Election special 1: Labour advances west of the Loughor and the Clwyd

Mark Drakeford says the challenge for all parties is to drag democracy into the world which today’s voters occupy

Last week’s county council elections were outstandingly successful for Welsh Labour, meeting and beating the Party’s own expectations. Not only did the party resume its dominant position in its traditional heartlands, it also exceeded the substantial success it had obtained in 2011, in the urban concentrations of Newport, Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham, as well as making emphatic gains in the Vales of Clwyd and Glamorgan. Moreover, for the first time since 2001, Labour advanced rather than retreated west of the Loughor and the Clwyd. Looking ahead to the General Election intended for 2015, and the Assembly elections of 2016, Labour’s revival in Carmarthenshire and Conwy may be the most significant result of all.

Welsh local elections 2012

In this series representatives from all four parties give their verdict on last week’s poll. Tomorrow Peter Black finds that a deliberate abstention by voters to make a point cost his party the election across many parts of Wales.

The timing of Labour’s revival prevents the long-term hollowing-out of the party, in a way which has inflicted such deep and long-term damage on the Conservatives in Wales, from the 1980s onwards. Amongst the best news for Labour is the diversity of its new councillors. For example, in Cardiff every constituency now has Labour representatives from minority ethnic communities, people in their twenties to their sixties, as well as an unprecedented number of women.

Labour’s decision to leave manifesto production to local parties resulted in the involvement of hundreds of members in working groups, plenary meetings and detailed drafting. The process has carried further the rejuvenation of the party’s grass roots, which began as soon as the election of May 2010 was over. One example of the results can be seen in the Swansea Manifesto and its comprehensive set of policy proposals which will form the basis of Labour’s administration in that city.

In politics, weather really does matter and this year’s campaign was conducted in the worst April for a century. Temperatures on 3 May across Wales were lower than they had been on Christmas Day. Bad weather hits Labour disproportionately. On any dry day there are more Labour activists in the field than any other party. On a wet day, all parties are equally absent. If April had been a less cruel month, Labour’s victory would have been even greater.

If weather matters, then leadership  matters too. Carwyn Jones is both the best recognised and the most highly regarded of all political leaders in Wales, bringing a breadth and depth of popular appeal which no other leader is able to rival. But if leadership is important, it is also perilous. This year every party lost at least one politician who had led a Council during the previous four years, including the independent leader of Ceredigion. Welsh voters appear to have embarked on a spontaneous decapitation strategy, making 2012 remarkable as a year when personal political prominence and personal political peril became inescapably intertwined.

Within a single Parliament, it is now clear that the Lib Dems will have lost all the ground gained, in thirty years of pavement politics. Only where the party is defending its own core territory can it stem its more general collapse. Beyond that core, it is in full free fall. All this will surely play directly into the prospects of the next Westminster election that will be fought on new boundaries. For Lib Dem MPs to endorse boundary reforms that spell their own oblivion is not simply a matter of turkeys voting for Christmas, but of such turkeys self-stuffing and placing themselves in the oven. Last Thursday’s results suggest that, on current boundaries, Lib Dem MPs in Wales would all have some chance of retaining their seats, even if only remotely in Cardiff Central. On new boundaries not one will survive.

Last Thursday’s results were sobering for Plaid Cymru. I have a real respect for Leanne Wood as an individual, but last week demonstrated that she has the bad luck to be the wrong leader, at the wrong time. Plaid’s heartlands remain Welsh-speaking and Poujadist. The gamble was that they would remain loyal, while the new leader could appeal, instead, to the very different demography, and politics, of the south east. The results in Gwynedd, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, suggest that the jury is still out on the first part of this proposition. The widespread losses across the old Glamorgan and Gwent demonstrate the death of the second. When the Conservatives are in power in Westminster, the political leverage to prise away Labour voters disappears. This is precisely the time when the new Plaid leader’s particular appeal is least likely to make itself felt. Last year’s Assembly elections began a period of decline for Plaid Cymru which accelerated last week. It is a trend which is set to continue.

As for the Welsh Conservatives, 2012 leaves them reliant on the life support machine which is the Assembly’s electoral system. In first-past-the-post elections, which it so strongly favours, it lost seats in 11 of the 14 Councils where it has representation. During the 1990s, the Tories more or less disappeared as a party in Welsh local government. Now, it has lost much of the rather thin ground which it regained in the years when Labour was in office in London. It is heading back to oblivion.

