Welsh Labour: One Big, Happy, And Incestuous Family

Two important and encouraging pieces of news today, and both damaging to the Labour Party or, as its local manifestation prefers, ‘Welsh Labour’. I welcome this because all my life I have dreamed of seeing the Labour Party broken, its control over our country destroyed.

It has become evident to me of late that – perhaps due to English politics being so dull – a number of England’s political commentators have begun to look over the border, and they’ve been amazed at what they’ve found. Basically, a third world country on their very doorstep. Not just poor, but also corrupt. In the past few weeks alone, we’ve had Mark Easton of the BBC trek to darkest Blaenau Gwent, his filmed visit followed by a blog posting which in turn prompted a response from Sarah Bees. (Who she?) In addition, there has been increasing notice taken by important bloggers such as Guido Fawkes, most recently with this piece about the Michael dynasty. Then, to fill my my cup to overflowing, today we heard of collars being felt in Caerphilly, a Labour fiefdom again since last year’s elections. Oh happy day!

Without stating it, Mark Easton’s little film was a condemnation of the Labour Party. The party that has controlled the Heads of the Valleys for a century and the Welsh Assembly since 1999. The party that chooses to use Welsh deprivation to blame the Tories and garner votes, then provide funding for its cronies in the Third Sector. In fact, anything but tackle the problem – cos there ain’t no mileage in that for Labour.Alun Michael

Turning to the Michael clan, it might be worth reminding younger readers that once upon a time Alun Michael was top man in the Assembly, before Rhodri Morgan took over. In fact, Alun Michael was pushed into the job by his bosses in London so that Rhodri Morgan couldn’t take over. It may have been this episode that made Michael realise that selection processes and the will of party members could be overridden. (Though it did not work out for him in the Assembly.)

Last year Alun Michael resigned as MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, and ensured he was succeeded by Steven Doughty, the son of a long-time friend. Michael stood down to run for the newly-created post of Police and Crime Commissioner for the South Wales Police area. He was elected. His son, Tal, standing for the North Wales Police area, was not so fortunate. But the boy done bounced back . . . now he is the Labour Party candidate for Anglesey in the August 1 Assembly by-election to replace Ieuan Wyn Jones. Though dark mutterings are being heard from the bruvvers about a stitch-up. Oh, and did I mention that Tal’s wife Mary (Wimbury) is the Labour candidate in Aberconwy for the 2015 elections to the imperial parliament? (Competition at last for the Kinnock clan!)

Alun Michael is the stereotypical Welsh Labour politico. After migrating to the Lesser Wen from the frozen north he worked for a short time as a reporter before becoming a yoof and community worker for 16 years. In 1972, aged 29, he was made a JP. A year later he became a councillor, and in 1987 became MP for Cardiff South and Penarth following the retirement of Jim Callaghan. So he seems never to have done a ‘real’ job. After a lifetime spent climbing the greasy pole he must feel the party owes him a few favours.

Returning to Caerphilly, more fun and games. It emerged a while back that the council, or a small caucus of councillors, had agreed to greatly increase the salaries of the chief executive and 20 other senior officers . . . this done at the suggestion of the chief executive, Anthony O’Sullivan . . . with the decision ‘taken’ at a meeting at which he was present throughout. Now readers outside of Wales might find this way of doing things a little odd, but bear with me, we are talking Welsh Labour here (to help you, just think of those comforting TV programmes about criminals getting caught due to their own stupidity). Then there was the business of the car payment allowances. Anyway, things came to a head today when the already suspended Mr O’Sullivan was arrested, as was his deputy. As yet, no Labour councillor has been arrested. As yet.

Anthony O'SullivanI’ve thought about this case, and tried to visualise what happened, but it’s not easy. O’Sullivan and his gang are all, theoretically, employees of the council, made manifest in the collective and impressive bulk of the ruling Labour group on Caerphilly council. This being so, they should have submitted a request for salary increases and argued their case in the normal way. But no, something totally different happened. Maybe something like this: ‘Me an’ the boys been talking . . . we’ve decided we’re worth more than you are paying us. So you’re gonna make us an offer we can’t refuse. Capice?’ (Or have I watched the Godfather too many times?)

Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but when I put this together with other Labour news from around the country, such as Swansea’s anybody-but-locals council, or the Nazi-Soviet pact running Carmarthenshire, I can’t help but feel a little frisson, for I see the monolith cracking. I see a party unable to find local candidates with IQ higher than waist measurement; a party that ‘controls’ councils that are in fact run by the employees (most from outside Wales); a party that capitalises on Welsh deprivation to ‘send messages to London’ rather than dealing with that deprivation; a party happy to ally itself with closet Tories; a party now further to the Right than it has ever previously been; a party refusing to do what’s best for Wales lest it succeed, and excite nationalist passions; a party reliant for support on the most dispirited and uncritical element of the nation.

It would be tempting to look at the situation now and compare it with the political scene a century ago. Then, the Liberal Party came to the end of its long reign in Wales and was replaced by Labour. Labour today is perhaps in a worse position than the Liberals were a hundred years ago. After all, the Liberals had an up-and-coming David Lloyd George. Labour has no one of that stature, or political cunning. But perhaps the real difference is that today we have a party dead on its feet, devoid of ideas, believing in power for its own sake and nothing more, that can continue to dominate Wales because there is no viable or attractive alternative.

19 thoughts on “Welsh Labour: One Big, Happy, And Incestuous Family

  1. nonny

    One of the main factors keeping these Labour Party zombies staggering along is Plaid Cymru. As long as Plaid prattle on about “socialism” and seeing the Tories as the Great Satan, they give legitimacy to the most corrupt and destructive parcel of rogues in Welsh history – the Labour party.

    If only Labour was a little bit more left-wing, a little bit nicer to Leanne and Jill, then everything would be fine. Plaid loves to cosy-up to Labour. As far as the interests of Wales are concerned it’s like cosying-up to a half-dead but still dangerous rattlesnake.

  2. Llew

    “One of the main factors keeping these Labour Party zombies staggering along is Plaid Cymru. As long as Plaid prattle on about “socialism” and seeing the Tories as the Great Satan, they give legitimacy to the most corrupt and destructive parcel of rogues in Welsh history – the Labour party.

    If only Labour was a little bit more left-wing, a little bit nicer to Leanne and Jill, then everything would be fine. Plaid loves to cosy-up to Labour. As far as the interests of Wales are concerned it’s like cosying-up to a half-dead but still dangerous rattlesnake.”

    No, Labour is kept staggering along by the massive votes it receives from Welsh people. Plaid Cymru is the only party that has ever been able to get votes off Labour, though not enough. Plaid Cymru is also the only party that can actually beat these zombies on Ynys Mon.

    Because of the massive popularity of Labour in Wales, Plaid Cymru has seen it fit to occasionally co-operate with Labour on securing an Assembly and strengthening it. This isn’t “cosying-up”, it is normal European coalition politics. In every European country except for backwards Britain, coalitions are normal, including involving nationalist parties. The Basque nationalists had a coalition with Spanish labour, the Catalan nationalists did as well, and got a new statute of autonomy out of it (preparing them for future independence) but somehow in Wales it’s “cosying-up”.

    For all your nationalism, you seem to have no European perspective or proportional representation perspective at all. Sometimes your interests will coincide with the interests of another party. In that case, you do a partnership to get an objective achieved.

    We have had Tory direct rule on Wales and it was horrific. EVEN worse than Labour, and that’s saying something. That’s why non-nationalists swung to support the Assembly, just.

    I don’t expect this blog’s fans to understand or agree with that, but at least you shoud know why this “cosying-up” has happened.

    1. Jac

      I’ve heard this argument many, many times, and each time it ignores a fundamental difference between what happens on the continent and what we saw with the ‘One Wales’ coalition.

