12 months ago, when Corbyn swept all before him to take the helm of the UK Labour Party, I was excited at seeing socialist ideas in the spotlight and gaining support from the grass roots – those that understand what life is really like in Tory Britain, unlike the detached and privileged senior figures of the unpalatable Blairite New Labour project. Almost immediately I was being questioned, and even pressured, by those that know my commitment to socialist ideas about whether I would join the returning flood of socialists into the Labour Party to support the Corbyn re-invigoration of the party. At that stage I just couldn’t do it and wrote this piece to explain why: “Why I simply can’t bring myself to join my local Labour Party”.
Having spent a large part of the previous decade tearing into Welsh Labour’s shocking record of complacency and underachievement, and especially being based in Carwyn Jones’ home patch, it was too daunting a prospect to put myself into, so soon after quitting the Green Party (I resigned from GPEW in May 2015). For much of the next 12 months, I kept a watching brief on Corbyn’s progress in Labour, while also taking a positive look at Plaid Cymru, but mostly taking time out from politics and campaigning, and looking after my mental health.
Jeremy Corbyn increasingly impressed me. Honesty, integrity, dignity, tenacity were his personal qualities that shone ever brighter in the face of exactly the opposite qualities in the voices opposing him, both inside and outside the Labour Party. The shameless bias, misrepresentation and shit-stirring of the media again just served to underline that this man must be doing something right! As I said on Facebook the day I signed up, it was time to stop prevaricating and properly get behind the man. I joined in mid June 2016. And wasn’t that good timing?!!
28th June saw the infamous vote of no confidence by the 172 (wide range of adjectives possible – I’ll settle for:) mischievous MPs, closely followed by Angela Eagle‘s pathetic leadership bid, who was then usurped by fall-guy par excellence, Owen Smith. Oh what a Summer it has been!
One consequence of all these shenanigans was the decision to ban party meetings until after the leadership contest, and deny me a vote despite joining before any leadership contest was initiated. I went to my first ward branch meeting the day the voting closed, just last week. But it also meant that the support for Jeremy got organised, through Welsh Grassroots/Momentum, and I quickly came to realise that Corbyn has much greater support in Wales than I had previously realised. Realising I was not alone has been an important step in giving me renewed strength of purpose. Finding some longstanding local Labour members that were beginning to smell the coffee, and relish the new direction of the party, further heartened me.
So now we find that Corbyn is re-elected with a huge mandate from members and supporters (forget the 62% of the vote – it must be around 80% if all the gerrymandering by the NEC is factored in). There can now be no question as to which direction the Party is heading. Hallelujah! There are still battles to be fought and won (Trident is going to be a messy one), but the Blairite red tories must now realise that they are caught between a rock and a hard place i.e they have to fall into line or push (or be pushed) off. Personally, I think they should just keep calm, keep quiet and exit right.
Which brings me around to Mr Carwyn Jones. One of the last bits of fiddling done by the outgoing NEC was to secure a seat for a Welsh representative on the NEC. In itself, this could be seen as a positive thing, but in typical Carwyn/Welsh Labour fashion, there was no consideration as to who should take that seat – it was handed straight to Carwyn, in line with the NEC’s desire to boost the anti-Corbyn element of the new NEC, in light of all the seats beholden to the membership going to Corbyn supporters. This makes Carwyn beholden to the ‘centrist’ and/or Blairite factions, as if there was any real doubt that that is where he belongs.
Corbyn’s huge margin of victory is a clear signal that Labour members are no longer going to allow the relatively right wing PLP to call the shots. Having sold its soul to the devil when allowing Blair and Brown to run amok under the New Labour banner, followed by the tame Tory-lite acquiescence of the Millibland (sic) years, 21st century socialism is alive and kicking and the new name of the game. Welsh Labour, and Carwyn Jones in particular, has always tried to pretend that it is a distinct and separate entity to the rest of the Labour Party. It is not, although it may become so at the will of the membership. But that does not seem likely. Welsh Labour discouraged constituency parties from holding nomination meetings to endorse one or other of the leadership candidates, despite one of them being one of their very own – ‘valley boy made good’ Owen 29″ Smith. The outcome was, however, emphatic:
I make that 14 constituencies backing Corbyn and a mere 3 backing Smith (with 23 not nominating).
