A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Monday, May 05, 2008

What happened in Wales?

I'm intrigued to know exactly why the results on Thursday in Wales were quite so bad.

Part of the explanation is maths - every seat was up for election, not just the 1/3 of seats in most English councils.

But even so Wales accounted for 133 of Labour's 331 losses.

Anyone know what this was about?


Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

Just pure speculation on my part, but could there have been some sort of psychological knock-on effect in Wales from the outcome of the last general election in Scotland, with the arrival of an SNP administration and its seeming success since then?

1:39 pm, May 05, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forget the politics of it, it was appalling organisation. Every candidate in every winnable ward should aim to speak to 2/3 of the residents of that ward in the year before the election. Wales didn't - their voter ID rate was appalling. Why haven't modern campaigning techniques of sheer graft on the doorstep combined with clear ward-level messages and using Contact Creator to its fullest potential, forgetting about nonsense like the NCC, phone ID, posters etc. penetrated Wales?

1:59 pm, May 05, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a complex thing. Poor organisation is part of it, but that poor organisation is driven by the mistaken belief that working class voters will always vote Labour.

Partisan dealignment is going on at breakneck speed in Wales - why else would voters in Islywn have elected a Nat back in 1999? But the party leadership isn't interested in that - instead Rhodri thinks his populist style and a refusal to even consider serious public service reform (to keep the unions happy) will do the trick.

Well, plainly it doesn't.

Obviously the UK wide balls ups don't help, but the problem in Wales is much deeper and nobody really wants to face up to it there.

2:40 pm, May 05, 2008

Anonymous Zokko said...

I'm from Wales and the answer is simple - negative propaganda. Leaflets put through letterboxes from the Opposition Parties have blamed Labour for all sorts of things. For instance, a cafe that closed recently due to its owner retiring alleged that it was because of the smoking ban. Sadly, people were fooled by guff like this.

2:50 pm, May 05, 2008

Anonymous Alun said...

A lot of seats were lost to independents, many of which are former Labour members, some of which are former Labour councillors, all of which have fallen out with the local party machine for one reason or another. In many areas where such people did well there wasn't really a massive movement away from Labour, so much as a massive (and bearing in mind the last Assembly election, entirely predictable) amount of ticket splitting between a favoured Labour candidate (or two) and a favoured independent (or two).

In those areas where the results were *very* bad there were generally nasty local issues floating around; there were some extremely unpopular planning decisions in Torfaen for example.
The two places where we lost large numbers of seats to other parties (rather than to independents) were Carmarthenshire and Cardiff. In the former the bulk of the losses were in Llanelli where the council (run by a coalition of rural independents and Labour before the elections) is *extremely* unpopular. Not quite sure what happend in Cardiff.

Organisation is another problem (and one that reared its head last year as well), and while national issues probably didn't swing all that many voters, in some places we lost a lot of seats by tiny margins...

3:53 pm, May 05, 2008

Anonymous Alun said...

Btw, one thing that no one has mentioned anywhere (so far as I've seen) is that the results in Blaenau Gwent were, *relatively speaking*, actually pretty good, or at least significantly better than expected. We won at least one seat in all but five wards and won more seats than People's Voice in Ebbw Vale.

3:59 pm, May 05, 2008

Blogger Jack Ray said...

presence of serious alternatives to Labour's Left, rather to its Right?

4:00 pm, May 05, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

jack ray

If anything the Nationalists had a worse set of results than Labour.

4:24 pm, May 05, 2008

Blogger Jack Ray said...

eh?... they increased their seats by about 1/5th... how is that worse than Labour?

(add in the seats lost to the various Labour splinter groups and you're looking at a fair old proportion of those seats lost in Wales. The kind of seats that just wouldn't be under threat in England)

4:41 pm, May 05, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Luke wanted a "Compass-ite politics really went down badly" type answer to confirm him in his Blairite complacency, not all this.

5:19 pm, May 05, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There have been big problems in Welsh Labour since Jessica Moroden stood down as General Secretary to become MP for Newport East.

Chris Roberts (an old Labour Morganite fixer) was appointed. He is stuffy and rigid. He has lsot virtually all his staff since taking over and more are leaving almost monthly.

He was reponsible for last year's disateraous Assembly campaign, and this year's local election campaign.