      In the shell of a nut, there are too many people within Plaid who identify with Labour; who view Labour as a ‘sister party’; who know in their heart of hearts that they could easily be – and might yet become – Labour Party members. Making the Labour-Plaid coalition (2007 – 2011), for many Plaid members, more than just a temporary political linkage, more a natural alliance, a marriage made in heaven.

      This being due to Plaid Cymru’s socialism. Which results in many Plaidistas regarding Labour as fellow socialists (yes, even today!) and allowing this perceived ideological affinity blind them to the inherent and institutional anti-Welshness of the Labour Party in Wales. Made easier because Plaid is not enough of a nationalist party.

      For the past thirty years Plaid has viewed itself, and promoted itself, in all but name, as ‘the Welsh Socialist Party’, rather than anything that might be mistaken for a nationalist party. (Nationalism! How frightful!) It only needs Welsh Labour to become a little more Welsh, or Plaid a little less, for the inevitable merger to come about.

  3. Llew

    The idea that Labour is worse than the Tories will simply not get anywhere with the Welsh people. Mainly because it’s wrong and not convincing. The Welsh people (and I deliberately say Welsh, because English people are more likely to favour the Tories, and there’s evidence to prove this) consistently think the Tories are worse. Most people remember that Labour rule is mediocre, but Tory rule was horrendous (and perceived as non-Welsh). That’s why there have been some synergies between Plaid and Labour, because more Welsh people are Labour, and they therefore have more hegemony, and part of popularising home rule includes popularising it through labour policies.

    Alex Salmond says that independence is the next stage of devolution. The Catalans also say independence is only possible because they’ve already had work experience through autonomy. Devolution is partial independence. Unfortunately even that might not convince enough Scots, let alone the Welsh. But the only way Wales could ever get it is through building on what we’ve got. That’s why Plaid has sometimes co-operated with Labour. It’s about seeing what can actually be achieved. It may be pragmatism, but i’d take it over fantasy any day.

    You don’t have to agree, but it’s an explanation. I also have to say I once swore i’d stop reading this blog, but the debate is always good. I respect some of your views, they’re just a long way from what I think actually works. It’s a Welsh nationalist version of the debate Labour historically had with the far-left. Most ideologies have a moderate/mainstream part and a more fringe part.

    1. Jac

      We are a broad church, my son, and welcome all views . . . except them bastards what comes on here trying to be clever and wind me up. In the spirit of forgiveness for which I am rightly famed I take a more understanding view of those who are simply wrong. I therefore absolve you of your heresies and pray that you may – in a very real sense – come to see the truth and the light as I – also in a very real sense – preach it. Amen.

  4. daffy2012

    Vaugan Roderick had a very interesting blog post on Plaid’s relationship with Labour. The crux of it was that Plaid was scared of them. Also, that he couldn’t imagine what happened in Wales to for the ‘One Wales’ government happening ANYWHERE else; Plaid (or a nationalist party) preferring to choose to be a junior partner to Labour (Unionits) than leading a Rainbow coalition.

  5. nonny

    Llew says that the Labour party receives massive votes from the Welsh people. This isn’t really true though. In 2010 they got 36%, even in the 2001 landslide it was less than half.

    Nationalists need to take on Labour in a culture war. They must be shown-up for what they are anti-Welsh, enemies of the best interests of the broad mass of the Welsh people. Those decent folk still in the Labour party must be shamed into leaving it.

    Of course you can co-operate with parties in a coalition sense or you can stay outside coalitions. You can co-operate if you like with the Tories who after all got 26% of the Welsh vote, or the Liberals who got 20%. Some of their voters are English but not all. In reality the Tories have no vested interest in Britishness, they could happily rule England free of “the burden” of Wales and Scotland. The Liberals certainly have no vested interest in Britain, they are a European party. Only Labour needs Wales and Scotland so that they can rule England, they are the true British party.

    If Labour does have a hold on the Welsh people then it is a hold that needs to be broken because it is a hold that sacrifices Wales on the altar of Britishness and condemns much of Wales to a near Third World status.

