What is it with Labour leaders?

How Plaid Cymru abandoned some of the traditional ways of communicating with voters...

What is it with Labour leaders and announcing retirement dates? Hot on the heels of Blair’s decision that he would not serve a full third term, Rhodri Morgan announced that his preference would be to go in 2009, around halfway through the third National Assembly.

Saying when you intend leaving is never a good thing for a political leader as Blair has found out. It inevitably erodes authority and creates a power vacuum. This problem has dogged New Labour in London, despite having a successor in waiting. Imagine the situation in Wales, where half a dozen names can be thrown into the pot.

The words ‘sack’, ‘ferrets’ come to mind – not necessarily in that order. The situation is compounded in Wales, as the Labour party is fundamentally split between a ‘Unionist’ and ‘Welsh’ wing. Between those in essence who support devolution in an evolutionary manner and those who would pull up the handbrake and look for reverse.

The consequence has been the most basic of election strategies, void from vision and ideas. Surely we have a right to deserve better from a party that has governed for 8 years, and who had driven through a new (very weak) Government of Wales Act, presumably with some idea with what they wanted to do with the new limited powers.

The Labour party are fighting the most negative campaign in modern political history. It seems that the whole campaign is based upon the notion that it’s either them or the Tories. After our leader Ieuan Wyn Jones ruled out serving under a Tory First Minister, Labour’s core message is based on a lie. The final nail came last week when ‘Senior Labour sources’ briefed the BBC that they were actively looking at a Plaid – Labour agreement based on the New Zealand model. No wonder Rhodri has been booed and heckled during this weeks two leadership debates.

The Tories are talking a good game, but two recent polls do not make pleasant reading. David Cameron is desperate for some good news from Wales on Thursday night, but all the evidence seems to suggest that the Tories are failing to mop up votes from Labour’s meltdown.

The Lib Dems have decided to sit the election out, presumably preparing for negotiations after May the 3rd.

All this has gifted an opportunity for Plaid who according to all political commentators in our great nation is fighting the best campaign in our proud history as a party.

On assuming the role of Director of Elections last year, I set ambitious targets for the new National Campaigns Unit the party had set up. I wanted to run the most professional, exciting and innovative campaign in the party’s history.

The party has delivered on all counts. Messaging is consistent and effective; our party’s policy ideas are snazzy and catchy; activists are enthusiastic with well over a million leaflets delivered in 2006 – a non election year; communication techniques are modern and sophisticated. We are ticking all the boxes and more. Admittedly we are faced with a governing party in crisis, but we have made substantial steps forward during this campaign.

The quality of the party’s political broadcasts sums it up really. Pioneering in approach, we have abandoned traditional models and produced a trilogy of broadcasts highlighting some of our exciting policy proposals and creating clear division lines between our approach and the governing party.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xx8Tv-S7W5I

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrEApF62ezU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0sRnWnxebs

I sense a tipping point is out there. The Labour vote is on the verge of relative collapse, and Plaid has put itself in a position to mop up! We’ll have to wait until the early hours of Friday morning to see if we have done enough.

Adam Price MP is Plaid’s Director of Elections. The son of a miner he is also the MP who exposed the Mittalgate scandal and led attempts in Parliament to bring the PM to account over his actions in the run up to the Iraq war.
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.