Carwyn Jones addressing the audience at the 2018 Welsh Labour Conference
Carwyn Jones addressing the audience at the 2018 Welsh Labour Conference

Welsh Labour Leader and First Minister Carwyn Jones’ speech to Welsh Labour Conference in Llandudno, Saturday 21st April 2018

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Good afternoon, Conference. I can only assume by the full hall that the age of austerity has hit the fringe meeting buffet provision. It is great to be here with you today, on what is after all, an historic occasion.

Today, for the first time ever we have a Deputy Leader of Welsh Labour. I want to congratulate Carolyn Harris on her win and I look forward to working with her very much. I also give my heartfelt thanks to Julie for her campaign, and the superb contribution she has already made to Welsh Labour and will continue to make in the years ahead.

Now I wrote a note to Jeremy to ask for some advice on what’s the best way to develop a constructive and productive relationship with a Deputy Leader. And he said, well you only have to do half the work now.

I’m not saying I’ll be passing you all the tough gigs, but the devolution of justice is up for debate at Islwyn CLP next week, and they’ve asked if one of us could go?

As ever, I want to thank Louise Magee and all the staff at Welsh Labour, not just for the fantastic job they’ve done with this contest – but also the stunning result they achieved in such tragic circumstances in Alyn & Deeside.

We have welcomed the youngest AM in our history onto the Welsh Labour benches in the Assembly, and I know that Jack will do his community and his family proud. 

This is a political party in rude health. Both in membership and finances, and for this I would like to pay particular tribute to departing General Secretary Iain McNicol – Iain was a great friend of Wales, and working alongside Jeremy he made sure that Welsh Labour secured our long sought after place on the National Executive. I know that his successor Jennie Formby will be here with Jeremy tomorrow and I’d like to wish her all the very best in her role.

Conference, we find ourselves meeting in increasingly dangerous and uncertain times.

If the global tensions were not bad enough, we’re now at the mercy of a social network mogul who knows us better than we know ourselves.

And I have to confess, watching ageing Senators grill Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg did make me wonder if this generation of politicians is ready to tackle this new era of technological advance.

I don’t know how much you saw of the hearings, but it did seem that some of the politicians were only a question away from asking for some help with their wifi.

Did they really understand that data harvesting didn’t actually mean tending your crops in FarmVille?

That Candy Crush wasn’t a congresswoman from California? 

Now, although there may be some evidence to the contrary, I do know the value of social media as a politician. It is a necessary evil, and we do use Twitter a lot to get out political messages.

In fact when we were in the States, we made a real splash at the New York St David’s Day reception, with some of our tweeted pictures getting mentions and retweets going through the roof.

One picture in particular went viral!

The comments were incredibly complimentary too – and on the ride back to the hotel, my team read them out to me:

“I’m fangirling here, but you look mighty fine from head to toe.”

(Oh, I thought. That’s quite a nice change, I wasn’t totally sure what fangirling meant.)

A woman in upstate NY tweets: “Where did you get that suit? love eyes emoji

(I’m thinking, Wow! Wait til I tell them in the shop in Cardiff)

Another: “You’re never too old to appreciate a handsome, sexy man.” Kiss face emjoi.

(Now I’m starting to think right, what’s going on)

A lady in Ohio tweets: “looking amazing. I’m coming to Wales. Soon.”

(Now I’m hoping the time difference means Lisa is asleep)

I can’t take anymore, I ask to see the tweet that is producing all these responses.

And sure enough, there’s the @fmwales tag – and it is a decent picture from the event. Broad smile for camera.

am wearing a lovely blue suit… and I’m also sat right next to Welsh Hollywood heart-throb Luke Evans, they were talking about him, not me…

Thanks for that.

I did find one response that was directed at me: 

“Ow. Brockway. Enjoying your jolly? My eisteddfod has been cancelled because of snow. What you going to do about it?”

And boom, back to earth with a bang.

But, we do live in uncertain times. Little did we know when we gathered here last year that we were just a month away from a General Election. An election that was going to bring certainty to the Brexit debate. That went well.

And how appropriate to be here in North Wales to reflect on that campaign. Because it was just a few miles away that the election was conceived in the spring sunshine on the mountainside above Dolgellau. 

And it was back in North Wales a few weeks later that the Prime Minister met her Waterloo – in Wrexham. 

