For the good of Welsh democracy we need to break Labour’s stranglehold on the Senedd

Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones. Picture by National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

Benjiman L. Angwin

Labour’s continued electoral dominance of the Welsh Assembly is no accident.

The party, having already ruled Wales for over 75 years by the time of the referendum in 1997, knew that it would be a bastion for them and that no party could seriously challenge their dominance.

The only dissenting voices against devolution in Wales and Scotland were those who feared that it just might give the nationalists a look in!

In Scotland, of course, they were right to be worried. The SNP took power after only eight years and have now been in government for a decade.

In Wales, however, nothing has shaken the iron grip of the Labour party. And this is becoming a serious problem for Welsh democracy.

In a mature democracy, power will naturally swing back and forth between parties every decade or so.

Not only do parties run out of ideas in government, but this process means that one ideology never gets a chance to bed down and do any sustained damage.

Parties have time out of government to regroup, rebrand and create fresh policies to appeal to the electorate.

Wales isn’t yet a mature democracy. It is at best a dominant-party system, as it was set up to be.

Labour win with 10,000+ majorities generation after generation, to the point that political dynasties like the Kinnocks essentially inherit constituencies like lords.

The state

Labour’s dominance is becoming a danger to Welsh nationhood because the Welsh state is becoming synonymous with Labour’s ideology to the point where people are beginning to think that Labour is the Welsh state.

Labour believes in centralisation, respect for state authority, and solidarity at the expense of individual liberty.

It manipulates a core mythology based on a romantic struggle against a capitalistic class, whose form changes to suit the electorate.

Labour believes it is the inheritor of the Merthyr Rising. Ignoring the fact that Labour was founded 69 years after Merthyr.

The aim is to give Labour historical legitimacy so Labour can avoid the truth that liberalism, not socialism, was Wales’ first radical voice.

The problem is that Wales continues to be a liberal country. And those opposed to creeping state control over their lives have come, quite fairly, to associate it with the existence of the Senedd itself.

Another ‘layer of government’ has, in their minds, inevitably led to more state meddling in their lives.

I recently met with people at a park local to me in Pen y Lan, Cardiff, who were opposing the destruction of trees. A scheme supported by Environment Minister Hannah Blythyn.

One resident had received a letter from Natural Resource Wales (NRW). It simply said part of her property was being taken from her, a five-foot wall would be built on it, with £275 as compensation.

She once had a garden with a park view. Now she has a small plot of mud facing a concrete wall.

Welsh Labour and NRW said these measures are to help prevent flooding. But the people of Pen y Lan never asked for their help.

Help was imposed by a distant, mysterious authority, with the power to take away citizens’ private property.

Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) have been issued along the A55 between Bangor and England. The new prison in Port Talbot may require them too.

People’s homes in Sain Tathan were nearly seized by the State for Cardiff Airport’s expansion. This frightened people. Welsh people should not fear the Welsh State.

Welsh Labour has become a ‘petty tyranny’. Increasingly Welsh citizens do not have the power to protect their private property against the state.

Origins

Adam Price pointed out on S4C’s ‘O’r Senedd’ that we need to invigorate Welsh democracy or we could lose it. This is no idle concern.

For all their electoral dominance, only three out of every ten people in Wales voted Labour at the last Welsh Assembly election.

If getting rid of the Assembly is the only way to get rid of Labour, might people not start to seriously consider it?

We can’t just blame Labour for winning elections, of course. It’s the lack of a serious challenger as an opposition that allows them to dominate.

The opposition is divided between left and right, when a nationalist, liberal, radical opposition would win the support of the majority of Wales.

Gwynfor Evans said: ‘The Government (Labour) had expected much from the nationalised industries and services, but the bureaucratic form of nationalisation adopted has done nothing to increase the sense of responsibility among the workers concerned, because they have in fact no greater responsibility and ownership than they had under the old order.’

Gwynfor Evan’s words have a punch Labour’s ideas cannot withstand when fused with Liberal leader Jo Grimond’s: ‘Personal ownership is one badge of a citizen as against a proletarian. It is a shield against petty tyranny.’

Defeating Labour will invigorate Wales with new ideas and directions, and it might just save our Senedd. And it might, ultimately, even invigorate Welsh Labour.

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Simon
Guest

I don’t think the metaphor of ‘mature’ is appropriate here for either the Senedd or any other democratic institution. It gives the impression that the first past the post systems employed by the UK and USA are somehow more ‘grown up’ because they have been around longer. They are certainly less democratic and less representative than the proportional representation employed in Wales and Scotland. The Welsh and Scottish systems are better, because they are more representative and hence more democratic. Can we leave it at that? As for the notion that the two party state system entrenched in the UK… Read more »

ANDREW ROBINSON REDMAN
Guest
ANDREW ROBINSON REDMAN

What is the nature of control that the CEO of Carmarthen Council has over the Senned that they ignore the many concerns of the people of Carmarthen with regard to the workings of said council. I have questioned “what is the point of the Welsh Government issuing guidelines ,protocol,procedures etc. if Councils ignore them?” The response is “we do not have the finance and manpower to police what Councils do”. This is unacceptable. The Plaid leader of Carmarthen Council expressed the wish that it would be the most transparent and democratic Council in Wales. This is quite obviously NOT the… Read more »

Ceinwen
Guest
Ceinwen

Ever considered it’s the nationalism the majority of people don’t want?

