Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Why I’ll be voting ‘Remain’ tomorrow – by Darren Williams

At this point, it may seem unnecessary for a Labour left-winger to seek to justify a decision to vote ‘Remain’, as it’s been increasingly difficult to find ‘Leave’ supporters within the Labour party, or anywhere else on the mainstream left and centre-left, within recent weeks. But even a couple of months ago, it did not seem so inevitable that someone like me would vote to remain in the EU – speaking personally, I had not made up my mind – and the issues are just as complex, and as important, now as they were then. So, I will rehearse what I see as the main arguments, even if most or all of this has already been said by others.
My starting-point is a commitment to internationalism and a desire to see the establishment of a United States of Europe – an equal and democratic alliance of all the nations and peoples across the European continent, from Ireland to the Urals. I recognise that the current European Union is very far from that ideal, being dominated by the major powers at the expense of the smaller countries and those outside the Union, and run in the interests of their ruling classes. Of course, it is the case that the EEC was, from the outset, a “capitalist club”, more interested in free movement of capital than of people and more dedicated to private property rights than to the rights of ordinary people, as citizens, workers or consumers. But, along the way, it has secured greater legitimacy by instituting valuable social protections and by redistributing resources, to some extent, from the richer to the poorer nations and regions. Over the last twenty years or so, the EU has promoted privatisation (e.g. the Services Directive); enforced fiscal discipline (e.g. the Stability and Growth Pact and the more recent Fiscal Compact); and, since the financial crash, has imposed draconian austerity measures on those countries it has “bailed out”. TTIP threatens to take these neo-liberal tendencies further. But the real question is this: if we want a European union that is different from the current EU, is it more credible to think we can achieve that by taking charge of the existing framework of treaties, protocols and reciprocal obligations and reforming the current institutions to produce different outcomes? Or by withdrawing altogether in the hope that that this will precipitate the collapse of the whole edifice and allow the ‘liberated’ nations of Europe to start again from scratch? The former option may entail the formidable prospect of renegotiating every major treaty from 1957 onwards in order to achieve a complete turnaround, in many respects, from the EU’s current trajectory - but the latter is a complete step into the unknown.

Second, the argument by left-wing supporters of ‘Exit’, that the EU is inherently reactionary implies that it has a distinct, ‘corporate’ political character independent of, and taking precedence over, the cumulative political character of its member-states. Certainly, the EU is capable of compelling a country like Greece to abandon the mandate on which its government was elected. But if a majority of member states were to reject neo-liberalism, are we really to believe that they would nevertheless be obliged to accept the dictates of an organisation that could not exist without their financial, political and diplomatic participation? The neo-liberal character of the EU is surely no more than a reflection of the general political ascendancy of neo-liberalism over the last thirty years and its defeat or co-option of social democracy. The left cannot defeat neo-liberalism on the European continent by abolishing the supranational institutions through which neo-liberal policies are enforced. Rather, the political defeat of neo-liberalism by a revived and emboldened left is the precondition for any substantial lasting reform of those institutions. It follows that the best chance of beginning that process is by taking our cue from those parties that have gone furthest in challenging neo-liberalism, such as Syriza and Podemos. And those parties are arguing for radical reform of the EU from within, not for withdrawal.

