On the weekend of 11-12 March, Welsh Labour convened in Llandudno for its annual conference. With the next general election looming ever closer, politicians and delegates alike were keen to demonstrate how a UK Labour government would complement and support the work being undertaken by the Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff Bay, particularly in climate action.
Subsequently, the overarching message of the conference was that the the UK Labour Party is a ‘government-in-waiting’, with a plan to bind the four nations of the UK ever-closer through the inauguration of a ‘green industrial revolution’.
Senior Account Executive Aaron Marchant has taken a look at the key pledges made at the conference and considered how they might affect future growth in Wales.
Keir Starmer’s vision for a Labour future
Opening the conference, Labour Leader Keir Starmer proclaimed that Labour’s national mission would be ‘to build a better Britain, a fairer, greener, more dynamic country, where working people succeed, aspiration is rewarded, and where, together, we unlock the pride and purpose in every community.’
Looking ahead to the hypothetical end point of a ten-year Labour Government, Starmer outlined a vision of what the rejuvenated nation would resemble:
‘We’re leading the world on climate change; people from across the globe come to marvel at the floating offshore wind farms of the Celtic Sea…and there’s a thriving green steel sector that stretches from Llanelli through to Port Talbot and up to Newport.’
Turning directly to the climate crisis, Starmer pledged to inaugurate a ‘new chapter in our national story’, one where ‘our generation tackled the climate emergency, and used it to create the jobs, the industries, the opportunities of the future.’
On policy, Starmer stated:
‘That’s what our Green Prosperity Plan is all about; turning the UK into a green growth superpower with investment in wind, solar, nuclear, hydrogen, green steel and carbon capture. Insulation for 19 million homes. And GB Energy – a new company that will take advantage of the opportunities in clean British power and turn them into good, secure, well-paid jobs.’
These pledges, Starmer vowed, would be achieved in part by the devolution of fiscal powers to the Welsh Government as part of a package to return control to local communities.
Mark Drakeford’s urge to take action now
Shortly after Starmer’s speech, First Minister Mark Drakeford took to the stage, and proclaimed to the supportive crowd that ‘The older I get, the more radical I become.’ Referencing the COP26 Climate Conference, Drakeford noted how words from T.S Eliot’s poem ‘The Waste Land’ had adorned the walls of the conference halls, urging attendees to ‘hurry up please, it’s time’.
Taking inspiration from the stanza, Drakeford emphasised the pro-active nature of the Welsh Government in tackling the Climate Emergency:
‘Last year, over half of the electricity we used in Wales came from renewable sources, and with that pledge you heard from Keir today, that will be even more ambitious in the rest of this decade. And here in Wales we have already set out our plans – we will create a publicly-owned energy company here in Wales.’
Beyond renewables, Drakeford was equally as determined, stating:
‘We’ve started to plant that national forest for Wales; that huge carbon sink that will help us to protect the whole of Wales from the impact of climate change – a symbol of our determination today to protect the interests of future generations tomorrow.’
Ultimately, through radical change and policy action, Drakeford predicted that a UK Labour government would preserve and strengthen the Union, with the bedrock of deepened solidarity between the four nations being the collective action taken to avert climate catastrophe.
Nick Thomas-Symonds’ plan for jobs and a green economy
The next address fell to Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade Nick Thomas Symonds who enunciated the perceived differences in climate action between the Conservatives and Labour. ‘The starting pistol on a global green energy race has long ago been fired,’ Thomas-Symonds warned, ‘the US is spending billions of dollars on climate technology, and countries all around the world are doing the same, making investments in a bid to get ahead. Make no mistake – leading on green technology will be vital for securing the jobs of the future and the UK is being overtaken.’
Praising the UK’s potential for renewable energy growth as ‘an often-windswept island nation, filled with many of the world’s best scientists’, Thomas-Symonds stated that one of Labour’s core national missions would be ‘making Britain a clean energy superpower; delivery carbon zero electricity by 2030, investing billions in our economy.’