That is 82%, of the CLPs that voted, backing Corbyn in Wales – much in line with the mandate he would have overall from an undoctored vote across the whole membership. All things considered, you would like to think that Carwyn Jones would be considering his position, wouldn’t you?
Remember those words I used to describe Corbyn earlier: honesty, integrity, dignity, tenacity. Carwyn could score one out of four at best, I would suggest.
What has been Carwyn’s response to Corbyn’s re-election this week? I have yet to see him pass comment on it at all, let alone congratulate the man, and most certainly not to welcome the result. Instead, he embarks on an another relaunch of priorities for the next five years. They are the usual meaningless bluster that could have been summarised in one over-riding priority i.e. cling to power for long as possible while exerting or utilising that power minimally. It is the same priority as the last 17 years of Welsh Labour in government in Wales.
I don’t want to spend too much time dissecting Welsh Labour and Carwyn’s record – that has been done repeatedly elsewhere – but a quick look at his latest declared priorities, in relation to their record to date, is worthwhile. Welsh Labour has many achievements it can point to – which is only to be expected after 17 years – but as a former school teacher used to writing reports, pointing out the positives cannot be allowed to gloss over underachievement in relation to potential. After 17 years, they can surely only be given a grade C, at best, for effort and for attainment. Attainment in some areas can only really be given a E grade. For the complacent and unambitious, that is often accepted as good enough. But Wales deserves at least grade ‘A’ effort, accepting that if you do your very best, top level attainment can still be elusive due to extraneous factors
You can read a good summary of Carwyn’s masterplan for the next five years here at walesonline. Opening up with the highly dubious assertion that “Wales is punching above its weight” certainly invites scrutiny. Hands up those of you that are sitting there thinking “Yep, all the evidence around me supports that assertion”. Anyone? If pressed, I’m sure Carwyn would have a few stats to back it up, but there has always been lies, damned lies and statistics!
He picks out a number of key areas of policy:
- Living wage
He may well pick on these areas, as they areas of dire need, despite 17 years of continuous Labour administrations looking after them.
Education. He is proposing to throw some more money at it. An extra £100m to drive up standards – but why are those standards the lowest in the UK and amongst the worst in Europe after 17 years of Welsh Labour controlling it (and getting worse if anything)? £2bn on refurbishing our schools – but why have they been allowed to become so appallingly and shamefully dilapidated after 17 years of Welsh Labour looking after them? Student support better than in England (where it is amongst the worst in Europe so setting the bar very low). Where is the ambition to do everything possible to boost the higher educational attainment of Welsh Students?
Health. Improved access to GPs is promised – although this is already among the best (least bad) in the UK. Reduction of waiting times through investing in facilities is promised, which I guess is a nice reversal of closing facilities down (just don’t use the ‘downgrading’ word!). A new treatment fund is to be established to eradicate the postcode lottery of drug availability. Why is there a postcode lottery in drug availability after 17 years of Welsh Labour controlling this? There will be more investment in health professionals supposedly. But no suggestion that this can come from anywhere but overseas, as pay and conditions remain unattractive (and even below living wage levels in many cases). 41% of doctors in England and Wales come from outside of England and Wales, with over 20% coming from Asia. Investing in the salaries of overseas workers is importing skills, with all that this means in terms of exporting wealth and de-skilling poorer countries that seem to be able train up medics far more readily than we can, only to see them scarper overseas to work for our sick, elderly and invalided. This is the what happens when neoliberalism rules instead of socialism. Why are neoliberal policies still dominating our NHS after 17 years of a Welsh Labour government?