We all remember those immortal words that followed the social care u-turn: “Nothing has changed. Nothing has changed.”

And yet everything had changed.

No more strong and stable. Now it was all weak and wobbly

The Tory mask had slipped.

And Welsh Labour’s campaign went into overdrive to win back lost ground.

Christina Rees travelled the length and breadth of Wales, campaigning in every single seat for Welsh Labour. She’s our unstoppable force and I’d like to pay tribute to Chris, both for her work inside Parliament and during that campaign in particular.

And how about the way Jeremy Corbyn took it to the Tories. He galvanised a whole generation of voters who had felt locked out of politics for too long. And he showed in that campaign his readiness to be the next Prime Minister.

Conference, last year, working together we achieved the best result in Wales for a generation. We started that campaign ten points behind and finished ten points ahead.

Thanks to your hard work.

Back came Cardiff North – well done Anna

Back too came Gower – well done Tonia

And in the best comeback since the days of Groucho Marx, Chris Ruane won the Vale of Clwyd back for Labour.

And – though never defeated – back too came Albert Owen in Ynys Mon. 

Albert has been a tireless campaigner for this party, and I know he has been working hard with the local community following the wrecking of Holyhead marina.

Albert, I’m glad to say that there will be funding announced next week to support the council’s clean-up operation and a further grant to promote tourism and confirm that Holyhead is indeed still open for business.

So, yes, the election result was better than expected. But, we did not win. And for communities up and down Wales, a win for Labour, for fairness, is all that matters.

We can’t afford to be complacent – because what was the big lesson of that Tory campaign?

That you cannot take people for granted.

So sure they were of a big win, they stopped talking to people, they stopped asking for permission to govern, they took it as a right.

We can never make that mistake.

Complacency won’t just aid the Tories, it will give hope to the populists who – day after day, right around the world are delivering brutal lessons to mainstream parties.

Switch on, stay relevant, or face extinction.

In a recent poll nearly half of Britons said they were dissatisfied with the way democracy was working – in another poll over a third suggested that democracy wasn’t always the best way to run a country. That must alarm us.

I’ll tell you a story –

A man in a hot air balloon gets blown wildly off course, and he starts to panic. Had no idea where he was, when he spots someone on the ground, he shouts down “Can you help me? Where am I?”

The man on the ground shouts back “Of course I’ll help… You are in a hot air balloon.”

“No, no.” shouts the man in the air. “I’m lost. I don’t know where I am. Can you tell me my location, whereabouts is this?”

The man on the ground takes a good look around and shouts back “You’re about 100 foot in the air.”

“Please, no” shouts the man. “I need help – tell me my exact location? I’m lost.”

The man on the ground shouts back – “Oh! Your exact location? Of course. You’re latitude is 37 degrees north and 23 degrees east longitude

“Great. Thanks. Thanks a lot.” The man in the hot air balloon gives up.

But then shouts down “By any chance – are you a politician?”

“Yes!” Shouts the man, delighted to be recognised.  “I am a politician. How did you know?”

“Well, its obvious” shouts the man. “Every time I’ve asked you a question, you’ve given me a bunch of facts – all of which sound true – but absolutely none of which are relevant to my situation.”

Sound familiar?

How did we lose the EU referendum? We shouted facts at people who wanted a simple helping hand.

How did Trump win in America? He sympathised with the man in the balloon.

So, how do we win – how do we stay relevant in this new political world? The temptation is to fight fire with fire – and sure, we can communicate differently, but that doesn’t mean changing our values.

And it doesn’t mean promising what you can’t deliver – like saying Wales could have unilaterally lifted the pay-cap without cutting services.  If expectation is the root of all heartache, then raising false expectations is the meanest trick a politician can play. 

We must respond with ideas, language and policies that are relevant to the situation in which people find themselves. And that starts by listening better to the problems they face, and the questions they ask – and perhaps most crucially of all, coming up with solutions together, and not imposing them from above.

The risks of not doing that work are profound.

Is it any coincidence that in the very moment our democratic establishment is being questioned, the disgusting old scourge of anti-Semitism reappears? 

It is not a coincidence. The ugly, base form of populist politics will come back again and again and it will bring with it the same tropes, and the same victim blaming. And as always, it will be for the decent people, the progressives, the real socialists – the democrats – to rally to the truth and to discredit and dismantle the evil arguments of the populist demagogues and keyboard warriors alike. 

