Speaking to the Guardian as the party launched six pledges at its conference ahead of May’s assembly elections, the first minister and leader of Welsh Labour, Carwyn Jones, accepted that events in Westminster were bound to have an impact on the campaign.
“I can’t pretend that what’s been happening in Westminster is good,” he said. “The infighting, the division, that’s bound to have a negative effect. I can’t pretend that all we’ve seen in the last few months in Westminster has been exactly helpful for the election in May. No one can pretend that.”
Jones said the tactic on doorsteps would be to emphasise that candidates represent Welsh Labour, not the UK party. “It’s a Welsh election,” he said. “This is Welsh Labour, which in terms of policy is autonomous. We develop our own policies, our own laws – there’s no influence from London at all”
Corbyn attended Welsh Labour’s conference this weekend and in his speech said Labour in Wales was an inspiration to the rest of the party. “There is so much that the UK Labour party can learn from Labour in Wales … and we will,” he said.
Jones has fundamental differences with Corbyn, not least on Trident and nuclear power. He said Welsh Labour had always formed its own policies. “It doesn’t matter who the leader is in London, that’s what we’ve always done. It’s nothing to do with Jeremy. It’s important that people see we think autonomously to our colleagues in London and elsewhere.”
Welsh Labour’s six pledges are:
- Free childcare for working parents.
- Tax cuts for all small businesses in Wales.
- 100,000 quality apprenticeships for all ages.
- New treatment fund for life-threatening illnesses.
- Double the capital limit for people going into residential care.
- An extra £100m to improve school standards.
Jones said: “We’re investing in people to see our people grow, to see our communities grow, to see our nation grow.” He claimed this was being done in the face of devastating, politically motivated cuts to its funding from the Tories in Westminster.
Welsh Labour will argue during its campaign that the election is a straight fight between it and the Conservatives, the second biggest party at the assembly – although the Welsh nationalist party, Plaid Cymru, will not agree.
Jones accepted, however, that there was a new threat this time: from Ukip, which is planning to fight in all seats. The latest poll suggests that Ukip could leap from no presence to nine seats in the 60-seat assembly. The poll predicts that Labour could drop from its current 30 seats to 27.
Jones said: “Ukip are a party that are getting the support of people who are generally annoyed. It’s not about Europe necessarily, it’s not about immigration necessarily. It’s a kind of ‘We’re annoyed’ vote. We’ll be saying Ukip are not a Welsh party, they are an English party with a Welsh branch. We’ll be saying, do you really think these people have policies that suit you and Wales? Are they are really a party with roots in Wales? They are totally dictated to by London.”
The NHS will almost certainly be the biggest election issue. Labour’s health record is continually attacked by Tories in Westminster and the Welsh assembly, but Jones is fighting back. Labour has been cheered by a report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which says the NHS appears to be performing no worse in Wales than in other parts of the UK. And the Welsh government is also keen to point out that junior doctors have not gone on strike there. “The ammunition is disappearing rapidly,” said Jones.
Welsh Labour has governed alone or in coalition since the first devolved elections in 1999. “People will say to us, is it someone else’s turn?” Jones said. “It doesn’t work like that. You have to earn the trust of the people, you have to work hard for their support. People can trust what we say. You vote Welsh Labour, you get what it says on the tin. We don’t make wild promises. What we say we’re going to do, we do.”
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