The 1888 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica included a famously mirthless entry for Wales, “see England”. Labour hegemony since 1924 has led pundits to treat Welsh politics as a done deal. For Welsh politics, see Welsh Labour. Out-shouted by Scotland, less troubled than Ulster. Welsh politics has drawn little interest outside the Cardiff-centric Welsh media.
Whitehall has been criticised for its ‘devolve and forget’ mentality. Fleet Street has a similar shortcoming. Insufficient scrutiny of Cardiff Bay makes it easier for Wales’ left wing elites to project their self-image onto Wales.
Brexit and the ‘December Revolution’ challenge their proprietorial claims to define Wales’ political identity putting a rocket under settled habits.
Welsh politics is now moving faster than many pundits can keep up with. And Boyo is that a good thing.
Given the promises made at the dawn of devolution the Welsh Labour Government is inevitably judged in terms of output legitimacy.
All is not well in the land of Nye Bevan. The Welsh Labour Government’s track record is so problematic that Rebecca Long-Bailey called for a ‘legal inquiry’ into the Welsh NHS. Welsh Health Secretary Vaughan Gethin personifies Welsh Labour’s imperial arrogance when he walked out of an ITV Wales interview smiling contemptuously.
In a land of pioneering educationalists, two decades of ‘clear red water’ between Cardiff Bay and Westminster has led to a lost generation of state school pupils who are left to struggle in the UK’s worst performing education system.
Not even their onetime strong suit of social justice fits the bill. Welsh Labour has failed to close the gap between the richest and poorest in Wales. Among the home nations Wales has the highest percentage of employees on short-term contracts and the lowest wages.
The ‘Welsh Labour brand’ credited by Lord Hain to Huw Evans, “a very capable Welshman who had been working in London for New Labour” is increasingly timeworn.
To paraphrase Disraeli after two decades they resemble a range of exhausted volcanoes, not a flame flickers on a single pallid crest. One former Tory Welsh Secretary said they are ‘Very tired, like the ageing Politburo that created glasnost’.
The Merthyr Tydfil MP and Labour leader Kier Hardie once said socialism was integral to “the Welsh race”. Indeed Labour has won a majority of Welsh Parliamentary seats since 1924 and has run Welsh Government for what by 2021 will be nearly a quarter of a century. Nowadays the historian and Labour peer Kenneth Morgan laments they have ‘lapsed into insular isolation’.
Part of Welsh Labour’s problem is that the Welsh Left has moved on from the coalfields, steel mills and factories into the universities, media and Cardiff Bay bubble-linked political industries that form Welsh Labour’s rising class.
First Minister Mark ‘Cardiff Corbynista’ Drakeford speaks to Islington rather than Islwyn, sharpening a cultural divide with the rest of Wales that his predecessor Rhodri Morgan called the “blue collar nation”. Wales is a nation of customs, traditions and ‘little platoons’, not the New Left radicalism of the Cardiff Condescendi.
The December Revolution was not terminal for stagnating Welsh Labour in the same way the ‘Night of the long sgian dubhs’ was for Scottish Labour in 2015. Yet it was a bitter portent. Challenges to Welsh Labour hegemony in their post-industrial working class heartlands have been falling thick and fast.
Just as Scottish Labour short-sightedly pitch-rolled for nationalism by claiming Conservatives were not Scottish enough so Welsh Labour’s soft nationalist signaling lowers the bar for Plaid Cymru.
The strange case of Welsh Labour’s rising nationalism has repercussions for the party in north east and south east Wales. Drakeford who is “not personally” a Unionist, talks about the United Kingdom in transactional terms, allowing Welsh Conservatives the mantle of unambiguous Unionism.
The latest Welsh Political Barometer points to a ‘major breakthrough’ at the next Senedd election with Welsh Conservatives on an historic thirty five percent, wining 22 seats to Welsh Labour’s 24.
Moreover BBC Wales’ St David’s Day survey puts Welsh Labour and Welsh Conservatives level on 31% in the constituencies and two percentage points apart on the regional list vote. The Wales Governance Centre’s Professor Awan Scully projects 22 seats for Welsh Labour, 20 for Welsh Conservatives and 18 for Plaid Cymru.
One nation Welsh Conservatives may yet reboot home rule to deliver Wales’ overdue devolution dividend. Their leader Paul Davies stands for empowering people, boosting localism and promoting accountability so that “devolution does not stop at Cardiff Bay”.
All political hegemonies come to an end. With an unpredictable fifteen months ahead of May 2021, SW1 should not be surprised if voters draw a line under Welsh Labour’s two wasted decades.
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