Monday 8 May 2017

Where's the alternative?

Whilst the extent of their success may have been somewhat overplayed by the press and media, there can be no doubt that last Thursday’s local elections were a boost to the Tories.  But if there’s one thing that must be even more pleasing than the actual results to the Welsh Tory high command, it’s the reaction of the other parties.
This response from Wayne David was typical of the complacency coming from Labour in particular.  It is of course true that the Tory advance in Wales was not as great as some polls had been suggesting, and was less than in England, but at least part of that is down to the fact that there are large swathes of the old Glamorgan and Gwent where the Tories can rarely even be bothered to stand.  Holding off a Tory surge in areas where the Tories have few or no candidates hardly counts as a huge achievement.  At a time when yet another election has demonstrated that many parts of Wales are becoming similar to England in terms of voting behaviour, suggesting that Welsh Labour has somehow got it right and can teach English Labour a thing or two looks more like ignoring reality than facing up to it.
As voting behaviour in Wales increasingly changes to match that in England, few things will please the Tories more than to see Welsh Labour reverting to its default – and only – strategy of not being the Tories.  I suspect that Labour will have to suffer even more damage – possibly even terminal damage – before they realize that the strategy is of increasingly limited value.  Harking back to Thatcher and the miners – let alone Churchill and Tonypandy – is appealing to a demographic which is inevitably and inexorably declining due to natural causes.
But one of the problems facing us in Wales is that it isn’t just Labour which is depending on this out-dated strategy.  Much of what I‘ve seen of Plaid’s messaging for the General Election so far seems to be based on the idea that they’re even more anti-Tory than the Labour Party.  It looks as if we’re facing an election where the two main opponents of the Tories in Wales are going to spend much of their time arguing over who’s best-placed to defend us from those who will, yet again, be painted as baby-eaters or worse.
It’s an essentially negative approach, with little by way of vision for an alternative future.  Worse still, it fails to present an alternative set of values.  One of the reasons for the increasing success of the Tories has been that they have managed to get increasing numbers of people to buy in to what is essentially a selfish political philosophy.  Whether they’re talking about looking after Brits first, controlling the borders, cutting benefits, or cutting taxes, the underlying theme is one of an appeal to individualism and selfishness amongst the target demographic and demonising the non-target demographic.
In much of their response to this approach, the self-styled ‘progressive’ parties seem largely to accept the implicit values and propose minor variations to policy; what they’re not doing is promoting an alternative set of values based around community solidarity and collectivism.  The existence of that alternative set of values amongst the Welsh electorate is simply assumed, despite the growing evidence to the contrary.  But failure to promote an alternative set of values leaves a situation in which people are being asked to choose which of the parties will best deliver on the one set of values which is evident.  Why wouldn’t voters increasingly turn to the Tories?

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