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Leighton
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    21 November, 2008

    Welsh Labour needs a debate

    Welsh Labour needs a profound debate about its direction, and the run-up to the leadership election next year should see a vigorous debate on our party's future role.

    I was proud to be involved in the Yes for Wales campaign in 1997; equally proud to win the Rhondda back for Labour in 2003; and proud to have been given Ministerial office by Rhodri Morgan last year.

    I have also been flattered to have been asked by many Labour Party members in Wales to consider standing for the leadership of our party in Wales. I am grateful for their confidence in me and their support.

    However, I want to make it clear that I do not intend to be a candidate for the leadership when Rhodri Morgan stands down next year.

    I am making this statement now because I do not want every Ministerial decision I make over the next twelve months scrutinised as though it were a calculated move in a leadership campaign.

    I hope that there will be a contest for the leadership when Rhodri stands down. Welsh Labour needs to be part of the battle of ideas on the future of Wales and the future of progressive politics in Wales. There is no better way than to ensure that our leadership contest explores the opportunities and challenges before us.

    I intend to contribute to that debate, and I believe there are real issues all candidates must confront.

    Leadership is not a singular role. Leaders require strong allies and a strong team working with them collectively to deliver change.

    I hope that I can contribute skills to that leadership team, particularly in terms of ideas and implementation.

    Following the US election and the Glenrothes by-election, this is a moment of progressive potential.

    In Wales, we need to take advantage of that moment. Our challenge is to demonstrate the relevance of Welsh Labour – that we are focused on Wales as it is, not Wales as it was.

    We need to make it clear that our appeal is to the whole of Wales, not just to those areas traditionally seen as our heartlands – from the Eastern Valleys to the Welsh-speaking North and West, from the M4 belt to the A55 corridor, our Valleys communities and our rural towns and villages in between, there must be no no-go areas for Labour.

    Equally, we cannot take any part of Wales for granted. And our performance will need to improve significantly on the 2007 Assembly election.

    People are impatient for delivery. They want quality outcomes and they have high aspirations for themselves and their families. They want to see public services that are responsive and personally relevant.

    They want a 'yes we can' culture in Welsh public service, not a 'No we can't' culture.

    They want a Labour leadership in Wales committed to strengthening the Welsh economy, supporting the private sector in the creation of wealth and supporting the trades unions in ensuring that hard-working families and the vulnerable benefit from it.

    They are comfortable in their Welshness but not obsessed with it. They are comfortable with the Welsh language and its role in our culture. They are proud of their heritage but ambitious for the future. They see Wales as part of Britain but a Britain that is changing constantly.

    The new Leader will have to take Welsh Labour into the 2011 Assembly election, and support our Westminster candidates in the General Election before that.

    He or she will need to explain that our arrangement with Plaid Cymru in the National Assembly is based around the One Wales document and it is a coalition not a merger.

    Many will feel that the only leadership choice that really matters is about who can best maximise Welsh Labour's vote in those elections.


    These are exciting times for progressive politicians. The new leader will need to grasp those opportunities

    9 comments:

    Adam said...

    Leighton

    I think most people will respect the reasons behind your decision. But I hope whoever succeeds Rhodri will make you a key part of their team.

    Regards.

    David Jones - Cardiff said...

    Wow.... That's the first time I've heard a Wales Labour politician use the word "Wealth".

    It's good - Lets hope that the Labour party builds more ties with the private sector and we get a wealthier Wales.

    Martin Eaglestone said...

    Hi Leighton, I think a leader who thinks about maximising votes will be quite useful to us in Wales at future elections. But you are right that political times are a shifting and what was appropriate from the mid 90's to 2008 will not suit an era of new progressive opportunity.

    Real Rhondda Socialist said...

    The coded language is easily penerated Leighton. 'Responsive and personally relevant' - New Labour code for 'Privatised, or pseudo privatised (social enterprise) and delivered competitively in a market'.

    There is no evidence that the so called aspirational classes have any more appetite for this English Blairite agenda than anyone else in Wales and we on the left will expose this deliberate conflation at every opportunity in the forthcoming leadership campaign.

    Greater equality of outcome, eradication of poverty, social justice, security, solidarity and public services delivered by democratically accountable public servants remain the desire of the vast majority of the people of Wales whatever language they speak and whatever car is parked in their drive.

    Of course enterprise must generate wealth and should encouraged to do so but in the service of the people of Wales not the rich and the powerful. This does not mean handing over swathes of public servants to private companies, borrowing expensively in PPP schemes or hiding such marketisation and erosion of terms and conditions under the skirts of 'social enterprise' and the third sector.

