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The suicide of Britain? Not yet, and here's how it can be avoided

The election has put the Union at risk. Here's how it can be saved. 

The Suicide of Britain. Shocking as this sounds, this was the title of an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times two days after the general election. The article warned that the forces of nationalism were now on the brink of overwhelming the 300 year old Union. It was not wrong.

The election and the Scottish referendum have sent a message loud and clear from all parts of this island that the constitutional status quo is no longer tenable. This is more than just a case of rampant nationalism. The country as a whole, all of it, rejects and repudiates the Westminster bubble. Those Labour activists knocking on doors during the referendum will know what we mean when we say that the anti-Westminster feeling in Scotland was all too familiar. It was the same angry disenchantment found on doorsteps in Doncaster and Dudley, not just Dundee. It is now clear that the defining mission of the future and of our party is nothing short of a constitutional revolution to save our United Kingdom. Like every cause worth fighting for it will be a struggle of the highest order. It will be a desperate battle and carry the most enormous risks. It will involve actually leading people not just listening.

Yorkshire votes for Yorkshire Laws

The ‘vow’, the Kelvin Commission and the Silk Commission were all about powers to the nations, but do nothing to address our country’s rotten, increasingly irrelevant core. Yes, devolution has caused deep imbalances in our constitution. Of course there must be changes so that English MPs can scrutinise English only legislation, but in reality there are few truly English only pieces of legislation. ‘English votes for English laws’ is just the sort of divisive, wedge-driving populist dissimulation the Tories would champion. The imbalances in our constitution go beyond that and now mean that London MPs vote on Yorkshire issues such as transport, but Yorkshire MPs do not have a say on London’s. The answer cannot be one that demotes MPs from other parts of our country and creates constitutional chaos, with different majorities needed depending on the given issue.

Therefore the answer to these problems lies in devolution within England itself - moving power away from the centre. A Devolution that is more than just money and city deals. A Devolution, which is more radical and far reaching than we have ever contemplated before. Ignore what happened before in another political age when Scotland was painted political red and Labour understood middle England – regional government is back. While the Tories and SNP promote politics of division in order to secure power, our abiding mission will be winning power to give it away. Let the forces of conservatism and nationalism play north against south, England against Scotland, rich vs. poor and public vs. private. We will recognise the strength of our common endeavour as a union whilst pushing power down beyond national assemblies and town halls. Putting power as close to citizens as possible as the only sensible policy in this age of permanent technological revolution.

The British are coming

We must also understand that nationalism, be it the SNP version or the English brand the Tories have created, is a symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. The real issue continues to be disenchantment with our system and if we are honest the failure of Labour to connect with the voters who swept it to power in three successive elections. Labour’s founding father, a Scot, said that our fight is not with a class but against a system. He argued that we must offer a platform broad enough for all to stand upon. Such a platform exists that reflects our Party’s values. It is a greater, more expansive, nationalism than Sturgeon or Cameron offers. A confident nationalism that is resilient and outward looking. A nationalism that embraces those of many identities. On its platform and with its values we created institutions such as the NHS - won conflicts to protect the freedoms it stands for. It won a referendum in Scotland and dominated our Olympic Games. It is Britishness.

The article ‘The Suicide of Britain’ lamented that no one was making the argument for our country’s future. That no one was leading the charge for Britain. This is strange - not because support for Britain is so weak, but because the reality is if it were articulated properly its strength would be unbeatable. It is the British mantle that Labour must pick up. Championing a Britishness built on the values of tolerance, creativity, fair play and an outward looking approach to the world. Yes, there is a big tent for Labour to use on the path back to government. Attlee and Blair used it before. Its name is Britannia.

Tim Roca was Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Macclesfield, and tweets at @timroca85. Michael Payne was Labour parliamentary candidate for Newark, who tweets @MichaelPayneUK.

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Why is Labour surging in Wales?

A new poll suggests Labour will not be going gently into that good night. 

