Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wales 20:20

A couple of commentators thought I might have jumped the gun in my blogging about the new discussion forum but, some 24 hours on and having read the pamphlet in full, I remain with mixed feelings.

I have no doubt that debate is good and never to be feared in a democracy. It is partly why I enjoy blogland, not because it contains the future of democracy, but adds to debate.

Huw makes a number of points that many will share. We can have Labour majorities - PR simply makes it more challenging. I feel however that Huw loks at the bleaker side of May's results, I perhaps see the glass as half full. Loosing some seats, but doing comparatively better than other parts of the UK. After some distraction we should now be able to focus on delivering major parts of Labour's manifesto as the senior partner in a coalition. I am sure Scottish Labour would like to be in our position.

Yet review and reform are right. The Party itself is doing that and we can all contribute. I'm not sure we need new Forums and websites to debate Party organisation and which I feel takes up a major part of the new pamphlet.

My impression of May 2007 - and factors hardly mentioned by Huw are Blair and Iraq, stay at home voters and yes I agree to an extent our decreased resources as a Party. However when the wind is against I feel we might have spent much more for not much return in the PR system.

Huw refers to a fresh intake of AMs but I am not sure what mechanism he proposes. People work hard to get elected and at both Westminster and Assembly levels do not often voluntarily opt to step aside for fresh blood. Nor does it always work - Sue Essex being a big loss in my opinion and we know the pain of imposing central solutions on local parties.

Clearly Labour, of all parties, faces the big challenge in closing any talk of a widening gulf between MPs abd AMs. Could it be we had no commonly agreed vision of where we wished to actually take devolution after delivering on Labour's referendum ? The shortfal on the Richard Commission recommendations was noteable sign of any gulf. So that is common ground as a task to be resolved.

Neither does Huw address the linguistic cultural issues that I feel are part of political life in modern Wales. Eluned Morgan has asked how we are to reach out and embrace potential support in western/Welsh speaking parts of Wales ?

Huw feared some would react angrily. Perhaps he had Paul Flynn in mind !

For my part I see no need to fear debate. I have several reasons to disagree with elements of Huw's analysis

* many of these points about organisation could have been tackled internally,
* it is not just resources,
* what about Blair/Iraq and May 2007 ?
* perhaps Wales fared better than Huw admits ? (although not well enough)
* modern politics requires relatively broad churches working to a common good,
* can Wales reach outwards across current cultural divides (not for example by missing the Eisteddod)

So there is some thought generated by the pamphlet and new blog.

Finally is the language wise. Talk of not being fit for purpose (in bold print) is, I feel, aimed at generating controversy for its own sake. Perhaps distracting from oterh elements of the pamphlet.


Dave said...

Hi Martin,

This is a copy of the response I posted over at Wales 2020

My problem with the "it's all a reaction against Blair/Iraq" and if it weren't for that all would have been fine school of thought is that although there indisputably is such an effect, it is trotted out as a buck passing explaination by those who do not want to admit that maybe there are also reasons closer to home which have also deterred people from voting for us and which we should be looking to fix, or that perhaps we need to be more active and better focused in our campaigning and voter communications activity all year round. Yes people were bored and disillusioned with Blair, having invested far too much faith in him 10 years ago. Those of us who never had such lofty expectations on the other hand have in some ways been pleasantly suprised by what his government did deliver. The same however can be said of Rhodri Morgan. Whereas he was once perceived as a man of the people, standing up for Wales, on the doorsteps of Rhyl back in April the message I was getting was that he was perceived as a bit of a clown, out of touch with their concerns and something of a national embarrasment. The D-Day issue in particular still rankles among older voters.

That is all I have to say to Paul Flynn. Martin Eaglestone's criticisms are a more pertinent and nuanced contribution to the debate. As one of the collective involved in this initiative I shall try and respond in a comradely fashion.

Martin believes that Labour in Wales performed comparitively better than in other parts of the UK, and it is clear he is thinking principally of Scotland. With all due respect, that is not the case. In terms of seats, overall Scottish Labour lost four seats in May in a 129 member Parliament - over twice the size of the Assembly - Labour in Wales lost three. In terms of overall vote share, Scottish Labour's dropped by 2.5%, compared with a fall of 7.8% for Welsh Labour.

The other thrust of Martin's concerns is with washing our dirty linen in public. We should in his opinion have kept the debate in the family. This is something that we debated long and hard. Our conclusions were twofold.
Firstly that the Welsh Labour hierarchy does not seem that interested in considering the problem. This is partly because they have managed to cling onto power and so are consumed again by the day to day dilemmas inherent in government. Also, being still in government, many share Martin's view that there is no real problem. As Huw says, unless we acknowledge 2007 as a serious defeat, we face an even worse one in 2011. In 1999, after securing 28 seats, Welsh Labour recruited a new general secretary and director of communications. Also the Assembly Group was aware of the battering they had taken and had the will to act accordingly (the real reason Alun Michael lost power because he had lost the confidence of his own Group, who were not prepared to support an 'empty chair' policy to face down the other parties). There is no indication of any such seriousness of purpose this time.
Secondly, we feel there is a far wider job of political education and adjustment needed. Labour's formal structures do not really provide an adequate forum for such debate to take place. Huw's pamphlet is the first of several in the pipeline. They are intended to provoke debate rather than spelling out a 'line' as such, but Martin is right to observe that there is a dislocation between MPs and AMs as well as in the Party more generally about how we see the devolution project and he is right that this was demonstrated by the reaction to Richard. To set out a stance on this is beyond the scope of this post, but it will be addressed in our next publication. Wales 2020 is intended to be a constructive addition to the policy debate that is now urgently necessary within the Party. It is a work in progress. We hope to improve this forum for example by developing threads so that it is easier to respond to points made by others as I am doing in this post. We are limited by our IT skills and lack of any money, but we'll get there in due course.

On Cardiff North I don't think it was about the candidate. Sue would have lost had she stood. No personal vote could have stood up to a swing of that magnitude.

On the language issue I concur we need to address the issue and it is positive that Eluned and her group are attempting to do so. Again it is no use hiding the fact that there are internal differences of opinion within Welsh Labour. We will only get a settled policy which we can all unite around following a proper debate.

'fit for purpose' is perhaps not a term I would have used, but having invited Huw to write the pamphlet, that is a matter for him.

Modern politics requires broad churches working toward common aims - I agree entirely!

Dave Collins
Grangetown, Cardiff

Martin Eaglestone said...

Good response from Dave which I have `responded to on 20:20. That looks like a debate. Good.

Dave said...


Would you be intersted in writing your own pamphlet by any chance?

The only real guidance is between 2,000 - 10,000 odd words, relevant to Wales and being genuinely thought provoking from a broadly social democratic perspective.

We truly are open to debate. We believe that Welsh Labour's policies need to be attuned to our basic values and articulated in such terms.

July 06th 2007 marked a watershed in my assumptions and those of others. All that seemed solid melted into air. There is a great deal of re-thinking to be done.

I will take a lot of persuading to be reconciled with nationalism. I am a human first and foremost; European, British and Welsh as well. Yet now we are committed to government with Plaid, and we had better start making the running in defining what devolution is about and what a specifically Welsh social democratic project should comprise. Are we fit for purpose to do it? What do you reckon?

Martin Eaglestone said...

Well the challenge is fair and I will spend a few days contemplating. Are we about reconciling with nationalism or reaffirming our own values in a changing world where strengthening of national identitiy is a current (not meaning permanent) trend.