“Under its Corbyn-supporting socialist leader Mark Drakeford, Welsh Labour, in a country of 3 million, gained 66 seats; in England the net gain was a mere 22, which should tell us something about how to get the Labour vote out.”
Nick Davies, Swansea West CLP, says Labour’s 66 gains show Mark Drakeford’s Labour leading the way forward.
Council elections were held in all 22 councils in Wales, with all seats up for grabs. Labour now controls 8 councils, Plaid Cymru 4 and 10 are under no overall control. The Tories lost Monmouthshire, the only Welsh council they had controlled. Although in Wales the picture is muddied somewhat by the presence of Independents, some of whom are genuinely that, but some merely Tories in disguise, it is safe to say that May 5th was a bad day for the Tories and a good day for Labour.
Moreover, under its Corbyn-supporting socialist leader, Mark Drakeford, Welsh Labour, in a country of 3 million, gained 66 seats; in England the net gain was a mere 22, which should tell us something about how to get the Labour vote out. Tory losses in Bridgend and Denbighshire, in particular, suggest that Westminster seats there, lost in 2019, will be reclaimed by Labour.
Behind this Welsh Labour good-news story lurk a couple of issues. One is that councillors in Wales are still unrepresentative of the communities they are supposed to serve, especially given that in Wales, 16 and 17 year olds can vote in Council and Senedd elections. Too many council chambers contain a disproportionate number of white men of a certain age who have been there for years, sometimes decades. Only 44.2% of Labour councillors are women, while the figures for Plaid Cymru and the Tories are 34% and 28.8% respectively. Following the last elections in 2017 only 2% of councillors identified as black, Asian or from an ethnic minority. After the 2022 elections only Monmouthshire and Vale of Glamorgan have 50% gender parity. As far as Labour is concerned, there are too many ‘seat-blockers’ selected time and time again from moribund, sparsely attended branches, preventing anyone else, younger and more representative, from coming through.
The second issue is that local government in Wales doesn’t really work very well. The last re-organisation, in 1996, engineered by the utterly unlamented Tory Viceroy, John Redwood, aided and abetted by some Labour local chieftains, desperate to protect their own bailiwick, left local government in pre-devolution Wales weak and dependent on Whitehall. The result is 22 unitary local authorities, some of which are too small to act strategically and deliver services effectively. Post-devolution, attempts to reorganise local government in Wales foundered on the high-handed way in which the relevant Welsh government minister went about it, and so it has been left as it is. The result is a series of unwieldy consortia, varying between service areas, in which different authorities collaborate.
Councils serving some of the most deprived post-industrial areas of the UK have been largely dependent on the Welsh government which itself, due to the weak and unstable devolution settlement, is over-dependent on Westminster. Post-2010, austerity has reduced the Welsh government’s settlement from Westminster. Councils have to deal with the consequences of austerity without Welsh government control of taxes, benefits and pensions. Post-Brexit, European money has been replaced, if that is the word, by the Tories’ utterly inadequate, not to say fraudulent replacement. Wales deserves better.
- This article originally appeared in print in Labour Briefing (Co-operative) magazine and is reproduced with permission. Subscribe by sending a £20 cheque with your address to ‘Labour Briefing Co-operative Ltd’, 7 Malam Gardens, London, E14 OTR.
- Join the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs for their next Progressive Policy Seminar: “Learning from Welsh Labour’s Radical Agenda” on June 20th.