We need to re-tune our political antennae in Wales. Our sense of what is relevant is skewed by a London-centric media that conflates English politics with UK politics. It fools us into believing that the UK parties have more to say about Wales than they actually do. Where is the debate about Wales and what our future looks like, what it could be like if we step up and demand (or build) something better? We are allowing the conversation we could be having to be drowned out by the noise coming from over the border.
This blog is sort of my first commission. Not in a ‘being on commission‘ sense (although feel free to send a cheque) but in so much as this topic has come up in conversation a few times recently in the context of the May 2017 local election, and several people in the last week have said ‘you should blog about that’. So I here I am. I guess that puts us in a kind of an ‘ideas on a postcard’ kind of a place, so you know what to do…
I am coming to realise that whilst I don’t think of myself as particularly well informed about politics, it’s all relative. I struggle with names for a start, so I just relentlessly get all those middle aged white men in grey suits mixed up. Who are they all anyway? Its a good reason (one of many) to get more women involved in politics, because at least they tend to be more memorable (I need say nothing to justify this statement other than the words Mhairi Black).
I heard the other day, probably on Desolation Radio (thought I’d get my plug in early) that over half of Welsh school children couldn’t name Carwyn Jones when shown a photograph of him (he’s First Minister of Wales – here’s a picture if you aren’t sure either). I rest my case. Let’s just elect Leanne Wood and be done with it, at least we won’t be in danger of losing her in among all the Welsh Labour crusts that have gradually been going stale at the back of the bread bin for 17 years.
And because obviously, she’d be much better at Carwyn’s job. I checked her CV, it’s pretty impressive – she’s got a vision for Wales, unlike Carwyn. She stands up for immigrants, unlike Carwyn. She’s genuine (to be fair, Carwyn seems harmless, if you discount totally failing to stick up for Wales or have any sense of purpose or ambition for the country he supposedly leads). Leanne on the other hand has leadership skills and regularly wipes the floor with people like Alun Cairns and Nigel Farage when they are generally being their obnoxious selves on Question Time (which I am boycotting from now on due to the outrageous bias in panel choice and audience weighting and the woeful chairing).
Oh and Leanne Wood eats internet trolls for breakfast. Fact. So ‘jog on…’.
Anyway, as the title of this blog suggests, I’m getting around to Jeremy Corbyn here, gradually. I don’t particularly want to talk about him, so I suppose I am putting it off. I don’t really want to talk about him because I think he is largely irrelevant to Wales, but I think that we need to chat about it. Because people keep bringing him up in a kind of ‘oh I’m feeling really energised about Labour, and, you know, Momentum are really doing things…‘ kind of a way. Well Momentum may be doing things, in say Liverpool, and Manchester, but the UK Labour Party (which is basically the Labour Party of England) aren’t doing anything that is relevant here. So we need to talk about that.
Last time I checked, Wales was a country. So before I get on to Corbyn, I think we need to think about how political commentary in the media talks about Wales. Take for example the BBC. When the BBC talks about ‘the country’, they include the North of England. Which is actually in a different country to Wales.
Language is very important. I notice increasingly that people, even in Wales, use the term ‘Nationally’ when they want to indicate that they are talking about the whole of the UK, not just Wales. When I hear this I have begun suggesting that perhaps they mean ‘internationally‘ since Wales is itself a Nation. This always goes down really well as you can imagine, but at least it starts a conversation.
This kind of language is dis-empowering, and it encourages us to view politics in the UK as one homogeneous entity. It encourages us to transpose political discourse from England as if it applies whole-sale to Wales. It’s also lazy, because it allows the media to just focus on one narrative, an England-centric one, and sell it as if it is the UK story. It discourages us from being interested in our own story, or noticing that no one is really telling it.
So we must tell it ourselves.
