Musings on a Sunday lunchtime

On a lazy Sunday lunchtime, I was rather taken by something that Lee Waters wrote on his Amanwy blog today:

I'm bored of the economic debate in Wales. All the business organisations, the CBI and IoD, can come up with is the idea of spending £1 Billion on a new stretch of M4 around Newport, which would gobble up all the available money for the whole of Wales and only success in moving the traffic jams a few miles down the road.

Amanwy, 28 February 2016

His view on the proposed new M4 motorway should hardly come as a surprise, after all he was director of Systrans Cymru. But the first thought that came to my mind was that the new M4 is not just all that business organizations can come up with ... it is equally true that it is all that the Labour government in Wales can come up with (or the Tories, for that matter). Yet he is standing as the Labour candidate for Llanelli in the Senedd elections in May.

Which got me thinking ...

First, it reminded me that there are distinct divides in the Labour Party in Wales. A point I have often made is that Welsh Labour contains people who tend to see things from the perspective of the Welsh national interest as well as those who primarily see what is in the British national interest. Next, I remembered an article by Gerald Holtham in 2014 in which he suggested the best way of rekindling excitement in Welsh politics, especially one in which Labour always leads the government, is that Welsh Labour should supply its own opposition.

As I re-read that article, I smiled at how much things had changed in relation to the fortunes of our national football team, and smiled even more about what he said on adopting STV for elections:

A possible stimulus could come from multi-member constituencies. Suppose we reduced the number of Assembly constituencies and elected three members for each. Each Party would have to put up three candidates per constituency and the public would express their preference by voting 1, 2, 3 … Different views within the same Party could be judged and endorsed by the public, reflected in the order in which it voted for a Party’s candidates.

If people in Pontsticill are determined to vote Labour, they can at least ask "which Labour". Yes, that would result in a degree of intra-Party competition, traditionally anathema to UK politicians, but it would give the public more influence and the public would like it. For proof, look to the Republic of Ireland where such a voting system has long been in place. From time to time politicians have urged changing it and set up referenda to do so. Every time the public has refused and clung to the system. Admittedly a degree of selflessness is required of our politicians to move to such a system. What an opportunity to demonstrate that they are not "just in it for themselves", as cynics claim.

Gerald Holtham – Click on Wales, 27 March 2014

As it so happens, the Irish held elections for the Dáil on Friday, and I'm one of those people who are keeping half an eye on how the counts there are unfolding. It is a truly wonderful system, especially because it gives people the chance to throw out one candidate from a particular political party in favour of someone else from the same party who they consider to be better.


Turning now to more practical and immediate matters, we all know that Labour are going to form the next Welsh Government after the May elections, despite the long-standing traditional pantomine performance from most party representives that they are going to win. Labour will get 25-27 seats, the Tories 13-16, Plaid 9-10, UKIP 6-9, LibDems 1-3, Greens 0-2. They'll probably be able to govern as a minority government because the opposition on any issue would be so divided. Labour won't want to give any other party the credibility of a share of government if they can help it, and will look to play one small party against the others to get their budgets through.

So yes, in one sense it will be more of the same. Our government will be a Labour government. The question is, What sort of Labour? If the majority of Labour AMs are the sort that will put the Welsh national interest first, it will inevitably take us further towards independence. As I've said before, Labour boast that they were the party that delivered devolution for Wales, even though they were hardly very keen on it before they did; and we might well find that Labour are the party that will deliver independence for Wales, even though they are hardly very keen on it now.

Bookmark and Share


Democritus said...

It's a shame Adam Higgit doesn't blog anymore.

Thing about the Welsh/British identity divide in Labour is that it cuts across standard left/right perspectives. This has resulted in some recent controversies on the left of WL in particular as it has been swollen by lots of new entrants joining because of an attachment to the UK party Leader, but finding the established left in Welsh Labour committed to their pro-devolution clear red water position - which effectively means supporting Welsh Govt's positions and resisting interference. Longer term it's also clear that Welsh Labour's centre of gravity has shifted as a consequence of being in opposition in London. Quite simply from 1999 until 2010 most Labour members in Wales were more or less content for Welsh Ministers to try and keep up with a UK Labour government that was investing substantially in health and education, leading to big increases in the Welsh Block Grant. Clear Red Water at least in the devolved fields essentially came down to rejecting marginal 'New' Labour initiatives like testing pupils or foundation hospitals. Outright opponents of devolution meanwhile either retired or accommodated and Rhodri consolidated his hold to the extent that there was no question of London's high command ever exercising the sort of influence it had in 1999 again. This was cemented by Carwyn's election as his successor - despite being the least obviously socialist out of Edwina, Huw & himself Carwyn was by this point considered the safest pair of hands by a healthy plurality of party members and has a mandate equal to that of Corbyn, albeit 7 years older.

