Speech to Welsh Labour Annual Conference by Nia Griffith MP

"Let's fight to win - not for ourselves, but for the people we represent" - Nia Griffith MP's speech to Welsh Labour Annual Conference 2016. 

Conference,

Can I start by saying what an honour it is to be speaking to you today as Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Wales.

We’re meeting at such an important time for our country.

The Assembly elections are just weeks away. The EU referendum date is set. And I know you will be with me out on the doorstep over the next weeks and months, campaigning to keep Wales in the EU, and to re-elect a Labour Government in Wales, a government led by our excellent First Minister Carwyn Jones. His leadership, his energy and his commitment to the people of Wales make it so important that we re-elect him as First Minister in May.

I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, Owen Smith, who’s now doing an excellent job as Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary.

I have to say, for a small man – his are very big shoes to fill.

I have a great team with me – Susan Elan Jones, our shadow Wales Minister, Eluned Morgan, who speaks for us in the Lords, Gerald Jones and Jessica Morden. Together we are fighting for Wales in Westminster and taking on the Tories’ appalling treatment of our nation.

Because of the Tories Welsh families are hundreds of pounds a year worse off.

And Welsh Government has seen its budget slashed by over a billion pounds.

Police numbers cut, courts closed, tax offices closed, solar feed-in tariffs slashed, wrecking community energy projects.

That’s the damage that the UK Tory Government has done. Just imagine the price of a Conservative Government in Wales as well.

We cannot let that happen.

So we need to tell families up and down our country about what our Labour Welsh Government is delivering.

Labour Investment in Wales, versus cuts from the Tories in Westminster.

Jobs for our young people, not leaving a generation behind.

Economic record

In Westminster we’ve got a Chancellor who is taking away vital support for low and middle earners.

A Chancellor who thinks that letting Google pay a fraction of the tax that they owe is a “major success.”

A Tory Chancellor whose long term economic scam means he’s missed every target he’s ever set himself on the deficit, whilst leaving working people worse off.

George Osborne is a man so out of touch with the lives of ordinary people that he wanted, and still wants, to slash the tax credits that thousands of Welsh families rely on.

Tax credits that we brought in, to target help where it is needed most, to help make work pay, to support families at that very expensive time when they are juggling the demands of bringing up children with work.

Under his plans, people who are already cutting back would have lost an average of nearly £1400 a year.

Well we weren’t prepared to see that happen. And so with a strong Labour campaign, we forced the Government to drop its plans.

They wanted to cut police numbers too – even though they’ve cut 600 frontline officers in Wales since 2010. Again, we fought back, we shamed them and forced them into a U-turn.

Conference, this shows what we can achieve when we are a united opposition to the Conservatives. So let’s focus, not on what divides us, but on our common opposition to what this Conservative Government is doing.

Because we know this is just the start. The Tories’ austerity has hit Welsh families hard over the last six years, but, mark my words, there is a lot more to come.

Steel

But the reality is, George Osborne is far more concerned about doing what it takes to win the Tory leadership, than doing what’s best for the country.

Just look at the way his Government is treating our steel industry.

We’ve known about the crisis facing steel for some time – and Welsh Labour MPs have raised this again and again in Parliament.

But the Tory Government has just stood by and watched as hundreds of Welsh steel workers have seen their jobs disappear.

Slow to the point of inaction in doing anything to mitigate the effects of Osborne’s carbon tax on energy cost for the industry faces.

Not just weak, but sycophantic and two-faced when it comes to standing up to Chinese dumping of steel.

Conference, the Tories might not think that our steel industry has a future, but we do.

And we know better than most what happened the last time a Tory Government left a Welsh industry to die.

I am proud of the work that Carwyn and his Government are doing to help our steelworlers in Wales.

When I talk to people working in the steel industry, it’s clear they have far more confidence in the Welsh Government than they do in the Tories in London.

Our Welsh Labour Government, delivering for Wales.

Devolution

And we know that’s only possible because we created devolved Government and the Welsh Assembly.

Labour – the party of devolution.

We will always support the Assembly having the powers it needs to make a real difference to the lives of Welsh people.

A Welsh Assembly – a Welsh Parliament – better equipped to take decisions about public services and the Welsh economy.

Labour would never support taking powers away from Wales or rolling back the devolution process.

And that is why we will not support the UK Government’s Wales Bill unless it is radically amended.

Before the election David Cameron promised more powers for Wales.

It’s there in black and white in his Tory manifesto – a pledge committing him to “handing over more responsibility to the Welsh Assembly.”

But his Government has proposed a Bill that actually takes powers away from Wales, and makes it harder for the Assembly to pass laws.

The Tories have set out 267 powers that they don’t want Wales to have – covering everything from Antarctica to zebra crossings.

They have proposed an English veto – so that Ministers in London would have the final say over whether the Assembly can pass laws.

And all this means that they’ll be wasting thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on expensive legal challenges.

That’s not what people voted for in 2011 when the Welsh people said they wanted an Assembly with full law-making powers.

It’s not acceptable, it’s not progressive. And it tells you how much the Tories really value devolution.

Do you know there are even Welsh Conservative MPs who want to take powers over areas like health and education away from the Assembly and give them back to Westminster?

If that’s not turning back the clock, I don’t know what is.

Labour will always fight for the best deal for Wales. We want more devolution, not less. And that means calling out the Government’s Wales Bill for the disgrace that it is.

