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General election 2024: James Cleverly campaigns in Usk

David Davies (nearest to camera) and James Cleverly talking to reporters at the Three Salmons Hotel in Usk, Monmouthshire during the 2024 general election campaign (Pic: LDRS)

CAMPAIGNING for the general election got underway in a Gwent battleground seat with a visit from one of the government’s most senior ministers. 

James Cleverly, who is the Home Secretary and responsible for policing in Wales and England, visited Usk which is in the Monmouthshire constituency the Conservatives will be defending on July 4. 

It has been held by the current Welsh Secretary David Davies since 2005 having fallen to Labour in the Tony Blair inspired 1997 landslide when the Tories were wiped out in Wales. 

“I’m here in Usk with David, a good friend and colleague,” said Mr Cleverly who said he was “absolutely” happy to campaign on the record of the Conservatives in power, including since the 2019 general election that has seen three prime ministers, record inflation, a cost-of-living crisis and the party tumble in the polls. 

Mr Cleverly criticised public services in Wales run by the Welsh Labour government and said: “We’re seeing incompetent government in Cardiff Bay and Vaughan Gething’s leadership. 

“When you compare the two I’m very proud to be judged on our record on protecting people, protecting the economy and where you compare it with, where Labour is actually in government, here in Wales it is underperforming compared with England.” 

Challenged that Labour’s sustained success at the ballot box in Wales suggests people are content with the party Mr Cleverly responded: “That’s not what I’m hearing. I talk to people, David knocks on doors relentlessly, I speak to people and there is real discontent with the Cardiff Bay government, with Labour.” 

He said Labour’s lead in UK wide polls is because leader Keir Starmer “hasn’t said anything” and the party is “silent on all the big issues” while as Prime Minister, and previously as Chancellor, Rishi Sunak had taken “bold decisions” on furlough, coming out of lockdown and supporting Ukraine. 

“Tough decisions” on public sector pay by Mr Sunak were also credited, by Mr Cleverly, with reducing inflation that had been as high as 11.1 per cent when the PM took power in October 2022. 

Mr Cleverly claimed Labour would threaten the economy by raising taxes as “they always do, they always will” but blamed pressures, including the pandemic, with Britain currently having a tax burden as a proportion of the whole economy, at its highest level since the early 1980s. He said despite that National Insurance contributions have been reduced. 

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While bread and butter issues such as health and education are devolved overall public spending is determined in Westminster and Mr Cleverly said voters who want greater investment in services should vote Conservative. 

He said: “Because Labour wastes money, they squander. The decisions Labour makes will inevitably put up inflation, push up the cost of public sector borrowing that is money that cannot then be spent on public services.

“It cannot be spent on health, cannot be spent on education, cannot be spent on the armed forces which is why Labour is not going to match our commitment on defence spending, which is why Labour refuse to explain how they are going to fund their totally unrealistic net zero commitments because they know that they will have to do it through taxation.” 

David Davies also defended the Conservative government against complaints it doesn’t provide the Welsh Government with enough money for public services. He said: “They get 20 per cent more for everything than what is spent in England. For every £100 million spent on the health service in England, £120m is available.” 

Labour’s Monmouthshire candidate Catherine Fookes said spending on defence, and troop numbers in the Army, have declined since Labour was in power and a Parliamentary committee said the government’s defence procurement had repeatedly wasted tax payers money. 

She said Labour views net zero targets as an “opportunity” She said: “The Conservatives have grown so addicted to spending that they can only think in those terms.  Labour thinks in terms of opportunity: the massive opportunity for Britain to lead the world in clean energy and clean technology, good news for the environment, good news for UK plc and good news for taxpayers.  What’s totally unrealistic is the idea that we have a future at all if we ignore climate change and turn our backs on net zero.” 

Green Party candidate Ian Chandler said the party would tax the “super rich” to fund investment to tackle the climate crisis and cost-of-living and said while the Conservatives have cut National Insurance contributions other changes including “freezing income tax thresholds has increased the tax burden for many, especially the lowest paid and those who don’t pay NI such as pensioners”.