Monday, 1 June 2015

What to do about Labour?

Last month, Nick Bourne floated – again – the idea of a rainbow alliance forming a new Welsh Government next May.  Personally, I don’t see it happening.  Of course, a lot could change between now and Next May, but any scenario which doesn’t see Labour emerging as the largest party with between 27 and 32 seats looks highly unlikely at present.  And any result in that range means that an alternative government needs to include all the opposition parties – which on current probabilities means a Conservative-led government with active participation from Plaid, UKIP and the Lib Dems (if there are any of them left).
But where’s the big idea behind such a government – the big win for Wales which would justify the pain which would inevitably be felt by at least one of the parties?  There isn’t one, and the need for one is not even understood.  The only common thread between that disparate bunch is that they’re not Labour - it would essentially be a government pieced together on the back of a negative.  That was part of the problem with the similar proposal in 2007 for some of us – and I’ve often wondered since then whether Mike German really understood how much damage he did to the whole idea in the eyes of some in Plaid when he referred to it as an “anti-socialist alliance”.
But the fact that the proposed prescription – a rainbow government – looks to be the stuff of fantasy, doesn’t mean that the underlying diagnosis is wrong.  Wales has a political problem in that there is not currently a credible alternative to a Labour, or Labour-led, government in Cardiff.  I concur with the view that continued Labour rule is not only a recipe for complacency, it’s holding Wales back.  I also concur with the view that a healthy democracy needs a credible alternative - although ultimately it’s the way people cast their votes which creates that situation, and we need to bear in mind that Labour only enjoys its hegemony because people vote for the party. 
If Labour is the problem, what is the solution?  There are, it seems to me, three potential responses to that question – push it, reform it, or destroy it.
The first is to attempt to push Labour in a particular direction from the outside and is effectively – although not always openly stated as such – the route which Plaid has been following for many years.  It depends on winning the intellectual arguments and/or simply posing a sufficiently strong electoral threat.  I’d argue that it has not been without its successes.  The question now is whether that approach has run its course.
Whether the second possible approach – trying to change the Labour party from within – would have been even more effective is a matter of conjecture; it’s certainly something that I’ve often pondered.  But we only live history once; choices were made and we have to live with the outcomes.  What has happened is in the past and cannot be changed – but it leaves open the question as to whether that could yet be an effective way forward in the future.  Is Labour beyond all hope or not?  I concluded long ago that it is.  Whilst hope always resurfaces when the party is in opposition, a year or two of a Labour government is sufficient to dispel any illusion.
The third option is to destroy the Labour Party in Wales and replace it with an alternative which can articulate a different vision for our future.  The SNP have achieved just that in Scotland – could we yet achieve it in Wales?  The honest answer is that I don’t know, even though it’s my preferred option.  But if it were to be the aim, it would need a determined and consistent strategy to achieve it.  I’m fairly certain that forming a Conservative-led rainbow government in 2016 would be more likely to have the opposite effect.  And continually referring to the Labour Party as a ‘progressive force’ and reinforcing their narrative of needing to stop the evil Tories seems equally unlikely to accomplish the objective. 


Anonymous said...

Labour’s electoral strength in Wales comes mainly from the over 55’s simple as that, they vote and they still believe Labour is a force for good and in the post war settlement, they’re the same people in Scotland who mostly voted NO to independence. To counteract that the SNP/Yes movement has mobilised the younger generations and it’s why Scotland will be independent sooner rather than later. It’s that younger generation strategy any Welsh party needs to follow if they ever want to make progress in removing Labour from power

As for next May all options are bad for Plaid Cymru, a deal with Tories/UKIP/Lib Dems will cement Labour unchallenged in power for at least another generation while a Labour/Plaid Cymru deal makes them little more than a Labour light party of protest/irrelevance, but that’s where Leanne Wood’s leadership appears to heading.

Anonymous said...

Great analysis again John. And I agree with Anon above. Plaid need to produce a radical manifesto and demand that Labour sign up to dramatic change as part of any coalition deal. There are huge divisions within Labour, even in the Senedd, and the "nationalist" wing of Labour must be persuaded to break ranks with their London masters.
It is clear that the Tory government aren't going to devolve much at all to Cardiff - we need Labour in Wales to fully commit to the spirit of devolution.

Anonymous said...

Your third option is the only option.Both the Tories and Labour are beyond the pale.Plaid must fight to form a government on an independence ticket. The SNP have campaigned through thick and thin for independence.They have lost a battle and won another, victory is within grasp.
In Wales Plaid Cymru have not fought hard for independence and are busy going nowhere. Latest public statements from Plaid are not very good. The leader mentions a confederation and leaving defence and foreign relations in the hands of London. This is ambitionless rubbish. Why would anyone vote for Plaid if has the same stance as the Greens, Lib Dems and Labour. Why would they? They dont.
The policy of the party is a nonsense, "We must put the economy right so we can afford independence". You need independence to put the economy right. If the economy ever became right under London rule, most unlikely,it defeats the need for independence.

Spirit of BME said...

Your analysis is spot on.
One difficulty in the only real option of Plaid killing off the largest party in Wales, is the current leadership is emotionally joined at the hip to the Labour Party and no matter what abuse they get from them, they cannot bring themselves, nor do they have the intellectual capability to do what has to be done.
What you see hear is a classic abusive relationship syndrome