Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Carwyn Jones is no longer such an asset for Welsh Labour, but he lacks competition

Potential successors for the role of First Minister remain largely unknown to the public.

A new opinion poll was published in Wales yesterday. As has been evident in Britain-wide polls for some time, the latest Welsh Political Barometer shows little change in the support levels of the main parties.

Although they have slipped a little from the heights of last June, Labour remain well ahead in Wales, for both Westminster and the National Assembly. Meanwhile, none of the opposition parties are making significant ground. December will mark a full century since the last general election where anyone defeated Labour in Wales, and there is no sign of the party's dominance coming to an end.

With little change in the standing of the parties, almost all of the important politics happening in Wales is doing so within the Labour party – and in recent months, much of it has been ugly. The tragic death of Carl Sargeant in early November provoked very strong emotions and, within the party, a tangible decline in support for the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, who had sacked Sargeant as a Welsh Government minister only days before he died.

What have the public made of all of this? Although Labour’s internal problems in Wales have had little evident impact on the party’s popularity, it's a different story as far as the First Minister is concerned. Up until the last two months of the year, Jones had been enjoying a very successful 2017. His leadership during the Welsh Labour general election campaign left his standing within the party higher than ever, and he was similarly favoured by much of the public. In the final Welsh poll before last June’s election, Jones was the nation's most popular politician.

The November barometer poll, conducted just weeks after tragedy struck, showed a sharp dip in Jones’ rating. On the 0-10 popularity scale used for party leaders in such polls, his average fell from 5.0 to 4.3 – a significant drop in only a few months, and one which placed him slightly behind both Jeremy Corbyn and Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood. The First Minister has long since been rightly regarded as an electoral asset to his party, but that status was now under threat. Perhaps of even greater importance was the sharper fall in Jones’ standing amongst Labour voters – dropping from an average of 6.5 out of ten in June 2017, to just 5.7 by November.

This latest poll offers some modest encouragement for Labour’s Welsh leader. His average rating has edged up marginally – reaching 4.5 among the general public, and 5.9 among Labour supporters. These are margin-of-error changes, but, at least for the First Minister, the numbers have moved in the right direction. Meanwhile, with Jeremy Corbyn’s standing with the public having edged downwards since the last poll, Jones once more shares, with Wood, the status of the most popular party leader in Wales.

What about the possible successors? With no current vacancy for Welsh Labour leader, there are no declared runners in any election race – although one or two individuals appear to be conducting “trial gallops”. The uncertainty over potential candidates forced the new Welsh poll to cast the net widely, asking respondents to rate six Labour assembly members – which, along with the current First Minister, equates to a quarter of all the party's assembly members.

The clearest finding to come out of the poll is one of anonymity. As well as being able to place the potential leaders on a 0-10 scale, survey respondents could simply select a “Don’t Know” option. For all six possible Welsh Labour leaders, this was the majority response. While some respondents may have chosen this answer out of genuine uncertainty, in the aggregate the percentage of respondents choosing this option is a good measure of a politician's public visibility. The percentage of the sample choosing this option ranged from 66 per cent for Vaughan Gething – the Welsh Health Minister, and thus someone who has a relatively high public profile for a devolved-level politician in Wales – to 75 per cent for the former MP, and current junior Welsh Government minister, Huw Irranca-Davies.

Even among the minority of survey respondents who did give a numerical response to the various potential Welsh Labour leadership candidates, suspiciously large numbers chose the half-way point on the 0-10 scale. To the – perhaps rather limited – extent that we can place confidence in the overall average ratings given to each individual, this is the league table:

Vaughan Gething: 4.4

Eluned Morgan: 4.3

Alun Davies: 4.2

Huw Irranca-Davies: 4.2

Ken Skates: 4.1

Mark Drakeford: 3.8

But perhaps it is more important to see what Labour voters think: this is the closest proxy available to the views of those who would have a vote in a leadership contest. But breaking the data down shows the visibility of the potential leadership candidates to be no better with Labour voters than the overall Welsh population. The relative rankings, among those proffering a view, also remain mostly similar – with Drakeford scoring the lowest average rating, 4.6 out of ten among Labour Westminster supporters. However, on this measure Morgan, averaging 5.3, and Skates, at 5.2, are marginally ahead of their potential competitors.

