Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the The University of Edinburgh & Cardiff University's online course, Scotland and Wales Vote 2016: Understanding the Devolved Elections. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 4 seconds So let’s start with the central facts, the central feature of Welsh party politics, which is the dominance of the Labour Party. I recall, recently, I was on the radio, saying that they had just won their 20th UK general election in a row in Wales. And you sent me a note, saying, that wasn’t right. No. No, it was 25. Since the 1918 general election that Lloyd George won, even since then Labour have won– there have been 37 Wales-wide electoral contests, general elections, assembly elections, European parliament elections. Labour have come first in 36 of the 37. So it’s an extraordinary level of dominance. Yeah, consistency of dominance. And what, briefly, is the explanation for that dominance?

Skip to 0 minutes and 50 seconds How do we explain that Labour just seems to be in tune with the Welsh electorate in this kind of quite unusual way? Well, it’s been able to sustain a dominance– initially, it was linked to the establishment of the trade union movement and the growth of that in heavily industrialized society. But I suppose the amazing thing about the Labour party is it’s been able to sustain that, even after all of those industries have pretty much disappeared. Absolutely. And it’s one of what political scientists call a catch-all party. It really does seem to appeal across the piece. Now, they’ve been in power in Wales, either alone or in some form of coalition, since the assembly opened its doors in 1999. Yeah.

Skip to 1 minute and 33 seconds So I assume that, in terms of the election, one of the key arguments against Labour is it’s time for a change and so on and so forth. Is that getting some kind of traction? Or where do we think this is heading? Well, that’s clearly going to be an argument put forward by the major opposition parties, like the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru. But there’s no great sign at the moment that’s having enormous traction. Labour’s still continued to lead in all of the Welsh polls. It’s pretty unlikely that Labour will do as well in Wales this year as they did in 2011, because in 2011, they had their best ever assembly election. And that’s a very high bar to try and match.

Skip to 2 minutes and 16 seconds But Labour can fall by 10 to maybe 15 percentage points from their vote share in 2011 and still probably be comfortably ahead of anybody else. One of the things I think is quite interesting about this election, from the Labour perspective, is one of the key issues, key problems, with dominant parties is renewing themselves. It’s actually quite– dominant parties tend to be very conservative, small c, parties, risk averse. One of the really interesting things about this assembly election is a third of the current Labour assembly group are standing down. So we’re going to see this kind of big renewal, looking forward to the next assembly. And I think that’s quite an interesting development. Yeah.

Skip to 2 minutes and 57 seconds We’re certainly going to see a personnel renewal. Or at least we will if those replacements actually get elected. And we must expect, I think, at least some of them will. Whether that can contribute to a renewal of a sense of purpose, sense of momentum, maybe a renewal of an issue and policy agenda, will be one of the key things to see after the election. I was at the Labour conference in Llandudno the other week. And what was quite striking there, I thought, is one of the things that Welsh Labour has done, unlike Scottish Labour– in 2000, it rebranded itself as Welsh Labour, i.e. not new Labour, not London Labour. And they were kind of playing that differentiation game.

Skip to 3 minutes and 37 seconds That’s something which has been very effective for them, I think. But it’s also something which has, in the past, created some internal tensions where the more devo-skeptic Labour, Welsh Labour MPs in particular, sometimes have been uncomfortable. What was really striking in Llandudno was that I thought that they were much more united behind Carwyn Jones, partly because there’s kind of an anti-Corbyn element within the Welsh Labour party, who are very uncomfortable with what’s happening at the London level. And some of those kind of devo-skeptic MPs seem to be cleaving to Welsh Labour as a way of differentiating themselves, but not in the traditional way that we saw where Carwyn was saying, clear out red water.

Skip to 4 minutes and 17 seconds We’re more left wing than you Labour. Actually, we’re more pro-business than Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party. Yeah. I mean, there was, so at the early part of this century, Rhodri Morgan clearly standing to the left of Tony Blair, positioning Welsh Labour to their left. Now, obviously, Carwyn Jones is standing more to the center or more to the right than Jeremy Corbyn. And I suppose an interesting dynamic there is how there has been something of this division between the Labour Party and the assembly, being pro-devolution. Many of its MPs at Westminster have been quite skeptical. But one thing they can all unite on– a lot of the MPs, are very concerned about the direction of the Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Skip to 4 minutes and 57 seconds They can more easily, therefore, unite behind Carwyn Jones as the clear leader of Welsh Labour. And it’s so interesting. In 2011, Welsh Labour had a fantastic election result in Wales, largely by fighting the assembly election as an opposition party, even though they’d been in government for, by then, 12 years– in opposition to the new Tory governments and their Lib Dem lackeys in number. Yeah, it was a small and nationalist campaign. It was a standing for Wales. That was very much the theme. And fighting it, largely, on the basis of UK-wide politics. This year, Labour are doing exactly the opposite. They’re very much trying to emphasize. This is a Welsh election for a Welsh institution based on Welsh issues.

Skip to 5 minutes and 39 seconds And they’re trying to, as much as possible, avoid discussion of UK level politics and of Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn seems to have maybe fired up some of the Labour party membership in Wales. But clearly, here, as elsewhere, they’ve had problems with him connecting to the electorate as a whole. Just finally, on Labour, let’s just talk about Carwyn Jones. I mean, he is, in a sense, a dominant figure in the Labour party in Wales, and indeed, in Welsh politics. I mean, how important is leadership at the kind of devolved level? We know that there’s a kind of argument about the presidentialization of politics at the kind of UK level.

Skip to 6 minutes and 16 seconds To what extent do we see this at the kind of devolved level too? Well, I think, generally, in the analysis of elections, there’s been an ongoing argument in parliamentary elections how important are leaders? And I think that argument has largely been won now by those who say that leaders are very important. When we look at the context of devolved elections, I think it’s a little bit more subtle. And we have to look at, maybe, the impact of leaders, both at the UK level, and at the devolved level. And I think in Scotland, in 2011, it clearly was much more a Scottish election, where people were focusing on the relative competence of the leaders, maybe as potential first ministers.

Skip to 6 minutes and 56 seconds In Wales, the research did suggest that attitudes towards the UK level leaders was more important than it was in Scotland. But it also says, still, that the basic abilities of the leaders at the devolved level matters. And it matters both as how do you see these people as potential first ministers, but also simply because these are low profile elections. And the dominant face and voice of each party, the main person articulating their message, will be the leader. Yeah. And there’s no doubt that Carwyn Jones is a real asset for Labour in that context. Yeah. All the polls have consistently been showing him as one of the most, if not the most, popular politician in Wales.

Skip to 7 minutes and 35 seconds And in a low attention election, you need your leader to be articulating your message effectively. And there’s every sign that that’s till the case for Welsh Labour. They still have a leader that can do that pretty well.

The Welsh Labour Party

Richard Wyn Jones and Roger Scully of Cardiff University discuss the Welsh Labour Party’s leadership, history and future.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Scotland and Wales Vote 2016: Understanding the Devolved Elections

The University of Edinburgh