Writing in the Sunday Times, Welsh Labour Leader and First Minister Carwyn Jones will say:
“We never even got to raise the flags, in order to lower them again.” So went one remark at the Manchester vigil held on the steps of the National Assembly for Wales last week. Just as we began to come to terms with losing Rhodri Morgan — he lived “a wonderful life”, said his widow, Julie — we turned to deal with the worst form of tragedy: young lives cut short.
Nothing is more painful than losing that potential, those wonderful lives still waiting to be lived. Stolen by a heinous act of terrorism, of unforgivable brutality and cruelty. And aimed at innocent children and at the height of what should have been a joyous moment. Such an act reminds us, if we need any reminding, of the evil we must confront, and beat. We owe the families that. No quarter should be given in our search for justice and for answers, and in our mission to defeat the twisted ideology that produces such acts of barbarism.
Questions about how to carry on the election campaign were right and proper, and a suspension was the right call. But, now we are back to it, and that is the right call as well. I disagreed when there was talk of suspending the campaign beyond this weekend. I had just done a load of interviews, I said, telling people they needed to get on with their lives, not to allow the terrorists to win and disrupt our way of life. Nothing speaks to our values more than our democratic way of life, where anyone can stand for election, and where you get the chance to question the parties on whatever you want, and leaders put themselves in front of the public — some more than others — to be tested, and judged. Power truly passes to the people.
Think about the prime minister wilting under the questioning of Andrew Neil about the shambolic social-care U-turn last week. Again and again he asked the same question, to which he knew there was no good answer. That is what democracy is for, that is what elections are about. You simply do not get to take the country out for a ride when everyone is watching and everyone is interested. And people are watching, and they are interested. Witness the record numbers of young people registering to vote in the final hours before the deadline. Witness the massive volatility in the polls, especially in Wales. I said at the start of this campaign that we had a mountain to climb to overcome the Tory advantage, and we are fighting tooth and nail for every vote. On doorstep after doorstep, we are hearing about people’s fear of what a Conservative landslide would mean for Welsh communities. The ground is shifting, and the momentum is with Welsh Labour.
Thanks to a panicky, late change of plan by the Tory strategists, they chose a venue in north Wales that was a few miles from Welsh Labour’s manifesto launch to create their social-care mess. What a contrast between those two events. In our manifesto, we offered an ambitious and comprehensive plan on how we would make our country more prosperous, healthier and fairer. We talked about what a Welsh Labour government could achieve when freed from the cruel Conservative cuts. We talked about the big infrastructure projects that we are supporting: a new nuclear power station in Wylfa; rail electrification in north and south Wales; new Metro transport schemes; and a ground-breaking tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay. The Tories were silent on all of this.
If there is one lesson you can learn from the prime ministership of David Cameron in the wake of the Brexit vote, it is this: do not take people for granted. That is a lesson this latest batch of Conservatives have singularly failed to learn. The one message that screamed out from this manifesto was that they thought they had older people in the bag. They looked at the poll numbers and thought they could get away with it, get away with the social care charges, axing the triple lock and winter fuel payments.
Another thing they have failed to learn from the Cameron years is that you will become undone if you sacrifice a vision for the country in favour of small, narrow political calculations. That is not leadership, it is cowardly. It is conservative, in every sense of the word, and the country deserves much better. The Tories believe they can walk all over Wales, that votes are in the bag, and that the race is run.
The race is far from run in Wales — the race is on. Democracy is alive and kicking, and as we’ve seen time and again in recent years, that kick is normally aimed at those perceived to be complacent. I look around Wales and watch our MPs, candidates and activists fighting for their communities, the local steel industry and fair pensions for women, and I know that no one else is going to match that commitment and hard work. And I know it will be only Welsh Labour who can truly stand up for Wales.