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Opinion

Where now for Liberalism in Wales?

19 May 2024 5 minute read
Jane Dodds, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats

Simon P Hobson

What on earth is the point of the Welsh Liberal Democrats? The meagre percentage points in polling for the Westminster voting intention suggests that the same question flashes through the mind of the Welsh electorate.

The presumed successor of David Lloyd George’s Liberal Party, which, through its inspired and radical policies based around community empowerment, once dominated Welsh politics, the Lib Dems in Wales have not only lost their way but show no sign of wanting to find the path again.

The party has not a single representative at Westminster from Wales, is unlikely to change that at the next U.K. general election (whenever that might be) and has only a smattering of local councillors.

Its drab leader, its sole representative in the Senedd, is clearly devoid of original ideas.

Void

Wales has a Liberal sized void in its political discourse. Conservatism and Socialism continue to fail in empowering people and communities to tackle the alarming issues of; child hunger, the need to build quality new homes, working family poverty, returning control of policing and justice to Cardiff, drug abuse, the climate crises, the collapse in council funding, energy independence, crumbling education and farming.

“I am a liberal because liberalism seems to mean faith in the people, confidence that they will manage their own affairs far better than those affairs are likely to be managed for them by others.” – Millicent Garrett Fawcett, suffragist and education reformer

Of the 74,000 Liberal Democrat members across the United kingdom, only 3,000 are members of the Welsh Lib Dems. This is similar in size to the Welsh Green Party and certainly small when compared with Plaid Cymru’s 10,000 or Labours 18,000 members.

All four of these parties clamour for the progressive centre-left voter. For this reason alone, it is incumbent on the Welsh Lib Dems to seek out policies, ideas and candidates who will help define the party, differentiate it, energise it and turn it from an ‘also ran’ into a winner.

A disturbing question for Welsh voters of a liberal and centrist disposition is that despite the obvious need for a Liberal Party in Welsh society today, the Lib Dems have failed to express and present the historical Liberal position in the spirit of David Lloyd George.

Funding

Instead of radical and thought provoking solutions, the party plays the tunes directed from the federal party, ever fearing its funding being cut by London. And, in this it mirrors many other political parties, government bodies, institutions and organisations in Wales.

Ironically, this lack of bravery and ambition from the Welsh branch of the liberal family is pushing the party in Wales ever closer to irrelevance. Ed Davey’s vision of a Tory-lite party may play well with the voters of southern England but it is the death knell of the Lib Dems in Wales.

For a party which claims to be a bulwark against conformity, to stand up for ‘fundamental values of liberty, equality and community’, the fear of change is driving many creative and energetic members away from the Welsh Lib Dems – who find themselves reliant on inexperienced student labourers, talentless personnel and a repetitious clique of candidates and party offices – all perpetuating the stagnant thinking and stale imagery of 1990s political campaigning.

Values

Under attack from every side, Liberalism must have its voice represented in Wales. We know that it is present in our communities. The values which came to the fore during the 2020 pandemic are Liberal: solidarity, community support, a realisation of the importance of a modern healthcare system, and the necessity for an international response to solve the problem.

We also know that there are large swaths of the electorate who are liberal minded but currently politically homeless. The Welsh Liberal Democrats have to decide if they are the party to hold the Liberalism touch aloft or leave that job to others and resign the party to the annals of Welsh history.

There is still an opportunity to rebuild a shattered Welsh Liberal brand, to make it a party once again in the spirit of David Lloyd George. The Tories, who have never been at home in Wales, are tarnished for at least a generation, with the age of voters choosing them over Labour rising from 39 to 70.

Welsh Labour has chosen a sordid new leader who, already, less than three months into leading that party, is embroiled in scandal. And, Labours bland and cautious U.K. figurehead inspires little enthusiasm. Now is the time to set Welsh Liberalism free of London’s influence. Now is the time to find the ambition, bravery and creativity for innovative policies focused on the people of Wales. Now is the time to welcome the ‘New Welsh Liberals’.

Perhaps the spiritless Welsh Liberal Democrats should heed the warning of David Lloyd George, that Liberals would be used like oxen to drag Labour’s wagon “over the rough roads of parliament…and… when there is no further use for them, they are to be slaughtered”.

Simon has been a member and activist for the Liberal Democrats for 20 years and is an approved Westminster parliamentary candidate for the party.


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Annibendod
Annibendod
14 days ago

Or you could join Plaid Cymru and help bring about the end of the Tory UK. Think on it Simon – our policy is to replace the UK with a confederal union of sovereign states. Not the federal UK your party supports but an improvement on you policy. Now, here’s a mad idea. Imagine a coalition of progressives, Plaid, Liberal, Green, Lab4IndyWales, all under one political umbrella campaigning for the constitutional reform we need. Remember when we did something similar in ’97? The direction of travel for me is a democratic Welsh Nation State, a member of a British Confederation… Read more »

Dean
Dean
13 days ago
Reply to  Annibendod

It would be a disaster for Wales.

CapM
CapM
13 days ago
Reply to  Dean

For what reasons?

Johnny Gamble
Johnny Gamble
12 days ago
Reply to  CapM

Why is that of interest to you?