This all sets the tone of the debate in elections such as the one coming up in May next year, and can cause us to miss the point. If when they think about the Labour party, the electorate are focussed on Corbyn, rather than Carwyn Jones, then they are less likely to think about issues in Wales. But of course this suits Welsh Labour. Despite the disarray that the Labour party is in at a UK level, encouraging people in Wales to focus on the debate in England, distracts them from scrutinising what Welsh Labour are doing at home.
Labour have been in power here since the Welsh Assembly was created in 1999. Seventeen years. What have they achieved? They’d rather you didn’t ask.
But so long as people in Wales see Labour through a UK lens, busying themselves with deciding what side of the Corbyn fence they sit, seeing the Tories as the enemy, the less time or inclination they will have to scrutinise what Welsh Labour are actually achieving in power in the Welsh Assembly, which is not very much at all.
So to those who feel inspired by Corbyn, what would I say? I have been having conversations recently with various people who call themselves Corbyn fans, including some who have joined the Labour party for the first time over the last year or so. It’s great that they are engaging with politics, but whose politics? One thing has been a common theme. They don’t know that much about what Labour gets up to in Wales, or in Westminster on Wales’ behalf.
These Corbyn fans and I tend to be on the same page on a lot of things. Seeking social justice. Against military interventionism. Anti-nuclear. Anti-austerity. But I notice that we are on the same page but in different books. My book has a dragon on the cover. Theirs, not so much….
So I usually mention a few things like, do they know that Welsh Labour MPs have voted against / abstained on amendments to the Wales Bill that would have devolved policing and control of natural resources to Wales? Eyebrows go up.
Do they know that although Corbyn is (was) anti-Trident, the majority of Welsh Labour MPs voted to renew the nuclear deterrent at a cost of £2,800 per head in Wales? Labour MPs in almost all of the poorest constituencies in Wales voted for Trident. If you live in Merthyr Tydfil, Rhymney, Blaenau Gwent, Pontypridd, The Rhondda, Aberafan, Alyn and Deeside, Cardiff West, Cardiff South or Bridgend your Labour MP thinks that the best investment of £2,800 per person is to build submarines and arm them with nuclear missiles that we will never use.
Can Corbyn fans name any policy that he has on Wales? What has he actually said about our country and our future? Between us, these fans and I we struggle to come up with much, but the one ‘policy’ I have heard Corbyn espouse, is that he would reopen coal mines in Wales. Come again? Obviously he hasn’t done his homework. When it comes to Wales, Corbyn doesn’t know and he doesn’t really care. He has just grabbed for the only thing he does know about Wales, which is that some coal mining once happened here (I’m understating for effect) and that the closing of Welsh coal mines was pretty controversial. He’s just made up a policy in the pub, based on that. Based on 30 year out of date information. The world has moved on…
Perhaps in fairness, he had done a little bit of homework, but not enough. Or perhaps this policy about coal mines was a badly researched response to an essay question ‘Given the fact that Wales continues to lag far behind the rest of the UK in economic terms, with a GDP lower than that of Slovenia, what economic policies would you suggest to turn this around?’ If reopening coal mines was the best he could come up with then he hadn’t thought about the question for very long. Or perhaps the dog did indeed eat his homework. (He has since retracted the coal mines idea, because pretty much everyone told him it was stupid).
Corbyn just doesn’t have very much to say about Wales at all. In his speech to the Welsh Labour Conference this year, he had very little to say about what a better future for Wales might look like. He talks a lot about the UK, and when he mentions Wales it is to congratulate Welsh Labour on how well they are doing (ahem).
When it comes to matters affecting Wales at a Westminster level, Jeremy Corbyn can’t even be bothered to show up. The Wales Bill has been going through parliament since 2014, with various readings and votes on amendments taking place at intervals. He has been absent on nearly every occasion. When it comes to making a difference to Wales’ future, Jeremy Corbyn is a no show.
So if we are putting all our eggs in the Corbyn basket in Wales, I think we are going to be quite disappointed, and we will have radically missed the point.
