Carwyn Jones was interviewed last week by BBC School Reporters in Ceredigion. Here is the full interview:
Could the Grenfell disaster happen in Wales? We don’t think so, because it appears the cladding that was used on the towers is not cladding that is used in Wales. We have cladding around buildings, but it’s a different material that’s not flammable. But, we still have to make sure of that. So, there is a review taking place at the moment to look at cladding to make sure that we are not using anything that is dangerous. It doesn’t appears that something like Grenfell could happen in Wales, but we have to double check.
What made you want to be a politician? When I was your age, actually, there was a big strike in the coal fields. Mining, in those days, was a big industry. I grew up in Bridgend, there were three mines further North. My family were all from a village where there was a colliery, Abernant. I could see the effect that it was having on those communities. People were out of work for 9 months, no money. To my mind, I didn’t like the way they were treated afterwards or during the strike. So, that’s what got me interested in politics and it’s what took me to Labour politics. When I went to University, I studied law, so I was a lawyer for 10 years, a barrister. I had the opportunity to enter politics full-time, I’ve been there ever since.
How would you describe your ideology? Three things: fairness, justice, opportunity. I don’t like barriers being put in people’s way. I don’t like people being judged because of where they’re from or how they speak. I don’t like situations where people are not given the fullest opportunity to reach their potential. I think inequality has reached a real level, it’s now a real problem in our society. 40 years ago, Britain was far more equal than it is now, you didn’t have these massive disparities in income. That doesn’t help for community cohesion, that doesn’t help society.
What would your younger self have to say about your current political positions? Bear in mind, when I was my younger self, there wasn’t an Assembly. There wasn’t such a position as First Minister. I think my younger self would have looked forward to the position I’m in now. In politics, you know, you have to be in the right place at the right time – I was lucky in that sense. I’m in a job I’d have loved to have done. It’s not a job I’d want to do forever, becuase it’s a very high-pressure job. But, it’s a job I enjoy and I still enjoy it. While you still enjoy it, you can give it your all. If you start thinking, “ah, I’m a bit fed up of this now”, your enthusiasm starts to go and you can’t give the job your all and you need to. So, I think my younger self would have been surprised. Pleasantly, I hope.
In what way was being a barrister similar to being First Minister? How have the experiences you’ve gained enhanced your ability at being the First Minister? They’re quite different. They may seem the same, but they’re quite different. Being a barrister gives you the practise of speaking on your feet. But, I was doing that from a young age in chapel and school. That’s where I learnt to stand up and open my mouth, basically. So, standing up and making a speech has never held any fears for me. I was doing it when I was 5, or 6, years old.
Being caught is quite different because the tramlines in which you operate in court are far narrower than they are in politics. If you’ve got a judge asking you a question and you don’t know the answer, you can’t really flannel. You have to know the answer or be prepared to be told off at length in a public courtroom. That’s the way you learn in law.
In politics, it doesn’t quite work like that. If you’re asked a question, you can parry it far more easily than in law. The discipline law taught me was: know your facts and answer the question. What I try and do, especially in interviews, is if someone asks a question and it’s a yes or no question, I’ll say yes or no. It’s best to give the answer up-front and then explain it rather than try and talk around it. Most of the time I know the answer, not all the time.
Considering the recent More In Common campaign to remember Jo Cox…What is your favourite thing about each Welsh party Leader?
Andrew RT Davies is somebody who you can talk to, somebody you can sit down and chat to and we exchange pleasantries.
Leanne is somebody who is very committed, somebody who has worked her way up into politics and as a result is somebody who has has a lot of determination.
I work with Kirsty in Government. I’ve known Kirsty since ‘99, we both came in at the same time, so we know each other really well and we chat away about family.
Neil Hamilton. He is…[laughs]…easy to talk to. But, Neil has a background that is colourful, shall we say.
None of them, I would say, I can’t talk to. What happens in politics, especially in the Assembly because it’s so small, is that it’s a rare occasion when people don’t talk to each other across parties. People do it on a human level. Everyone accepts that once you’re in the chamber everyone tries to get one up on each other, that’s the nature of it. But, it doesn’t usually translate into personal animosity.
