13/09/2010

Ron Davies at the Plaid conference - the full speech

With a few sections edited out for space, this is the text of Ron Davies's historic speech to the Plaid Cymru conference in Aberystwyth on Saturday. The former Secretay of State for Wales in Tony Blair's government announced his intention to stand for Plaid in Caerffili in next year's Assembly elections and set out a vision for Wales's economic future. You Tube versions are here and here.

".....I want to say a huge thank you to those Plaid members in Caerffili, many of them here today, that I’ve worked with and alongside over these past couple of years for the support they’ve given me to work with them and to join Plaid. And it’s never easy to single out individuals but I do want to say a very special thankyou to Lindsay Whittle [Plaid's many-times candidate there]. I’ve known Lindsay for almost 40 years and we fought election after election against each other. And I’m proud to say in all of those times there was never a cross word between us. We disagreed obviously on many, many occasions but there was never any personal acrimony and he was the very first person to urge me to consider putting my name forward to stand for Caerffili for Plaid. So it’s a very great debt that I owe him and I’m very proud to acknowledge that. It’s not only me but there’s a debt owing to Lindsay from Plaid members, supporters, voters and thousands of ordinary men and women who he has supported and helped during a lifetime of service to Plaid and to the people in Caerffili. So thank you very much Lindsay. .....

"The best way that I can repay that friendship and that trust would be to repay the debt in the way that he would want most. And I will do that with our colleagues in Caerffili.

"And we will score a famous victory for Plaid Cymru in next year’s Assembly Elections . We’ll win it and we’ll keep it and we’ll fight and we’ll campaign and we’ll organise and we’ll persuade until we make voting for Plaid Cymru in Caerffili as natural as drawing breath. That’s the campaign that we’ll launch. We’ll base it on a marvellous bunch of individuals. But it won’t just be a victory of organisation – it’ll be a victory of ideas. And, because it will be a victory from Labour in a key heartland seat, it’ll send shockwaves through the political establishment. It’ll send a message that Plaid is in the mainstream. It will give the lie to the false claims that Plaid only represents the north or the west or the countryside or the Welsh-speaking part of Wales. Plaid represents every part of Wales. Plaid can uniquely claim to represent all of Wales, wherever they live, and all of the people, whatever language they speak.

"The key values of Plaid, of fair play, of equality, of community of taking responsibility as individuals and as a nation, of wanting to use our democracy to bring about change to improve the lives of ordinary men and women. Those are the values, not only of Plaid, but those are the values of the people of Wales as well.

"Now for decades, generations of people in valleys like mine , the one that I grew up in, have automatically looked to the Labour Party. I know, from my own background, that was the path that I first chose. I don’t make any apologies for that. I believed that Labour could deliver lasting change. But it hasn’t. I don’t want to talk about that personal experience, because that’s history now. And there are too many compromises and too many sell-outs and failures of policy and resolve from the Labour party, that the Labour Party is now left as the busted flush of British politics. Labour talks the rhetoric of enduring values but put the rhetoric to one side and look at the reality. Thirteen years of unbridled power, with record parliamentary majorities and they’ve left Britain this year with tainted politics , a broken economy, the rich richer, the poor poorer, and, above all, the stench of an illegal war in Iran (sic) and a pointless and unwinnable war in Afghanistan.

"If we are going to transform our politics we have to challenge that record and we have to establish Plaid unquestionably as the strong and legitimate voice for progress and change in Wales.

"Now I believe that devolution will prove to have been the game-changer. Who knows what our politics would have been like if Labour had chosen to use devolution to help build a nation, to champion the cause of a proper parliament, to use the talents and resources of the people of Wales according to our needs to create a more dynamic economy and a more sustainable level of public service? Well, that might have been, if the Labour Party could identify itself with Wales. But the Labour Party is a London party and London would not allow the Labour Party to follow the natural course of action here in Wales.

"I know, from my own experience, the tremendous work which has been put in by our Plaid ministers in the present Assembly, and the Plaid group in the Assembly. And, without doubt, the influence of One Wales has brought the first real sense of an assembly setting its own agenda for Wales.

"We now live in an era, I think we all accept, where coalition politics are becoming the norm. But let’s never forget that the priorities and the politics of any coalition are the priorities and the politics of the party that leads the coalition. And our ambition has to be, whatever else it is, to make sure that, after next year’s Assembly Elections, Ieuan Wyn Jones is not the Deputy First Minister but Ieuan Wyn Jones is the First Minister and that Plaid Cymru is the party that leads whatever coalition we have.

"Nobody believes that that’s going to be an easy task. No doubt Labour will say, as that always do when elections come along, “Vote Labour and keep the Tories out”. Well, Wales voted Labour in May and now we’ve got the Tories in. And, if anybody ever wanted a brutal lesson in political treachery, it’s those thousands of decent people who were conned into voting Lib Dem in Wales in the last general election. They won’t fall for it next time.

"No doubt Labour will try, “Well you’ve got to vote for us as a party. We know we’re rubbish, but the Tories are even worse”. Now, can you imagine that as a battle cry for political inspiration? You start off by saying, “We’re rubbish, but we’re the best of a bad lot”. Well, we can do better than that. It doesn’t even work in practice. They might even try, “Vote for us and oppose the Tory cuts”. Well, we all know what the reality is. The cuts are coming and they would be coming whatever the stripe of the London government. If its Tories or Labour, Wales would be facing those cuts.

