Sep 13 2005

Forward Wales In Meltdown

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 11RCN @ 2:33 pm

Forward Wales is in meltdown after losing many of its leading activists including its sole councillor Dave Bithell, the National Secretary and International Organiser.

The party’s website has been under construction for the past four months and members haven’t received a newsletter from the Wrexham HQ.

Those who quit are citing disagreements with the political direction of the party – specifically a secret deal party leader John Marek struck with the Tories to stand a spoiling candidate in marginal Cardiff North at the General Election – as well as the lack of internal democracy in the party. This has led, they say, to key decisions made at conference being ignored by Marek and a close clique that surround him.

They are also disillusioned with Marek’s poor performance in the Assembly, where he has put more emphasis on his role as deputy speaker than campaigning for his new party and winning affiliation from unions such as the RMT.

More locally, there has also been dissatisfaction with Marek’s handling of the crisis surrounding the planned redevelopment of Wrexham Football Club’s stadium, in which he has openly aligned himself with disgraced former chairman Mark Gutterman who is hated by fans.

The activists who have left are re-grouping locally in the Wrexham Socialist Forum and include a quarter of the party’s candidates in last year’s council elections.

Fewer than 100 members remain in the party throughout Wales and the number of activists has dwindled dramatically.

A picture emerges of key members quitting

One of the party’s founder members told E&L:

Forward Wales was born from an alliance of former Labourites and socialists who were united in wanting to challenge Labour’s unhealthy grip on Welsh politics. Key differences over the national question were fudged – a fatal mistake with hindsight – but it also emerged that revenge and spite was a more powerful driving force for some of the ex-Labourites than any real desire to build a radical political alternative for Wales.

Forward Wales, which was almost exclusively concentrated in Wrexham and Clwyd South, managed impressive results in those areas in the council elections – standing candidates in more than half the borough’s seats and gaining 23% of the vote. It also played a prominent role in campaigning against the sale of school playing fields and housing stock transfer, which Wrexham tenants rejected decisively.

The ex-member said:

The party was a very real threat to Labour in the north-east and had the potential to win over disillusioned Labourites throughout Wales. But the party’s dependence for its influence and finances on John Marek meant it was vulnerable to an undemocratic clique grouped around the
AM. This led to decisions on candidates being pushed through with no real debate or discussion – what Marek wanted, he got in the end.

There’s no doubt Marek was very generous with his money – he stumped up many thousands personally to pay for the Assembly and the Westminster elections. But he failed to realise that real political change is based on building parties between elections – there was never any money forthcoming for that. The national secretary couldn’t even get stamps to mail out to members at times!

A picture emerges of key members quitting and many more peripheral members drifting away disillusioned with the party’s failure to build on its early promise.

Some founder members, who saw Forward Wales as a Welsh equivalent of the
SSP, have decided to join Plaid Cymru. One former member said:

Plaid Cymru is a socialist party that’s clearly pro-independence. That’s a great step forward from Forward Wales’s fudge and muddle.

It’s possible FW will limp on to the 2007 Assembly elections, partly because Marek can afford to fund another set of candidates and partly because Ron Davies wants to return to political power. But Forward Wales as a political party is dead in the water, reliant on two fading ex-Labour politicians.

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