Ed Miliband does Welsh Night - and the NHS in Wales
- 23 September 2013
- From the section Wales politics
Good morning from the Labour conference, the morning after the Welsh night before.
"Welsh night" was once described by an MP as "a sing-song, a booze-up and a raffle". In those days a male voice choir was imported to the English seaside to enable Welsh delegates to kiss away each hour of hiraeth until they come home again to Wales - usually about 48 hours later.
Last night, there wasn't even a raffle and the reception was sponsored by a company developing nuclear power stations. Perhaps New Labour isn't dead after all.
Ed Miliband dropped in and got a rapturous reception from delegates who lived up to that journalistic cliche of "the party faithful". His announcement that Labour would reverse housing benefit cuts - the so-called "bedroom tax" - has gone down particularly well.
The Labour leader praised Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones as "absolutely brilliant", Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith as "brilliant" and found warm words for his former cabinet colleague Peter Hain.
Ed Miliband was more animated in front of this live audience than the sometimes awkward, cerebral figure you see in front of the TV cameras, wanting to know if delegates were up for the fight.
"This is a big fight we have got on our hands," he told them. "We are going to win it for the people of Wales and the people of the United Kingdom."
As Ed Miliband left, his wife Justine Thornton arrived. The cameras were asked to stop filming as she gave a short speech, declaring herself one quarter Welsh and ready to take to the barricades in 2015 wearing whatever dress the media deems necessary.
Before the conference, I had a brief interview with the Labour leader. I tried to crowd-source some questions via twitter.
Suggestions included "when are you leaving?", "why have you appointed an Old Etonian press secretary?" and whether he supports Carwyn Jones and 85 per cent of the Welsh assembly's for a reserved powers model (they speak of little else in my local too).
Thank you all, but in the end I decided to focus on the health service in Wales. Every time Ed Miliband raises problems with the NHS in England with the prime minister, David Cameron responds with criticism of Labour's record on the NHS in Wales.
Longer waiting times, missed targets for accident and emergency and ambulance response times - how worried was Mr Miliband by Welsh Labour's performance?
Not very, was the response. He said Carwyn Jones was doing "an excellent" job within Westminster spending limits, an argument that ignores Labour's choice not to protect the NHS element of the Welsh budget (as the coalition has done in England).
I raised Ann Clwyd's criticisms of the Welsh NHS. There were warm Miliband words for the Cynon Valley MP and a suggestion that Carwyn Jones would be taking her views seriously. He wouldn't though, take advice from David Cameron, given his changes to the NHS in England.
I asked if Mr Miliband had had any conversations with the Welsh health minister. He spoke to Carwyn Jones, he said.
Could he name the Welsh health minister - the only Labour health minister in the whole of the UK?
I didn't get a name. The Labour leader said he wasn't getting into a quiz. (The answer is Mark Drakeford.)