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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