Why the Remain Alliance was an over baked, oven ready Welsh fudge up
Daran Hill, Managing Director at Positif public affairs consultancy
The strongest Remain Alliance that worked in Wales on Thursday was the one Anna McMorrin built for herself in Cardiff North. It wasn’t tactically fashioned by Labour or any other party: it was crafted by the candidate herself and built on two and a half years of solid work to try and keep the UK within the EU. It had resonance, it had reach, and it had respectability.
Put simply, because Anna was such a clear, vocal and fervent Remainer she had the credibility to reach out. I know Conservative voters and Plaid voters who supported her on the basis of that unwavering credibility. She was so compelling she even got the Liberal Democrat candidate to all but endorse her. It gave her a seven thousand majority in a seat the Conservatives had held until 2017.
The same is also true in the neighbouring seat of Cardiff Central. Jo Stevens triumphed with a 17,000 majority. This is easily the biggest in Wales for the second General Election running. Jo had the same ardent Remainer credentials – she had even resigned from Labour’s front bench to vote against Article 50. That sort of credibility matters.
The fact the so-called Remain Alliance chose to target Jo Stevens says everything about the misguided nature of their efforts. The opportunist coalition between Plaid, the Lib Dems and the Greens in Wales wasn’t an alliance built on Remain principles, it was an alliance built on narrow party ambitions and selfishness branded as something bigger and nobler.
As I’ve previously argued on Twitter over many months, there was a clear place for a Remain Alliance in Wales. It was one which was focused in seats which were likely to return Brexit supporting MPs. That’s places like Aberconwy or Preseli Pembrokeshire or Clwyd West. It isn’t Cardiff cowing Central.
Ok, you can come back at me with the fact that the Remain Alliance did just that in the Powys seats and crashed, or point me to Remain Alliance’s Aled ap Dafydd (or should that be Aled ap Trydydd?) who failed for Plaid in Ynys Môn. But I’ll come straight back at you with one word: narrative.
You simply cannot create a political narrative built on a lie (unless you’re Boris Johnson of course). A narrative has to be believable, it has to be communicable, it has to be consistent. And carving up a list of Remain Alliance target seats not based on the targeting and challenging Leave candidates was always doomed to fail.
Pause for a moment and consider how the Remain Alliance actually got their target list. It was never going to include Ceredigion for obvious reasons (though based on the strength of the Conservative vote there it might next time lolz…) so for the Lib Dems it was based on Cardiff Central, Montgomeryshire and Brecon & Radnorshire. Which was based – you guessed it – solely on their existing target seats list.
The Plaid threw in Ynys Môn on the same basis, along with all their existing seats, and a few where they had a long term ambition to win – Caerphilly, Llanelli and Pontypridd. As the only one of those targets that moved even vaguely in the right direction was the last one, then that ambition looks even more long term than ever.
Pontypridd was nevertheless an interesting addition. Surely Rhondda, where former Plaid leader Leanne Wood is the sitting Assembly Member, would have made more sense? But there are other forces at work here. Because the Lib Dems were quite content to let Plaid have a bash at Pontypridd since it meant they didn’t have to field Mike Powell again. His face hasn’t fitted in the Lib Dems for quite some time, despite his track record of winning and holding a council seat. Publicly rejected, he stomped off. Some in the Lib Dems saw that as a gain.
Some elsewhere saw a parallel with a former Plaid AM and councillor. And here’s the other similarity. I have it from a number of sources that until the very last stages Plaid wanted the Remain Alliance to field a Liberal Democrat in Cardiff West. What could the rationale for that possibly have been? I’ve been watching Welsh politics for decades and I still can’t work it out… As it was Plaid ended up having to fight the seat without any High Hopes.
There is, of course, a delicious irony in another choice the Remain Alliance made. By letting the Greens take the lead in the Vale of Glamorgan against Alun Cairns, the most beleaguered Brexiteer in Wales, they ballsed that too. Both Plaid and the Lib Dems had a credible base in that constituency but ducked it. For a time in the campaign (on Twitter at least!) it seemed the Labour Party might have actually defeated Cairns and won the Vale. That would have produced the delicious irony that the only place where the Remain Alliance would actually have had an impact was the seat where their offering was so pisspoor that it boosted the Labour vote.
