Losing My Religion?

While the British left project their forlorn hopes onto Welsh Labour, many socialists in Wales are seeking new routes to transformation.

23 min read

Reading Tom Gann’s reflections on his resignation from Labour stirred a number of thoughts and emotions. They firstly invoked a certain sense of empathy, due to the fact I had taken the same decision recently. On account of my own travails, I also felt sympathy for a person who had felt similarly conflicted, with no real prospects for psychic reconciliation. There was also, however, a certain sense of validation and justification, for I was not alone.

Many of the phrases and reflections resonated, somewhat painfully, as they rattled around my political conscience. The forlorn hope of contributing to socialist struggle; the need to reflect on one’s own political effectiveness; acknowledging that to continue would be to present oneself with a false assessment; the desire to put an end to any remaining cruel optimism; the need, ultimately, to take responsibility.

There was an element of dissonance, however, in his admission that the act of leaving lacked positive content; and equally a sense of recognition in the suggestion that things might have been otherwise, were we referring to a place beyond England. In Scotland, it remains the case that independence still carries with it radical prospects for the left, and whilst Welsh independence feels less imminent, it nevertheless stands in the distance as a possibility that might be grasped.

In Wales, however, there is another aspect to these horizons. After all, the Senedd is led by a Labour Government, with a First Minister who supported Corbyn, and who is often lauded on the British left as a politician with wide appeal, precisely because he offers some form of socialist politics. Indeed, after the recent Council elections, where the Tories were effectively run out of Wales again, Drakeford’s leftist credentials have begun to be considered as a reason for Welsh Labour’s appeal.

With Labour and Plaid having agreed a programme for government with substantial leftist elements, and up to 50% of Labour supporters now also supporting independence in Wales, things might indeed seem different this side of Offa’s Dyke, with not only options beyond Labour, but more pointedly, enough meaningful churn and opportunity within the ‘discourse’ of the party. Unlike in England, it does not seem the most obvious time for disenchantment and disengaging, for someone seeking meaningful change.

In relating my own story, however, it may become more clear why the grounds for optimism in Welsh Labour are less substantial than they may seem, which may in turn provide food for thought for our neighbours.

Growing up Labour

The roots of my own disenchantment were laid down long ago. As I have previously related, my upbringing within the Labour Party has had a significant influence on how I’ve viewed the party, and it is only in recent times that I have come to wonder whether it is more unconventional than I would have supposed.

I was brought up in north Ceredigion, which (aside from the railway and the University) is one of the more marginalised parts of Wales. With the exception of the exceptional Elystan Morgan, who was Labour MP under Harold Wilson, the area has a long tradition of Liberalism, which still held firm into the 1990s. This political tradition had its foundations in the historic elective affinity of the Liberal Party with the predominant nonconformism of Wales’ chapels, which was the radical force that, by 1888, had swept aside the Tory Party in Wales.

Ceredigion is part of Y Fro Gymraeg (Welsh-language Wales), a construction which, due to population movement and a corrosive education system now exists largely in the imagination, save for parts of Gwynedd in the north. Its industrialisation had been and gone with the lead mining of the 18th and 19th century, long before the inception of the Labour movement and its establishment in the coalfield. This lack of a material basis for socialism, along with an historical attachment to Welshness, in part accounts for why the liberal hegemony eventually ceded, in the early 1990s, to Cynog Dafis’s Plaid Cymru and Green joint ticket.

In these conditions, the Labour Party, although not altogether irrelevant to electoral politics, represented an article of faith for active members. It was the message and the values, rather than the political game, that took precedence. Party membership was also a communal activity, with jumble sales and family outings, and where global campaigns such as the anti-apartheid and anti-nuclear movements were as salient as local politics in orientating activity. My brothers and I could recount these memories in some detail, and in some ways this represented our own nonconformist community.

Party membership was a communal activity, with jumble sales and family outings, and where global campaigns such as the anti-apartheid and anti-nuclear movements were as salient as local politics in orientating activity.