He is "protected" in so far as he is Rhodri's man.

5:31 pm, May 05, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

jack ray,

When your party leader loses his seat and you lose the only council you control then I think it is fair to say you are doing badly.

Groups set up to oppose the election of more women to parliament don't exactly strike me as left wing either.

5:39 pm, May 05, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you never heard the phrase "The Tafia"? Well, after 50 years of Labour manipulation, rigging and nepotism the house of cards has collapsed. If you win elections by fraud and deceit (as with some a bit closer to home, as I understand it), eventually people will come out and string you up to a lamppost with piano wire.

6:34 pm, May 05, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:06 pm, May 05, 2008

Anonymous Alun said...

Blackwood is the political base of that fella that came second in Islwyn in the Assembly elections IIRC

9:03 pm, May 05, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

On a personal note ......just a vote I guess ...but ..!

My mother's 75... and lives in Caerphilly ,she has always voted in every election and it has always been labour (yet she is not a party member) So have most of her social group (mostly welsh methodists)

...This is the first time EVER she has voted for someone else... (Plaid ,her friends have too)

There was some disgust at Ron over his lies , but in main was the feeling of dissolution and disappointment against the labour party she had always known ....There was no connection or feeling a part of it ... anymore ....

Taxes ..crime and general perception of dishonesty and contempt ....
...She no longer trusts the party any more than she would vote conservative (never ever)

Its not just Gordon ...Its a growing contempt towards Tony and his brazen gravy train... and a belief that any of his successors will be any different...

Plus labour at the begging bowl towards Plaid didnt help

" Why haven't modern campaigning techniques of sheer graft on the doorstep combined with clear ward-level messages and using Contact Creator to its fullest potential,"

"A lot of seats were lost to independents, many of which are former Labour members, some of which are former Labour councillors, all of which have fallen out with the local party machine for one reason or another."

Resolute faith and trust is a hard thing to manipulate by marketing....Hard marketing will only increase contempt...

People who are leaving to become independents are respected .

Galloway choose a good word , I guess ..means a lot ...yet it seems that labour has lost it in the valleys amoung some life long voters it seems .!

10:45 pm, May 05, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

Looking at the results, many of the losses were to independent candidates - which suggests that it was more disillusion with Labour nationally than enthusiasm for the Tories.

But clearly Wales is an area where Labour traditions run deep, and I don't think that current events within Labour will win many friends there

11:18 pm, May 05, 2008

Blogger Jack Ray said...

@anonymous:did Plaid lose any of those seats to Labour? In fact, given that their total gains elsewhere in country are minus those losses to Llaid Gwynedd (who also took seats off Labour, no?), that means they most likely took even more seats off your lot...

As for People's Voice, who do you suppose are voting for them? Given the demographics of the ward ... mysogynists anonymous, or just plain old traditional labour voters?

12:20 am, May 06, 2008

Blogger transfattyacid said...

maybe welsh voters have stopped acting like sheep

12:53 am, May 06, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

jack ray,

When the French Communist party collapsed a large number of its working class supporters switched straight over to the Front National.

Who was to blame - the Stalinist liars of the PCF or the idiot voters who backed fascists?

10:01 am, May 06, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, that's the thing the people who've never had the misfortune to meet Ron don't get.

It's not the sex thing that did for him. It's the lies. I wouldn't trust him to tell me the time.

10:04 am, May 06, 2008

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

The postings here have confirmed my earlier questioning the ability of English (and, sorry I should have said Welsh) Labour to learn the election lessons, just as with Scottish Labour last time.

1. A few remarks here betraying the mentality of ‘blame-it-on-anything- but-the-fundamental-issues’:

- Poor organisation (yes, yes, yes, but why, the stalwarts are gone?)
- Negative propaganda by the Opposition (particularly weak argument that)
- Independents who had fallen out with Labour (so Labour cannot compete with single independents?)
- ‘Nasty’ local issues (my, my, that’s a first you'd never see coming in an election)

2. And then there is the outright in-denial mindset:

‘there wasn't really a massive movement away from Labour’

‘the results in Blaenau Gwent were, relatively speaking, actually pretty good, or at least significantly better than expected.’

