As Resolute in the Polls as Ever - the Future Is Still Labour's to Lose; DEVOLUTION in His Final Article on How Political Parties Have Adapted to Devolution, Chief Reporter Martin Shipton Looks at the Labour Party

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), September 21, 2017 | Go to article overview

As Resolute in the Polls as Ever - the Future Is Still Labour's to Lose; DEVOLUTION in His Final Article on How Political Parties Have Adapted to Devolution, Chief Reporter Martin Shipton Looks at the Labour Party


BARELY six months ago, at Welsh Labour's annual conference in Llandudno, the mood among many of the party's insiders was sombre.

They weren't looking forward to the appearance of Jeremy Corbyn, whose election as leader of the Labour Party they regarded as an unmitigated disaster.

Conversations hung on how many seats the party would lose at a general election, which seemed increasingly likely as the Tories were so far ahead in the polls.

They needn't have worried. Theresa May did call an election, but to nearly everyone's surprise - and certainly including those Welsh Labour insiders - she lost her Parliamentary majority and Labour picked up seats.

And now, according to last week's YouGov poll for ITV Wales and Cardiff University's Wales Governance Centre, Labour is sitting on 50% support in Wales at a general election and 43% and 40% in the constituency and regional list sections of an Assembly election - enough to finally win that elusive overall majority. In the 18-and-a-half years since the Assembly was established, Welsh Labour's removal from power has repeatedly been predicted - sometimes from within the party itself. There have been occasions when insiders have vied with each other to predict how many seats would be lost. It was going on before last year's election, when at one stage it was thought that the party's quota of AMs could be reduced to the low 20s. In the event, they won 29 seats.

The first lesson for anyone studying Welsh politics is that the Labour brand remains extremely strong here, in the way it isn't in England and Scotland. Whatever mud is thrown at the Welsh Government - justified or not - tends to slide off without causing much damage.

In the first Assembly term, there was a huge amount of negative publicity about the much longer hospital queues in Wales than in England. Jane Hutt, the Health Minister at the time, was mercilessly pilloried over her alleged inability to implement measures to bring the queues down. Yet at the next Assembly election, Labour actually gained seats.

And while her Vale of Glamorgan seat has been captured at Westminster level by the Tories, Ms Hutt has managed to win five successive elections and has been in the Cabinet since the outset of the Assembly in 1999. Her longevity in office is akin to that of Ministers in Cuba or in corrupt African nations of which one has barely heard. Ms Hutt has, it's impossible to deny, become a national treasure.

The administration more generally makes a virtue out of having longserving ministers, comparing the wisdom that has allegedly come from their long experience against the superficialities of UK Government Ministers who are more likely to be here today and gone tomorrow.

Drilling deeper into the resilience of the Labour brand in Wales, it seems that among voters there are two apparently contradictory attitudes being held simultaneously. It's possible to have a low opinion of the Welsh Government's performance in certain areas, while still being determined to vote Labour. The pull of the brand is just too strong to wean a significant number of voters away from doing what they always have done: voting Labour.

Yet adjusting to devolution has not been without its difficulties for Labour. The Alun Michael v Rhodri Morgan contest has been written about many times. It nevertheless remains a classic example of where a government promising to devolve power downwards still wants to control the newly created devolved body. However many times Alun Michael protests otherwise, for most he was Tony Blair's placeman in Wales, parachuted by Machiavellian tactics into a post he hadn't wanted, to deprive Rhodri Morgan of the role he was destined to perform.

If Ron Davies was the architect of Welsh devolution, Rhodri Morgan was its saviour.

At a time when the team surrounding Tony Blair created New Labour as a disciplined, puritanical, technocratic and humour-free electoral machine to appeal to floating aspirational voters, Morgan forged a relationship with the people of Wales that cemented their adherence to the "classic Labour" he represented. …

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As Resolute in the Polls as Ever - the Future Is Still Labour's to Lose; DEVOLUTION in His Final Article on How Political Parties Have Adapted to Devolution, Chief Reporter Martin Shipton Looks at the Labour Party
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