Lord Whitelaw, Margaret Thatcher’s loyal deputy, once denounced those who ‘went around the country stirring up apathy’. Sir Keir Starmer has been brilliantly effective at stirring up apathy. ‘This isn’t just rhetoric,’ he declared in his speech to the Resolution Foundation this week. Rhetoric? If only. The turgid flow of banalities delivered in a whining monotone were nothing of the sort. Tedious, unthreatening, lacking in substance. That was the genius. Conservatives find nothing to be frightened of. They will probably not be inspired to switch over to voting Labour. Labour doesn’t need them to. If massive numbers of disillusioned Conservatives feel it is safe to abstain then Labour will triumph. This scenario is firmly on course to transpire. With their cunning strategy of dullness, Labour is set to sweep the country.
‘How much worse could they be?’ will be the key question at the next General Election muttered across countless kitchen tables. The Conservatives still have time to buck up – to show they believe in something and have a clear direction for the country. But they also need to offer a credible warning to people that a Labour Government would be damaging. This was not a difficult message when Jeremy Corbyn was Labour’s leader. It is now more challenging.
The answer is to talk about Wales. The devolution settlement means that Labour is responsible for key public services there due to their control of the Welsh Assembly. Labour’s record is dire. The evidence is so strong it is hard to deny. Sir Keir and the UK Labour Party would lack credibility if they attempted to do so. But they can’t denounce their Welsh comrades either.
Speaking at the Welsh Labour Conference last year, Sir Keir was positively gushing, ‘Here in Wales, a Welsh Labour government is the living proof of what Labour in power looks like. How things can be done differently and better. Every day you demonstrate the difference Labour makes. A blueprint for what Labour could do across the UK.’
This week we had international rankings for education. It’s a widely respected measure from the OECD called the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Under the Labour Government in 2009, we were 25th, 27th and 16th for reading, maths and science. Now, we are 13th, 11th and 13th. David Thomas has argued convincingly on this site that these improvements were not a fluke – they are attributable to Conservative school reforms.
I say ‘we’ by which I mean England. The story in Wales is very different – 33rd place for reading, 33rd place for maths, 34th place for science.
Labour also has responsibility for the NHS in Wales. Last month, Rishi Sunak declared, ‘In Wales, more than 70,000 people are waiting longer than 18 months for treatment, whereas in England, thanks to our efforts, we have virtually eliminated 18-month waits.’ There are plenty of other stats showing worse outcomes in Wales. This has been the case for some years. David Cameron, when he was Prime Minister, used to taunt Ed Miliband with them.
There are other issues that could be raised. Since September the Labour Government has reduced the default ‘national’ speed limit in built-up areas throughout Wales, from 30mph to 20mph. This has proved unpopular and damaging to the economy. Would Labour do the same in England?
The average Council Tax, at Band D, in England is £2,065. In 2010 it was £1,439. So that’s an increase of 43%. Quite bad enough you might think. But at least in England, there has been the protection against excessive increases by the requirement for a referendum to approve the increase – which councils know they would lose. In Wales, the Council Tax has increased by two thirds over the same period as that protection is not in place. If the same had happened in England a Council Tax bill would be a quarter more. Over £500 a year for the average household. Would Labour adopt their Welsh policy for England and punish our Council Taxpayers too?
Then we have the woke excesses. The Welsh Government’s Anti-Racist Action Plan Welsh Government’s Anti-Racist Action Plan applies critical race theory to the public sector in Wales. That is the false and divisive theory are white people are automatically racist and privileged.
Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, has said, ‘It wasn’t a tough decision for us to reject the divisive agenda of critical race theory. We believe, as Martin Luther King once said, people should be judged by the content of their character, not the colour of their skin’. What does Labour think? Would they apply in England as they have in Wales?
Then we have the Welsh Labour Government’s LGBTQ+ Action Plan which meant they ordered public buildings to fly flags celebrating asexual and “aromantic” people. Will this be applied in the rest of the UK?
Housing is another area of concern. Labour in England talks of easing planning restrictions to increase supply. But in Wales, they have shown an addiction to red tape. The Welsh Government abolished the right to buy for council tenants. They are proposing rent controls. The Welsh Government’s Welsh Housing Quality Standard 2023, according to the Labour MP Sir Chris Bryant, ‘has raised the benchmark that rental properties have to meet in a way that many Rhondda properties cannot meet’. He says, ‘Bedrooms now must meet a minimum space requirement. As most properties in the Rhondda were built long before these regulations were in place, bedrooms in several properties are too small, making it illegal to rent them out and impossible or prohibitively expensive to alter.’
Younger voters in England hoping a Labour Government would mean that renting and buying will be less of a struggle could be in for a shock if the same approach is applied that has been seen in Wales.
The odd swipe in Parliament is not enough. The Conservatives must bang on about Wales. It must be a central thrust of their campaigning from now on. Labour is vulnerable as they have no answer to it. All they do is try and ignore the charges. The task is to make it impossible for them to do so.
Click here to subscribe to our daily briefing – the best pieces from CapX and across the web.
CapX depends on the generosity of its readers. If you value what we do, please consider making a donation.