What are your thoughts on the Queen’s speech? There’s not much in it apart from Brexit. I can understand that, you know, Brexit is going to dominate things. It’s going to dominate 5 things for the next 10 years, not 2 but 10 years. What worries me about it is that I think there is a deliberate attempt to take powers away from the people of Wales and the people of Scotland. We will not support that in any way, shape or form.
Let’s take farming and fisheries, at the moment either in Brussels or in Cardiff. Nothing is done in London. Our view is, and we’re right on this legally, whatever is in Brussels now will come back to us, not via London. What they’re trying to do is to keep those powers in London and they decide how farming is shaped and how fisheries are shaped. That’s completely wrong. There may well be an occasion where we sit down and work on a common framework on how fisheries and farming works, but that should be done by agreement not them telling us what to do.
You said “membership of the single market is incompatible with the result last year” to CBI Wales. Yet, Chuka Umunna wrote in the Guardian that “Labour is clear: Brexit would be better with single market membership.” What is the Labour party’s position on Brexit?Access to the single market.
If you’re a member of the single market, you’ve got to be a member of the EU. On that basis you then have a say in the way the market operates. To be a member of the single market, you have to be in the EU and you then have a say in the way that market operates but you can have full access. If you’re an EEA or EFTA country, they have almost full access to the single market – so, they can sell the same way as we can at the moment. For our businesses, what I want to see is then being able to sell as they can now – no barriers, either in terms of tariffs or regulations – but we have to accept that we’ll have no control over how the market operates, the only way you can do that is if you’re in the EU. If you’re a business, it doesn’t make a difference. That’s what I want to see. I want it to be as seamless as possible. Member – no. Access to – yes. For most businesses it’s the same thing.
It is possible that Wales’ budget will be decreased after Brexit. How will you cope with this? We’ve made absolutely crystal clear that those who said that when we leave every penny will be protected, they have to do that. That means, for example, the £650 million that we get a year from the EU. To put that in context, our total budget is around about £16 billion, that’s a fair chunk.
If that money is not available, it makes it far harder to spend on things like transport projects. For example let’s look at the railway line here [the capmpaign connecting Aberystwyth and Carmarthen by rail], with that EU money there’s not much we can do. But, with a pot of money we can look at transport projects that otherwise we couldn’t take forward. So, the big difference is what does it mean for apprenticeships because their money pays for apprenticeships? What does it mean for some of the big building projects? What does it mean for for farming (£260 million a year comes into farming in Wales)?
If that money is not there, we can’t replace it. What we’ve said is that the UK government put the money to one side, make sure it’s distributed in the same wat as it is now and then over time we’ll all agree on how the money is paid out. But, that’ll take a long time as there’ll be battles within the UK as to who gets what.
After a seeing the positive reaction to many of the UK Labour policies, which if any should Welsh Labour pursue with its powers in the Senedd? Some of them, we’ve already done of course. There are some of them we can’t do without the extra money, if I’m honest.
We’ve already been ahead of the game when it comes to students, we’ve always had a tuition fees policy better than England and we will in the future. We can’t actually get rid of tuition fees because that would involve money coming to us from Whitehall and that money is not coming.
Some of the things we’d like to do in principle we can’t actually do unless there had been a Labour government in Westminster, actually providing us with the money to do it. Now, if there had been a Labour victory, would we have put Welsh students in a worse position than those in England? The answer to that is no, we wouldn’t have done that. But, unfortunately that money is not there so we have to carry on with what we’ve done so far, which is the new policy based on the Diamond Review.
The rest of it is very similar, much of what they were suggesting we’ve already done in Wales.
Do you support a Universal Basic Income? I think it’s an interesting concept. There are some countries that are looking at it today. I first saw it in the Green Party manifesto in 1983, that’s how old and sad I am! People thought it was a crackpot idea then, but now I think it’s an idea worth looking at. A lot of people would see it as money for nothing, it isn’t that way but it would take take a lot of explanation to the public. Yes, taxes would go up. But, if we’re looking at reducing inequality in our society, it’s one possibility. I’m open to the idea of seeing how we can explore that further on a UK basis, we couldn’t do it just in Wales.
