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Opinion

Is there hope for the reinvention of the Liberals in Wales?

27 Oct 2023 4 minute read
Jane Dodds, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats

Gwern Gwynfil, YesCymru CEO

In a busy news week it’s likely that the vast majority have missed the momentous occasion which is the Welsh Liberal Democrat conference.

Held in Wrexham over the weekend it would be generous to say that it was well attended, sparsely populated a better description.

With one Member of the Senedd and no Welsh MPs it is fair to say that the Liberal Democrats in Wales are a very pale shadow of what they once were. For those who don’t know their history, in 1906 every single MP returned for Wales, bar one, was a Liberal. Just over a century later and they seem destined for oblivion in the very same country.

But is there yet hope for reinvention for the Liberals in Wales?

After long, arid months, with little to no media coverage whatsoever, the conference was surely an opportunity for some exposure? Indeed there was some Lib Dem noise in the media, both here on Nation Cymru and over on Bylines Cymru.

None of this was conference-led however. The party conference seems to have made no impression whatsoever outside the small number of delegates in attendance. Were there any representatives of the press at the conference?

Aimlessness 

The noise that was made was universally to challenge the aimlessness and lack of purpose of Liberalism in Wales. Simon Hobson, an approved parliamentary candidate for the Lib Dems, laid out his formula for rescuing, reinventing and revitalising the Welsh Lib Dems here.

His is a plan for a radical root and branch review and shake up of the party, tapping into the growing discomfort across Wales, and especially amongst the younger generation, with the Union and its failures.

It is hard to disagree with some of the conclusions, solutions or the prediction of extinction for the Lib Dems in Wales if they do nothing. You’ve also got to love the LEGO analogy!

In direct response to this article, a Lib Dem member wrote an even bolder and stronger piece for Bylines Cymru – read it here.

This prescribes seizing upon the cause of Welsh independence, refashioning it as a truly Liberal project and driving the party and the nation forwards with this Liberal agenda for Welsh sovereignty. It is a powerful idea, with a strong Liberal history and tradition in Wales, dating all the way back to the Liberalism of the 19th century. Home Rule for Wales was a long running Liberal theme before the wars of the 20th century derailed the natural evolution of the relationship between the four nations of the United Kingdom.

From the Lib Dem party perspective here in Wales, it is the energy and enthusiasm which inspires members to engage in this way that must be seized upon and channelled. The fusty, near empty rooms and corridors of their conference this year should be incentive enough. The Lib Dems in Wales would be wise to engage with those who have fresh ideas and energy – if ever there was a political party in need of a shot in the arm…

To round off this much more interesting debate and discussion, outside the somnolence of conference, a former Lib Dem policy wonk (for Jane Dodds, their current leader), added a measured and thoughtful discussion of the Liberal case for independence here.

Federalism

Although prefaced with the rather disappointing conclusion that ‘most Liberal Democrats in Wales subjugate the idea of independence to the impractical dream of federalism’, the article certainly inspired a vigorous and entertaining discussion in the comments section.

In all of this, perhaps here we find the rub. Liberalism in Wales needs some vigour, which is noticeably absent at present. Opening up the party to an official separation from the UK Lib Dems (as the Greens are separating themselves into national political entities) frees the party in Wales to make the question of independence an open one, to reinvigorate its discussions, to focus its policies and attention on how to address Welsh challenges and Welsh priorities. In time, perhaps this will free the English Lib Dems to be champions of English independence too.

As an objective observer these are the alternatives, embrace change and openness, embrace ‘Liberalism’ or die as a political party with influence.

My popcorn is ready and I am watching with some eagerness. The Wales constitutional commission report in January will surely raise questions for all political parties and politicians in Wales – how they react will be telling, where they land may well be existential for some.


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Sally-Anne
Sally-Anne
6 months ago

One of the problems the LibDems face is the fact that people have seen what the Nick Clegg LibDems were about and don’t want a bar of it./..and people have started to understand that “Liberal” in politics doesn’t mean the same as say “liberal” in the sense of being free with something.
Branding is rancid, their politics is the same and they have proved themselves untrustworthy….

Owen Banks
Owen Banks
6 months ago

Until they apologise for Nick Clegg and the Coalition; they deserve oblivion.

Rob
Rob
6 months ago
Reply to  Owen Banks

Did Labour ever apologise for the invasion of Iraq? Do they deserve oblivion as well

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
6 months ago
Reply to  Rob

We’re playing atrocity to trumps now are we?
Did the Lib Drms apologise for enabling the start of the reign of the worst, most cruel, most corrupt, most chaotic, hateful and incompetent government to EVER curse these islands?
The Iraq war cost something like 150,000 lives. The Tories body count is actually much higher. And the Lib DRMs helped them into power just to achieve … what was it again? Free knitting needles for old people or something?

Dai Ponty
Dai Ponty
6 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Good

Since the very very bad Coalition of Cons/Libdems in 2010 the Tory governments and P M,s have been worse

Richard E
Richard E
6 months ago

A proud history, some great ideas and some nice well meaning folk – a few of whom have community roots but little sense of Wales.

thats it really

Geoffrey Harris
Geoffrey Harris
6 months ago

On a purely personal perspective, the liberals in Wales were to a large extent Conservatives who were unwilling to acknowledge such. Liberal was a harmless alternative, but really they were Tories.

Richard
Richard
6 months ago

A perspective im afraid with little historical evidence. You may find it worth reading the works of such diverse historical writings of Gwyn Ailf Williams, Wynford Vaughan Thomas, Gwynfor Evans or Lord Morgan.

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
6 months ago

No. There is no hope for the Lib Dem’s in Wales, beyond sweeping up Tory voters who are disaffected by the extreme cruelties and gross incompetencies of that party hijacked by morons

Jeff
Jeff
6 months ago

Very tricky when you are in a minority deal with the Cons. Unfortunately it was a poisoned chalice for them. This will haunt them till FPTP is dead. I like their policies in the main but reality is they don’t have enough to form a government and 4 by-election got them thinking they were contenders. Its a long road to power, at this moment in time I would want to see all parties band together to remove the Cons comprehensively with tactical voting however a Tory government ruling with a minority vote, all the parties trying to win is useful… Read more »

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
6 months ago
Reply to  Jeff

Maybe they should not have gone into coalition with the Tories then. Nobody MADE them do this. They sold out their “values” for ministerial cars. That was the first and last time I voted LD and they sold me out.

Jeff
Jeff
6 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Good

Hindsight is wonderful but yeah, I thought it was interesting at the time but I know horse trading would skew the reality that the major player was the Tory party, Lib Dems made a terrible mistake for their party, hopefully they are no longer that way. I still hope that all parties focus on removing the Cons, where a LibDem, Plaid, Green etc. is likely to win, Labour step back and so on. Hopefully now the decent parties now look at any deal with the Tory party will never work and go back to the electorate. The mistake of trusting… Read more »

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