Labour's intentional inactivity



Why is Labour refusing to take action on the economy at a time when Wales needs the Welsh Government more than ever?

On the 12th October 2011, the latest unemployment figures for Wales emerged from the Office for National Statistics. They show that 9% of the people of our nation are now out of work – a drastic increase on the previous data, which includes a severe jump in youth unemployment. In fact almost 1 in 4 of 16-24 year olds is out of work.

While certainly shocking, these figures did not come as a complete surprise. Economic indicators have highlighted the worsening plight of our economy, exacerbated by the turmoil in the Eurozone area following the political crisis in Greece.

Growth figures for the UK economy (there are no separate figures published for Wales) have been revised sharply downwards. Most commentators expect the economy to grow 1% this year and 1.6% in 2012.

All this demonstrates the damaging impact of the growing crisis in the global economy on Wales. Whilst this is a global scenario and has no roots here in Wales, we have suffered and will continue to suffer from its effects.

The challenge therefore is one for governments at all levels to do what they can to help. Each government will want to help its people, its businesses, its communities – indeed do all it can to shield all under its influence from the economic conditions.

So what has the new Welsh Government done since Labour decided to go it alone in May? The answer to that question is disturbingly simple – nothing.

During almost every full session of the National Assembly, Plaid Cymru AMs can be heard banging the same drum. When will this Labour government bring forward plans to help the economy, or workers, or businesses or communities during the economic crisis? Where is Plan B?

The level of inactivity is astounding and has to raise serious questions about what exactly this Labour government is playing at.

For the Labour Government to keep blaming the coalition at Westminster for all our ills is simply not good enough. Yes the Tories and Lib Dems are cutting public spending too fast and too soon. But that does not mean that the Welsh government is totally powerless to help.

During the One Wales government era, Plaid Cymru ministers did respond to the economic crisis that followed the credit crunch. We swiftly brought forward urgent measures to help businesses, workers, and families who were all struggling at that time.

Capital projects were brought forward, we introduced ProAct to help people keep their jobs and persuaded the European Commission that convergence money could be used to keep people employed. We also called in the banks to try to get them to lend to SMEs. We called Economic Summits to bring people together and share ideas.

Given that we know what can be done by the Welsh government, I return to my original question – why is Labour refusing to do anything?

The answer is, in my view, a damning indictment of Labour’s attitude towards government in Wales.

Labour has clearly decided to sit back, let the economic crisis do its worst here in Wales, just so that they can then point the finger at the UK Government. They will try to avoid doing all that a Welsh Government could do to help people during the crisis because they seem to care more about their on-going tribal battle with the Tories than they do about people’s lives.

To me, this is the most heinous of political sell-outs. Labour is treating people as worthless pawns in a political game of one-upmanship with their rival UK parties.

I can think of no other reason why a government would sit on its hands, refuse to act, and allow the crisis to take such a toll on the people of Wales.

So what does this say about the state of politics in Wales today?

Labour’s attitude over recent months has shown that the UK parties will quite happily sacrifice what’s best for Wales, if it will enable them to land a significant blow on their opponents. And recent Tory actions would signal a similar attitude.

The Tories have simply reverted to type. Their economic policy is determined by growth patterns in the South East of England. They have never really believed in regional policy. As in the 1980s and 1990s, we must stand up, argue and oppose their plans, but that alone is no longer enough. Devolution has changed all that and the Welsh people have a right to expect action from the Welsh government.

So whilst Labour and the Tories fight out their traditional tribal battles, we must shift the Welsh Government’s thinking. It must now bring forward credible plans to alleviate the worst impact of the economic crisis. The debate around the draft budget could well force them to do just that.