For all the heat and noise of the campaign, every election comes down to one big choice. In 1945 that was a choice about a better, fairer country for our war heroes; in 1997 it was about Labour’s different modern, vision of Britain.
In Wales, in 2011, it was about electing the best Government to stand up for Wales against the onslaught of Tory cuts.
In last year’s General Election it came down to whether Labour had earned another hearing on the economy – and people decided against us.
We’ve done everything we can since that election to prove that Welsh Labour is the right choice on the economy. We’ve fought hard for jobs, invested in infrastructure, invested in skills – and we will fund 100,000 apprentices next time round – and cut taxes for small businesses.
But, what is the big choice facing people in this election? I think the big choice is between a confident, open, outward looking Wales – a passionate country, passionate for a brighter future – that’s the Welsh Labour vision.
Or, a Wales that retreats. A country that looks inwards. A Wales that believes the worst of ourselves. Because that’s what the Tories, Plaid and UKIP are encouraging people to do.
It’s our Wales that believes in a brighter tomorrow; or their Wales that says: “stop the world, I want to get off”.
A confident Wales - or a timid Wales.
These next few days will be absolutely crucial in determining the shape of the next Welsh Government. We know we are ahead in the polls; but we also know that there are really close fights all over Wales that will be decided by a handful of voters.
And almost without exception those close fights are between us and the Tories. Plaid might try and kid people along, and even try and con them into using list votes for them. That’s simply because they’re out of the race in so many constituencies.
I do wonder, if they really think they’re about to form the next Government, why they’re spending so much time and effort in Arfon. I will tell you why – its because our brilliant Sion Jones has got them on the run.
But, make no mistake – the majority of fights that will decide the outcome of this election will be tight battles between us and the Tories.
In the General Election the Tories won in the Vale of Clwyd by 237 votes - and yet 3,401 voted Liberal and Plaid.
In the Gower, the Tories won by 27 votes - and yet 5,764 voted Liberal, Plaid and Green.
And what’s happening now? How are the Tory MP from the Vale of Clwyd , and the Tory MP in the Gower getting on?
Well last week, the Tory MP from the Gower voted to stop unaccompanied child refugees to come into the UK.
Think about that.
Shame on him.
The Daily Mail supports the rights of those children. But, not the Tory MP for Gower.
What about the Vale of Clwyd Tory MP?
Well he’s voting to crack down on trade unions, the forced academisation of schools, and a cut to in tax credits for working people in Rhyl and Prestatyn.
So, if you’re thinking about voting Liberal, or Plaid, or Green in the seats where it is a straight fight between Labour and Tory – think about that risk. Think about importing that kind of politics into the Assembly. And lend us your vote in those constituencies to stop it.
Our message to those people who describe themselves as progressive has to be this. Don’t just think about the few seconds it takes you to fill in your ballot paper - think about the kind of Government you want for the next five years.
Is it a Government that will share your priorities – a safe, secure, well-funded NHS? Good jobs and good schools? Those are my priorities. Those are Welsh Labour priorities.
Unlike every other party in this election – we are not fighting for a coalition, we are fighting to win. It might be good enough for the Tories and UKIP to cuddle up to one another on TV studio sofas.
It might be good enough for the Welsh Prophet, as Adam Price now calls himself, to float Tory deals in hustings and on Twitter. But, it is not good enough for Welsh Labour.
We are fighting to win.
We know, weeks before the campaign even started, that Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and Greens were trying to stitch a deal together behind closed doors.
What grotesque disrespect to the Welsh people.
What was I doing? What were you doing? What were all Welsh Labour activists doing at that time? We were out knocking doors, doing hustings, delivering leaflets – talking to the people, not to one another.
I tell you what else I was doing. I was fighting for better jobs for Wales.
Bringing new jobs to Wales through Aston Martin in South Wales, and Calbee, and Avox in North Wales. And I’ve been fighting for our steel jobs too. In Shotton, Port Talbot, Llanwern & Trostre.
I am making Wales’ case for our steel industry – even now, in the last days of the election campaign, there’s nothing I won’t do, no buyer I won’t talk to in order to secure those jobs.
We need to make people see in these last few days that devolution doesn’t do this – these jobs don’t arrive “just because”. It needs Labour leadership.
What has our relentless focus on the economy meant in recent years? It has meant good news; good jobs for the people in North Wales in particular. The Tories and Plaid Cymru will talk North Wales down. I will never do that.
If you want someone to attract new businesses to Wales - like Calbee or Avox - then you need someone who passionately believes in what’s good about our country.
What do the new Labour Market figures say about North Wales? That say that:
- Employment rates are increasing faster than the rest of Wales. Faster than the rest of the UK.
- Economic inactivity is dropping faster than the rest of Wales. Faster than the rest of the UK.
And average earnings are increasing faster than the rest of Wales as well. This is good news for our communities.
Let’s get this straight, the future of the North Wales economy is bright. From tourism, to construction – small businesses to the giants of Airbus and Wylfa – we have a plan for prosperity that is going to give our communities good jobs, closer to home, with decent pay and decent prospects.
North Wales is outgunning English regions, and that’s why we think North Wales should be in the driving seat of the Northern Powerhouse. The Tories want us in the passenger seat, if we’re in the car at all. That’s not good enough.
It’s not just about the economy – it’s about our public services too.
Over the last few weeks we’ve heard the Tories and Plaid talk down the NHS.
Their solution? Cuts, and a hugely complex re-organisation, which will dismantle the NHS as we know it.