A major reason Alun Cairns hung on after weeks of bombardment was the most successful alliance in this election. It wasn’t Remain, it was Leave. The Brexit Party’s decision to stand down in seats with a Conservative MP in 2017 but to contest all the others gave the Conservatives the boost and focus they needed to Get Brexit Done. It also allowed the Brexit Party to draw Labour votes in leave areas, allowing the Conservatives to be boosted. I’m too well mannered to point to an article on this site that argued this was a major error by the Brexit Party. The results on Thursday totally prove it wasn’t.
Let me conclude with this observation: only Anna McMorrin, Jo Stevens, the Brexit Party and the Conservatives know how to make winning alliances in Wales. And the fact that I can lump all of them together in one sentence may seem obtuse. But hey, that’s the sort of slapdash targeting the Remain Alliance tried.
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It was very disappointing to hear Anna McMorrin slagging off Jeremy Corbyn and Welsh Labour GrassvRoots on the Sunday Supplement. It was Labour policies in 2017 and huge efforts by the WLGR team to get her elected that enabled her success this time round. Saying we and Jeremy should leave the party creates divisive and ugly internal battles. We all need to stick together or it’s another decade in the wilderness. As for Wales we need to work together cross party to create a kinder and fairer society and more devolved powers. We may lose 11 seats in the boundary… Read more »
Here I’m re-posting a comment I just left on another article. It’s about a way to stir things up from inside the polling booth without having to wait for political parties to consent to electoral reform. In the 1990s, when I was involved in elections, it was usual for candidates and their agents to be shown ballot papers that had been irregularly completed. I hope it still is. One example was where a voter had obliterated my name with a mass of crossings out. My opponent claimed the vote on the basis that, as he said, “the voter’s intention was… Read more »
IF Wales representation is reduced to only 29 MPs. That will be the case to leave the UK. It is clear the UK does not really want. Our nation of Wales has a lot to offer the rest of the World. We have a lot of natural water. A good lamb production industry. As an independent nation we can collect our own taxes, have our own central bank, issue our own currency. Let us build our own political structures fit for the 21st century. Yes Cymru need to get to North East Wales and prove to our people there that… Read more »
The message I take from this article is – The three unequivocally pro EU membership parties, Plaid Cymru, the LibDems and the Englandandwales Greens who were wiling to work together to form a Remain Alliance should have – Used that solidarity and withdrawn their candidates in various constituencies to ensure that support for the party ambiguous about EU membership, Labour, was maximized. Labour, a party that had refused to countenance joining a Remain Alliance with them. The election being not so much about the Tories winning seats because voters voted Tory but that Labour lost/didn’t gain seats because some voters… Read more »
Exactly this. Let’s blame everyone else other than the Labour leadership. Some people really need to get off social media, they get trapped in the bubble of the like minded and reality is a distant concept. The “average person” seen through some of the Labour policies – free wifi for all etc..( I’d love free wifi , i can hardly afford to pay my bill but let’s keep it real !!!) and they seriously disliked Corbyn and his momentum champagne socialist gang who are taking Labour away from its true heartlands (see the 2019 election). But most importantly why do… Read more »
I think you’re reading more into my comment than I intended. What I wrote was focused on the criticism leveled at the Remain alliance.
That happened in Monmouthshire. Pre election, there was a minimal amount from Labour who came second. The LD candidate, a local girl, tried really hard & massively increased her vote but did not overtake labour. The Greens & Plaid fielded candidates in a lack lustre way but only got a few votes. The sitting MP , David Davies who has steadfastly ignored the remain referendum result, was returned with a 10,000 majority but it was reduced and a minority vote against the others. . If there had been one creditable opponent, there would have been a different result. The political… Read more »
An excellent article. And that comes from a Plaid member and activist.
How is a Remain position in any way “noble”. It is anti democratic. The people have spoken twice now and made their views on leaving the EU very clear. There should not be any remainers now. Anyone who still holds that view is an anti British traitor.
