By MARCUS STEAD
THE PEOPLE of Wales have finally said ‘enough is enough’. For years, the Labour Party, in both London and Cardiff Bay, has treated its heartland voters with contempt, dismissing them as stupid, racist and xenophobic.
The election saw the Conservatives win their highest vote share in Wales since 1900, their best ever total in the era of universal suffrage. Blinded by smug arrogance, Labour’s reaction to the political earthquake in Wales was give their once-loyal voters a good telling off, rather than to take time to listen and reflect on what went wrong.
Wales’s First Minister, the ultra-Corbynista Mark Drakeford, even said that the next national Labour leader should ‘keep the same basic message’. He just doesn’t get it.
The disconnect between the Labour Party membership and its heartland voters is now blatantly obvious. The membership base, changed beyond all recognition by the entryism of the last four years, now consists of middle class students, their lecturers, and white collar public sector workers, preoccupied with the dogma of the woke agenda, a mythical ‘Climate Emergency’ and stopping Brexit at all costs. This puts them at odds with the party’s traditional heartlands, who have routinely backed the party for a century.
In 2017, the Welsh electorate gave Jeremy Corbyn the benefit of the doubt. They took him at his word when he said that he respected the result of the previous year’s referendum and was committed to implementing Brexit. This, combined with Theresa May’s lacklustre campaign, saw Labour gain three seats, taking their total to 28 out of 40 in the Principality. What followed in the next two-and-a-half years was a complete betrayal of the trust the Welsh electorate gave to the Corbyn project.
In December 2018, Drakeford became Wales’s First Minister. Drakeford, a dry, academic man approaching retirement age, who spent his entire career before entering politics working in the public and charity sectors, hardly seemed in touch with the post-industrial Labour heartlands of the south Wales valleys or the weathered seaside towns of the north Wales coast.
Drakeford didn’t grow into the job, nor does he behave like a leader. He still seldom does up the top button on his shirt, nor is his tie straight. Many people in Wales have no idea who he is – his personal Twitter account has just 14,000 followers, while the official ‘First Minister’ account has fewer than 49,000. By contrast, his Scottish counterpart Nicola Sturgeon has more than one million.
A year of Drakeford’s insipid leadership in policy areas that are devolved gave the people of Wales a taster of what a Jeremy Corbyn government would be like. Under Drakeford’s socialist Government, Wales has the worst school attainment levels and A&E waiting times in Britain. Betsi Cadwaladr health board has been in special measures for more than four years, with little sign of that status being removed any time soon.
But perhaps Drakeford’s flagship cockup of the last 12 months was his decision in June to break a key Welsh Labour manifesto pledge by scrapping plans to build a much-needed M4 relief road in the Newport area, after more than a decade of planning, during which time £114 million had been wasted.
Drakeford, keen to boost his woke credentials, said it was Wales’s way of doing its bit to tackle the ‘Climate Emergency’. The decision came just six months after the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns, removed tolls on both Severn bridges, designed to improve economic links between South Wales and the West of England.
As a result of Drakeford’s decision, a Cardiffian employed in Bristol, or vice versa, now faces no end to the tedious daily dawdles in traffic around the Brynglas Tunnels, which are enough to deter many people taking jobs on the opposite side of the bridge, thereby massively diluting the economic benefits of removing the tolls.
The irritation and anger that followed this decision was huge. £114 million had been squandered. The ‘Climate Emergency’ is only a theory, and a very wobbly theory at that, but even if it was indisputably true, any benefits of not building the relief road will rapidly be offset by China, whose coal use since 2011 has been greater than the rest of the world combined. Drakeford’s decision was a pointless act of virtue signalling that will have serious implications for the Welsh economy.
Drakeford’s pandering to the woke agenda goes much further. At last summer’s ‘Pride Cymru’ carnival in the centre of Cardiff, Drakeford marched in the front row, wearing a rainbow tie and waving a rainbow flag, before delivering a speech to the crowd.
Drakeford’s wokeness played well to the Cardiff hipster community, no more than a few thousand in number, but it did nothing to endear him to the Labour heartlands ten miles up the A470. It’s not that the people of the valleys are rabidly anti-gay or anti-trans, but the country’s First Minister seldom showed as much enthusiasm for their concerns, such as delivering the Brexit they voted for, or for meaningful measures to bring good, well-paid, stable jobs to areas that decades ago lost their main source of employment.
