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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Politics doesn't just connect us to the past and the future – it's what makes us human

To those people who tell me that they’re not interested in politics, I often say: “But politics is interested in you!”

I have long been haunted by a scene in George Orwell’s great novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Winston Smith, the hero, is forced to watch propaganda films depicting acts of war and destruction. He is moved by something he sees: a woman trying to protect a child by wrapping her arm around him as they are attacked. It’s a futile gesture. She cannot shield the boy or stop the bullets but she embraces him all the same – before, as Orwell writes, “The helicopter blew them both to pieces.”

For Winston, what Orwell calls the “enveloping, protecting gesture” of the woman’s arm comes to symbolise something profoundly human – an expression of selflessness and of unconditional love in an unforgiving world. Scenes such as this we now witness daily in footage from the besieged eastern Aleppo and other Syrian towns, people in extreme situations showing extraordinary dignity and kindness.

I read Nineteen Eighty-Four for the first time in late adolescence. I’d dropped out of sixth-form college without completing my A-levels and was commuting on a coach from my parents’ house in Hertfordshire to London, where I worked as a junior clerk for the Electricity Council. During this long daily journey – sometimes two hours each way – I started to read seriously for the first time in my life.

I was just getting interested in politics – this was the high tide of the Thatcher years – and Orwell’s portrayal of a dystopian future in which Britain (renamed “Airstrip One”) had become a Soviet-style totalitarian state was bleakly fascinating. Fundamentally the book seemed to me to be about the deep ­human yearning for political change – about the never-ending dream of conserving or creating a better society.

Nineteen Eighty-Four was published in 1949 (Orwell died in January 1950, aged 46), at a time of rationing and austerity in Britain – but also of renewal. Under the leadership of Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill’s deputy in the wartime coalition, the Labour government was laying the foundations of what became the postwar settlement.

The National Health Service and the welfare state were created. Essential industries such as the railways were nationalised. The Town and Country Planning Act was passed, opening the way for the redevelopment of tracts of land. Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent was commissioned. New towns were established – such as Harlow in Essex, where I was born and brought up.

To grow up in Harlow, I now understand, was to be part of a grand experiment. Many of the families I knew there had escaped the bomb-ruined streets of the East End of London. Our lives were socially engineered. Everything we needed was provided by the state – housing, education, health care, libraries, recreational facilities. (One friend described it to me as being like East Ger­many without the Stasi.)

This hadn’t happened by accident. As my father used to say, we owed the quality of our lives to the struggles of those who came before us. The conservative philosopher Edmund Burke described society as a partnership between “those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born” – and I find this idea of an intergenerational social contract persuasive.

Progress, however, isn’t inevitable. There is no guarantee that things will keep getting better. History isn’t linear, but contingent and discontinuous. And these are dark and turbulent new times in which we are living.

A civil war has been raging in Syria for more than five years, transforming much of the Middle East into a theatre of great-power rivalry. Europe has been destabilised by economic and refugee crises and by the emergence of insurgent parties, from the radical left and the radical right. The liberal world order is crumbling. Many millions feel locked out or left behind by globalisation and rapid change.

But we shouldn’t despair. To those people who tell me that they’re not interested in politics, I often say: “But politics is interested in you!”

And part of what it means to be human is to believe in politics and the change that politics can bring, for better and worse.

What, after all, led so many Americans to vote for an anti-establishment populist such as Donald Trump? He has promised to “make America great again” – and enough people believed him or, at least, wanted to believe him to carry him all the way to the White House. They want to believe in something different, something better, in anything better – which, of course, Trump may never deliver.

So politics matters.

The decisions we take collectively as ­humans have consequences. We are social creatures and rational agents, yet we can be dangerously irrational. This is why long-established institutions, as well as the accumulated wisdom of past generations, are so valuable, as Burke understood.

Politics makes us human. It changes our world and ultimately affects who we are and how we live, not just in the here and now, but long into the future.

An edited version of this essay was broadcast as part of the “What Makes Us Human?” series on BBC Radio 2’s “Jeremy Vine” show

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage