(What I argue in this post in no way invalidates my assertion that Wales is, in reality, run by civil servants answering to London; a sitution that reduces ‘Welsh’ Government spokespersons to mere mouthpieces. In this post I am dealing with perceptions, and for the vast majority of people in Wales the country is ‘run’ by the Labour Party government in Cardiff.)
In a piece I posted on February 18th, Polls and Donkeys, and in other posts, I may have given the impression that I view the Labour Party in Wales as a bunch of unprincipled, self-serving, dim-witted and traitorous self-abusers. This is still my view. However, in the post referred to I should perhaps have expanded my interpretations of the opinion poll that formed the basis of that post, as I subsequently did in answer to certain comments.
What the poll told us, among other things, was that despite the abysmal performance of the Labour Party its vote in Wales is holding firm. Looking at the approval ratings we see from the table that the highest rating was 41%, this from Labour supporters who believe the ‘Welsh’ Government is doing a good job with the economy. (I kid you not!)
Yet when we consider voting intentions, in the rather colourful table below, we find that support for Labour is little changed from earlier contests. In any normal society this would be regarded as very odd, even perverse; perhaps an indication of endemic or congenital masochism within the population. A condition possibly resulting from centuries of being kicked around and exploited. Yet while history may play a part in shaping attitudes in twenty-first century Wales there’s a much simpler explanation. For too many Labour supporters there is no credible or attractive alternative to Labour.
Now, clearly, the Tories are never going to be that alternative. Perhaps because there has never been a coherent and recognisably Welsh Tory voice; by which I mean a patriotically Welsh, but Unionist, position prepared to argue Wales’ corner. I had hoped we might be moving towards such a party, but the recent split over income tax, and the Uriah Heap-like behaviour of David Jones tells me that the Conservative and Unionist Party in Wales still contains a majority of politicians wanting a party that represents the interests of England, and the English within Wales; often done by promoting the view that our best interests are served by ‘smoothing out’ all differences with England, done for our own good of course, because whatever makes us different is just ‘ugly, intolerant nationalism’ – ach y fi!
Then there are the Liberal Democrats, UKIP, Greens, BNP, Monster Raving Loony Party and other, even more outlandish groups, unlikely to ever over-work ballot-counters and Returning Officers. Which leaves only Plaid Cymru. For despite the fact that Labour’s ‘Donkey’ voters belong to the most deracinated and, um . . . ‘uninformed’ (that the word?) elements of the nation, there still resides within most of them a spark of Welshness. This spark flickers into life for sporting events, and on those occasions when someone reminds them they’re just a ‘Welsh bastard’, but not when Plaid Cymru comes knocking. Telling us that Plaid Cymru, a ‘national’ party, is failing on the most basic level.
Partly because being a Labour Party Mk 2 will make no headway with Labour supporters. They will ask themselves why they should vote for the imitation when they can vote for the real thing. Equally pointless is pathetically struggling to win the approval of Guardianistas and the scroungers and shysters of the poverty celebration industry. Also worth remembering is that for every Mike Parker there are a dozen or more English in Wales who resent being reminded they are even in Wales. (To verify that, just pop in to your local golf club.) What I’m trying to say is that the only hope for Wales, and the only possible threat to the Labour Party, lies in Plaid Cymru appealling to the ‘Donkey’ voters on a different level. Which will have to mean Plaid reasserting itself as a Welsh party, rather than continuing to posture as some kind of lefty Brit regionalist party.
To achieve this will mean standing up for the Welsh, rather than for the cop-out of ‘Wales’. Because if you restrict yourself to ‘Wales’, and divorce it from Welsh nationhood, then you are left with nothing but a geographical expression, or an empty shell. It then becomes possible to argue – as with tourism – that something is ‘good for Wales’ while working against the interests of Welsh people and Welsh nationhood. Plaid has to face the reality that distancing the party from perceptions of ‘nationalism’ has paid no electoral dividend. Plaid Cymru must re-unite with the Welsh nation, all of the nation. Demand that Welsh people, those with roots in this country, have priority claim in employment, social housing, training, grants – everything ‘Wales’ has to offer.
Plaid must no longer avoid the inescapable truth that its existing and potential electorate is almost entirely restricted to those who regard themselves as Welsh. So unashamedly target this electorate, speak up in its defence, demand measures that specifically benefit Welsh people. Done effectively this will allow the party to take votes directly from Labour, which will obviously damage Labour far more than by taking votes from other parties. There is no other way for Plaid Cymru to become the major political force in Wales other than by attacking Labour head-on. (As the SNP has so successfully done in Scotland.) Given that the two parties are so close ideologically, the only hope of victory lies in appealing to people’s innate Welshness.
If Plaid Cymru is unwilling to change direction, to speak in defence of Welsh people, then it has no purpose, and no future. By refusing to fulfil its obvious role it guarantees its continued impotence and takes up space that could or should be filled by a genuinely Welsh party . . . while also gifting the Labour Party – and England – unchallenged hegemony over our homeland.