The case for radical change 

To me leadership is plural and not singular. It is a verb and not a noun.

This short note seeks to explain some the reasons why I decided to seek support for the leadership of Welsh Labour. This is A personal manifesto which goes into more detail on these issues. Please click on it, download it and see what you think.

Over the past few months many of us have been speaking about the future we want to see for our party and our country. I am anxious that we are all able to contribute to an open and wide-ranging conversation about how we make the radical changes that I believe we need to make in both the party, reinventing our socialism, changing the way in which we govern and how we meet the new challenges of the future if we are to continue to enjoy the trust of the people of Wales.

I launched this campaign above Tredegar at the Nye Bevan memorial. It is where I started my own personal journey and it is where our own socialist values have driven radical change which has transformed the Labour party and our country.

My leadership will be about this radical vision for change. To me leadership is plural and not singular. It is a verb and not a noun.

I believe that we need to rediscover the spirit of Nye Bevan and reinvent a new Bevanism for the 21st century. We all feel and share the anger that Nye felt over poverty and how it destroys lives and communities. But Bevan also brought those values and principles to life and used that anger to fashion a political and not simply a rhetorical response. And that is our challenge. My manifesto describes my own vision for a new democracy and a new politics which is rooted in an optimism and belief that together we can renew and reinvent Welsh Labour.

Fundamentally I believe that we need radical change because our politics is broken and that our democracy is facing a real existential crisis. Too many people believe that devolution and the National Assembly are immune from the international crises facing democratic politics across the West. I believe that democratic government in Wales is facing a real crisis of confidence and one which may even lead to a crisis of legitimacy unless it is urgently addressed.

Since I launched this debate we have seen how Gareth Bennett’s words of hatred and venom have generated enormous coverage over his attack on the Muslim community. This is a xenophobia and a chauvinism that should have no place in either our National Assembly or our wider public discourse. But at the same time in our own party the stain of antisemitism has also disfigured our own debate and has undermined our ability to hold the right wing to account. That is why Labour needs to address these issues and then on the basis of a moral authority confront the alt right populism which is one of the biggest threats we face as a party and as a community. And to defeat it we need to win hearts and minds and not just elections.

And in launching this campaign for change I am not proposing incremental or gradual change or a difference in emphasis. It is about asking hard and sometimes uncomfortable questions. I do not seek easy slogans or lazy populism – telling people what I think they want to hear – this is a radical campaign about challenging ourselves so that we are better able to serve and to reinvent ourselves for new challenges in the future.

We have succeeded in defending Wales from the worst of Tory austerity and we have created a Welsh politics unthinkable two generations ago. But to sit back and point at our record is the worst possible response to the political, social and economic change that we are witnessing today.

I do not believe for one moment that I possess all the answers but I do believe that by asking these hard questions and by making radical and challenging proposals for change that we begin the process of political change and political renewal.

The vote to leave the EU in constituencies such as mine in Blaenau Gwent was driven by many factors but I believe fundamentally the referendum was a referendum on our politics and how we do politics as much as it was a referendum on the EU. It may have been a vote against Brussels but it was certainly a vote of no confidence in Welsh and UK politics. And this is the emergency that we need to address – restoring trust and confidence in politics as a means of making and creating change. And politics as a means of ending austerity. We will not be taken seriously on social justice unless we address these fundamental issues.

How we fashion a political movement across the UK and in government in Wales that can invest in our people wherever in Wales they live. And how can we use the powers that we hold in Wales to follow a different political and financial strategy to a Tory UK Government – we cannot simply point and blame the Tories when we hold power in Wales. We have gone some of this way but we need to go much further.

I believe that so far our debate over the leadership and the future direction of the party has been too managerial rather than tackling the major issues that face us as a nation and as a party. I believe that we need to be more radical.

So my priority in this campaign is to make the case for that change to our politics and change to the way in which we govern our country. And this change will be rooted in my values of democracy and equality. I believe in the power of democracy as a force to empower our citizens and drive changes throughout government, the way in which we deliver public services and the way in which we manage our economy. And equality is how we achieve real social justice for all our citizens. It is my belief that equality will provide the test for all our politics.

And these values of democracy and equality will drive a policy agenda to address the three key and fundamental issues facing us as a country – how we eradicate poverty and its impact on generations of people in Wales; combatting climate change which is the crisis of our age, and thirdly, Europe. I believe that Brexit is the greatest disaster facing Wales today and is the biggest economic risk facing our most deprived communities. Brexit is not a technical issue which requires technical solutions. It is a matter of who we are as a people and our principles as a party.

These values and principles represent my strong and compelling beliefs which will be the key driving principles for any government that I lead. Too often in Welsh Labour we spend too much time explaining why things cannot happen. We can be imprisoned by process and held hostage by our past. Bevan was a creative, imaginative and far-sighted political leader. We need the same energetic, dynamic and vibrant leadership today.

I look forward to that debate and conversation across Wales over the coming months. I hope that this manifesto – A personal manifesto – will be a positive contribution to that debate.

It’s time for Labour to root out antisemitism

The last few months have been pretty traumatic for anyone who wants Labour to be an open inclusive, compassionate and comradely place where we can challenge each other and come together to campaign to create a different sort of country and a different sort of society.

At a time when we are facing one of the worst governments in my lifetime – more riven than Major’s miserable regime in the nineties and more incompetent even than Heath in the seventies – Labour is focused inwards, unable and seemingly incapable of addressing the huge political challenges facing us. We seem to have spent the whole summer struggling and failing to come to terms with antisemitism.

