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.
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.
I’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.