Third, for a ‘Brexit’ to have progressive consequences, people would have to have voted for it on that basis and there would need to be a movement capable of presenting the necessary conclusions to a mass audience and taking the struggle for a more progressive Europe to the next stage. The reality is, however, that the Left Exit (‘Lexit’) campaign has been virtually invisible, given the near-total absence of prominent mainstream left-wingers supporting ‘Leave’, which has left the field to the CPB, SWP and Socialist Party. We can complain about media bias and misrepresentation but it does not change the fact that the only voices calling for ‘Brexit’ that most voters will have heard are those of UKIP and the Tory right, along with their allies in business and the media. Those are the political forces that would be strengthened by a vote for ‘Brexit’ and given a mandate to pursue their own political aims. And those aims are, needless to say, inimical to the interests of ordinary people. The ‘debate’ over Europe, such as it is, has, of course, been dominated by the question of immigration and a UK outside the EU would undoubtedly impose even greater restrictions on migrants and refugees than currently exist. In addition, a post-Brexit Tory government - presumably led by a Johnson or a Gove – would (as has frequently been pointed out) move to scrap many of the workplace rights, equality laws, health and safety legislation and other ‘red tape’ that is supposedly holding back British business. And, while the TTIP negotiations pose the threat of such protections being stripped away by EU officials themselves, there is at least greater chance of such retrograde steps being halted by a continent-wide campaign than there is of equivalent measures, undertaken by a strengthened Tory government, being blocked in Britain. The other significant political consequence of a ‘Leave’ vote would be a blow to the personal standing of Jeremy Corbyn and a setback to his political project of moving Labour to the left. We may not like the way that Corbyn – always personally ambivalent about the EU – was bounced by Hilary Benn and others into pledging Labour’s unqualified support for ‘IN’ vote, but he has nevertheless invested his personal credibility in the campaign and the party as a whole has rallied round. A ‘Leave’ vote would be a disaster for the Labour left, as in so many other respects.

There is much else that could be said but the above points, in my view, clinch the case for ‘Remain’ from a specifically socialist perspective. One might well resent the uncritical praise lavished on the EU by Labour spokespeople or the apocalyptic tone of the post-Brexit scenarios invoked by the ‘Remain’ campaign (mirroring, to some extent, the more offensive scaremongering of the ‘Leave’ lobby). The sight of Sadiq Khan, Harriet Harman and Carwyn Jones lining up with Cameron and his cronies at press conferences is an unedifying reminder of how little Labour has learned from the ‘Better Together’ campaign debacle in Scotland in 2014. But, in the end, there are only two options on the ballot-paper and it is incumbent on all of us to decide which would be more conducive to the political objectives of the left. No socialist would have chosen to have this debate conducted in the terms we have witnessed in recent weeks – but we cannot change that now. All we can do is to decide which outcome we would rather wake up to on Friday morning, taking into account the implications for working people, the unemployed, pensioners, refugees, migrants and all those whose lives are blighted by prejudice and inequality. But if, as I hope, the vote is for ‘Remain’, the left needs to be much more serious and committed in our campaigning for a different kind of Europe – one that is truly democratic, that breaks with austerity and that supports public services, not privatisation. It is long overdue for Labour to lead such a campaign, instead of simply paying lip service to the need for ‘reform’.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Challenging UKIP's statistics – By Iain Claridge

“Net Migration a Third of a Million – a City the Size of Birmingham every Three Years ...How can we afford council houses or NHS ?”

So claimed Neil Hamilton on Question Time from Cardiff City Hall on 2 June (the day before Jeremy Corbyn spoke there, invisible as always to the BBC). Hamilton`s lie got the inevitable racist response from the audience.

But is net migration (all immigration minus all emigration) the “third of a million” no one, not even Owen Jones, challenged on 2 June? And should the Left challenge the figures in these last days of the EU campaign ?

The 26 May House of Commons briefing paper gives (on p.10) the 333,000 figure and three pages later 188,000 non EU net migrants and 184,000 EU net migrants. These figures are slippery, calculations from estimates extrapolated from surveys. Mark Easton on BBC news (14 June) even allowed himself to use an EU in-migration figure of 270,000 – without correcting for EU nationals leaving UK.

But it is possible to present voters with a figure that is less frightening than “A Third of a Million” and truer for the impact of migration on schools, social housing and working-class jobs - the message of being "swamped" that is cutting so hard in Labour heartlands.

The 333,000 includes non-UK students. On the basis of verifiable data from visas and university statistics, student-in migration is 192,000, according to the Office for National Statistics.

As Vince Cable argued when in government, one can simply remove the non-UK student in-flow and 333,000 becomes 141,000. Students are not long-term immigrants and should not be counted as such, as even George Osborne apparently now admits.

