Exclusive part 2: interview with left Welsh leader candidate Drakeford

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Welsh Labour leadership hopeful Mark Drakeford

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.

Carl Sargeant

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

Neil McEvoy AM

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

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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.

SKWAWKBOX comment:

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.

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  1. Steve, I generally agree with your views, and been a great supporter of your blog for years. However your decision to give just one candidate coverage and your full support is below your usual journalistic standard of fairness. It makes me sad to say this. We all know that Eluned Morgan struggled to get on the ballot, and that was because she is not one of the Cardiff Bay in-crowd (stale and male). The two male candidates represent no change from the last 10 years under Carwyn Jones. Everyone who meets him will confirm that Mark is a nice guy and intelligent and competent, but he has less experience than some others (as in never held any post outside Wales) and has been a member of Carwyn’s team for many years. Mark described himself as the candidate of continuity and no change, and only wants to be FM for a single term. He has described himself as being a caretaker in the role. And as many of the members will tell you, Mark Drakeford is not the only socialist on the ballot. There appears to have been a lot of disinformation circulated in this leadership election. I would have expected your political antenna to have detected that. Jeremy Corbyn has worked closely with Eluned as a member of his front bench in the Lords for two years. When Mark Drakeford says he was the only one in the Assembly cabinet to vote for Jeremy, he fails to mention Eluned wasn’t in the assembly cabinet then, but in Jeremy’s shadow cabinet in the Lords. And so on. I think it would be brave but ethical of you to dedicate even half the space you’ve given Mark to the other candidates. If it’s such a clearly foregone conclusion, as your articles and support indicate, what has anyone got to lose? –

    1. Good points Florence , I wonder how much time/resource SB has and if those other candidates are willing to talk though , but certainly is worthy trying I’d have thought .
      Is Eluned Morgan on the ballot , I am not clear on this ?

    2. Eluned struggled to get on the ballot, as indeed did Vaughan, simply because Mark Drakeford is an intellectual and political giant who stands head and shoulders above everybody else in the Assembly. We in Wales celebrate the fact that the vast majority of both the membership and the AMs are agreed on this. If the English party had the same unity we would be in Government there as well now.
      There are very few politicians of Mark’s calibre and when they turn up you grab them with both hands.
      By all means interview Eluned and Vaughan, they are both good competent people, but they are not really in the running.

  2. There is a point about other candidates voices being heard, but I’m not aware of either of the other two openly supporting the democratic socialist agenda of the party as led by Corbyn and his team. Mark Drakeford has always been solidly a socialist politician and could support the UK manifesto with Corbyn far better than Carwyn has ever done. In the last general election I recall vividly the total silence from Welsh Labour of any support for the Corbyn leadership. The continued total lack of support ever since then, even with all of the personal attacks on Corbyn, is staggering. There is no protection, no vocal media support. Nothing. There is a vacuum where there should be a huge Welsh drive to support the leadership of Corbyn and his team. Now, with that leadership driving the manifesto so well, many voters have hope and are returning. They voted Labour in the last general election because of the direction of that manifesto as led by Corbyn, not anything led by Welsh Labour. My membership card says that I am a member of the Labour Party, not a member of the Welsh Labour party. Many object to the feudal ownership of Welsh CLPs through Welsh Labour which has denied an open and coordinated push to support Corbyn and the manifesto policies openly. Some Labour politicians actually think their upward bounce in the last general election was down to them. Deluded. Yes, there are Welsh MPs in Westminster but I am not aware of any of them openly and publicly standing up for Corbyn, and that includes Eluned Morgan and others including Welsh labour’s new deputy minister. Given the choice available, Mark is the one who can unite Welsh labour with Corbyn’s and take us forward with the democratic socialist agenda and give us hope for the future.