    To defeat Labour you must engage in a culture war, you must recognize that Labour is the real enemy of the Welsh nation.

    1. Llew

      Some good points Nonny but some wishful thinking too. The Tories love Britain. They are deeply committed to the union. They have no desire to get rid of Wales or Scotland at all and are deeply unionist. That’s partly why theyre consistently against more powers for the Assembly, whereas Labour is more in favour of it because of self-interest.

      You’re right about the Liberals but they don’t get 20%!

      You’re also partly right that Labour’s vote isn’t always that huge. They get a lift from FPTP and let’s also not forget, Plaid under Wigley did take seats off them and the Lib Dems have taken councils off them in the past.

      It goes back to my argument though. Plaid has co-operated with Labour sometimes to get something for Wales. I don’t know if Vaughan Roderick said that but I can’t think of any European scenario to compare it to. I don’t see how Plaid was scared of Labour when Adam Price and Joni Edwards won Carmarthen East or Ieuan increased his majority against Labour and the Tories in 2011, but there we go. I’m proud to be a Plaid supporter and if any right-wing national formation wanted to challenge us, they can be my guest, or just keep slagging us off online.

  6. El T

    The Left in Wales is ideologically anti-Welsh, always has been. Karl Marx saw the Scottish Highlanders, Bretons and Serbs as ‘racial trash’. Take a look at this video…

    The English socialists that came to our country during the industrial revolution thought/still think the same about us.

    1. Jac

      Interesting. Though I don’t think Marx had anything against these specific peoples, he simply used them to make a broader point about hopelessly agrarian or pastoral societies still to be found in Europe. Though suggesting that they be exterminated is obviously insane.

      In Wales, I don’t think the problem started in the Industrial Revolution, it came after industry was well established. If you look at the Merthyr Rising of 1832 the leaders were Welsh speaking with very specific and local demands (against wage cuts and redundancies), they certainly didn’t view themselves as precursors of some great, British movement. Among the demands of the Chartists who marched from the Gwent valleys to Newport in 1839 was a ‘Silurian Republic’. In the same period we saw the Scotch Cattle.

      The problem may have been that these movements were too Welsh, both for the authorities and the emerging English trade unions. With Ireland a constant threat England could not afford to have a population manning vital industries speaking a different language and having divergent interests and loyalties. The authorities were therefore delighted to see the spread of English organisations in the nineteenth century anglicising the industrial south.

      By the time the Labour Party emerged around 1900 this process of infiltration had persuaded many Welsh that their language and other ‘baggage’ was a sign of backwardness. Conversely, the English language and all that went with it meant progress. Due in large part to the fact that so many pioneers of ‘Welsh’ Labour were English or Irish immigrants, or their sons. This anti-Welsh strand has always been there. It is there today.

  7. nonny

    You can trace the rise of the Labour party in the language of children. Nye Bevan’s elder siblings spoke Welsh, he didn’t. The old working class spoke Welsh, went to chapel, voted Liberal and founded the civil organisations that gave the workers strength.

    Labour was the party of the influx of migrants to the South and all those locals who switched languages out of solidarity or because they saw English, really I think it would be better described as American, as the future. It was the party of the centre and disarmed the working class with it’s top down approach.

    That was then. Today the Labour Party just feasts off the poverty, the ignorance and the hopelessness of its core vote. It has nothing to offer except the myth that it gives a fig for its Welsh voters.

    Destroy that myth and you destroy Labour. Don’t treat them as allies, they are far worse than the Tories and the Liberals. They thrive on misery.

    BTW Llew the Liberals did get 20% of the Welsh vote at the last general election – look it up. And yes I know the Tories have a sentimental attachment to Britain but it is not their essence as it is for Labour. I’m sure that the Tories could easily swallow an English parliament and far more devolution for Wales and Scotland. Labour can’t, not ever.

  8. Llew

    “The Left in Wales is ideologically anti-Welsh, always has been.”