The net migration figure of 333,000 doesn`t go that far. It counts the 192,000 students in and then uses a flawed International Passenger Survey estimate of 57,000 students returning home to put 135,000 students in the net migration figures.

Facing Andrew Neil on 10 June, Farage had no answer but his passport for how to get net migration below 100,000 - but remove students and the figure is in sight.

Of course, UKIP doesn`t tell its supporters that “a third of a million” includes non-UK students paying well over £6 billion a year in fees but that`s the truth of 436,585 non UK students in Higher Education in Britain (2014-2015). Three quarters of non UK students are non EU.

The government itself only started collecting exit data on students leaving the UK in April 2015. We may presume these checks will show many more than 57,000 return home after study – taking the non EU three quarters of 192,000 down by c.140,000 and the net migration figure to under 200,000. But by the time these statistics of real student outflow are released the referendum will be lost.

And removing students from the net migration figures alters the perception of EU migrants we can address on the doorstep. Remove 50,000 EU student immigrants from 184,000 EU net immigration – getting degrees not competing for jobs on building sites and East Anglian farms!

EU net migration is little more than 100,000 a year within a total 2015 net migration of around 200,000 including c.70,000 non EU work visas and 32,000 asylum seekers.

I've tried it as a leaflet. Brexiters can`t contest the non-EU fee benefit. Voters from ethnic minorities and non-voting EU nationals feel reassured that UKIP claims are being contested.

Is it possible we can even reassure worried traditional Labour voters that their school places, jobs and NHS access are no more under immigrant assault than in the last twenty years?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Reluctant 'Remain' – By Lyn Eynon

Many on the left are committed to 'Leave' the EU, viewed as irremediably pro-capitalist, but I shall reluctantly vote to Remain. Although WLG has taken no position on the EU referendum, UK Momentum supports Labour 'IN' but, like Jeremy Corbyn, will not campaign with Tories, both on principle and as a lesson from the debacle in Scotland. 'Another Europe is Possible' advises 'Remain' but advocates radical reform to tackle the serious flaws of the EU. Both sides exaggerate how much of the past 40 years can be attributed to the EU. The TUC presents protections within EU law as gifts for which we should be grateful, rather than rights won through struggles. EU treaties look restrictive but allow more opportunity than often admitted, if elected politicians seek it. Politics counts for more than institutions, and 'Brexit' would today spur the growth of the nationalist far right across Europe. We should Remain, then campaign across Europe for change.

Let’s start with rights. EU protection for workers is valuable against a Tory government, even though EU law today allows employers to exploit migrant workers to drive down pay and conditions. The EU provides a framework but national politics matter. French workers are fighting a law imposed not by the EU Commission but by the Hollande-Valls government. It originates from Paris, not from Brussels. Similarly, the Tory TU Bill was drafted in Westminster. Brexit would offer more immediate opportunity for Tories to attack rights than for unions to extend them. There is no prospect of this government improving protection for consumers or the environment, which would be at serious risk.

Neoliberalism defines the worldview of most EU leaders but austerity does not follow directly from EU treaties. In the UK, it is driven by a Tory government that sees an opportunity to attack acquired rights and public services. The EU is not forcing Osborne to cut and we should not excuse him by suggesting it is. The Eurozone is more restrictive, as states have lost control of monetary policy, but the UK referendum is not about the Euro. Even in the Eurozone, there is more scope than politicians pretend. When the EU tried to fine Germany and France for exceeding deficit limits, it was put in its place. A Podemos-led government in Spain would undoubtedly face obstruction but even the Greek example does not prove that austerity is inevitable. The EU Commission acted as it did because the politicians backed it. Hollande could have blunted the attack on Greece and with Renzi’s support he could have blocked it. If the SPD broke with Merkel, it could challenge Berlin’s fixation on public debt. The issue is not the wording of treaties but the political bankruptcy of European social democracy. This is not a vote on neoliberalism. Socialists working together across Europe can stop austerity. Brexit will not.

