Christina Rees speech to Welsh Labour Conference 2017

Shadow Secretary of State for Wales Christina Rees’ speech to Welsh Labour Conference

***Check against delivery***
 
Thanks for the great welcome.

I'd like to start by paying tribute to PC Keith Palmer. When Parliament came under attack on Wednesday afternoon, PC Palmer instructed people to stay back, whilst he ran towards the threat. PC Palmer sacrificed his life, doing his job, keeping us safe.
 
Yesterday my friend, Councillor David Sage, former Deputy Leader of Bridgend County Borough Council passed away. Rest in peace, Dave. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.
 
Thank you so much for coming to another great Welsh Labour Conference. A record number of Labour members are here in sunny Llandudno this weekend.
 
I love coming to Welsh Conference. Meeting old friends and making new ones.
 
There are many in the hall today who know me. But there are also many who do not.
And thanks to you who've made it in this morning after a few sherbets last night. 
 
Even Huw David has made it in!
And let's not forget it’s Mother’s Day, so here's to all the mothers out there.
 
We've had some great speeches from our Leader Jeremy Corbyn, our First Minister Carwyn Jones and our MEP Derek Vaughan.
Because I've got the shift on Sunday morning there's little left to say.
 
But I'll give it my best shot.
 
I think Dave Hagendyk, our General Secretary, dreads the moment when, with a grin on my face, I say: "Dave I've had an idea!"
 
I wanted to walk up and down the aisles so I could get closer to you, because I either grew up with you, went to school with you, campaigned with you, served on councils with you, laughed with you and cried with you. You are my family.
 
But Dave told me that the cameras haven't got wide enough lenses!
 
All this weight training I've been doing has clearly paid off.
 
My great thanks to Dave who is stepping down at the end of conference after six years as our General Secretary.
 
Dave has worked tirelessly for our Party.
 
I've got lots of great memories of working together and value your friendship
 
Dave is going to work for the Learning and Work Institute.
 
Their gain is our loss.
 
We will all miss you Dave, and we wish you well in your new career.
 
I'd like to thank all the Welsh Labour Party staff whose hard work has made this conference so successful.
 
I'd also like to thank my own staff, colleagues, friends and my family for all their support.
 
And my thanks to my Shadow Minister, Gerald Jones, MP for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney and Welsh Whip, Jess Morden, MP for Newport East.
 
When I was appointed, many people and journalists asked me: "Well, who are you?"
 
So make yourself comfortable,
 
Here's my chance to tell you my life story,
 
Shouldn't take more than a few hours.
 
I believe it doesn't matter where you are from, what school you went to or didn't, how much you earn or don't earn, your gender or transgender, sexuality, race or religion. We are all equal and should all be given equal opportunities.
 
It's a huge privilege to be the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, and I am so grateful to Jeremy Corbyn for giving me the opportunity to serve in his Shadow Cabinet.
 
I've been in the job a few weeks and I'm still getting used to the immense honour.
 
I pay tribute to my predecessors:
• Jo Stevens, Cardiff Central
• Paul Flynn, Newport West
• Nia Griffiths Llanelli, who is now our Shadow Defence Secretary
• And, Owen Smith, Pontypridd
 
I also want to pay tribute to Gerald Kaufman, Father of the House of Commons, who recently passed away. In his inimitable way, Gerald once said: "Being an MP will make you go mad. That is, if you weren't crazy to start with!"
 
I thank all of our Welsh Labour MPs for working together, holding to account the Tory Government in Westminster.
 
Let's not forget our hard working Welsh Peers who have done a grand job of challenging the Tory Government in the other place.
 
I must also acknowledge the great work of all our Trade Unions and the TUC, fighting for workers' rights and protecting jobs.
 
And a special mention for my great friend Andy Richards, Welsh General Secretary of Unite the Union and former chair of the Welsh Executive Committee and one of my Neath constituents.
 
Before becoming an MP, I was National Coach for Wales Squash and Racketball.
 
I've played squash for Wales over 100 times but never thought that I'd be representing Wales as the Shadow Secretary of State.
I shall do my very best to represent you, the wonderful people of Wales. I have a reputation as a relationship builder, a team player. 
 