Economy. Carwyn talks of relentlessly driving improvement in our economy, while lining up his excuses in the form of ‘uncertainty caused by Brexit’. But his recipe has the same ingredients that he has been relying on for years. More business rates relief for small businesses. More childcare provision. More apprenticeships. More investment in transport in the Cardiff city regions with the much heralded Metro plans. (Nothing about rail links up the west coast, or upgrading the A470 through mid Wales and helping link North and South Wales). Is any of this going to start addressing the following shameful economic indicators, when they have failed to do so to date?
- Productivity (measured in GVA per capita) that is 50% higher in England than Wales and lower in Wales than any part of the UK and any English region.
- More businesses died in Wales than were born (2012).
- 2012 also saw the biggest overall decrease in exports of any UK region.
Who said doing the same things and expecting different results was madness? Someone brighter than Carwyn for sure.
Housing. Investment in housebuilding is another restated priority, but, again, the story to date has been of a lack of ambition that has left the country as whole running to stand still after 17 years of Welsh Labour. Housebuilding arguably has unrivalled economic and social value, yet Welsh Government’s own figures show that only 289 homes for registered social landlords were completed in the Apr-Jun quarter of 2016, with 1342 in the private sector and none at all in the local authority sector. This equates to an annual rate of barely 6,500 new homes a year currently. The best annual figure I could come across was just under 10,000 a few years back. Now, all of a sudden, Carwyn is promising 20,000 affordable homes a year (very few private housing developments fall into the affordable category). And of course this is only part of the problem. Neoliberal policies allow vast amounts of housing benefit to leave the public purse, to go into the hands of private landlords, who are allowed to have tenants in fuel poverty due to the inadequacies of the accommodation. In total, 23% of Welsh households are in fuel poverty. Another shameful legacy after 17 years of Welsh Labour in government.
Living wages and zero hours contracts. Some of Carwyn’s vaguest promises covered these areas. He will ‘take further action’ on living wages and ‘limit the use’ of zero hours contracts. Perhaps he could crack the whip on welsh councils for starters, including Labour administrations including his very own CBC in Bridgend. At the turn of 2016, only 6 out of 22 Welsh Councils had implemented the living wage for their staff. Bridgend CBC? Not a chance. At the end of 2014 there were 8 councils, including Labour strongholds in Bridgend and Swansea, using zero hours contracts as well! Nothing undermines politics like hypocrisy from leaders.
And what of incomes overall in Wales after 17 years of Welsh Labour administrations? The answer is record levels of poverty.
- 23% of the population and 33% of the children in Wales living in relative poverty (less than 60% of median household income) – the worst in the UK.
- Wales is the only region of Great Britain in which disposable income in every area is below the UK average.
- The proportion of peoples incomes made up of benefits reached 26% in 2012 – the worst in the UK.
The overall message here is that Welsh Labour’s leaders have an appalling legacy of underachievement, due in no small measure to adhering to Blairite neoliberalism and shunning their socialist roots and origins. They have survived, indeed thrived, on the back of communities that have developed a blind loyalty to the Labour Party that did so much for them in its heyday. That so many of their supporters have had their heads turned by UKIP, and others, does not reflect that their values have significantly changed, in my opinion, but more that they have finally woken up to the fact that Welsh Labour no longer have any answers that have any impact on their lives. The anti-establishment, anti-immigrant bluster of blaggards like Farage and Hamilton hints at easy answers that are what people crave.
The true answers to the needs of the vast majority of people in Wales are in the 21st century socialism that has seen Jeremy Corbyn sweep all before him, despite the best efforts of the out-of-touch, ‘self-interest first’ cabal that wrenched control of the party away from members in the Blair era. It is brave and it is bold.
These are two qualities that cannot be ascribed to Carwyn and most senior members of Welsh Labour. They have had it too easy and too comfortable for far too long. They need to move aside and facilitate a refreshing new wind of change, to blow the cobwebs away and bring about the change that Welsh Labour and Wales truly need. If he is any doubt about that, Carwyn needs to put it to the membership in Wales.
The party will bend to the will of the members or disintegrate.
Over to you Carwyn!