State of Play 4 - Labour

 

The fourth and final instalment of our summer reading on the state of play for the four main political parties in Wales from @TobyMasonBBC

For years, Welsh Labour's headquarters was an apt metaphor for the party itself. The grim, grey concrete edifice dominates the road west out of the centre of Cardiff. Shared with several Welsh trade unions, in the final unhappy few years of the party's time in office in Westminster, work began on a makeover - but proceeded at a snail's pace.

The scaffolding, rubble, and general detritus which surrounded it during those years were mirrored in Labour's election results in Wales, which led many to speculate that their grip on power in Wales was finally being loosened.

At the 2007 election, they won just 32.2 per cent of the constituency vote, were down to 26 seats, came within a whisker of losing power altogether and ended up in a coalition with their old nationalist foes Plaid Cymru. They got a self-confessed belting at the local elections the following year, and saw the Conservatives top the popular vote in the European elections. The acid observation from Labour MP Don Touhig that Plaid were "running rings" round Labour in government was pretty much rock bottom.

Fast forward to 2012. The building is - finally - finished, with manicured lawns and an attractive smoked glass entrance hall. True, the concrete is still there behind it, but HQ, like the party's electoral performance, is finally looking up.

In Carwyn Jones they have perhaps the biggest asset in Welsh politics. He's one of very very few Welsh politicians with anything like widespread public recognition and enjoys untrammelled authority over his party thanks to the thumping mandate from the 2009 leadership election.

It must be galling and gratifying in roughly equal measure, then, for the party to pore over opinion polls since the 2011 election, in which they came agonisingly short of an overall majority, in part thanks to strong Tory showings in a couple of key constituencies. The latest YouGov poll for ITV has Labour on 50 per cent on the constituency preferences, up 8 per cent on the election. It's always tricky to extrapolate seats from polls, but people with a lot more experience than me say this is definitely overall majority territory and it's hard to disagree.

But the seats fell as they did in 2011, and although Labour have carefully concentrated on giving every impression of being a majority government when they're not, it means there are tricky times coming down the road when the big and complex pieces of legislation start to flow. The first year since full lawmaking powers have been ones of consultations, white papers and green papers. There are some difficult issues ahead which are going to need more than Labour votes to become law - the new statutory process for closing and merging schools being just one example.

Despite the polls, Labour can never be completely on the front foot. The party's biggest achilles heel remains the legacy of their record on health and education over the past decade in power. The Cabinet's case that the controversial health changes are unavoidable because some services have deteriorated to the point of becoming unsafe begs the question - on whose watch did this happen? Similarly, pessimists - or perhaps realists - within the education sector are not expecting any kind of miracle recovery for Wales at the next round of international PISA tests for pupils.

There are other difficult areas ahead too. Welsh Labour, perhaps tellingly, declined to provide any evidence to the Silk Commission on funding and financial accountability, preferring a 'wait and see' approach, although the Welsh Government did submit a somewhat cautious paper. If Paul Silk and his colleagues come back this autumn with a recommendation that the Assembly should gain powers to raise more than the "peanut" taxes like the aggregates levy and air passenger duty, then it's Labour who will have the greatest difficulty in accepting much beyond this - and will be the most exposed by being in government. The Wales Office were not unaware of this when Silk was set up - and his remit was drawn accordingly. Opinion polls suggest the people of Wales may be ahead of the current Labour position in this area too.

Looking further forward, there are senior and thoughtful voices within the party who are urging it to undertake a process of renewal from their current position of strength. Their argument is that this is infinitely preferable to sitting back now and then acting only when an electoral slide becomes evident. There will always be the eternal counter-argument of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" of course, and there are plenty of advocates for this within the party too.

It's impossible to say how many of those 50 per cent who backed Labour in the YouGov poll did so because they were enthused by the party's policies and stewardship of government, and how many opted for them due to distaste for the UK coalition's policies. As recently as 2007, remember, Welsh Labour got less than 33 per cent of the vote.

The party decided against any major change of direction then - no New Welsh Labour re-branding for them. Instead, they swapped one popular leader in Rhodri Morgan for another in Carwyn Jones, held on tight and waited for a change of government in Westminster.

Their policy platform in 2011 wasn't radically different in tone or direction from those in 2007 or even 1999 - but the result for the party was considerably better. One difference was the party in government at Westminster. Make of that what you will.

The question now is what the party might offer in 2016 or even 2021, when this time there might not be a Conservative government to kick against at the other end of the M4. It's much tougher to base your offer to the people as "Fighting Wales' Corner" when it's against your own party - although to be fair the Welsh Liberal Democrats are giving it a pretty good go at the moment.

At the entrance to the National Eisteddfod last week, among a series of portraits depicting famous inhabitants of the Vale of Glamorgan, between Wing Commander Guy Gibson of the Dambusters and Olympic cyclist Nicole Cooke, was Carwyn Jones' predecessor Rhodri Morgan of Michaelston-le-Pit. The caption reminded festival-goers that Mr Morgan led his party and Wales for more than nine years - some feat of political longevity and stamina. By the turn of the year, Carwyn Jones will be a third of the way to matching him.

It seems mischievous, even incomprehensible given the current situation to even suggest the party should start planning for a succession. But political strategists, like sports fans, know that teams don't automatically stay on top forever.

 
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  • rate this
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    Comment number 92.

    #88 'The somewhat hokey ceremonial is a bit of fun and not essential.'
    Then, why do it. Most of us try, and do understand, that the genius of Wagner can and must be separated from the whole somewhat hokey pseudo-medieval Nazi accretions.
    Or at least do it properly. A painter of model soldiers would not use those terrible, C19 German chemical synthetic, dye colours.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 91.