Any decent human being should feel appalled at the EU’s treatment of refugees escaping from chaos initiated or worsened by military interventions. But the referendum is not a vote of moral censure and leaving the EU will not help. The UK stance has been one of the worst and will not be improved by a campaign infected by racism. The Tory Leavers, cheered on by UKIP, would cut migration to deliver on their rhetoric, worsening life for refugees. Across Europe, governments would see Brexit as confirming that anti-migrant policies win votes, and harden their positions. Fewer refugees would be accepted.

The great and the good of the economics establishment have lined up with dire prognoses of the costs of leaving the EU, but we do not need to accept all the claims or the spuriously precise predictions to acknowledge that the impact would be disruptive, particularly for a vulnerable economy like Wales. Investment and exports would fall, hitting jobs and wages in a new recession, already a significant risk as the global economy slows. The Tory government is more likely to tighten austerity than to act to offset this. Nor will the Tories put the interests of working people first when negotiating new trade deals with the EU. Instead, they will look for opportunities to shift the balance further in favour of big business. TTIP is often quoted as an example of how the EU bows to corporate interests but a Tory government would be keen to sign a UK-US deal on similar or worse lines. Indeed, with opposition to TTIP growing, it’s possible that the EU would reject what the UK would accept. It is hard to see how Brexit, under a Tory government, would benefit workers or consumers.

The argument that EU institutions are fundamentally undemocratic and constrain elected national governments is powerful. It is undeniable that EU structures make it easier to hear elite lobbyists than the European people. If we remain, socialists and other progressive forces across Europe must challenge this. But the Council of Ministers only accepts Commission proposals because elected governments concur. The EU treaties define procedures but do not compel agreement, and we should not let politicians hide behind bureaucrats to pass bad laws. Leaving the EU would not give the UK a free hand. We would still be members of the WTO, NATO, the IMF and many other organisations, and most of the 14,000 treaties the UK has signed would still apply. Treaties impose shared obligations, which are essential in an otherwise anarchic world. The UK pressed for the European Convention on Human Rights to hinder fascism but the Tory right would like to leave that too. Autarchy is not an option. Britain would need new reciprocal arrangements with EU countries, and there is no guarantee these would be better. Indeed, in Tory hands, we can expect them to be even worse.

Behind left concerns on EU democracy lies the fear that a future socialist government would be unable to carry through the programme on which it had been elected, as either the Commission or the European Court of Justice would block it. Is this true? Unlike Syriza, a Labour government need not face an immediate confrontation with the EU: we have our own central bank, we can borrow in sterling under English law, and our economy is far stronger than that of Greece. We will not need permission to initiate our programme. Nor need we directly challenge the EU from the outset. The next Labour government will have a long agenda and the EU would have weak grounds to obstruct steps to reduce tax avoidance, tighten financial regulation, restore union rights, or remove labour market abuses. McDonnell’s Fiscal Credibility Rule does not threaten public finances; Germany cannot object to a National Investment Bank when it has one itself; house-building can be self-financing; green investment meets the EU’s own commitments; Parliament can revise the Bank of England’s mandate ... and so on.

Some of this might be challenged, depending on how certain EU treaty clauses are interpreted. But we should approach this not as amateur lawyers but as political actors. Neoliberal orthodoxy is crumbling, with even the IMF calling on governments to take on more debt to finance investment, and a Labour government could defend well-crafted policies with strong popular backing. Conflict is more likely over state aid and competition rules, which could hamper industrial policy and public ownership, but, once again, the treaties and the institutions define the terrain for any dispute but do not prejudge its outcome. Since the crash, the EU Commission has approved over 400 state aid applications for banks, including nationalisations. Governments wanted that and it happened. How far Labour could go would ultimately depend on the political balance in Europe, not on references to the ECJ. In the right political circumstances, rulings could be rejected and, yes, Britain could threaten to leave the EU, and do so if necessary. But what might be required in a hypothetical future is misjudged today.

