To the disappointment of Corbyn’s opponents both outside and inside the Labour Party, the recent election results in Wales – as in England – did not live up to their catastrophic forecasts. Nevertheless, as Sam Pritchard (Young Labour elected representative for Wales) notes, both Plaid Cymru and UKIP benefitted from the anti-establishment mood.
The recent local and regional elections across Britain were notable for the fact that even before the electorate had the opportunity to cast their vote, the right-wing of the Labour Party and their friends in the mainstream media were already blaming Jeremy Corbyn for “leading Labour to electoral disaster”. To the disappointment of Corbyn’s opponents both outside and inside the Labour Party, the results in Wales – as in England – did not live up to these catastrophic forecasts.
Within Wales, Labour only lost one seat, meaning they now have 29 seats in the 60 seat Assembly – a better result than what was originally predicted, especially when you take into consideration that Welsh Labour has been in government for the last seventeen years and is therefore seen as part of the political establishment locally.
The new makeup of the Welsh Assembly, after the recent elections, is: Labour 29; Plaid Cymru 12; Conservatives 11; UKIP 7; and the Liberal Democrats 1. Despite no party achieving a majority, it is obvious to see that this is a solid result for the Labour Party, who achieved more than double the seats of the biggest opposition party.
Labour’s loss of one seat, in Leighton Andrews, was largely down to it being contested by Plaid Cymru party leader Leanne Wood, who received extra publicity and coverage thanks to her position. For similar reasons, the only seat the Liberal Democrats managed to hold in Wales belonged to its Welsh leader, Kirsty Williams (before she resigned after the poor election result).
Overall in Wales there was an increased percentage of the vote going to Plaid Cymru, even within safe Labour seats. As mentioned above, the impact of Labour’s new national leadership under Jeremy Corbyn has not yet been fully reflected in Wales, where the party is still largely viewed as belonging to the political establishment. Many of Plaid’s votes, therefore, are from workers and youth that are looking for a left-wing, anti-establishment alternative to Welsh Labour.
One clear example of this is vocal Corbyn supporter and popular celebrity singer-turned-activist Charlotte Church, who on polling day openly urged people to vote Plaid. In her defence of this, she later tweeted saying, “I live in Wales, lots of our services are devolved. Plaids politics are closer to my own; Welsh Labour are more Blairite in their approach”. Church’s comments demonstrate how, despite what the mainstream media say, ordinary people are strongly attracted to Corbyn’s programme, but many still cannot bring themselves to vote for Labour due to the stink of Blairism that remains at the top of the Party in Westminster, Wales, and Scotland.
UKIP enters the Assembly
UKIP gained in Wales for similar reasons, entering the Assembly for the first time with seven seats. The UKIP candidate list was the most impressively reactionary and uninspiring, including several failed and humiliated English Tories that had been parachuted in.
UKIP benefited from the electoral system in Wales, since most people vote on the basis of the party, without looking at the people on the regional list of candidates. As a result, UKIP was able to slip in certain controversial figures, such as former Tory MP Mark Reckless, who was elected on a regional list by people who would never vote for a Conservative politician, but who feel comfortable voting for UKIP in protest.
Despite the involvement of these unsavoury characters, UKIP gained in Wales from an anti-establishment mood, with many looking for an alternative to Tories and Labour. With the Tories responsible for carrying out cuts nationally, and Labour responsible for the cuts at a regional level in Wales, and with neither offering any solution on important questions such as the steel crisis, it is no surprise that UKIP’s call for protectionism to save jobs found an echo.
Very quickly after being elected to the Welsh Assembly, careerist politician and professional attention seeker Neil Hamilton was elected as leader of the UKIP Welsh Assembly group. This has already led to a souring of relationships between UKIP party members in Wales.
The blame for UKIP’s rise in Wales lies solely at the feet of the Blairites in Welsh Labour and the national Parliamentary Labour Party. If the Labour Party does not unite behind Corbyn to offer a programme that is going to inspire working people with a promise of radical change, then UKIP will continue to make significant gains.
Plaid Cymru leadership exposed
The drama of the elections was amplified when a First Minister was failed to be elected during the first sitting of the Assembly. Labour nominated Carwyn Jones, the leader of Welsh Labour, who was contested only by Leanne Wood. Nobody, however, could have predicted that this contest would end in a stalemate. Labour voted for Carwyn, backed by the only Liberal Democrat, Kirsty Williams. But in an unexpected twist, Leanne Wood achieved the same number of votes after the Tories and UKIP voted for her.
There has been speculation into how much involvement Leanne Wood had in trying to gain support from the Tories and UKIP. Even if she was completely unaware of their voting intentions, however, this still highlights a potential contradiction in Plaid’s image; for if Plaid are really as left-wing and progressive as their leadership suggest, then how could they have gained the support of right-wing Conservative and UKIP Assembly members? Surely what is good for the Tory Party cannot be good for a party that is attempting to paint itself as a break with austerity and cuts?
The latest news, at the time of writing, is that the Tories in the Welsh Assembly will not stand in the way of Carwyn Jones’s re-election as First Minister, with Welsh Tory leader Andrew Davies stating that the Conservatives would not provide Leanne Wood with their backing, having failed to strike a deal with Plaid. Nevertheless, this episode may still end up tarnishing Plaid Cymru and Leanne Wood’s anti-austerity, anti-establishment image amongst those looking for an alternative to Tories and Welsh Labour.
Recent events in the elections and the Welsh Assembly demonstrate that Labour in Wales – as in the rest of Britain – needs to move further to the left and start inspiring working class people with a bold socialist programme in order to win back what they have lost to Plaid and UKIP. This means ridding the party of the remnants of Blairism and uniting behind Jeremy Corbyn in the fight for a socialist alternative to the Tories and austerity.