THE BLOG

Setting the Record Straight

31/03/2014 16:59 BST | Updated 31/05/2014 10:59 BST

Last weekend, the Labour Party gathered in the seaside resort of Llandudno for our annual Welsh conference. It is something of a cliché to describe the most recent such gathering as the most important in recent memory - but this conference really did matter.

Not only did it afford us the opportunity to hit back against the developing Tory War on Wales, we also made a number of exciting announcements that will change the way Wales is governed; change how the party in Wales elects future leaders, and which will improve the lot of businesses in Wales.

This week, the national newspaper of Wales was moved to say "this was not a conference of hot air, but of substance - and that's surely a cause for celebration."

In my speech on Saturday, I set the record straight on the National Health Service and our other public services in Wales. There has been a concerted campaign in recent weeks from the Conservative Party in London to talk Wales down - not just the government, or the Welsh Labour Party - but Wales itself. Bizarrely, the Tory Party Chairman, Grant Shapps, has actually admitted they are using Wales as part of their general election strategy. The cherry picking and misrepresenting statistics, particularly on health, is designed to give the impression that we face different problems to anywhere else in the UK. It is, of course, bunkum. The point is this, we are absolutely not afraid of scrutiny in the Welsh government - but we will not accept smears against us, or the NHS.

The idea that the Federal governments of the USA, Germany, or Australia would spend so much time actively attacking a state legislature for perceived political gain would seem absurd to most international readers. And yet, that is how David Cameron is now choosing to use his time in the mother of all Parliaments.

Unfortunately, this idea that Wales is somehow running behind England on key indicators plays well to the prejudices of a few London newsrooms. The true picture of what is going on here, is sadly being masked by the picture the Tories would like to paint of Wales. You wouldn't think for example that unemployment here in Wales is actually lower than Scotland, Northern Ireland - and yes, England too.

It shouldn't be a surprise to most readers to learn that Wales is a world leader in creative industries, which is why Pinewood recently chose to come here to set up their first studio outside London. A move that will bring 2,000 good new jobs. We are big on supporting small businesses too, which is why I have announced an innovative new rate relief scheme over the weekend, to give our high streets a much needed shot in the arm. And whereas elite universities balk at the qualifications changes being made by the Tories in England, Cambridge and Oxford are firm advocates of our reforms in Wales. The highly controversial tuition fees policy in England is now unravelling at pace, and our decision in Wales to protect our students from the huge hike in fees looks more prescient by the day.

How welcome then, following our detailed discussions in recent months, that Ed Miliband this weekend announced that Wales would be granted a 'reserved powers' model of devolution if Labour wins the 2015 General Election. This will give Wales parity with Scotland and end the tug of war between Wales and Westminster on everyday decisions we want to make on behalf of our people.

Whilst the Tories occupy number 10, there is no doubt that the attacks on Wales between now and the general election will intensify. What Ed Miliband and I have shown this weekend, is that we are ready for that - it is a fight we know we must win for the people of Wales.