These values permeated the spiritual and emotional life of the home. My childhood in many ways was idyllic, but the anger and injustice of 1980s Britain were never far from the surface. Socialist politics was therefore a whole way of life, with the Labour Party as its church (or perhaps I should say chapel). This experience has led to my conflict with the party in later life being particularly acute, including a particular distaste for those who treat it solely as a vehicle for personal ambition, rather than the cause of socialism.

Being a hereditary member of the Party meant that, as a young adult, politics held very little excitement or sense of the new. A brief foray into student politics confirmed my prejudice that party politics could be passed by, especially now that Labour had secured power. Being ‘Labour’ was an identity to be carried rather than practised. There was the obligatory dalliance with a fringe Marxist group, and between the somewhat itinerant lifestyle of my early twenties, and various other preoccupations, party politics engaged me only very rarely. Given the period in question—the Blair/Brown years—those occasional moments of participation were hardly likely to inspire greater enthusiasm.

The Con-Dem coalition of 2010 was a rude awakening, partly because it shone a light on what the New Labour project had actually meant for politics in Britain. However, aside from the referendum campaign for further devolved powers in 2011, it wasn’t until 2013 that I engaged again in politics proper—albeit at a very local level. At that time, having moved to Cardiff, I became involved with a campaign for a Welsh-medium school in my community. This would prove to be a decisive experience in understanding the nature of the beast that is “Welsh Labour”.

The local Labour branch were, with the help of their Council Cabinet colleagues, hellbent on keeping such a school out of their ward, and so I became involved in internal party wrangling and Council machinations, which cast very few people in a positive light. It was, all told, a horrible experience, and in hindsight exemplified a constant refrain you’ll hear in Cardiff: people feeling powerless in the face of the Council. At a basic level, it also substantiated many of the claims about a virulent anti-Welsh-language strain within Welsh Labour. Significantly, at a more general level, it illuminated the yawning chasm between the rhetoric of Labour’s Welsh government and its grassroots practice—and on how this plays out, to the detriment of meaningful change.

There is a yawning chasm between the rhetoric of Labour’s Welsh government and its grassroots practice.

It wasn’t just that many of those higher up the hierarchy weren’t interested enough to get involved (Mark Drakeford being an honourable exception). It was also that the entire architecture they’d built around the policy field meant they had little in the way of traction on the issue. A glance at other policy fields led one to question whether this was deliberate; whether this was the way they liked it. It felt very much, at that time, that any further practical involvement could only be of a critical and oppositional kind. Mustering any enthusiasm for positive action would be a challenge.

As it happened, two successive developments provided such an opportunity, and in some ways they persist. One avenue that presented itself as a way to combine some more constructive campaigning with grinding an axe was the issue of independence. It had been a question of interest for me since I had worked on the memoirs of Elystan Morgan. Amongst the numerous insights from that experience was how Morgan—a sworn Welsh nationalist who had previously been Plaid Cymru’s next Mab Darogan (roughly speaking, destined son: a messianic figure)—had found a ready home in Labour, even in the 1960s. Moreover, he was still able to push his own agenda. Morgan was one of those who persuaded Jim Callaghan to establish the Crowther (later Kilbrandon) Commission on the constitution, including the issue of Welsh devolution and independence.

This new sense that Labour and independence did not have to be antagonistic came as something of a revelation. The early nationalist tendencies of the Labour Party in Wales are not part of the myth that is reproduced and recreated here; likewise a figure such as the Merthyr MP SO Davies is dwarfed in the narrative by the colossus that was Aneurin Bevan—who was himself less opposed to devolution than is often suggested. The Scottish Referendum, and in particular the support it had gained from significant parts of the Labour Party (even after the mass exodus to the SNP by many sympathetic to independence), further encouraged the idea that independence needed to gain traction in among the Welsh left.