Socialists should decide Remain or Leave on its consequences. Brexit would create opportunities, but for the right as well as for the left. After a vicious campaign, attacks on workers and migrants are more likely than a socialist dawn. Cameron would fall but it is wishful thinking to imagine an immediate election making Jeremy Corbyn PM. Financial and business interests will not trust Labour to negotiate corporate-friendly treaties and will rally behind a new Tory leader. A defeat for Remain would open recriminations in Labour and weaken Corbyn’s leadership. The EU’s failures have spawned a vicious far right in many countries but Brexit would further stimulate this by demonstrating success for anti-migrant, anti-union politics. Let’s not delude ourselves into believing it would be seen across Europe as a vote against austerity. By encouraging nationalism, Brexit would reduce stability at a time when hardening borders could turn into violent conflicts. Peace is not guaranteed. How would the left gain from any of this? Today, in June 2016, the right would win most from Leave. Reluctant 'Remain' it is.

Are some members of the Labour party more equal than others? By M’Learned Friend

It takes a dogged and skilled lawyer to plough through the national party rule book and the inchoate add-ons that are the unfocussed supplementary rules that operate in Wales.

However, a party member doesn’t have to be a lawyer to wonder if there isn’t one law for the self important Blairite and another for any member daring to hold (and express) “radical views”.

Consider a few examples of the way the party has publicly treated its members in recent weeks.

Two different members “on the left” - one an old, gnarled, successful (by most standards) MP and former Mayor of London and another a young MP – have been publicly attacked and faced demands for their immediate expulsion (without due process) from the party for views expressed about historical events. In one case, suspension from the party followed quickly and the NEC is now conducting an enquiry. In the other, an apology was deemed sufficient.

At the same time, the party has not batted an eyelid as senior figures – from a more “centrist background” publicly, intentionally and repeatedly criticise the party leadership. Some have even been filmed by TV crews in aggressive name-calling of colleagues with whom they disagree. (Some party members take the view that party meetings are where such robust debate should occur – so long as it is done within party rules). In Wales, one MP has been publicly accused by four different national newspapers of mistreating her staff and exhibiting homophobic behaviour. The response from the party in the weeks that followed? Zilch! Surely in the interests of all concerned – including the MP – such allegations should be properly investigated and either disproved – or acted upon?

The party rulebook - though long and opaque – lists the following offences that members can commit:
  • Chapter 2, Clause 1 - serious criminal offences; conduct grossly detrimental to the party; standing against a Labour candidate
  • Chapter 6 (page 25) - allows disciplinary action for breach of the rules and constitution.
  • Chapter 15 (clause 1, O) notes that harassment and intimidation of members is unacceptable, as is any form of discrimination on the basis of gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or race.
Of course, good judgment has to be exercised in all such cases in the interests of fairness to all. But at the moment, where you stand in the party (in terms of seniority or political belief) seems to have more influence on what happens than the facts themselves.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

UKIP in Swansea East - by Mike Hedges AM

UKIP came second in both the General Election and May's National Assembly election in Swansea East, winning 3274 votes (16%) at the Assembly election. Whilst UKIP’s result in Swansea East was not as good as in many South East Wales seats, it is still a cause for concern.
I will address three questions: who, why and how do we win them back?
Firstly, who?
A simple examination of the Assembly election result would indicate that UKIP took votes from Labour and the Conservatives, took the bulk of the BNP vote from 2011 and got some who did not vote in 2011 to vote this time.
Looking at it in greater detail, most of the 2011 BNP vote will have gone to UKIP, interestingly for the first time with no BNP candidates; BNP was not written on rejected ballot papers.
That former Labour voters switched to UKIP is, I believe, undeniable, the Labour vote fell by 309, the Conservative vote fell by 1025 and there were 1102 BNP voters giving 2436 votes leaving 738 from people who did not vote last time.
Anything beyond those simple figures could be considered conjecture but we also know the result of the Mynyddbach by election held on the same day but without UKIP, where Labour took 65% of the vote, as opposed to a projected 55% in the Assembly election which compares with the overall 52% across the constituency. 10% of the vote across the constituency equates to about 2000 votes and 5% to approximately a 1000. I would guess UKIP took votes somewhere in between those two from previous Labour voters. The rise of UKIP is very much a Labour problem.
This takes us on to why.
Why did former Labour voters vote for a right-wing party with a former right-wing Tory Leadership?
They have a simple message leave the EU, end immigration and everything will be alright.
Personal experience
People’s political views are based upon, personal experience, family political loyalty and perception of political parties
For many, their personal experiences are:
  • Difficulty of getting social housing either personally or for family members
  • Lack of employment prospects
  • Zero hour or very few guaranteed hours contracts
  • Debt or the fear of debt
  • Victims of austerity
What has Labour done wrong?
  • Do not engage enough with them
  • Our “good communicators” do not communicate with them
  • Do not address their concerns
  • Appear irrelevant to their lives
  • Most importantly Labour is no longer seen as on their side

