NEWPORT’S new MP Ruth Jones took centre stage at the first day of Welsh Labour's spring conference – just a week after being elected to Parliament for the first time.

Mrs Jones was elected to succeed Paul Flynn, who died in February, as MP for Newport West last week.

And she received a warm welcome when she gave the opening address at the first day of the party conference in Llandudno on Saturday.


Full details as Labour's Ruth Jones wins Newport West by-election with more than 9,000 votes

Newport's new MP Ruth Jones speaks in Parliament for the first time

Ruth Jones is sworn in as Newport West's new MP

In her speech she reflected on her first week in Parliament, saying: “I can’t say that I’ve fully taken it all in, but I’m clear in my mind about what I am there to do.

“I’m there to stand up for the people of Newport West, to be their champion, to speak out on their behalf, and, yes, to defend them against Tory austerity.

“And that is exactly why we are here today.”

Invoking the spirit of the Chartists and the founders of Labour, Mrs Jones added: “There’s not a lot of certainty in politics at the moment.

“Who knows what the next few days, weeks and months will bring?

“But what I know for certain is that people have had enough after a decade of austerity.

“They’ve had enough of cuts that have taken police off our streets.

“They’ve had enough of being made to feel worthless and put at risk of being made homeless by Universal Credit.”

Mrs Jones also introduced first minister Mark Drakeford before his keynote speech – his first since he was elected to succeed Carwyn Jones in December.

South Wales Argus:

Mark Drakeford speaking at the Welsh Labour spring conference. Picture: Welsh Labour

Mr Drakeford didn’t mince his words on the UK Government’s handling of Brexit, saying the negotiations had “damaged the UK’s reputation in the world” and calling Theresa May “the first prime minister in history to fall on her own sword – and then to miss.”

And he issued a challenge to Welsh secretary Alun Cairns, saying: “If he continues to persist in using the so-called UK Shared Prosperity Fund as a means of by-passing the National Assembly, as a way of using Brexit to short-change the people of Wales, then he is heading for a fight.

“We were told that leaving the European Union would strengthen devolution, that an absolute guarantee was built into Brexit that all the funds would continue to flow to Wales after our membership of the EU ends.

“Conference, many members here will have read of the great campaigns of the south Wales miners in the dark days of the 1920s and of their famous slogan ‘Not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day’.

“So let us put it in simple terms that even the secretary of state for Wales will understand –when it comes to Brexit, not a penny less, not a power lost.”

Among the announcements in his speech were that £2.3 million is being invested into providing girls in primary and secondary schools in Wales with sanitary products.

The money will be given to local authorities in Wales immediately, and it has been estimated it will benefit more than 141,000 girls.

Concluding his speech, Mr Drakeford said: “Never has there been a more urgent need for Labour governments across the UK.

“We have a duty to ensure that our most radical days are ahead of us, ready to work hard every day, to earn and re-earn the support of people in Wales and then to out that trust to work, ready to renew and to re-describe how we build the Wales of the next 20 years.”

Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was given a rapturous welcome when he spoke on Saturday afternoon.

Jeremy Corbyn arriving at the Welsh Labour spring conference

In his speech Mr Corbyn said he recognised people were becoming increasingly disenchanted with politics, but warned against the deepening of divisions.

“I am very worried about the divisions in our society,” he said.

“The Tories took their endless infighting and projected it onto the nation as a whole, and we’re all living with the consequences.”

Saying a Labour-led UK Government would work to follow the example set by the Welsh Government, he concluded: “When we defeat this government – and we will – it will be as communities together.

“And we’ll go into government as communities together.

“With Labour in power in Westminster and in Cardiff Bay and Labour organised in every community across the country we will transform Wales and transform Britain so that they work for the many, not the few.

“That’s what real politics is about.”

Also announced at the first day of the conference were a series of four pilot schemes testing on-demand bus services – one of which will be held in the south Wales Valleys. The other three will be in west and north Wales.

The schemes were announced by transport and economy minister Ken Skates, who said: “It’s an unacceptable fact that in places such as the Mersey Dee region one in five people cannot get to job interviews because of an absence of affordable public transport. One in five people locked out of work, because they don’t have the luxury of owning a car.

South Wales Argus:

Ken Skates speaking at the Welsh Labour spring conference

“Through the design and testing of the different models we can test key aspects of demand responsive bus travel services including integration of patient and education transport as well as the use of new mobile technology.”

The Valleys pilot will cover the area covered by the Valleys taskforce – including Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, and parts of Torfaen.

Others to speak on the first day of the conference included Newport City Council leader Cllr Debbie Wilcox – speaking in her capacity as leader of the Welsh Local Government Association - shadow Welsh secretary Christina Rees, and the party’s deputy leader Carolyn Harris.

Many also took the opportunity at the conference to pay warm tributes to former Newport West MP Paul Flynn, who died in February.

Mr Flynn was a lifelong member of Labour, and served as an MP from 1987 until his death earlier this year.

South Wales Argus: Labour Newport West candidate Paul Flynn.

Paul Flynn

Mr Drakeford opened his keynote speech on Saturday morning by remembering the party stalwart.

He said: “Anyone who knocked doors during the recent Newport West by-election will have heard so many people speak with great affection and warmth about what Paul meant to them and what he did for Newport and our party.

"That willingness to stand against the tide, to challenge orthodoxy - wherever it might be found - was the 40-year contribution that Paul made to Labour.

“How could it have been otherwise for a Welsh speaking product of an immigrant Irish family who re-joined the Labour frontbench in the House of Commons as an octogenarian and proceeded to run rings around his government opponent?

“We know how proud he would have been on Thursday of last week, to see someone with his values take up the mantle as the new Member of Parliament for Newport West, Ruth Jones.

And Mrs Jones herself remembered her predecessor in her opening speech to the conference, saying it was “an honour” to follow in his footsteps.

“Paul was a proud member of this party,” she said. “He was independent minded, yes, but he was also completely and unashamedly Labour.”

Mr Corbyn also opened his speech with a tributes to Mr Flynn, hailing him as “a Welsh Labour hero” and “a pioneer”.

“He didn’t see being an MP as an end in itself,” he said. “He knew that he could use Parliament as a tool for social change.”

The Labour leader added: “He was a brilliant representative for his constituents and a truly wonderful man.

“Thank you Paul for everything you did.”

And a number of policy debates were held, with members supporting motions on bringing Wales’ entire rail system back into public ownership, and overhauling the running of universities and colleges in Wales, with representatives of trade unions and other bodies to be more involved.

The conference continues today.