The Liverpool MP, Luciana Berger, was right to make no apology for holding the Labour Party to higher standards. Our party does not exist to reflect society, warts and all, it exists to change society once and for all.

We can change things, but our way is the hard way. We are the doubters and cynics. We believe in science and reason. That is in our Labour DNA. Our arguments are not always the simple ones, and so we must work twice as hard to be heard.

We have to expose the most common mistruth of any populist – that there was a golden era which we need to hark back to. On every measure that counts, life expectancy, technological advance, education, healthcare, equality, opportunity … there is no moment in human history that is better than today.  

And yet the battles will never cease for us – just as we won progress on gay rights and same sex marriage, now we strive to achieve fairness for the Trans community.

What value do we place on equal rights for women, when we still do not have equal pay to match them? 

School standards are improving, but not fast enough for children in care.

We do not strive for a perfect future – only one that is better than today, and then better again tomorrow. Just as every technical advance creates new possibilities, so then each societal advance allows us to become ever more tolerant, ever more understanding. 

We can change things. A descent from democracy is not inevitable; our worldview can continue to inspire – but first we must earn a hearing.

And to earn a hearing, you’ve got to deliver.

Since I was elected your leader, I’ve made one thing the touchstone of my work, of our work as a party and a Government – and that is a commitment to fairness, in all its forms. This has become ever more important in the years of austerity which we have battled through together.

Throughout this period I maintained that it would be deeply wrong to try and kid people. To tell them that the cuts coming their way would not have consequences.

There have been hard choices.

·         Ending Communities First

·         Settlements for local government have been tough

·         We have created a new system of student finance

We’ve been prepared to do the hard things, to make the needed reforms, in order to make our public services sustainable.

Despite every callous cut from the Tories in Westminster, and despite every savage attack on our services, we have responded with that one doctrine – the notion of fairness.

A fair shake of the dice.

A fair reward for a fair day’s work.

A fair start in life.

Chwarae Teg.

Just like you, that is why I came into politics.

And so now, we can look back on a record of achievement.

·         83,000 more people in work since 2010.

·         20,000 fewer young people not in education or training.

·         18,000 people finding opportunities through our Jobs Growth Wales programme.

·         GCSE results have improved by 10%. 

·         We’ve built 41 new schools, right across Wales – giving our pupils the best start in life.

·         We’ve delivered record numbers of NHS staff, AND ensured that they receive a real living wage.

·         The lowest diagnostic waits since 2010.

·         Delayed transfers of care are the lowest on record.

·         More people surviving cancer than ever before.

·         In the last Assembly we delivered 10,000 new affordable homes, 10,000 – in this Assembly we are on target to deliver double that; 20,000 new affordable homes for people right across Wales.

·         At the outset of devolution we were recycling 5% of our waste, now that’s 60% – we’re the third best country in the world.

·         But our ambitions are bigger than that, I want us to be World leaders, and that is why I am delighted to announce today an extra £15million for councils to invest in new capital projects – so we can create that safer, cleaner, greener Wales for our children and grandchildren.


But, Conference, changing lives is not just a matter of finance. Consider what else we have done in this period to transform Wales into a better, fairer place.

·         Our organ donation act is saving lives every year.

·         We’ve led the way by funding a nationwide pilot for PrEP to help prevent HIV.

·         We have cut zero hours contracts for care workers, making sure that people get the quality care they deserve and protected care time and continuity.

·         Conference – We have ended the right to buy, and Labour councils, Welsh Labour councils are building council houses again for the first time in a generation.

·         And there are new laws, too, that only exist in Wales – laws to tackle homelessness; to prevent Domestic violence and to give a better system of support for children with special educational needs.

And Conference, when the Tories came for the Trade Unionists; We. Did. Speak. Out.

We stood tall alongside our brothers and sisters in the movement that made this party – and through our Trade Union Bill we protected their rights and made a stand for the rights of allworkers in Wales.

And let me take you back to last year.

I was proud to announce from this very stage that – following the brave campaign from Carolyn Harris – the Welsh Government would abolish burial fees for children in Wales.

Now, almost a year to the day I am delighted to see that the Prime Minister has written to Carolyn confirming that she will bring England into line with Wales.

