Friday, 7 May 2021

Leading or following?


In the light of the Conservative victory in the Hartlepool by-election, Labour figures are lining up to say that Labour needs to reconnect with people, to listen to what their former electors are saying, and to change to reflect that. It’s a response which raises the whole question of whether parties exist to lead or to follow. Telling the electors that they’re wrong is, they argue, not a good place to be.

But. It doesn’t take a lot of listening or polling to understand that what electors in England are increasingly saying that they want is a government which puts up barriers to the rest of the world and a government which penalises the poorest in society. They welcome the ‘hostile environment’ and want the government to deport more people. They like macho posturing with gunboats and weapons of mass destruction and they regret the loss of empire and the unwillingness of those foreign types to agree to whatever we want. It would be unfair to tar all English voters with the same brush (or to claim that there aren’t voters in Wales with similar views), and there are certainly generational differences, but the above seems to me to be a reasonably fair reflection of where ‘middle England’ is today.

Political parties have a choice between attempting to lead public opinion and following it. Boris Johnson is choosing the latter path, as one might expect from a party whose only objective is to gain and exercise power for the benefit of themselves and their cronies. And – at present at least – playing to the gallery works; it not only wins them elections currently, but it also reinforces and entrenches the attitudes of their supporters. On the other hand, a party which believes in an alternative approach has the much harder task of persuading and convincing people to support that alternative – and that includes a willingness to disagree with the consensus of public opinion when necessary. As an example: in Wales, independence isn’t on the table because it matches the preconceptions and beliefs of the majority, it’s on the table because a minority have spent so much time and effort arguing for it.

Labour have spent decades conflicted between the two approaches to politics. Very occasionally the more visionary approach wins out in the internal battle, but since such an approach can never be expected to bring instant electoral success (it is, necessarily, a longer-term project), it always gets ditched again after a bad result. They may gloss over it by saying that it’s better to be in power and mitigate some of the worst effects of the Tories, but ultimately, given a choice between being in power in the short term and fighting for real change in the long term, they invariably choose the former. That’s what ‘listening to the voters’ is really about. The sooner ‘Welsh Labour’ realise that the English Labour Party isn’t going to appear over the hill like the 7th Cavalry to save Wales, the sooner they can start participating in a real debate about what sort of Wales we want to build.

1 comment:

dafis said...

When did the 7th cavalry come over the hill to save anyone ? Last I heard they were in desperate need of help themselves !. Fast forward to today, the nasty jingoism of middle England is not new, it's just a case that it has spread to a wider demographic as it often did in times of war and crisis. This is a post Brexit mindset out to prove that the decision was right. Labour, despite having some dissidents is seen as the party of Remain by those who wish to draw sharp distinctions.

What does all of this hold for Wales ? Not a lot I suspect.Jingoism as often voiced on sites like Guido shows scant respect or comradeship towards Welsh or Scots unless they are of the compliant types well dipped in dependency culture. So we'll be picking up a share of HS2 and Trident whether we like it or not and continue to be subjected to the usual abuse about being a drain on the UK ( English) Treasury.

If you turn and suggest they cut us loose all sorts of feeble folk this side of Offa's Dyke will come out wailing and waving begging bowls. A conundrum indeed.