For the best part of 23 years I have been lying ‘dormant’ in political terms but in the middle of this General Election something in me ‘erupted’ like an old volcano! So here I am again troubling the waters and never afraid to speak my mind on the state of politics, Wales and beyond.
It was my erstwhile allegiance to the
Liberal Democrats which probably prompted me to get active again this year,
since I realised they were in deep trouble, and had been so in effect ever
since 2010. The party that in the 1980’s was going to ’Break the Mould’ was
helping to plaster the cracks of that mould in Westminster! Although I
understood why the Lib Dems went into coalition with the Tories on that fateful
day, I remember commenting even as Cameron and Clegg were in the Rose Garden
that ‘no good would come of it’. Little did I imagine that the prophecy would
be realised in such a devastating way on the night of May 7.
For a long time Welsh politics in reality
has been dormant. Gone are the heady days of the 70’s, 80’s and even early 90’s
when there were vigorous campaigns and debate on the future of Wales,
independence or whether the Labour Party was too left, and so on. It seems that
after the creation of the Welsh Assembly Plaid Cymru went into its shell and
settled for that limited degree of devolution. Labour were content to accept
its ‘divine right’ to be the ‘natural’ party of Government in Wales, albeit if
they did have to rely on the support of the Liberal Democrats for one period
and Plaid for another. Then the Conservatives, who had done relatively well
from time to time in Parliamentary elections such as 1983 and 1992, settled
down to a sizeable role in the administration of Wales. Politics is
unpredictable because there is a case to be made that the party that has
benefited most from the establishment of the Assembly has been the
Conservatives – the very party which opposed it!
Anyway we are where we are but there are
major matters to resolve and problems to face. Never in my adult life has the
United Kingdom and Wales faced so many uncertainties, and it is those
uncertainties that I will seek to address in my series of contributions over
the coming weeks. Many events or happenings have brought us to this point—the
Scottish Referendum result and the subsequent tsunami the SNP inflicted on all other
parties in Scotland on May 7; the growth and emergence of UKIP as a force to be
reckoned with, even in Wales; and Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum on
Europe by 2017 which in itself is a testimony to the strength of UKIP and the
Tory right wing. But other events have brought us to this point too, such as
Labour’s choice of the wrong Miliband—Ed, like Kinnock, was unelectable as
Prime Minister and that was obvious from 2011— and the chasm the Liberal
Democrats left in radical politics by being in coalition.
Mixed up in all this have been other
happenings. There is no getting away from the reality that the Senedd has not
lived up to the hopes and expectations of 1997 and has been a big
disappointment to many people in Wales. I was amused but not surprised to read
very recently that to finally breathe life into the Senedd and to make it more
effective and responsive to the needs of the nation, an 18% pay rise for AMs was
required—a topic I will return to before long!
Then there is by now a major question over
‘what is Wales?’ Does it have a radical electorate any longer, to what extent
does it actually mirror England and, if so, what has caused this to be the
case? Immigration, over decades, from other parts of the UK has no doubt
influenced movements in the political landscape, but its impact and extent is
deeper than realised. Labour and Plaid in particular have been ‘sleeping on
their watch’ because it has resulted in a significant ‘hidden Tory’ component
to Welsh politics by now.
But the complexity does not end there,
Labour is seen as having neglected its traditional working class areas and the
once rock solid loyal voter is on the move—not to Plaid or Lib Dems but rather
to UKIP! So significant demographic changes, the de-industrialisation of the
valleys and the failure of a complacent Labour party can also be added to the
mix. Hence politicians and political commentators will need to reassess their
traditional presumptions and historical biases about Wales and its politics.
So in the coming weeks my musings will turn
to, among other things, the following questions – where do the political
parties in Wales go to from here? Is Wales really like England? Has Wales a
ruling political/establishment class which stifles progress and reform? Is the
Senedd effective and acting for the whole of Wales? What is an AM worth? Are we
driven too much by the public sector? How can we ensure that the powers of the
Senedd are as near as possible commensurate with Scotland? Or indeed do the
Welsh voters even desire such an outcome?
Then of course there is the overriding future of the Union and also Europe—as
one political commentator puts it, will Cameron be the Prime Minister that
causes Britain to lose both...
This post written by Gwynoro first appeared on Cambria Nostra: 28/5/2015.