Therefore the reason we need to talk about him is not because he has anything relevant to say, but because those who are tempted by the kind of vibe coming from Momentum, might find it more useful to check out what Plaid Cymru are up to. Some way into the ‘did you know’ type conversations, I usually mention that Plaid are pretty hot on social justice etc etc. At this point people usually say, ‘oh, I know – Leanne Wood, she’s great…’. Go figure.
So it’s time to re-tune our antennae to Wales and get involved with a debate that is relevant to us, one that’s actually about Wales. There’s a lot to talk about once we start that conversation.
It’s also time for us all to step up. If we continue to take a dis-empowered, regional, down trodden ‘it’s all someone else’s fault / someone else will fix it’ view of things in Wales, then nothing will ever get any better. We’ll never have an economy that works for everyone. We’ll never sort out education or health. So if you don’t think that Plaid have the answers (I certainly don’t think they have all the answers) then get involved and help shape the conversation.
Meanwhile, if you are a Plaid activist out door knocking in the run up to May 2017, and people say they are going to vote Labour because they like Corbyn and what he stands for, what are you going to talk about? It’s tempting to get sucked into a ‘well, his days are numbered, blah blah blah’ conversation.
This just perpetuates the myth that Corbyn is relevant here.
About a month ago I was given a pamphlet in town by a man who was out with a small group of Labour supporters in Penarth town centre. The leaflet, which was bilingual and therefore definitely printed for a Wales audience, appealed for us to ‘save the NHS’. Save it from whom? Well from the Conservatives of course.
Now, I am a big fan of the NHS, and I think it is vital that we take action to preserve it, free at the point of use, for patients. We should also do what we can to protect its funding, ensure that its hard working staff are properly paid, not overworked etc etc.
But the Tories do not run the NHS in Wales. Labour do. So if we should look to protect it from anyone (cuts to our block payment aside) then it is Labour.
So what were the intentions of Labour supporters in Penarth town centre in handing out these leaflets? At best, it was poorly thought through. At worst, this campaign in Wales was purposefully taking advantage of the fact that fewer than half of the Welsh population know that health is devolved, and is therefore under Labour control. This lack of awareness suits Welsh Labour, because it allows them to spin the ‘save us from the Tories’ line…
It’s easier for Labour in Wales if we allow discussion to happen through an England focussed filter. It’s not that easy for them if we shift the focus closer to home. So that’s what we must do. Plaid Cymru are the only Party of Wales. We have a unique selling point. We are focussed on the issues other parties would have us overlook. We have a spotlight on Wales, and our MPs have a voting record that shows they have Wales’ best interests at heart. We just need to turn that spotlight up really bright and when people come out with all this endless irrelevant tosh about Momentum and what Labour are or aren’t doing in England, we call them on it with facts about Labour in Wales.
You can find out more about Plaid Cymru, The Party of Wales here. If you aren’t sure that they are on the same page as you, then why not join anyway and start influencing? A political party is the sum of it’s parts. If Plaid is going to make substantial game-changing scale gains in Wales, which I believe that they can and they will, then it’s going to need lots of new people with new ideas and lots of energy. Go on, get involved.
Its time to shake things up in Wales.
NEW! Bonus feature:
Due to the popularity of my blogs about learning Welsh, I thought I would introduce a new feature to my regular blogs, by introducing some Welsh vocabulary relevant to the subject area (this is of course, a thinly veiled attempt to attract some of my Welsh learner audience over to my political blogs, but heh ho, we might all learn something…)
Useful Welsh Vocabulary (Geirfa defnyddiol):
Cer o ma, rhedwch ymlaen ellyll erchyll: Jog on, troll.
Siop siafins: a pretty shocking mess – refer to above comments on Welsh Labour’s record in Government
Traed moch: the Welsh equivalent of ‘making a pig’s ear of it’ – as above
Pwll glo: coal mine
Dim clem: clueless
Gwnaeth y ci bwyta fy ngwaith cartref: the dog ate my homework
Cymru? Ble coblyn ydy hynny? : Wales? Is that a region of Northern England?