The Political Divorce That Could End Up Benefitting Both Parties; amid Talk of Welsh Labour Splitting from the UK Party, Political Editor David Williamson Looks at What We Can Learn from Similarities in How Germany Is Governed

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), August 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Political Divorce That Could End Up Benefitting Both Parties; amid Talk of Welsh Labour Splitting from the UK Party, Political Editor David Williamson Looks at What We Can Learn from Similarities in How Germany Is Governed


Byline: David Williamson

FORMER Education Minister Leighton Andrews' call for Welsh Labour to consider splitting from the UK party if it backs a hard Brexit has made headlines.

Labour's foes would portray the split as a vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn and claim that the party of Bevan and Attlee is in a state of collapse.

The creation of separate but allied parties in Wales and Scotland would be a moment of huge significance in the story of the Labour movement.

But, instead of ending in disaster, could such a move help Labour adapt to the realities of post-devolution UK so it can play as decisive a role in shaping the future of Britain as it did in the last century? Germany provides a model for how Welsh Labour could strike a successful relationship as a sister party to Labour in England.

Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has dominated postwar politics and operates in 15 of Germany's 16 states, but not in Bavaria.

Bavaria, which has a population of 12.8 million, is the home of the Christian Social Union (CSU). For decades, it has shared power with the CDU at a federal level.

This close relationship is seen as a case study for how independent Labour parties could cooperate in the UK. Could Welsh and Scottish Labour parties hold power in the Cardiff and Edinburgh legislatures, with members joining forces with English Labour MPs at Westminster to form UK governments? The collapse in support for Labour in Scotland in the wake of the rise of the SNP has spurred interest in the German model. In 2015 the party which had dominated Scottish politics won just one MP, and last year it took only seven seats, finishing behind the Conservatives and the SNP.

Former Labour Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in 2015 floated the idea of following the German example.

"I think we may well have to end up with a situation like that in Germany," the Times reported him saying. "The closest parallel you have got with Scotland within a federation is Bavaria, which is very large.

"The CSU is a separate party, works in alliance with the CDU, but I think you're going to have to have a distinctive party."

A key reason why this partnership attracts interest is that it has been hugely successful for both the CDU and Bavaria's CSU.

Welsh Labour has held power in the Assembly since its formation since 1999. It will not want to do anything which could loosen its grip on power and make it easier for a Conservative or Plaid Cymru AM to become First Minister.

Similarly, Welsh and Scottish Labour MPs have also occupied key positions in UK Governments. MPs from both nations will not want to create a situation in which the likes of an Alistair Darling or a Gordon Brown could not become Chancellor. …

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