A profound change to our country brought about by sheer grit and determination from one of our best campaigners. Carolyn, I know you understand the impact that this change will have better than most. We are immensely proud of you for all you have done on this.

That idea, that the Government should be there by your side at the moments where you need it most, is the idea Ken Skates put at the heart of our manifesto for the 2016 election. And that idea is alive in the way we are delivering those promises.

Already we have seven childcare pilot projects running right across Wales, as we prepare to rollout our 30 hours a week for working parents. £70million over the next two years means that more and more parents are going to get the chance to work, to balance their lives better. Conference – they will have a fair go.

This year we started a permanent small business rate relief scheme. We give over £200million a year to small business and now more than 70% of businesses in Wales get support to pay their rates.

Times have been tough, and the people making and doing and employing deserve a break – and we’ve given them vital support through these tough times.

We’ve also, just this month, stopped those rate relief breaks going to international companies with multiple shops – this was always about helping the little guy, and that loophole is now closed.

At the start of this month this Welsh Government raised the capital limit people can keep when entering residential care. That used to be £24,000 – now it is £40,000 and by the end of this Government we will hit our target of £50,000. Allowing those who’ve worked hard to keep more of what they’ve saved. Fairness for the elderly and the frail.

Next year we will be spending over £120millon on our apprenticeship and trainee programme. Delivering on our promise for 100,000 all age apprenticeships.

And our schools will get an extra £50million in the next two years. Targeted, deliberately, at improving school standards. We have rejected the fragmentation of the schools system we have seen over the border in England. We are investing fairly and wisely, including a doubling of the Pupil Deprivation Grant available to our youngest school children.

Last January we opened our promised New Treatment Fund, speeding up patients’ access to new medicines right across Wales. Patients in Wales are now able to access 82 new medicines quicker than in the past – including treatments for Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, asthma and osteoporosis. The average time to access new medicines now available is down to 10 days, compared to two months before the election.

We cherish our NHS.

We believe in our NHS.

We will never privatise our NHS.

And we know that the lifeblood of our health system, today as it was in the days on Bevan – are the people that work there. The ones who go the extra mile, who choose to make caring for others their mission in life.

We want more people to choose the NHS as the right career for them, we know that a supported staff means great care for our patients.

That is why I am delighted to confirm today that we will commit to extending the NHS Bursary Scheme for a further year in Wales.

A scheme the Tories cancelled in England, but which provides our NHS with the health professionals we need for the future.

And we are taking that action because it’s the right thing to do.  It’s the fair thing to do.

And in our quest for fairness, there can be no more important a moment than to look again about what our drive for equality has achieved.

Because make no mistake our progress is being challenged every day.

On International Women’s Day this year, I accepted the challenge posed to us by one of our new Domestic Violence Advisers, and said yes – we will make Wales the safest place for women in the whole of Europe.

He believes that is achievable, then so must we.

But it won’t be for Government alone to deliver this.

I have asked that Julie James, as the lead Cabinet Secretary, to work with the charity Chwarae Teg to undertake a rapid review of our Gender Equality programmes.

I’m delighted to say that work is now underway, a Terms of Reference and budget have been agreed and we expect our first report in the Summer. 

There are, of course things that women and girls should not have to wait for.

That is why as part of this work we are investing £1million into ending period poverty in Wales.

That is why I commit today to delivering gender-balanced public appointments throughout this Assembly term.

But, we want to go further. I’ve asked that the Review team look to best practise, globally, and we’ll match that, and where we can, start setting our own world-leading standards. If Sweden can lay claim to be the home of the first feminist government, then I want Wales to be the second.  This ambition befits the party that has delivered a gender balanced team in the National Assembly time after time.

It’s those values of equality and of social justice that brought every one of us into the Labour Party in the first place.

And as a Welsh Labour Government we have a duty and an obligation to translate those principles into every one of the policies and the programmes we put forward.

Last year I made a commitment to make Wales a Fair Work nation. 

A place where everyone can expect decent, life enhancing work without exploitation or poverty.

A nation where we can all build prosperity and all share in that prosperity.

Over the last year we have made important progress identifying the best ways the Welsh Government can put Fair Work at the heart of our economy.

I want to pay tribute to the hard work done by our social partners.  It’s not been easy. I often think that to make social partnership work, each partner has to feel equally unhappy most of the time. That’s when you know we’re making progress.