Brexit is happening …. just lay off the “anti-British traitor” stuff…………people can be still wanting to be in the EU while also respecting the democratic result………I agree that ‘revoke’ is an anti-democratic position and is against democracy…..but traitorous for someone to personally favouring EU membership? Live and let live…..brexit is happening..leave them to their view
the very word British has been bloodied and corrupted since its early celtic origins 😀 … what is “anti-British” anymore…when the actual British language has been pushed back to the cliffs of West Wales!
The English Nationalist new Conservatives will be in Westminster for ever. England is the new UK!
With a United Ireland , Scottish youth very pro SNP, and wishing to be in the EU, Labour is yesterdays papers.
Only Plaid can deliver for us now. They have the cool young leader, with a party more open to business and welcoming to all who wish to participate, Labour members should now join Plaid and help build Wales.
Agree with you.
What is the next step?
Plaid Cymru MUST win for Wales’ future.
Yes Cymru / AUOB must also build on thi campaign.
From 2016 onward, Leavers had the better campaigns, better front of house leaders, better backroom organizers, the better slogans, the greatest effrontery and by far the best clown act. Part of Mr Johnson’s success at this UK election was no doubt a visceral dislike among voters for politician’s backroom deals. This allowed Virginia Crosbie to waltz into Ynys Môn from obscurity in Kensington.
And the author had how many pints down the Eli before writing this?
Corbyn’s Brexit stance largely contributed to his unpopularity. I really believe that Labour would have done much better had they took a clear view from the start and campaigned on it – either by advocating Remain or Leave. Neutrality was never an acceptable option on an issue as important as this. Politicians are expected to take a lead and say what they think, not cop-out of a difficult issue. He was all over the place on Brexit even before the referendum. During the referendum, he went on holiday and spoke then as though he was not sure what he believed.… Read more »
Can’t understand why Mr Hill left compilation of this article until after the GE. It was evident from the outset that this would not work well for Plaid, it might have for the LibDems but on hearing their leaders at UK and Welsh levels “perform” it became a slide that could register on the Richter scale. More time wasted on a pointless initiative, but will they learn any lessons from it ?
“It was evident from the outset that this would not work well for Plaid, …” However on the General Election evidence it looks like it didn’t work out badly either. Overall % of the vote was down a bit but all four seats held were retained with the two most marginal recording increased majorities. Plaid Cymru’s pro Remain stance is being held up, mostly by pro leave supporters I think, as a reason for why Plaid Cymru did not make gains in this election. I suspect the same people may have been quite looking forward to some Plaid Cymru loses.… Read more »
As regard the suggestion in this article that the Liberal Democrats were glad to see the back of Mike Powell- a constant thorn in the side of Labour RCT Council: that may be so, just as Plaid Cymru may be glad to be rid of Neil McEvoy. Their joy is probably shared if not exceeded by the Labour Party.
Most Plaid Cymru regular voters around me didnt vote Plaid Cymru this time due to thier EU stance……should have stayed with Leanne’s neutral stance……would have seen more votes
I wonder how much money Plaid Cymru’s super credible strategists get paid for coming up with their failed election strategy – that worthless coalition and obsessing with Remain in a country which has voted for Brexit. The SNP represented their country ,Plaid did not. I am a Remaining, middle age west Walian scratching a living, not working for public bodies, nor on on a fat wage in Cardiff and looking forward to a fat pension , like many of the middle class myopic Plaid Cymru policy deciders. Neither am I on social media but I do talk to people from… Read more »
Quite right on all points. There is a valuable lesson for Plaid to learn from this election, and to get real. Gwlad, Gwlad, meanwhile, must work to gain credibility as back-up. With all the problems facing Cymru, it shouldn’t be difficult.
Ultimately, our voting system, where the winner takes all, does not benefit smaller parties. If our system was fairer there would have been no need for alliances. However, it was Labour’s far left wing policies, ambiguity on brexit and a leader not well liked thatr meant there was only one possible outcome – a Tory victory. The best Labour could have hoped for was a hung parliament. The UK will now leave the EU and Wales will suffer. Bring on independence.