How do we win them back?
  • This is written before the Euro referendum; if we withdraw from Europe, then the reason for UKIP to exist disappears.
  • The Mynyddbach result shows that many of these voters are not lost forever. We are their second choice; we need to become their first choice again.
  • Talk to them - campaigning is not only knocking on doors and identifying Labour voters. Engage with their concerns Address their concerns; they are real even if the solution they have solution chosen is wrong.
  • Build Council and other social housing thus reducing the housing pressure.
  • Support the “real” living wage not the Tories increased minimum wage called the living wage
  • What do most people want? A nice house, a job, adequate pay, no fear of debt and opportunities for their children. We need to address these desires in the language of the electorate who we are trying to communicate with.
 We can win them back but we will not do so by doing the same as before.

Welsh Executive Committee report - by Darren Williams

Report of the Labour Welsh Executive Committee meeting held on 14 May 2016 by Darren Williams CLP rep for South Wales Central (Cardiff, the Vale and RCT)

This was the first full meeting of the Welsh Executive Committee (WEC) elected at the end of last year, which took office at Welsh Labour conference in February (there was a very brief meeting at the conference, to elect a chair and vice-chair and fill some other posts).

Election report
The main item of business was a report and discussion on the Assembly election campaign, the results and subsequent developments at Cardiff Bay.

Carwyn Jones said that Labour’s result had been better than expected and that the results in Cardiff North and the Vale, in particular, had been gratifying, but our overall vote had gone down and much of it had gone to UKIP. The latter had already split, in effect, into two groups in the Assembly. Plaid had done well in Blaenau Gwent and Cardiff West, as well as in the Rhondda, focussing mainly on local issues. There was little doubt that they had intended to take over the government when nominating Leanne for First Minister on 11 May and that Plaid AMs had approached the Tories and UKIP with this in mind. There had been strong public opposition to their manoeuvring, however.

Janice Gregory also gave her perspective as campaign co-ordinator. She said the campaign team had met weekly and had had big issues to contend with, like the steel crisis, which has had to be factored into the campaign. She praised the team in Transport House, whom she felt couldn’t have done more. She said that the result in the Rhondda had taken everyone by surprise.

The general secretary, Dave Hagendyk said it had been a very difficult campaign, with the Labour vote squeezed by Plaid and UKIP. Labour had undertaken four direct mailings in target seats and distributed three million pieces of print altogether, as well as using Facebook targetting. Across Wales, close to 300,000 people had been spoken to – more than anywhere else in the UK, outside London. Labour’s result in North Wales had been tremendous but recent elections had seen the party retreat eastward and we now needed to work hard to re-establish ourselves in the West and North-West of Wales. Welsh Labour would carry out a detailed analysis of the campaign and election results over the next couple of months and bring back a report to a future meeting.

There was a lengthy and thorough discussion of the campaign, some of the main points of which included: details of the campaigning tactics employed by Plaid in the Rhondda; the desirability in future of campaign messages tailored more specifically at North Wales; and the need to analyse the reasons for the big vote for UKIP.

In the context of a comment about the damaging effects of party disunity, there was some criticism (justifiably, in my view) of the circumstances of Stephen Doughty’s resignation from the front bench earlier in the year. Stephen, who was present as one of the two representatives of the Welsh PLP, defended himself, saying that he had resigned in writing prior to the contentious BBC interview on the matter and – notwithstanding his criticisms of the reshuffle – had worked loyally with the party leadership throughout. His explanation was accepted by the chair.

