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Opinion

This Labour landslide is a world apart from Tony Blair’s in 1997

05 Jul 2024 6 minute read
Keir Starmer and Vaughan Gething – Image: Stefan Rousseau

Martin Shipton

Once again, the Conservative Party is left with no Westminster seats in Wales at all.

Twenty-seven years ago, at the time of Tony Blair’s landslide victory, I went with some friends on election night to what we had been led to believe was John Major’s favourite restaurant – the Juboraj in Rhiwbina, Cardiff.

The mood was joyful and enthusiastic, with the expectation that Labour’s charismatic leader Tony Blair would rescue Wales and Britain after 18 years of miserable Tory rule.

As an added bonus, those of us who wanted to see a devolved National Assembly were convinced that Blair’s victory would make that possible.

When the election results came through, the Conservatives had indeed experienced a Welsh wipe-out, and our positive mood matched that of Britain as a whole.

Charisma

This time we have another Tory wipe-out, but somehow it doesn’t seem the same. While there has undoubtedly been a great desire to remove the Tories from office, that hasn’t been matched by excitement at the prospect of Keir Starmer becoming Prime Minister. It’s not simply that he lacks charisma. He lacks consistency.

For all of Rachel Reeves’ talk about “stability”, it’s a word that doesn’t seem applicable to Sir Keir, even if one accepts that stability is incompatible with the party’s other campaign buzzword: change.

Leaders don’t necessarily have to have charisma – Clement Attlee had none in the conventional sense, but that didn’t prevent him from being a great reforming Prime Minister in the aftermath of World War Two.

He knew what he wanted to do and cracked on with it – creating the NHS and nationalising the mines and railways. It’s not being unkind or churlish to say that Keir Starmer has no such vision. He has already become known as someone who engages in policy u-turns, even before he has taken office.

His policy positions seem to be based not on principle, but on expediency. Imagine how that will play out when his government is confronted with multiple crises, as it is bound to be. Instead of showing leadership and explaining to the public what needs to be done and why, he’s likely to show weakness by deferring to the whims of focus groups.

My sense is that many voters see that, which is why the election results in Wales aren’t as simple as they might seem.

Opposition

The Labour vote was down on what it had been in 2017 and 2019, when Jeremy Corbyn was leading the party. How can it be the case that the main opposition party ends up only 1,500 votes ahead of Reform UK in Llanelli, which has traditionally been a safe Labour seat? That’s what happens when traditional working class voters feel abandoned and taken for granted.

There are other seats where Labour won back seats they had previously lost to the Tories, but where the Reform vote at the general election was greater than the Labour majority. That was the case in Monmouthshire, Brecon, Radnorshire & Cwm Tawe and Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr.

In the latter seat, which had been technically the Tories’ safest in Wales, the incumbent MP Craig Williams came third after making the monumentally stupid decision to bet on the timing of the general election.

In the two seats in Wales where Plaid Cymru and Labour vied for the role of main challenger to the Tory incumbent, Plaid ended up winning. That wouldn’t have happened if voters had confidence in Labour.

In both Caerfyrddin and Ynys Mon, Labour poured in resources and campaigners in what was assumed to be a pathway to victory. In the event, the two local candidates won, both of whom were Plaid women who had dedicated themselves to their communities for many years.

They were rewarded with votes in the same way that Jeremy Corbyn was in Islington North, which he has represented conscientiously since 1983.

But while Plaid can celebrate its best ever performance at a general election, the fact remains that it only won the four seats in which it was genuinely in contention. In many seats in Wales it polled behind Reform, which makes no pretence to have the interests of Wales at heart. That’s not, of course, what it’s about.

It’s an insurgent, populist party that offers a simplistic analysis and no credible solutions. Although it’s the renamed Brexit Party, it barely mentions Brexit these days because it knows that since being implemented the idea has lost its allure.

The party’s spokesman in Wales, Oliver Lewis, made a strange appearance on BBC Wales’ election night coverage, in which he said only 10 of its candidates were racists and bigots, and that Reform’s historic roots lay in a tradition that included the Levellers, the Chartists and the Suffragettes.

Flutter

He himself, he informed us, came from a Labour-voting family that switched its allegiance to the Social Democratic Party when it was a thing in the 1980s. Mr Lewis got more votes in Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr than the hapless gambler Craig Williams, who might have kept his seat if he hadn’t fancied what turned out to be a fateful flutter. I suspect we shall see more of Mr Lewis, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he gets into the Senedd in 2026 as a closed list MS.

