Should Welsh Labour embrace Corbyn?

Liz Silversmith looks at how a Labour party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, would play in Wales.

There’s less than a month to go until Labour’s much anticipated ‘Special Conference’ when the new Leader and Deputy Leader are announced. It’s looking likely to be Jeremy Corbyn, with either Tom Watson or Stella Creasy as his Deputy. The decision Welsh Labour has to make is whether to embrace Corbyn or distance themselves.

For want of a better term, Wales is a more ‘left wing nation’ than others. We have a higher level of poverty and disability, creating more need for in-work benefits and more reliance on the NHS; a high level of public sector employment and a much more left-of-centre set of political parties, to the point where there is almost an unspoken pact between two of the largest parties that they would never let the Welsh Conservatives into power. And of course, Welsh Labour has been returned to the Assembly as the largest party for four elections in a row, despite the regional list seat system making this more difficult than in England.

So could Corbyn find an ally in Welsh Labour? He has four ‘official’ supporters in Mike Hedges AM, Mick Antoniw AM and Christine Chapman AM (although she will be stepping down in 2016). He also now has Mark Drakeford AM, the Minister for Health and Social Services, and a generally well respected figure in the party. There are also 9 CLPs (out of 21 that nominated candidates) who endorsed Corbyn.

It’s no great surprise that Corbyn is gathering this support, as Welsh Labour does tend to position itself as a more left-wing party than UK Labour. The famous ‘clear red water’ is shown in Welsh Government policies that actually mirror much of Corbyn’s proposed manifesto. Corbyn argues for a National Education Service that would support adult lifelong learning; the Welsh Government has been quite interventionist in terms of supporting post-16 education, by keeping tuition fees capped at £3,685 and directly paying employers to offer apprenticeships and more vocational jobs with Jobs Growth Wales.

Another Corbyn policy is to renationalise rail, gas and the National Grid. This doesn’t mean that the government would necessarily buy out the companies, but perhaps ensure the public are shareholders for example, so the majority shareholder is a public body and therefore under government control. In Wales, Economy Minister Edwina Hart has said Welsh rail should be run by a not-for-profit firm from 2018, when the franchise with Arriva Trains expires. Both Labour and Plaid Cymru have also spoken in favour of a publicly-owned Welsh energy company.

So in terms of policy, there’s a lot in common between Corbyn and the Welsh Government. In terms of voters, Corbyn could prove popular with many Plaid and Labour voters alike. Interestingly, Corbyn is also particularly popular with UKIP voters with 39% backing him. This actually makes him technically more popular with disillusioned UKIP voters than Labour, with only 38% of Labour voters supporting him. So those who think that he only attracts the young, optimistic, would-be-Greens should think again.

If Corbyn is leader in September, this puts the Assembly election in an interesting light. First on his to do list would be to coordinate campaigns for May 2016. He’s got a Scottish Labour party to revive and a fight in Wales to give Labour the majority it desperately wants so it is not forced into a coalition with Plaid Cymru or the Liberal Democrats.

To do this, Corbyn will have to create a strong position on devolution and decide what to argue for at PMQs. Scotland has been the feature piece in this Parliament so far, due to the SNP’s activity and sheer numbers. Welsh Labour MPs on the other hand focus less on devolution matters and seem to leave this to the Plaid MPs to raise. If Corbyn wants to win over Wales and help drive Welsh Labour over the line, he needs to have a concrete position on what he thinks ought to be in the upcoming Wales Bill.

I suspect that Corbyn will actually seek to have a close relationship with Welsh Labour, as he could use the next Assembly term as something akin to a template of how a left-wing Labour party governs with more powers in Wales. Particularly with policies like no free schools, capped tuition fees, a ban on fracking and the removal of the Right to Buy; these are far closer to the kind of manifesto he would want to write.

In order to get Wales and Welsh Labour on side, Corbyn needs to build alliances. These needn’t start and end within the party; in order to build a majority for 2020, Corbyn will also need to build support with Plaid Cymru, Green and UKIP voters.

In short, Corbyn could win Welsh voters’ hearts, if he builds a bridge across that clear red water.

Liz Silversmith does political monitoring at @newsdirectwales and political commentary as @lizsilversmith. Her background is in working for Welsh MPs in Parliament and AMs in Cardiff, as well as running campaigns. She currently coordinates the housing campaign Let Down in Wales.

