Labour Leadership 2018: Sharp End Debate

(Title Image: ITV Wales/Sharp End)

The first televised debate between the Welsh Labour leadership contenders took place on ITV Wales’ Sharp End on Monday evening (22nd October).

The programme is available to watch here – but I’m going to summarise what was said, with the candidates listed in the order they sat from left to right.

Eluned Morgan AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales)

Why are you in politics/Labour? – Eluned grew up in Cardiff’s Ely district and all the problems of the area “came to our front door”. She wanted to make sure all those people – the elderly and disabled – had the opportunities that they deserve.

How can you offer change after 20 years of Labour rule? – Eluned is relatively new to the Assembly and offers a large amount of experience from outside Wales and in industry in order to recognise the challenges facing Wales. We need to prioritise economic development.

Would you overturn any future M4 Newport bypass decision? – Her preference is to focus on the South Wales Metro, but there was a manifesto commitment on the M4. Eluned would prefer to see a “smart toll” on the M4 bypass to make sure the polluter pays.

How would you work with Jeremy Corbyn? – He’s “transformed” the party and there’s been a surge in membership due to the last manifesto. Eluned sat on Jeremy Corbyn’s front bench in the House of Lords and is firmly behind his leadership.

Is there any need for “Clear Red Water” (policy differences between Welsh & UK Labour) anymore? – What’s important is developing a grassroots approach to politics and listening to people, but the party needs to respond to local needs, not what’s happening in London; “Labour has to be true to a Welsh socialist tradition”.

What’s your policy on nuclear power? – Eluned is a convert to nuclear due to climate change. Nuclear doesn’t emit carbon, therefore it’s a good alternative; Wylfa B would also be transformative to the north Wales economy. Based on her experiences in the energy sector, in practice it’s difficult to develop large-scale renewables projects.

Do you have concerns over the handling of the Sargeant inquiries? – We need to look at the culture within the Labour group – and the Assembly generally – on how women are treated. As a newcomer, she would bring a “fresh view” on what needs to happen.

Could you support the UK’s Brexit deal? – The best option for her would be to stay in the EU, but we need to do all we can to avoid a “No Deal” Brexit. We need to consider a “People’s Vote” (second referendum). She voted against a People’s Vote in the Senedd due to collective responsibility and accepts the Welsh Government’s position “wasn’t as clear as Plaid Cymru’s”.

How will you improve Welsh education? – We need to invest in teachers to make sure they have the latest pedagogical techniques.

Do you accept concerns over Labour’s running of the NHS? – We have an ageing, sicker population than England so it will always be under pressure and there will never be enough money. It’s important to think about care as well as health.

Vaughan Gething AM (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth)

Why are you in politics/Labour? – He joined Labour at aged 17 after starting to read the papers and developing a worldview, partly based on the time around Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and being the only black pupil at his primary school. He recognised “the world isn’t fair”.

How can you offer change after 20 years of Labour rule? – He’s not so deep into the establishment to believe that change isn’t necessary, but he has valuable experience in government and wants to focus on the future.

Would you overturn any future M4 Newport bypass decision? – Doing nothing isn’t an option. That has to mean making a choice and “getting on with the decision”. We don’t have to choose between the Metro and the M4.

How would you work with Jeremy Corbyn? – He’s won two decisive leadership victories and all Labour members should get behind him to remove the Tories. What matters is whether Labour can deliver its values in government.

Is there any need for “Clear Red Water” anymore? – It’s actually the other way around; the UK party has had radical manifestos while Welsh Labour has been accused of being centrists. The UK party gained popularity by taking many of Welsh Labour’s ideas on board.

What’s your policy on nuclear power? – We don’t have to choose between renewables and nuclear. We have the opportunity to secure significant investment in north Wales and shouldn’t talk up the risks posed by nuclear.

Do you have concerns over the handling of the Sargeant inquiries? – It’s a much broader issue and he didn’t want to use the inquest or the inquiry to make a point about uniting the party.