Annibendod
Annibendod
12 days ago
Reply to  Dean

You are categorically, completely absurdly and utterly wrong. To the absolute contrary, it would be our triumph. That attitude you have there *is the problem* we have in Wales. Sooner you drop it, the freer you’ll be.

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
14 days ago

Liberalism in Cymru is not dead, we Welsh have a liberal core, community, individuality , tolerance and the fight for equality are part of us. If the Welsh Liberal Democrats want to revive their fortunes they must first separate themselves from the UK party, which is tainted and too Anglophile. Only then can they begin to formulate their own agenda.

Gwern Gwynfil
Gwern Gwynfil
14 days ago
Reply to  Steve A Duggan

Exactly this Steve. Data analysis suggests that comfortably a quarter of the Welsh electorate would naturally gravitate to support a genuinely Welsh Liberal party. As it stands they have no representation or voice. This is both a failure of our current democracy and an opportunity for Liberal activism and renewal in a Welsh context.

Annibendod
Annibendod
14 days ago
Reply to  Gwern Gwynfil

Dere ymuno â Plaid Gwern – tan yr amser ‘dy ni’n ennill Gwladwriaeth Democrataidd Cymraeg. Fe allwn anelu ar yr un pryd am Gonffederaliaeth o wledydd Prydain. Pan fo rheiny mewn lle a system ethol cyfrannol yna fe fydd cyfle ail adeiladu gwleidyddiaeth Cymru. A all Plaid bod yn lwyfan well i wleidyddiaeth rhyddfrydol na’r Lib Dems presennol? Byse dim i stopio ti rhag ymgyrchu dros polisiau o’r fath tu fewn i’r plaid. Er dy wyb, wi’n wyr i hen Rhyddfrydwr a oedd yn cofio’r Prif Weinidog Rhyddfrydol diwethaf. Mae’r traddodiad gwleidyddol hwnnw wedi ei basio mlaen o fewn fy… Read more »

Last edited 13 days ago by Annibendod
Simon
Simon
13 days ago
Reply to  Annibendod

I am involved with the independence movement of Québec. I see that a confederated federal system within the British Isles, as is so for many of the ‘provinces’ and ‘territories’ in Canada, would place Wales at a disadvantage. It is my belief that Wales must be sovereign to make alliances with other smaller nations at its will: one of these maybe England. And, it will involve working with the smaller EU nations to reshape that union away from its bias in favour of France and Germany. Independence for Wales will not be about isolationism but an opportunity for our nation… Read more »

Annibendod
Annibendod
12 days ago
Reply to  Simon

Diolch am hwn Simon. I don’t advocate for federalism within the UK State or even in a replacement UK. The kind of confederation Plaid seeks is one in which the British nations are each and every one sovereign. I support a confederation for the same reasons I am a pro-EU supporter. I count amongst my close family a Liberal member who came of age when the last Liberal Prime Minister was in post, two Liberal councillors, one of whom was mayor in the old Llanelli borough and a further former voter, my own father who made the switch to Plaid… Read more »

Simon
Simon
12 days ago
Reply to  Steve A Duggan

I am thankful for Nation Cymru to provide readers and authors with this section to comment and interact. I agree with your comment Steve and, Gwern, has given much of what I would have answered to you. I add to his comments; that my experiences from the past 20 years as an activist, past employee, local council and now Westminster candidate for the Lib Dems, has proven to me that the party is too focused on playing the first-past-the-post (FPTP) and Westminster electoral game [I was upset that propositional representation (PR) was not delivered as part of the LibDem-Conservative coalition].… Read more »

Richard
Richard
14 days ago

The Wales structure of the Lib Dem’s may be out of sight but the core Lib Dem supporters are still around and they certainly have more than a “ smattering “ of elected members in Wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿. The turn to the hard right by the Tory Party will no doubt provide a home for at least some of the few moderates left in the Tory Party… Their real challenge however is not to provide a dustbin for disenchanted folk from other parties but to provide new ideas and direction that is relevant to the modern Wales. Their lack as usual… Read more »

Rob
Rob
14 days ago

I’m Plaid first and foremost, but I do hope the Liberal Democrats make gains at the next election. Yes Nick Clegg has got a lot to answer for, but he is gone and not coming back. I would much rather have the Lib Dems as the third party than Reform UK.

Paul
Paul
13 days ago

There was an election last month, total votes and percentage per party:

Lab – 151,907 (38.41%)
Con – 110,678 (27.99%)
PC – 92,063 (23.28%)
LD – 40,834 (10.33%)

Fairly unique as there were no Greens, Reform, Indis etc, but it’s hardly dead.

John Ellis
John Ellis
9 days ago

From the late 1980s through to around 2013, while I was living in the north-west of England, I was an increasingly active campaigning member of the Lib Dems. I’d never previously committed myself to a specific political party, but I was first drawn in by witnessing the Lib Dems’ legendary ‘pavement politics’ in impressive action at the local level in the area in which I was living at the time. I lost confidence in them during their ‘coalition years’; not because I opposed. the coalition – on the contrary, I thought that it was a responsible decision in the UK-wide… Read more »

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