JD
Guest
JD

But it’s never, ever going to happen, is it?

I applaud Nation.cymru for wanting to do something different, but article after article just depicts a Wales of people’s imaginations and doesn’t deal with the reality on the ground.

It will be statistically impossible for Wales to have anything other than a Labour government unless Plaid and Welsh Tories get together and that just is not going to happen.

JE Lloyd
Guest
JE Lloyd

@JD — first one needs to create a vision of a better Wales before the electorate will break with Labour. Objectively, the best-governed part of the UK now is Scotland. The Scottish Government is ambitious, focused on the interests of the Scottish people, and not hung up with ideological constraints. Nation.Cymru is performing an essential service in demonstrating how Wales could escape the atrophy of Welsh Labour and be doing so, so much better. And Wales has shown its ability in the past to embrace new ideas and radical change — as with the switch from Liberalism to Labour in… Read more »

JD
Guest
JD

@JE Lloyd

All nice points but most people in Wales don’t think in terms of Wales, sadly. I think about my parents who are in their 60s and fluent Welsh speakers yet will still identify as being British first. There is a very long way to go.

Tellyesin
Guest
Tellyesin

“We can’t just blame Labour for winning elections, of course. It’s the lack of a serious challenger as an opposition that allows them to dominate. The opposition is divided between left and right, when a nationalist, liberal, radical opposition would win the support of the majority of Wales.” Well, we can blame Labour for winning elections, that’s what they do. They win. It may be the lack of a serious challenger that explains it, although the other parties in Wales are all run by professional politicians. Nobody stands against the Labour machine, knowing they’ll lose repeatedly for a laugh! They… Read more »

Benjiman L. Angwin
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Benjiman L. Angwin

For the record, I’m Plaid, but I have a strong Liberal (Clegg/Ashdown/Grimond) streak in what I believe and value.

You may of course make what you will of an edited article’s words. It carries my sentiment, and has been edited well.

Glyn Roberts
Guest
Glyn Roberts

I agree that a functioning democracy needs more than a single dominant party. However the choice of compulsory purchase orders as an illustration of an unsympathetic and inhumane ‘machine state’ is a poor one. Orders of this type are only necessary because responsible Government requires that action can be taken to secure infrastructure and facilities in the wider public interest when that may not be in the interests of one individual or a small group of individuals. Appelaing to selfish sectoral interest is not a responsible way to win elections. Every proposed compulsory purchase order may be contested through a… Read more »

Rob Bruce
Guest

It’s plain untrue that the Labour Party had “ruled Wales for over 75 years” by 1997. They may have had the majority of Wales’s MPs, but that is a different thing entirely. Lazy. And that’s just the introduction.

Red Dragon Jim
Guest
Red Dragon Jim

There is alot of good stuff in this article but a few critical problems. Labour has long dominated Welsh politics, but for decades this domination did not actually allow them to rule. Wales was instead run by the Tories, through a powerful Wales office. This is why Labour moved from mostly opposing devolution, to mostly supporting it. Related to this is the fact that people will note vote to scrap the Assembly to get rid of Labour, because support for devolution appears to cluster amongst Labour and Plaid Cymru voters. Labour’s stifling dominance can be broken if enough opposition parties… Read more »

ERNEST
Guest
ERNEST

Although the Labour party is the largest party in Wales and has been for the last 75 years, it has not ruled Wales because there has been no assembly in Wales until quite recently. Wales has been ruled mainly by UK English Tories. But, since the assembly has been formed the shadow of UK imperialism has always been present particularly in the formation of political parties. The Labour party is large in Wales because it incorporates many that in European mainland countries would be several different parties, from Trotskyists to monopoly capitalists. The Conservative party is an pro-English unionist party,… Read more »

Stan
Guest
Stan

Actually, since 1945 until the present time, there has been a Labour government in Westminster for 30 out of those 72 years. So taking into account the time they’ve controlled the Senedd as well, I think they’ve had more than a fair crack of the whip here in Wales.

Coch-y-bonddu
Guest
Coch-y-bonddu

The main problem I have with current Plaid Cymru leadership is I don’t believe they are genuinely interested in independence. Perhaps they are too cosy with the status quo or fear the responsibility. I am 100% certain we would make a success of running our own affairs. I am tired of Welsh labour cronyism, corruption, unionism and their remoteness from Welsh people. Time for change before it really is too late.

Nigel Bull
Guest

We desperately need change and these facts Wales has to accommodate for it to happen. There is only ONE serious full time political journalist of substance in Wales fighting with the pen, and no national Welsh written media of consequence. The BBC as in the UK are the backers of the establishment, being the WRU in sport as they kill rugby, especially north of the M4 and Labour politically. ITV has Sharp End that has raised issues that are soon forgotten so as not to rock the boat too hard. As a result they get scrutinised with little intensity for… Read more »