‘the Nationalists had a worse set of results than Labour’

3. That the problems are so fundamental (worst results maybe since after WW2?) is demonstrated by:

‘When your party leader loses his seat and you lose the only council you control then I think it is fair to say you are doing badly.’

4. In contrast I found especially telling the (sadly anon) posting that starts:

‘On a personal note ......just a vote I guess ...but ..!’

5. Worryingly echoing the Scottish scenario is that other (again sadly) anon posting starting:

‘Have you never heard the phrase "The Tafia"? Well, after 50 years of Labour manipulation, rigging and nepotism the house of cards has collapsed.’

12:22 pm, May 06, 2008

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


in the context of Scotland and Wales and some safe Labour bits of northern England, it's not that "the stalwarts are gone", it's that they were never there as these parts of the UK have never had the mass membership Labour Party that has existed at times in London and other big cities.

The party in central Scotland and South Wales was historically small in most CLPs and dominated by councillors and their relatives and got away with doing next to no campaigning because you weighed the Labour vote and there was no opposition.

When I worked for the Party in the mid-90s, when we had 400,000 members countrywide, my memory it that there were only just over 20,000 in Scotland, of which getting on for half were in just 4 CLPs where there were peculiar local scenarios, e.g. it was compulsory to join the Party if you wanted to join the Labour Clubs (i.e. bars) in Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley - and there were Glasgow CLPs where we got 60% of the vote and held every council seat but had just over 60 members!

The failiure to do effective canvassing in many CLPs in Scotland and Wales isn't new - it dates back to the 1920s when they didn't go for the mass membership model Herbert Morrison developed in London.

1:11 pm, May 06, 2008

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

I have no idea of how many of us Scots join the party in Scotland but with due respect I don't think that is relevant.
We used to live in a situation where the gross of the working class in Scotland supported us because they believed a Labour Government would deliver for them. On their backs we stormed into office in 1997.
Increasingly I heard before the GE last year many people started to say they could not identify themselves with the Labour Party and so voted SNP on election day.
Was that due to poor canvassing? Maybe, but I would put the swing down to Iraq and the SNP adopting Old Labour ideals (scrapping tuition fees, scrapping toll charges, end of prescription charges, halting the closure of A+E departments, stopping the privatisation of Scottish Water, stopping right to buy and building more council housing, saying no to the nuclear deterrent as well as ruling out nuclear power among other things).
The minority administration's popularity in Scotland is telling.
I have to say if it were not for their independence policy and I was back home I would have voted SNP.
I don't know if you had ever watched a programme called "The Deal" showcasing Blair and Brown's rise. A lot of conjecture I am sure but there is a piece that has stuck in my head, when the two men argued over Blair's decision to stand as Labour Leader
Brown says,
"I can carry Scotland, Wales and the North of England!"
Blair retorts
"So what? They don't matter! I can carry the south and middle England and that is what matters"

OK, it’s a work of fiction (maybe it was never said like that) but the working people in our traditional areas don't really get a look in at the policy level, because we are possessed by the "Middle England" mentality. This makes them dispossessed by the party that they thought stood up for them, and rightly or wrongly they switch their votes, not to the Tories on the right, but rather the SNP on the left, who seem far better socialists that the Scottish Labour party.

2:13 pm, May 06, 2008

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

On an additional point many people join a political party because they believe in the policies that party pursues, ergo if there is a drop in membership the party has lost it's appeal to the grassroots. Get the right mix of socialism (ie traditional left and right of the the Labour party) you will attract more people to our cause.

2:17 pm, May 06, 2008

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

Luke I'm sorry but I really do not see what you're getting at.

Of course Scotland (as with Wales) always had historically low levels of membership as compared with (many parts of )England. Although I think your caricature of local 'cooncillors' domination is a tad overdone unless it is restricted to more relevant to recent decades - in many constituencies trade unions were/are often the real power-broking force, and in some specific constituencies it was the Roman Catholic block.

My lead-up point is that indeed most of what you describe was there in Scotland and hence the eventual collapse of the house of cards - and all the rest. My subsequent point is to ask whether English Labour are capable of taking heed of what has more recently happened in Scotland and act accordingly. Because in the meantime English Labour has come more and more to replicate some of the negatives in the Scottish Labour infrastructure.