I believe that we - MPs, AMs, Councillors and Members - should work together for the people of Wales.
 
I've been a member of the Labour Party and a trade unionist for more years than I can remember.
 
I've performed every role: Branch secretary, CLP secretary, town councillor, county councillor, Local Campaign Forum Secretary, Assembly candidate, European candidate, and Parliamentary candidate, before being elected as the MP for Neath in May 2015.
I was one of the youngest councillors on Mid Glamorgan County Council and was a Bridgend Councillor before becoming an MP.
 
As Carwyn Jones said in his speech, I was his ward councillor, but I assure you that I never gave him any favourable treatment.
 
I stood in Arfon for the Welsh Assembly in 2011 and I thank my agent, Tegwyn Thomas,
 
My campaigning team of Betty Williams, former MP for Conwy, Ken, KC and members of Arfon CLP who helped me knock doors, day in, day out.
 
But North West Wales is a Plaid stronghold and we didn't have much of a chance.
 
I will never forget my losing speech. And could probably recite it off by heart.
 
I cried all the way home.

As I've already mentioned I became a councillor for Bridgend County Borough Council in May 2012 taking the seat from a sitting Tory councillor, not that I'm competitive!
 
Then I became Chair of Health and Wellbeing scrutiny committee where I had the chance to get involved in matters close to my heart.
 
Once an athlete always an athlete.
 
I was very proud to be elected MP for Neath in May 2015 and proud to be a product of an All Women Short List.
 
The first woman to represent Neath.
 
The 16th woman to be elected as a Welsh MP.
 
I would like to pay tribute to the work of the Women's Charter which was set up by Baroness Anita Gale and Julie Morgan to encourage more women to come forward to seek selection as public representatives.
 
We now have eight women MPs in Wales.
 
Susan Elan Jones, Nia Griffiths, Carolyn Harris, Madeleine Moon, Jo Stevens, Jess Morden, and, of course, Ann Clwyd, who I must wish a very happy 80th birthday. 
 
Ann has the pleasure of sharing a birthday with Carwyn Jones - the 21st March - but he doesn't yet have the pleasure of membership of Paul Flynn's octogenarian club. 
 
These women have helped me so much, every time I failed to get selected or elected, they gave me support to get out there and try again.
 
And now we have more Women's Forums in Wales than ever before.
 
Friday's Women's Conference, led by Debbie Wilcox, Hannah Blythyn, Jen Thornton and Dawn Bowden, was about making gender equality a reality. 
 
Sarah Champion MP, our Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, spoke about gender auditing all Labour Party policies.
 
The room was packed with women, passionate to have their voice heard.
 
And I was so proud to present my great friend, Carolyn 'Whirlwind' Harris, MP for Swansea East, with the Campaigner of the Year award yesterday for her tenacious and dignified campaign to end funeral costs for children,
 
And Carwyn announced that the Welsh Labour Government will step in, and make sure that burial charges for children will no longer apply in Welsh communities.
 
 
I'd like to pay tribute to a formidable duo, Alun Michael and Jeff Cuthbert, Labour Police and Crime Commissioners in South Wales and Gwent.
 
And another formidable duo, Derek Vaughan and Councillor Ali Thomas. Before becoming an MEP, Derek was Leader of my own authority Neath Port Talbot with Ali as his deputy. 
 
I stood with Derek on the Euro List in 2014. I was fourth on the list so didn't have a hope of being elected, but had some amazing times travelling around Wales to all the CLPs meeting members and making sure that our members in all parts of Wales know how important they are.
 
We owe Derek so much since he became our MEP in 2009 and as Vice Chair of the European Parliament Budgetary Committee, he has secured essential funding for Wales.
 
Between 2014 and 2020, Wales will benefit from £2 billion of European Structural Funds.
 
Together with match funding, this will drive a total investment of almost £3 billion across Wales.
 
Look all around Wales and you can see the EU logo, on buildings, by the side of roads.
 
Rejuvenated town centres.
 
Jobs Growth Wales providing opportunities for young people.
 