The first task wasn’t so much achieving independence, but overcoming the way that we in Wales had been inured to the idea that independence is not even a theoretical possibility—because we are too small, and probably too stupid.

The internal other

The first task wasn’t so much the achieving of independence itself, but rather, overcoming the way that we in Wales had been inured to the idea that independence is not even a theoretical possibility—because we are too small, and probably too stupid. There are many reasons for this prevailing attitude, not least a debilitating lack of confidence born out of our historical experience of conquest. Colonial rule from the time of Edward I was followed by annexation under Henry VIII, and a gradual assimilation that accelerated with the making of the modern British state in the 19th century. This left a particular legacy, and makes us very different to our Scottish counterparts, who established a kingdom which may have ceded to Union, but which maintained a certain political separation. Constitutionally, this has been reflected most clearly in differences such as the separate Scottish legal system—but, more importantly, it has carried with it a psychological state of mind embedded in an ‘identity of political antecedents’, to use JS Mill’s phrase.

The lack of such a political-institutional national history has had a profound effect on the Welsh, both in terms of our self-understanding, and in how we are understood, in particular by the English ruling classes. We are the English’s internal other: a rebellious force of the id that facilitates the constant reassertion of the Anglo-superego; we are Mill’s ‘half-savage’, sufficiently but never wholly absorbed. Our autonomy and spirit of independence has therefore been largely confined to the realms of myth, religion, and culture. It is only in retrospect, and on the basis of such reflections, that I have understood the dynamics of past experiences, such as a conversation with a fellow-pupil, whose parents were English immigrants, and who earnestly offered up the observation that ‘the Welsh need someone to take charge of them’. It is the banality of the utterance that sticks in my mind; its bland framing as an apparently self-evident truth. Regardless of how one characterises a relationship that produces such a dynamic, its effects have had a deadening influence on the Welsh political imagination, and have narrowed the horizons of political possibility here.

Consequently, when YesCymru, the mass campaign for Welsh independence, brought together a handful of their members from the Labour ranks, it felt worth my while to get involved. Burying some of these historical understandings (which have been recast by the Labour Party in the less explicit language of Wales’s need for welfare, redistribution and solidarity) seemed like a worthy cause, with a view to ensuring independence a place within the acceptable political discourse in Wales (which, save for as a distant ideal among the more misty-eyed Plaid supporters, it had not previously enjoyed). The aim was to legitimise the discussion; to show Labour voters in Wales that the idea of an independent Wales was sensible enough, and that it has the potential for a more democratic and socialist politics in keeping with the socialist tradition. And so Labour for Welsh Independence was born.

A generation that came to political maturity in the age of devolution have created a new sense of potential. Independence is now an entirely credible threat.

Weighing into the cultural warfare around this question, and the change in psychology it entailed, was, it turned out, an attractive possibility for others as well. Younger members, in particular, who had been brought up with the Senedd, felt a genuine dissonance between the customary tugging of forelocks and the very real history of political antecedents into which, by dint of the Senedd’s establishment, they had been born. A generation that came to political maturity in the age of devolution, unlike to previous generations that had only, at most, Hywel Dda’s Law from the 10th century as a reference point for Welsh self-governance, have created a new sense of potential. From this more self-confident and self-assured viewpoint, possibilities can arise: it now appears to be sensible politics for the Welsh Government to, at the very least, be able to leverage the threat of burgeoning calls for independence. Events at Westminster have meant that the ground has shifted immensely in the last five years, and independence is now an entirely credible threat.

Corbyn and Drakeford

Around the same time, Jeremy Corbyn appeared on the scene. There was some irony in this, because one of the strongest arguments for an independent Wales from the left perspective was the extent to which a genuine socialist politics would be far more achievable through this route, rather than waiting for the British state to reform itself. But the fact that Corbyn could get himself elected as Labour leader suggested that this argument might not sustain. Moreover, the less than enthusiastic response from the Welsh Labour cabinet—save for one unassuming member by the name of Mark Drakeford—suggested the possibility that a Corbyn-led Westminster might actually be a safer bet for realising a leftist politics in Wales.

