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Labour’s control freakery does not bode well for the government it will run from next month

02 Jun 2024 8 minute read
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on stage speaking during the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool last year. Photo Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Martin Shipton

The imposition of general election candidates on Wales who have no connection with our country or knowledge of it is deeply insulting.

It indicates that, 25 years after the establishment of what is now the Senedd, UK Labour has no respect for Wales as a political entity. Starmer’s cronies would not have dared impose such candidates on Scotland. Here they believe they can take our votes for granted.

In Wales, however, panel members of the party’s right wing lickspittle-dominated Welsh Executive Committee are happy to do the bidding of their master in London.

Those defending what has happened point to the fact that substantial politicians from outside Wales have represented Welsh constituencies in the past.

But when the likes of Jim Callaghan and Michael Foot stood for Welsh seats, the development of Wales as a distinct political nation hadn’t occurred. And both, it’s important to stress, were selected by party members in Wales who were able to compare them with other, more local would-be candidates.

When Peter Hain won the Neath by-election in 1991, he too had been chosen by members of the local party – and he went on to play a crucial role in kick-starting Welsh devolution, both as a Welsh Office minister under Ron Davies and later as Secretary of State for Wales.


Lord Hain – as he now is – took the trouble to understand and contribute to the Welsh political sphere and became highly regarded by senior Plaid Cymru figures like Dafydd Wigley – although he was on the wrong side of history when he became involved in the notorious stitch-up that saw Alun Michael rather than Rhodri Morgan installed as the first political leader of what was the National Assembly for Wales.

The latest stitch-up that resulted in Torsten Bell and Alex Barros-Curtis being imposed as Labour’s candidates in Swansea West and Cardiff West was engineered to exclude local party members from the selection process and put in place candidates who, it is assumed, will be unswervingly loyal to the leadership.

This will create an immediate dilemma for Mr Bell when he and Labour win on July 4. As NationCymru has reported, he recently wrote an article for the Guardian in which he argued that the two-child benefit cap was condemning around half a million children to poverty.

Keir Starmer has ruled out scrapping the two-child cap. So what efforts will Mr Bell make to change Sir Keir’s mind? Will he be as forthright in expressing his view when he’s an MP as he was when he wrote the article a couple of weeks ago? Or will he decide that his political career is more likely to gain momentum if he quietly drops the subject?

Wales needs all 32 of the MPs it elected on July 4 to be fighting its corner – not pursuing their personal ambition. There’s no reason to believe that Messrs Bell and Barros-Curtis are any keener to represent Welsh seats than any other safe seats they may have been offered elsewhere in Britain.

It would be foolish to assume that over issues like the funding injustice related to HS2, Keir Starmer will be more sympathetic to Wales than Rishi Sunak has been. Indeed, he’s stated as much.

Mr Bell and Mr Barros-Curtis will need to get up to speed on this and other Wales-specific issues very quickly if they are to represent their constituents properly.

Media scrutiny

There’s a wider point to be made, which is that the control freakery evident in the imposition of candidates is part of a wider tendency that does not bode well for Labour in government.

Probing scrutiny by the media is not welcome. The other day I reported how Henry Tufnell, the Labour candidate for Mid and South Pembrokeshire, confirmed to me that he had asked Welsh Labour not to send Vaughan Gething to campaign with him in the run-up to the election.

The convicted polluter who donated £200k to Mr Gething’s leadership bid owns a landfill site in Mr Tufnell’s seat that has been making neighbours’ lives a misery with its noxious emissions.

I found his confirmation that Mr Gething was unwelcome refreshingly candid and arranged to meet him in Haverfordwest for a face-to-face profile interview.

Sadly it seems that Welsh Labour officials have instructed Mr Tufnell not to engage with me further, so the interview won’t be happening.

It’s also a pattern that if the party doesn’t like the questions you ask, they simply don’t respond. They doubtless tell their candidates not to respond to awkward questions either.

False narratives

Labour is not beyond creating false narratives when it suits them. With Mr Gething’s various scandals creating a crisis for the party, they sought to allege that the Welsh media’s coverage of his troubles was racially motivated.

This was rich coming from a party that has ruthlessly persecuted prominent BAME figures in its ranks like Dianne Abbott and Faiza Shaheen.

A Plaid Cymru activist I know, who doesn’t want to be identified, felt impelled to send me his thoughts on the issue: “When people from Black and Minority communities tell us that they have been hurt and believe that they are facing a racist attack, then they must be listened to. That’s why, when accusations of racism were raised when discussing the conduct of the First Minister, our first response should have been to reflect and consider our actions.

