Still time to get that amendment in, Carwyn

As a result of Peter Hain's performance in front of the cameras over the last few days, Change of Personnel today asked a question about who is seen to be leading, or at least speaking for, the Labour Party in Wales.

But despite the accolades it got me wondering, if you didn’t know any better and let’s face it most people who watched across the UK and further afield wouldn’t, you’d believe from last week that Peter Hain was Wales’s First Minister and leader of the Welsh Government, not simply the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales.

He managed to totally out think and outmanoeuvre Carwyn Jones (admittedly not a particularly difficult task) who was there and met with families but remained in the background as Peter with help from his advisers took the lead on every front from the start of the unfolding tragedy. Everything from talking with the families, appearing with the police at press conferences and updating the gathered media to launching the appeal for families - would Alex Salmond, Peter Robinson or Martin McGuiness have allowed their respective Shadow Secretaries of State to take the lead in such circumstances in Scotland or Northern Ireland? I sincerely doubt it.

So why is Carwyn Jones, who is after all supposed to be the man elected as Wales’s First Minister, so willing to let Peter Hain do it in Wales? Is what’s best for the Labour Party still more important than doing his job and leading the country, especially during such a dreadful tragedy?

Change of Personnel, 19 September 2011

I don't particularly want to concentrate in this post on the tragedy that has unfolded over the last few days. That is something that rightly puts politics into the shade. I thoroughly dislike the idea of any politician taking more of the media spotlight than the police, the rescue teams and people speaking on behalf of the families. So although I think Peter Hain should have said very much less than he did, I would apply that to any politician. I saw Carwyn Jones, Bethan Jenkins and Gwenda Thomas interviewed about what happened, as well as some local councillors (there may have been others that I missed) and I think their shorter contributions were much more appropriate than those made by Mr Hain, who even when he wasn't speaking seemed to take inordinate trouble to be seen in the background.

Yet the question about who is seen to be leading the Labour Party in Wales is important, even though overshadowed by the tragedy at the Gleision Colliery.


First, we need to realize that Carwyn Jones is only the leader of the Labour group in the National Assembly, and is First Minister because of that. There is no Welsh Labour Party; there is just one Labour Party with Ed Miliband as its leader. Peter Hain and Carwyn Jones have to fight between themselves about which one of them is the most prominent Labour politician in Wales, with the right to speak for Labour in Wales.

Carwyn Jones is disadvantaged not only by his own lack of drive and ambition (something Peter Hain could never be accused of) but by the fact that the Labour Party itself regards what is decided by Labour in Westminster as more important than what is decided by Labour in Cardiff Bay. A good example of this was that the Labour manifesto for the Assembly election in 2011 was opposed to nuclear power, but a week before the election a Labour spokesman said that the party's definitive position on the issue was in fact in their Westminster manifesto of 2010, which supported nuclear power on Ynys Môn. As John Dixon noted, the clear message was that whatever the party in Wales thinks is irrelevant if it clashes with what the party in Westminster wants.


At present the arrangement in Scotland is exactly the same as it is in Wales; but they are now set to change it, as reported here only a week ago:

Scottish Labour breaks free of Miliband

Labour has announced plans to create a new Scottish leader and a beefed-up party north of the Border to fight back against electoral dominance by the SNP. The radical reforms, to be made following the crushing loss to the SNP in May's Holyrood elections, will lead to the loosening of ties with the UK Labour movement with UK leader Ed Miliband no longer in charge of party fortunes in Scotland.

The results of a review into the Labour trouncing at the polls were made public yesterday and were billed as the biggest shake-up of the party in Scotland for 90 years. They come a week after calls for the Scottish Conservative Party to be transformed and mean that the two leading UK parties are now undergoing changes that could bring a weakening of their bonds with Scotland. Further reforms to Scottish Labour will see local party associations, which are currently drawn on Westminster seats, being scrapped and reformed along Holyrood's boundaries in a move designed to shift the party's focus to Edinburgh and away from Westminster.

The moves were agreed by the party's ruling Scottish Executive committee yesterday, but they still have to be ratified by the UK Labour Party at its conference next month. The reforms were signed off in Glasgow after the three-month review led by MSP Sarah Boyack and MP Jim Murphy. They said that while the party had delivered devolution, it had failed to follow the same principles itself.

"This is about turning the Scottish Labour Party into Scotland's Labour Party. Today, we are completing the devolution of the Scottish Labour Party," Murphy said. "From now on, whatever is devolved to the Scottish Parliament will be devolved to the Scottish Labour Party."

Boyack said: "Labour devolved Scotland when we set up the Scottish Parliament in 1999, and we are proud of that. Labour used that Scottish Parliament to deliver important reforms for Scotland, but we didn't reform ourselves. Now we need to make devolution a reality within our party too."

Scotland on Sunday, 11 September 2011

As it happens, the Labour Party conference is next week rather than next month, but it seems fairly clear that the plan for the Labour Party in Scotland to be separately constituted, able to make its own policy in the areas devolved to Scotland, and with one clear elected leader, is going to be approved.

Therefore the obvious question is why this should happen for the Labour Party in Scotland but not for the Labour Party in Wales. The areas devolved to Wales might differ from the areas devolved to Scotland, but the principle should surely be the same.

Now, I can well imagine that someone in Labour might say that there now needs to be a separate Scottish Labour Party in response to their poor showing in the election in May ... but that nothing needs to change in Wales because Labour are doing perfectly well as they are. Why fix something that isn't broken? But my answer is that this change actually has nothing to do with Labour's poor performance in Scotland. The idea was in fact a key plank of Ed Miliband's campaign to become leader of the Labour Party back in June 2010:

Miliband says Scots Labour must make own policy

Labour leadership contender Ed Miliband says the party has to embrace differences north and south of the Border.

On a campaigning visit to Holyrood yesterday to meet MSPs he backed the idea of the Scottish Parliament going its own way from Westminster on legislation, and of the party in Scotland having complete control over policy.

"The policies in Scotland for Scottish Labour should be decided in Scotland – that should not be controversial," he said. "Under my leadership we would lighten up about difference.

"The whole nature of the devolution settlement is accepting that within a United Kingdom we can learn from each other and there will be particular policies and ideas which would be appropriate to Scotland and that Scotland should be able to pursue."

The Herald, 1 July 2010

Remember that this was said at a time when Labour were miles ahead in the opinion polls in Scotland, and when nearly everyone expected them to form the next Scottish Government. So the issue actually has nothing to do with Labour having lost heavily to the SNP; the principle would have applied even if Labour had managed to form a government in Scotland, and therefore applies just as much to Wales, even though Labour have been able to form a government here.


Now of course I have no way of knowing what the agenda for Labour's party conference will be, though it's a safe bet that this subject will be on it somewhere. But will the motion only talk about a separately constituted Scottish Labour Party ... or will fairness and consistency demand that Wales is treated in the same way as Scotland?

If you were ever serious about standing up for Wales, it's not too late to get that amendment in, Carwyn.

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MH said...

Sorry that the link to the Glasgow Herald story is broken. There are two, slightly different, archive versions here and here. Depending on the browser you use, you might need to save the files on your computer before you can open them.

Unknown said...

To be fair to Peter Hain (something I NEVER expected to find myself saying) he is the local MP, and from what I saw of his TV appearances, he was speaking very much from that perspective. He was obviously moved, and almost (for him) humble.

On this occasion, I found Cheryl Gillan's peacock strutting in front of the cameras far more offensive. She grandly announced an inquiry, as though it was in her gift, which she was bestowing on Wales, when in fact, it is an automatic consequence of an incident like this. HORRIBLE SHAMELESS WOMAN!

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