And let’s be under no illusions. This is awful. We should not be in this place. We should never have been anywhere close to it. And this week it got even worse with the former Chief Rabbi comparing the UK Labour leader with Enoch Powell and comparing Corbyn’s words with Powell’s rivers of blood speech. Some may argue that the comparison is misplaced or inappropriate but no-one can possibly argue that Jonathan Sacks’ words do not powerfully illustrate the complete breakdown in the relationship and trust between the Labour Parry, particularly Jeremy Corbyn, and the Jewish community.

For many of us these months have been depressing and distressing. The bad situation is made worse by the way in which too many Jewish members have been treated both by the party and by some members on social media. The harrowing experiences of Luciana Berger and Margaret Hodge demonstrate the hard and inescapable reality of what happens when we allow the stain and smell of antisemitism to infect our debates and our political discourse.

And let’s also be clear. There is no smear and no orchestrated campaign. No attempted coup and no conspiracy. This pain is self-inflicted.

So let me say this and let me be crystal clear.

Whatever is decided by the party’s NEC next week, if I am elected as leader of Welsh Labour I will ensure the complete IHRA definition, along with all of its examples, is adopted in full by Welsh Labour. I will also ensure that this is enforced in the spirit as well as in the word. Under my leadership I will make Welsh Labour a party that positively welcomes Jewish members and supporters alongside all others as a valued part of our national community. We will also celebrate the Jewish culture and community and celebrate the part it has played and continues to play in Welsh life.

I am completely clear in my mind that it is absolutely possible to debate and discuss the Middle East and to be highly critical of the actions of the Israeli Government or the Israeli Defence Force and do so without suggesting antisemitism or doing so alongside those who are clearly antisemitic or by sharing platforms or speaking on behalf of groups, organisations and individuals who express antisemitism. I know this because I have done so for most of my adult life.

I have worked in Beirut, in Damascus and in Amman. I have worked alongside Palestinian activists and have visited the refugee camps of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. I have spent time talking and listening and witnessing the intense and heartbreaking suffering of the Palestinian people. I was on the West Bank at the beginning of the second Interfada in 2000. But I have also visited Israel and spoken with ordinary Israelis who live in constant fear for their lives and the lives of their families and who sometimes also live in a never-ending terror of the future. And I have stood in the rubble of the gas chambers in Auschwitz.

I disagree with fundamental aspects of the recent nation state legislation passed by the Knesset, I am appalled by the recent violence in Gaza, I disagree with the policy of expanding settlements on the West Bank and I disagree with the building of a wall to separate Israeli and Palestinian communities. But I am also appalled at the indiscriminate killing and violence of Hamas and some other Palestinian organisations.

It is right and proper that we debate and discuss these matters. But we must do so in a spirit of goodwill and comradeship putting our Labour values at the heart of our debate. And our values can never allow us to offer any support to organisations who practice terrorism or antisemitism.

The IHRA is neither a threat to freedom of speech and neither does it prevent open, measured and intelligent discussions of the actions and decisions of the Government of Israel. What it does prevent is the ugly, nasty and discriminatory and chauvinistic abuse of Israel and Israeli citizens – and it prevents this because such rhetoric is always deeply antisemitic. Sustaining and supporting and protecting free speech should never be used as a pretext for allowing or even enabling antisemitic abuse and behaviour to be tolerated in any way. This spurious argument is a chimera and should be exposed as such. 

But why on earth would we as a political party want to encourage, enable or tolerant such behaviour anyway? Why would we want to allow the obviously grossly offensive comparison between Israel and Nazi Germany? Why would we want to hear our members describing Jewish people in terms which we would never tolerant if those same terms were used to describe other peoples? Why on earth would we allow antisemitic tropes of a Jewish conspiracy or of shadowy Jewish control of our institutions reminiscent of the thirties to become a part of our political currency today?

Over the past few months we as a party have demonstrated our failure to understand some of the basics of antisemitism and how images and suggestions of antisemitism have been used to attack Jewish people and the Jewish community. We have also failed to understand the fundamental and intense cultural fears of this Jewish community for whom the holocaust isn’t only a constant part of their history but a part of their present as well. Where persecution, intimidation and discrimination form a part of an identity where such harassment has been a constant over the centuries. And this is neither an academic or abstract issue, something for the history books or for other people in other countries. It matters to us in Wales.

The Jewish community has always played an important part in the life of Wales. And we have our own history to come to terms with. I am from Tredegar and the Jewish Riots in 1911 is a part of our history that we have not fully accepted or recognised.

For a week in August 1911 riots that had began in Tredegar spread across the coalfield. Jewish properties and shops and businesses were attacked, looted and destroyed. A frightening foreshadowing of that which would happen a little over twenty years later. In this way antisemitism isn’t something that happened or happens elsewhere. It is a part of our history in Wales, and a part of my personal history in Tredegar. My own grandparents would have witnessed the impact of that violence and probably knew, or were at least familiar with, some of the rioters. We all have a personal responsibility to act to recognise this and then to apply those lessons to our politics and to our country today.

By our words and actions and our failure to address these matters we have caused deep hurt, pain, anguish and despair throughout the Jewish community. These have been the worst of days for the Labour Party. And anyone who cares for the future of the party needs to recognise the depth and importance of this issue. We need to apologise for this and we need to put it right. 

