The Prime Minister in waiting came to Wales but Keir Starmer's visit was light on substance

Sir Keir Starmer
-Credit: (Image: PA)

The vibe was very Prime Ministerial. As well as the usual police and security staff, there was the secrecy around telling journalists where they needed to be. First, there was the 2pm email announcing the event was happening, then the 8.51pm one confirming a place but telling you "precise location to be shared at 0600" before said email told journalists to be at the Priory Centre in Abergavenny for 9.15am on Thursday morning.

As email accreditation was checked and your name ticked off a list you were allowed into the courtyard. In the early morning sun, stood the who's who of Welsh Labour. There were activists, councillors, MPs and MSs, the amount of red being worn may have been the attraction for the wasps that kept landing on the group of MPs sticking together near the door.

As the big arrival neared, we made our way into a hall. Bags being checked is a given at this type of thing, but when we were told to take all coats and bags to a separate room my eyebrows raised. "Not our rules," said the bouncers, "Labour's". When I checked, I was told it was a "security risk". I think that probably meant glitter risk given I've never been asked to remove my coat at any other political visit. For the latest analysis of the biggest stories, sign up to the Wales Matters newsletter here

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Anyway, three rows in the middle of the room were assigned for media. Far enough away that our faces wouldn't ruin the TV shots, near enough so we could feel included. Also on our seats were the pledge cards, bilingual, and with the six messages Labour wants to hammer home, they were fronted with a black and white picture of Keir Starmer and Vaughan Gething together. Ties on, but jackets off - pondering me to wonder just what Labour has against jackets - the pair giving their best sultry looks to the camera.

It was a bit catch 22 for Labour, not making a deal of their new, history-making First Minister would raise questions, but sticking him on the front of the Welsh campaign literature, could, if the no confidence motion goes against him in six days, lead to an expensive printers bill.

As we digested the content, the cheers started and Vaughan Gething, Jo Stevens and Keir Starmer walked in. There were pats on the back and giggles between Sir Keir and Vaughan Gething before the speeches started, set to go on for just under an hour.

The room was full and the first person speaking was the Monmouthshire candidate, Catherine Fookes. If, before today, you were in any doubt which the target seats for the party are just look at the candidates who took to the stage - Kanishka Narayan (Vale of Glamorgan), Ieuan Mon Williams (Ynys Mon) and Gill German (Clwyd North) all spoke. Emma Wools, the police and crime commissioner elected less than a month ago who wasn't even in her patch, spoke too.

Keir Starmer's schtick is to show he is the opposite of Rishi Sunak, that he's relaxed, can engage with people and a normal guy. Today's event was, however, another carefully planned, private event and the only contact Sir Keir Starmer had with the public was when he was sat having a breather in the courtyard and saw some people peering at him through the gates. To his credit, he went to them. Spotting a Cardiff City badge on the man's jacket, he talked football, pulling a ten-year-old reference from the back of his brain about how the club once unsuccessfully changed to red, rather than blue, shirts.

It felt different to last week's visit by Rishi Sunak to a brewery in the Vale of Glamorgan. It was lively, there was a buzz in the room, people, claps and cheers. It was in a constituency which if they win, will mean they've taken the political scalp of the Welsh secretary and party stalwart David TC Davies. But those who have travelled with him, told me the substance of Keir Starmer's speech was no different to what he has delivered already.

His thing is that he's honest, open and unfiltered - all the things he believes the Tories aren't. Sitting in the audience today I can see exactly how it will look like that. But in reality, none of the speakers needed to be introduced, they were talking to Labour diehards who you knew could tell you the name of the Labour candidate for Ynys Mon or Clwyd North without having to check.

Sir Keir Starmer on a stage with a red background including a dragon at a campaign event in Wales
Sir Keir Starmer plugged his six pledges, but with no real detal -Credit:PA

As impromptu and relaxed as these speeches may look on TV tonight, everyone but Keir Starmer read from two large autocues at the back of the room. For his address, Keir Starmer didn't have the whole speech, but had buzz word reminders popping up. "Crickhowell - The Bear" "More recently, Gower, Oxwich." "Rhossili, The Worm's Head" as reminders for his anecdote about holidaying in Wales.

Other prompts were "change + hope" and "wait over" "not conflict" and "work together". On more than one occasion "working with Vaughan" was projected in front of him.

