Labour have a fight on their hands
Wales goes to the polls in May to choose a Welsh Assembly. We asked Evening Post columnist and public affairs specialist Lawrence Bailey to sketch out the state of the parties, their policies and how they might fare.
His six-part series today looks at Welsh LABOUR.
Labour has never had an outright working majority in the Senedd. That doesn’t look likely to change any time soon.
Although they are party who brought about Welsh devolution, recognition for that achievement has been rare, even within their own ranks
That is not to say that they’ve been left out in the cold. It may have involved spells of minority government, with all the attendant wrangles, plus a couple of coalitions but Labour has been at the reins in Cardiff Bay since 1999.
Events surrounding the steel industry could make this a defining election for Labour and for Carwyn Jones. It’s a challenge and one that will need allies, now and in the future.
“In a nation of three million people, we can’t afford for anyone or anywhere to be left behind when it comes to economic growth.”
Carwyn Jones, Welsh Labour leader
Will the Corbyn effect help in Wales?
The scene outside Downing Street in 1997 was one of jubilant Tony Blair supporters bobbing up and down to the strains of “Things can only get better”. As it turned out for Labour, the forecast was a little off the mark.
A referendum to create an elected assembly for Wales was a New Labour commitment. Unfortunately, the leadership battle that preceded the 1999 election was distinctly old-school.
Academics speculate that the bitter contest between Alun Michael and Rhodri Morgan prompted the subsequent decline in electoral fortunes. Whatever the truth of that, Labour scraped just 28 of an available 60 seats.
What was hard to fathom was that it wasn’t just the effect of new-fangled proportional representation. Constituency strongholds that that had been in Labour hands throughout living memory were snatched outright by opponents.
Having clawed back ground in Wales, Labour finds itself in repair mode following a bruising general election defeat. The so-called Corbyn effect has sparked a massive boost in membership. Whether the party has learned lessons about strategy remains to be seen.
Current poling predictions give the party 27 seats - three down from their current total and four short of an overall majority. It’s noticeable that this news doesn’t seem to demoralise canvassing teams who have positive things to report.
Labour has already published its pledges on free childcare, tax cuts for small businesses, a new treatment fund and social improvements. They’re seen as sensible and affordable.
The reality however is that everything is now overshadowed by the burgeoning steel crisis. It has changed the focus and the tenor of Labour’s campaign. It has also made the leadership role a pivotal factor.
Unlike his predecessor, Carwyn Jones wears the First Minister mantle like he was measured for it. The man is seen as good in a crisis. His problem is that he’s about to lose some prodigious talent from his ranks at a critical time.
Jones recently rejected any possibility of reinstating the Welsh Development Agency. For many Labour veterans, the WDA represented the bad old days of democratic deficit before the bonfire of the quangos. Even so, this may not be the time for closing doors.
Political detractors liken the Welsh government to the British Raj who ruled over the Indian Empire for generations; in other words, a weary-looking bunch born to the role of administration but not particularly good at it.
It’s tough for Labour to dispel that perception. The administration has a loyal fan-base of entrepreneurs yet it’s hard to find a big business name who thinks the economy has thrived on their watch.
Of course, the incremental nature of devolution requires that you have to look back to see the considerable distance Wales has come and understand the choices made.
Labour’s school report card nonetheless bears evidence that the party in the Senedd often shows an inability to work and play well with others. Describing your erstwhile allies as a “cheap date” displays at best a lack of maturity.
Voters and potential partners will need to hear something better this time around.