Edwina and the National Left

John Osmond on why Edwina Hart’s candidacy to lead Welsh Labour is supported by the Presiding Officer in the National Assembly

Seemingly Edwina Hart is the ‘National Left’ candidate in Welsh Labour’s leadership election, which is why the Presiding Officer is backing her. Speaking yesterday at a conference on Milestones of Welsh Democracy: from Chartism to the National Assembly, organised in the Senedd by Llafur, the Welsh People’s History Society, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas declared, “The One Wales Coalition is the National Left in Government. That may be difficult for some people to comprehend. But my candidate for the leadership of the Labour Party will take that movement forward”.

The National Left was founded in the early 1980s in response to the 1979 referendum defeat. For Dafydd Elis-Thomas the four to one defeat of the Assembly proposed in 1979 meant that Plaid Cymru’s traditional, incremental approach adopted by Gwynfor Evans had failed completely. The solution was to position the party unambiguously on the left of the political spectrum and create a new left-nationalist synthesis. This would involve Plaid Cymru joining in with the struggles of the Welsh working class and collaborating closely with their movements and organisations, in particular trade unions, women’s groups, the peace movement and the unemployed. The objective was to mobilise support for a ‘Welsh decentralised state’.

The movement was successful within Plaid Cymru to the extent that the ideology ‘community socialism’ was adopted a constitutional aim at the party’s 1981 conference. However, at the same conference Dafydd Elis-Thomas lost to the more traditional nationalist Dafydd Wigley in the election to succeed Gwynfor Evans as President. One result was the emergence of the National Left as a cross party organisation with Dafydd Elis Thomas at its head. As he put it yesterday, “The National Left was despised by the Labour Party and Plaid Cymru at an official level. We had an open membership. We looked at the politics of Wales from a post-Marxist international socialist perspective”.

In 1984 Dafydd Elis-Thomas became President of Plaid when Dafydd Wigley stood down for family reasons, and immediately led the party into strong and active support for the Welsh Miners in their year-long strike. While it may have paid long-term dividends, this effort blurred the party’s image and did it little immediate good at the polls. Plaid fell to 7.3 per cent, its lowest ebb, in the 1987 general election.

However, quick on his feet as ever Dafydd Elis-Thomas sought sustenance in Europe. He became a Welsh European and reversed the National Left’s antipathy to European integration. He stood as a candidate in the 1984 elections for the European Parliament in which Plaid scored 12.2 per cent. Writing in 1988 he declared:

“It seems clear to me that the only road towards greater self-government for Wales is through relating what happens in Wales towards what happens in Europe. If we succeeding replacing the British dimension with a European dimension in our thinking then we will have become the Welsh European internationalists we always were in our hearts”.

It is interesting that in his leadership Manifesto Carwyn Jones has stolen ‘community socialism’ from Plaid – “We are proud in Wales of our community socialist values …” as he puts it. Can we expect Edwina Hart to come out as a ‘Welsh European internationalist’ before too long?

Certainly, yesterday the Presiding Officer was unstinting in his advocacy. He said that along with himself she was mainly responsible for construction of the Senedd building within which Llafur was holding its conference. “There were two individuals who collaborated to produce this building, myself and Edwina. Please vote for her,” he said.

John Osmond is Director of the IWA.

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