Failure to adapt to Welsh devolution hurt General Election campaign says Labour report

Picture: Chatham House (CC BY 2.0)

A lack of understanding of devolution and communication with Welsh Labour were key factors in Labour’s General Election losses in Wales, according to an election postmortem report.

The Labour Together Election Review was prepared by a 15-strong panel of commissioners, including former leader Ed Miliband.

It says that there was a failure to both adapt Labour’s key messages to devolved nations and to give the devolved campaigns enough freedom to operate.

“Messages around NHS privatisation may be less resonant in Scotland and Wales, for example, given the devolution of relevant policies in those nations,” the report says.

The report recommends “better public coordination across our different nations and regions” and “an understanding of devolution, devolved policy and devolved governments throughout the Labour Party”.

The party needs “a more careful consideration of what our offer is to target voters in those areas rather than just assuming it is the English offer minus the devolved areas of policy”.

The report also suggests that Labour need to win Plaid Cymru seats if they have any chance of winning the next General Election. Arfon is currently one of Labour’s main target seat.

“Unless Labour wins seats from the SNP and Plaid Cymru, winning a majority would require us to win everything up to and including Jacob Rees Mogg’s seat of North East Somerset, which has a Conservative majority of 26.2 per cent,” the report says.

 

‘Problematic’

The report also suggests that theye was a “failure to coordinate” with the Welsh Government during the campaign, meaning that they were “caught on the back foot” by policy announcements.

“This meant they were unable to line up their own announcements on those areas to come out at a similar time in a coordinated way,” the report says.

“This was problematic as commitments made for England in devolved areas always led to immediate questions about what the Welsh Government or Scottish Labour will do, meaning campaigns in Scotland and Wales often ended up being reactive and ‘on the back foot’.

“For example, in both Scotland and Wales, where the NHS is devolved, lots of messaging and focus from the Labour Party is much less relevant. There was often a failure to coordinate on this, as Scottish Labour and the Welsh Labour Government and special advisers were not given advance warning of significant Labour policy commitments in devolved areas.

“There should be advanced warning of key policy announcements for Welsh and Scottish Labour so they are able to prepare public responses proactively in support.

“UK Labour HQ should also seek to obtain briefings on Scottish and Welsh issues for Shadow Cabinet ministers, ahead of major media appearances, particularly given Wales is currently the only Labour-led government within the UK.

“Each region should have a shadow cabinet lead to help coordinate all aspects of the party’s efforts and resources. This will help build up the relationships between the leadership and the grassroots of the party.

“For Scotland and Wales, this role should be played by the Shadow Secretary of State and, in the political cabinet, the Scottish and Welsh Labour Leaders.”

A respondent to the report is quoted as being critical of the “disconnect” between Labour and Welsh Labour.

“Labour campaigned on saving the NHS yet here in Wales we couldn’t contribute much to that messaging because Welsh Labour are technically in charge of the NHS here, so all we could really do is talk about the financial restrictions put on us because of the Tory government,” the respondent says.

“When you have to explain these things, they lose their effect.”

‘Misdirected’

Poor targeting of seats, particularly in the north of Wales, is also identified as one contributing factor to the election defeat.

“For example, by the end of the election campaign, nearly every seat in North Wales was on the target list – meaning, in the view of local campaigners, that none were,” the report says.

“Several weeks into the campaign, as evidence mounted that many more seats were in need of urgent defence, Labour did eventually add them to the list. However, this was done without reducing the number in other areas, with the effect that resources were being spread too thinly and, according to some accounts we received, no seats were being adequately defended.

“Activists were misdirected and resources were limited and misallocated. Too much attention was paid to seats Labour was unlikely to win, and not enough to defending our vulnerable seats in our heartland areas of the UK including in Wales and Scotland.”

Concerns are also raised over the lack of briefing for UK Labour Shadow Cabinet Members on Welsh and Scottish devolved policy and issues ahead of major media appearances in those locations or when they were up against prominent figures from Plaid Cymru or the SNP.

“As Wales is currently the only UK Labour-led administration, this was particularly a problem, as the opposition were able to attack Labour on its current record in government in Wales without Labour spokespeople being adequately prepared to respond,” the report says.

Although the report emphasises the need to win back seats in Wales and Scotand, it also admits that Labour will need to win back significant ground in England’s towns and cities.

“If it is to form a Government again, Labour also needs to win more seats in London, commuter suburbs and towns like Swindon,” the report says.

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