Carwyn alluded to the events surrounding Ken Livingstone’s comments about Zionism and the cancellation of Jeremy Corbyn’s planned visit to Wales. He criticised Ken for detracting from the positive messages of the campaign, saying that a day had been wasted, and reiterated that he had not stopped Jeremy from coming to Wales: the decision had been made by mutual agreement. While agreeing with Carwyn about the unhelpfulness of Ken’s comments, I expressed concern about his call for Ken to be expelled, as I felt that any disciplinary penalty should await the outcome of the party’s investigation. I also said that, notwithstanding the explanation he had given about Jeremy’s visit, the comments in the Western Mail attributed to a “party source” had been damaging, as they had implied that Jeremy was an electoral liability. Carwyn said that the media coverage had been “unfortunate” and Janice added that it was difficult to prevent people lacking any real authority from preventing themselves in the media as anonymous “Labour sources”. Andy Richards of Unite said that his union backed Carwyn’s position on the Livingstone issue.

I also commented on the Plaid campaign in Cardiff West, which had been very negative and focussed entirely on local government, rather than Assembly, issues, and I endorsed another Committee member’s comment that it was a shame that the Welsh Labour manifesto had been published so late.

Report from Nia Griffith, Shadow Welsh Secretary – Nia talked about the series of issues over which the UK Tory government had been forced to back down recently, including their plans to force all English schools to become Academies, as well as aspects of the draconian Trade Union Bill. The Queen’s Speech was due to take place in the coming week and the proposed legislation to tackle extremism was likely to be particularly controversial, in the light of the disgraceful Islamophobic campaign against Sadiq Khan. Nia also commented on the implications of the Tories’ proposed parliamentary boundary changes, which would reduce Wales’ representation from 40 seats to 29. Stephen Doughty observed that the partial success of the campaign against the Trade Union Bill showed that the Tories can be defeated. Dave Hagendyk added that thanks were also due to Labour’s representatives in the House of Lords, including Eluned Morgan, who had now been elected to the Assembly.

European Referendum
Dave reported that printed campaign materials had now been delivered. The campaign needed to engage both with those voters who needed to be persuaded to vote ‘yes’ and with those already inclined to do so, who needed to be encouraged to turn out. Many loyal Labour voters were unconvinced of the need to remain in the EU and so much of the party’s efforts would be focussed on ‘heartland’ areas, rather than election marginals. There was a discussion, covering a number of points, including: the need to get the student vote out; the varying attitudes to the EU in different economic sectors; and the need to counter UKIP’s appeal to disaffected voters. Margaret Thomas of Unison said that her union had registered as a third-party campaign for the referendum, having consulted members, who’d been overwhelmingly supportive of a ‘yes’ vote. I said that Labour needed to have a distinct message from the official ‘IN’ campaign, emphasising the need for reform of the EU, to avoid repeating our mistake in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, when we were seen as too close to the Tories in the ‘Better Together’ campaign.

General Secretary’s report
Dave said that the Welsh party’s policy consultation work now needed to be refocussed on UK-wide issues, via ‘Your Britain’. He also reported that Welsh Labour would be left with just two organisers after the referendum: Michelle in North Wales and one (to be appointed) in the South.

Party Reform update
The chair, Donna Hutton reported that a ‘Party Reform’ exercise was being led by the NEC, with a number of strands, including one concerning the relationship between the party centrally and its Welsh and Scottish organisations. Andy Richards had been representing Welsh Labour in discussions about areas of party activity in which responsibility could be devolved to Wales. Any proposals would be put before the party conference in September, after which the Welsh party would conduct its own, detailed review of its rules and processes, which would culminate at the 2017 Welsh conference. In response to a question from Catherine Thomas (Mid & West Wales CLPs), it was confirmed that this would include agreeing a more consistent approach to gender-balanced representation.

Welsh Labour Conference 2017
It was confirmed that this will take place in Llandudno, 22-26 March.

