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Posts Tagged ‘Ed Miliband MP’

It’s been a hectic day at Welsh Labour’s annual conference here in Llandudno. I’m not claiming this blogpost as comprehensive coverage of it, but it should give you a flavour of what it’s been like here.

By the way, Twitter comes into its own at occasions like this and that’s certainly been true today. Take this as a shameless invitation for you to follow me if you don’t already – my account name is adrianmasters84.

The big name of the day was party leader Ed Miliband who came to tell Welsh delegates to campaign for a Yes vote in the Assembly powers referendum (a message which wouldn’t have necessarily been welcomed here in the past but was this time  – with some exceptions) and to do all they could to win a majority for Labour in the Assembly election.

Interviewing Ed Miliband on Llandudno prom

But he said they should use May’s election to ‘send a message’ to David Cameron’s UK government – a message that has been announced loudly and clearly at this conference. I asked Mr Miliband if that didn’t undermine Welsh Labour’s attempts to fight the Assembly election on its own records. The election can be about both, he said but expect some criticism of that approach from the other parties in Cardiff Bay, particularly Plaid Cymru.

Ed Miliband’s speech was well-received in the hall and one or two senior politicians told me they thought he showed much improvement.

There was a little criticism of his decision to devote a portion of his speech to attack what he said was the UK Government’s plan to privatise large chunks of the NHS.

In particular his line that the plans amounted to taking the ‘N’ out of ‘NHS’ caused some consternation. “I thought we’d already done that with devolution,’ one delegate said to me.

That criticism of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley certainly made one person sit up: Andrew Lansley himself.

So incensed was he by the claims coming from Mr Miliband and in particular the location – talking about the English NHS in Wales – that he decided to take action. Since he was spending time on Anglesey it wasn’t much hardship to hop in the car to Llandudno.

He certainly made an impact – amongst journalists and politicians that I spoke to, none of us can recall as similar occasion when a Cabinet member, a Secretary of State, has turned up at the venue of another party’s conference to put their point of view.

A surprise appearance by Conservative Health Secretary Andrew Lansley at Labour's Welsh conference, Llandudno

In one of many jibes at the Labour leader, Mr Lansley told me he’s often staying with family in Wales. “I’m in North Wales more often than Ed Miliband,” he said.

We’d been so surprised by the call to say that the Health Secretary would like to meet us on the prom that we half-expected it to turn out to be a Labour stunt.

On the way we were scanning the distance to see if we could spot him. ‘There he is,’ I said – ‘Tall man, white haired. Oh no that’s Paul Murphy.’

When I told Mr Murphy this later he confessed he’d spotted the Health Secretary on the other side of the road and, stopping in his tracks, said to his assistant, ‘That looks like Andrew Lansley. It can’t be. Why would Andrew Lansley be in Llandudno?’

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This weekend has seen yet another series of pronouncements from journalists and politicians on the future of the Liberal Democrats as an independent party. Here’s a round-up:

Labour leader Ed Miliband is appealing to disaffected Lib Dem supporters, an appeal that follows one earlier this week by the First Minister Carwyn Jones , urging Lib Dems to ‘come home’ to Labour. And the week before, unveiling a Welsh Lib Dem councillor who was defecting to Labour, Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain said there was ‘an open door’ to party members who felt betrayed by their party leaders.

In this week’s Spectator, James Forsyth reckons that UK politics is returning to a two-party model, arguing that the very construction of the House of Commons chamber makes it almost inevitable. In the same magazine Nick Cohen claims that ‘the two-party system is beginning to reassert itself.’

Forsyth’s prediction goes something like this. The party’s right-wing, sometimes known as Orange-Bookers,  are ‘the political descendants of the Peelites’ and no longer hostile to David Cameron’s socially liberal Conservative party. Forsyth says it’s easy to see these ‘modern-day Peelites’ returning to the Tory fold.

Social Democrat Lib Dems, Forsyth claims, will head back to the Labour party, like the Welsh defector John Warman I mentioned earlier. It might also mean something that there are reports that the former SDP leader David Owen has been in contact with Ed Miliband.

