The ghost of Corbyn’s leadership is back to haunt Welsh Labour’s electoral prospects

Picture: Chatham House (CC BY 2.0)

Ifan Morgan Jones

The blessing and curse for Welsh Labour is that their elections results often have little to do with their own record in government in Wales.

As I’ve noted before, Senedd results seem to be very closely tied to UK-level poll fluctuations.

Essentially, if UK Labour is popular, Welsh Labour tend to feel the electoral benefit, if UK Labour are unpopular, Welsh Labour get kicked in the ballot boxes too.

It’s unlikely therefore that the party in Wales will be particularly thankful for the timing of today’s suspension of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn from the party.

Whether Keir Starmer was right or wrong for choosing the nuclear option of suspending Jeremy Corbyn over his response to the EHRC’s report on antisemitism is something I won’t dwell on here.

For those who haven’t read his response, Corbyn claimed that “anyone claiming there is no antisemitism in the Labour party is wrong” and “one antisemite is too many”. But he also added that the problem had been “dramatically overstated for political purposes by our opponents inside and outside the party”. It’s this final part which seems to have led to the removal of the whip.

The message Starmer wants to send however is clear – there is no place for those who in any way seek to play down the problem of antisemitism, in any way, within the party.

By doing this he is forcing those within the Labour party to pick sides – stick with the new leadership or stick with Jeremy Corbyn’s view.

And he is calculating that the benefit of doing so – by losing what he sees as a problematic element within the party and signalling to the public that Labour is under new management – will outweigh the cost to the party’s popularity of what could be a lengthy civil war which he is not guaranteed to win.

 

Worst case

The danger for Welsh Labour is all of this is that they become the collateral damage of Starmer’s nuclear approach, as they are at the moment standing very near the blast zone.

The next Welsh Parliament elections are now only six months away. I had thought that Welsh Labour were going to be particularly lucky in the timing of these elections, as the UK Government found itself weighed down by both its response to Covid-19 and a shambolic Brexit.

But despite all the Conservative Party’s problems they continue to lead in the UK-wide polls because the public still don’t quite trust the Labour party. And today’s events raise the possibility that the fragile rebuilding process within Labour that has been in place since Keir Starmer was elected in April could crumble into dust.

Corbynism has so far left Welsh Labour remarkable untouched. Apart from in the choice of Mark Drakeford as First Minister, it’s not clear that the left has had any major impact on the Welsh Government’s political makeup which has remained quite centrist and technocratic.

But even if Corbynism doesn’t seem to have cared much about Wales, then the people of Wales certainly care about Corbynism – or at least the lack of unity within the Labour party.

A realistic worst-case scenario for Keir Starmer is that the Corbyn-supporting faction could undermine his authority and re-establish control of the party, driving support down to December 2019-esque levels when the Tories in Wales won Bridgend and large swathes of the north-east of the country.

That would have the Conservatives eyeing up the Vale of Glamorgan, the Vale of Clwyd, Wrexham and other potential electoral prizes in the Senedd.

Of course, it might be that the Welsh Government’s own visibility due to its response to the Covid-19 pandemic would mean that voters are now ready to consider Welsh Labour on its own merits.

If Labour is engulfed by full-scale civil war, however, the ghost of Corbyn’s leaderships could yet haunt the Welsh party’s electoral prospects.

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