Now, we know the health service has faced some challenges, in North Wales in particular.
The last five years of Tory austerity have been difficult ones and the demand for healthcare is rising all the time.
But, we have an NHS in Wales – and an NHS workforce – of which we can be proud.
The NHS in Wales is always there when we need it.
It provides high-quality care to all of us, wherever we live.
In the last five years we’ve seen real improvements in our NHS:
- Cancer survival rates are improving faster in Wales than anywhere else in the UK and people are getting fast access to diagnosis and treatment
- Waiting times are falling for diagnostic tests and routine treatment
- Investment in our health and social services is at a record high
- More doctors and nurses than ever before are working in the NHS
And it isn’t just about what we are doing – it is also about what we won’t do:
In Labour Wales: no Junior Doctors strike.
In Labour Wales: no privatisation of the NHS.
In Labour Wales: no massive top-down reorganisation of the NHS.
Voters in North Wales will wonder why decisions about their healthcare should no longer be made by doctors in North Wales – but bureaucrats in Cardiff.
That’s the Plaid Cymru vision for health here in North Wales.
We won’t do that.
We will work with the NHS and invest in our health service to develop the new services to make a difference to people’s lives.
We will move more care and services out of hospitals into local communities, closer to people’s homes so people don’t have to travel for routine care. We’ll continue to work with GPs to make it easier to get an appointment.
We’ll create a New Treatments Fund to give people access to life-saving medicines and we’ll double the capital limit to £50,000.
Yes, the NHS is on the ballot box.
But, only Welsh Labour can protect our NHS and only Welsh Labour will build a modern NHS to meet our needs for today and tomorrow.
And when it comes to education, I’m incredibly proud of what Welsh Labour has achieved over the last five years.
I can reel off the statistics – record GCSE results; the best apprenticeship programme in Europe and the results of our poorest young people rising faster than those from more affluent backgrounds.
- 10m Free Breakfasts served in our Primary Schools this term
- 15,000 young people helped into work through Jobs Growth Wales
- £22,000 less debt for a university student from Wales compared to students from England.
But somehow, as impressive as those statistics are, they don’t convey the impact of the lives transformed and the opportunities opened up in places like North Wales by the opportunity to attend a great school, or get world class skills.
Just a few weeks ago the new £25m Rhyl High School was opened in the Vale of Clwyd.
One of 200 new and refurbished schools we are investing £2bn in by 2024.
I’ll let you into a little secret at this point - I have lived and breathed every single brick of the Rhyl project because it’s been something our fantastic Welsh Labour candidate Ann Jones has argued passionately to me about - virtually every single day - over the last few years!
She said to me the other week that that development means that Rhyl High – one of our 40 Challenge Cymru schools – has not only got world class buildings to put around the world class teaching they want to develop inside, but they now have something much more.
One of the most deprived places in Wales – through the opportunities it can now afford its young people today – has a renewed sense of hope about what their community can be tomorrow.
And that’s Welsh Labour can offer a place like Rhyl – a passionate local advocate making their community a better place to live and a government on their side delivering new hope to its young people.
When we launched our manifesto the other day we did it at Nantgarw College in Caerphilly.
When I stepped through the doors of the £40m building that morning I caught, out of the corner of my eye, a small information stand that reminded me of why we need a Welsh Labour Government to continue our decade of delivery after May.
In the top corner of the stand there was a form for students at the college to fill in.
On the front cover, below the Welsh Government logo, was a very simple header.
It said, quite matter of factly… ‘Education Maintenance Allowance - Application Form 2016/17’
That form – and the opportunity it represents – would not exist without a Welsh Labour Government.
And that’s what these last few days are about.
Reminding people of things that are only happening because of the choices made by a Welsh Labour in Government.
- Best ever GCSE results
- Record employment levels in Wales
- Unemployment lower than London or Scotland
- New schools
- Free school breakfasts
- Free prescriptions
- Free bus passes
- Students spared £22,000 debt
- Faster, and better treatments for cancer and stroke patients
- 15,000 people in work thanks to Jobs Growth Wales
- A Living Wage for NHS staff
- A fair deal for farm workers
- An end to blacklisting
- Trailblazing action on homelessness
- 10,000 new affordable homes
- An Organ Donation Act that will – that is - saving lives.
Wales on the map – not just as a tourist destination, but as the home to sporting excellence, and a committed, skilled workforce.
The wind is in our sails as a small, confident nation. We promised to stand up for Wales in 2011, and we did that, but we did so much more.
Wales today is smarter. Richer. Greener. Wales, today, is going places.
We can’t put that at risk.
Plaid, Tories and UKIP – they all want you to believe the worst about Wales.
Don’t fall for it.
We need to get out there – and sell our view of Wales.
A confident, tolerant nation. A connected country.
And don’t be afraid to tell people what we’ll deliver – because you know we’ve delivered in the past.
- The most generous childcare system anywhere in the UK
- A new £100m schools standards fund – to build on those record GCSE results
- 100,000 all-age apprentices, guaranteeing quality work and training
- Tax cuts for all small businesses – 75% will pay no rates at all
- A New Treatments Fund, to end the postcode lottery and ensure ALL life-threatening illnesses have equal weight
- A doubling of the capital limit for those who need to go into care – rewarding responsibility.
Together for Wales – we can deliver.
That’s my kind of Wales.
Confident, bright, united.
And I think it’s the sort of Wales people want too.
So let’s get out there and remind them there’s only one way they’re going to get that kind of Wales – by voting Welsh Labour on May 5th.