Meanwhile there was a heated discussion on this morning’s Week in Westminster programme on Radio 4 between Conservative MP Mark Pritchard and the Liberal Democrat MP Chris Davies about allegations that the Conservatives had held back in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election to give their coalition partners a better chance of winning.

Mark Pritchard said that he was in favour of such arrangements between the two parties in Westminster by-elections although only for as long as the coalition lasts and not in Welsh Assembly or Scottish Parliament elections.

Chris Davies rejected that out of hand. If Lib Dem leaders even talked about making that sort of agreement, he said, it would ‘split the party.’

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The Labour leader Ed Miliband has become the biggest political name so far to weigh in on the forthcoming referendum on strengthening the Assembly’s powers.

He’s emailed Labour members and supporters in Wales, urging them to campaign for a Yes vote on March 3rd and telling them to put aside any fears about the referendum being about independence by the back door. He says devolution has strengthened the union not weakened it.  The full text of his email is at the bottom of this post.

I met Mr Miliband in his Westminster office earlier to ask him why he was weighing in. Was it, I wondered, an admission that there are significant numbers of Labour members who fear their leadership in Cardiff has become too caught up in what they would term a Nationalist agenda.

He acknowledged there had been doubts but he said,

I actually think those dbouts have lessoned over time as they’ve seen the performance of the Assembly under Rhodri Morgan and now under Carwyn Jones…

And he went on to say,

Remember all those people who said, ah, it’s just going to lead to greater calls for independence. I think the opposite has been true because it’s shown that we can exist as a United Kingdom with Wales making its own decisions about its own affairs in devolved policy areas.

There are still though, Labour members who are deeply distrustful of devolution and aren’t persuaded that the Assembly needs more powers.

And there are those who may be willing to give further devolution a go but wouldn’t be seen dead taking part in a cross-party campaign, particularly if that would mean appearing alongside Plaid campaigners or worse, as far as they’re concerned, Conservatives.

But the Yes campaign needs Labour support. Hence the separate Labour Yes campaign and hence today’s encouraging words about the union from the UK party leader. Labour leaders – and some in the other parties – privately concede it’s the only way of getting some Labour members to vote let alone deliver leaflets.

His intervention is also the biggest confirmation yet of something that we in Wales have seen happening over the last six or seven months, which is Labour (or at least its Westminster-based part) changing its tune when it comes to a referendum. No more suggestions that a Yes vote is not achievable nor that the current system needs more time to bed in.

Why the change? Ed Miliband’s email spells it out:

Now more than ever you can see what a difference Labour makes in power as we contrast the decisions being made by our Labour-led Assembly, with those being made by the UK Tory-Lib Dem Government.

Put more cynically, Labour members should support a stronger Assembly as a means of strengthening a Labour-led government in Cardiff Bay.

This is the full text of Ed Miliband’s email:

Dear friends,

On March 3rd Wales will vote in a referendum on the Assembly’s powers. I look forward to working with Welsh Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones to deliver a “yes” vote for Wales, so that the Welsh Assembly can become more democratic, and more accountable to the people of Wales.

 Please join me and Welsh Labour in saying “yes” in this important referendum.

Devolution was delivered by Labour, and it is Labour that has ensured devolution has delivered for the people of Wales.

Now more than ever you can see what a difference Labour makes in power as we contrast the decisions being made by our Labour-led Assembly, with those being made by the UK Tory-led Government.

You only have to look at the recent Assembly draft budget – the maintaining of free bus passes and the stance on university tuition fees – to see Welsh Labour and devolution in action. This is what Labour is all about: getting our priorities right, even in difficult times.

The old thinking that told us the choice was between the break-up of the United Kingdom, or Scotland and Wales run from London, has been banished forever. Devolution has not weakened the union; it has strengthened the bonds between us.

A “yes” vote in this referendum on extending the Assembly’s powers will allow laws that effect only Wales to be made here in Wales. By campaigning for a “yes” vote you can help create more efficient and cost effective government, and give Wales a stronger voice.

A “yes” vote also means that Welsh Labour’s policies can become law more quickly and that can only be a good thing for our communities.
Nothing can be taken for granted, but I am confident that with Carwyn’s leadership a “yes” vote can be delivered.

Please join us now, and I look forward to seeing you on the doorstep in the new year.

 Ed Miliband

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