    1. The fact that “you are not sure” about other candidates political or professional capabilities speaks volumes. Not of one candidates supremacy, but of Carwyn’s anointed being promoted by his political machine in Cardiff.
      Eluned has the qualities that in any other politician would be recognised as a “party grandee”, yet she was never part of the Cardiff clique. While you saw a blast of icy silence toward Corbyn – and Mark was very much a part of the WAG at that time but said nothing out of step – Eluned was on Corbyns front bench team in the Lords, working closely with him, steering business there to produce some of those spectacular HoL reversals . She supported Corbyn on the Remain campaign platform. And much, much more. When you know so little how can you be so sure of what you have been told?

      1. If your comments are directed at me then please choose to quote from statements that I have actually written. I am pleased to read your comments in support of the silence from Wales. It is through knowledge that I support Mark’s campaign. It is amusing that you choose to misquote me in order attack and label me as ignorant about political and professional capabilities, which sadly speaks volumes about you.

      2. Attack,? Label you as ignorant? Think I touched a nerve there. But I certainly did not attack you. You said “I’m not aware of” some things, that surely indicates that you do not know? Are you simply shooting the messenger?

        Although being corrected on things like Mark Drakeford being “The one” to work Corbyn might seem challenging if that is one of the core competencies / unique selling points claimed for him alone. I agree it has been very successful in garnering support among those who support Corbyn who take away the message that other candidates would not be able to work with Corbyn. It concerns me more that it relies on ppl believing that Corbyn couldn’t work with the First Minister chosen by us. The existing good working relationship between Corbyn and Eluned Morgan (she is on to his HoL front bench) is also a fact. So is her support for a Corbyn govt in Westminster and a continued Labour majority in the Assembly working together for all the people.
        Oh yes, and a socialist manifesto for both.

      3. Don’t shoot the messenger…..If you claim you “are not aware of” something, it does rather announce that you do not know something. Simply pointing out there is (factual) information out there, and that it contradicts your perceptions based on “not being aware” is not an attack.

        There is nothing that speaks “sadly” about me. Apart from being better informed about all the candidates before making sweeping generalisations or declarations about one or another candidates’ unique qualities. I think Mark, Eluned and Vaughan would be sad at the bristling hostility that simply reminding you of their differences and qualities has generated.

    2. Apologies for the lateness of reply, just catching up. Thanks for the comments Florence. Your continued assumptions regarding my knowledge or lack of it as you perceive it, are very helpful in confirming my original response.

  3. Time devolved gov’t included all the regions of the UK & not just Wales; Scotland & N.I.. Regions such as the North West of England need more than duplicate ‘metro mayors’, we need autonomy & representation as all roads continue to lead to London.

    1. Ah! This is where the hard of thinking traditionalist continental socialists get in a tangle. Nationalism bad, regionalism good? What is the difference? Then we start arguing theory and before you know it we are at each other’s throats and the right wing are back in power.
      Socialism ‘from each according to his ability unto each according to his need’. Let’s not argue too much about how we get there until the question arises. The immediate task in hand is making sure that we elect MPs who are socialists. That is probably a big enough task for the next ten years.

  4. Disagree, sorry. The way I see devolution is that multiplying layers of administration increases costs overall, and that competition for resources also rises.

    As with larger businesses managers with budgets rush to spend it all so next year’s won’t be reduced. Bigger budgets are seen as signalling greater importance and competition breeds more competition for budgets, salaries, golden handshakes, knighthoods and all the other corruptions of structures in competition.

    Competition, despite the fanciful claims of neoliberals, is enormously wasteful. Submitting bids for contracts (one example) costs huge amounts in what, for all but the winner, is a complete waste of time and resources. The winner, as we frequently see, underbids only to fail or skimp on service sooner or later.
    Collaboration is far more efficient than competition. Don’t believe their bullshit.

    In wartime (specifically WWII) tasks impossible in peacetime were accomplished in days not years, centralised control (and price control) was instrumental in keeping everyone fed and housed despite huge losses to submarines and bombing, largely due to one almost-socialist giant, J.K. Galbraith.
    Would be a greater hero if not for his sometimes unfortunate references to Jewish economists, but nobody’s perfect.

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