This, of course, was before the nightmare that ensued, which hardly needs rehearsing here. From my own personal perspective it was astounding to see the extent of the animosity, which in itself perhaps spoke to my own naivety and lack of understanding of the Party. It certainly spoke volumes about the dogmatism and stupidity of many. It became evident during that time that, in British politics, while there may be three parties, there are just two forms of politics: one which combines an acceptance of the status quo with greater or lesser support for welfarism, and then another that desires real change—and which must, it seems, be thwarted at all costs.

The establishment of the welfare state was a huge anomaly in terms of British political culture

The manner in which the British state and its elitist hegemony first punctured, and then fatally wounded Corbynism was a salutary tale. The narrative that an independent Wales was the surest route to socialism returned with a vengeance. From that point, the so-called ‘United Kingdom’ has felt for many of us in Wales as if it is beyond redemption. The British road to socialism had proven a chimera, all the while making one realise that the establishment of the welfare state was a huge anomaly in terms of British political culture: one that had been bought at the cost of two world wars and a depression, and that was the result of huge sacrifice—and which the state and its elite have been endeavouring to roll back ever since. Even more interesting (or galling), from a Welsh Labour perspective, was watching Owen Smith, son of the historian Dai Smith (who established himself as the voice of south Walian working class culture) being called into action as an heir apparent to Kinnock, fervent in his desire to protect his people from exactly the type of politics they would have benefited from.

The one saving grace, however, was that in Wales we did manage to install a Leader who had supported Corbyn. Corbyn’s presence had swelled the ranks of Labour supporters, with a number being corralled into Welsh Labour Grassroots, a group who had existed since devolution which aimed to push the left agenda, offering itself as the ‘home for Momentum in Wales’. This significant and motivated constituency was central to the election of Mark Drakeford, who was, by all accounts, a reluctant candidate.

However, subsequent developments placed in sharp relief the reality of the party in Wales. Drakeford’s naturally collegiate approach, and what was presumably a felt need to compromise, meant that there was very little substantial change in terms of personnel, not only amongst cabinet colleagues, but also in terms of the backroom staff that might prove so influential in bringing forward a more socialist form of politics. This lack of movement was suggestive of a broader struggle to exert change from the left, but coming up against the shortcomings of Party democracy. It was indicative of impediments at Westminster level. Dismay at this lack of anticipated evolution, despite the change in leadership, was really the beginning of the end in terms of my faltering commitment to the Party. If we could elect a figure that spoke of ‘21st century socialism’, but that could actually change very little, it suggested to me a calcified and moribund Welsh Labour, where what appears on the surface bears little resemblance to the reality below.

The Chad Welsh Labour?

The two clinching factors in my estrangement—one intellectual and one practical—have the appearance of being quite distinct, but dovetail around the reality of Labour politics in Wales. The first was my experience as one of three editors for a collection of essays, The Welsh Way, which had over 20 different contributions on various policy fields. Its purpose was to map the influence of neoliberalism in Wales in the age of devolution, in face of the claim that greater autonomy would allow us to plot our own course, ensuring ‘Clear Red Water’ running away from Blair’s New Labour, and protecting us from the worst excesses of a Tory Westminster.

Idle talk of “the Chad Welsh Labour” appears to be the projection of forlorn hope by the British left onto Wales.

The collective verdict from the group of academics, activists and practitioners involved was resounding. The collection depicts a devolved Labour administration that, in its second decade, has failed miserably to make good on the early promise of devolution, and demonstrates that it is not only the structural forces of late capitalism that are responsible for our malaise. Idle talk of “the Chad Welsh Labour” appears, in such circumstances, to be the projection of forlorn hope by the British left onto Wales—oblivious to the fact that the penetration of late capitalism and its practices has been no less profound here than elsewhere, and that Welsh Labour have by and large been its willing, or at least unthinking agents.