    This isn’t true. This is a prejudice. The left in Wales includes a Welsh Left and a British Left. The left in Wales is actually more pro-Welsh than the right in Wales, both in numbers and proportion. The only real pro-Wales moves in any recent years, have come from the left. Much of the opposition also came from the left, in 1979 in particular, but by 1997 and 2010, the only significant opposition was from the right. The reasons are set out in all my comments. There are no right-wing parties, groups, or organisations that do anything constructive for Welsh national interests. There are a handful of left groups that do.

    It’s ridiculous to argue Marx wanted to “exterminate” anyone. It’s straying into anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, if you read the comments on the youtube video.

    Jac’s comment is actually more truthful, and if you consider than the industrialisation of Wales was driven almost entirely by English capitalists and English workers, the lack of a Welsh labour movement in the early days of industrialisation speaks volumes, and was a huge missed opportunity. It is one of the biggest reasons for our national weakness today. Compared to the Basque Country or even Scotland, where all the unions and labour movements routinely made nationalist demands, it is striking.

    However we have to remember that the most industrialised areas of Wales in that process, are now some of the most Welsh areas. Keir Hardie, one of the greatest of the “immigrant Labour” strand, who believed in Marx (even though Marx allegedly wanted to “exterminate” people according to El T) was the first person after the ineffective Welsh Liberals who really recognised the need for Home Rule and to decentralise the UK.

    A lesson that right-wing Welsh people don’t always understand is that Wales isn’t standing still as a preserved artifact, it is constantly changing and being redefined. I speak Welsh and that is the basis of my identity, but there’s alot more on top of that, especially for people that don’t speak Welsh. There are many people who support the Labour tradition and believe it is part of Welsh history. We don’t have a monopoly on it, and sometimes it is possible and desirable to collaborate with those people. People on here will never ever agree, but that’s why it has happened and probably will happen again at some point.

    Nonny again is insisting that the Tories are somehow better than Labour, and that Britishness isn’t the Tories’ essence. I think Nonny is wrong, but it’s just a matter of opinion. Nonny’s analysis of Labour’s origins is also alot easier to make nowadays. At the time it emerged, Labour was the party of hope and promise for many Welsh people, who were working in appalling conditions. The same applied after WW2. They and the Communists also acknowledged the need for Home Rule, although like the Liberals they couldn’t or didn’t deliver it. It’s not accurate to say they were completely English and anti-Welsh. It’s a shame that Welsh nationalism didn’t really exist at the time and had no credibility. I would rather nationalists had been in there making a stronger case for whatever form of independence made the most sense at the time.

    We are where we are now. Nationalists have mostly chosen to engage with the reality of the Welsh nation and the strength of the social democratic and labour identity it has. A few have chosen not to, and hold out frustrations and bitterness about the left (and particularly Plaid), but it is interesting to debate the issues.

    1. Jac

      Two points. I think you might want to reconsider ” . . . the industrialisation of Wales was driven almost entirely by English capitalists and English workers”. Largely English capital certainly, but until the end of the nineteenth century the great majority of the workers in the industrial south came, like four of my great-grandparents, from the rural parts of Wales. The problem was, as you say, that this workforce did not organise along national lines, due as much to geography as the better organised English.

      Second, I don’t know why we’re talking Left and Right here, because for the purposes of this discussion what matters is the attitude to Wales and the constitutional question. So while I am obviously well to the Right of Centre on a whole host of issues, these tend to be global, or ideological. For example, I’m pro-Israel; then there’s my attititude to the fuel poverty-creating charlatans of the environmentalist movement. But when it comes to Wales, I am happier in the company of Left wing nationalists than Rightist Unionists. That I criticise the former is due to their refusal to ‘nationalise’ the debate, preferring to talk of ‘the people of Wales’ . . . their idelogically driven support for unneeded social housing . . . their simpering desperation to gain the approval of the English Left . . . or to avoid discussing the colonisation of Wales, etc., etc. Which all helps explain Plaid Cymru’s readiness to support Labour.

