Opinion

Keir Starmer’s silence on the Welsh Labour-Plaid Cymru deal is deafening

24 Nov 2021 5 minutes Read
Picture by U.S. Department of State (public domain).

Dr Keith Darlington

Welsh Labour has attracted much publicity from its deal with Plaid Cymru.

The Welsh Labour-Plaid deal will help create a stable Senedd capable of delivering radical change and reform. It has been widely hailed as a great success on the Liberal-left of politics.

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP Parliament leader, described it as grown up politics. The Welsh Lib democrats commended the deal. Unsurprisingly, the Tories and their right-wing press friends condemned the deal.

However, Sir Keir Starmer and Westminster Labour have had nothing to say to date. Their silence is deafening because the deal involves commitments to nationwide social care, free school meals, and a publicly owned energy company.

Commitments, such as these, would have been music to the ears of Labour leaders in the past. So why is Starmer and Westminster Labour silent? Since Starmer’s election in April 2020, these two wings of Labour are diverging not only as a result of the personalities of the leaders but also on critical policy issues.

Personalities

There are clear differences in the personalities and styles of the leaders.

UK Labour, led by Starmer is struggling to find a clear identity after UK Labour lost its fourth consecutive general election in 2019. Opinion polls show that his cautious timidity combined with his evasiveness when it comes to talking about policy issues, such as the consequences of Brexit or how he will fund social care is not striking a chord with the voters.

As Ifan Morgan Jones said on 22nd November, Labour see no realistic prospect of being back in power at Westminster in the very near future.

Drakeford, on the other hand, exudes confidence and clarity of conviction politics following Welsh Labour’s good performance in the Senedd elections in June 21. From his handling of the pandemic, to his readiness to condemn the impact of Brexit on the Welsh economy, Drakeford has been successful.

But the gap between Welsh and UK Labour is also broadening on emphasis of crucial policy issues.

Differences in emphasis of policy issues

There are notable difference between Welsh and Westminster Labour when it comes to Wales.

For example, Welsh Labour is quite happy to accommodate independent views in the party. Mark Drakeford was quite relaxed about allowing three Labour Senedd candidates supporting Welsh independence.

Westminster Labour, on the other hand, constantly berates independence. Indeed, the only time that Stephen Kinnock and Chris Bryant, Labour MPs that have seats in Wales, seem to have anything to say about Wales is to vilify Welsh independence.

Furthermore, Starmer has shown no interest in Welsh politics, causing irritation with some in Welsh Labour. In his party leaders conference speech he only mentioned Wales once.

Moreover, according to Alun Davies, Welsh Labour AM for Blaenau Gwent, Starmer has failed to meet the Senedd Labour group in Wales since becoming leader and couldn’t even be bothered to conduct a Zoom meeting with the group.  Mr Davies said he found it extraordinary that Westminster Labour was not interested in hearing the views of a party who can hold on to marginal seats in Wales that Westminster Labour cannot – for example, Wrexham.

Starmer has also said that he would not work with the SNP. As Mr Davies said, such an attitude could keep the Tories in power indefinitely.

Given Starmer’s disdain towards talking to nationalist parties, it seems reasonable to assume that the reason for Starmer’s silence is partly because he disagrees with any deal with Plaid Cymru.

Starmer has also shown himself to be wedded to the First Past the Post (FPTP) system by rejecting it, even though 80% of delegates at the Labour party conference in October 2021 backed a motion to introduce FPTP.

However, Drakeford, is keen on electoral reform. Westminster Labour may also be ambivalent of the deal because of a trend towards reducing Welsh Westminster MPs and increasing powers and numbers of Senedd MSs. The deal does contain a commitment to increase the number of MSs above the current level of 60 to around 90.

There are also differences on Brexit. The Starmer strategy is not to talk about it or even discourage his party from doing so. According to the Guardian Labour MPs are being asked by the party’s high command not to focus on problems caused by Brexit when asking questions in parliament.

This is in marked contrast to Drakeford and his MSs who have constantly talked about the adverse effects of Brexit such as through trade deals with Australia which will hit the Welsh economy.

Finally, there are notable differences on the climate crisis. Starmer, to his credit, has committed Labour to more investment in Green energy. But he says little about how it will be paid for or how it to reconcile the move away from fossil fuels. He did not even attend the Cop26 summit.

By contrast, Drakeford and other members of Welsh Labour were in the thick of Cop26 attending the conference and active in promulgating policy detail at the Welsh level.

For example, Lee Waters, Deputy Minister for Climate Change, has been remarkably candid and brave in stating that unpopular decisions, such as the scrapping of a coal mining licence for Aberpergwm colliery near Glynneath will have to be cancelled to ensure carbon reduction targets.

Final thought

Mark Drakeford said: “We don’t have a monopoly of good ideas” when announcing the deal with Plaid Cymru. This comment is a breath of fresh air.

Let’s hope Sir Keir is listening and learning from his Welsh counterpart.

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Erisian
Erisian
10 days ago

Sad, depressing, but by no means unexpected.
His only asset seems to be not being his Brexit-avoiding fence-sitting predecessor.

SundanceKid
SundanceKid
10 days ago
Reply to  Erisian

Is it? Maybe the diverging of the two party branches is to be welcomed. We need a Labour party in Wales that is exclusively focused on Wales.

