Friday, 8 January 2016

Welsh Labour's quandary

It is clear that Jeremy Corbyn's accession is filling a socialist-shaped hole in English politics which opened up when the Blair-Brown-Mandelson project took over the Labour Party. It is enthusing local Labour party members and attracting back formerly disgruntled socialists. Its effect on the parliamentary party has been more divisive. How far the reenergising of campaigners has fed through to by-election success for Labour is debatable; evidence so far points both ways.

The socialist niche in Wales has been happily occupied by Plaid Cymru since the 1990s. Welsh Labour has been content to be the Establishment party. Public opinion in Wales, especially in South Wales, is formed more than local politicians would like or acknowledge by the London-based media. The question for Carwyn Jones's Welsh Labour is: do they try to benefit from the perceived shift to socialism under Corbyn, possibly reclaiming ground lost to the Nationalists, at the risk of losing centrist voters? Will the party encourage official assistance from across the border, or, like Liberal Democrats limiting their losses in 2011, tacitly dissociate themselves from a controversial national leader?

So far, Welsh Labour has avoided taking sides, deflecting its activity into an anti-UKIP campaign. This suffers from two drawbacks: Liberal Democrats already have more credibility in this area, having consistently argued positively for membership of the EU and against what UKIP stands for; and UKIP anyway is a shadow of its former self, having lost its major financial supporters and its position as media darling.

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