Wales politics

Welsh Labour manifesto sessions a 'testing' process

Carwyn Jones
Image caption Carwyn Jones held his first session in Gower, a seat Labour lost at the general election

The first minister has said he is prepared for an "uncomfortable" process of listening to voters' concerns as Labour plans for the assembly election.

At an open event in Gorseinon, Gower, Carwyn Jones promised a "fresh and exciting" manifesto for 2016 to answer claims the party had run out of ideas.

Labour lost Gower to the Tories at the general election in May after holding the seat for more than 100 years.

Some activists told Mr Jones the party was not listening to its grassroots.

The warning came on Friday as Welsh Labour held the first in a series of question-and-answer sessions open to the general public and party members.

"We want a fresh and exciting manifesto," Mr Jones said.

"To get to that point, you go through a testing process, sometimes an uncomfortable process in order to get there.

"That's how you end up with a good offer to people."

'Listening' urged

Image caption The first minister took questions on health, renewable energy, and Labour party structures

But Gareth Phillips, a Labour councillor from Bridgend, said party officials in Cardiff failed to heed warnings that Gower was under threat, preferring to focus campaign efforts on attempts to capture the Vale of Glamorgan from the Conservatives.

"You are not listening to grassroots activists," he told Mr Jones.

"Consultations are great, but they're only great if people are listened to. I don't think [Welsh Labour HQ] Transport House are listening - that's your starting point."

Mr Jones said later: "There is a need to change the party structure, that's true, but I don't think it causes us to lose elections."

The first minister was joined in Gorseinon by Deputy Culture Minister Ken Skates, who has been given the job of preparing the manifesto.

Ministers have defended a separate Welsh government "Carwyn Connect" tour against Tory claims that taxpayers are funding Labour's re-election campaign.

Analysis by Daniel Davies, BBC Wales political correspondent

"Our antenna broke," a Welsh Labour spin doctor says, reflecting on the general election.

In other words, Labour lost contact with the people and places who have traditionally kept its campaigns on track.

The outcome was that Labour not only failed to take ground from the Tories, it lost ground.

Take Gower, for example. A Labour campaigner there told me he went to the count on election night expecting to retain the constituency by about 1,000 votes.

Instead, the Conservatives won the seat - a seat Labour had held for more than 100 years - by just 27 votes.

The result surprised Labour. So, no surprises that Carwyn Jones and Ken Skates, the deputy minister writing Welsh Labour's 2016 manifesto, were in Gower today to hear what people have to say.

They're on the road to meet the public - not just Labour members - and make sure Labour's offer in 2016 matches voters' concerns.

It's a genuine listening exercise, we're told.

But we've heard that before. Didn't Ed Miliband say his party would hold millions of conversations with voters earlier this year?

And I remember the same spin doctor - he of the broken antenna - telling me in the run up to the 2011 assembly election that Labour really was consulting widely to deliver a fresh manifesto.

Will things be different this time?

The intention isn't just to learn lessons from the general election, but to convince the world that Labour wants to learn those lessons, even if it means locking horns with voters who think the Welsh government has made a hash of running public services.

There's no doubt the party's antenna needs repairing. Until it's working again, Labour can't be sure it's hit the bottom: it can't be sure the general election was as bad as it gets, or whether there's worse to come.

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