Could you support the UK’s Brexit deal? – He supports a People’s Vote. There’s no way this divided UK Parliament can set out a long-term plan. He voted against a People’s Vote in the Senedd because he had no problem voting for the Welsh Government’s motion calling for a new general election. He sees no contradiction, even though he also said the Tories would never back a new election.

How will you improve Welsh education? – He’s happy with the reforms that have already been introduced which have brought “real rigour” to some schools in our poorest communities.

Do you accept concerns over Labour’s running of the NHS? – There’ll always be concerns about the health service because everyone has their own experiences, yet based on the evidence it’s on a par with services around the UK. The politics are difficult due to “political carpet bombing” by the Tories.

Mark Drakeford AM (Lab, Cardiff West)

Why are you in politics/Labour? – Politics was talked about all the time growing up in Carmarthenshire; either you were a nationalist or a socialist and he thought class was a bigger influence on your life than where you were born.

How can you offer change after 20 years of Labour rule? – To be First Minister you need to have personal experience and political ambition; by the latter he means reinventing policies but rooting them in basic beliefs that bring you into politics – a “21st Century Socialist”.

Would you overturn any future M4 Newport bypass decision? – Whether the answer is a three-lane motorway or not depends on the outcome of the Inspector’s Report. As Finance Secretary he can’t say what his decision would be without the evidence in front of him.

How would you work with Jeremy Corbyn? – He was the only member of the Welsh Government to support Corbyn when he first stood. The party has someone who is able to connect with people who “thought politics was beyond them”; there’s nothing more important to Labour in Wales than a Corbyn-led government in Westminster.

Is there any need for “Clear Red Water” anymore? – The gap has narrowed between the sort of Labour we have in Wales and the “national” party. The need for it has diminished.

What’s your policy on nuclear power? – It’s party policy that nuclear forms a key part of the energy mix; he doesn’t dispute that and doesn’t want to block Wylfa B. However, he has concerns over the long-term impact on future generations in terms of nuclear’s legacy. The real future for Wales is renewables.

Do you have concerns over the handling of the Sargeant inquiries? – Carwyn Jones has “acted properly” to put the inquiries in place. The next leader will need to reunite the party after a difficult time.

Could you support the UK’s Brexit deal? – He doesn’t oppose a People’s Vote in principle – though he considered it “sloganeering” – but any Brexit deal should meet Labour’s six tests. If Theresa May can’t get a deal through parliament, then a UK general election should be held. If that’s inconclusive then a second referendum should be held.

How will you improve Welsh education? – We have too many children who come to believe education isn’t for them too early on in their school lives and who subsequently get written off.

Do you accept concerns over Labour’s running of the NHS? – The NHS is a “modern miracle” but expectations rise alongside performance in an age of austerity. He would defend it “every day” and it does more good than any other service we have.

Conclusions


It’s a bit of a shame that what this debate will be remembered for (if remembered at all) is Eluned Morgan and Vaughan Gething stumbling to justify their vote on Plaid Cymru’s “People’s Vote” motion a few weeks ago (above). All they had to say was “cabinet collective responsibility”. What we got from Eluned was word salad, while Vaughan’s booming “WE SHOULD HAVE A GENERAL ELECTION!” was a bit Partridge-esque.

Over the course of the entire discussion Eluned came out best in my assessment, but it’s those um’s and ah’s – not unlike her “Oh my God, loads” comment a few months ago – that makes her come across as a bit gaffe-prone. You can spin that as a positive and argue that makes her more human and relatable too – but it’s a gift to the opposition.

Mark Drakeford “parked the bus” and does what he does best – plays it safe. He basically let Eluned and Vaughan do the hard work for him.

Vaughan Gething looked and sounded the part but lacked substance to the point where you could almost predict what he was going to say next (Ken “World Class” Skates being of a similar inclination).

There are, however, signs of significant policy differences between the three that require further poking and prodding. When that happens we might actually have a proper contest on our hands.

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