To me leadership is about doing the right thing. And anyone who aspires to lead needs not only to understand these things but must also be prepared to drive radical change where it is needed. And adopting the full IHRA definition is the only the start. We also need a culture of respect and tolerance in our party. A culture where the language and the tone of our debate needs to change. Where our culture as a party reflects our values and our politics.

 

 

Let the people decide!

Welsh Labour should adopt primaries in our election for our new leader.

Last Friday I announced that I would seek support to stand for election as leader of Welsh Labour. One of the reasons I did so was because I felt that the debate we needed over the summer months and the autumn was simply not taking place. 

I am standing to drive that wide-ranging debate about the future of Welsh Labour as a political party and movement as well as our ambitions and visions for the future of Wales and then to be a leader of Welsh Labour with a clear mandate to deliver radical change.

And that radical change must begin with the way in which we elect our leaders.

Last month I wrote to Paul Murphy suggesting some significant changes to the process of nominating candidates that will eventually appear on the ballot paper. I suggested that the process of nomination be extended from the current system where AMs alone decided to include MPs, council leaders and our MEP. I was grateful to everyone who contacted me to welcome these suggestions.

But today I would like to go a step further.

My starting point is democracy and opening up our democracy as a party. If we are serious about being a party for the many and not the few then this needs to begin at the beginning. I do not want any tolerance or any acceptance of a democracy that is either fixed in advance, where back-room deals determine who gets to stand or a democracy where our elections are shaped and orchestrated by the few.

So this week I will write to Paul again. I will suggest that Welsh Labour adopt a system of primaries rather than to rely upon nominations from this very small subset of elected representatives. 

But why has my thinking changed on this issue?

Since last Friday I have spent a great deal of time talking with various people, from party members, to colleagues, friends and journalists. Almost the whole of this debate has been focussed on the process of nomination. I have come to the conclusion that until this changes then there will be no discussion of either politics or policy because no candidate needs to do anything except talk to their colleagues. There is no reason to appeal to a wider audience. 

My purpose in making such a suggestion on opening up the nomination process last month was to open the process beyond the Senedd in Cardiff Bay – after all this is our party leader in Wales. Under the current system the ballot paper and the election would be determined entirely by the Labour group in the National Assembly. And there’s nothing democratic about that. For me democracy means the real active involvement of the membership and our socialist societies and affiliates. It does not mean deals behind closed doors in the Bay. 

Primaries are a familiar part of the political landscape in the United States but tend to be treated with deep suspicion on this side of the Atlantic. They have been used as something of a novelty by political parties who have fallen on difficult times. Both the Lib Dems and the Tories have employed open primaries where all voters in particular constituencies being invited to select a candidate for a parliamentary seat. The motivation has usually been more to do the dreadful state of the party at the time and a need to generate some interest in the selection rather than to adopt primaries from a point of principle.

I hope that we can do better.

In fact the process of electing leaders in socialist or social democratic across Europe tends to be more open and more democratic than what has been so far proposed for either Welsh Labour or UK Labour. Most our our sister European parties have more open means of involving the whole party membership and only a few parties allow parliamentarians the veto that they effectively enjoy in either Wales or the UK. So what I am proposing is a primary nomination process which involves the whole membership of Welsh Labour.

So how could primaries work in Welsh Labour?

The purpose of this is to remove the power of patronage and appointment from professional politicians and return that power to party members as a whole. And the immediate impact of that will be two-fold. Firstly any prospective candidate has to do more than appeal to their friends and colleagues in the Bay. They will need to reach out across the whole country and the whole movement and speak to members about the sort of party and the sort of choice that they want to see. Secondly it would mean that potential candidates have to speak about those issues that matter to people and not politicians. The debate would be more about policy and politics and less about the potential for deals over jobs, roles, the process of governing and the politics of the group in the National Assembly.

In this way a system of primaries would be more open, more democratic and more empowering. By removing the sense of an internal narrow selection the party and the group would be strengthened and the election when it takes place would be the election that the party has chosen rather an election where the candidates are, in effect, imposed upon the party.

I would suggest that the party organise a series of hustings meetings in each region where every party member would have three votes and any candidate receiving over 15% of the total vote would appear on the final ballot paper in the election in the autumn. Each of the potential candidates would have the same opportunity to reach out and make their case. And each party member would be able to see and question everyone who wishes to be a candidate and would have the same opportunity to shape the election.

This is the radical and democratising way in which Welsh Labour can not only avoid some of the narrow debate that we’ve seen over the process or structure of nominations over the summer and can demonstrate how democracy can enliven and open up politics.  

Real politics. Real democracy. For the many and not the few. 

It’s time to confront UKIP and their prejudice 

Since they were elected two years ago UKIP has disfigured both the National Assembly and our national debate. For the first time I can remember we heard words like “foreigner” in our debates. But the election of Gareth Bennett as their leader last week and his words over the weekend cross a line. It would be easy to argue that a leader with a mandate of a few hundred votes shouldn’t be taken all that seriously. After all there are local councillors who have won with more votes and a bigger majority. But to not take him, and the direction where he wants to take UKIP, seriously would be a mistake. As leader of Welsh Labour I will take them on and confront them and their prejudice.

At one level they are a comedy outfit of inadequate, ineffective and mediocre individuals. Their performance in the Assembly has been wretched, woeful and feeble. But their inability to make any intelligent, rational or coherent contribution to our debates has not been questioned by either the media or by other parties. Sometimes Cardiff Bay is too comfortable. 