In editing the book, it became clear to me that it would be difficult to remain a Labour member, constantly at odds with the party, and with little positive to say. When presented with evidence that there is so much in practice that does not match your own convictions, you must examine your own integrity and conscience, especially—a point that Tom made—when you have no direct way to influence change. (Lest I’m accused of being only too happy to snipe from the periphery, I did put in an application to be a special advisor, but, somewhat aptly, it got lost.)

And so, standing outside the tent began to seem the more appropriate place for me. To some extent this is because such dissonant, public voices are few and far between in the Party—and so it comes to feel like a rather solitary exercise of screaming into the abyss. This reflects the broader tendencies of a culture wrought through Wales’s one-partyism, where the culture is one of quietism, and open opposition is challenging and often ineffective, which leads to co-option as the strategic choice. Criticism from outside the Party is batted off as political game-playing, or the words of malcontents. (As a case in point, I have already been described as disingenuous and disgruntled by the Party.)

I might have managed to persist in the hope that Drakeford still represented a fight worth pursuing, internal to the party, but developing events at a local level in Cardiff dictated otherwise. The same crew with whom I’d previously been at loggerheads over the school campaign had subsequently regained a grip on the Council Cabinet. Since 2017, and in thrall to developers, they have embarked on a transformation of Cardiff that, alongside a seeming disregard for basic services (especially housing), exhibits a particular disdain for its cultural heritage and green spaces. Emblematic are their plans for a Military Medicine Museum on Britannia Park in Cardiff Bay, just one among countless proposals that have met with local resistance.

A little personal distance might have helped me to overlook these issues, but it is very difficult to ignore when it happens on your doorstep. A chance encounter with the Council Leader and the then Cabinet Member for Culture and Leisure, in the reception of the Council offices, was telling. I was there on work business. We engaged in the customary banalities—and then one of them cheerily raised the question of my brother’s feelings about topiary. My brother was, at the time. campaigning against the lopping down of mature trees as part of a development of luxury houses in his ward. They both seemed to find it all very amusing, to the point that their chuckling summoned up the image of Beavis and Butthead, or perhaps Statler & Waldorf.

This attitude and their lack of seriousness on the subject issue was disquieting. I was struck by their contempt for an entirely legitimate concern, especially when bearing in mind my brother’s long service to the Party: 10 years as a Labour Staffer and Special Advisor. The incident smacked of a group of people who are rarely challenged, convinced of their own superiority, and firmly ensconced within an organisation that would do very little to hold its representatives to the values it purported to be its own.

Bereft of hope

Were there a prospect that Drakeford’s leadership might, in time, change the party’s culture, such an episode might be ignored, but the fact of the matter is that—unless something occurs that makes him to feel bound to renege on his commitment—he will be leaving during this Senedd term. Whilst the raft of potentially radical changes he is pushing through is enabled in part by the huge personal mandate he gained in the last Senedd election, it is not without significance that these policies are part of an agreement with Plaid Cymru. If Labour held an outright majority, and did not need Plaid’s support, one can speculate that Drakeford would not have been able to gain approval for such a programme amongst a Party that is bereft of a robust left, either in the Senedd or beyond. Momentum are at present preoccupied with internal reorganisation, whilst the enthusiasm created by Corbyn has inevitably petered away—not least because a number of the British left constituency in Wales have never really understood or paid attention to devolved politics and its potential transformative power. Meanwhile, any enthusiasm that prevailed within Welsh Labour Grassroots seems to have been stymied by the monolith of internal party structures.