So Plaid needs to reflect on the fact that in many parts of Wales its appeal is eclipsed by that of a Johnny-Come-Lately party like Reform. How can it deal with such a situation? A racist bigot who engaged me in conversation on a bus in Cardiff on election day was convinced that Plaid is a party only for Welsh speakers.

It’s a comment that was made to Ron Davies when he fell out with Labour and stood as a Plaid Senedd candidate. The party’s leadership team needs to consider what can be done as a matter of urgency.

One matter Welsh Labour politicians didn’t wish to discuss on election night was the negativity encountered on doorsteps across Wales about Vaughan Gething. There’s an increasing body of evidence that demonstrates his continuing presence as First Minister is causing the party electoral damage.

It’s less than two years until the next Senedd election. The signs are already in place to show that if he remains as First Minister, he may do the party irreparable damage.


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Sneb yn gwbod.
Sneb yn gwbod.
9 days ago

OH no it’s not!

A.Redman
A.Redman
9 days ago

It will be very interesting to see how a Labour Government in Westminster will deal with the many Union demands for wage increases across the board.Especially as many of them are the largest financial donors to the Laby Party and will expect that support to be returned in full.

Johnny Gamble
Johnny Gamble
9 days ago
Reply to  A.Redman

There are many Trade Unions that have deafiliated themselves from the Labour Party since the days of Tony Blair.
Yes affiliated Trade Unions do have a political fund but this is not mandatory for Trade Union Members, Members have to opt into a Union Political Fund.

Karl
Karl
9 days ago

This Labour win lacks hope. More of the same, just another day. Lightyears away from the 1997 feeling as I woke the next day to the results. In fact the bleak South Wales weather right now is apt.

S Duggan
S Duggan
9 days ago

Reform coming second in many seats in Cymru is not a good sign and very ominous for the Senedd elections in 2026. Though the vote was a major protest vote against the Tories, Labour’s share of the vote fell and it’s up to Plaid to pick up the disillusioned voters just in case Reform does.

Sneb yn gwbod.
Sneb yn gwbod.
9 days ago
Reply to  S Duggan

Not a chance.

Swn Y Mor
Swn Y Mor
9 days ago

The Labour vote change moved a whopping 1.6% against one of the worst campaigns ever. This is not a resounding success that will be portrayed. Starmer himself lost a large amount of votes in his constituency.

Glen
Glen
9 days ago

The difference is it was Reform and the quirks of FPTP that handed Labour their landslide.
Reform get 4 seats from more than 4m votes.
Plaid get 4 seats from less than 200,000.

Labour have much to be grateful to Reform for.

Johnny Gamble
Johnny Gamble
9 days ago
Reply to  Glen

Interesting comment Glen,in 2017 Jeremy Corbyn got 40% of the vote and failed to get into government.
Starmer got 35% and wins a landslide.Just goes to show what a farce FPTP is

CapM
CapM
8 days ago
Reply to  Glen

First of all I’d prefer a proportional representation system rather than the FPTP.

But why compare Reform’s vote to seat ratio to Plaid’s.
approximations from –
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/articles/c886pl6ldy9o

Plaid vote 1% seats 1%
Reform vote 14% seats 1%
Labour vote 34% seats 64%

It’s obvious that if you want to draw attention to the unfairness of the FPTP system the comparison is with Labour and not with Plaid.
Unless of course the point is to attempt to generate doubt about the legitimacy of Plaid having four MPs.

Rhufawn Jones
Rhufawn Jones
9 days ago

Not as great as it appears in Wales at first sight though for Labour. Yep, the seats are up, but the vote share is down by almost 4% since the last general election, when it should actually have increased. Does this show a lack of faith and confidence in Vaughan Gething? And how does it bode for the 2026 Senedd elections.

Howie
Howie
9 days ago

The problem for Labour in Wales is that they have been the architect of the disaffection being felt by Welsh voters in their performance, yes gained seats but lost support, if that is targeted by oppositions in and out of the Senedd it may be worse than they think, 2 years is a short time in politics. Labour UK offering sops ahead of the Senedd election will be seen for what they are and may backfire. The fertile ground that Plaid should look at is the youth vote, a 14 yo now may vote in 2026 and less immersed in… Read more »

JVI
JVI
7 days ago

Plaid came a very respectable second in Cardiff West. In 2022, the Common-Ground coalition came within a whisker of of taking Canton ward. The chief feature this time around is that underlying sentiments were seen to seep into general election voting behaviours as many concluded that Labour would get in anyway. Problem for Labour is that such things can quickly become habit forming. A majority based upon a 33% share of the vote does not strike me as inherently stable.

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