But, once again, his contact with the media was limited to just one question. While the Conservatives were much more sterile in their approach, today it was a relative free for all. Broadcast interviews were conducted in the main hall with journalists sticking phones nearby to try to hear what was said. For the print huddle, the travelling London journalists joined in too. For them, there was one big topic - Diane Abbott. One did deviate and ask about foreign policy, another asked if he would tell candidates not to knock on doors during Euro 2024 matches - a tournament it is important to point out, once again, Wales have not qualified for.

There is no doubt the Diane Abbott saga tells us a lot about Labour, but it does not help the Welsh voters that each speaker told this room they wanted to serve. Not one offered any challenge to Labour about its record here in Wales after 25 years in power.

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For the record, we had asked for a decent amount of time with Keir Starmer, a sitdown interview - as I'm sure other Welsh colleagues did. Our request was not responded to, but when resurrected today in person, was denied. The questions I'd drafted in my phone were about Tata and a £3bn pledge Labour has promised to UK Steel, but with no detail how it would be spent at Port Talbot. I wanted to know how, given no government would ever give a business money to plug the loss column on its balance sheet, how any money it gives could ever save the plant.

I also wanted to know if Keir Starmer, a man whose whole career is based on law and order, would have taken £200,000 from a convicted criminal, like Vaughan Gething did for his Welsh Labour leadership campaign.

It felt imperative to ask if Sir Keir will grant the two big financial wishes that Welsh Government ministers trot out week after week, which is for Wales to get a consequential from HS2, which would run to hundreds of millions of pounds, and whether the money needed to make coal tips safe, some £330m, will come from the other end of the M4.

I wanted to know about waiting times, and how Labour can claim to do anything, when its party has been in power here for 25 years and it is no health nirvana. He has previously referred to Wales as his governmental "blueprint" but I couldn't ask why he's stopped referring to as such, or to find a policy he thinks any Welsh Government in the past decade has excelled with.

All those remain in my phone in the vague hope that one day during this campaign we will be able to actually challenge Keir Starmer on what he will give to Wales if people here vote him into Downing Street.

The one question I did get to shout over the din of noise from below was this. "If, given Wales having a First Minister who took £200,000 from a criminal, has faced Senedd debates about his conduct, an impending no confidence vote...given waiting times are higher per capita, and longer in Wales, and school budgets are decimated, why anyone in Wales should vote for your party."

Sir Keir replied: "The First Minister is doing a very good job here in Wales, I support what he's doing and I think this election is about the question as to whether we can elect a Labour government in Westminster that will be able to work with the government here in Wales. That is a gamechanger for Wales because until now you've had a Westminster government in conflict with the government here in Wales. That hasn't served the working people of Wales, this will be a gamechanger where you've a First Minister and a Prime Minister, if we're privileged enough to serve, working together, to deliver for Wales," he said.

In his answer he repeated a line he'd already used in his speech, as had David Lammy, that "finally" there would be Labour governments in both Cardiff and Westminster, both omitting that has happened before, and that devolution is only a thing because of a Labour government. Interjecting on that theme, he replied: "It will be the first time in 14 years if we manage to get this over the line".

Labour leader Keir Starmer holds a pledge card with his, and Vaughan Gething's joint photo, on the front. Sir Keir is standing in front of a red background
Sir Keir Starmer holds a Labour pledge card while speaking at the launch of Labour's six steps for change in Wales -Credit:PA

Today was a welcome distraction for Welsh Labour.

There is no doubt that the calling of a general election has given Vaughan Gething some breathing room. Publicly at least. But whatever the united front inside, as you spoke to people outside the topic of Vaughan Gething's survival rings loud. There were claps and cheers for Vaughan Gething, more after his speech than before. The ongoing questions about his conduct had, I have very little doubt, caused numerous headaches in the Labour camp. They knew that is the hot topic in Wales but couldn't avoid a visit any longer. The Tories had already tried to make hay out of a lack of ministerial visit and it's only a week into the campaign.

For the second time in a week, a politician who wants to be the Prime Minister not just for London or England but Wales too has come to Wales. They just don't seem to realise that means we might want to know what they're planning.

In five weeks time, voters will be asked to vote for Labour MPs and de facto to make Keir Starmer the Prime Minister. Labour members left today happy, buoyed, ready to go knock on doors but I can't tell you after today anything he will offer Wales.

After just shy of four hours in Abergavenny, I am in no better of a position to offer you anything quantifiable that a Labour Westminster government will offer Wales. Today was policy light and scrutiny light, and I can't help but think that's what Labour wanted all along.