Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Interpreting the vote

The IWA website, Click on Wales, published an article yesterday by the Chair of Wales for Europe, Geraint Talfan Davies, setting out his views on the forthcoming (maybe) European elections.  There was much in his analysis with which I entirely agree, particularly his assertion that Wales has little political leverage as a result of the way we have chosen to vote over the years.  He references particularly the 1979 vote on devolution itself and the 2016 referendum on the EU.  I’d be tempted to add all the times when Wales has voted by a majority to support a Labour Party whose main interest is, and always has been, in gaining power at UK level rather than in winning – let alone exercising – significant leverage for Wales.  I can understand, however, why his criticism of Labour is rather less direct and more nuanced than that.
I also understand, and find myself entirely in sympathy with, the frustration he expresses at the failure of the pro-Remain parties in Wales to find common cause for an election which will surely be fought largely on the issue of future membership or not of the EU.  I agree with his assertion that this is the over-riding immediate issue facing us (albeit probably not for exactly the same reasons) and I share his frustration that a fragmentation of the pro-EU vote will facilitate what he describes, rightly, as “the prospect of a disruptive UKIP/Brexit Party presence in the European Parliament”.  However, despite all that basis for potential agreement with his analysis, I still find the expectation that Plaid Cymru, the Green Party, the Lib Dems and Change UK could somehow arrange a combined campaign for the European elections to be profoundly unrealistic.
It isn’t about what he describes (rather unfairly, I thought) as “the narcissism of small differences” between the parties named; the differences between the parties concerned are rather greater than those between the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea.  Perhaps many years as a member of one of the parties concerned gives me a different perspective, but what looks like simple logic from the point of view of an organisation campaigning for one single defined aim doesn’t look anything like as logical from the point of view of the leaders of any of the relevant parties.  In this particular context, ‘winning a majority for a pro-Remain position’ is an eminently desirable outcome on election day itself – but how does it translate into the subsequent behaviour of the member or members elected once they enter the parliament?  Such an alliance would almost certainly win one of the four seats from Wales, and maybe even two, but from which party or parties would they come – and what would be the expectation of the way in which they would then try to represent the very different views of those who voted for them in the first place? 
My questions illustrate the difficulties of using an election for members of a parliament to try and answer an entirely different question, and no matter how much I want the same answer to that question, I can see the difficulties of trying to get it via this route.  It isn’t obstinacy or selfishness which drives parties to behave as they do, it is an attempt to express differing perspectives in an imperfect political system, recognising that those elected will serve for up to five years (depending on what happens with Brexit), during which time they will have to ‘choose a side’ in hundreds of debates and arguments on which the parties hold very different views.  We, the voters, would have absolutely no clarity in advance what position our elected members would take on any of those questions if they were elected solely on the basis of an anti-Brexit platform.
Even if it would have been possible in principle to hammer out some sort of minimal agreed manifesto between parties (let alone agree who the candidates would be and how they could be democratically selected by a multiplicity of parties acting in concert), the timescale between the announcement that the elections were to take place and the close of nominations on 25th April simply did not permit the detailed and complex negotiations which would have been required.  What is, perhaps, a more realistic and achievable ambition (and something which, maybe, Wales for Europe could broker?) is to draw up some sort of ‘lowest common denominator’ statement about the way forward for Brexit, which all the relevant parties could sign up to, so that their combined total of votes could reasonably be interpreted as a vote for a particular outcome whilst the pro-Brexit parties remain fragmented.  Failure to achieve even that would be, for me, a much more valid reason for criticism of parties than their failure to agree a common slate of candidates.

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