The Wales in Europe campaign has kicked off the new year by proclaiming “Welsh MPs and AMs in joint
plea to First Minister to back new referendum on Europe” and last Monday released a letter from 60 people calling for a People’s Vote on Brexit.
On the face of it, this seems an impressive number. We have just 40 MPs, 60 AMs, 4 MEPs and 22 local government leaders in Wales. That makes a total of 126 people, and I suspected for a few brief seconds that the campaign was now proclaiming it had the support of almost half of them.
Why did I jump to this conclusion? Because when Wales in Europe did a similar exercise back in May 2018, unveiling 31 names, it drew them from just those four categories of elected politician. At that time, seven months ago and before all the coverage for a People’s Vote campaign, I felt that achieving a target of almost a quarter of those four groups of politician was pretty impressive.
This time round, however, my view is a lot more cynical. If you drill down into the names you see that when you compare like with like using the same four categories (MPs, AMs, MEPs and council leaders) the numbers have only actually crept from 31 to 34 out of a possible 126. Hardly a breakthrough by anyone’s standards.
Working through each of the groupings in turn, the only identical category is MEPs. Derek Vaughan and Jill Evans supported the campaign in May 2018 and they still do so now.
Amongst Welsh AMs the top line figure is pointing in the right direction for People’s Vote and its signatories have gone up from 9 to 12. Alun Davies, Ann Jones, Joyce Watson, Leanne Wood and Lynne Neagle have remained constant in their support (5 of the original 9). However, Kirsty Williams, Lee Waters, Mike Hedges and David Rees, who all signed in May 2018, have not added their names this time.
Thank goodness People’s Vote can now rely properly on Plaid Cymru – the growth in AM numbers is entirely down to seven new signatories from within the Plaid group, namely Helen Mary Jones, Bethan Sayed, Rhun ap Iorwerth, Llyr Gruffydd, Steffan Lewis, Dai Lloyd and Sian Gwenllian.
Amongst Welsh MPs there is an increase in signatories from 11 to 13 – hardly seismic either and only a third of Welsh MPs at Westminster. Constants are Stephen Doughty, Jonathan Edwards, Susan Elan Jones, Tonia Antoniazzi, Chris Bryant, Jo Stevens, Liz Savile Rooberts, Geraint Davies and, of course, Anna McMorrin, who has emerged as one of the key faces of the People’s Vote campaign across the UK.Two Welsh MPs are not listed now, Ann Clwyd and Paul Flynn, while Ben Lake, Hywel Williams, Madeleine Moon and Albert Owen have added theirs.
Local government support for People’s Vote is not great though – the number of local government leaders signing up has dropped from 8 to 5. Anthony Hunt (Torfaen), Huw Thomas (Cardiff), Debbie Wilcox (Newport), and Ellen ap Gwynn (Ceredigion) have all signed both, and they are joined by Dyfrig Siencyn (Gwynedd) this time. But four Labour local authority leaders have not signed this time – Andrew Morgan (Rhondda Cynon Taff), Rob Stewart (Swansea), Rob Jones (Neath Port Talbot) and David Poole (Caerphilly) have all withheld their names on this occasion.
This public naming isn’t meant to put anyone on these lists on the spot – other than the compilers. Like with like, Wales in Europe is up 31 to 34 in seven months. I mean no disrespect to the peers who have now signed, nor to Cllr Bill Powell or the leaders of the Greens and the Lib Dems.
But the biggest reason that 34 is being portrayed as 60 is that about twenty of the names – a third of the list – include the chair, director and the local organisers of the Wales in Europe campaign. In a shock move they have all backed their own campaign. Presumably this has been done to boost numbers or to pretend that “ordinary people” are involved. Whatever the reason, the impression of a cosy elite isn’t helped when people like a former European apparatchik and a former archbishop are included. Seemingly the Wales in Europe outfit has learnt nothing from 2016.
As usual, most media outlets will just report the 60 names as the big leap forward that it isn’t, without probing the content. But the bottom line is threefold. Firstly, there has been no great leap forward for People’s Vote amongst senior elected politicians in Wales. Plaid Cymru has properly signed up and provided some much needed oomph, but that’s about it.
Secondly, unlike last time, NO Welsh Government Minister has signed the latest letter – which is a bit of a problem for People’s Vote as last time the most impactful thing about the list was that two of them had, Kirsty and Alun. This time round there seems to be an absence of the same sort of challenge. This can perhaps be explained away for ministers by the fact that their boss, Mark Drakeford is the recipient of the open letter.
Finally, and most tellingly though, is that it appears many of those who had previously signed and now have not were backers of that same Mark Drakeford in the Labour leadership election. Despite the hype, I suspect the potential for People’s Vote to make inroads with Labour in Wales has got harder in the last month. That could well be the real story of these two open letters if you can be bothered to read into them.