Many back to work programmes would not have existed without EU funding.
 
Many farmers would not have received agricultural support payments.
 
The Erasmus programme where many Welsh Students have been able to study in other parts of Europe.
 
And there has been peace in Europe for many, many years.
 
For all these reasons I campaigned vigorously to remain in Europe. But Neath, like Wales and the UK voted to leave the EU.
 
We know now that the Leave Campaign said things that were simply not true.
 
Remember the bus…
 
I respect the democratic will of the people and did not oppose Article 50 when it passed through the UK Parliament.
 
I do believe that Labour MPs should be involved in shaping the divorce deal so that we have the best possible terms for exiting the EU.
 
I voted for Labour amendments which wanted to protect the citizenship of the EU nationals who are living in the UK.
 
The hard working nurses, doctors in our NHS. 
 
Those working in the tourism and agriculture sectors and many more who are working to make Wales and the UK prosperous despite the austerity imposed on us by the Coalition and Tory UK Governments since 2010
 
And that we would have a meaningful vote on the deal that Theresa May negotiates for us coming out of Europe.
 
Unfortunately we didn't win these votes.
 
May has announced that she will send the letter to trigger Article 50 to take us out of Europe next Wednesday.
 
It remains to be seen what's in the letter.
 
I believe that the Welsh Labour Government should have a say in shaping the Brexit deal.
 
Mark Drakeford is the Welsh Government's representative on the Joint Ministerial Committee made up from the 4 Nations of the UK.
 
Mark has said that he is frustrated by the shambolic way that this committee is being run by the UK Government.
 
No minutes or agenda before the committee meetings.
 
No local council committee meeting would get away with that!
 
The UK Government doesn't have a plan. This was evident by the look on the faces of the Leavers the day after the referendum vote.
 
Panic!
 
And that look has not gone away.
 
I don't think that Theresa May understands when she says that coming out of Europe will allow us to take back control by getting powers back from Brussels that some of these powers have already been devolved to Wales.
 
Such as agriculture and fisheries.
 
There must be no grab back of powers from the Welsh Government to the UK Government.
 
We need full and unfettered access to the Single Market so that we can export and import goods without our businesses having to face extra costs on top of production costs, which will ultimately be passed down to the consumers.
 
The UK Government say that they can replace trading with Europe by global trade deals.
 
An example being mooted is a deal with New Zealand.
 
But to quote Mark Drakeford, Trade halves as distance doubles. And what about the prospect of Wales being inundated with cheap New Zealand lamb?
 
It's a leap into the unknown.
 
 
I'm so grateful that we have a Welsh Labour Government in Wales with our great Leader, Carwyn Jones.
 
And a very special Happy Birthday to Carwyn for last Tuesday.
 
I won't mention that you've reached 50.
 
You don't look a day older than you did when you became leader!
 
You always look great on the media.
 
And on your birthday I was having some media training.
 
A lovely lady gave me some tips.
 
She sat me in a chair, and said look alert and poised
 
Then she said…
 
Your hair, is it naturally curly? Yes.
 
Have you seen a hairdresser lately? Yes.
 
My daughter is my hairdresser, and she's given up
 
Then she asked if I wore make up?
 
I said, well it was an interesting concept.
 
She said if Sky offer you an interview take it cause they will give you a free makeover!
 
I was dressed like this, and she said it's good to wear a shirt under a trouser suit, but what about dresses?
 
A step too far, I think.
 
 
Spreadsheet Phil's UK Government budget wasn't good for Wales.
 
It wasn't good for him either.
 
A u-turn on national insurance contributions for self employed workers was inevitable once it was pointed out to him by a BBC journalist that the Tory Manifesto promised 4 times not to increase NI contributions.
 
There was no good news for Wales on:
 
• Electrification of the Great Western mainline from Paddington to Swansea
• No plan to put a hub for HS2 in Crewe
• No green light for the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon
• No agreement for the North Wales Growth Plan
• No announcement of the signing of the Swansea Bay City Region Deal
 
Then, Theresa May swept into the Liberty Stadium in Swansea last Monday.
 
