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    10 June, 2007

    Getting Welsh Labour wrong

    There have been a number of strange claims made over recent weeks that Welsh Labour is somehow divided between a 'unionist' and a 'nationalist' or 'Welsh' wing. This claim has been made on several occasions over the past decade, usually by Plaid Cymru members and supporters. At the margins of Welsh Labour you may find one or two people who believe it, but I know of nobody in an elected position who subscribes to the view.

    Labour is a unionist party. I remember, for example, when Carwyn Jones launched his Institute of Welsh Affairs pamphlet on the future of Welsh Labour a few years ago, he said himself that Labour is a unionist party at the launch. I welcome and agree with what Carwyn said yesterday in the Western Mail:

    We do need, as a party, to develop a sense of identity that we’re comfortable
    with which resonates with the majority of the people in Wales, who are not in
    favour of independence, who are not nationalists, who are nevertheless proud to
    be Welsh, and yet proud to be British as well. We shouldn’t be afraid of
    developing that sort of identity because it’s quite distinct from the identity
    that Plaid Cymru would have.

    Absolutely. There is a clear need, following the 2007 elections, for us to address the positioning and profile of Welsh Labour. We shouldn't let others, who have their own games to play, try to conjur some mythical divide in Welsh Labour between Labour nationalists and Labour unionists, which doesn't exist.


    Luke Young said...

    It's just a baseless ploy by some bloggers who can't find another way of saying that there are differing views within Welsh Labour on who the prefered coalition partners are. Some in the Party want Plaid, others prefer to go it alone, others want the Lib Dems. Everyone has an opinion and while some try and have a discussion, some people try to shut down the debate.

    I was fairly shocked to be asked by a Plaid supporter what 'wing' I'm on. My response was to ask him what planet he was on!

    clear red water said...

    This really needed to be said, we need as a party to celebrate the fact we are not nationalists and that doesnt not make us any less able to support devolution.

    I am not on a wing, i am in a party. Plaid have a far bigger 'pseudo left/nationalist right' split so Adam Price's comments are laughable.

    anna said...

    The need is to define New Welsh Labour (the present government) and the old Labour party. The electorate see the difference and want to know if the Welsh Labour party are going to split away from Gordon Brown's New Labour.
    Forget the problems with Plaid, Labour are using that as a smokescreen to hide huge problems in the Labour party.

    clear red waters said...


    there is no need to define Labour values, new or otherwise. The commitments to social justic, fairness and equality are shared by all in the party. Of course there will be debate regarding how you deliver that and what political institutions can help with that, but Welsh Labour rightly has never been an assembly based organisation. Welsh Labour has always been a part of the UK Labour party, i dont see the confusion in that.

    I can assure you that renewing ourselves in government in our third term is not a bad problem to have after 18 years of opposition.

    A view from the Glen said...

    Welsh Labour does not exist. welsh Labour members are a branch of The Labour Party. Simple as.

    Activist said...

    The Labour Party is neither a Unionist nor Nationlist Party. It is a devolutionist party. The previous two descriptions are legacy terms of a bygone age. They are references to a long expired concept of the nation state, and are not helpful in the modern EU model of distributed power.

    Dave said...

    Quite right VftG - and long may it remain so!

    Labour is the only alternative to the Tories under the UK's political system. Like other UK wide (Brit Nat) parties, Labour have revamped their organisation to reflect devolution (compare the resourcing of the Wales set-up with it's 40 constituencies to that in the North West with well over 100 - can't remember exactly or be bothered looking), although the Wales Labour Party has been in existence as a distict entity since around the 1920's (Tanner, The Labour Party in Wales, 2000).

    As in other two Party systems, both Labour and the Tories are broad based coalitions. Every so often people leap on terms - wet v dry, nationalisers v syndicalists, left v right, old v new, nationalist v unionist, centrist v localist etc, etc ... in the effort to highlight contasting strands of opinion within the spectrum, but is is a massive simplification even at this level. Once one also starts equating identification with one strand as also implying another (e.g. nationalists are on the 'left', unionists are 'nu Lab'), the simplistic boxing up of individuals gets absurd.

    To take an example close to home, it is widely assumed that Morgan is to the 'left' of Blair for little better reason than that he claims so. Sober analysis of the policies in areas such as early years or neighbourhood regeneration leads to more ambiguous conclusions - the money that is being used for gimmicks; such as free prescriptions or free home-care; carries an opportunity cost.

    It is also true that the labels mean different things when used in different contexts. Leighton himself is frequently caricatured as being a key player in the 'unionist' camp - but he was the Chief Exec of Yes for Wales! That appears bizarre, not to say contradictory (even hypocritical) to a proper nationalist who sees devolution as a stepping stone to independence, but not to those within Labour, none of whom have the slightest inclination to opt out of Britain.

    The current localist / centralist debate in the UK party is in some ways similar to that which took place in Welsh Labour during the Tory years. Welsh Labour came to accept the 'subsidiarity' principle and embraced devolution in that light. Localism is by no means necesarily progressive, but centrally organised collective provision seems to be becoming increasingly unfashionable - despite not by any means disappearing! The unionist mentality that united Jim Griffiths and Nye Bevan (that unity is strength and that collective provision should be organised on the widest and thereby most equitable basis possible) has long been and remains almost axiomatic in Labour circles, particularly in the valley heartlands and in the union movement. The other thing that united those two was the conviction that relief of poverty and distress was of overriding importance far beyond the status of Wales. That too is central to Labour. In Plaid debates OTOH it is peripheral to the national question - that's the difference ...

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