They succeed in making headlines either by their poor behaviour or conduct or by a series of confrontations in the chamber and elsewhere with their attacks on minorities or vulnerable people. Their use of ugly and unacceptable language leads to suspensions and interruptions to the business of the place. All too often the chamber sits in embarrassed silence whilst the UKIP spokesperson tries to read a poorly-written contribution onto the record.

I can think of no positive contribution that they have made since their election.

And this is where scrutiny is important. During the parliamentary passage of the Additional Learning Needs Act, the UKIP spokesperson, Michelle Brown, made no contribution to the debate over the legislation. She was clearly ignorant of the policy area and made absolutely no effort to either learn or to understand either the legislation – or – and this is important – the needs of this vulnerable group of children and young people. As a minister I was put under a great deal of pressure by both Plaid and the Tories – Darren Millar and Llyr Gruffydd – as well as the Welsh Labour chair – Lynne Neagle – all of whom worked hard to scrutinise and test the legislation. I made a number of changes as a consequence of this scrutiny and the Act is a better piece of law as a consequence. But UKIP played no part in this essential work of the parliamentary process, there was no UKIP amendment and apart from a few poor contributions virtually nothing said on the record. And this is what they are paid to do. 

And this inability to play even the smallest part in the work of the institution they they want to abolish and to do the bare minimum is not called out by either other politicians or the media. As a consequence they get away with their inadequacy, their idleness and their negligence. 

Some of us have refused to socialise with them, preferring to keep them at a distance. But at the same time some, including me, have felt inhibited from taking them on in the chamber because of their obvious inadequacy. It’s time to take them on and to expose them as a bunch of lamentable chancers with little talent and no commitment to their roles and their responsibilities.

I am not worried by Bennett’s quaint views on devolution – returning Wales to direct rule – all of our constitutional arrangements should always be contestable and always subject to test, debate and challenge. What is completely unacceptable is his views on our national community.

After a week of witnessing the best of Wales at the National Eisteddfod we now see the worst of Wales. And Bennett’s inadequacy should not stop us from taking him on. His brand of naked alternative right populism is the same hard right wing chauvinism that Steve Bannon is in Europe to promote. Bennett is probably copying Boris Johnson but it is this validation and repetition of prejudice that is dangerous. It is the same prejudice and same politics as the Front Nationale and the rest of the European right. And in Welsh Labour we need to campaign and to argue against it. We can no longer ignore them hoping that they will go away. Or even blame the electoral system for their election. People voted for UKIP because we failed to win the arguments against them.

But we must also work harder across the political spectrum to campaign and to argue for the Wales we want to see. The Wales of inclusivity and tolerance. The Wales where we enjoy and celebrate the diversity we saw in Cardiff Bay last week. The Wales where we reach out with a cwtsh rather than point fingers at differences. 

So let’s call them out. Let’s tell the truth about them. And let’s expose them as the nasty bunch of xenophobic chauvinists who will deliberately use their prejudice to create divisions, misery and distress because of their weakness, their ignorance and their cowardliness. And this isn’t simply an attack on Islam and the muslim community. It is an attack on us all.

The alternative is that this hatred, venom and this rancour will enter the Welsh political discourse and will become a normalised part of our political experience. And the consequence of that will be an increased threat to our whole national community across the whole of Wales. Wherever we live, however we live, whoever we worship, whatever we wear and whatever language we speak. 

But calling them out is not enough. We have to defeat their views and replace their prejudice with our values of liberal tolerance and compassion. And that means winning hearts and minds and not simply votes.

And this campaigning against populism and the alt right is part of the reinvention of our politics and our democracy that I spoke about when launching my leadership campaign last week. Last week I spoke about the structures and the process of politics. This, today, is about the principles and the values of our politics. The values of Nye Bevan and Paul Robeson that I tried to describe last week. Those values that reached out across an ocean to bring an American civil rights campaigner to sing at a Cymanfa Ganu at a National Eisteddfod in Ebbw Vale. It is those timeless values that must now drive our actions and our work. 

How will we nominate and elect a new Welsh Labour leader?

Constituency Labour Parties across Wales are being asked what they think about the way in which we elect our leader. Until that weekend in Llandudno in April this was an obscure issue which excited only those who get excited about such things. Now Carwyn has ensured that we are all talking about it. And like others I will be writing to Paul Murphy with my own views on the issue.

In short the question is – do we replace the electoral college which provides for a third each to parliamentarians, the trades unions and other affiliates and the final third for our members? Those who argue against change point out, quite rightly, that the college has done its job. It has provided for leaders who can claim a wide mandate across the party and movement. It has delivered stability and a strength which has sometimes alluded other parts of the Labour party and movement. So why change they argue? Why disenfranchise socialist societies and the collective voice of trades unions?

The short answer is because we are now a much changed party and organisation. The longer answer is that any electoral system that delivers multiple votes for some individuals and where each vote carries a very different weighting is one which is difficult to describe as democratic. 

Whatever anyone’s views on the changes that have taken place in the party over the last few years, there is no argument that those changes are real. And the party needs to evolve and change as well.

Today it would be simply unacceptable for anyone to become leader without the support of the party members. The imposition of a leader by the weight of votes of either our affiliates or by our parliamentarians is unthinkable and would make their position untenable. 

Speaking personally I want to protect the place and role of the trades unions in the structures of Welsh Labour. In fact I would like to strengthen and expand the role of trades unions in other aspects of the party’s policy-making and decision-taking. But that’s for another day. 

