Why Labour Isn't Working Its Old Magic Any Longer across Wales; ANALYSIS: Finishing Behind the Conservatives in the European Elections Underlined Some Deep Problems for the Party That Not So Long Ago Was the Dominant Force in Welsh Politics. Political Editor Tomos Livingstone Reviews a Week of Woe for Welsh Labour

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), June 13, 2009 | Go to article overview

Why Labour Isn't Working Its Old Magic Any Longer across Wales; ANALYSIS: Finishing Behind the Conservatives in the European Elections Underlined Some Deep Problems for the Party That Not So Long Ago Was the Dominant Force in Welsh Politics. Political Editor Tomos Livingstone Reviews a Week of Woe for Welsh Labour


Byline: Tomos Livingstone

THE expenses row and the nose-diving economy meant Labour was bound to receive a kicking in the European elections.

But those two factors alone surely can't explain why the party's decline in Wales has been sharper than anywhere else in the UK.

Finishing second behind the Conservatives has prompted much soul-searching among Labour politicians and activists.

Anyone who missed the signs that were there in the 2007 Assembly elections and 2008 council elections, must have had a nasty shock, but the reality is that Labour in Wales hasn't withered overnight.

Some will argue that the low turnout - just 30.5% - means that lots of "natural" Labour supporters stayed at home, and can, with the right persuasion, be prompted to turn up and vote again when the general election comes.

But it would be a mistake to imagine that is a simple task, or that such "natural" supporters exist as a mass group any more, especially outside the old Mid Glamorgan and west Gwent..

Different things went on in different parts of Wales. There was some direct switching from Labour to the Conservatives, especially in North-East Wales.

In the Valleys a lot of Labour supporters stayed at home, while in rural areas Labour decline seems to be accelerating. Cardiff seems to be developing a distinct four-party politics all of its own.

Labour in Wales, it seems to me, has three big problems.

It had no message for last week's elections, it has no organisation to speak of and it lacks a clear idea of where to go next.

It was remarkable to hear Eluned Morgan, a retiring Labour MEP, giving an interview to Radio Cymru a few days ago, when she conceded that she couldn't say clearly what was the party's message..

If that's not an indication of a tired political outfit, I don't know what is.

It's also clear that what used to be the Labour machine in Wales - trade unions, pits, steelworks, Labour clubs and so on - no longer exists in any meaningful sense.

Attempts to replace this with an internet-based campaigning structure have been amateurish at best.

But more important than all of these, is the question about Welsh Labour's future.

The party took a conscious decision to reject much of the New Labour ideology - no foundation hospitals or PFI projects here.

It was called Clear Red Water, and in the 2003 Assembly elections, two months after Tony Blair gave the signal to invade Iraq, it worked beautifully.

But it now looks out of date, and Welsh Labour seems uncomfortable with the idea that it needs to be put in the bin.

Welsh society has changed since 2003, never mind since 1997, and the party has failed to follow those changes.

The Welsh population is more aspirational, less tied to the community into which it was born and certainly not interested in voting and behaving the same way as its parents.

Several senior figures in the Labour Party have identified this (and a parallel problem: a Jurassic attitude to rural Wales and the Welsh language) - but none of the analysing has translated into fresh new policies. That failure also says a great deal about the way the party operates..

Where to go next? Taking up some of the pointers offered by Peter Hain, Leighton Andrew, Eluned Morgan and others - greater appeal to aspirational voters and to the Welsh-speaking north and west - and developing some clearer policies that reflect that would be a good place to start.

But some think the malaise is even wider than that. Dr Alan Finlayson, a reader in politics at Swansea University, says Labour might as well give up on the next election, and focus instead on reconnecting with its traditions. …

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Why Labour Isn't Working Its Old Magic Any Longer across Wales; ANALYSIS: Finishing Behind the Conservatives in the European Elections Underlined Some Deep Problems for the Party That Not So Long Ago Was the Dominant Force in Welsh Politics. Political Editor Tomos Livingstone Reviews a Week of Woe for Welsh Labour
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