Inconclusive Welsh election sees Labour back in office - by Darren Williams

As with the other elections taking place on 5 May, those in Wales were always going to be treated, in part, as a test of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party. A significant setback for the party would have been attributed to its supposed ‘leftward lurch’, by detractors outside and within. Troublingly, the Welsh Labour leadership prepared the ground for this scenario by allowing the media to infer, on two separate occasions, that they considered Corbyn an electoral liability.

The first of these was at the close of the Welsh Labour conference in Llandudno in February, when First Minister Carwyn Jones said that he wanted to distance his party’s Welsh election campaign from developments in a way that implicitly identified Corbyn as the main problem.

The second occasion was in the specific circumstances of the Ken Livingstone “anti-semitism” media storm. Carwyn Jones not only called for Ken’s immediate expulsion from the party (displaying rather less respect for due process than one might expect from a trained barrister) but decided (supposedly in agreement with Jeremy) that the leader’s planned visit to Wales should be cancelled, giving rise to the headline “Carwyn bars Corbyn” on the front page of the Western Mail. Carwyn disputed the word “bar” in an email to party members but was evasive about who had initiated the change of plan and could not explain a press comment from an unnamed “source” to the effect that efforts to present Carwyn publicly as the only credible First Minister were a “a difficult sell with Jeremy”.

The latter was one of the few noteworthy incidents in a campaign generally free not only of drama but of serious political discussion (not helped by Labour holding back its – perfectly worthy – manifesto until halfway through the short campaign).

To the disappointment, no doubt, of Corbyn-bashers, Labour lost less ground than predicted, losing only one of the thirty seats it held before 5 May. This outcome does understate, to some extent, a drop of 7.6 per cent and 5.4 per cent, respectively, in Labour’s share of the constituency and list votes, but there was at least no loss of ground to the Tories, who failed to take any of their targets and slipped back behind Plaid Cymru. It was to Plaid leader, Leanne Wood, that Labour lost its one seat: the Rhondda, where she was able to stand (for the first time, under new rules) as a constituency, as well as a regional list candidate and defeated Public Services Minister, Leighton Andrews, a ’big beast’ from the right of the party.

Otherwise, despite squeezing Labour majorities in Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly and Cardiff West, Plaid failed to make gains and it was, unfortunately, only UKIP who advanced across Wales, winning representation for the first time with a group of seven, now headed by the odious Neil Hamilton. Much of UKIP’s vote – as in last year’s general election – was a direct transfer from Labour, reflecting a sense of disillusionment and abandonment on the part of working-class voters in declining post-industrial communities and emphasising the enormity of the task Labour faces to win back many of its core voters who began to lose faith during the Blair years.

Labour’s one lost seat put the party at a two-vote disadvantage in the Senedd when the new Assembly met for the first time on 11 May. Following inconclusive talks with Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood was nominated as First Minister, in opposition to Carwyn, and dramatically won the support of Tory and UKIP AMs, which resulted in a tied vote (only the vote for Carwyn by the Lib Dems’ one remaining Member, Kirsty Williams, prevented Leanne from winning office). This unexpected deadlock prompted sharp condemnation of Plaid by Labour members and commentators, for accepting the support of the right, although it remains unclear how far Plaid actively solicited their votes (it seems likely that someone in Plaid – even if not Leanne – approached the Tories and UKIP).

Urgent talks between Labour and Plaid then ensued, producing an agreement based not on coalition but on agreed priorities for the new Assembly’s first 100 days and ongoing consultation via three newly-established committees. With Carwyn finally confirmed as first minister on 18 May, he appointed a new cabinet in which right-wingers were noticeably more prominent than before; Kirsty Williams was rewarded for her earlier support with the Education brief; and leading left-winger, Mark Drakeford was unfortunately moved away from the health brief (albeit to the substantial portfolio of Finance and Local Government). With the steel crisis just the most pressing of many formidable challenges, this new Cabinet has its work cut out.

This article was written for the current edition of  Original Labour Briefing magazine.