It was Labour’s policy on Brexit that was regarded as the biggest betrayal in the Welsh heartlands. They voted Leave in 2016, and they meant Leave. They believed Jeremy Corbyn in 2017 when he said he was committed to implementing the referendum result.
But in the two years since, Corbyn and Drakeford changed the party’s policy in both London and Cardiff Bay from one of implementing Brexit, to the farcical position of renegotiating a deal that would look like Brexit in name only, after which they would hold a second referendum in which both Corbyn and Drakeford would be neutral, with only Labour’s deal or remaining in the EU on the ballot paper.
Welsh Labour voters saw this policy for the fob-off it was. So what of the natural alternatives of the left and centre left? Few in Wales were taken in by Jo Swinson’s metropolitan elitism and policy of ‘let’s cancel Brexit because I know what’s best for plebs like you.’ The party held four seats in Wales until 2010, but since 2017 they’ve had none. Their sole Assembly Member, Kirsty Williams, is the country’s education minister, who has overseen the worst attainment levels in Britain.
And what of Plaid Cymru, who ditched Leanne Wood as leader and replaced her with Adam Price following disappointing election results in 2017?
Plaid Cymru has long been perceived as a party for rural Welsh speakers living in west and north west Wales. Outside these areas, there is little appetite for siphoning Wales off from the rest of the UK. What’s more, the party is firmly pro-EU, even entering into an electoral pact in selected seats with the Lib Dems and Greens.
The pundits heaped much praise on Price’s performances in the TV debates, but the party’s vote share dropped for the third general election in a row, and they failed to build on the four seats they’ve held since 2017. Plaid failed to finish second in any of the other seats it contested.
With Labour in disarray and the Lib Dems an unviable alternative, Plaid Cymru actually went backwards. 28,439 people who voted for the party in 2015 did not do so this time. A small minority will have died or emigrated, but what about the rest?
And what about the young ‘activists’ who have come onto electoral roll in the years since, and make a lot of noise on social media?
The reality is that under the leadership of Wood and Price, Plaid Cymru has become increasingly cult-like and obsessed with woke issues.
It’s now those forces that are firmly in control of the party, which only has around 10,000 members. It’s even threatening their support base in the four seats they hold, where people usually have the sort of socially conservative attitudes that are despised by those now in charge of Plaid.
The party has an electronic army on social media of fascist-hunters, climate change crusaders, EU fanatics and trans lobbyists who hurl vile abuse at anyone who dares to question their agenda. They exist within their own echo chamber, but it looks very ugly from the outside, and it’s easy to see why the party has been unable to expand its appeal.
So where did that leave the voters of Wrexham, Ynys Mon and Bridgend? Labour had betrayed them, and neither the Lib Dems nor Plaid Cymru had any intention of honouring their decision to vote for Brexit in 2016.
In many respects, the Conservatives were the ‘least worst’ option. Many Welsh voters put a cross next to the Conservative candidate knowing their grandfathers would be turning in their graves. Many don’t exactly ‘trust’ Boris Johnson, but they were willing to give him a chance. He was promising to honour the result of the referendum by delivering Brexit within a matter of weeks of the election, and offered them an optimistic vision of how he wants to reshape Britain. For that, the voters broke the habit of a century and backed him.
The electorate in these areas support Brexit for a plethora of reasons, from uncontrolled mass immigration leading to a suppression of wages, to concerns about the lack of democratic accountability in the EU. But the overriding factor was that for them, life just isn’t very good, and they firmly believe that radical change, namely a departure from the clutches of Brussels is needed.
The voters in these parts of Wales know that Boris Johnson is not ‘one of them’ – he doesn’t look or sound like them, but he does appear to respect them.
The election in Wales could have been far worse for the Labour Party. They still hold 22 of the 40 seats. In truth, the presence of the Brexit Party almost certainly cost the Conservatives at least an extra four seats in Wales, possibly more.
Wales has given Boris Johnson a chance. With Labour and Plaid Cymru in disarray and unlikely to get their act together any time soon, the onus is on him to honour his pledges. Get this right, and the Conservatives could end up the largest party in the Assembly elections of May 2021 (by which time it will have been renamed the Welsh Parliament).
By the time of the next general election, highly likely to be at least four years away, the Brexit issue and the Brexit Party will be a distant memory, and as a result the Conservatives will have the opportunity to win yet more seats in Wales if the people can see tangible improvements to their lives.
If the Conservatives seize this opportunity, the general election of 2019 could go down in history as merely the opening chapter of a political revolution in Wales.