I think I’m right in saying Canada has been looking at this recently, so it’ll be interesting to see how that turns out.
[Audience member: It would be kind of like Communism]…More or less the same, yes.
Studies of European Co-operatives show that Worker’s Co-operatives have many benefits, such as a smaller pay gap, workers retaining more of the businesses’ profits and that they last as long as other businesses – while giving more stable employment. Considering these benefits, what will the Labour government in the Senedd do to increase the number of co-operatives in Wales and support the ones we currently have? There’s an organisation called the Wales Co-operative Centre who we work with. Who have been looking at developing models with social enterprises – is the word that we use, and Co-ops are a part of that. There are lots of them but they’re quite small, helping them to grow. The biggest Co-ops in Wales, apart from the Co-op itself, are farmers’ supply Co-operatives, such as Amaethwyr Ceredigion, Amaethwyr Caerfyrddin and, technically, Derwen. What we don’t have are farmers’ selling Co-operatives, and that’s a weakness of farming to my mind, but for years I’ve been having this debate with them.
So, what we do with Co-operatives is not so much provide them with capital, it’s advice. We can’t run them on a day-to-day basis but give advice how to go about do it. We had a very successful Co-operative running Tower Colliery, our last pit, that worked very, very well, so people can see that mutual organisations work. The biggest Co-operatives are building societies, so the Principality is in some ways the biggest Co-operative in Wales. After the financial crash of 2007, all of the building societies that turned themselves into banks collapsed, without exception. But the ones that stayed as building societies are still there, so they’re far more durable than the financial institutions that turned themselves into banks.
Put these three things in order of your personal preference.
- An independent Wales
- A devolved Wales
- A non devolved Wales
Devolved Wales, independent Wales, non devolved Wales.
Do you support a Land Value Tax? It’s do with land banking isn’t it. We do have a problem in some parts of Wales, certainly in parts of England, where we have big companies that buy land and then leave it. Sometimes, the big supermarkets just buy land in order to prevent their competitors from buying it and it sits there for years. So, anything that incentivises people against doing that, I think is potentially a good thing.
With these things, it’s how it would work and how you would ensure there is no avoidance of the tax that is crucial. In principle, I would be in favour of ways of ensuring that land doesn’t lie unused.
Do you support a Carbon Tax? We kind of have that now with cars, although that’s being blunted with the new regime that’s going to come in where all cars pay the same tax after the first year that they’re registered. So, that’s a retrograde step that the UK government has taken in that regard.
My preference has always been the carrot rather than the stick, because what you have to remember is that we have a lot of industries that employ a lot of people who would get hammered hard, the steel industry is one example. If we started imposing a carbon tax on the steel industry, we might as well close the steel industry down. Then, of course, your production would move into other countries where there are no controls over emissions. So, actually you make global emissions worse. We can’t just look at Wales or the UK in isolation. If you create a situation in Wales where it is more attractive for an industry to work in a country that is not regulated, you actually make the situation worse at a global level. So, better to keep industry regulated in the UK and work with them to reduce their carbon emissions. If we look at Port Talbot, by far our biggest emitter, they have gone a long way over the years to reducing their emissions and recapturing the waste gases, that used to be pumped into the air, to power the plant.
What do you think about Welsh Labour MPs being absent from votes on the Wales Bill and abstaining or voting against devolution of policing and air passenger duty? That’s changed, fortunately. Because in our manifesto, we made very clear that any future devolution settlement for Wales will be based on the draft Bill that we produced in the Welsh Government. That does include the devolution of justice, policing, legal jurisdiction and air passenger duty. That misunderstanding has been resolved.
Are the Labour Party going to support electoral reform in the future? If not why is First Past the Post the best system? I exist in a system where First Past the Post is part of our system. We have a mixed system in the Assembly, some of it is PR. The difficulty is that there was a referendum on one type of PR and people rejected it out of hand – AV.
