Politics

Interview with First Minister Mark Drakeford

Mark Drakeford has been the First Minister since December 2018. Source: Steve Davidson.

By Lowri Pitcher

On Thursday, October 3, First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford came to Cardiff University to hold a talk about devolution in Wales. Before the talk, Gair Rhydd met with Mark to discuss his views on devolution, the most recent Brexit developments, the rhetoric used in politics, and to find out what he’d consider to be his favourite pub meal!

Read our interview below:

Why it is important that we have devolution in Wales?
Because it gives us control over our domestic affairs so that things that apply only to people in Wales, are decided upon only by people who live in Wales. It’s that basic self-determination principle.

Why is Welsh Labour advocating for us to remain in the EU, when it seeks to have more powers devolved from Westminster to have control? Are Wales’ interests better represented in the EU than in Westminster?
We believe Wales’ future is better off inside the United Kingdom and the European Union. I don’t think that we think of the two things in conflict. Wales is better off inside the EU because there is a common rulebook which everybody has to agree to and where that allows trade with our nearest and most important market to happen freely in a way that is advantageous to Welsh businesses and rural communities.
But remaining in the EU is more than an economic argument, it is about identity. Wales is a European nation, we speak the oldest language in the whole of Europe. We should see ourselves as a welcoming and outgoing nation that engages with the rest of the world and our membership of the European Union allows that.

What other powers would you like to see devolved in the future?
I don’t think the devolution journey is at an end, i think there are ways of deepening and widening devolution. The most obvious place to go next is into criminal justice. We don’t have any criminal justice devolved in wales yer it is completely devolved in Scotland. I myself am a bit of a gradualist in that i think it is important to make a start and i believe and have believed for a long time that youth justice and probation service should be devolved as a start. We would absorb those responsibilities first and then ask there the next step starts.

The things you need to do to be an effective youth or probation officer depend on things that are already entirely devolved, you’re working with a young persona and you are looking for somewhere to live for them – the housing authority is the local authority and that’s devolved. You’re looking for substance abuse or mental health services for that person – the health service is devolved. You’re looking for them to go into education or get training – those things are devolved. Everything that you need to be a successful worker in those services is already devolved. I think those services would be more effectively tun if were aligned with devolved responsibilities. That would be a start of the justice devolvement journey.

Staying on the topic of Welsh Assembly politics, how realistic are your chances of retaining power in the next assembly elections?
Politics is very very volatile at the moment and it’s almost impossible to predict what politics will be like in 18 months’ time. Brexit provides such a dominant context and one way or another Brexit will be different 12 months from now; how we go into the next assembly election and what people will think about the next election will be shaped in that context.
No snapshot poll shows very much. What is true is that we must earn every vote that we get. I say to my colleagues all the time that not a single vote should be taken for granted.
Even in those areas where Labour has been returned for years, I say that everytime we go back and ask for people to vote for us again we have to persuade people that there is a good reason for doing it. People no longer think ‘I’ve always voted this way so I’m just going to carry on’ modern politics doesn’t work that way.

A lot of voters in South Wales voted to leave the EU, do you think that the Brexit Party stands to challenge Labour in these seats during the next assembly election?
Brexit is a deeply divisive issue for all involved. For all who voted to leave the EU, I think the 17 elections showed us that there are many other reasons why people voted Labour. Brexit is not the only thing on voters’ minds. A lot of my colleagues reported that knocking on doors over summer, people don’t come to talk about Brexit. People talk to you about why they can’t park their car on their street or when their street was last cleaned, they ask why their children can’t find a place to live. Thie things that people talk to us about are things that matter in their everyday lives. In 2017 Labour talked about genuine alternatives to the Conservative government and this had a real resonance with voters. If we can push past the Brexit conversation which is difficult then we can have those conversations with people. Those people are more about Labour than leave.

On the subject of Brexit, what is your opinion on Boris Johnson’s new Brexit proposals?
I’m afraid I’m more fearful of them than Mrs May’s. We gave a cautious welcome to the Chequers proposals that caused Boris Johnson to leave the cabinet, an agreement which he now describes in hyperbolic ways, despite some members of his cabinet having voted for them three times.

The reason why we were prepared to give a modest welcome to Mrs May’s proposals was that they allowed for dynamic alignment of the rights which the people of this country enjoy as a result of our membership of the EU, into the future. Employment rights, human rights, consumer rights, environmental rights are examples of those rights that we enjoy here at a more advanced level that we would have had otherwise. Mrs May signed up to the idea of dynamic alignment, workers in Wales would have gained when their European counterparts gained.

Mr Johnson is not in that position at all, he’s very keen to make a bonfire of all those protections. Part of his rowing back of the Northern Ireland backstop is to give him more freedom to pursue his idea of a deregulated UK in which the rights of ordinary people can be sacrificed in order to create a Singapore-on-stilts situation. For all those reasons, I think his proposals are worrying.

On the topic of Boris Johnson, do you think he should have called a general election when he was elected leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister?
There’s no constitutional necessity or constitutional history of that happening. There are various reasons why parties have changed leader while they are in power and there has been no need for a general election. You can argue that his position should have pushed him in that direction as he was the second PM to be elected in that way, as Mrs May didn’t call an election when she came into power. Also, the fact he came into power with such a particular one sided view of Brexit , testing that in a general election might have been good. But, you can’t say the rules require it as they don’t.

A lot of attention recently has been paid to the use of language used by MPs and the general public towards their politicians. What can be done about this?
We talk about the need for a kinder politics in the Assembly. I do think people should make the effort to play their own small part in that. For the most part, most people in politics are there because they’d like to make things better. They may have different views of how to do that but most people, there is a small number of exceptions, but vast majority of people I have met and know in all parties do the job they do because they are well motivated. Remembering that every now and then will be a good idea.
It’s also possible to disagree without being disagreeable. It is possible to have a clear disagreement with someone without that descending into the type of language that has become much more prevalent.
Also, social media encourages people to use that language so a step back would be a very good thing all round. It can only be done by individuals taking responsibility to try to do that. In the heat of the moment you end up being provoked, then you think if you’d had a couple of moments to think about it, you would have said it differently, but people should make the effort to conduct themselves politely.

What do you think about Leanne Wood being reprimanded for her comments on Twitter?
My view of all of that is this – the things that were said that Leanne was reacting to were disgraceful. If I were to fall out with anybody that’s the person I’d fall out with, the person who made those remarks. The substance of her remarks I agree with completely.

The Standards Committee found that the language she used wasn’t the language that should be used in the assembly. If you have a standards system and commitee you can’t pick and choose when you agree with them. If you have a system of rules and a way of enforcing them you can only have the integrity of that system if you agree to abide by those results whether you agree or not.

If you think the system is leading to the wrong results you should change the system and maybe the rules need to be looked at. While I have d a lot of sympathy for Leanne for the way she was treated and in the substance of her response; in the end I would have voted for the committee as i think the integrity of the system requires you to do that.

And finally, asking as a student newspaper, what would you say is your favourite pub meal?
Ohhh how interesting, well if I eat out it’s a treat and if I’m having a treat I’d probably have a burger.

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