    We warmly and genuinely welcome you to the debate as now there can be more honesty about the right of the party's real agenda in Wales. But be in no doubt your views, those of Andrew Davies, and many MPs, will be fiercely contested and socialist alternatives promoted at every opportunity.

    Leighton Andrews said...

    I don't know if 'Real Rhondda Socialist' (RRS, for sort) is actually Rhondda-based, but since he or she wants to put out an interpretation of my argument which at least goes beyond name-calling, I am happy to publish it.

    However, I am not calling for the privatisation of public services. Public services should be responsibve and personally relevant. Does RRS wwant public services to be unresponsive and personally irrelevant? If so, how on earth do we expect to win people's support for them?

    There is nothing English (dangerous xenophobia creeping in, which makes me suspect RRS is actually a nat or closet nat) or Blairite about believing that public services should be responsive and relevant to people. Nor am I calling for them to be delivered in a market situation. Indeed, I am, for example, opposed to foundation hospitals for a variety of reasons.

    There is nothing wrong with social enterprises however as a form of public service delivery: they are neither private companies nor profit-making, they are socially-owned. RRS seems ignorant of the socialist traditions of co-operation, strong not least in Wales, and that there are other models of socialism deriving from Welsh traditions which do not depend on central or local state ownership. Social ownership comes in many forms as we can see throughout the policies of social democratic parties in Europe.

    I said more about this in my speech in the Assembly debate on co-operatives which you can find here.

    Nor am I a fan of PFI - particularly not the way it has been used in parts of the NHS England. Indeed, announcing recently the Assembly Government's plans to develop an urban development fund under the European Commission's JESSICA programme, I said that would be a better approach than PFI as traditionally understood.

    Nor, of course, have I argued for 'handing over swathes of public servants to private companies' - again, something i don't believe in.

    In short, what I am arguing is not what RRS wants to pretend I am.

    So yes, let's have a debate. But let's have a debate around what people are actually arguing for, not around deliberately misleading caricatures of positions.

    Real Rhondda Socialist said...

    Thanks Leighton. Glad to hear you see some limits to the the New Labour analysis. I am not going to continue the debate here in detail as it is best saved for the leadership campaign when it will have more impact.

    Just a few points though that can't go unanswered:

    1. I totally agee we must have public services fit for purpose and of high quality. If you are prepared to publicly rule out markets and plurality of supply as the means of achieving this, then this an area where we may agree.

    2. I believe Blairism was an invention to appeal to middle English marginals which took the vote in the rest of the UK for granted. Ask the opposition MSPs in the Scottish Labour Party just how popular it was in Scotland where ironically the SNP defeated them on an agenda not dissimilar to 'One Wales'. I find it hard to imagine Blairism described as Welsh or Scottish and hardly think my use of the word 'English' in this context is xenophobic.

    3. Social Enterprise as a concept is too complex to debate here. I accept it is sometimes appropriate for example in the context of Dwr Cymru where it was deployed as the only option to avoid the UK govt insisting on outright privatisation. I reject it as a model to take over services currently provided in the public sector.


    In the meantime lets not get into comparing our respective Rhondda or Socialist credentials...........mine are life long and impeccable.....☺

    Leighton Andrews said...

    I am still not clear that RRS is actually a Labour Party Member - nor whether he or she is Rhondda-based. I'm not bothered about their credentials, but I have yet to read anything to indicate that he or she is really a Labour Party member rather than a nat. Most Labour Party members engaging in a Labour debate would give their names rather than rely on pseudonyms.

    I am glad however that he or she does see a role for social enterprise, but I don't think RRS has thought through the issues on plurality.

    Plurality in public service provision is not the same thing as opening up public service to the market. For example, we have state-financed faith-based schools and also schools operating through the mediums of Welsh or English. That offers a choice to parents and offers plurality, but within a public sector context.

    On the other hand, we of course have small private businesses, notably GP practices and dental practices, operating in the health service, and have since the beginning of the NHS. Plurality in primary care is being provided in eg RCT through the development of salaried GPs.

    I certainly agree that Blairism was designed to appeal to Middle England principally - indeed I wrote a chapter called 'New Labour, New England' in a book edited by Mark Perryman called The Blair Agenda back in 1996.

    Real Rhondda Socialist said...

    Oh dear I am provoked to reply....

    'Plurality of supply' is a technical term used in public sector management to describe an approach where more than one supplier of public services operates to compete for the 'business' of consumers of public services. It is alleged to be a means of driving up efficiency by deliberately threatening 'monopolistic' state suppliers with failure if they do not respond to competition, raise quality and reduce costs. The Blairite government originally developed it as a concept to place pressure on NHS bodies in England. The policy is also widely known as 'contestability'. It depends on a transactional approach where income flows from failing to successful suppliers. As far as I am aware plurality is not the policy of the 'One wales' government. I seem to remember 'voice not choice'....


    It is definately not a description of the Welsh education system where all schools are funded, provided and managed by one democratically controlled 'supplier' i.e. the local authority. Schools are obliged to collaborate on a community basis. Faith Schools are just a small scale anarchronism in Wales and I doubt any Welsh Education Minister from Labour or Plaid would contemplate agreeing to them today. There have been no new religious approvals in Wales, unlike England where faith schools occupy a third of capacity and are growing like topsy.

    Welsh medium schools on the otherhand are a statutory obligation on Local Authorities to support our nation's right to nuture and encourage use of its original language, not an attempt to set up plurality of supply.


    As to GPs being private businesses I am not expert on health but cannot think of any private business that has the following characteristics:

    1. Almost all funding sourced from the state.

    2. All investment sourced from the state.

    3. No transactional relationship with 'customers'.

    4. All new 'businesses' requiring state approval to set up and operate.

    5. Capable of being closed by the state.

    6. A common contract held exclusively with the state.

    7. All staff members of a state occupational pension scheme.

    8. A statutory obligation to cooperate with each other and not compete.

    The argument they are businesses is limp and used primarily by New Labour Ministers in England to justify the likes of 'Virgin' and American private healthcare companies being invited to setup competing operations.

    Party allegiance incidentally is a poor indicator of ideology, values or future behaviour. I refuse to define myself by such narrow tribalism. Labour has no monopoly on socialism......I thought you approved of plurality of supply by the way....

    Leighton Andrews said...

    I am familiar with the way in which plurality is framed within traditional public sector management jargon. But plurality of supply is being provided in the health service eg in RCT through the provision of salaried GPs which provide an alternative to traditional GP practices, and have meant that some communities finally have access to femaile GPs. In some parts of Wales you have GP co-operatives, which again are a different form of supply from the traditional practice led by one or two principals.

    RRS makes a good case for the distinctive nature of GP practices - though it is wrong to say all investment is sourced from the state, for example, as some will operate with mortgages and loans supplied by other sources for their buildings - but they still share certain characteristics of small businesses or partnerships in terms of ownership and management and financial benefit accruing to partners. Reviewing the new GP contract's operation, the House of Commons Committee on Public Accounts found 'GP partners have benefited most from the new contract, with an average pay increase of
    58% and decreased working hours. Other staff, such as practice nurses and salaried GPs,
    have had only small pay rises despite taking on a larger proportion of the workload in
    general practice.' The PAC report also noted: 'The pay of GP partners is based on the practice income once all the relevant expenses, such
    as practice nurse salaries, have been paid. In negotiating the new contract, the Department
    placed no cap on the proportion of income GPs could take as profit. The Department believe
    that it was not appropriate to cap profit as GP practices are small independent businesses and
    that the amount that GPs take as profit is for practice partners to determine.' That seems to me a pretty clear demonstration of the small business status of GP practices.

    Other healthcare practitioners such as dentists, pharmacists and opticians also operate as small businesses and share only some of the characteristics identified by RRS.

    I don't agree that the argument that they are small businesses is 'limp'. That is what they are. RRS has a rosy-tinted view of their status.

    RRS's arguments in respect of schools seem pretty limp to me. Some parents clearly make choices to send their children to faith schools. Others choose between schools which teach through the medium of English or Welsh. These are real choices that people are making. The schools all certainly operate within a state framework, and we only have a very small private/public school element in Wales, I am pleased to say. Nevertheless, they are offering choice - and therefore plurality - within the framework of the state education system.

    We should not get hung up on the jargon of public service management and the analysis of certain kinds of practice in public service delivery in England. I am not calling for contestability of funding in education or health. I do however believe you can have plurality within social provision without giving away public service objectives and ethics. It should be possible to have a sensible discussion about that without name-calling or the importation of arguments that relate to different issues in other parts of the UK.

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    Promoted by Leighton Andrews AM, National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff CF99 1NA.

    Author's editorial policy: This blog does not publish anonymous comments, unless they are really witty and I like them. If you have something to say, then have the courage of your convictions and use your name or an identifiable alias. Even then I reserve the right not to publish comments that are malicious, defamatory, stupid, pointlessly cynical or boring. Any of the statements or comments made above should be regarded as personal and not necessarily those of the National Assembly for Wales, any constituent part or connected body.