Labour's electoral suicide

Thanks to Betsan Powys for breaking the news that Labour's Welsh Joint Policy Committee have decided not to make up their minds about whether we have a referendum on primary lawmaking powers until after the Westminster election.

The reason for this is obvious, but it is not the reason Labour will give.

Labour's line is that they only want to focus on one thing at a time; that they'll be so busy fighting the Tories that they can't possibly think of campaigning for a Yes vote in a referendum. This is, of course, simply a smokescreen. The referendum itself can be held in Autumn 2010 or even Spring 2011. All that is necessary now is a commitment to set a suitable date. The process of getting that through the Assembly and then through Westminster will in itself take several months. So if we are going to get a referendum in Autumn 2010 we have to start the process by January at the latest.


The real reason Labour will not make a commitment to a referendum is because they only want the Assembly to get primary lawmaking powers if they themselves are not in power at Westminster.

They like the current system ( ... after all, they designed it) because it gives them a "double lever" over every new area of legislation that affects things devolved to Wales. At present, Labour have a majority at Westminster, resulting in a Labour Secretary of State and a Labour majority on the WASC. No party in power would give up one of its levers of power.

Therefore, while Labour are still in power at Westminster they are more than happy to keep everything as it is. They will only want to change it when and if another party comes to power. Simple self-interest.

Labour Secretary of State = keep things just the way they are
Tory Secretary of State = transfer powers to Labour in Cardiff

Labour have allowed themselves to be duped by the Tories. When Cameron said he would not stand in the way of a referendum, Labour allowed themselves to believe they had an extra shot to nothing. Shot one was to hope to win the general election, and so keep things just as they are. Highly unlikely, but perhaps just possible. Shot two was that, if they lost the election, they could then ask for law making powers because Cameron had promised he would not veto it.

It was Cameron's master stroke.

I will repeat what I've said before: I do not think the Tories will do it. Why on earth should they? Once they have their own Secretary of State in place, s/he will be able to veto any new areas of legislation s/he doesn't like. If Labour in the Assembly want to do something that is against Tory policy, the Tories will simply veto it. Why let go of that lever of power?


Labour have allowed themselves to fall for the oldest trick in the book. What are David Cameron's promises worth? What's to stop him changing his mind about this referendum in the same way as both he and Labour Prime Ministers have done over the Lisbon Treaty. If Cameron is minded to find a pretext for not holding a referendum, he won't find it too difficult, will he?

Then where will Labour be? Labour will jump up and down and scream all they like, but Cameron will be able to say, in exactly the same way as he has done over the Lisbon Treaty, "Why blame me? You had your chance but failed to take it. The situation has now changed."

And it will be five years, or ten years ... or maybe even fifteen years before Labour get back into power at Westminster.


Well, how do you think people in Wales are going to react to that? Fast-forward a few years as the Tories embark on yet another round of spending cuts that will slice just as deeply into Wales as they did in the 80s ... while at the same time saying that all their investment in London and South East England is justified because it will "stimulate the economy and lead the whole country out of recession".

And as the new Tory Secretary of State keeps repeating, "I am all in favour of law-making powers for the Assembly, how could anyone question that? ... but not for the next few years." Sound familiar?

Sure, the voters of Wales will soon come to regret their current flirtation with the Tories. But will the alternative be to go back and vote for the party which had the chance to protect Wales from the Tories ... yet failed to take it?

Michael Foot's "longest suicide note in history" has just been replaced with a Welsh version that is shorter, but just as final.

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Draig said...

Cameron has promised that he will not stand in the way of a referendum. Has Cameron not also promised that he will allow his MPs a free vote on approving a referendum? How will his MPs vote?

As to the rhetoric about "Tory rule", people really need to disabuse themselves of the notion that there is really any substantive difference between Labour and the Tories anymore. This is the noughties, not the 70s or 80s.

If Welsh people vote Tory in large numbers next year, it'll be because they don't really see any difference between the two parties anymore. That's a political reality that many on the Left in Wales seem unwilling to recognise.

Anonymous said...

You guys just have to break free.

Glyn Davies said...

It really is rather weak to suggest that a Conservative Government would veto a referendum. There are no grounds whatsoever for this - even if those who wish ill to the Conservative Party would like there to be. Its also very silly to accuse David Cameron of breaking a pledge to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. I can understand why Eurosceptics say this - not true but they are deeply disappointed that Labour and the Lib Dems reneged on their promises and enabled ratification of the Treaty before a Consservative Government could implement its promise. The problem for you and others is that when David Cameron said there would be no veto, he meant it. It turned Welsh politics upside down. I said then that the 'Broughton Statement' was far more significant for Welsh politics than the Jones Parry Report, which only told us what we knew already. Labour have no choice but ask for a referendum before the General Election, and if they refuse, Plaid Cymru have no choice but end the coalition. To suggest that a request for a referendum can be delayed until late May, which would mean a referendum in the spring of 2011 is a cop out that is simply not credible. All of this is only my opinion of course.

Draig said...

It's notable that Glyn hasn't answered the point about the free vote for MPs. It isn't just about Cameron, it's about how the Conservative Party chooses to vote collectively.

Cameron doesn't have to veto a referendum. He can let his party vote on conscience, knowing it's Unionist inclinations, and then abide by the outcome...

Glyn Davies said...

Draig - Sorry if I've missed a question somewhere. The position as I understand it is that there would be a free vote of Conservative MPs. So it depends on who is elected. I've always made it entirely clear which way I would vote - in Westminster were I to be an MP, and in Montgomeryshire were there to be a referendum.

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