close and workers to lose their jobs. And in the New Year, we will have to contend with a Brexit process, potentially without even a trade deal with the EU to mitigate potential disruption to the economy.
The pandemic has demonstrated the benefits of having a Labour government in Wales, even to many who were previously only dimly aware that democratic devolution had even taken place. In contrast to the incoherent and grossly irresponsible mismanagement of the crisis by the Tories in Westminster, Mark Drakeford’s cabinet has followed a more cautious approach, informed more closely by science and giving greater priority to the preservation of lives and wellbeing. Its messaging has been clearer and more consistent. Our NHS and local government services were in a stronger position to deal with the crisis than those in England, thanks to a consistent commitment to the maintenance of a public sector that is not undermined by the operation of the market.
The undoubted need to focus on the response to the pandemic has also meant, however, that progressive legislation, which would have been implemented in areas like social partnership and security for private tenants, has had to be shelved until after the next election.
The following papers, which we in Welsh Labour Grassroots (WLG) have put together, represent a contribution to the debate that Welsh Labour needs to have about its 2021 Senedd Manifesto. There is an ‘official’ Welsh Labour policy process but this is not fit for its supposed purpose: it mirrors the National Policy Forum introduced within the UK party by Tony Blair in the 1990s, which was designed to give the appearance of an inclusive debate while allowing the decisions to be made elsewhere. Even the third and ‘final’ consultation document contains few new policy proposals and none at all in important areas like manufacturing, rail transport, local government or even on environmental policy (beyond a vague commitment to an ‘all-Wales plan’ to tackle the climate emergency). Even the new proposals that have been put forward are mostly cautious and uninspiring; certainly they fail to measure up to scale of the challenges that Wales and the Welsh Government will face over the years ahead. Moreover, they lack the transformative edge that is needed to start to free our economic and social structures from the imperatives of private profit.
The papers collected here seek to develop a bolder and more radical alternative to the status quo – yet they present policy proposals that, for the most part, would be entirely achievable by a Welsh Labour Government, if the political will were there. They have been written by longstanding party activists who have taken an interest in a particular policy area, not by professional policy-makers (although a few of our authors are elected representatives). They do not collectively constitute an alternative manifesto – there are a number of gaps in the range of policy areas that make up a full party programme, where we offer no proposals – but we do put forward ideas relating to most of the major departments of government.
It is important to note that these papers do not necessarily represent the collective view of WLG as an organisation; each is principally the responsibility of a named author, although all are broadly consistent with the principles and values to which we are all dedicated. In one area – local government – there are two papers, setting out counterposed arguments on the question of council mergers. Certain individual WLG members would no doubt also dissent from some of the arguments in the other papers.
There are a number of principles underpinning practically all the papers, which reflect our collective beliefs as an organisation:
We commend these papers to all those who share our view that the Labour party should be a force for fundamental change in the interests of ordinary people, in Wales and in the UK as a whole. We look forward to engaging in debate over the next few months, as the approaching Senedd election poses the question of what kind of government policies can best serve the interests of Wales and its people.