If last Thursday’s elections do nothing else, surely they provide a challenge to every political party to drag democracy into the world which today’s voters occupy.  Ballot papers need to be redesigned, to be clearer and simpler to read – for example, by grouping candidates by party, rather than alphabetically. New technologies mean that voting can be made much easier, without the greatly over-stated fears of fraud. Voting could take place at weekends. Mobile voting booths could take polling stations to people, rather than the other way around. Polling could take place at supermarkets, over the phone and in many other ways. We have to shake off the shackles of voting on a Thursday, using a pencil tied to a piece of string in a draughty church hall a long walk away from where people live.

Lastly, to more fundamentally radical proposals to revive Welsh democracy. I am in favour of compulsory participation, proportional representation and of councils being elected in thirds, each year. Taking part in elections is a duty, not simply a right – even if participation amounts to ‘none of the above’. PR would give all parties an incentive to campaign, and put up candidates, in every part of Wales. In Scotland, in 2012, not a single seat went uncontested. In Wales, nearly 140,000 voters found that there was to be no election, because a single candidate has been returned, unopposed. PR would also revive the Labour Party where we have to rebuild for the future, such as in Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion. Annual elections keeps power in the hands of voters, and gives parties a real incentive to keep in touch with their electorates. Such reforms are much better mounted from a position of strength. That’s why, after 2012, Labour remains the best hope for anyone with a genuinely radical reform agenda in Wales.

Mark Drakeford is Labour AM for Cardiff West.

26 thoughts on “Election special 1: Labour advances west of the Loughor and the Clwyd

  1. I’m all for compulsory voting but how do you communicate with the electorate in a Wales with little English language dedicated TV coverage, no widely read National print title and most of the population reading the British press or watching English TV?
    Local Council elections are poorly supported even though it is possible for a candidate to knock on every constituents door. Assembly elections STILL haven’t engaged those people who think in terms of the UK rather than Wales and read the Daily rather than the Western Mail.
    Wales should be the first to bring in compulsory voting but exactly how you educate the electorate about politics is the really difficult question.

  2. “I don’t think Poujadism means what you think it does”

    I think it fits quite well, a conservative, reactionary group protecting their Language advantage in their Community.

  3. It is a ‘right’ that people have enjoyed for years NOT to vote if they are totally at odds with all current mainstream political parties, and that ‘right’ should not be removed for whatever reason. I personally did not vote because of dismay at the wrong ‘cuts’ being made at Westminster, particularly on matters like a) law and order, b) defence, c) child benefit for high earners, and no huge cuts for a) foreign aid, and b) Europe. The other factor is why bother with local politicians, as in Wales virtually all decisions are laid down by the Welsh Government to get uniformity, particularly on the enforcement of Welsh language policies. To extrapolate these ‘mickey mouse’ election results into the next General Election is wrong, and by then the whole economic system as we have known it for 50 years might be at an end. The Conservatives, however are in extreme danger, but not from Labour who seem to be in denial about their economic performance under Blair/Brown but UKIP and even further right parties that will hopefully draw a line in the sand and start ‘sorting out’ the basic issues that affect ordinary people, but not policians.

  4. Gareth says: “I don’t think Poujadism means what you think it does”
    Jon Jones says: “I think it fits quite well, a conservative, reactionary group protecting their Language advantage in their community”

    “in their Community” – exactly and that is the point. Their community. And THEY don’t feel that Labour WILL protect their language. In fact out of all the parties, Labour has been the most hostile and often blatantly discriminatory in terms of the Welsh language. Cllr Ramesh Patel would be a great example

  5. I thought Mark Drakeford was supposed to be the brains of the Welsh Labour Party?

    Things are clearly more desperate than I had thought.

  6. “I thought Mark Drakeford was supposed to be the brains of the Welsh Labour Party?”

    The usual personal attack from Lyndon ap Gwynfryn. Ill tell you what Lyndon, count the Plaid seat gains in the local elections and then count UKIP gains. Sobering thought isn’t it? Plaid are just a party of extremists wondering why Wales doesn’t think like them. It’s because Welsh people aren’t extremists maybe?

  7. Lionelair:
    ““in their Community” – exactly and that is the point. Their community. And THEY don’t feel that Labour WILL protect their language. In fact out of all the parties, Labour has been the most hostile and often blatantly discriminatory in terms of the Welsh language. Cllr Ramesh Patel would be a great example”

    Well Lionelair if they think that Labour is hostile to Welsh… but they have voted Labour in their Communities and not Plaid… can I assume that Plaid is more hostile to Welsh than Labour? Something wrong with your reasoning unless you are implying that the selection of a Non Welsh-Speaking leader of Plaid has pushed the traditional Plaid voter to Labour.

  8. Well Jon, by my reckoning Plaid still has over 160 councillors in Wales, while UKIP has precisely two, so we’re not particularly worried about being supplanted as the second party of local government just yet.

