By Dave Reid
Mark Drakeford, a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, has been elected as leader of Welsh Labour and will be elected as First Minister next week.
Of the three candidates for First Minister Mark would be considered the most left wing – he supported Jeremy Corbyn in the first ballot for Labour leader. The other two candidates, Baroness Eluned Morgan and Vaughn Gething, are thinly disguised Blairites. Most activists have welcomed his election as “a step in the right direction”. But it remains to be seen how much of a change it will be from the era of Blair-lite Carwyn Jones.
Drakeford put forward a number of policies that workers would welcome. For example he promised to ensure that any contractors bidding for Welsh government work conformed to ethical employment practices and to end ‘holiday hunger’ by providing school meals to children in school holidays. But the big question is what steps will be taken to fight to end austerity in Wales?
Drakeford’s record as a Welsh minister does not inspire much hope that they will be big steps, if any. For two years he has been the finance minister who has implemented the biggest ever cuts to Welsh public services. Prior to that he was the health minister who applied serious cuts when he re-organised hospital services including the infamous South Wales Programme. To really improve public services and to start to tackle the scandal of one-third of Welsh households needing universal credit a serious strategy would have to be adopted to fight the austerity being imposed by the pitifully weak Tory government in Westminster.
With Theresa May clinging to power by her fingernails and with the example of the ‘yellow vests’ forcing the government in France to retreat it has never been a better time for a genuinely radical Welsh government to begin the struggle to reverse austerity. Thus far, Mark Drakeford as finance minister has continued the Welsh Labour policy of tamely implementing the cuts on behalf of the Tories – about £2.5B in real terms since 2010. This year education and schools are being targeted for serious cuts.
If Mark were to put forward a strategy of refusing to carryout the cuts, use the reserves and borrowing powers of the Welsh government and local authorities to keeps services going and mobilise working class people in Wales to demand funding for services he would gain a huge response that would rock the Tories on their heels. The useable reserves of Welsh councils alone amount to £1.4B. The Welsh government should also demand that a Corbyn-led UK government would reimburse any governments or councils that refused to implement the Tory cuts
And Mark should withdraw the threat to impose a social care levy on working people in Wales. The social care crisis has arisen because of privatisation and austerity. But the Welsh Labour government has decided to tackle it by taxing working people in Wales with a regressive social care levy that will put an even greater burden on living standards while not solving the problem.