Bereft of hope, and beset by that impulse to take responsibility and work effectively, I was happy to find an outlet in the recent Council elections, with the Green Party-Plaid Cymru Common Ground Alliance in Cardiff. If we regard ourselves as being in a Gramscian interregnum here in Wales, where “the old is dying but the new cannot be born”,1 it is difficult, if not impossible, to regard the Labour Party as the entity which is going to recreate a new dynamic hegemony in the mould of the 21st century socialism that Drakeford spoke of during his leadership campaign. As we have seen, it has taken an agreement with Plaid for him to even deliver a part of that promise. Conversations on the doorstep and online during the Council campaign affirmed this feeling of disenchantment, even if voters were, as usual. happy to return in the end to the comforting bosom of Labour as refuge from the menacing presence of Johnson’s Tories in Westminster.

It has taken an agreement with Plaid for Drakeford to even deliver a part of his promised ‘21st century socialism’.

In Wales, it feels we have a peculiar duty to seek out a new politics, because the conditions here are as sympathetic to socialism as they are anywhere in Europe. A genuine left radicalism that is both environmentally and culturally focused would be a potentially new hegemonic force that can move beyond the crisis. However, as much as the British left—peering into Wales with their telescope—seem to be convinced otherwise, it won’t be coming from within the Labour movement. That being said, the results of the Cardiff elections do not, on the face of it, suggest that a Green-Plaid alliance is any more promising. But their less-than-triumphant gain of 2 seats needs to be weighed up against the fact that they won a 17% share of the vote, often as the primary opposition to Labour. These numbers reflect the delicately poised political possibilities.

This is particularly the case in view of the constraints of local elections, which are an event that are primarily played out against the backdrop of national politics. The incumbents could place an immensely popular First Minister–supported, no less, by Plaid Cymru in the Senedd—front and centre of the campaign, whilst pointing to the threat of a deeply unpopular Tory government in Westminster. Saving Cardiff from the Tories was a tried and trusted, if somewhat disingenuous campaign line, that appealed to deep-seated instincts and kept the focus away from actual issues in the city. Moreover, a particularity of these elections was the influence of the pandemic, which resulted in what felt like the flattening out of the political terrain. A number of controversies in Cardiff back in 2019 seemed to be fomenting a sense of frustration and opposition to the Council, but such issues have lost salience given the ensuing global crisis. One might also suggest that the war in Ukraine created an atmosphere where the usual complaints about bins and buses felt strangely out of kilter.

This is the nature of politics, however, and the progressive opposition in Wales cannot wait in perpetuity for some perfect storm. There is a need for realism and robustness in assessing what needs to be done better, in Wales as for the British left in its entirety. It is a perpetual struggle for Plaid to reach out beyond their core vote, even when 50% of Labour voters apparently support their unique selling point of independence for Wales. Much of Labour’s durability can be accounted for by the story I told at the beginning of this piece, the contours of which will be familiar to many for whom the Labour Party is a social and cultural institution. Labour has been so prominent in the lives of people here that voting against it entails a change in personal identity. As with our nonconformist chapels, this is not a legacy easily forsaken—although the Party in many places might start to resemble the sort of hollowing-out that happened with organised religion post-war.

And it is the ever-more salient desire for a politics of substance and change that now presents an opportunity. Welsh Labour, the establishment party, populated by many who have joined to win, not to build change, are incapable of delivering this. Realising this opportunity will involve hard work and some imagination. The appeal of a campaign such as Common Ground is the possibility of connecting with the grassroots, and with those who might be happy to affiliate with a campaign such as YesCymru, but are not attracted to traditional party politics. In the north of Cardiff, the Common Ground coalition gained around 1000 votes—a very significant sum in the context of these elections—as it offered a vote to those who felt abandoned by Labour over the destruction of the Northern Meadows.

As the two parties for independence, Plaid and the Greens can also make an obvious play for those voters—especially younger people—enthused by the Welsh independence movement. But there’s still work to be done if they are to attract young people in the same way that Corbyn was able to do. In this context, there is likewise something for YesCymru to consider: their self-defeating insistence on being strictly politically neutral. This attitude is particularly encouraged by Labour for Welsh Independence, who claim that favouring other parties would damage the attempts to bring Labour voters and their politicians on board.