"The real question is why Labour did so little for Wales when they could have done something about it in their 13 consecutive years of office. Look at the state of the Welsh economy. Investment down. Enterprise down. Innovation down. Little wonder that our national wealth is down even from where it was 12 years ago when we first won Objective 1 status for Wales.

"Economic inactivity, the curse of modern Wales, is as bad now as it was 10 years ago when the Assembly was created and as bad now as it was 20 years ago under the Tories. We’ve had a decade of increased welfare spending but nothing has been done to prepare us for the storm that we now face. Labour’s legacy of failure has made us even more vulnerable to the cuts to come. Because we in Wales depend, like no-one else in Britain, on the public purse, and that is where the cuts will bite deepest. And, forget the propaganda, it’s not going to be cuts on bankers or cuts on bureaucrats. It’s going to be cuts on teachers and cuts on nurses and it’s our patients and our children who will pay the price of Labour’s failure. Labour’s crocodile tears... there’s a lot of unanswered questions that we have to ask them time and time again . After all those years of government in London and in Cardiff, why did you leave us vulnerable to the Tories? Why did you leave us vulnerable, at the bottom of almost every economic and social league table? Why didn’t you sort out a fair funding formula when you had the chance? You had a Labour government in Cardiff, you had a Labour government in London and , if you believe the Labour government in London, they were awash with money and, for ten years, despite all the claims, despite all the evidence, despite all the arguments and all the debates, Labour refused to move.

"And now, less than six months after the election, they want to position themselves as the champion of reform. Well, if anybody buys that I’m afraid they will have the same sort of awakening that those thousands of people had when they were conned into voting Lib Dem at the last election.

"The worst thing, after all the opportunities, was the failure to create a proper parliament. And, again, we’ll see the positioning. We’ll now see Labour saying we need a parliament to defend ourselves against the Tories. The time to create a parliament, to defend yourselves against the Tories is when you’re in power and you’ve got a majority on the floor of House of Commons of over 100 and you can get any piece of legislation that you want through the House of Commons to create a proper parliament for Wales, if only you’re prepared to stand up to the sceptics in the Labour Party in Wales who are too frightened at the loss of your own jobs to want to see a proper parliament of our own here in Cardiff.

"Now, as a result of those failures, we have been bequeathed a dependency culture in Wales – nearly 30% of people in Caerffili County Borough Council, for example, who are living in economic inactivity. And a dependency culture could be a death knell for any nation with ambition and with aspiration.

"Nobody should want anybody to live in a cocoon of wrap-around health and social care, because that denies the needs of men and women to make their own choices and the rights to fashion their own lives of learning and work and to take responsibility for their own lifestyles and the legacies that they leave for their children.

"Plaid has the courage to say that, of course we need properly funded services, and that must go hand in hand with developing enterprise and building up personal responsibility. As a species, millions of years of evolution have hard-wired us. We want to explore. We want to invent. We’ve created industry, science and technology, food production , manufacturing, communications, all on a world-wide scale. We’ve created languages, lifestyles, politics, culture, sport , music, art, drama, literature, poetry. And that’s why we have global diversity, with the richness that it brings, if we had the sense to learn to value it.

"The more passionate that we are about our own history, our own culture, the more likely we are to understand and value other people because we know why they cherish their own history and their own culture. And we must understand the way that we relate with people right throughout the world, with shared ambitions for a world where we can put to one side the jealousies and the rivalry that lead to war and famine and poverty.

"Now, the achievements of men and women haven’t been created by governments, they haven’t been created by kings and queens.... Individuals have done these things. Individuals have done these things because we’re motivated. As people we all have our own motivation. We have our own personal needs. And Plaid has the courage to say, take responsibility and create a society which cherishes your culture, which respects diversity, wherever it is, and challenges the potential of all people to fulfil their lives. Plaid has the courage to say, let’s end the dependency culture. We don’t need to seek solutions elsewhere or to blame all our ills on other people or other institutions. How many times have you heard it said, “They should do something about it”, when people are describing a problem. “’They’ should do something about it”. That’s wrong. It’s not ‘they’, it’s ‘we’. We should do something about it. And only Plaid has the courage to say that, in this complex, competitive, interrelated world, decisions are best taken by the people most closely involved and as a nation we should take responsibility for our own affairs and draw down from Westminster the sovereignty to chart our own future.

"Now, let me just give you one example. In our old mining valleys, an area that I come from and know and love best, we‘ve got the greatest concentration in western Europe of poverty and deprivation, which is based on worklessness and poor health. 150 miles up the M4 we have the south-east of England, Europe’s richest region, sustained by one of the world’s richest cities. Now, what logic is there that says you have to have the same set of rules for both of those regions? They couldn’t be more different. And yet you have the same policies for the economy , for expenditure, for finance, for regulation, for encouraging enterprise. Who believes that a set of rules designed to meet the overheated and overcrowded south-east of England has the sensitivity or the ability to tackle the deep-seated problems in our mining valleys? There is no logic, there’s no argument, there’s no economic or financial argument, which says that those immense differences of geography, of economy, of society, can be dealt with by the same regime. But, as long as we lack the political clout, we can’t do anything about it.

"We have a vision of our nation which is based on its own right to democracy and self-determination. Not just for its own sake, important though that is, but for the sake of the sort of Wales we want to see."

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