15 thoughts on “Should Welsh Labour embrace Corbyn?

  1. Not much to shout about on the state of Wales after 16 years of Welsh Labour rule – High on rhetoric but everything that matters or should matter in Wales is imploding.

    Liz says ” Wales is a more ‘left wing nation’ but I’d like to suggest that Wales is an ‘Orwellian nation’ . Where in a democratic world you’ll find a minority ruling majority by imposing a language and culture that’s irrelevant to most of Welsh people?

    Then not long ago Leighton Andrews tweeted ‘I don’t give a F*** who is elected as a Labour Leader and we all know that LA never says anything that would upset Carwyn Jones or his agenda, so not much point for Jeremy Corbyn to do anything in Wales other than to seek some perhaps uncomfortable truth by asking ‘Is Welsh Labour a Labour party or a proxy for Plaid Cymru and their nationalism?

    Finally Carwyn Jones is doing the national tour (See – and he wants to be asked ‘Burning Questions’ – I have a burning question for Carwyn Jones –

  2. ” Wales is a more ‘left wing nation’ than others. We have a higher level of poverty and disability, creating more need for in-work benefits and more reliance on the NHS; a high level of public sector employment ..”
    Cause and effect?

  3. Yes, I would like to see railway transport inspired by a national strategy (not only a Welsh strategy), and with ticket prices similar to those offered in France. I’d like the current ‘bidding’ style of pricing to end. Jeremy Corbyn seems most sympathetic to this. I would expect him to work closely with Welsh Labour – in fact, if he becomes Leader then I don’t see how it could even be practical not to do so, or for Welsh Labour not to be equally supportive. Corbyn seems to be for a united Labour party, which is likely to garner more votes than a divided one. The other Labour leadership candidates will get valuable experience, and will mature during his period in the front seat.

  4. Strange then that Jeremy Corbyn has joined the other leadership candidates in opposing home rule for Scotland and presumably Wales. That makes it unlikely that Labour will regain the ground lost in Scotland to the SNP. In the long term the prospect of a Labour government for the UK seems to be less likely than ever.

  5. The only thing Wales wants to do with Labour is get rid of it as they have in Scotland. FREE WALES!

  6. Corbyn is a British unionist & centralist and will be no friend of Wales if he gets elected, despite the massive purge going on, with people like Serwotka having their vote denied. Ninety years of supporting Corbyn’s party has resulted in continuing relative decline and poverty here. He offers no solutions to that.

    The only possible answer is for the people of Wales to run the country themselves, rather than have it run extremely badly from London for the benefit of a privileged elite which has sucked us dry for centuries, and care not a jot about us.

    Whether or not Plaid Cymru is poised to achieve self-government doesn’t change the basic premise. The people who live in Wales, regardless of ethnicity or place of birth need to face the reality, as many have done in Scotland, that British is certainly not best for them.

    The Union is on a trajectory for break-up in any case. Scotland will be gone within a decade. The leadership crisis in Labour is likely to result in its rapid decline, whoever ends up leading it. It is disunited and has no core principles or ideals ~ similar in many ways to the Labour government in Wales, which muddles on, lacking vision or drive.

    Where will all this leave Wales & those who have remained loyal to the party? Plaid must avoid at all costs getting embroiled with Labour yet again, as it’s no friend of Wales. Plaid hasn’t recovered from its strategic error of electing a weak leader who took the party into a minority coalition, hence the problems faced by Leanne Wood in getting wider electoral support in the GE. Why vote for the monkey when you can vote for the organ grinder? The SNP didn’t make that mistake. Consequently many Labour supporters already disillusioned with the party, voted UKIP on the basis that it wasn’t Labour, instead of voting Plaid. Another Labour coalition will spell the end of the Plaid in my opinion.

    Interesting times ahead.

  7. “Wales is a more ‘left wing nation’ than others” Given that the voting shift from Labour to Conservatives was greater in Wales than the rest of the UK…. maybe that’s no longer true.

    Hopefully Corbyn will be kicked out by Labour MP’s within just a few days of gaining power.

    The oppositionist adolescents have had their moment in the sun…. time for the grown-ups to step back in charge.