But, we are now ready to take the next step on the road to that Fair Work nation I spoke of last year.

And so today I can announce that we will set up a Fair Work Commission – that will ensure the workers of Wales have more than just an economic value in our society. 

Our social partners will test the evidence, and make recommendations to us on the change we need to support fair work in Wales.

The Commission will be gender balanced and will be led by an independent Chair.

We will be announcing the Terms of Reference and remit for the commission in the coming weeks and I have asked that it report back on its work by March 2019.

That fair future is the one we will continue to fight for. Together, we will make our nation a Fair Work Nation.

And what of the future?

Conference, you don’t need me to remind you what tough times we have been through together since the last time we met here in Llandudno.

This is my 9th Conference speech as your leader.

You know me pretty well by now.

Together we have achieved stunning victories, often against the odds.

Yes, we’ve had some disagreements along the way, but I hope that when you look at me you see someone who doesn’t just believe in fairness as a watchword for Government, but as a code for daily life.

That is the kind of upbringing I was given by my mam and dad.

It drove me in my work in the courts of law.

It is the kind of lesson I try to instil at home now.

And it is certainly what I have always aspired to as your leader, someone who values fairness above all else, perhaps sometimes to my own detriment.

Maybe turning a blind eye, or playing favourites is the smarter, easier political road to travel. But, that’s just not who I am.

But, there are people I haven’t been fair to in recent times. And that is my family.

In any normal political career, you expect to be put through the ringer, and even have your integrity challenged. I don’t think anyone can know what these last few months have been like. No-one that is, apart from Lisa and the kids. They have carried me through the darkest of times. I have asked too much of them, and it is time for me to think about what’s fair for them.

And so, this will be the last Welsh Labour conference I address as party leader.

I intend – as I’ve always maintained – to be here to give every answer to every question. But I intend to stand down in the autumn, allowing for a new First Minister to take place by the end of this year. 

At that point it will make sense to have a fresh start. For my family, for my party and for my country.

I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved together so far. The election victories. The landmark legislation. A better deal for nurses, for students and our businesses. Putting Wales on the map.

We made the constitution exciting! Ok. Maybe we didn’t quite manage that.  

I want to thank you all – but most especially my Assembly colleagues – for the support you have shown me. Our togetherness has been political kryptonite to the opposition in Wales, and your support for me through this period has been more than any leader could ask for, its more than any friend could ask for.

Conference, before I finish, I’d like to thank those who have been closest to me on this great journey.


Over the last nine years I have lost my mother, just six days after I became First Minister. She was a great influence on me and she had a  great talent of being able to talk to anybody and a healthy disdain of snobbery which I hope I’ve managed to follow. Running for the leadership in 2009 while she was terminally ill was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do and she’s missed by us all


I also lost my grandmother, the daughter of a haulier in the Mardy Pit in Gwaun cae Gurwen, who never really understood why I didn’t become a doctor rather than get involved in politics. She always remembered having chips at the soup kitchen during the General Strike.


My father is watching on TV today. He’s been a great rock in my life. Always there. Always dependable. From his example I developed a fierce sense of fairness. Diolch dad am bopeth.


To my children. Sorry for all the times I wasn’t there and all the things I missed. It’ll change in the future. Seren, my daughter has overcome so many hurdles to get to where she is now and I’m proud of her. She’s my greatest defender. Five foot one of raw indignation when someone has a go at her Dad!


Nine inches taller and 15 years old , and a Tae Kwon Do blue belt, my son Ruairi is probably more of a handful but a better son I wouldn’t want. A man of few words at the moment he’s still good fun when he speaks!


And Lisa. For a quarter of a century my friend, companion and my wife. Thank you for all your support through thick and thin. We’ve been through a lot together. I have to tell you conference that ten days before the Assembly election I almost lost to her a sudden illness but she battled back and she was an inspiration for the final leg of the campaign. Go raibh mhaith agat Lis. Is ceol mo chroi thu.


And to you, my Labour family. Thanks for all your support. Without the doors you knock, without the leaflets you deliver, without the work you do in your communities I know I wouldn’t have been given this opportunity.


And so Conference from me goodbye, and thanks.

Cymru am byth. Llafur Cymru am byth.

Wales for ever, Welsh Labour forever.


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