    As for ad hominem attacks, Professor Drakeford described Plaid Cymru supporters as “Poujadists,” a description which you cheerfully extended to the entire Welsh speaking population. Now I fully expect that you don’t know what this word actually means (though I would have thought that Prof. Drakeford would have), but Poujadism was an anti-democratic movement among the petit-bourgeousie, characterised by populism, anti-intellectualism, xenophobia and anti-semitism (Jean Marie le Pen was an early Poujadist). Therefore I would have to say that this description of Plaid is highly offensive, and I would expect Prof. Drakeford to withdraw it immediately.

    Knowing the Welsh Labour Party as I do, I had of course fully expected their recent electoral gains to result in the party becoming thoroughly corrupted with arrogance and hubris, I’m just surprised it has happened so rapidly.

  9. Jon,

    “I think it fits quite well, a conservative, reactionary group protecting their Language advantage in their Community.”

    So he was both wrong and insulting. Thanks for clarifying.

  10. A really insightful article with an interesting analysis of the result from a Labour perspective.

    I would disagree with the suggestion that better weather would have boosted the Labour vote still further, as the Labour vote in some areas was not far off the 1994 and 1995 record high. I think that the campaign tactic of “send a message to London” was powerful enough to defy the weather.

    Whilst I would generally agree with Jon Jones and others that the absence of a strong Welsh national media (with the exception of the Western Mail and BBC Wales) is a general problem in Welsh politics, I do not think that this would have been the panacea in this campaign. It was the town or ward level issues that voters were failing to understand or reflect on during the campaign (potholes, anti-social behaviour etc), that was most stark this year, rather than their lack of awareness of what was happening in the Senedd.

    Until we can improve people’s understanding of what councils and councillors do, we continue to have a situation where good councillors (in all parties) can be swept out of office due to national swings.

  11. “Now I fully expect that you don’t know what this word actually means (though I would have thought that Prof. Drakeford would have), but Poujadism was an anti-democratic movement among the petit-bourgeousie, characterised by populism, anti-intellectualism, xenophobia and anti-semitism (Jean Marie le Pen was an early Poujadist). Therefore I would have to say that this description of Plaid is highly offensive.”

    Yep, still seems to fit.

  12. As a Plaid member and anti-fascist, I respectfully request that Mark Drakeford withdraws the comment ‘Poujadist’ to describe Welsh speaking communities who happen to vote Plaid. Labour and Plaid work together in Wales to counter organised fascist activity, so making such groundless smears about my party actually damages the anti-fascist movement and consequently helps the likes of the BNP and EDL.

    A senior Labour politician and acedemic should know better.

  13. This is typical of the welsh ‘chattering classes’ in getting their knickers in a twist about ‘Poujadist’ tendencies. I’ll bet that only 1 in a 1000 would know what a ‘Poujadist’ is ,or was,however we all know what PC stands for and it aint very attractive. I’ll go further and say its based on a LIE,and only the guillible who need simple solution to their problems,show any real interest in La La land politics. The disgraceful performance of LW in calling our constitutional Head of State, HM the Queen of England the offensive name of Mrs. Windsor when booted out by LORD DE Thomas was one thing,and then followed up by refusal to attend meeting on the 60th year of reign clearly upset a lot of people.There is one thing certain if that PC,with the help of BBC Wales/S4C do ever look like getting power then there would be trouble on the street,and hordes of us carrying our belongings ‘over the border’ as fastr as we could.Ther’s a lot worse things PC are called by people i know and respect,i.e Introverted/Unrealistic/Disloyal/Inbred and a lot worse.

  14. “A senior Labour politician and academic should know better”

    Of course he knows better, but his insult is entirely deliberate and tells us everything we need to know about Labour. He has quite knowingly called an entire community of Wales, not just a particular party, fascist. To do this is essentially, for want of a better term, racist. Drakeford is an exploiter of bigotry, placing himself on a par with the likes of Sarkozy.

  15. I always love the faux indignation of Plaid supporters when confronted with the unpalatable history of their Conservative, Culture and language, wing of their party. It’s clear that Mark Drakeford said….”Plaid’s heartlands remain Welsh-speaking and Poujadist.”
    He did not refer to the official stance or actions of the party itself. Now for all you Capuccino Cymraeg who gather together in the caffis of Cardiff I just remind you that the same people who burned holiday cottages were Plaid voters. The same people who a few years ago daubed “English out” on walls and signs around where I live, continue to live here and vote Plaid. And if you think that the Anti anything English wing of the Nationalist movement is dead you can always pop across to “Jac o’ the North” and get your fill of xenophobia.