Trade Union Bill

But conference when it comes to bad laws, it’s hard to top the Tories’ Trade Union Bill.

The most shameful, partisan attack on workers’ rights in a generation.

Conference, I am a proud trade unionist.

I have been a member all my working life. As a former union rep I know the difference that trade unions make in our workplaces and our communities.

Strong trade unions are a vital protection for workers, delivering rights and decent pay. And a workforce that is satisfied and engaged is better for employers too.

Unlike the Tories in Westminster, our Welsh Labour Government believes in this partnership approach.

Partnership between employers and workers, Government and trade unions.

Just take the junior doctors contracts.

In England, Jeremy Hunt’s aggressive behaviour has provoked doctors to take unprecedented strike action.

And now he’s risking chaos for patients by imposing the contracts anyway. Something that will destroy morale in the English NHS and risk more disruption through industrial action.

In Wales, we take a different approach.

Negotiation and dialogue means there have been no junior doctors’ strikes here.

Because our Welsh Labour Government believes in working with staff in our NHS, not going to war with them.

Partnership – that’s the Labour way.

But the Tories’ Trade Union Bill drives a coach and horses through partnership and undermines cooperation between employers and workers.

At its heart this Bill curtails the basic freedom to organise at work and weakens the protection that trade unions offer.

Conference, the Conservatives wanted to impose this Bill on Wales.

But they’ve got no right to interfere with devolved public services.

And after pressure from Labour Members in Parliament and in the Assembly, the UK Government has been forced to admit that they have a “very weak case” to apply this Bill to Wales.

I’m proud that we have a Labour Government in Wales that is standing up to this rancid Bill.

That’s the difference that a Labour Government makes.

Curbs on trade union freedom in England, mutual respect for workers in Wales.

Strikes and chaos in England, partnership and dialogue in Wales.

Different choices

Because in Wales we have a Government with different priorities – Labour priorities – that lead to different choices.

Look at how the two Governments have treated young people.

Young people are less likely to vote, even less likely to vote Conservative. And so they have borne the brunt of the Tory UK Government’s austerity agenda.

Student fees hiked, education maintenance allowance abolished, student grants abolished

Housing benefit? Scrapped if you’re under 22. Even if you’re fleeing abuse at home or your family has kicked you out

And even the new so-called national living wage: it won’t apply if you’re under 25. Even if you’re doing the same job, the same hours, as an older colleague. So why have the Tories got it in young people?

Don’t suppose it could be anything to do with the fact that young people are less likely to vote, and certainly less likely to vote conservative. Am I just a cynic?

But here in Wales we believe in investing in our young people. That every young person should have access to an apprenticeship or training, a decent job, or a chance at university.

Jobs Growth Wales has created jobs for 15,000 young people.

And now a Labour commitment to create 100,000 new apprenticeships.

When the Tories scrapped the Educational Maintenance Allowance in England, Welsh Labour decided we’d keep it.

When the Tory-LibDem coalition trebled university fees to £9,000 in England, Welsh Government stepped in to peg them at £3,500 with Welsh Government paying the difference. So the average Welsh undergraduate has £22,000 less debt at the end of their course than a student from England.

And when the Tories decided to scrap maintenance grants for poorer students in England, the Welsh Government said that we would not follow suit.

Labour achievements

That’s the difference that a Labour Government makes. Labour policies promised then delivered because we are in Government.

So don’t listen to those who say we should be happy just shouting from the side-lines. That principled opposition is better than political power. If we take that attitude we may as well shut up shop.

Labour changes peoples’ lives when we are in Government.

The NHS.

The minimum wage.

The Welsh Assembly.

These only happened because we were in power.

So let’s fight to win, not for ourselves but for the people we represent.

Assembly election

This May we have a unique opportunity to win an historic 5th term in Welsh Government.

And conference, let me bust the myth, once and for all, that Labour being in power for so long is a bad thing.

Look at what we have achieved so far.

Every promise made, delivered.

NHS spending higher than England.

Exam results at a record high.

Free bus passes, free prescriptions, free school breakfasts.

A Violence Against Women Act – the only law of its kind in Europe.

Say no to fracking.

And conference, look at the alternatives:

A Conservative Party hell-bent on rolling back the welfare state. Privatisation in Welsh hospitals, cuts to local services. A party that offers no help for Welsh industry or for small businesses in Wales.

Plaid Cymru – the party of nationalist grievance. Obsessed with breaking every constitutional tie with the rest of the UK.

And UKIP:

Conference, I’m no cynic.

So I’m not going to suggest that the first time UKIP took any notice of Wales was when they realised the electoral system might enable them to win seats here.

Nor am I going to suggest that their candidates are anything but of the highest calibre.

Great statesmen like… Neil Hamilton and Mark Reckless.

Conference, I don’t know if you know but UKIP are having their conference here next weekend, and it’s already being advertised.

I checked the Venue Cymru website. It says Saturday, February the 27th – Dad’s Army.

That’s right, here next Saturday there’ll be a comedy performance about a bunch of old white men with a 1940s mind-set, fighting an all-out war with Europe.

That and the UKIP conference.

But conference, there is a serious point here. These other parties threaten everything that our Labour Welsh Government has achieved. If they get in in May, as some rag-tag coalition of chaos, then Wales will suffer because of it.

So as we leave Llandudno today let’s be proud of our record, proud of our values, proud to be Labour.

Let’s go out there, together and let’s win for Wales.

Thank you


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