It is a great honour to have been chosen as the Labour Assembly candidate for Cardiff North. I had not expected to be in this position. The constituency was so focused on trying to win the General Election last May that, come the summer, we had not yet chosen our candidate for the Assembly.
After 13 years as the Labour MP for Cardiff North and after losing by only 194 votes in one of Labour’s best results in Wales (not good enough, but bucking the trend), I was asked by lots of constituents whether I would consider standing for the Assembly and I am delighted to now be the candidate.
I have always been a strong supporter of devolution. Power should be as close to the people as possible. Labour’s pledge to create a Welsh Assembly was one of the reasons I was keen to stand for parliament in 1997. In the early days, there was a lot of scepticism about the Assembly, but now it is an accepted fact of life in Wales.
The advent of the Conservative-led coalition in Westminster has highlighted the benefits of the Assembly – a body whose policies are more in tune with the mainstream of thought in Wales.
We have seen the distinctive Welsh policies of tackling poverty and social disadvantage with universal benefits such as free prescriptions, free swimming for the over-60s, free breakfasts in schools etc. I know that the Conservatives plan to abolish free prescriptions – this seems crazy to me when you consider the number of chronic illnesses that should be exempt and the huge cost of administration. This is just one example of where having a Labour-led Assembly is so important.
The thing that I like most about politics is representing people. I enjoyed being a Cardiff councillor and an MP and would love the chance to be a Welsh Assembly member. Having close links with constituents helps you understand how laws are working and how effective the system is.
You can’t always help everyone, but most people appreciate it if you try. I believe that politicians should be as open and as accessible as possible and this is why I have always had an office that is open for anyone to call in at any time, as well as regular surgeries around the constituency. (I also did surgeries in a local supermarket – a sad reminder of how vulnerable we all are when you think of the tragedy in the USA.)
So – I would like to represent people again, do my bit for an area of Cardiff that has given me great support, and practise progressive politics.
Where better to do this than in the Welsh Assembly, still a new body, with hopefully more powers in 2011?