Turning to specific policy, Thomas-Symonds pledged that:
‘the next UK Labour government will create a nationwide network of climate export hubs, and these hubs will work with businesses, universities, and other innovators, to take our climate science innovations and export them to the world. And I can specifically pledge today to work with the Welsh Labour Government to establish a climate export hub here in Wales.’
Concluding his speech, Thomas-Symonds argued that with a Labour government at Westminster, delegates would benefit from ‘A Net Zero Wales which is driving down emissions, a visionary innovation strategy, bringing the whole of government together to make Wales a leading, innovation-based nation.’
Julie James’ update on Climate Change
The conference likewise tackled questions on the Nature Emergency, with Julie James MS, Minister for Climate Change, reporting on the progress made at the COP15 Summit in Montreal.
Praising the agreed Montreal Biodiversity Framework, James stated that the Welsh Government had already adopted the plan agreed by the Alliance of Sub-National Governments, Provinces, Cities and Regions and would take part proactively in the new 30×30 Taskforce for sub-national governments.
Explaining how the Welsh Government would implement the global agreement, James stated, ‘we are putting our nature positive 30 by 30 targets in place, we are putting our environmental protections in place, we are bringing in our new sustainable farming scheme, we are cooperating with people all over the world on forestry and nature restoration.’
James continued: ‘We are determined to be a global leader in how we get from where we are now to good environmental status for 30% of our land and 30% of our seas by 2030 and all of this alongside our statutory very ambitious net zero plan too.’
Delegates duly voted to approve the motion adopting the 30×30 agreement reached at COP15.
A new Welsh era of ‘green steel’
Finally, the conference likewise held a panel on the future of Welsh steel and how the transition to net zero can support Welsh steelworkers and the wider industry.
Jessica Morden, MP for Newport East and PPS to Keir Starmer, stated that steel currently contributes 5.3 billion to the nation’s GDP and that ‘we can’t decarbonise without steel; it will be in the wind turbines, the rail infrastructure, in everything that we use in the future’. Emphasising the need for a long-term industrial strategy and a policy on procurement, Morden stressed that the sustainability of the steel sector would be conditioned by the need ‘to transition to a green economy’.
Stephen Kinnock, MP for Aberavon, concurred with Morden’s argument, and stated the need for a proactive, interventionist government to revitalise the UK’s manufacturing base. Underlining the need for a net zero strategy, Kinnock argued:
‘you need to ensure that that steel is made in a green and clean way and how, as I say, are you going to deliver the jobs of the future and particularly these huge opportunities such as floating offshore wind, without making the steel for those substructures and wind turbines here in Wales, getting good local jobs and delivering to the net zero agenda.’
The task for a UK Labour government would be, Kinnock stated, two-fold: ‘energy prices – we pay 60% more per MWh than they do in the German steel industry, and secondly the transition to cleaner greener steel.’
Kinnock continued: ‘We’ve got two blast furnaces in Port Talbot, one of them is reaching the end of its campaign life in 2026, we need commitment now to transitioning to electric arc furnaces and hydrogen-based steel making…The cavalry is coming in the form of a Labour government; we have a £3 billion steel renewable fund, it’s nailed on, it’s a manifesto commitment’.
In conclusion, with the general election moving ever-closer, the purpose of the Welsh Labour Conference was straightforward: to demonstrate the progress already made on climate action, and to imbue the delegates and wider public with the belief that a UK Labour government is not only possible, but increasingly likely.
Starmer’s pledge to turn the UK into a ‘green growth superpower’ aspires to tap into traditional Labour policy areas, such as state intervention, industrial policy, and collaboration between government and the private sector, whilst utilising newer policy debates around renewable energy and carbon offsetting.
The coming months will show whether these goals are achievable.
Get in touch if you’d like to have a chat about how this could affect renewables projects coming forward in Wales.