By Mick Antoniw
Two years ago I was appointed to Labour’s National Executive Committee by the newly elected Leader of Welsh Labour and First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford.
It was part of Mark’s leadership campaign that this position needed to be democratised and made accountable to the whole of the Labour membership.
I am now standing for election for what is an historic first, a designated Welsh seat on the NEC, elected by and accountable to the Welsh membership.
This change is all the more important because in Wales we have our own Parliament and the only Labour government in the UK.
This has enabled us to pursue socialist policies despite a right wing Tory government in Westminster. Even with our limited powers and the imposition of financial austerity, we have been able to show the difference a Labour Government can make. Free prescriptions, free travel for the elderly, abolition of the right to buy, ending zero hours contracts in the social care sector, revocation of parts of the Tory Trade Union Act, public ownership of our international airport, not for profit rail via Transport for Wales, free school meals during holiday periods, breakfast clubs, financial support for students, no grammar schools, no NHS internal market and much more.
We are now planning a ground-breaking Social Partnership Bill which will set the framework for business , trade unions and government to come together to promote economic prosperity, ethical employment and collective bargaining through the use of public procurement.
While we are pursuing socialist policies in Wales, it is vitally important our Party understands the importance of devolution, the decentralisation of power that has taken place over the past 20 years and the impact this has on our politics and policies, not just in Wales and Scotland but in England too.
If we are to achieve a victory in the next UK General election in four years’ time, we must recognise the importance of winning in Wales and gaining ground in the Scottish elections next year. We must also recognise that UK governance has moved beyond devolution to a four-nation model, as we can see from the responses to the Covid pandemic. It is important we recognise that when the Prime Minister or his ministers make pronouncements in Westminster, they are usually speaking as ministers for England. Sometimes they are only speaking for parts of England. We ignore the significance of the emerging decentralisation of power that has been taking place in London and parts of England at our peril.
If we don’t understand and harness the strength of our regional and national governance we will have little hope of regaining power.
I believe the same is true of our membership, which is why I am standing. I have been a member of the Party for 46 years. By the time Jeremy was elected leader, we were a Party in crisis – a totally top-down policy structure, little local Party democracy, a political identity crisis and £10 million pounds in debt as a consequence of years of covert fundraising deals with millionaire backers. To cap it all, the Shadow Cabinet then endorsed the Tory Welfare Reform Act.
We were losing our socialist identity and purpose.
Much of that has now changed. It was achieved by our membership and must now be defended and enhanced. Our Party must remain a membership-led Party with a clear socialist agenda based on social justice, industrial democracy, equality, public ownership of public utilities, and all within the framework of an agenda to tackle climate change and to protect our environment. If we don’t have this vision and belief in our own policies and values, what chance do we have of winning the support of the people and winning power?
Winning the next general election is as important for Wales as it is for the rest of the UK. Many of the things we want to achieve in Wales are dependent on having a socialist government in Westminster. I will therefore continue arguing on the NEC to address the constitutional reform we need and for a policy-making structure and policies which properly represent all the nations and regions of the UK.
As a Party, our politics are radically different to the nationalists, whether they be in Wales, Scotland or England and we must equally be alert to the dangers of falling into the trap of British nationalism. As socialists our politics have always been based on class and must continue to be so. National self-determination and the decentralisation of power to people and communities has always been part of our socialist philosophy. As Aneurin Bevan said, the purpose of winning power is to give it away. In my view, that is at the heart of democratic socialism. As a party we must radically attune to the new and changing political environment in which we live , work and campaign.
This change can only come from the members, our trade union and socialist societies and the growing co-operative movement.
I want to see us harness these fantastic strengths we have. Outside of Conference, the NEC is our supreme governing body. I want to be part of it , on behalf of the whole of Wales, for the benefit of the people of Wales and working people everywhere.
Mick Antoniw is the Labour member of the Welsh Parliament for Pontypridd. He Chairs its Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee. He was appointed to the NEC by the Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford in January 2019.