I had a phone call this morning from a party member asking which way I intend to vote in the leadership elections.
Of course I know all the candidates well but I have never tried to persuade party members on which way they should vote. The Newport West Executive decided not to nominate. I have no quarrel with that. Members will make their own minds up.
My caller today asked why I have not declared support for Jeremy Corbyn. He is my closest friend among the candidates. I have spoken on more public platforms with him in recent years than any other MP. Tribune has forecast that I will be offered a star shadow cabinet role if Jeremy is elected! On all the key issues of war and environment in the Commons, we both always speak and vote on the same side.
Today’s Western Mail reports that Jeremy has just read the book Clear Red Water and enthusiastically supports its message. I wrote the introduction to the book and remain its greatest fan. (Below). So why am I not voting for him for leader? It’s because Labour is a national political party, not a pressure group. It’s futile being ideologically perfect but politically impotent. We can change the leader: we cannot change the electorate.
There were small parties in the General Election who campaigned on the green and radical policies that Jeremy and I espouse. Their support was minute. Some voters backed us both Jeremy and I for our left of centre views. Most voted for our Labour Party ticket. It's a myth that there is an untapped reservoir of radical votes.
I would love to believe that a Government with Jeremy’s policies could be elected in 2020. It would create a fairer, more rational and peaceful country. The achievements of the great 1945-51 Government could be repeated. If only. Between the dream and the reality falls the leaden curtain truth. Sadly, I fear that the Government of Attlee and Bevan would not be elected in 2020. I write as one of only a handful of MPs who worked in the 1945 election. I was a precocious ten-year-old political nerd but the excitement and pride in achievement are precious living memories.
The party must have a chance of changing its mind on this vote with a fresh election in two years time. If the victor is as popular as the party then she/he would be re-elected. Meanwhile we have the deadly serious job of exposing the policies of injustice, bad science, greed and environmental vandalism of the present Government. We can best do that by uniting and working under the new leader whoever she/he is.
CLEAR RED WATER
by Paul Flynn
This book is a delight tempered with shame for me because my appreciation of the philosophy and pioneering work WAG was so deficient. How could I have missed so many of the achievements of of the Welsh Assembly Government?
This is a splendid time to top up my knowledge banks. We are on the brink of the Obama revolution. Political certainties are collapsing and the world economy is convulsed. Welsh Labour is receptive to fresh ideas that challenge the superficial canards of New Labour.
The Labour movement has been hurt by bewildering self-destructive polices from Westminster. On the gravest error the Iraq War, the Labour Party in Wales had their objections silenced by bureaucratic procedure. An explosion of anger from a lifelong Labour supporter Professor Peter Hennessy in January 2009 illustrates the depth of the wound. In answer to a question on why the Labour Cabinet did not insist on seeing the full advice on the legality of the war, Peter said: ' We need to know the degree to which they did or did not test out this little shrivelled opinion. Did anyone ask for a fuller one? Under the Ministerial code they are meant to have the full Attorney General's legal opinion but they did not get it, did they? I have a suspicion not one of them spoke up. An injection of water would have stiffened those bastards' backbones.'
This is the authentic exasperated anger at the wayward drift of New Labour from our core values. Our subservience to American’s Neo-cons was our foulest hour. Many opportunities have been neglected and much of the value of Labour's electoral victories were dissipated in fruitless meandering into political dead-ends. Happily, Labour in Wales has embarked on its voyage across the clear red water. Nick Davies and Darren Williams reveal the divergence between Classic Labour and New Labour. In Wales Labour has clung to the party’s traditional values avoiding much of New Labour’s perverse shift to the false gods of fashionable modernisation, (Hobson’s) choice, 'contestability' and the supremacy of the market. With commendable objectivity the authors have chronicled the chosen paths of Welsh Labour. The Welsh Assembly has sought an equality of outcome rather than an equality of opportunity. Consumerism is rejected in favour of a collective voice. Mark Drakeford the guru of Welsh Labour argues that ‘ Services that are reserved for poor people very quickly become poor services’ but universal services can be the ‘glue that binds together a complex modern society.’ Free school breakfasts are provided in Wales for all pupils not just for those stigmatised as needy.
