Drakeford’s Corbyn-like Brexit ambivalence could offer Plaid an opportunity during the EU elections

Mark Drakeford. Picture by Christopher Jones / Alamy Stock Photo

Keith Darlington

The EU referendum of 2016 delivered a similar vote percentage in Wales as the rest of the UK. Almost half (47.48%) voted to Remain – many of whom were Labour voters.

With feelings as strong as ever, Adam Price has an opportunity to capture much of this vote in the forthcoming Euro elections. However, to do so, he will need to establish a clear contrast between his own party’s cast-iron dedication to a People’s Vote with Welsh Labour’s ambivalent posturing.

Recent weeks show that Labour’s ambivalence on a Confirmatory Vote referendum is testing the limits of many of its members and threatening open warfare.


This could have dire consequences for Welsh Labour because, as I show in this article, Mark Drakeford has tied his coat tails to Corbyn very tightly and will find it difficult, if not impossible, to assert the independent stance of his predecessor – Carwyn Jones.

This means that the fate of Welsh Labour may, this time, be very much linked to UK Labour and could provide an opportunity for a party committed to a Remain referendum to make gains.

Posturing

UK Labour’s ambivalence on Brexit stems from their desire to straddle two bicycles by trying to appease Leave voters in the North, and appease Remain voters in London.

Furthermore, Corbyn himself has never shown any enthusiasm for the EU – voting against the 1975 referendum, against the creation of the EU, against the Maastricht Treaty, and so on.

However, most Labour MP’s are Remainers, and therefore, through leading such a party, Corbyn has been forced to moderate his views – leaving the public with doubts about what he really thinks.

The Shadow Cabinet, has unified by purporting to support the conference policy. This was a classic Labour fudge which approved a second referendum if all other options failed.

However, having now exhausted all other options, Corbyn still cannot bring himself around to approve another vote – even a Confirmatory Vote for a deal being reached in Parliament, let alone another Remain referendum.

First Minister

Previously, faced with a UK Labour policy that made things difficult for them in Wales, Welsh Labour would simply have asserted its independence from London.

For example, when he launched Welsh Labour’s general election campaign in May 2017, FM Carwyn Jones made no reference to UK party leader Jeremy Corbyn. The UK Labour leader was thought at the time to be a drag on the party’s popularity, and Carwyn Jones proudly claimed it to be a Welsh Labour launch.

The same applied to Jones’s stance on Brexit. He has recently unequivocally called for a second referendum –even though it was at odds with the UK party position.

What a contrast with our new First Minister.

Unlike his predecessor, Mark Drakeford has always shown a propensity to follow his leader in Westminster. Drakeford has shown a tribal loyalty towards Corbyn which started during the Welsh Labour leadership campaign.

And since his election as Welsh Labour leader, almost six months ago, Mark Drakeford has been unflinching in his pronouncements and support for Jeremy Corbyn.

On Drakeford’s own admission, he does not do interviews or communicate well and has openly stated that he did not enjoy doing FM Question sessions. But one thing he has constantly talked about is his support for Jeremy Corbyn.

As he frequently said during his campaign, he even supported him before his first party leadership election. Appealing to the Corbyn tribe would have improved his chances of success in the Welsh leadership election, because most of the new wave of members joining Labour were Corbynites.

Attack

During the Welsh leadership campaign Drakeford was very late in stating his policies, and unlike his leadership rivals – who were both staunch Remainers – he would not endorse a second referendum, only say that he would follow the Labour UK Conference policy on the matter.

But echoing the ambiguity of Corbyn has left Drakeford in some difficulty. In his relatively short time in the job, he has frequently come under attack at FM questions for reflecting the UK Labour position on Brexit.

For example, on 25th February 2019, fearing a flood of defections to the then newly formed Independent group, Corbyn said that he was in favour of a second referendum. But within a few weeks, when the possibility of more defections had receded, he had changed his mind.

Corbyn’s change of heart was almost mirrored exactly at the same time by Drakeford whose positive stance in one First Minister Question session was upbeat for a second referendum only to have a change of heart a few weeks later by refusing to back a second referendum in FM Questions on 13th March.

Furthermore, on the last Sunday Politics programme, he refused to state his own view of a second referendum, referring the questioner to the UK Labour manifesto about to be published.

When pressed for his own opinion, all he would say was that a second referendum may be in the mix of any Brexit policy – a clear lack of clarity which is hardly likely to help Welsh Labour.

As if that was not enough, when asked whether there would be a separate Welsh Labour campaign, his reply was that he would campaign on UK Labour policy.

Unlike his predecessor, he will not be fronting a Welsh Labour campaign. Such a lack of independence and his closeness to the London Labour office could thus impact against him if Labour does badly.

Rebellion

This has all come to a head in recent times now that the Euro elections are likely to take place. Many Labour members are threatening to leave the party, or refusing to campaign for them or even vote tactically.

Faced with this pressure, the Welsh Labour European elections campaign could unravel. Lynne Neagle, the Labour member of the Welsh Assembly for Torfaen, stated: “I have had a lot of members tell me they won’t campaign for Labour unless the party clearly backs a new public vote, and some have even told me they will consider using a tactical vote.”

Furthermore, Paul Richardson of Torfaen CLP said: “Lots of members are saying they won’t campaign unless we back a ‘people’s vote’ or a confirmatory referendum.”

This week’s local elections in parts of England, where Labour lost 82 councillors and the staunchly Remain Liberal Democrats and Greens gained 703 and 194, may give some indication of what may be to come in Wales.

The forthcoming Euro elections could spell bad news for Welsh Labour because they are now saddled with the same morale-sapping, voter-confusing fudge on Brexit as Labour at a UK level.

Their best course of action now would be to develop a distinctly independent posture – something that is unlikely to happen with Mark Drakeford in charge.


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