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Welsh Labour’s Existential Crisis

(This article was published by

Wales has a decent claim to being the crucible in which UK Labour was formed. 

Today, almost 125 years after Merthyr Tydfil elected the Scotsman, Keir Hardie, to be the first Labour MP, Labour in Wales finds itself somewhat adrift from the Englishman, Keir Starmer’s, Labour.

We can be sympathetic to ‘real’ Welsh Labour - it is evident that it is English Labour that has left them rather than they who have left their own Labour tradition - but the hard reality of separation is inescapable.

Starmer’s Labour have fashioned themselves as the true inheritors of the Thatcherite tradition, far closer to John Major than John Smith, rapidly scurrying rightwards into the space left behind as the old Conservatives lurch ever rightward to inhabit the populist and insubstantial edges of politics. 

In political terms this can be seen as the real victory of the UKIP, Brexit and Reform party extremes, stirring up venomous culture wars, railing against the world and offering nothing but soundbites and pipedreams in a quest for little more than self promotion and the opportunity for some economic pillaging.

Add the twin exigencies of UK media collusion and the frenzied, fetid and frequently false, forums provided by the social media revolution and, bingo, the decline and the fall of the UK is now catalysed, accelerated and imminent. 

Whatever your view of the politics, Corbyn’s Labour briefly and unexpectedly pushed back with a radical and different platform. The lesson the Labour Party seems to have learned from the relatively near miss of the 2016 General Election is to do nothing bold or brave - to parrot the Tories and be bereft of original thought. A somewhat curious conclusion when Labour actually won 40% of the popular vote. Whether you agree or disagree with the politics of either side of that 2016 election in the UK, to conclude that not having ideas and not showing leadership is the way to make an impact seems perverse. To then conclude that the two-party, first past the post system in the UK, is still fit for purpose is even more dissonant. But UK Labour, in utter defiance of its own membership, stays resolutely against proportional representation and any meaningful constitutional reform.

If I were a supporter of Labour in Wales I would wonder how, in not much more than a century, this political movement inspired by the people and ‘of the people’ had become so utterly co-opted by establishment norms and so utterly devoid of ideas, innovation and boldness.

Given the divergent paths of the Labour movement in Wales relative to their comrades in Scotland and England it is little wonder that there is some considerable tension between them. The Welsh apparatchiks are frequently told off by their London masters. Mark Drakeford, always careful in his choice of words, repeatedly inspiring the ire of Starmer’s inner circle. Scottish Labour add their weight to the dressing down of their Welsh brethren at every opportunity. Anas Sarwar relishing any opportunity to strut his stuff, pretend to have authority and lick the boots of London now that Scottish Labour have marginalised themselves in the homeland of Keir Hardie.

What does this mean for Labour in Wales? Unlike Scotland, Welsh Labour supporters are as likely to be pro-Indy as Unionist - a tension which has allowed the party to stay entrenched as the party of power in Wales by defusing the immediate political threat of Indy with the ‘Home Rule’ compromise. This balancing act can’t continue indefinitely and becomes ever more challenging as Independence becomes a more prominent aspect of people’s political consideration. 

For those making the connection between the poor management of the UK by Westminster, growing poverty and the threat these pose to much loved institutions like the NHS, Independence becomes a viable solution to the renewal and restoration Wales needs so that it can stop being the sick person of the UK when the UK is already the sick person of Europe.

When that penny drops the apathy and lack of agency of vast swathes of the Welsh population could be transformed - Welsh Labour will want to be ready to capitalise on this and ride that wave to continued electoral success. They don’t look ready.

The Labour ‘old guard’ in Wales remains trenchantly Unionist, married to a nostalgic view of Britain that is long dead. To date, no champions have emerged to represent those who want to forge a new path for Wales, outside the old Union. 

Many are waiting for Scotland to leave before finding the bravery to come out for Independence themselves - a curious position, if you’re in favour of Indy in Scotland then you’re in favour of Indy. Why wait? 

Just because we elected a Scotsman for Merthyr in 1900 doesn’t mean we have to wait for Scottish permission today. Such low self esteem speaks to the absence of hope and confidence in our communities. If Labour in Wales want to restore that hope and confidence, strong, brave and ambitious support for Independence is one way to do so. 

Substantial and ambitious ideas, sold with vision and bravery, are powerful and transformative.

The Labour Party in Wales has already left UK Labour. There is no going back. Is anyone bold enough to recognise that the clear red water is now a sea of difference? Is anyone brave enough to take up the mantle and renew, revitalise and resurrect the movement in Wales? 



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  • Ian Hunter
    commented 2024-01-02 22:03:24 +0000
    It is fascinating to see that YesCymru see it as advantageous to denigrate the party that will form the next UK government. Do the few people directing YC realise that Wales will need to build alliances in Westminster to achieve the maximum benefit for our country? That is the realpolitik. YesCymru, to our dismay, has been dismissed by UK Labour as the marching wing of Plaid Cymru ( – an amusing insult). YC is still not making any political impact and will not, until it realises that a professional political lobby is more important than preaching to the choir.
  • John Davies
    commented 2023-08-13 11:01:05 +0100
    An excellent piece and hits the nail on the head of so many points. Welsh Labour needs to become Welsh and wake up to the fact that Westminster and the London parties care little of Wales unless it is to their advantage.