Aug 24 2004

Welsh election results

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 08RCN @ 2:32 pm

Mike Davies gives his views on the council and Euro-elections in Wales

Ten candidates for the Welsh Euro-election seats left the two left parties squeezed badly. Forward Wales, whose lead candidate Ron Davies surprisingly failed to gather much in the way of media attention, polled 17,000 votes (1.9%) fairly evenly across the country. Respect polled a poor 0.6% – worse than any region in England. This was despite including an imam on their list and launching its Welsh campaign in a mosque – but Galloway has little pulling power in Wales and there is only a small Muslim community. FW stood on a People Before Profits platform and Davies pledged to take the average workers’ wage if elected. This was the first time the vast majority of Welsh voters would have heard of Forward Wales, formed just eight months earlier. In many respects it was putting down a marker for future activity and expansion outside its stronghold in North East Wales.

It’s cold comfort to note that the two extreme-right parties, the BNP (2.9%) and UKIP (7.4%), performed significantly worse than in England.

The other story of the Euro-election in Wales was the ability of Labour to retain its 32% share of the vote while Plaid Cymru slipped back badly to 17%. Its problems mirror those of the SNP in that its appeal to left and right is unsustainable. In recent years it has emphasised its cultural nationalism and support for the Celtic Tiger model of the Irish, although without the explicit right-wing shift of Swinney in Scotland. The nationalists’ high-water mark in 1999 is unlikely to be regained, given that many were voting on the back of a sense of national identity that’s since been tarnished by the poor performance of Assembly politicians of all colours. The council election results were far more volatile, with the Liberal Democrats capitalising on Labour’s unpopularity in the cities while Labour managed to claw back two councils from Plaid in the Valleys. Plaid in power had shown themselves to be supporters of PFI and environmentally damaging schemes and voters decided that Labour was a better bet. The Tories barely feature in Welsh local politics but did win affluent Monmouthshire Council as their lone outpost.

What of the left? Six SP candidates in Cardiff and Swansea performed creditably and long-standing SWPer Huw Pudner stood in Neath and got a creditable 28% vote as the sole Respect council candidate.

A grass-roots group called People before Politics won nine seats in Merthyr Tydfil, a sign of frustration with establishment politics and included some progressive elements opposed to opencast mining in the area.

The main left challenge came from Forward Wales. It stood 29 candidates in north and south Wales, getting an average 23% of the vote. It won one council seat in its Wrexham stronghold – Dave Bithell, a local RMT branch secretary and the party’s union organiser, won Johnstown in a straight fight with Labour. FW missed another seat by just seven votes and failed to unseat the council leader by just 14 votes. Given that most of the candidates were community activists who had never stood before, many of the votes were heartening but there is a general perception within the party of an opportunity missed.

Another FW member in Flintshire, Colin Bithell, won a seat as an independent environmentalist along with two others also involved in a long-running campaign against a toxic waste kiln near Buckley. The aftermath in Wrexham has been massive relief among Labourites that they withstood the strong FW challenge. We have since learned that the Liberal Democrats stretched themselves to the limit to put up candidates to try to capitalise on the split Labour vote and they certainly picked up some radical anti-Labour votes at FW’s expense.

The Labour group on the council reacted quickly to the threat and ditched their ineffectual leader. The new leader has pledged to only take the average manual workers’ wage – surely an attempt to undercut FW’s pledge about only taking the average skilled workers’ wage? Despite the frustrating failure to break through, FW has demonstrated it can shift the political landscape in Wales to the left.

What is needed now is to try to overcome the divisions among the left and build on the small successes gained. It is to be hoped that Respect will show the same respect as they did for the SSP in Scotland by not splitting the left vote again.

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Jul 26 2002

Jubilee: Wales

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 02RCN @ 7:27 pm

Mike Davies reports on Welsh Republicans’ preparations for the Royal Visit: Jiwbili ych a fi!

Welsh Socialist Republicans have been at the forefront in building a coalition against the Queen’s Jubilee Jamboree in June. Cymru Goch, Earth First! activists, leading trade unionists and socialists have come together to form an ad hoc group called Stuff the Monarchy to oppose the event.

The weekend of the official celebrations will see a Republican Festival in a Welsh social club called Clwb y Bont, Pontypridd, which has been declared a people’s republic for the duration of the weekend. It’s going to be a vibrant exchange of ideas, debate, music, poetry and videos from struggles around Wales and the world. Speakers include socialist republicans from Scotland and Ireland as well as anti-globalisation campaigners, community activists, trade union militants and direct actionist greens.

The weekend will also be the final chance for campaigners opposing the Queen’s visit to Wales on June 11-13 to get organised. The Festival will also be an informal meeting place for like minded socialists committed to national liberation. We see this as a chance to break with the stale electoralism of the Welsh Socialist Alliance and build a real alliance of socialists, direct action campaigners, trade union militants and community activists who have not been enthused by the lukewarm reformism of the current WSA.

The traditions of republican resistance to the monarchy are well established in Wales. The traditional method for the monarchy to win over the rebellious Welsh was a subtle thing called the Investiture of the Prince of Wales. This imposition first happened soon after military conquest and was repeated whenever the natives got restless. In 1911 and most recently in 1969, there were protests from radicals opposed to British rule in Wales. This very crude symbol of Wales’ annexation by England (no-one seems to remember needing a referendum for that one) remains a live possibility for when Queenie pops off and Charles finally gets a day job. It’s possible that William will be made Prince of Wales, but much will depend on the kind of reception the royals get on their tour of Wales.

Our Stuff the Monarchy campaign isn’t just about the Jubilee – it’s about ensuring that Charles is the last Prince of Wales and urging his Divestiture. It will continue beyond the Jubilee frenzy being whipped up by the Palace media machine and loyal newspapers. They have a steep climb to convince an apathetic population – and a hostile youth – that Royalty means anything to Wales.

There are interesting developments beyond the orthodox (i.e. Brit) left – a new radical language movement called Cymuned (Community) has sprung up in Y Fro Gymraeg (the Welsh-speaking heartlands) with 1100 members in just 10 months. Its recent conference placed it firmly in the camp of non-violent civil disobedience with a commitment to oppose colonialism and racism. It stands up for the rights of a community – the Welsh language community of 500,000 people and specifically the 300,000 or so who live in majority Welsh speaking areas in the West – to exist. It pits that right against the right of an individual and freemarket forces to destroy a fragile community and culture. In these areas at least, it is becoming a mass movement against speculative housing developments that are far beyond the reach of low-paid young local people.

Similarly, campaigners against waste incinerators and further opencast mining in some our most deprived communities are taking new and novel forms of direct action and lobbying to get their message across. All are being ignored by the mainstream political parties.

These new movements are part of a trend against capitalist party politics, against globalisation and for an imaginative rethink on who controls our communities and world. The trend towards direct action rather than electoral success underlines the common consensus that if you vote for Tweedledee or Tweedledum, you end up with Tweedledummer.

Welsh Socialist Republicans who are casting off the tired old orthodoxies of the British left are well placed to take their part in this new alliance of rebel forces.

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