In a carefully orchestrated event to boost the standing of the Tory Party in Wales,
 
Pen was put to paper.
 
And the deal was signed.
 
It's a great deal worth £1.3bn bringing over 10,000 new jobs over the next 15 years for four local authorities - Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire.  
 
A collaboration between the UK Government, the Welsh Government, four local authorities and private investors.
 
With 11 major projects in energy, smart manufacturing, innovation and life science.
 
A great example of cooperation between councils, Welsh Government, UK Governments and private investors, working together for Wales.
 
The Cardiff Capital Region City Deal is a three way deal between the UK Government, Welsh Government and ten Local Authorities,
 
Chaired by Andrew Morgan, Leader of Rhondda Cynon Taff council.
 
And was signed off on St David’s Day.
 
Bringing £1.2bn investment to accelerate development, support jobs and growth and create a more productive economy. 
 
Targeting £4bn of private sector funding.
 
The Metro, regional infrastructure, coordinated transport, innovation and improving the digital network, developing a skilled workforce, tackling unemployment, supporting enterprise and business growth, housing and regeneration.
 
Another example of working together for Wales.
 
The Welsh Government has delivered so much for Wales and been ahead of the UK Government in so many ways.
 
You just can't keep up with the pace of Welsh Government delivery!
 
Families First and Flying Start, 21st Century Schools, Jobs Growth Wales
 
And small businesses across Wales have seen their rates reduced, too!
 
Keeping promises year after year, and delivering vital public services.
 
Welsh Labour are well on their way to delivering their six manifesto pledges.
 
 
Within a few days of being appointed, I spoke to all 22 Labour Group Leaders, pledging my support.
 
I’ll pay tribute to all the councillors who have so diligently represented their authorities and are standing down,
 
To all the councillor candidates who are standing for the first time,
 
To all the Council Leaders who are standing down, legends of Local Government:
 
• Bob Wellington in Torfaen, who is also chair of the WLGA
• Mel Nott in Bridgend
• Keith Reynolds in Caerphilly
• Bob Wright in Newport
• And Ali Thomas in Neath Port Talbot
 
And to all the council leaders that are continuing. The great:
 
• Aaron Shotton, Flintshire
• Neil Moore, Vale of Glamorgan
• Brendan Toomey, Merthyr Tydfil
• Steve Thomas, Blaenau Gwent

And to all the new enthusiastic energetic council leaders:
 
• Phil Bale in Cardiff,
• Anthony Hunt in Torfaen
• Huw David in Bridgend,
• Rob Stewart in Swansea,
• Andrew Morgan in Rhondda Cynon Taff.
 
And, of course, Debbie Wilcox, from Newport. Our only woman Council Leader.
 
I hope you don’t mind if I pay special tribute to my leader, Ali Thomas, who is retiring in May.
 
I say retiring, but perhaps changing careers might be a better description if I know him!
 
His first words to me were "now look here, lovely girl", and his favourite phrase is "love you to bits".
 
I love you to bits, too, Ali!
 
But it's time to start worrying when he starts playing with his braces!
 
I understand what being a councillor means. How important you are to Wales.
 
You deliver public services in a climate where the UK Tory Government has slashed the Welsh Assembly's block grant.
 
In spite of brutal Tory cuts from Westminster, our Labour Councils have a proud record of delivery across Wales. 
Our Welsh Labour Government has supported Local Authorities across the country and each Welsh Labour council has worked hard to maintain vital local services, invest in regeneration, and to provide buildings and facilities that are fit for the future.
 
Councillors are dedicated, hard-working servants to our fantastic people of Wales.
 
The forthcoming elections will be tough, but I am positive about them and will be doing all I can to ensure we return hardworking Labour Councillors and create Labour-led Local Authorities. 
 
2012 might have been an exceptionally good year and I realise that we must strike a balance between being optimistic and realistic.
 
But someone once told me I'm depressingly optimistic.
 
So, I thanked them for their compliment.
 
I will be out campaigning with you in every constituency in the run up to the 4th May.

I look forward to working together, for a Labour victory.
 
Working together for a fair deal for the people of Wales.
 
Working together for Wales.
 
ENDS


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