    It was nice to see Leanne Wood voted in as leader of Plaid but being voted for by members, swelled in number by the active left in the South, is not the same as being voted FOR by the population as a whole.

  16. Agree with the comments of Ian. To describe Plaid Cymru as Poujadist either shows a lack of understanding of the Poujadist movement, or it is a deliberate slur. Either way I would expect someone of the stature of Mark Drakeford – “the ‘brains’ of the Labour Party in Wales”, as he was once described – to make some form of public apology.

  17. I was intereseted in reading Mark’s article, Jon Jones’ definaition of the word Poujadism and Ian’s response.

    I do not think Ian, that Mark is saying that Welsh speaking Plaid supporters are anti-semtic, and I am sure that Mark would be one of the first to acknowledge the wonderful work that you do in anti racisim, but you are not the only person in your party and many of your party do display xenipobia. Turst me – I have an english husband who has been on the receiving end of many nasty comments, as have I just because my accent is not a Welsh one.

  18. I am appalled and really offended by Mark Drakeford “Plaid’s heartlands remain Welsh-speaking and Poujadist” who is stating quite clearly that whole communities of Wales where speaking Welsh is the norm are rabid right-wing, anti-semitic and fascist. This is divisive, bigoted, minorty bashing hate speech of the worst kind. If he stands by his comments then he is not fit to be an Assembly Member. Disgraceful.

  19. As I understand the term, Poujarism was a movement in 1950s France more akin to the tax-payers alliance than any cultural movement in Wales, and is a strange analogy that spoils an otherwise thoughtful, though obviously biassed analysis of the results. The comments from Jeff Jones and Jon Jones are highly offensive, ignorant of reality, and oozing with tribal hatred. They should be removed.

  20. The Richard Commission recommended STV for Welsh local government and Senedd elections years ago. Mark Drakeford has now caught up – for local elections at least. I wonder how many years it will take for him to think it the right system for Senedd elections. I don’t expect to live to see his party catching up with him. That would be a rate of learning far too rapid for the Welsh Labour party which shows little sign of mental activity of any sort.

  21. “whole communities of Wales where speaking Welsh is the norm are rabid right-wing, anti-semitic and fascist. This is divisive, bigoted, minorty bashing hate speech of the worst kind. If he stands by his comments then he is not fit to be an Assembly Member. Disgraceful.”

    It’s quite common for a word to “Move on” you know. “Poujadist” is an example. No one except the rabid, literal minded Plaid zealot, would go back to its origin and apply every aspect of that original definition to the present context. However it serves the purpose of Plaid to deflect from the unsavoury truth about the opinions and attitudes of many of its heartland supporters.

    I think that this over the top quote from Alun Griffiths is a beauty though….he talks about “Minority bashing hate speech” and applies it to the areas where plaid voters and Welsh speakers are the majority. And, as history has repeatedly shown, a pretty “Hate filled” bunch of (English) “Minority bashers” they are.
    Nothing quite rivals the “English out” Campaigns of recent decades for naked hatred of a minority group in Wales.

    These “Hate Filled” people were Plaid to the core and he knows it. So the English aren’t Jews…but I am 100% certain that if the Fro Cymraeg was inundated by Jewish settlers Plaid supporters could make up some pretty nifty slogans for making them feel un-welcome. In fact, now I come to think of it, some years ago a prominent Jewish Rabbi made exactly the parallel comparison of the “Colonists out Movement” with the inter war years in Germany.

  22. The One Wales Welsh Government of 2007-11 has been progressive and should be congratulated but more is needed to be done to make Wales a truly bilingual nation. For example the demand for Welsh medium education it is outstripping supply all over Wales, what better way of investing in our children’s future than addressing this issue properly. To the few would like to banish Welsh to St Fagans, times have changed, get over it. I truly hope our children will grow up without the hang ups, bitterness and small minded spitefulness these rather sad individuals. Hwyl fawr a pnawn da.

  23. The Poujadists lamented the decline of French influence in Indochina, and were strong supporters of French Algeria. The strains of Rule Britannia will no doubt be heard in Wales this jubilee year. But this Poujadist musak – characteristic of an imperial power on its last legs – won’t be coming from Plaid Cymru’s ‘Welsh speaking heartlands’.

  24. I am very disappointed that Mark Drakeford has chosen not to clarify his comments on this blog. From his silence, I can only assume that either he is happy for the slur to stick or is happy for this article to be part of a wider Labour effort to smear Plaid. Both are very depressing scenarios, as the threat of genuine fascism is a very real one in the Europe of 2012. Legitimate progressive parties need to work together now to counteract this threat more than ever. Such groundless smears do not help this cause.

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