Labour may not be in power in Westminster, but its record in devolved and local government shows the party is ready to lead the UK, according to Mark Drakeford.

The first minister was speaking in Brighton this afternoon at the Labour Party Conference, where he said 22 years of Welsh Labour governments proved Sir Keir Starmer's party was ready to take the reins in the House of Commons.

In those two decades, the party's Welsh arm had "demonstrated time and again the value of what Labour can do to change people’s lives for the better", Drakeford told the conference.

"But this session is about more than Wales," he added. "It’s a chance to remind ourselves that despite being out of government in Westminster, Labour is in power, making a difference that only Labour can make, every single day, in communities right across Britain.

"It is those Labour success stories – across England, Scotland and Wales – which can help Labour win the next general election."

The Conservatives have held power in Westminster since 2010, either as senior partners in coalitions or, as they currently enjoy, sole control of the government.

In that time, the UK Labour Party has suffered a turbulent time and failed to seriously challenge the Tories' grip on Westminster, aside from 2017 when it gained 30 seats but still fell short of the Conservatives.

The party's performance at the most recent general election, in 2019, was a major setback, losing 60 seats as Boris Johnson's Tories swept to a landslide victory, taking a number of previously safe 'red' seats in labour heartlands, including in northern parts of Wales.

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At the conference today, Drakeford said "the longer the period of opposition, the more insistent the challenge becomes" as Labour looked to return to power at a UK level.

"Even if our policies are popular, how can voters be confident that Labour can translate those ideas into practice and on the ground?" he asked. "The answer is simple, and the answer is because Labour is already doing it every day and in large parts of the United Kingdom: in parliaments, in town halls, in mayoral offices right across the land, from West Yorkshire and the Rhondda to Sheffield, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

"Right across the United Kingdom, Labour is in power today, standing up for people, standing up for communities, building the trust that has helped us in Wales, in May of this year as you’ve heard, to achieve our record result, our best-ever result in the history of devolution."

The National Wales: Mark Drakeford speaks to the 2021 Labour Party conference in Brighton. Picture: Labour PartyMark Drakeford speaks to the 2021 Labour Party conference in Brighton. Picture: Labour Party

The first minister described Welsh Labour's achievements in government as "practical and progressive socialism".

"Welsh people have put their trust in Labour, time and again, because they see a different set of ambitions and a determination to put the privilege of power to work to fashion a different future for them," he said, before listing several "ambitious policies" that had made a "different future" for Wales: free prescriptions, free childcare for working parents, new council houses.

Drakeford described devolution as “the UK’s greatest strength” that could also help prevent independence movements, and said a "new relationship built around mutual respect, proper participation" would "keep the United Kingdom together".

Reflecting on the pandemic, Drakeford said people in Wales had "lost so much" but "stood together, shoulder to shoulder, through the toughest of times".

"They have a right to see that social solidarity mirrored in the way a Labour government works with local government, with our trade unions, our voluntary sector and others," he said. "To live up to that powerful and shared understanding that when we care for one another and work to understand one another, we can always achieve more together."

In a parting shot to Johnson and his cabinet, Drakeford delivered a withering assessment of "one of the most awful UK governments we have ever seen".

"Incompetent to its core and automatically hostile to anyone who does not share its visceral reactionary instincts at home or abroad," he added.

"Just imagine what we could do if we had a UK Labour government, committed to renewing and rebuilding the United Kingdom so it genuinely works for everyone."

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