Rhodri Morgan – 2009 Speech to Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Rhodri Morgan, the then First Minister of Wales, to the 2009 Labour Party conference on 27th September 2009.

Conference, I’ve had the privilege as Labour Leader in Wales, of addressing you since 2000, and today I’m doing so for the last time.

Over that decade of devolution, I’ve seen Wales grow enormously in confidence.

Learning the art of government.

Getting used to making our own decisions.

Moving away from the old culture of blaming others for anything that goes wrong.

We would not, and could not, go back to the old days of going on bended knee for help from the likes of William Hague and John Redwood – those figures from what now seems like the prehistoric past.

That era is over for ever and ever.

Finito.

Dead as a Norwegian blue dodo.

Dead as the Thatcher/Reagan era of ultra free-market economics which ended with the 2008 credit crunch.

What’s needed now is active, interventionist, strong government, helping people through the recession and re-equipping the country for the coming up-turn.

You don’t get that from the free marketeers.

Their only answer is – cue John Maples Tory Deputy Chairman  – ‘this recession must be allowed to run its course’.

What Labour is doing is to intervene for breakfast, for lunch, for tea and for supper, to shorten the recession and reduce the bad effects on ordinary peoples’ lives.

In Wales, that has meant a social partnership, getting trade union and business leaders, local government and the third sector, round a table to get a full understanding of where the shoe is pinching. Deciding what to do about it, so that Wales can be ready for the upturn.

From those summit meetings came the ProAct programme, paying employers to keep workers on their books, instead of making them redundant when orders are low.

But we pay our £4,000 per head in return for up-grading the skills of those employees on the scheme.

ProAct is saving thousands of jobs now and, even more important, it will prove its worth in saving thousands of future jobs because of those improved skills.

That’s creative government intervention for you.

Wales now has our own state-owned bank, Finance Wales, with a £150 million investment fund for small and medium enterprises.

I announced the first tranche of investments totalling £6 million in 37 companies last week.

Also last week, we launched a £105 million fund for our housing associations, mostly from the European Investment Bank, to take the place of the money they can’t get from the market because of the credit crunch.

Where the market fails, Labour steps in, creating thousands of desperately needed construction jobs and meeting our urgent need for new homes.

But active government doesn’t end with beating the recession.

Since I last addressed conference, we have rolled out to every nursery and infant school in Wales our new Scandinavian-style learn-through-play curriculum.

I have never known enthusiasm like it among all our early years teachers and learning assistants.

It’s the biggest investment of new money in education in Wales in decades and we will see the benefit in decades to come, shortening the long tail of educational under-achievement from which Wales has always suffered.

Ten years ago we wouldn’t have had the powers to break with a century of educational tradition in the UK and in any case, we wouldn’t have had the confidence to do it, even if we had.

Now this new curriculum for the 3 – 7 year olds is a fantastic example of inventive government using devolution to the full.

We don’t now teach the bended-knee, or the tug of the forelock, any longer in our posture and comportment classes!

So Conference, a word about the future. Wales’ worst kept secret – I’m not going to be with you next year as Welsh Labour Leader and I’ll be announcing, before too long, the exact details of how and when the election of my successor it going to take place.

Still, it’s the little things which say the time is coming to move on. Two weeks ago today, Julie and I were having a swim on Barry Island beach, taking advantage of our Indian summer.

There was a surf life-saving competition going on and as I’m swimming along, quite powerfully so I think – OK, I’m not Michael Phelps, but I was quite impressed with my powerful stroke – next thing I know there’s an inflatable boat alongside me, and there is Miss Baywatch Barry Island 2009 leaning over and saying, ‘I’m just checking that you’re alright sir’!

At least she said Sir, not Grandad!

It’s things like that which tell you, to get ready to hand the baton over to the next generation.

It just remains for me to thank the Labour Party for doing all the heavy lifting – to get devolution up and running 10 years ago, to strengthen our powers in 2006 and to give me the chance to have been First Minister of Wales.

The Devolution Decade has been the most important thing to happen to Wales since the industrial revolution.

All because of you.

All because of Labour.

And now we need to make sure the British people make the right choice next year.

This is not the time for a free-market obsessed party to take over.

It’s not time to make government smaller when there’s such a big job to do.

It’s a time for a Party that believes in the power of government to develop our public services and to generate the new technologies and the new jobs.

You only get that from one party – Labour.

So, two final messages for this conference.

First, to the whole of the Labour party in this hall and outside.

I know that we are in difficulty now. We have temporarily mislaid that magic recipe for blending the mushy peas of old Labour with the guacamole of new Labour.

Those difficulties will be temporary. We will find that recipe again soon.

Because when the country is in difficulties, the Government takes a hit – it always happens, but when the country is in difficulties, that is precisely when you need the intervention of a government that actually believes in intervention.

That means Labour.

Last, to all my Welsh Labour compatriots here:

Diolch yn fawr am eich ffydd a’ch cefnogaeth di-dor dros y ddegaid ddiwethaf.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for coming with me on this incredible journey over the past decade.

Your loyalty and support has enabled me to do what I’ve been able to do to lead Wales and establish Wales as a ‘Yes We Can’ country.

I know you will give the same support and loyalty to whoever takes the helm of leadership on after me.

While my Labour leadership in Wales may not have long to run, Labour’s role of leadership in Wales and in Britain certainly isn’t coming to an end.

When times are tough, when the future needs to be shaped for everybody’s benefit, Labour is the one party you can count on.