So my preference would be to move to a system of one member one vote where we all share the same single vote. And for the purists reading this I would support the option in the consultation which allows all individual levy-paying trade unionists to vote alongside individual members in an OMOV ballot. This means that the place of trades unions and trades unionists is secure in our structures and elections.

However I also believe that we need to go further than simply change the way in which we vote for our Welsh Leader.

And this is important. 

We are not electing the leader of Welsh Labour at the National Assembly. We are electing the leader of our party in Wales. 

Not for Welsh Labour the tortuous and tiresome debates that have taken place in the Welsh Conservative Party where they are not electing a leader of the party, but only the leader of a group. Whosoever wins our election when it finally takes place in the autumn will not only become Welsh Labour’s candidate to be First Minister but will also be the party’s Welsh Leader. And that demands a wider and more inclusive approach to the whole election process.

And this is something that we have not yet even began to discuss.

At present it is only Assembly Members who have the right to nominate candidates. I believe that the right to nominate should be extended to include our MPs ( and for this election our MEP) and to Welsh Labour council leaders. We may even wish to consider the role of our Police and Crime Commissioners in the process.

I have argued before that Welsh Labour council leaders should be brought more fully into the family of Welsh Labour and this is another area where our councillors need to be more fully integrated into the structures of the wider party. 

But by ensuring that any candidate would require support from both Westminster and council chambers across the country the leadership debate would extend beyond Cardiff Bay and would force potential candidates to think about the wider party and not simply the hothouse of the Senedd. 

In terms of a threshold I will argue that 10% provides the right level of challenge with restricting the field or establishing too high a barrier for potential candidates.

Two final points.

Firstly, Carwyn’s intervention a couple of weeks ago on the issue of equality and gender balance was important. And it exposes a fundamental weakness at the heart of our politics. It is clearly unacceptable for Welsh Labour to polish up its credentials as a party which has led the way on equality to hold its only leadership election in a decade without a woman on the ballot paper. I agree with Carwyn – there should be a woman on the ballot paper. But unless the current position changes then this is becoming increasingly unlikely. And this will reflect poorly on Welsh Labour and our sense of priorities. It would be well for all members of the National Assembly Labour Party to reflect further on this. 

Secondly, since the creation of devolved government nearly twenty years ago we have had three First Ministers. And in reality this period of time has been defined by Rhodri and Carwyn’s tenure. I can think of no-one in the group in Cardiff Bay who wants to see another long ten year stretch. And in an institution such as the National Assembly a long period of leadership certainly creates stability but sometimes the price of that stability is also a sense of stasis. Certainly one of the characteristics of the current non-debate in the Bay is a wish not to elect someone else who may wish to be in office for an extended period. Best elect an interim leader rather someone for the long term. My view is that we should elect a leader for a five year term. Long enough to fight an election, establish and run a government but not so long as to create the impression of permanence. Whether the leader wishes a second term would be a matter for debate. But I would certainly not want to see any leader serve more than two terms. 

So let’s extend our democracy. Let’s involve and fully enfranchise our membership. But lets also think more creatively about how we bring the party together and how we reach out to unite the whole of our democracy and the points of political power that Welsh Labour would seek exercise on behalf of the people we represent. 

Active citizenship – reinventing Welsh democracy 

This article is an edited version of a lecture that I gave last week at Cardiff Business School. The lecture examined the culture and the relationship between Welsh Government and Local Government. It also attempts to sketch out some of the reasons why I believe that greater devolution across Wales will help strengthen our democracy and why there’s a strong socialist case for a more radical approach to the wider reform debate.

I did not come into politics in take part in a debate between different management consultancies or a sterile argument between different versions of a technocratic theory. For me the way in which we order our affairs as a society is a deeply political and philosophical question. Too often our politics has been about choosing between two versions of the same committee structure. In the last few weeks much of the criticism levelled at me is that I’m either being too radical or too ambitious. Whilst I’m very happy to be found guilty on both charges the fact that being seen as either radical or ambitious is now seen as valid grounds for criticism speaks of a political culture that has probably lost its way.

So this evening I want to reassert that radical and ambitious agenda. I believe that to do otherwise would be a failure of leadership and a failure to speak for the people we seek to represent and I want that agenda to be rooted in our values. Let me start with the most fundamental of those values – democracy.

Whilst we are one of Europe’s oldest nations we are also one of Europe’s youngest political nations. And this is something which we all sometimes fail to remember. All too often we compare ourselves unfavourably with parliamentary democracy as practiced in the Palace by the Thames. But the hard reality is that we have been inventing a new democracy in a country where there had previously been little independent thought or thinking. As a politics student in the eighties my tutor, Denis Balsom, would often ask whether Welsh politics existed at all. The question serves to remind us that our emerging new democracy is barely a generation or two away from an ill-disguised autocracy where two or three ministers would take decisions and govern our country behind closed doors.

Fundamental to any democracy is the active participation of citizens in selecting and choosing the way in which power is used on their behalf and in their name. And for me active citizenship is at the heart of my proposals for reform. 

Wales has a radical political history and I hope that we can still see some echoes of those radical traditions.

In the next week we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Act of Parliament that established the National Health Service. But of course the NHS was not the brainchild of a government. It was actually born in 1890 when the Tredegar Medical Aid and Sick Relief Fund was created with each worker in the town contributing halfpenny a week. It grew to provide services to 20,000 people including my own mother and father. And this was local citizens, taking matters into their own hands and creating the structures and services that they required, designed and delivered according their needs and their wishes. Active citizenship. And democracy was at its heart – they even elected the doctors! 