Well where did that come from? The first two Welsh opinion polls of the general election campaign had given the Conservatives all-time high levels of support, and suggested that they were on course for an historic breakthrough in Wales. For Labour, in its strongest of all heartlands where it has won every general election from 1922 onwards, this year had looked like a desperate rear-guard action to defend as much of what they held as possible.

But today’s new Welsh Political Barometer poll has shaken things up a bit. It shows Labour support up nine percentage points in a fortnight, to 44 percent. The Conservatives are down seven points, to 34 per cent. Having been apparently on course for major losses, the new poll suggests that Labour may even be able to make ground in Wales: on a uniform swing these figures would project Labour to regain the Gower seat they narrowly lost two years ago.

There has been a clear trend towards Labour in the Britain-wide polls in recent days, while the upwards spike in Conservative support at the start of the campaign has also eroded. Nonetheless, the turnaround in fortunes in Wales appears particularly dramatic. After we had begun to consider the prospect of a genuinely historic election, this latest reading of the public mood suggests something much more in line with the last century of Welsh electoral politics.

What has happened to change things so dramatically? One possibility is always that this is simply an outlier – the "rogue poll" that basic sampling theory suggests will happen every now and then. As us psephologists are often required to say, "it’s just one poll". It may also be, as has been suggested by former party pollster James Morris, that Labour gains across Britain are more apparent than real: a function of a rise in the propensity of Labour supporters to respond to polls.

But if we assume that the direction of change shown by this poll is correct, even if the exact magnitude may not be, what might lie behind this resurgence in Labour’s fortunes in Wales?

One factor may simply be Rhodri Morgan. Sampling for the poll started on Thursday last week – less than a day after the announcement of the death of the much-loved former First Minister. Much of Welsh media coverage of politics in the days since has, understandably, focused on sympathetic accounts of Mr Morgan’s record and legacy. It would hardly be surprising if that had had some positive impact on the poll ratings of Rhodri Morgan’s party – which, we should note, are up significantly in this new poll not only for the general election but also in voting intentions for the Welsh Assembly. If this has played a role, such a sympathy factor is likely to be short-lived: by polling day, people’s minds will probably have refocussed on the electoral choice ahead of them.

But it could also be that Labour’s campaign in Wales is working. While Labour have been making modest ground across Britain, in Wales there has been a determined effort by the party to run a separate campaign from that of the UK-wide party, under the "Welsh Labour" brand that carried them to victory in last year’s devolved election and this year’s local council contests. Today saw the launch of the Welsh Labour manifesto. Unlike two years ago, when the party’s Welsh manifesto was only a modestly Welshed-up version of the UK-wide document, the 2017 Welsh Labour manifesto is a completely separate document. At the launch, First Minister Carwyn Jones – who, despite not being a candidate in this election is fronting the Welsh Labour campaign – did not even mention Jeremy Corbyn.

Carwyn Jones also represented Labour at last week’s ITV-Wales debate – in contrast to 2015, when Labour’s spokesperson was then Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith. Jones gave an effective performance, being probably the best performer alongside Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood. In fact, Wood was also a participant in the peculiar, May-less and Corbyn-less, ITV debate in Manchester last Thursday, where she again performed capably. But her party have as yet been wholly unable to turn this public platform into support. The new Welsh poll shows Plaid Cymru down to merely nine percent. Nor are there any signs yet that the election campaign is helping the Liberal Democrats - their six percent support in the new Welsh poll puts them, almost unbelievably, at an even lower level than they secured in the disastrous election of two year ago.

This is only one poll. And the more general narrowing of the polls across Britain will likely lead to further intensification, by the Conservatives and their supporters in the press, of the idea of the election as a choice between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn as potential Prime Ministers. Even in Wales, this contrast does not play well for Labour. But parties do not dominate the politics of a nation for nearly a century, as Labour has done in Wales, just by accident. Under a strong Conservative challenge they certainly are, but Welsh Labour is not about to go gently into that good night.

Roger Scully is Professor of Political Science in the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University.

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