On Friday, the SKWAWKBOX published the first part of a two-part series on an exclusive interview with Welsh Labour leadership – and First Minister – candidate Mark Drakeford.
In part one, Drakeford talked about his background, about the Welsh language, addressing economic imbalances across Wales, democracy in the Welsh Labour Party and its impact on the recent deputy leadership contest, his view of investment and intervention by the Welsh government – and Theresa May’s serial dishonesty about public services in Wales, especially the NHS.
In part two, Drakeford talks about the tragic death of Welsh Assembly Member Carl Sargeant, about nuclear power and about radioactive mud being dumped in Wales, about his support for left-wing candidates for the UK-wide Labour leadership – and throws serious shade at Neil McEvoy, the independent but Plaid Cymru-supporting Assembly Member some have speculated might be a threat to Drakeford’s Cardiff West seat.
Nuclear power – and radioactive mud
SKWAWKBOX: Nuclear power, along recently with the dumping of radioactive mud, have been contentious issues in Wales. Labour’s currently backing nuclear power. What’s your position on those issues?
Mark Drakeford: I am a nuclear sceptic, that’s my starting point. Now the party’s policy is that nuclear power has a part to play in the future energy mix and electing a new leader in Wales does not change our party’s policy.
So I recognise that that’s what our party says – and in the north of Wales, on the island of Anglesey, the proposal to create a new nuclear power station there has a lot of support from the local party, local trade unions and so on.
So what I say is, if nuclear power is going to go ahead then the bar for it must be set high in the sense that we must be confident that the developers of those new sites do so in a way that safeguards the long-term interests of local populations.
So it’s right that we are demanding of them in that regard and if I were to be Labour’s First Minister in Wales, my job will be to work with the local authority, trade unions and others in Anglesey to make sure that we set the bar high and then that we get the company to reach that bar, so that local people’s interests in terms of accommodation, in terms of social care, the impact on the Welsh language, tourism and so on – that everything’s done in a way that protects local people rather than takes advantage of them.
Down in South Wales, where we have Hinkley Point being developed just across the Bristol Channel, I’ve already said in the campaign that I’m committed to setting up an independent expert committee to advise the Welsh government on all aspects of Hinkley, to make sure that all those things that matter to the people of south Wales are properly understood, spotted early on and negotiated in such a way that gives confidence to local people.
S: And the mud?
MD: I’ve seen all the scientific evidence on the mud issue and I think that if you look at it carefully, it tells you that this is something that people should not be unduly concerned about.
But we have entirely failed to get that message over to local people and part of that is that in an age where authorities are suspect, I think we needed an independent group of people who could have provided that advice, not part of government. And then maybe people would have been more willing to accept that advice – if that advice would have been the same.
S: Now one of the more tender areas in Wales recently has been the sad case of [Welsh Assembly Member] Carl Sargeant. His family has faced quite a battle trying to get an enquiry on terms they feel happy with agreed with [current First Minister] Carwyn Jones. Will you take a different approach to that?
MD: Well, I think Carwyn is agreed to getting all that wrapped up and agreed while he’s First Minister, because the enquiries will focus entirely on sequences of events that took place while he was in that job. So I haven’t been involved in those conversations at all and I don’t think any incoming First Minister is likely to be. It will all have been agreed and will already be underway before Carwyn leaves the office of First Minister.
The impact of Carl’s death on the Labour group was profound, as you’d expect, and going into the new year and the second half of the Assembly term it will be the job of whoever is the First Minister to bring people back together and ready for the rest of this Assembly term and the election that will follow. Whoever’s doing the job will find that there’s a responsibility that they will have to discharge there.
S: Did you know him well yourself?
MD: Well, I think one of the very striking things you learn – and it gets right inside you – is how little you turned out to know someone you did think you knew quite well. Since the last election I was in an office next door to Carl – it was pure chance, in the Welsh government you get no say about where your office is and he and I ended up in offices next door to each other.
When you do that, you just end up passing each other all the time. It’s not that you have deep conversations, you just have those ‘How are you, what are you doing today?’ kinds of conversations – and I would never have realised that Carl was as vulnerable as he clearly turned out to be.
He always seemed to me to be one of those members of the Welsh government who turned out to be robust, who thrived on the pressure and shrugged it off in a way that a lot of colleagues find it harder to do, really – and who in some ways relished the challenge that you get in politics. He enjoyed the rough and tumble of it, I thought – but you then realise that your view of somebody was partial at best.
On the next Newport West MP
S: Since Paul Flynn announced that he was stepping down quite a few people have been speculating that Carwyn might put himself forward to be his successor as Newport West MP. Is there anyone lined up or strongly in the running for that?
MD: Not that I know of and I’ve never heard Carwyn say at all that he was interested in a career of that sort. I think there are people in Wales who make a very conscious decision that their political future is at the Assembly rather than at Westminster and I’ve always thought that Carwyn was one of those people.
If he’d wanted a Westminster seat, I think it’s very likely that he would have been able to have one twenty years ago, but that he made a decision that he wanted to be in Wales and at the Assembly. If he does have any interest in Newport West, then I’ve certainly never heard of it.
Newport West has a very large and very active membership so I’m sure there will be good people who’ll be interested locally – and they’ll be big boots to fill.
On Neil McEvoy
S: One of the questions someone asked me when I first published about your campaign launch was ‘Is he worried about losing his seat to [independent but Plaid supporting Assembly Member] Neil McEvoy?’ [McEvoy is currently a list MP under proportional representation rules, rather than directly elected]
MD: [laughs] No, absolutely not. Mr McEvoy is someone I’ve fought in elections for decades here in Cardiff West and he’s never succeeded.
He has estranged himself from his current political party Plaid Cymru and he’s an individual who, in my long experience, has never associated himself with a cause without damaging it – and that was certainly true when he was a member of the Labour Party.
I think it’s been true of his membership of Plaid Cymru – his appalling views have damaged them as well. He’s a busted flush.
On Jeremy Corbyn
S: Last question: you spoke very positively of Jeremy Corbyn when you launched your campaign. Has he or any of his team been able to provide you with any support or have they felt that’s not been appropriate?
MD: Very properly, he’s kept out of the contest in Wales completely. I think that’s just as it should be and he’s observed that very scrupulously, as have the people around him.
It’s correct that I was the only member of Cabinet in Wales to say that I would be voting for Jeremy in 2015, when he first stood. I make no claim to second sight or anything – it wasn’t based on any expectation that he’d win.
My approach in an election is to find the person whose views are closest to my own and then to vote for them whether I think they’re going to win or not, because I think it’s important to demonstrate that there is support for that strand of thinking inside the Labour Party. And that’s what I thought I was doing – as I did when I voted for Diane Abbott in the election prior to that. I’ve obviously never regretted that decision at all.
Ballots in the contest will go out to Welsh members in the first week of November and voting closes 6 December, with the result announced shortly afterward.
Mark Drakeford looks as mild-mannered as they come, but it’s clear from his answers during a long telephone conversation that he has solid left-wing politics – and a good deal steel in his spine and Welsh fire in his belly. He’s the right leader for Labour in Wales.
The SKWAWKBOX needs your support. This blog is provided free of charge but depends on the generosity of its readers to be viable. If you can afford to, please click here to arrange a one-off or modest monthly donation via PayPal. Thanks for your solidarity so this blog can keep bringing you information the Establishment would prefer you not to know about.
If you wish to reblog this post for non-commercial use, you are welcome to do so – see here for more.