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The Forgotten Speech

Kier Starmer gave a speech last Sunday to the Welsh Labour Conference. It was broadcast live by a few news channels and has had some coverage in the papers but never really got enough traction. That seems to be the nature of debate about political renewal, for some reason the media doesn't want to talk about it, even though in my view, our broken politics is the biggest crisis the country currently faces. Why? Because until that happens we will never genuinely deal with the many other issues we face.

The main point of focus in the speech for me was the commitment to devolution, which was a repeat of a pledge made previously, but was repeated in an extremely robust way with a few examples of why it was desperately needed across the UK. I think the commitment is welcome and is an absolute step in the right direction. We are an incredibly centralised state and it does not make sense for Local Government to have to go cap in hand to the Treasury for every piece of infrastructure funding they need (aside from contributions from developers) or to wait for the right piece of national policy or for a funding opportunity to arise to enable them to deliver on issues that may have been a priority for them for some time. However, I have two major concerns.

  1. This is not the first time such pledges have been made - over the last few decades both the Conservatives and Labour have made pledges about devolution without ever delivering. Combined Authorities and elected Mayors are the closest we have come, but even they are wholly dependent on Government funding. I am, by the way, pretty sure that the commitments to devolution were made with good intent, but that the Treasury find ways of scuppering the plans to try and maintain their central control.

  2. What does Kier proposing to devolve to. Devolving to existing structures just does not make sense. There is a danger that devolution will happen into inappropriate structures and make it really difficult to undo when the mistake is recognised. Far better too make sure we have the structures right first so that we can be assured that there is the best possible chance that the money is well spent.

My view about the next General Election is that if, like me, you consider that political renewal is the number one priority in our country, you should vote for the party that comes closest to delivering a vision for reform - or to spoil your ballot if none of them comes close enough. The commitment to devolution from the Labour Party is a step in the right direction, but it certainly does not go far enough.


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