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Seeking the revolution

07 Mar 2024 6 minute read
Jane Dodds at the Welsh Liberal Democrat’s conference

Gwern Gwynfil

Jane Dodds, leader of the Wesh Liberal Democrats, hung her keynote speech at their Spring conference on the ‘hook’ of revolution.

The idea and belief that what we need today is radical change not ‘patches’ for a broken system. Noble sentiments and an ambitious thought.

Sadly there is nothing revolutionary about Dodds Welsh LibDems – they are tired and aimless, they lack clarity of vision, they lack clarity of identity.

Whilst clearly not the same party as Ed Davey’s UK Lib Dems, focussed relentlessly on being the ‘Tory Lite’ aternative in England, the Welsh LibDems don’t seem to know who they are or who they want to be.

They do have aspirations for Wales, they have some decent goals but they have no umbrella vision, no framework, no idea of the Wales they want to see in 20 years.


No surprise that the mood at the conference felt subdued, the thinking woolly, the sense of purpose absent.

One virtual delegate got in touch to say “it is disappointing that the Welsh LibDems are failing to plough their own path. Most of what I have heard from the leadership this Conference weekend appears to be a rewording of what the Federal party is saying.

“I have no problem with that or those policies, it’s just that they are policies designed to win over Tory voters in the south of England. I think this has been a missed opportunity to define what it means to be a Liberal in Wales.”

In similar vein, an in-person delegate said ‘We’re still a party in search of that big idea that will resonate with the public. Welsh democracy is not in the best shape at the moment and there is a big gap waiting to be filled by the party that can restore some kind of hope and optimism.

“I was interested to hear Kirsty Williams, introducing the discussion on the Constitutional Commission for Wales, talk about the importance of nation-building, and I noticed that Europe – especially a commitment to rejoining the Single Market and Customs Union – still stirs passions. Perhaps those two issues can give the party that big message that will resonate with Welsh voters”.

Potential and Lost Opportunity

The sense of aimlessness is disappointing. The Welsh liberal tradition is long and runs deep. A deep dive into social attitude surveys, census information and Welsh polling data suggests that comfortably 25-30% of the Welsh electorate would and could identify with Liberal political values.

Yet they don’t vote for the Welsh Liberals. This is a failing party unwilling to revolutionise itself. Until it does so it will remain on the high road to extinction. General Election polling puts them within the margin of error of being overtaken by the Green party. At times they poll at barely half the support of the headbangers in Reform, this is not a party going places.

They need to ask themselves whether they want to be a political force in Wales. Whether they have the ambition and bravery to reinvent themselves with a transformation which will enhance their electoral prospects for 2026, and beyond. Or are they content to disappear into the history books with a final whimper.

Politics needs vision and clarity, leadership and purpose, talent and drive. There is too little of this in evidence across the political spectrum today, with the Lib Dems trailing in a very weak field. Will they find new energy and purpose? There was no evidence at conference that they even have the desire to do so. If you don’t want to change the world then you certainly won’t be doing so – the Welsh Lib Dem Spring conference did not feel like a gathering of people with the desire, drive and vision needed to make a difference.

A Ceredigion Liberal

I must declare some interest here as I am a classic Ceredigion Liberal from Tregaron. The imposing statue of the Welsh Liberal MP, Henry Richard, was, quite literally, just outside my bedroom window throughout my childhood.

This means that the measure of my disappointment at the moribund nature of Liberalism in Cymru is profound.

Wales needs a strong Liberal voice that can span the many divisions of our nation. The Welsh Liberal Democrats today are not that voice and show no sign of being that voice.

No wonder that Ceredigion Liberals vote for Plaid Cymru’s Elin Jones and Ben Lake in large numbers.

No wonder that huge swathes of the population, more than half the electorate, simply do not vote in Senedd elections. Voters need representation to feel they have a voice. Who speaks for Liberal Wales today? No one.

Perhaps this is the revolution that Dodds and her party should seek, now is the time to divest themselves of dogma, to be open to radical transformation and to foster a fresh, vibrant and lively new Liberalism here in Cymru. The opportunity is there. The prize is relevance and political influence.

Ed Davey’s Dead End

Hanging their hopes on David Chadwick to win the new Brecon constituency in the GE is unambitious and futile. One MP amongst a host of Westminster, Tory Lite, Ed Davey UK LibDems, is a dead end.

Welsh MPs are currently an irrelevance for the LibDems in Cymru. They must recover in the Senedd. They must reset, renew and rebase themselves as a relevant party for Wales or they are finished.

They won’t succeed without a radical transformation and a fresh, new, vibrant agenda for Wales. One which they can communicate clearly and simply to the breadth of Wales. They need to be ambitious and bold. This will pay dividends which will boost their confidence.

With success perhaps future conferences will feel more vibrant and energetic – lively forums where delegates can believe that change is possible, that they can truly make a difference to the lives of the people of Wales.

Cymru Awaits

Recent electoral analysis suggests that more than half the electorate, in Wales and across the UK, are now ‘floating’ voters. There is a hunger for new political voices. Jane Dodds is right that the revolution we need is a political one.

The question is, can the Welsh Liberals provide that new voice? Do they have the vision? Do they have the talent?

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Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
4 months ago

Spot on Gwern. With just one member in Y Senedd now and previously, both of whom had to be kindly fostered by the government, it surely cannot go unnoticed that the Lib Dems are as near as they can be to extinct in Cymru without actually being so. I do credit Jane Dodds for being the ONLY Lib Dem in the whole of the UK to openly trash the Clegg catastrophe of 2010 in facilitating majority Tory government when they didn’t have a majority and for this, I will never forgive them. Add to that their hanging about to pick… Read more »

4 months ago
Reply to  Fi yn unig

There’s an awful lot of politics in Wales that need to die away and be replaced by something more relevant. The prospect of closed lists sums up the mindset of 2 political parties more frightened of the future rather than challenged to build a nation. Tories are probably in some sort of “closed” anyway – closed from any influence other than the London set, closed from any notion of separate and relevant ideas for this nation, closed to anything that might let us climb out of the ditch. Fact that Liberals and the others are reduced to competing with those… Read more »

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