A man for all seasons

Welsh Labour are nervous about Jeremy Corbyn’s win, says Phil Parry

The overriding reaction of Welsh Labour to the momentous victory of Jeremy Corbyn as leader is one of nervousness.

Nervousness about what it means for the future of Labour in Wales. Nervousness about whether he will try to unpick the devolution settlement. Nervousness about his slightly equivocal position on Europe.

First Minister Carwyn Jones has “welcomed” his win but there must surely be nervousness even behind this statement.Another Welsh Government minister reacted to the victory in slightly more colourful language to me.

Corbyn has been unusually quiet about devolution towards Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland so nobody is really sure where he stands. He has, however, written a paper about devolution towards cities in the North of England called ‘Northern Future’. In it he criticises the implementation of directly-elected mayors without referendums. He also shows scepticism towards the nature of how devolution might work in terms of governance, calling for a ‘constitutional convention’ to be set up ‘as soon as possible’.

He is, fundamentally, a democrat and the paper quotes from those calling for Parliaments for Yorkshire. There is not a huge amount of detail in relation to the planning powers these bodies might have, but it can be presumed they will take some responsiblity for managing planning, as is envisaged, from the combined authorities.

He is a long-standing supporter of a united Ireland, and controversially invited the Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams to London in 1984. The democracy of the people of the whole of Ireland, presumably trumping the democracy of people in the north. When he was interviewed by the Herald newspaper, based in Glasgow, he was asked if he would describe himself as a British unionist. His reply was, perhaps, telling:  “No,” he said.  “I would describe myself as a socialist I would prefer the UK to stay together, yes, but I recognise the right of people to take the decision on their own autonomy and independence.”

In 1991, he seconded Tony Benn’s Commonwealth of Britain Bill, which said there should be an elected President, devolution, and abolition of the House of Lords. In short we don’t really know.

I stress again that Corbyn’s main driver is democracy, and the National Assembly for Wales is a democratically-elected body, but given that 49.7 per cent voted against devolution in Wales in 1997 perhaps the nervousness of policy-makers is understandable. On Europe too his pronouncements are masterly obscure. For a politician who is lauded for being clear in his statements, this is puzzling.

Traditionally, left-wingers have opposed the EU – seeing it as too inclined towards big business and the free market. This stance has shifted recently and this has special resonance in Wales where parties are naturally more likely to be pro-Europe. Small nations see in the EU a safe-haven for cultural diversity. Corbyn wants to create a “better Europe” but how he will actually do this is not obvious. He has, though, no plans to abandon Britain’s membership of the EU.

During the Labour leadership contest he was pressurised by pro-EU Labour MPs to make his position clearer. In a statement he said:  “Labour should set out its own clear position to influence negotiations, working with our European allies to set out a reform agenda to benefit ordinary Europeans across the continent. We cannot be content with the state of the EU as it stands. But that does not mean walking away, but staying to fight together for a better Europe.”

Labour in Wales have long been the biggest party. They have been in power, sometimes in coalition, since devolution was established, and Wales is the only part of the UK where Labour is the governing party. Perhaps Jeremy Corbyn should take note of that.


Phil Parry is Editor of the investigative website The Eye - www.the-eye-investigates.uk

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