Thursday, 29 October 2009

Hain as the new Kinnock?

The collapse of a tired and worn-out government is not a pretty sight. The causes are usually multiple, although those with a particular axe to grind will always blame the one which fits best with their own perspective on events. The obvious comparison between current events and previous examples is the end of the Major government in 1997; but there are also some parallels with the end of Labour's last period in office in 1979.

It's interesting that in both those years, there was also a referendum on devolution; and in that respect at least, history seems likely to repeat itself again – 2010 seems likely to be both a year in which a tired old government is removed and a year for holding another referendum on the governance of Wales. It's yet to be made clear which will come first.

In 1997, the referendum which was so narrowly won followed the election of the new government; whilst in 1979, it preceded the defeat of the old. From a London perspective, I suspect that the influence of that failed referendum in 1979 on the results of the general election is underestimated. The referenda were only held in Wales and Scotland, after all; and both countries remained more loyal to Labour than did England, despite the Tories reaching double-figures here in Wales.

But although the referendum might have looked peripheral from London, there was little doubt that months of internecine warfare did not help the Labour Party. And that sort of warfare sapped the strength of the party as a whole, not just in Wales and Scotland.

A future Labour leader – widely regarded as one of their rising stars at the time – was pitted against the official line of his party in implementing a policy for which the rank and file had voted. I really don't think that Kinnock has been given the credit / blame (choose according to perspective) which he deserves for his role in ushering in the Thatcher era.

At first sight, any comparison between Hain and Kinnock seems unlikely and unfair – Hain is, after all, a self-avowed devophile, whereas Kinnock was anything but. And yet...

A situation seems to be developing where Hain (although I'm not sure that many would still consider him to be a rising star) is positioning himself in opposition to a clear pledge given by his party (as a result of a vote in a special conference, not just a leadership pronouncement) as part of the One Wales agreement.

He claims, of course, that his opposition is based on a pragmatic assessment of the probable result; but this seems to be based largely on the view that his own assessment is more reliable than that of the opinion polls, or of anyone else. But the similarity with the events of 1979 is that Hain, like Kinnock before him, is in danger of doing more damage to his own party than to his political opponents.


Unknown said...

You are right to question Hain's strategy ("And yet....? A situation seems to be developing where Hain positioning himself in opposition to a clear pledge given by his party")

As I entered in my blog: "New Labour opened a Pandora's Box when it set devolution in motion. Now Peter Hain, the Welsh Secretary (for the next few months), is desperately applying the brakes. It is obvious that the road of devolution leads down the inevitable path to independence, and the idea of freedom and nationhood is firmly rooted in the minds of Scots and the minds of increasing numbers of Welsh electors." Hain now realises the effects of devolution.

John Dixon said...


"It is obvious that the road of devolution leads down the inevitable path to independence"

I'm far from convinced that that is true. There is nothing inevitable about it at all. How far we travel towards that goal, and how fast, is a matter on which the people of Wales must make a conscious choice, not one in which some 'invisible hand of history' makes it happen.

Pleidwr said...

As always - with the remarkable exception of the Government of Wales Act, 1997 - constitutional progress depends upon the size and trajectory of the Plaid vote.

I really hate to quote a Labour source, but I think this assessment is germane:

I really wish I could see evidence of improvement. But with so many Plaid elected members diving into Labour's slipstream and not ploughing the party's own furrow, I fear we will not:

On the evidence so far, Cardiff Bay seems to be a tar pit for Plaid's aims. Cf. Scotland.

John Dixon said...


"constitutional progress depends upon the size and trajectory of the Plaid vote"

Of course. With only one party for whom such change is a central consideration, that is inevitable. And I also agree with you that we need to ensure that we continue to present Plaid as a different and credible alternative, although that's not always easy when in coalition.

You're not the first to draw attention to the lack of electoral progress made by Plaid as compared with the SNP; but I'm not sure how valid it is to pin the blame for that on the coalition. We didn't start in the same position as the SNP did, so it shouldn't be a surprise that we didn't end up in the same position either.

Whether and to what extent the coalition with Labour is responsible for the lack of electoral progress is something which will be much debated for years to come; but I suspect that it's ultimately unprovable either way. (The fact that it's unprovable will serve only to increase the temperature of the debate!)

The party made a choice in 2007, and it made that choice overwhelmingly. And, even if it were provable that it was the cause of a lack of progress, we cannot rewind history and undo the choice we made.

So, we have to start from where we are - but that still leaves plenty of room for debate about the best way of moving forward.

Unknown said...

Time will tell...

Possibly Nostradamus had the answer?