Wales is quietly humiliating Starmer’s Labour

Keir Starmer with Vaughan Gething, first minister of Wales
Keir Starmer with Vaughan Gething, first minister of Wales - Labour Party/Labour Party

Even setting aside the crisis afflicting the Welsh first minister, Vaughan Gething, as he seeks to move on from his humiliating defeat in the vote of no confidence in the Senedd yesterday, devolution has not been kind to Labour.

Giving Scotland its own parliament resulted, within 16 years, in the removal of all but one of the party’s 40 MPs. And in Wales, where Labour has governed uninterrupted since 1999, none of its policy failures can be blamed on any other party.

If Sir Keir Starmer, during this general election, has appeared reluctant to promise that his party will do for the UK what it has done for Wales, it is only because such a promise would sound more like a threat.

It is noticeable that, in the House of Commons, whenever the Prime Minister or any of his Cabinet colleagues cites the state of the NHS in Wales as a charge against the official opposition, Labour rarely rises to the bait. This is probably wise: the last thing Starmer needs is to draw attention to his party’s record in the only part of the country where it has complete control over the health service.

In Scotland, the opposition parties regularly belittle SNP ministers over their incompetent handling of the NHS (one in seven Scots currently languish on waiting lists of one type or another). But in Wales, it is Labour ministers who are in the crosshairs. The land – and party – of the sainted Nye Bevan, post-war founder of the NHS, has handed the Conservatives a rare opportunity to claim that they, not Labour, are the more worthy guardians of the health service.

Waiting lists are longer than in neighbouring England, while tens of thousands of Welsh citizens continue to cross the border to be treated there. Are matters any better in other policy areas? Hardly.

In Scotland, the failure of the SNP administration has been broadcast far and wide, with the publication of international school metrics finally killing off the historical reputation for educational excellence it enjoyed before devolution. In Wales it’s even worse, with OECD research placing it at the very bottom of the league tables in reading and maths across the UK.

The picture doesn’t get any rosier for Gething or Starmer in key economic areas. Growth in Wales under Labour has been weaker than any other area of Britain, perhaps, at least in part, because of the Welsh government’s determination not to build much-needed roads. It has sought to appease environmental campaigners by opposing the M4 Relief Road and improvements on the A55.

And the administration insists that future road projects must not increase carbon emissions or increase the number of cars on the road. The problem is that those factors are two key conditions of economic growth, and Labour in Wales has turned its face against such a prospect.

Crime, too has risen faster than in neighbouring England. Now, defenders of Labour’s record might feel tempted to resort to the ever-reliable (though somewhat cynical) excuse that, if it weren’t for devolution, services in Wales would be even worse than at present. But that’s hardly an election-winning slogan.

Of course, one of the factors involved in Labour’s poor record of government is an arrogant assumption that no other party is ever likely to displace them in the Senedd, and they may be right. But that’s not good news for the Welsh themselves.

It would be wrong to suggest, however, that Welsh Labour are bereft of plans to create new jobs across the border. It plans to increase the number of Senedd members by about 50 per cent, from the current 60 to over 90. When everything else is going so badly, when the economy is being throttled, schools are failing their pupils and the NHS is a national laughing stock, more politicians is the obvious answer.

For all these reasons, we should not be surprised that Sir Keir Starmer is remaining tight-lipped about what his party’s record in government means for a future Labour administration at Westminster. In fact, the last thing he needs is to be reminded of Labour’s unbroken record of government in Wales and what that unbroken record has produced for the people of Wales.

Crucially, if Starmer doesn’t want to replicate the policies of Welsh Labour – and it’s a safe bet that he does not – what does that say about the Labour leader’s views on the beleaguered Gething and his fellow Welsh ministers?

Least said, soonest mended, as they say. But it is extraordinary that at this general election, the leader of the Labour Party finds himself so constrained in mentioning – or even defending – what Labour is doing in the only part of the country where the party has been elected to govern.