And growing up in Tredegar the medical aid society was a part of my childhood. Not simply the buildings – although I did see the doctor in old surgery buildings and I did visit relatives in the cottage hospital built on land donated to the Fund by Lord Tredegar in 1904 but more than all of that, the philosophy of the medical aid society was a fundamental part of our socialism. The belief that local people can demand, design, manage, control and then deliver their own local services was reinforced by the local council – the Tredegar Urban District Council – which provided a rich variety of services for the people of the town. 

But what’s this got to do with the challenges facing us today?

Because when faced with a significant challenge it must be our values that drive our solutions. We must not simply seek a managerial response or fix. And when local government leaders told me last year that the current system and structure is not sustainable it was to these values that I turned in fashioning my response.

And this is important. Why do we need democratic accountability for the mechanical process of taking away our refuse and recycling? Why the need for democratic oversight of the way in which the grass is cut in parks and public places?

I will argue that these decisions are not simply about delivering services, each individual decision shapes those services. And of course we also tax people locally. And democratic oversight of that taxation is a fundamental part of our system of governance the American revolutionary demand – no taxation without representation – still reverberates down the centuries.

And I want these decisions to be rooted in a renewed democracy driven by active citizenship. Not a tired democracy where people do not feel able or motivated to participate.

How do we achieve this?

In my view we place real power in the hands of the citizen and we enable the citizen and powerful new councils to exercise that power. So we will start by making it easier to participate in local elections.

We will legislate in the next year to start the process of enabling electronic voting and counting and extend the franchise – active citizenship must start with an enfranchised and inclusive community.

But active citizenship demands accountability more than once every four or five years. The politicians of the future will need to be far more responsive to their electorates than the politicians of today. In my time in elected office I have seen the number of letters we receive fall to a trickle. Social media is now the main communications channel. As a society and as a political system we are still coming to terms with the power of social media channels. I am an optimist and I believe that our society will in time learn to use social media in a more mature and thoughtful way.

So the active citizen of tomorrow will be able and willing to communicate instantly – and expect instantaneous response – and able to mobilise at a pace and scale we haven’t seen before. For us politicians, this is a great challenge. For citizens, a great opportunity.

As well as providing the tools and means to participate we need to provide the structures for a new democratic settlement which will enable and allow citizens the opportunity to take more decisions locally. Although I don’t agree with the whole of his doctrines in The Road to Serfdom I do agree with FA Hayek when he said “nowhere has democracy ever worked well without a great measure of local self-government”. And if active citizenship is to mean anything in Wales then the ability to apply this locally is fundamental to the growth and deepening and maturing of our own democracy.

The last century has seen the steady erosion of local power and locally-delivered services. And let’s be clear these last few years have not been easy for local government either. Whilst in Wales local councils have been protected from the whirlwind which has ripped through local government resources across the border,  I recognise that balancing budgets is becoming increasingly difficult. Especially so when we have a structure that is itself cumbersome and top-heavy.

At the same time we have not yet hard-wired the good work such as the 21st century schools programme to become the norm. When we work together we can harness and put to work some fantastic knowledge and experience to be found in county halls across the country together with the resources and power of the Welsh Government. But this has not happened in a planned, mature and consistent way. Twenty years on, the relationship between the Welsh Government and local government still has not yet matured.

My conclusion is that if our democracy and our political relationships are to mature, then it will only happen when power is held and exercised locally and where communities are able to hold locally-elected councils and councillors to account for their decisions.

So in addressing the future of local government I want not simply to arrest the process of centralisation but to reverse it. I have campaigned all of my adult life for devolution and the end of the UK unitary state. For me, strong home rule parliaments in Wales and Scotland form the bedrock of the architecture of our new United Kingdom. But I haven’t campaigned to create a strong parliamentary democracy in Wales only to create a new unitary state based in Cardiff Bay.

So devolution must now mean devolution within Wales and real devolution to communities across and throughout Wales. I will publish a vision for new empowered councils that will describe my ambition to transfer power from Cardiff to county halls across the country. And I intend that this takes place as a part of a process of the simplification of how we practice governance. Councils should have new powers to act and new opportunities to increase and strengthen their financial resilience. And I hope that it will be underpinned by a new national framework within which empowered councils with the capacity and ability to lead will exercise their powers locally, regionally and nationally.

And the reduction of complexity in government is essential to a maturing and active and empowered democracy.

We have created a complexity in governance. And this complexity is not a benign entanglement of committees. It is something which disempowers both public servants and citizens. I do not support the creation of an additional and unnecessary web of boards and committees because these models of governance not only take the business of government further away from the citizen but also fundamentally undermines the principle of democratic accountability. And they sap our collective energy, use up precious resources but more than this such complexity fundamentally mitigates against reform and change.  

I have spoken to too many people over the past few months who spend far too much time in meetings and not delivering services. I spoke to one person who described 74 different committees, groups or partnerships that she needs to attend. Our newly-appointed Violence against Women national advisors have also described the complexity of government as a real barrier to providing support to some very vulnerable people. Other public sector mangers have described to me how they attend multiple meetings to agree common approaches to solving basic problems. Decision-making needs to be simplified to allow for more effective delivery and implementation.

