Let Labour be Labour

A great feeling of relief. I'm sure that's how it feels for the three Labour leadership candidates, and even more for their campaign teams. And of course for Wales Home, who have valiantly given saturation coverage to a contest that hasn't really caught hold of the imagination in Wales as a whole.

That's explainable simply by the fact that it is an internal contest (despite some unions sending out ballot papers to members who do not pay the political levy) and that whatever their differences, what binds the three candidates together is far stronger. It's only been a question of whether you want chocolate, strawberry or nuts on a synthetic white goo that is marketed as ice cream.

Personally I've taken a fair bit of interest in the campaigns, but I haven't commented on the relative merits of the candidates because it's not my place to. Let Labour choose their new topping ... I'd much rather focus on saying that the synthetic white goo may look like ice cream, but that it isn't a patch on the real thing.

Now that the voting is over, I think it's time to say something. I can do it now because it won't affect the results but, just as importantly, I don't want what I say to appear to have been a response to the result; as if I was simply attacking whoever had come out on top.
 

Edwina Hart

I have said, and sincerely believe she is a very good minister. She has rightly been able to say that she has a tough job; in marked contrast to Carwyn Jones who must, as Counsellor General, be fairly aloof from day-to-day matters; or from Huw Lewis, who essentially disqualified himself from a ministerial role because of his opposition to the One Wales Agreement.

I think the ideas in her manifesto were sound, but each manifesto was by nature only going to be a "motherhood and apple pie" document designed primarily not to offend, rather than to put forward any distinctive approach. The far tougher test is how you react to questioning, and in that she showed herself on more than one occasion to be not only more defensive than was warranted, but almost to take offence at the question.

In short, if she were to become Labour leader and new First Minsiter, she would be able to competently see through the One Wales programme of government and pursue policies that are good for Wales, but I doubt that she would be able to inspire Labour enough for them to make any sort of recovery at the next Assembly elections. That might make her a very good choice so far as Plaid are concerned.
 

Carwyn Jones

I have no doubt that Carwyn Jones is a very able and affable person. Others might feel that being shunted into a ministerial job that didn't require him to make any tough decisions was a negative because it has given him no chance to shine, but the other way of looking at it is that this was what he actually wanted.

Carwyn has always been the heir apparent, and it seems clear to me that he fought a deliberately anodyne campaign. It was designed not to hurt or offend anyone in Labour, not to rock any boats, to just try and keep calm and hope to stay on top. He felt he didn't need to do anything to win, he just had to avoid mistakes.

Consequently we are left with someone who obviously has an "agenda" but who hasn't actually said what it is. You get glimpses of it, for example his commitment to "bilingual" education rather than Welsh-medium education suggests he wants to follow the line we can see developing in Sir Gar in which Welsh medium education is watered down, English medium-education is cranked up, and you are left with a situation that doesn't really satisfy anybody. That might make him a horse designed by a committee.

So will he be any good as First Minister? I think he will stick to the One Wales Agreement faithfully, but perhaps not particularly enthusiastically. As for leadership, he does have gravitas, but without charisma. He'll be just like John Major. Rhodri will be just as hard an act to follow as Maggie was.

Rhodri is someone that we all loved to bits. Being despised by Tony Blair is actually one of the things that made him so loved in Wales. Yet, for all his sharpness, he was not in fact able to do anything to halt, let alone reverse, the situation in Wales.

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To give a topical example, today saw the Labour Government in Westminster's response to the first part of Gerald Holtham's report ... which has been on the table since July. I commented on Hain's response to it here, but this is a graph of how spending in Wales has gone down relative to England.
 

     

In the twelve years that Labour has been in power, it has been the conscious policy of the Labour government in Westminster to drive down public spending in Wales relative to England.

But at the same time relative spending in Scotland over the last few years has been rising. The PESA figures show that over the past six years relative spending (the UK as a whole is 100) in Wales has gone down from 114 in 2002-03 to 110 in 2007-08. But for the same period relative spending in Scotland has in fact gone up from 117 to 118.

    

What I'm saying is that despite Rhodri's personal popularity, he hasn't been able to do a thing to get Wales a fair slice of the pie. It doesn't matter if we blame Peter Hain and Paul Murphy as the Secretaries of State for Wales for not fighting Wales' corner in cabinet, or whether we blame the Labour leader in Cardiff for not complaining loudly about them not doing it. It was a hand and glove operation, and as today's announcement makes clear, nothing is going to change.

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Back to Carwyn. He will just carry on with this "more of the same". Can you imagine him actually taking Peter Hain to task for not standing up for Wales' interests? I could see Edwina doing it, but I don't think he will. The freudian slip on his manifesto cover was that he was confidently striding downhill. Just a gentle downhill, just a bit-by-bit decline ... but Carwyn offers no hope of any change. Again, as a Plaid supporter, that's just fine by me. Labour have been loosing more votes election after election. If they want to carry on, why should I stop them?
 

Huw Lewis

Now you might think that I am against Screwloose because of what I said about him here, or even think that it was an attempt to influence the campaign. But, as I hope I made clear, if he's prepared to take time out of his campaign to make ridiculous accusations against a blog post, I'm equally prepared to publicize just how misguided such behaviour is.

In fact I have a good deal of respect for many of his policies. In contrast to his two opponents, he does at least have some charisma. If he became Labour leader he might just make Labour popular again. He would be a David Cameron for Wales: young, right image, good pedigree as a Valleys boy, slick with the soundbites. Given that politics as fought out in the UK media seems to be much more about personality than substance, he would make an ideal Labour leader.

But what of the substance? Well yes, he has some good policies. He obviously cares about things like child poverty ... but who doesn't? Perhaps it was all down to too many nights with little sleep, but his campaign seems to have an idea of itself which left others wondering if they, and he, had completely lost touch with reality. As if the spin was the substance.

"Let Labour be Labour" was a brilliant line, perfectly designed to appeal to what Labour once was. Perhaps that's why it seemed he was the darling of the older generation of Labour supporters who can actually still remember what Labour once was. But he would have a Herculean job to do, because the party has become something else. If you "let Labour be Labour" then today's version of Labour will come out with stuff like Aneurin Glyndwr.

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2 comments:

Ryder Wave said...

V good post and analysis.This blog is getting even better.Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Huw Lewis' vision and policies are in fact more attractive to nationalists and Plaid supporters than the other candidates. Alot of people in Plaid have expressed positive comments towards Huw's campaign. It is his reputation and association with the Kinnocks and devo-reluctance that alienates them, not his vision.

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