To my mind, I think it is important to retain the link between an elected member for a constituency. I like the fact that I represent an area and I can represent people in that area. Whichever system you have, it draws some strange anomalies. If you have a system that rewards parties that get a very small share of the vote, you have an enormous fragmentation of the vote – Italy used to be like that where if you got 1% of the vote, you got 1% of representation in Italian Parliament, where huge numbers of parties made up unstable coalitions.
So, to my mind I think it’s going to be difficult in Westminster to change the system. The big issue for us in the Assembly is, if there comes a point in the future where we increase numbers, then that opens up the question of how those people are elected and that’s a debate that each party will have in the future.
What would be needed for Corbyn to win? I think he needs to strengthen his frontbench, bring in people who excluded themselves over the years. There needs to be reconciliation there. There clearly needs to be work done in some parts of England, the West-Midlands particularly, where we didn’t do well in the General Election and in fact went backwards.
But, I’d say, he needs to carry on what he’s doing. He clearly enthused young people, no question about that. It’s a question of strengthening the front bench so the team around him gets stronger as well.
When I spoke to him last in September I said, “look, you need a program for government you haven’t got one.” And, we got one in the manifesto. Now it’s a question of making sure people see not just him, but the people around him as being as strong as possible.
Can Labour challenge the Tory minority Government on the boundary changes for the next election which disproportionately damage Labour and Wales? Interesting. Yes, I think, is the answer to that. Much of this, as will so many things, will depend on the attitude of the DUP. Now, looking at the boundarychanges in Northern Ireland it’s possible the DUP would lose seats and Sinn Fein would be the largest party. So, the DUP would not want that to happen and it may well be that the boundary changes will now dissappear because of their view on it. Bear it mind as well, that there are lots of Conservative MPs that would lose their seats, as well as Labour, with boundary changes. I expect, it will be an uphill battle for those boundary changes to get through.
Many Plaid Cymru voters lent their vote to your party in this election to stop a Conservative landslide. How will you repay these voters and do you respect them? One of the main differences between Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru is independence, that’s clear and obvious. But, actually there is a lot of common ground. We, in Welsh Labour, are very devolutionist. We take the view that what is on offer for Scotland should be on offer to Wales. We want to ensure there is a proper funding formula across the UK that isn’t there at the moment, it’s out of date. On many of these things, we share with Plaid. I mean, we produced a white paper on what Brexit should look like and we were able to find a lot of common ground. So, what I’d say to Plaid supporters is if you vote for Welsh Labour you vote for a party that shares many of values – not independence, but nonetheless as a party there is a lot of common ground. Where were in the position to win, we did ask people to lend their vote in order to stop a party being elected that didn’t share the values of Plaid Cymru voters or Welsh Labour voters.
You spoke about the formula for funding devolved administrations being changed. Does Scottish Labour support changing the Barnett Formula as well? No, why would they? Scotland wants to stay as they are, it benefits them disproportionately. But, that’s not our view. The Barnett Formula was put into place in 1979, I was 12, that shows how long ago that was. Joe Barnett himself, who constructed the formula, has said it’s out of date. If you’re going to have a funding formula, it has to be based on what reality is now, not what reality was then. In the medium to long term, there is no doubt that Barnett has to be reformed. And that means finding a fairer funding system based on what is reality today.
Was there a fight between you and Scottish Labour on that policy? We are a family, we don’t fight. We did fight an election on the basis of the reform of Barnett. That was in the Labour manifesto.
What have you done for Wales over the past 18 years? One word: confidence. Wales is a far more confident country now than it was. The Wales of 1999 was timid. People didn’t believe they could be successful. People didn’t believe even that we were, in some way, able to govern ourselves at all. This is why the result in 1997 was so close.
If you look at Wales now, unemployment is for many months lower than England and that’s incredibly unusual. We’ve got more people working now than ever before. There are more opportunities for young people than ever before, but with that of course [(recording unclear)come the insecurities] that young people have, which weren’t there to the same extent when I was younger. There are new schools being built all over Wales, in England they’re not building new schools at all and there are no works taking place either. And also, our profile in the world. If we’d have sat here 20 years ago and said that we’ll host the Champion’s League final it would be laughable, laughable. We didn’t have the stadium, we didn’t have the infrastructure, we didn’t have a government to attract it in the first place. We can host the world’s biggest sporting events. It’s good for sport, but it’s also good for us as it raises our profile in the world. Look at the Euros last year. We can now go abroad and say ‘Wales’ and they say “Oh, yes” not “Where’s that?”. That’s been really important in pricking the interest of investments from companies.