At a time when our finances are under enormous pressure it appears to me to be curious how we believe that greater complexity will in any way address the challenges ahead.

Many of those who argue against larger authorities do so out of a well-founded sense that a larger authority will not provide the same localism as a smaller authority. I sympathise with their fears. 

For me, the issue is empowerment of local councils not their geographical or population size. This is not an argument based simply on numbers, it is a pragmatic one and should be rooted in the kind of local democracy we want as a country but which also recognises our communities and local identities.

So I propose that at the same time as we provide more powers for the principal authorities that we also seek to enable town and community councils to play a larger role in shaping our communities. The independent panel that has been looking at these issues believes that the larger principal authorities should deliver the “people” services but that local community councils could deliver more “place-based” services. And I agree. 

So a new settlement. Greater power exercised locally with greater opportunities to innovate and to drive change. And with greater power comes greater responsibility. So I would also want to see local government taking greater responsibility for the improvement of services provided by local authorities. This is the reality of a maturing system and a maturing relationship with the Welsh Government.

The Welsh Government has acted on many occasions to step in where there is service or democratic failure and that is right. We cannot tolerate poor performance. But, in fixing those problems we rely on those with expertise in the corporate and service functions and not in Welsh Government.   

So, to me, it makes sense that local government takes on a far greater role and responsibility for improvement functions. That will demand a greater self awareness of performance and drive for improvement among local government itself. It will demand a greater collective response where authorities act together for the greater good. It may be that we could create a national improvement agency as a partnership between the Welsh Government and local government but rooted in local government with local government taking the lead. 

At the same time,  technology is going to drive changes in the way in which services are delivered and in how councils and government operate, more so than we fully understand today. We have already created a project to look at how the digitisation of government will drive change. For the future, I believe that a national shared services agency could provide the basis to share and deliver these changes whilst at the same time protecting employment in some very vulnerable and fragile communities. But again a partnership between the Welsh Government and local government. And again rooted in and driven by local government. 

By providing new powers to be held locally, new opportunities to use those powers and by increasing and deepening local democratic debate, I believe that we will, over time, change the culture of government. And by doing so, change the relationship between local government and Welsh Government.

So as I recognise that structural change can and must lead cultural change in way we manage and deliver public services I also recognise that structural change alone can deliver these ambitions. We know that many services are not meeting citizens expectations and it is difficult to see how we will meet the fair expectations of citizens anytime in the near future without a change and reform programme as I have described this evening. 

I am painful aware that the failure rate of government-led transformations is high. And that the reasons for this failure are multi-faceted. But I believe that we can deliver change if we provide clear leadership, a clear purpose and priorities, if Welsh Government provides the support and capacity to deliver change. But I also understand that we need to win hearts and minds as well. I want to lead reform and not simply impose reform. 

In order to win hearts and minds we must also establish trust.

The new empowered councils will have a considerable suite of new responsibilities and powers. Perhaps it is a step too far to say that the new Monmouthshire or Gwynedd should have parliaments rather than a council. But I hope that collectively and individually these new authorities will exercise a greater range of powers than our predecessors when the Assembly was created in 1999.

I believe that we need a break from the past in building our new democracy. So let’s go further and entrench these new powers with a new system and within a new agreement. I recognise that in any parliamentary system it is difficult to entrench powers so let me suggest this; 

That we sign, together, the Welsh Government and the leaders of local government, a Charter for Democracy. Based upon the EU Charter for local government, but focused on our own agenda for decentralisation and democracy where the new powers for local government are codified and placed on the statute book. 

It is a statement that in the future we will have a mature and intelligent relationships based upon mutual respect and mutual esteem and an agreement on how we work together, structurally and culturally. 

So active citizenship, rooted in our values and in our democratic traditions. Reinventing our democracy and entrenching powerful new authorities where vibrant and active democratic debate will renew and rejuvenate our politics for the future. The delivery of excellence in public services, the protection and investment in the workforce will be driven by a more fundamental accountability to and in the communities we serve.

And this is why I remain passionate about reform and passionate about the journey ahead. I believe in the public good and the public purpose and I believe in collective action.

I read last week that to succeed in reform one needs to be resilient, determined and persistent. It is for others to judge whether this is a good policy or whether it is the right policy. But it is my belief that by following this route we will not only deliver better services but that we will also strengthen and deepen our democracy. 

It’s time to talk about prisons

We need a serious conversation about how we do justice in Wales. 

Last Thursday morning I gave evidence to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee. My appearance in front of the Committee followed the publication earlier in the week of a troubling and disturbing insight into the life of the prison service in Wales by Cardiff Governance Centre. Reported in today’s Western Mail it makes for some miserable reading. And this report itself follows on the heels of a number of critical reports into the management of the criminal justice system in Wales.

But all too often a debate over the future of penal policy in Wales is reduced to a debate over the location of a prison. Over the Easter recess I published a statement on the Welsh Government’s approach to justice policy. Most journalists saw the immediacy of the story over a proposed “superprison” in Baglan. Without further thought they reported that story whilst ignoring the rest of the statement.

We need to do better than this. 

It is difficult to argue that the way we do criminal justice in Wales is working well. The hard reality is that we have a justice system that is simply not fit for purpose. My view is that we urgently need to develop an approach which focusses on Welsh needs and begins the process of developing a distinctive Welsh penal policy.

For many of us the UK Government’s intransigence over the devolution of justice has been just another one of those sometimes interminable debates that we’ve endured over the last few decades as we struggle towards a stable settlement which allows for the good government of Wales within the United Kingdom. 