Unfortunately Welsh Labour's passage across the red water encounters some treacherous rocks. The inbuilt conservatism of officials and the power retentive neurosis of Welsh MPs are formidable obstructions. The institutional inertia of the Civil Service mandarins has passed almost unchanged from Westminster to Cardiff. Davies and Williams write: 'The policy of delivery of profound change to the marginalised is entrusted to officials schooled in the arts of deliberate administrative adjustment, ensuring that that anything remotely radical or ambitious passes through a series of filters that serve, all too frequently to mitigate its impact.’ Some Labour MPs have perpetuated their traditional role as a drag anchor on devolution. In 1950 only 5 Welsh MPs backed the call for devolution. Some MPs campaigned to sabotage party policy in the two referendums. The recent alleged slow motion implementation of Legislative Competence Orders has reinforced the suspicion that MPs feel threatened by the movement of power down the M4 to Cardiff. Loss of Welsh Parliamentary seats is the likely outcome of the evolution of Welsh autonomy. Nothing concentrates the mind more than the prospect of an approaching P45. A small group of MPs remain in denial of devolution. Speaker Betty Boothroyd intervened in the fisrt year of WAG to block MPs questions on matters that had clearly been devolved to Cardiff. The shock of the election of non-Labour MPs in Llanelli, Islwyn and the Rhondda in 1999 still reverberates. A renewed bid for the hegemony of MPs over AMs was recently made on the basis that more votes are cast in General than in Assembly Elections. Why stop there? On that argument, MPs should also determine Council and European Parliamentary decisions. Welsh MPs’ attempts to obstruct the One Wales coalition agreement were emphatically rejected by the party in Wales. But fear that coalition would dilute Labour's radical policies were unfounded.
On health the coalition government has strengthened the commitment to ‘move purposefully to end the internal market.’ by merging the functions of trusts and Local Health Boards. Support for WAG policies has been unreliable and spasmodic in the greater party. Sniping from London ministers still undermines the independence of decision-making. There is permanent irritation at Westminster that a Labour controlled body can stray from the revealed truth of the fashionable, often short-lived, nostrums of New Labour. It was a courageous Welsh decision to reject PFIs and the instant political gratification they offered. WAG policies will deliver better value and a fully publicly owned NHS in the long term.This is in the tradition of the founding father Aneurin Bevan. Prolonging the existence of Community Health Councils has been a popular success that reflects the respect for patient involvement.
I recall the pride of Ron Davies when he added the word 'sustainable' to the Wales Act. We are one of only three nations in the world to have a duty of sustainable development enshrined in our constitution. The Assembly has redefined sustainability as: ‘Improving people’s quality of life and well-being, while using environmental resources sustainably, so that development does not compromise the quality of life of future generations.’ To their great credit the Welsh Assembly Government has earned universal praise for its imaginative pursuit of practical sustainable policies that are ‘the single organising principle for all parts of the public sector.’ The hope is that our global footprint could be reduced to that of a ‘one planet nation’.
The leadership of First Minister Rhodri Morgan has been the inspiration for the loyalty to 'Classic Labour'. In two major speeches he has differentiated Welsh Labour from New Labour. Rhodri’s recipe for Wales is more ‘participative than passive’ and the role of the state as a force for good in politics. It’s refreshing that the Welsh Government has the stated aim of Welsh socialism for the 21st century. This is founded on Welsh working class idealism exemplified by Chartism and the immense achievements of the 1945-51 Labour Government. The present political turmoil has undermined the laissez-faire nostrums of Thatcherism and Blairism. Light touch state intervention has allowed the market to gorge, exploit and pillage. The future is malleable and it will be receptive to a freshened socialist creed.
Nick Davies and Darren Williams have produced a fair-minded thorough account of the ambitions, achievements and failures of the limited Welsh home-rule that we enjoy. Even those who are in daily contact with the microsurgery of nation building will learn a great deal from thier account of the struggle for a distinctive Welsh Way to challenge the Third way. Rightly, they complain of the widespread lack of understanding and promotion of the achievements of WAG. News from WAG is dominated by media-encouraged ephemeral crises and rows. The daily trivia obscures the big picture that is brilliantly presented here. Welsh Labour has demonstrated that a practical alternative exists to the policies pursued by New Labour in England. Welsh Labour Grassroots has developed as the thinking conscience of the labour movement in Wales. It will greatly influence the direction of Welsh politics in the advance towards a brave new Wales.