Labour is not what it used to be

Plaid on the rise

"I tell you one thing, I’m not voting Labour again."

At the beginning of the campaign, I should have decided to take a dictaphone with me to record the number of times I’ve heard people say this to me on the streets of South Wales. There is anger in their voices as they are forced to admit that the Labour Party is ‘not what it used to be.’ From Tony Blair’s Iraq War, to the Cash for Honours scandal, to Rhodri Morgan’s weak team of AM’s in the Assembly, this election could be the Labour election meltdown that the ‘National’ media choose to ignore while they scuttle to Scotland for the predicted SNP win.

As a first time candidate, and one of the youngest candidates at 25 years of age, I didn’t quite know what to expect. In the area where I grew up, you could put anyone up for Labour and they would walk it. For that reason alone, I didn’t anticipate being openly welcomed on the doorstep or on the streets as a Plaid candidate only twenty minutes down the road! But people are beginning to realise that the Labour party that they were born and bred to believe in, and to support, is a party far removed from our communities today – it is the party of super rich city bankers and non domiciled foreign tycoons not ordinary working people.

‘My brother died in Iraq. They didn’t give us any help or support’, a Bridgend resident tells me as he passes me on the street. ‘And my wife’s just had a baby, but the stress of getting her in to Hospital was too much. Labour’s ruined our health service’.

On another occasion, a woman in the Neath valley tells me about the campaign of her village against the LNG pipeline, a massive £800m project that has been rubber stamped by the DTI without any local consultation on the matter.

The defining issue of this election locally has been the Government’s plans to centralise adult neurosurgery services from Swansea to Cardiff. The issue has been kicked into touch until after the election. The problem for the Labour party is that they have form. Before the 2003 election they did exactly the same with Children’s neurosurgery services before centralising immediately after the election. Needless to say Labour’s promises are being considered with a great deal of scepticism.

Plaid conversely is having a great election. The opinion polls put us clearly in second and in a position to challenge Labour for the first time since 1999. We are the party picking up the meltdown in Labour support. People on the door are genuinely excited by our positive message – it’s more than just a protest vote.

To date, Scotland has been the story of these elections. Whilst nobody will be happier than me to see our SNP colleagues win on Thursday, perhaps Wales will once again provide an equally important story. Perhaps Tony Blair will utter even greater expletives today than what he offered in 1999 – a fitting end to decade of wasted opportunity.

Bethan Jenkins is Plaid’s Lead Candidate in South Wales West and is the national organiser of Cymru X the party’s youth wing.
Photo: Getty Images
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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.