Wales back in the Red
Darren Williams, Secretary of Welsh Labour Grassroots, analyses the election results in Wales and what they mean for Labour and the campaign against austerity.
Voters across Wales delivered an unequivocal rebuff to the Con-Dems’ austerity policies on 3rd May, with Labour the clear beneficiary. The party made gains – generally substantial – in nineteen of the twenty-one councils that went to the polls, holding its position in the other two. It now controls ten of Wales’ twenty-two unitary authorities: the three major cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, plus all the South Wales valleys councils. The Tories have lost control of the two councils they previously controlled, Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan, with Labour now the largest party in the latter. As for the Lib Dems, they have lost almost half their seats in Wales. In Newport, where they previously ran the council in coalition with the Tories, they have only one councillor left.
The contrast with the last elections in 2008 could hardly be greater. On that occasion, Labour under Gordon Brown was in the depths of its unpopularity, with the long-term damage done by Blair exacerbated by the economic crisis and faux pas like the abolition of the 10p tax rate. The party lost most of its valleys strongholds and was left in overall control of only two councils. This time around, Labour’s strong showing is almost certainly more a vote against the Westminster coalition than a positive vote for Labour – although the widespread support enjoyed by Carwyn Jones’ Cardiff administration will have helped the party capitalise on the Con-Dems’ unpopularity. The new Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood, has acknowledged that Labour turned the elections into a referendum on the UK government, thus squeezing support for her party.
The question for the left now is what newly-elected Labour councils will do with the power they have been given. The party’s record where it has remained in office since 2008 has not been encouraging. In both Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taff (RCT), Labour administrations bullied their workforce with Section 188 notices, threatening mass redundancies if unions failed to accept inferior conditions. (RCT leader, Russell Roberts, has now lost his own seat, to the ‘gratification’ of Unite Wales regional secretary, Andy Richards, who commented at the Cardiff May Day Rally that ‘the wages of political treachery are political oblivion.’)
There are grounds for optimism, however, in the election of a swathe of new left-wing Labour councillors, many of them members of Welsh Labour Grassroots. They will now have to work hard to ensure that Welsh Labour councils offer a real alternative to the cuts-and-privatisation agenda of the outgoing Con-Dem administrations.
This article first appeared on the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) blog, where any comments can also be posted