“There is no doubt that there is an element of racism behind some of the attacks that we are seeing on our FM. I have seen it first hand myself while door-knocking or speaking to people in community events, and on each occasion I have challenged these racist remarks and made clear that there is no place for racism.

“But the accusation of racism and the fight against racism is severely undermined when it is weaponised as a political tool to silence critics and stop scrutiny.

“While I have no doubt that racism has played a part in some of the right-wing UK press’ criticism of the FM, it is simply wrong to accuse all media and political critics of racism.

“The FM has serious questions to answer about his integrity and ethics in accepting huge amounts of money from a convicted polluter and the perception amongst the public. This is backed up by recent polling which shows that the Welsh electorate are also concerned.

“The same applies to the leaked iMessages which were deleted, contradicting the FM’s assertion under oath that he had not deleted any messages. To question these is absolutely the correct thing to do, and press scrutiny is a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy.

“To try to silence the press by levelling baseless accusations of racism at them profoundly damages our democracy.

“The Labour Party’s treatment of Diane Abbott, the first black female MP ever to be elected to the Houses of Commons – a trailblazer and an icon for many in the black community – could be deemed as both racist and misogynist.

“What makes the whole issue worse is that the Labour Party sat on their conclusions for over five months waiting for the most opportune moment to inform her of their decision – waiting until it was too late for her to appeal or put her name forward for re-selection.

“This is politics at its very worst and shows a level of Machiavellian skulduggery unmatched anywhere else.

“Yet, unsurprisingly, ‘Welsh’ Labour’s silence has been deafening on this issue. Their accusations of racism against Vaughan Gething have been completely undermined by their total silence on the treatment of Diane Abbott, thus damaging the whole anti-racist movement.

“Racism is a serious societal evil which must be eradicated. But this cannot happen if it is weaponised for political gain. Undermining genuine anti-racist campaigns empowers the racists and gives them succour.

“Yes, we should all reflect on our actions, and consider if what we do and say diminishes any of our brothers and sisters. But we all need to reflect on what we do and say and consider if the motivations for our actions are just, and not cheapened for personal or political benefit.

“Accusations of racism should be levelled at racists thus empowering society to get behind the campaign and drive out racism for good. What Labour has done over the last fortnight has undermined the movement to eradicate racism.”

I sent a message to Vale of Glamorgan councillor Ruba Sivagnanam, who as vice chair of the Welsh Labour BAME committee distributed a statement unjustly accusing the Welsh media of racism in our coverage of the scandals in which Mr Gething is embroiled.

I invited her to comment on the racist and misogynistic treatment within the Labour Party of BAME politicians like Diane Abbott.

She did not respond.

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adrian savill
adrian savill
12 days ago

So important to highlight this….

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
12 days ago

A really good opinion piece from Martin today!

Malcolm Jones
Malcolm Jones
12 days ago

If you can get away from stealing the money from the children and families that were killed in Aberfan you can get away with anything and the people of Wales still vote for you

12 days ago

Well said, Martin. It is also frightening to think of the power English Labour will have over the selection of candidates to the Senedd in two years’ time, given that Plaid has stupidly helped them impose the d’Hondt system of voting for parties rather than candidates. Any one that doesn’t toe the Starmer line will find themselves either off the party list or in an impossible position at the bottom of it.

John Ellis
John Ellis
12 days ago

Perhaps worth remembering, way back in the Blair era, the time when UK Labour imposed on Ebbw Vale a London candidate who had no connection whatever either with Ebbw Vale or even with Wales.

Which created such local outrage that an officer of the Ebbw Vale Labour party stood for election in the constituency as an independent, and was elected not just at one election, but in two.

Takes quite something to conjure a situation when Ebbw Vale, of all places, failed to elect a Labour MP, but London Labour managed to do exactly that.

12 days ago

I am yet to find a quality aside from not being called Tory, in this current Labour Party. They go out of their way to tempt people to vote elsewhere. Is it a sick game they are playing,sort of Russian roulette.

12 days ago

An unintended consequence of the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000 was to strengthen central party structures at the expense of local ones. Yet other than in relation to financial donations and spending, party hierarchies are totally unregulated and able to manipulate representation in the various legislatures in an undemocratic and non-transparent way. Sadly, the Senedd (Members and Elections) (Wales) Act 2024 will be a further huge boost to unregulated central party control of elections at the expense of democratic representation of communities.

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
11 days ago
Reply to  Blegywryd

There is very little that can be described as democratic of the nations that make up britain, certainly not the various parliaments!

Ash P
Ash P
10 days ago

I’ve never really been into the idea before, but the more things like this which go on, the more I am starting to become pro-independence. My only worry is, imagine having someone like Vaughn Gething with all of the control, it’s bad enough the way it is now.

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