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Labour: The Remake

Betsan Powys | 12:51 UK time, Wednesday, 10 June 2009

If you drive past Transport House these days - Labour HQ - and if you believe in pathetic fallacy, then take a good look at the building.

If you've ever been to a rugby match in Cardiff, whether in the days of the Arms Park or the Millennium Stadium, you'll know the office block I mean. It's the one opposite the Westgate pub, just where the police prevent you from driving into town on match days, a green triangle outside, where protesters with their banners used to gather before marches. It's where I went (yes, as a young reporter) to interview Rhodri Morgan MP in 1993 about the appointment of John Redwood as Welsh Secretary and where he railed against "the Pol Pot of privatisation" coming to Cathays Park. I rushed back to the BBC's offices in Llandaf to get the clip onto the lunchtime news, though it's the Yorkshire Post that's credited with coming up with that particular label.

I drove past Transport House this morning as usual and it looks bombed out. It sits in a sea of mud, surrounded by steel barriers and scaffolding, the handful of Welsh Labour posters stuck up during the election campaign not disguising the fact that the place looks under siege.

If you wanted a metaphor for a party machinery that's 'broken', 'kaput', 'incapable', 'non-existent' - all words I've heard used to describe it over the past few days - then there it is and that's by its friends. 'The machinery' is down to a handful of people, working without fistfuls of cash and with their own members now pointing a finger directly at them through those steel barriers.

What's worse is that those Labour members seem convinced that the other side have got it sussed. "I didn't see a single Conservative out campaigning" said one pretty sharp Labour operator the other night. The conclusion? That given they made in-roads in areas where Labour hadn't seen it coming, the Tories are well-resourced, tightly-run and making use of modern campaigning tactics behind the scenes. Knocking on doors isn't where its at.

For what it's worth I'm not sure that's true, unless you still think phone-bashing and telephone campaigning is 'modern'. It was in the days of the Arm's Park perhaps .. but I am pretty sure they'll have just those sorts of techniques in place and ready to go long before a General Election.

Lack of cash played its part in hindering the campaign, says Rhodri Morgan. Add it to "the toxic combination" of anger at expense claims and the economic downturn and there you have a stab at explaining why Labour lost in Wales.

But this morning Huw Lewis AM came out and said more bluntly and more directly than anyone else so far that the First Minister is wrong to stop there.

Here's a sample of what he had to say:

Labour's nosedive in popularity in Wales goes back way before the recession but when he put his head above the parapet after the Assembly election in 2007 and said that something very basic was going wrong and needed addressing, he wasn't very popular. Only now has the penny dropped within the Welsh Labour movement, he says.

"There is something specific about the Welsh dimension of politics that is bad for Labour" is how he put it. Yes, it's chronically under-resourced but there is "something else amiss here" with the political message. The party shouldn't be trying to come up with "silver bullets for parts of Wales" but should rather be searching for a message for every man and woman in Wales, one that must be found and communicated rapidly.

He ended with a rallying cry along these lines: We need a remaking of Labour in Wales from top to bottom, not just the Labour party but the Trades Unions and all the progressive allies we've made over the past ten years that are deserting us.

All of this in a three minute interview on ampm.

In the middle Huw was asked why then did he - leadership contender - want Rhodri Morgan to stay on? Why would he want the man who has presided over this nosedive, who voiced a specific concern for voters west of the Loughor and Clwyd rivers, who steered the Welsh party away from the modernising machine of New Labour, to continue in his job?

Because, he said, there was "something particular about this moment" that made things searingly bad for Labour and it would have been even worse if Rhodri Morgan wasn't there at the top. "Rhodri is held in very high regard, especially by the voters".

That's patently true. His recognition and popularity scores in a recent BBC Wales poll caused a polling expert in London to send me an Email: "With figures like that, Rhodri Morgan for Pope I say". But is Huw hoping the First Minister presides over the changes needed, is there in the eye of the storm working out which way to go, or is his role simply to keep things calm at the top, even turning a blind eye when he doesn't like the look of the "remade" Welsh Labour party?

One thing must now be very clear to those in Transport House and well beyond: the Conservatives are focused on taking seats at the General Election that suddenly look winnable. They're realistic, by which I mean they're not including Alyn and Deeside on the list just yet and don't imagine they'll win more seats than Labour come a General Election.

But between now and then, they're getting on with the job of getting that rugby team plus elected and between now and then it's clear Labour members and activists who want to stop them are not going to keep quiet.

By the way if you want to comb through the European election results constituency by constituency, here they are. Scroll down and click under the second picture for a full breakdown.


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