In terms of criminal justice we face a situation where the UK Ministry of Justice is unable to deliver its overall policy programme in Wales and where the Welsh Government is also unable to deliver a policy programme. We have the worst of all worlds. And this is entirely due to a settlement rooted in the Conservative Party’s refusal to recognise Wales as having the same rights to good governance as either Scotland or Northern Ireland. Or seemingly even London. 

My view is clear. The current settlement is broken. And until it is fixed then we will always have a half a conversation and we will not reach a conclusion which will be of benefit to anyone. 

As a minister I have responsibility for justice policy in Wales but much of this policy is not yet devolved and so I have no easy way of delivering any policy outcome. I rely upon the goodwill of the professional leadership and their desire to work together to deliver the coherence that politicians have failed to create. So we find ourselves in the curious situation of creating a series of ad hoc structures to overcome the difficulties created by the political structures. There are a lot of good people trying hard to do the right thing.

This is no way to run a country. 

The Welsh Government has been clear that it believes policing should be devolved and there is in all honestly very little real opposition to that. Secondly the Welsh Government has been clear that the two jurisdictions should be separated and a Welsh jurisdiction created. This is good sense and I assume that the Justice Commission created by the First Minister and led by the former Lord Chief Justice will make some observations and reach its own conclusions on these matters when it reports next year. Whilst it is fair to say that such things are rarely the topic of heated debate in the Dog and Duck they are the basics that any constitutional settlement should get right. A legal device that was created by the Tudors to help assimilate Wales into the Kingdom of England five centuries ago is probably not the best way to manage our democracy in the 21st century. Most of the rest of those acts of union have been repealed and it’s time that bit went as well. 

So that just leaves the penal system as the only part of the overall criminal justice system where we haven’t had these conversations. And it’s time we did so. My view is (probably unsurprisingly) that this should, alongside the other aspects of the system, be devolved. This will allow us to pursue an holistic approach which brings all aspects of the policy together with those services which are already devolved to provide for a coherent comprehensive and consistent approach to both developing policy and providing services. It is logical and it is rational. The current position is neither of these.

And this would also benefit the overall devolution settlement where these areas are now the biggest single impediment to the stability and clarity that we all wish to see.

And this is possible. The Ministry of Justice has already reached an agreement to begin the process of devolution of many of these powers to the Mayor of London. The Secretary of State, David Gauke, told the House of Commons a few months ago that they were seeking a whole systems approach. Hallelujah. So if it works in London with far less of the infrastructure required to deliver such a policy then why not in Wales where there is significantly more confusion and complexity and where a specific and tailored approach could more easily be delivered in a far-sighted and intelligent way? And of course Wales has own legislature and government etc….

So what next? What would a Welsh penal policy actually look like?

It is difficult to argue that the current policy has been developed to serve Welsh interests. It is inconceivable that any policy rooted in a desire to serve Wales would have given us a secure estate which looks anything like the current structure. My assumption is that the current configuration probably owes more to disagreements between departments in London and the prejudices of the Treasury than in addressing the needs of Wales. No Welsh policy would have created a situation whereby there is no facility for women, only a single youth offender centre located within an adult prison and until last year no facility at all outside the M4 corridor. 

But my view is that a Welsh penal policy would be different, not simply in bricks and mortar, but also in tone and values from much of what we’ve seen in the past. I hope that it would be rooted in humanity and respect with a clear commitment to rehabilitation and to an holistic approach to preventing reoffending and enabling people to acquire the skills and support they need to live their lives. And such an approach would benefit the whole country.

And what would this mean in reality? For me it would mean a clear commitment not to build a woman’s prison but to develop two and possibly three woman centres with a focus on providing support for the whole family unit and providing ways to support those women at times when their needs are greatest. At present most of the woman from Wales who are in prison are there for theft or other relatively minor offences. Many of these offences are the consequence of attempting to escape poverty or from violence at home. Few women commit serious crimes and many are simply incarcerated as a result of a summary conviction. We are currently developing alternative routes to detention which I hope will reduce the number of women who are detained. The first step in a new direction.

We have already succeeded in reducing the number of youth offenders who are being sent to secure units. The next step would be a secure centre potentially linked to an FE college where those young people detained could access high quality education and skills to enable them to resettle successfully into their home community. 

The bulk of the prison population are adult male prisoners. The approach of the Ministry of Justice has been to build new large-scale prisons such as Berwyn in Wrexham. Whilst it is true that this provides high quality facilities I have made clear that we do not need large-scale prison developments that inevitably provide accommodation many miles from home. But we also desperately need investment in the secure estate. I would prefer investment in smaller-scale prisons with greater links to training and employment opportunities in communities closer to their homes where coherent and consistent services can be provided. But we also need to bring together the already-devolved services of health and education with the overall management of the prison system. Many people who are detained experience significant issues with mental illness and substance abuse. We need to be able to deliver seamless support which brings together the penal system with social services, health and education services. Only then will we be able to seriously address these issues. 

So there is a compelling new agenda for the whole the criminal justice system in Wales which can revolutionise the way in which we will deal with some of the most vulnerable and challenged people in our society. But rather than addressing these matters today we have the situation where a broken settlement means that neither the Ministry of Justice nor the Welsh Government are able to deliver the holistic approach that both probably agree is needed. 

We simply cannot carry on like this. Wales deserves far better.