The contingencies of governing in Wales for the forseeable future combined with the increasing unlikelihood of ever again winning a UK wide majority will undoubtedly result in further evolutions within Welsh Labour over the coming decade. It is likely that after the election there will be a shake-up in the relatively shoestring Transport House operation, particularly if the Welsh party machine is reckoned to have underperformed again. Although these appointments are formally made by the NEC, not the WEC, Carwyn will presumably largely get his way in this because it matters to him more than it does the London leadership, but the appointments will give some interesting pointers to the shifts underway beneath the surface ...

Anonymous said...

On the subject of Welsh national interest labour v British national interest Labour. It would be interesting to see a list of who is in which camp.

Democritus said...

I don't think or suggest that most Labour members perceive any great difference between the interests of working people in Wrexham or the Wirral. There's a clue in the name. They are not at root a nationalist party but a class movement. Such preferences as do exist are shaped by circumstances and situations more than ideology. Devolution has changed Welsh Labour and IMHO will continue to do so.

Democritus said...

To put it another way: Bears defecate in woods, councillors support stronger local govt, AMs and MEPs want more powers, MPs are reluctant to surrender their current powers either up or down and the pope is catholic ...

MH said...

I'm not sure I could make a list, 19:38. Let's just say that, of current prominent Labour politicians, Owen Smith and Chris Bryant are prime examples of those focused almost entirely on Britain as a nation ... while Mark Drakeford, Leighton Andrews and Carwyn Jones are more centred on Wales as a nation.

One politician who might prove interesting is Huw Irranca Davies. He has chosen to switch from being an MP to being an AM and will almost certainly be a cabinet minister. He might well become the next leader after Carwyn, although if he harbours that ambition, he's going to have to start speaking Welsh. Another heavyweight coming to the Senedd (who doesn't have that problem) is Eluned Morgan. She's not number one on the MWW list, so she might find she's in a fight for the fourth seat list if Lee Waters wins in Llanelli. These two might play quite a big part in shaping the direction of Welsh Labour over the next few years.


I miss Adam's blog too, Democritus. He and I had some fierce arguments, because he had a sharp mind and was tenacious ... well, we were both tenacious, and that made it very hard to end any argument. He really kept me on my toes. I'm not sure what he's doing now, but his brother Duncan is active for Plaid with Bethan Jenkins. Wales Home is another site that I miss.

I wonder what effect Jeremy Corbyn will have on Labour in Wales. It is clear that the current Welsh government wants to distance itself from him, but I don't think that is particularly because they agree or disagree with the direction in which he wants to take the party. It's more a case of "steady as she goes, and don't rock the boat". Labour in Wales doesn't need to change anything in order to stay in government ... at least not for this year's election.

As I see it, Project Corbyn is all about changing the Labour Party from the grassroots up. The almost universal attacks on Corbyn were aimed at bundling him out before he had a chance to do this. But they haven't worked, in fact they've just come across as silly and hysterical. It's a project of several years to get the right people into the right parts of the party apparatus, and to use that to change party policy in good time for the 2020 election. The next couple of Labour conferences will be critical. The big question is whether the policy overhaul will make this more unashamedly left wing Labour Party credible in England. If it works, then I think Labour in Wales will happily see it as narrowing the Clear Red Water. It will also mean that Plaid Cymru will find it all but impossible to keep playing the "we are what Labour always used to be, but gave up on" card.

But if it doesn't work, and UK Labour turn back to the right following a big defeat in 2020, it might well prove to be too much for Labour in Wales and Scotland, and we might end up with Welsh and Scottish Labour Parties like the CSU in Bavaria; separate in organization and policy position from the CDU, but always expected to act in coalition.

Post a Comment