Account executive Ioan Dobbin explores what potential political alignment means for infrastructure in Wales.


Will potential political alignment in Westminster and Cardiff Bay make it easier to develop infrastructure in Wales?  


The Labour Party has an unrivalled track record of success in elections in Wales. The Party has won a plurality of the Welsh vote at every election since 1922 and emerged victorious in every election since the National Assembly for Wales was established. 


However, this dominance in Wales has contrasted with the Party’s performance in Westminster. During the last 15 years of devolution, Labour has been in opposition in Westminster. 


With a General Election on the horizon, and the polls suggesting Labour are on course to win a significant majority in Westminster, the UK is on the verge of a Labour Government ruling in Westminster, and a Welsh Labour Government ruling in Cardiff Bay.  


This weekend, we will find out who has been elected the new leader of Welsh Labour and, ultimately, the new First Minister of Wales. Ahead of this next chapter in the evolving story of Welsh devolution, Copper Consultancy explores what could potential political alignment with Westminster mean for Wales, and the infrastructure and energy sectors.  


A closer working relationship? 


The relationship between Welsh Governments and UK Governments has been a complex interplay of devolved powers, shared responsibilities, and occasional tensions, whatever party has been ruling in Westminster. 


Disputes have typically erupted over funding allocations, policy priorities, or constitutional matters.  The relationship with the current Conservative Governments has been predictably antagonistic and dysfunctional, particularly over funding allocations policy priorities, and constitutional issues, examples include the Barnett formula, transport policy, and Brexit.  


A natural assumption would be that this relationship would warm up significantly if Labour were to win the next General Election and that the two Labour governments would work seamlessly together to achieve their goals.  


However, it is worth noting that Welsh Labour and UK Labour have at times been two very different parties with differing priorities. History shows us that alignment between Westminster and Cardiff Bay does not always lead to harmony.  


The National Assembly for Wales was established by Labour in 1999 by the Blair government, however, Welsh Labour’s relationship with the UK Labour Party was far from harmonious. Candidate for First Minister Alun Michael, who had the backing of Prime Minister Tony Blair, was ousted by his own party after just a year into his leadership. Rhodri Morgan took over and established “clear red water” between Welsh Labour and New Labour with his leadership being characterised largely by its contrast to New Labour policies, notably not going down the route of PFIs and introducing distinct policies such as free prescriptions and the establishing the foundation phase of education. 


Welsh Labour’s success has been achieved from closer to the left of the political spectrum, with Starmer’s Labour Party operating closer to the centre. This is epitomised by current First Minister Mark Drakeford. However, there is of course an upcoming leadership election in Wales, with a new First Minister to be announced this week. 


Whilst both Jermey Miles and Vaughan Gething do not demonstrate a drastic divergence away from Drakeford it would be fair to say they are more closely aligned on policy with Keir Starmer and have both expressed strong support for their UK party leader.  


Starmer’s public support for Labour in Wales has varied. He once called Wales a “blueprint for what Labour could do in government across the UK”. Interestingly Starmer has since refused to repeat this claim when asked, noting that there are ‘challenges with his relationship with Welsh Labour’. In his recent conference speech, Starmer also failed to mention Wales at all which undoubtedly will have caused some frustration with Welsh Labour colleagues. Whilst this hasn’t been fully unravelled, relationships remain cooperative.  


Starmer has been critical of the approach to intergovernmental relations undertaken by the Conservative UK Government and has said that an incoming Labour government would work with the Welsh government to overcome challenges.  


A shared policy vision? 


Shadow Secretary of State for Wales Jo Stevens recently outlined what a UK Labour Government would do for Wales.  


Making the UK a clean energy superpower is one of Labour’s key missions, and Stevens said from a Welsh perspective, a UK Labour Government would prioritise floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea, tidal energy, and investing in green energy to create new jobs and industries as well as delivering cheaper energy bills. These comments were made before Labour’s rollback on green investment therefore the ambition may not be scaled back, but it is clear that Wales is integral to the Party’s goals in this area.   


In terms of wider infrastructure, Welsh Labour (along with Plaid, the Liberal Democrats, and the Welsh Conservatives) have been vocal in calling for Barnett consequential funding, estimated to be worth £5bn for Wales for the HS2  project which deemed to be an ‘England and Wales’ project despite the project not crossing the border. Whilst elements of HS2 have since been abandoned, UK Labour was hesitant to commit to providing funding for the project.  


One other area of potential policy divergence is road building. Starmer has previously expressed frustrations with the planning system noting that it ‘stops this country building roads,’ this is at odds with the approach taken by the Welsh Government which scrapped all major road building projects that do not meet strict environmental criteria.  


Wales is key to the success of an incoming Labour UK Government in securing flagship policies, and crucially Welsh energy projects will be pivotal if the Party is to meet its highly ambitious 2030 clean power target. We can expect aligned Labour Governments to work far more closely and cooperatively together than what we have seen under the Conservative UK Government. This coordination may be important in unlocking flagship projects, including supporting the development of crucial infrastructure around the Celtic Sea. 


Whilst the Party is committed to planning reform, one question that we hear a lot is whether there is any intention to align the DNS system with the DCO system. The Party has not indicated that this is something being considered at present, but we do expect they will look for ways to streamline and simplify the process across the board.  


Industry will be cautiously optimistic about the benefits political alignment could bring for the infrastructure sector in Wales. Two Labour governments with ambitious green energy targets will be welcomed, and there will be less barriers as they work towards a collective goal. However, history does provide a word of warning, and despite it being two Labour Governments, we should not expect it all to be plain sailing.  


How Copper can help you navigate the Labour landscape  


Due to the leadership election, Welsh Labour Party Conference will this year be held on the 5-7th July – a better time to visit the seaside time of Llandudno, one might suggest! Copper’s Wales Lead – Lisa Childs – will be at the conference throughout the weekend. Do get in touch if you would like to discuss the value in attending conference, how to maximise your budget, and how Copper can support you.  


On the other side of Offa’s Dyke, we are continuing our series of Labour roundtables – an opportunity for Shadow Cabinet figures to share their insight and reflections with the sector in a private, Chatham House rules, environment. Do get in touch with our Public Affairs lead – Patrick Traynor – for more information on our upcoming events. 


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