It’s an all too familiar story in Welsh politics – we raise our hopes that Labour will stay true to its word by ‘standing up for Wales’, only for those hopes to come crashing down.
I had high hopes this week when the Counsel General for Wales, Jeremy Miles, said on the floor of the Senedd on Tuesday that he would “welcome the opportunity to work on a cross-party basis in Parliament” on efforts to defeat the UK Internal Market Bill.
In his response to Plaid Cymru’s Delyth Jewell, he also reiterated the Labour Welsh Government’s position – an admirable one I may add – that “there should be no transfer of powers, come what may, from this Senedd to Westminster”.
Ever since the publication of the white paper on the Bill, Plaid Cymru had sought to work cross-party against the Bill, which will see the clearest and most direct attack on devolved powers since the establishment of the Senedd over twenty years ago.
That day, we had the perfect opportunity to put that cooperation into action and to show a united stance in defence of devolution. Plaid Cymru’s amendment, supported by the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, SDLP and Alliance, sought to empower the Senedd to protect Wales from Westminster’s power grab. It was a simple amendment that would have ensured that no transfer of powers could take place without approval by the Senedd.
Yet upon hearing the Speaker of the House announce the result of the vote, it became clear that Labour had yet again failed to live up to its word. 63 MPs voted in favour, with 350 voting against. It was yet another missed opportunity to show a united front against the Tories’ reckless plans.
Labour gave us a glimmer of hope, but as always, expecting too much of Labour leads to disappointment, with the people of Wales bearing the brunt of their failures.
Of course, we should no longer be surprised when Labour’s rhetoric contradicts its actions in Parliament. From voting against Plaid Cymru’s efforts to ban zero-hour contracts on seven occasions, to decrying the English A-level results scandal while their Welsh Government counterparts committed the very same failure, the pattern is now clear.
The party is clearly experiencing a deep dysfunction whereby their representatives in Wales – the only nation where they are in power – have no influence whatsoever on the party’s policies in Westminster. Perhaps it reflects a fundamental lack of respect for devolution, or perhaps sheer ignorance.
It’s likely that both are true, underpinned by a spineless reticence to oppose the Conservatives on just about anything.
Indeed, in the same week, Labour also abstained on the Overseas Operations Bill, a Bill that will make it almost impossible to prosecute British soldiers for torture and other war crimes committed overseas. The Labour leader even saw fit to sack three junior shadow ministers for breaking the party’s whip by voting against the Bill – such is the party’s desire to out-Tory the Tories.
Regardless of the motivation, by refusing to defend the Senedd this week, Labour threw Labour under a bus, dragging the people of Wales with them.
Wales must learn lessons from this latest Labour let-down.
We cannot have faith in our own government if Labour in Wales promise to defend Welsh powers “every step of the way”, only for Labour MPs to go home early instead of delivering on their government’s promises.
In order to restore faith in our own democracy, we must have a government that is accountable to the people of Wales, a government that stays true to its word, not to be undermined by party bosses in London.
With just over 200 days until the Senedd election, it is time for Wales to decide: do we want to stay in this quagmire of hope and inevitable disappointment, or is it time we elect a government that puts words into action?
Next May, let us elect a party that promises never to sit on its hands when faced with the opportunity to protect the interests of Wales.