Mark Drakeford calls for ‘home rule’ for Wales in Labour conference speech

Welsh Labour Leader Mark Drakeford has called for home rule for Wales to allow it to “take ownership of its own destiny.”

The First Minister delivered the keynote speech at Welsh Labour’s virtual spring conference today.

The speech comes after a year of constitutional rows with the UK Government and rising support for Welsh independence amongst Welsh Labour voters.

The speech also arrives just a few months before the Senedd elections, scheduled for May 6th.

Drakeford’s pitch for Welsh Labour to be re-elected referred to the “practical socialism” of Welsh Labour and harkened to the coalfields and rugby fields that characterise the “social solidarity” he believes drives Wales.

The First Minister called for social and environmental justice and described an urgent need to tackle the climate crisis. He also hailed Wales record as the country with the third highest recycling rates in the world.

Drakeford claimed that only his team had been “tested in the fire of experience.”

Unsurprisingly, other parties don’t see the situation in the same way.

Welsh Conservative Leader Andrew RT Davies said: “We are in the grip of a pandemic and Labour’s priorities are all wrong.

“The First Minister is a man without a plan and at a time when families, workers and businesses are crying out for a roadmap out of lockdown, his priority is pandering to the separatists and undermining Britain.

“Labour’s sole focus should be on protecting people’s jobs and rebuilding the Welsh economy but, as we have seen so many times over the past 20 years, all they will do is take Wales backwards.”

Will voters sick of the status quo put their faith in the party that has led Wales for more than 20 years?

Analysis, by Seb Bench

This wasn’t the typical conference speech by a party leader just months ahead of a Senedd election.

Keynote speeches like this are usually delivered to conference halls full of the party faithful ready to clap every scripted line.

Instead, Mark Drakeford talked to an empty room in a speech broadcast on Facebook live as part of a virtual conference.

Drakeford has become used to speaking to virtual audiences over the past year. Given his lower-key style compared to his predecessors as Welsh Labour Leaders, the setting suited him well.

At times the speech felt like an uneasy coalition of Drakeford the First Minister and Drakeford the Welsh Labour leader.

One moment we heard the same lines on Coronavirus from the First Minister we’ve heard him deliver on Fridays standing behind a Welsh Government podium; the next a stump speech making the case for his party’s re-election.  

Drakeford is less natural at switching between the two roles than his predecessors.  

The Welsh Labour Leader’s pitch to voters is a risky one. Will voters in seats like Bridgend and Wrexham that voted for the Conservatives and rejected Jeremy Corbyn in 2019 embrace “practical socialism?”

Drakeford called for voters’ support to uproot the status quo but will those voters sick of the status quo really want to put their faith in the party that has led the Welsh Government for more than 20 years?

Drakeford is relying on Labour’s loyal support in Senedd elections continuing this year.

Will voters see today’s call for ‘home rule’ for Wales help by shore up support of ‘indy-curious’ Welsh Labour voters? Will it serve as an olive branch to Plaid Cymru voters, or be seen as a rebuke to the Conservative UK Government?