  8. “Wales is a more ‘left wing nation’ than others” Given that the voting shift from Labour to Conservatives was greater in Wales than the rest of the UK…. maybe that’s no longer true.
    True, but the same thing happened in 1979 and the early 80s, when we voted Conservative. I am now ashamed to admit that back in 1979, the first election I was old enough to vote in, that I voted Conservative. For our support Wales got stabbed in the back by the Conservatives. The closure of the mines, the anti-Welsh language policy and rhetoric of the Conservative party and general contempt Westminster. If the Conservatives revert to type and become a little England party their support will evaporate again and it will just be another step on the long overdue break-up of the UK

  9. Wake up guys. The UK ain’t going to break up. The English want to strut the world stage. They can’t help it. Imperialism has left a deep imprint. So they want to keep the UK to keep their seat on the UN Security Council and the Faslane-based nuclear deterrent. And the other countries will stay in because – contrary to what people write here – we get a large subsidy from England. If we left we’d be skint and unable to maintain social services anywhere near their current level. At this oil price, the same goes for the Scots. The SNP aren’t calling a referendum for years. They know which side the bread is buttered. Wales has enough power now to start making itself more prosperous. If it can’t do so, how would independence help – trying to do the same thing with much less money? Let’s get our finger out, make devolution work and stop dreaming.

  10. @ Tredwyn

    I always enjoy your “let’s get real and stop dreaming” line. It’s certainly the case that the Anglo-Welsh Union is intact since that is one the middle class is signed up to, lock stock and barrel.

    However your opinion does not take into account what is happening in Scotland. The SNP is not deferring a referendum because “they know which side the bread is buttered.” They are waiting for the best time to call a referendum and know that they can win it. Currently the opinion polls are showing 53% in favour of independence. They will want to see a consistently high figure over a period of at least a year to know that the vote has hardened before proceeding. Of course, they may not have to wait that long. If England decides to leave the EU based on its wealth in London and the South East, then it won’t take much for the Scots to realise that independence will give them their place in the EU, a far richer organisation than anything that Westminster has to offer. Currently a ‘remain in’ vote is still the more likely. However the fact that No. 10 has issued instructions to businesses to shut up about Europe shows how nervous they are about the result.

  11. “For want of a better term, Wales is a more ‘left wing nation’ than others. We have a higher level of poverty and disability, creating more need for in-work benefits and more reliance on the NHS; a high level of public sector employment and a much more left-of-centre set of political parties”

    “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Don’t teach a man to fish…and feed yourself. He’s a grown man, and fishing’s not that hard” Ron Swanson

    Wales is creating dependent people, it is not helpful, it is not progressive, it is not empowering, it is not preparing people for the 21st C, frankly it is just not Welsh.

  12. ‘Corbynism’ is surely an emotional spasm in reaction to the fact that UK is well and truly within the ‘free market’ of current capitalistic system which is approved by 60-70% of population. The ‘have nots’ tend to be left wing,and ‘haves’ tend to be right wing as they want the good life to continue for ever and ever. The IWA and others seem to be obsessed with welsh ‘identity’,what ever that is,however the vast majority of welsh people are totally tuned into the ‘english’ a)economy,b)social institutions and long may that continue.The people left in the a)declining valley areas,b)inner city tend to be much poorer than people who live in a)Llanishen,b)Cowbridge and both ‘demographics’ will vote accordingly to their social/economic status.I would give Citizen Corbyn about 18 months,before the inherent contradictions in his position become a ‘laughing stock’.My son recently needed a taxi at 10.00 pm due to work requirements and was amazed how a seemingly ‘rough’ bloke was so ‘right wing’ who was grafting 7 days a week and ‘HATED the well paid public sector staff/scroungers so Jeremy has a lot to in converting that UKIP type voter.If Cameron/Osborne play their cards right they could be in power for ever,particularly as boundary changes are going to reduce labour seats,and transfer them to more ‘middle class’ areas,so there are structural problems to be faced as well!!

  13. Well done Howell Morgan. Could not have put it better myself. The most dangerous aspect of welsh politics is this anti english underlying the politics of most of the left in wales. They will rue the day that the uk splits up. Most of the inward investment is due to wales being tied to england and scotland and ireland. Together we are all very strong seperatly we are all very easy to pickings for bigger foreign economies to control. The english pay the biggest chunk of the bills in wales. Remember that.

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