  9. Llew

    Jac, correct actually, I was wrong to say English workers. My family came from the same background as yours.

    I agree left and right is a misnomer as such, but I raise it because someone attacked socialism. It’s people “on the right” that always raise it. In Plaid Cymru it’s not really an issue, its just a natural centre-left alignment. It is therefore relevant to this chat, but not really to people outside these circles.

    Fair enough on your views on Israel and environmentalism. I agree that the issues you refer to on social housing, civic nationalism, allow Plaid Cymru to co-operate with Labour, especially on the constitutional issues. However I wouldn’t underestimate the work Plaid members do to try and beat Labour in elections, on the back of much fewer resources and a less convincing party history (to the Welsh). I’m just thinking of my family. They used to love Labour. They don’t recognise it anymore, but they never really heard what Plaid would offer them. I suspect alot of people who potentially want to stop voting Labour, are not going to be reached with an anti-Labour message. They want to feel like they’re going back to their roots by going to Plaid, not that they are betraying labour and the vaguely socialist things they used to like, like the NHS. That’s my opinion anyway.

    To be honest there’s a difference in the way you phrase things to the way El T and Nonny have written things. I’ll leave this alone now but will read future posts. Best wishes.

  10. daffy2012

    Jac,
    Did you notice a comment about you on the Click on Wales blog? It was where you respond to J Priotic.

  11. nonny

    I don’t insist the Tories are better than Labour, well that’s not my intention anyway. I believe that the Tories have far less of an interest in keeping Wales locked into a highly centralised UK than does Labour.

    Llew knows he made a mistake about English workers, it would have been nice if he’d admitted he made a mistake about the Liberal vote, after pooh-poohing my comment that they won 20% at the last GE, but never mind.

    He also makes a mistake in thinking that the industrialisation of Wales was driven “almost entirely by “English capitalists”. This is a common error made by people who have never heard of David Davies, D A Thomas, Wm Lewis or a host of other big and not so big capitalists. It’s a rather demeaning worldview which sees the Welsh as bit players or victims and it isn’t true.

    Llew describes people’s rather vague nostalgia for socialism and feels that Plaid can suceed by harking back to that nostalgia. At the last GE 64% of the voters didn’t feel that nostalgia. Left of Labour parties have a hopeless record of tapping into that largely mythical nostalgia (Socialist Labour for example) Plaid and Respect have had limited success but only by tapping into particular interest groups (welsh speakers and Muslims) who vote for them despite their socialist policies. In the valleys Plaid has largely failed even though it is facing a party of zombies.

    I’ll make a prediction, UKIP will be the largest party in Wales at next year’s Euro elections with over a quarter of the vote. And not English votes either as Merthyr, Blaenau Gwent etc will show. These are votes that Plaid should be picking up but unfortunately they’re seen as part of a failed establishment with little fresh to say.

  12. Llew

    Nonny, sorry about that. I was thinking about the last Assembly elections, because Welsh elections are where a coalition etc is possible for Plaid. Doesn’t really apply to Westminster. But i’ll give you credit, there was a massive Lib Dem vote in 2010 and also 2005 for Westminster, mostly a disaffected Labour vote apparently. I’m sure Plaid should’ve been better placed to pick up some of those voters. So you’re touching on something.

    I disagree that the Tories have less interest keeping Wales in a centralised UK than Labour. The Tories have more consistently opposed devolution than Labour have. It’s self-interest for Labour. You can get more Labour policies introduced by having self-government of some sort, because more Welsh people are Labour. You can get fewer Tory policies introduced if you give Wales self-government, because fewer are Tories.

    I think it’s pretty clear that Labour will in fact top the Euro poll for Wales, but I believe UKIP will come second. I think in England UKIP might beat Labour again though. Plaid won’t really be in the running and doesn’t connect with public opinion on European issues. It also isn’t seen as an anti-establishment party. Don’t think they can help it really, short of stopping supporting the EU.

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