For Carwyn Jones, the most obvious positive takeaway from this poll is that none of the potential candidates to succeed him have captured the Welsh public's imagination. Damaged, he undoubtedly is. But he remains a relatively popular figure amongst the electorate. And, as a man who led Welsh Labour to such a triumphant outcome at last year’s general election, none of those who might plausibly succeed him currently look likely to be as effective vote-winners for their party.

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

Tracey Thorn. CRedit: Getty
Show Hide image

“Not technically beautiful, she has an engaging laugh”: 35 years of being described by men

For women in music, being described most of the time by men is just par for the course.

I am sure you all saw the Twitter challenge that took off the other day – a request to women to “describe yourself like a male author would”, started by the writer Whitney Reynolds. There were thousands of hilarious replies, with women imagining how a bad male author would describe them. I thought about posting an example, but then realised, I didn’t have to imagine this. I’ve been being described by male journalists for more than 35 years.

Katy Waldman in the New Yorker wrote about the challenge, and how it highlighted clichés in men’s writing: “…prose that takes conspicuous notice of a female character’s physical imperfections. This is done with an aura of self-satisfaction, as if the protagonist deserves credit simply for bestowing his descriptive prowess upon a person of less than conventional loveliness.”

And oh boy, that hit home. Yes, I thought, that is precisely how I’ve been described, too many times to recall, so many times that I’ve actually sort of stopped noticing. The following aren’t direct quotes, but near enough.

“Not conventionally pretty, Thorn nevertheless somehow manages to be curiously attractive.” “Her face may not be technically beautiful but she has an engaging laugh.” “Her intelligence shines through the quirky features.” Often what’s irritating isn’t the hint of an insult, but just being wide of the mark. “She isn’t wearing any make-up” (oh my god, of course she is). “She’s wearing some kind of shapeless shift” (it’s Comme des Garçons FFS).

I’m not trying to arouse sympathy. I’m much thicker-skinned than you may imagine, hence surviving in this business for so long. But the point is, for women in music, being described most of the time by men is just par for the course.

A few weeks ago, when I was in Brussels and Paris doing interviews, I was taken aback all over again by the absence of female journalists interviewing me about my album – an album that is being described everywhere as “nine feminist bangers”. As the 14th man walked through the door, my heart slightly sank. I feel like a bore banging on about this sometimes, but it astonishes me that certain aspects of this business remain so male-dominated.

Even the journalists sometimes have the good grace to notice the anomaly. One youngish man, (though not that young) told me I was only the third woman he had ever interviewed, which took my breath away. I look at my playlists of favourite tracks over the last year or so, and they are utterly dominated by SZA, Angel Olsen, Lorde, St Vincent, Mabel, Shura, Warpaint, Savages, Solange, Kate Tempest, Tove Lo, Susanne Sundfør, Janelle Monáe, Jessie Ware and Haim, so there certainly isn’t any shortage of great women. I’ve been asked to speak at a music event, and when I was sent the possible line-up I couldn’t help noticing that over three days there were 56 men and seven women speaking. The final bill might be an improvement on that, but still. Any number of music festivals still operate with this kind of mad imbalance.

Is it down to the organisers not asking? Or, in the case of this kind of discussion event, women often feeling they don’t “know” enough? It’s a vicious circle, the way that men and their music can be so intimidating. The more you’re always in the minority, the more you feel like you don’t belong. Record shops seemed that way to me when I was a teen, places where guys hung out and looked at you like you didn’t know your Pink Floyd from your Pink Flag.

I also have to watch songs of mine being described by male writers, and sometimes misinterpreted. I’ve got one called “Guitar” on my new record. There’s a boy in the lyrics, but he’s incidental – it’s a love song to my first Les Paul copy. That fact has sailed over the heads of a couple of male reviewers who’ve seen it as a song all about a boy.

That’s the trouble, isn’t it? You miss things when you leave women out, or view female characters through the prism of their attractiveness, or when you take for granted that you’re at the centre of every story, every lyric. I bet you think this piece is about you. 

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Enoch Powell’s revenge