Why the muddying of Welsh political waters must stop
Last week, the leader of the Wales Green Party, Anthony Slaughter, said it’s both “inevitable” and “desirable” his party should become independent of the English Greens.
Great news, but less encouraging when you factor in that the party already voted on this issue back in 2018, and its members decided to stay tied to their English counterparts.
Although only 20% of the membership bothered voting on that occasion, 65% of those who did vote were in favour of sticking with the English Greens.
We’re almost five years on from that now, but regardless of Slaughter’s recent statement, the Welsh Greens still haven’t officially cut the cord (despite the Northern Irish and Scottish Greens having long since already done so).
It’s the same with the unionist Welsh Liberal Democrats and the UK Lib Dems, the same with Welsh Labour and UK Labour (also unionists), and the same with the Welsh and UK Conservatives (unionists to the core).
Why is this even still ‘a thing’ in Welsh politics? After all, we’ve had the Senedd, our own parliament, for 25 years now. Funding is the most obvious answer; but is this really still an acceptable situation?
Slaughter has admitted the England and Wales Green Parties share resources. Politics is expensive, to be fair, but surely this ‘apron strings’ relationship detracts from their credibility as a supposedly autonomous Welsh party seeking Welsh independence.
So much so, that the Wales Green Party lost its previous leader Grenville Ham, who resigned his leadership following the party’s 2018 vote to retain ties with the English. In his own words: “after the membership decided that they wanted to remain a party of two countries, I felt my membership was untenable.”
That’s the problem in a nutshell, isn’t it? How can the interests of Wales be fully advanced by any ‘party of two countries’?
It’s no secret the Welsh Conservatives have been supported by donations from wealthy English benefactors, who share the party’s aims of bringing Wales fully back under the Union’s thumb.
There’s little good to say about the Welsh Conservatives, especially at the moment, but at least these donations have been made transparent. Welsh voters have a pretty clear idea what the Welsh Conservatives are all about and what they stand for.
But hang on a minute . . ! Even the Welsh Conservatives have considered splitting from the UK Conservatives. Or so the Telegraph reported back in the summer of 2022.
A source at the time said the Welsh Conservatives wanted “Welsh-focused answers to Welsh issues,” and that the party felt miffed at Boris Johnson not even inviting Senedd Members to Number 10 after his election.
No one was invited to Number 10 because Number 10 doesn’t care about Wales or even take Wales seriously as a devolved legislature. So why are all but one of our familiar Welsh political parties still mixed up with Westminster parties?
Plaid Cymru is the only one without a political ‘mother-ship.’ Plaid’s not perfect, but it’s stayed the course; you’d think at least some of the other familiar Welsh parties would have joined it in standing on their own two feet by now, yet Plaid’s still the only party plodding towards a truly autonomous Wales.
Things seem a lot murkier when it comes to Welsh Labour. The fact that ‘clear red water’ is an ideal which has had to be articulated to the Welsh public at all should perhaps have set alarm bells ringing in the first place.
Welsh politics is changing: the Welsh psyche seems, in some mysterious way, to finally be catching up to the idea that we’ve had our own parliament for a quarter of a century now.
And yet, with Labour still at Wales’ helm, there remains a lot of ambiguity around what gets shared between Welsh Labour and their English counterparts.
The Electoral Commission provides some transparency on donations funding political parties in all UK nations, and it has published all reported spending information from parties, campaigners and candidates relating to the previous Senedd election.
The Electoral Commission’s Director of Regulation, Louise Edwards, says delivering this transparency “ensures voters are able to see clearly and accurately how money was spent on influencing them at this election.”
Electoral Commission data is sorted into several categories, which include declared donations, as well as declared spending.
However, while the Welsh Labour Party declares its own expenses, donations are instead declared by UK Labour as a whole. So, we can see how much Welsh Labour spends on campaigning, but not how much help it actually receives from UK Labour.
Both Welsh Labour (Cardiff HQ), and UK Labour (National HQ in Newcastle) were asked weeks ago why this is the case, and how much UK Labour has diverted or donated to Welsh Labour over the past three years — but neither party chose to respond.
And money aside, who can say what other kinds of benefits might come from Labour think-tanks like the Fabian Society, Compass, and Labour Together, or affiliated UK-wide trade unions, or the wealth of party-connected specific interest groups.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter, since Welsh Labour has (conveniently?) openly stated its belief that Wales and her people are better served by remaining part of the United Kingdom.
But whether you believe this or not, the problem is that remaining part of the United Kingdom is also apparently very much in the interests of the Welsh Labour Party in and of itself.
And again, the problem with that is, Welsh Labour — and therefore to a large extent Welsh Government — must then necessarily be a ‘party of two nations.’
And a servant cannot effectively serve two masters.
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