    #90 Don't think you were asking me, Alf. But anyway.
    The culture of Walesis the culture of the people of Wales. 80% of the people of Wales are essentially monoglot English speaking. Sure, more have the euivalent of O Level French, but they think in English.
    So, how can a celebration of Welsh culture exclude thelives of 80% of the people?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 90.

    If the Eisteddfod is a celebration of Welsh culture. Then, how can 'English' culture be a part of it. Would you demand that other cultures that celebrate their own culture, be forced into the demands of English speakers to change? Would you also demand that Welsh Folk dancing be a part of Morris dancing or Yorkshire pud becomes Pwd Ynys Mon, ridiculous isn't it? That is how you sound.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 89.

    If we have a bilingual society in Wales, should the Eisteddfod be a celebration of cultural Wales in Welsh, English or any other language. After all, language is the means of delivery, the value of poetry [for example] is with its message, the value of song [presumably] is its harmony [for example].

    Could it be that language policy is counter-productive in its aggression towards other languages.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 88.

    #84 Presumably you favour cutting subsidies to the Arts Council and to orchestras and museums. Who needs non-commercial culture? The point about the Eisteddfod is the fostering of musical and poetic endeavour through competition. The somewhat hokey ceremonial is a bit of fun and not essential. Something can be cultural valuable you know - even when it is in Welsh

  • rate this
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    Comment number 87.

    Labour government in Wales has not been a success. Scottish devolution has been more successful. Our biggest relative failure has been in education. Some of you will of course blame Welsh but let's be serious Irish education has been successful since the 1970s compulsory Gaelic and all. What should we do to improve ours?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 86.

    ... alf, It must be that the various aspects of our very imperfect world that you list are forgiveable by the electorate, whereas your preferences are considered unsupportable in the general scheme. The [your] case is obviously not being made effectively.

    ... that's democracy for you, you don't always have ......... justice.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 85.

    What a plonker you are Boxer the Horse. Why don't you move England I'm sure you'd be much happier. Do you realise there is more money spent on Translators for Immigrants in RCT than there is on Welsh. My Grandfather who fought in the Somme and Ypes would be turning in his grave to hear of your attitude to the Welsh language which he spoke and European concept which he supported

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 84.

    #78 Cont.
    You may have noted that amonst the organisationa I think it appropriate to support, I don't include the National Eisteddfod. If you want to dress up and take part in rituals largely invented in the late C19, fine. Perhaps join the Sealed Knot. Or even the Free Masons.
    I just don't see any authentic derivation from the past entitling State support.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 83.

    Atos and their fiasco's, All the IT provided to different government Departments, that became obsolete before they could be used and then had to be replaced. Money to the Banking Industry.Grants to the Nuclear. Wind Farms and Green Industries that no one would touch if it wasn't for them. all these Companies are International ones. G4S and their fiasco's. Not a penny payed back in compensation

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 82.

    Insulting blue book of 1847. Are we thinking of 'The 1847 Reports of the Commissioners of Enquiry into the State of Education in Wales.'

    It's good to agree on the grievance in question before we start to argue about it.

    #79 Welsh Not. Agreed. My apologies.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 81.

    #79 I am not avoiding your previous comments, just prioritising which to answer, whilst defending my flank from a pestilential (g)nat who insists I take resposibility for an act of Henry VIII (whose grandfather was surely Welsh?).

    'Does it really matter... if a few million pounds is spent in preserving an ancient Culture, History and Language.' In #78 I was answering your point.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 80.

    ... alf,

    ... what billions are you referring to ?

    ... and who exactly had their pockets lined ?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 79.

    No I believe it was the Welsh Not Boxer?
    You obviously don't wish to discuss my previous comments about the waste of billions of pounds of our hard earned taxes. To line the pockets of Labour and Tory friends by robbing us. Why don't you want to discuss it? Yet you complain and complain about a few million pounds. Odd to say the least.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 78.

    #74 Most of us do not object to the sums of money spent on Welsh. We just want the money to be spent usefully. If you have a translation budget, translate Harry Potter into Welsh so that kids can &will read it, and enjoy it. Subsidise the Urdd by all means, so kids can practice their spoken, colloquial Welsh. But don't spend £1M on translating council minutes and hospital board mins in the SE.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 77.

    Did you mean the Welsh knotcampaign ?? Or is some other English atrocity that escaped me ?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 76.

    68: Speaking of hate these are some of the slights on the nation of Wales from over the border. The Act of union 1536, the insulting blue book of 1847, The law that states a Welshman can be legally be murdered in the grounds of Chester cathedral after 12pm never revoked, Taffy is a thief children’s rhyme of 1780 taught in English schools, the welsh not campaign. We hate? Look in the mirror pal!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 75.

    68: You can twist history to suit your own agenda but the truth is there in parchment of hate which began in 1536 with the majority Welsh speaking Nation denied the right to speak their own mother tongue or to govern their own nation without an English overseer and that oppression still continues. It's an Irrefutable fact which will never be wiped from history or removed from this forum.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 74.

    Or even give Billions to Foreign Multi National Companies in Grants and payments to make life impossible for the people of their own country to live a decent life. Forced into poverty with no chance of work, while they live in luxury. These Companies are then allowed to keep the money they make even when their inefficiencies and responsibilities waste the money we give them. Why is that OK?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 73.

    Does it really matter in the great scheme of things if a few million pounds is spent in preserving an ancient Culture, History and Language. Why should we deny it just because we don't understand it? Why are we prepared to let Governments waste Billions on reckless projects that become obsolete or cause greater hardships to people before they can be utilised, without a murmur? Why?

 

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