2:26 pm, May 06, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with anonmous regarding Chris Roberts and other Labour staff in Wales.


7:02 pm, May 06, 2008

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I don't know Chris but I think it is a bit unfair to use this forum to publicly criticise Party staff - our employees as members - as they are not in a position to answer back. None of us who are not party employees would like it if our employers criticised our performance on a blog.

8:19 pm, May 06, 2008

Blogger Quink said...

I can't speak for Wales, but John Cruddas seemed to sum the national situation up well in today's Times:

“There is a shift in Conservatism. It doesn’t fall out the sky with a couple of posh boys. They are talking the language of relationships and fraternity and we are talking about precision-bombing messages to specific cohorts of swing voters – it’s so old-fashioned"

That's probably one very big reason people aren't coming out to vote for Labour.

10:47 pm, May 06, 2008

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

Right on Luke about the unfairness of comments on individual staff - especially when the sniper is cloaked under anon.

Quink that's a really telling quote from John Cruddas - leaves you just feeling 'theres something to this'.

10:20 am, May 07, 2008

Anonymous Jeff Jones said...

The real question that should be asked is why individuals who are saying what they believe is the truth about the party organisation in Wales feel that they have to remain anonymous. Peter Hain was right yesterday when he said that blaming the 10p tax issue is too simplistic an explanation for the May 1st results in Wales. In many parts of Wales the party is a shell and has been for years. Party organisation is almost non existent and campaigning often consists of pushing a leaflet through the door the week before the election day. Many councillors do not hold surgeries, don't issue newsletters and never appear in the local press. When asked by journalists to comment on issues the standard answer is often 'no comment'. Welsh society is changing and has been for over 30 years. It is only the older generation who will vote Labour come hell and high water. Even then they are just as likely to vote for the ex Labour councillor standing as an independent particularly if they believe that person has been unfairly treated by the local party. Very few young people are joining the party and we should be asking why this is the case. I joined in 1968 and I'm still one of the younger members of my branch. I joined because I believed and still believe despite everything that the Labour Party is the only party capable of changing society for the better. We are a democratic socialist party or we are nothing. Our values will always be the same as they were at the beginnning of the 20th century. But we need to debate how we can adapt those values to a new century. A debate which should be conducted in a comradely fashion as it used to be before the trauma of the early 1980s turned genuine disagreement over policy into something akin to heresy in a religious cult. We need discipline to win and some of the comments about Gordon Brown from people who should know better are frankly reckless in electoral terms and ridiculous in personal terms. But we must also have the confidence to allow debate and discussion so that policy can develop and new members will once again be attracted to the party.The more members we have the more likely we are to reflect society and be better able to address the concerns of our fellow citizens. The strength of the 120 strong GMC meetings that I attended as a delegate in the 1980s was that you knew that it spoke for the people of the area. In the words of Aneurin Bevan it articulated the hopes and aspirations of local people. We need to once again ensure that the party does this again or otherwise we face continued decline in many parts of Wales.

3:00 pm, May 12, 2008

Blogger David said...

Jeff’s analysis is largely spot on in my view. The party has atrophied and Welsh society has changed drastically in the last two decades. Add in the impetus toward partisan dealignment caused by devolution and Labour in Wales has to face up to possible meltdown two years Thursday. We will not make the party face up to the scale of its’ problems without stating them bluntly, but I think Luke is right to keep the focus off individual party employees. There are clearly very serious issues within Transport House, and on a strategic level priorities need to be set that take account of both straightened circumstances and the potential vulnerability of so many seats. I can’t see Cardiff North being given up while Rhodri remains in ultimate charge, but whoever succeeds him next year will give it much less attention. Huw Lewis has set out some interesting, if slightly implausible given the party’s present financial position, ideas which at least give evidence that he sees the need to change the culture and is thinking along positive lines. Andrew Davies appears to have the weight of Unite behind him and clearly has his own agenda for the Party but has chosen to keep it to himself for now. Carwyn Jones is known to be keen on appealing to ‘Welsh Wales’ (Ceredigion, Gwynedd, Carmarthenshire, Pontcanna). These are all areas Labour has already lost to the nationalists, with whom the party is of course in a cosy coalition government committed to a referendum on primary law making powers by 2011.

1:47 am, May 14, 2008


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