Whilst there is a lot to be said for the movement not being overwhelmingly synonymous with one party, as is the case in Scotland, the independence campaign backing pro-indy parties and encouraging their members to support them in practical ways—particularly at election time—is simply common sense. The movement is not best served by waiting around for Welsh Labour to change their mind (which will only happen through external developments, most obviously Scotland’s secession), but rather by encouraging those politicians and parties that will lobby for the cause. If anything is going to shift Labour, it is the exodus of supporters to other parties. One of the virtues of the independence movement is that it has been a site for political activity and vitality that has been beyond the reaches of the dead hand of Welsh Labour. Allowing the Party’s position of constructive ambiguity on independence to dictate how that movement progresses is anathema, and pro-indy Labour supporters need to extract themselves from the mindset of “party first”, for the good of the cause. The line that only Welsh Labour can deliver independence smacks of self-importance (a wider issue for the Party), and is yet another example of co-option.

Should the indyWales parties succeed in bringing people over, there remains the question of execution. Plaid’s own organisation travails are well-documented, whilst the Green’s infrastructure is in its infancy—but it is precisely this less entrenched structure that may make it easier to establish a foothold than it was for Momentum and Welsh Labour Grassroots. Most fundamentally, at the core of both indyWales parties is a drive for change that has to embrace new forces; whereas it was always the aim of a substantial part of the Labour Party machinery to grind such forces to a halt. A present and future challenge for both is converting the membership into a campaigning force, especially amongst a generation for whom ‘clicktivism’ is the meat and drink of politics. The campaign in Canton by three young candidates and some trusted comrades was a glimpse of the possible. There, a young teacher came within 50 votes of deposing Labour councillors in Drakeford’s own constituency, on a radical platform embodied in a manifesto inspired by the demands of local activist groups.

Looking forward

It is easy to lose hope. After the initial sense of possibilities around the pandemic, the subsequent fatigue and shenanigans of Johnson’s Tories have taken their toll. But with the storm gathering as the cost of living explodes, there’s the greatest prospect of mass protest since the Poll Tax Riots. In Wales, Welsh Labour’s dominance will not last forever, even if the Berlin Wall might appear ephemeral in comparison.

The next leadership may, of course. adopt a more radical attitude to socialism and independence, which could provide renewal. But it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify who such a person might be. And as the party of power, with its hierarchy focused on the status quo, even if such a leader were to emerge, they would be hard-pressed to bring their party with them.

This opens up the space for others. Stand in the middle of the road for long enough and you’ll eventually get run over. It is no secret, of course, that the battleground is the post-industrial heartland of the former coalfield. To establish anything more permanent than the occasional Plaid Cymru bridgehead, another piece of the jigsaw will be an element of left populism that is grounded in the politics of class. Given the preponderance of the middle classes in the ranks of Labour, they have no greater claim to this heritage than any other party—but they have the advantage of the historical memory upon which they were built. Certainly, the values of community and collectivism persist for now as a focus for politics, despite the prevalence of the countervailing forces.

It is worth imagining the beginning of another road to socialism on these isles.

The reality of this neoliberal Wales, and the impasse that we will reach with Drakeford’s retirement, is perhaps an important issue for those outside of Wales. For there is no use in clinging to a well-meaning belief that what we have in Wales is something that can be looked at as an example of what is possible, or an alternative to the late capitalism to be found elsewhere in Britain. Look north to Preston instead, would be one suggestion, and build from the ground up. And perhaps, just maybe, it is worth imagining the beginning of another road to socialism on these isles, and considering what a radically decentred, democratic England might do for all of us. You may lose your party, but it is better to cling to your faith.

  1. Antonio Gramsci. (1929-35)1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Edited and translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. London: Lawrence and Wishart, p. 276. 


Huw Williams (@HuwL1oyd)

Academic. Cymraeg. Politics of the Left. Philosophy.