David
David
10 days ago

{Starmer has also shown himself to be wedded to the First Past the Post (FPTP) system by rejecting it, even though 80% of delegates at the Labour party conference in October 2021 backed a motion to introduce FPTP.} Does that make sense!

Alwyn
Alwyn
10 days ago
Reply to  David

No – poor proof-reading by Keith Darlington. 80% backed a motion to move towards proportional representation

Frances Kay
Frances Kay
9 days ago
Reply to  David

Yes it does. Policy is made by members at the annual conference, which voted strongly in favour of PR. But Starmer and his colleagues are refusing to carry out the democratic wishes of members and are making policies on their own, with no discussion, no debate and no democracy.And thus Starmer will present his personal view as the view of the party.

Keith Colville Gordon
Keith Colville Gordon
10 days ago

Gareth – you really must proof read before you post.

Andrew
Andrew
10 days ago

Kier’s English Westminster Labour has one foot in the grave and they all know it. The labour party in Wales however have both feet in the rave and their Plaid countrymen are joining the party for some peace love and unity.Nobody ever mentions a party they have not been invited to. Poor Starmer. oh dear,how sad,never mind.

Katy Fowler
Katy Fowler
8 days ago
Reply to  Andrew

“Both feet in the rave” Love it 😊

Tony Troughton-Smith
Tony Troughton-Smith
10 days ago

This paragraph makes no sense whatsoever, please correct it:
“Starmer has also shown himself to be wedded to the First Past the Post (FPTP) system by rejecting it, even though 80% of delegates at the Labour party conference in October 2021 backed a motion to introduce FPTP.”

Frances Kay
Frances Kay
9 days ago

It makes perfect sense. Starmer is overriding the policy overwhelmingly voted for by Conference in favour of his personal inclination. Not how Labour policy has been traditionally forged, by a Leader the members elected to carry out their mandates.

Duncan Bamford
Duncan Bamford
7 days ago

If you look at what Labour members (through conference) voted through, it is a list of progressive policies not dissimilar to that of Welsh Labour/Plaid. The leadership tried to block motions they didn’t like, they suspended many delegates therefore stopping them speaking at conference, some suspensions were 24hrs before conference and no suspensions had to give a reason. Many members remain suspended with no recourse to justice. So they tried to weight the deck in their favour and still the motions passed were bold & transformative. Leadership then said they would not follow the party’s decisions on policy within 24hrs… Read more »

Marc Evans
Marc Evans
10 days ago

Lee Waters final quote para. needs an edit or three also: [scrapping + cancelled = double negative (i.e cancel the scrapping?; cancel the cancelling!]; i.e.:
stating that unpopular decisions, such as the scrapping of a coal mining licence for Aberpergwm colliery near Glynneath will {have to be cancelled} [¿be necessary¿] to ensure carbon reduction targets. [¿are met¿]

Stephen Owen
Stephen Owen
10 days ago

He probably doesn’t know where or what Wales is, like most London based politicians, never mind knowing what is happening in Wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

SundanceKid
SundanceKid
10 days ago

Given the disdain shown to Wales, why are Welsh Labour MSs so disappointed and surprised by Keir Starmer’s attitude?

Why are they – part of a successful party in actual government – so eager to win his approval?

Starmer has shown he is almost as hostile to devolution as his Tory counterpart is.

It’s time for Welsh Labour to consider divorcing themselves from Westminster HQ.

GW Atkinson
GW Atkinson
10 days ago

Welsh Labour need to break off from English Labour. Totally different party and politics.

Stephen Amos
Stephen Amos
10 days ago

Starmer is a firm believer in independence. That is the reason he doesn’t talk to WL or the SNP. As far as he is concerned, Wales and Scotland are already separate. His party is English Labour only.

Gareth
Gareth
10 days ago

The Labour party in London have, in the past, and still do, take Wales and its votes for granted. As there are no votes to be gained in England, by giving time and attention to Wales, why would Labour, or any other English party, pay attention to, create policies for, or care about Wales. There is no surprise here, nothing new, it is, as it always has been.

Malcolm rj
Malcolm rj
10 days ago
Reply to  Gareth

Where are the Labour party going a SIR. The Labour party leader Michael foot must be turning over in his grave. SAY NO MORE

Cai Wogan Jones
Cai Wogan Jones
10 days ago

It is time for Welsh Labour to cut the umbilical cord with Keir Starmer’s Tory-lite outfit. They are so much better. And gain nothing from the association.

Last edited 10 days ago by Cai Wogan Jones
Jack
Jack
9 days ago

This does feel a bit “damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t”

If he did comment on it then people would, quite rightly, accuse him of interfering with devolution.

I have no problem with his silence. Westminster politicians should leave the Senedd alone.

Quornby
Quornby
9 days ago

An autonomous self funding Welsh Labour would be good for Wales. A Starmer rubber stamp would remain the opposite.

Pob lwc
Pob lwc
9 days ago

If Starmer said something about the Labour-PC deal, he’d be accused of stealing credit for Drakeford’s work and sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong.

Starmer is silent, and he gets criticised for “ignoring Wales”.

Seems he can’t win.

CapM
CapM
9 days ago

I’d be surprised if Starmer aided and abetted by his team were making a decision not to comment based on being damned either way.
I think it likely they’re hoping it will all just go away/come to nought.

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