It is a difficult time at present, with uncertainty about the country’s future following the European Union referendum, and uncertainty about our party’s leadership at a United Kingdom level. These are some of the lessons I have learned from governing in Wales where we still have a Labour government.
First, leadership matters. In Wales, we have made good choices with our leaders. Opinion polling – and election results – have consistently shown that Rhodri Morgan and Carwyn Jones have an enduring popularity with the Welsh public. The contrast with opposition leaders has been positive. After 17 years of Welsh Labour government, our first minister is still rated more highly than the Conservative leader. The UK picture affects us too. We are not insulated from the successes or difficulties surrounding the UK leadership. The leader of the UK party has been a factor at each assembly election, despite our attempts to emphasise that the people of Wales are voting for their local assembly member and for the first minister of Wales.
Second, political loyalties are not as fixed as they once were. Nobody should take support for granted, and this includes traditional Labour voters. In Wales we have seen a shift in our support, with challenges in north-west and west Wales where we no longer hold constituencies. We do not just face challenges from the Tories and Plaid Cymru, either. The demise of the Liberal Democrats may not be permanent and we cannot simply wait for the United Kingdom Independence party to fade away. The way we behave as ministers and within our communities matters. We have to be proactive campaigners. This sounds simple, but it does not always happen.
Third, being in government is hard – but being opposition is much worse.
I cannot recall making a perfect choice in government – but there are always choices to make. You can never please everyone, and there are very few decisions that do not have some flaws. However, we should never give up on being in government for a purpose. Governing means compromise. But all the compromise necessary to lead Wales is so much better than being in opposition. The point and purpose of our party is to make a difference by using the transformative power of government. Social justice does not get delivered by protesting against the government of the day. Social justice gets delivered by being the government of the day.
Fourth, the past matters – but the future matters even more. We have a very long track record to defend in government and we should stand up for our record – as well as acknowledging where we have changed our mind. The facts have changed over time and so we should change too to meet our objectives. We need to spend more time talking about the future and what we will do. Fighting the Tories, and highlighting the damage done by the UK government is essential, but we also need to be positive about our own choices. We need to set out consistently how having a Welsh Labour government has been and remains beneficial in making Wales a fairer and more prosperous country than it would have been without us.
Vaughan Gething AM is cabinet secretary for health, wellbeing and sport
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