All of this has happened in the aftermath of devolution because we’ve got a voice, the means to get things done and we’re doing things we wouldn’t have dreamt of doing 20 years ago because of our size and our level of confidence then. I mean, I lost count of the times in the ‘97 referendum when people said to me “we can’t really govern ourselves, we’re not up to it”, as if we had some genetic problem. Alone in the world as the only people who can’t take decisions for ourselves. Well, all of that has gone and we’ve got a far more confident younger generation than was the case then or when I was your age.
The Welsh Youth Parliament is going to be created soon. How will your government react and work with the Welsh Youth Parliament? The Parliament will be run by the Assembly, rather than the Welsh Government. That’s the way it should be, because if it’s the youth parliament then they are the ones who should run it and that’s fine. No problem with working with those in the Youth Parliament because we know they are the leaders of future.
Do you intend to, say on projects for the future or youth projects, to consult the youth parliament?
But, we’ve got to go beyond a youth parliament. The youth parliament is going to be made up of the most articulate and confident young people. We have to make sure we reach out to those not in that category, that’s most people. When we have consultations, the voice of the youth parliament will be important but we can’t make that the only voice. We’ve got to make sure we have as much breadth to consultate as possible, so we can represent as many young people as possible.
Is the Welsh language a hindrance to education in Wales, or a blessing? It’s a blessing. Most people in the world are bilingual, it’s unusual to speak only one language. I sometimes go to Brussels, people cleaning the bins speak four or five languages. It’s normal, as they see it.
I’m a bit unusual in the sense all my family are Welsh speakers but I grew up in an English speaking town, Bridgend, and went to an English speaking school. So, I never did any subjects through Welsh at all. For me it was a bit unusual, as the area I lived in at the time didn’t have a Welsh speaking school.
But, I work in both languages. I learnt French in school, I’m trying to learn one or two others, it’s not easy to be able to find the time to do it. But, I do find it easier. If you’ve got a perspective on a Germanic language, English, and a Celtic-Latin language, Welsh, most Western-European languages work on the basis of one or two of those language groups and that gives you an advantage when it comes to learning other languages.
It’s not just the skill [of knowing Welsh], but the cultural perspective as well. It gives you another window on the world that’s unique to Wales and Patagonia. I was in Patagonia two years ago and there are junior schools there teaching through the medium of Welsh – they’re in Argentina! So, I’ve never thought another language is a hindrance. There are plenty of countries in Europe who would find that idea odd. In Victorian times, we know people thought you can only speak one language properly, so it may as well be English. Welsh, in lots of parts of industrial Wales, wasn’t passed on by families. There was no evidence that was true. Today, we know that people quite happily handle two languages and actually in some parts of Europe it would be three, which would need seen as perfectly normal.
What is your story and view on Llangennech school? Llangennech is like a voice from the past from the days when people used to fight about what category a school should be in, in terms of language. We’d thought those days had gone, to be honest. It’s difficult to know how it all became so inflamed. It’s not happened anywhere else in Wales, in any other county, at the same level. I think what’s needed now is for there to be a period of calm reflection and to take as many people as possible forward in that community.
Do you support Llangennech being a bilingual or Welsh-medium school? You’ve got to be careful. Because, sometimes these school changes come to the Welsh Government for a final decision. So, I can’t – it sounds like a cop out but – I can’t give a view on it. Because, if I were to give a view on it, it would be used in court. “The First Minister said this so that’s his view and he had decided already that this would be the case.” Ultimately, it is for the local authority to sort out. It was their decision and it’s important for the local authority to communicate with the community to explain that decision.
One more question on this issue: I’ve heard rumours that certain Labour activists within that area were working with UKIP. Is that true? I’ve heard the rumour, but there is no evidence to support it.