Tag Archives: Wales

Wales: Blairite right clings on

William Phillips looks at the forthcoming leadership election in Welsh Labour

Jeremy Corbyn was the first Labour Party leader to be elected under the ‘one member, one vote’ system. Welsh Labour might well follow this lead. Its April 20-22 Llandudno conference agreed to review how it elects the Labour leader in Wales – something which became particularly urgent after Carwyn Jones dramatically announced his resignation in his final speech to conference. Elections are due in the autumn.

Under existing rules the leader is chosen through an electoral college system that gives equals votes to (1) members, (2) the unions and other affiliated organisations, and (3) MPs, MEPs and AMs. While Unison and the GMB are keen on retaining their union block votes, they have talked about reducing the vote wielded by the politicians or eliminating it in its entirety. Others, however, including Mark Drakeford – finance secretary in the Welsh government and a candidate to succeed Carwyn Jones – are campaigning for Omov.

Who emerges as the new leader will obviously depend on the election system. But some idea of the balance of forces can be gleaned from Llandudno.

It is unlikely any trend or group would have left conference fully satisfied. “A score draw,” some comrades I spoke to reckoned; “2-1 to the right, but with the second half still to come”, was the verdict of another leftwing delegate. A deep fault line runs between the rank and file, which is left-leaning, and most union bureaucrats, councillors, assembly members, etc, who are still dominated by the right. Whereas the rank and file identify with Corbyn, the officialdom is determined to distance itself from the UK leadership.

Superficially, the bare facts of the conference appear to support a sober assessment for the left. Its candidate for the new post of deputy leader in Wales was defeated. Two motions addressing the electoral college system that delivered this victory for the right were rejected by the standing orders committee (SOC) in the run-up to Llandudno, and energetic lobbying at the event itself by comrades from the Constituency Labour Parties and Welsh Labour Grassroots/Momentum could not reverse the SOC’s ruling.

In November of last year, the Welsh executive committee (WEC) adopted the electoral college for leader and deputy leader elections. The WEC’s contempt for the membership it purports to serve was illustrated by the high-handed way it ignored the pro-Omov submissions from 19 of the 27 CLPs which responded to the membership consultation that itactually initiated.

The anger this sparked on the left is all the more understandable when you look at the victory margin for the right’s candidate for deputy leader, Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris. The result was 51.5% for Harris and 48.5% for the left’s candidate, Julie Morgan. (Their current locations on the political spectrum are relative and highly mobile, it must be said.)

However, burrow deeper into the detail and the real story of the deputy leadership election emerges. In terms of the combined 16,819 votes cast, Morgan had beaten Harris by 9,110 votes to 7,709. Particularly significant was that in the members’ section Morgan won by 6,244 votes to 3,336 – a ratio of almost 2:1 (although on a disappointing turnout of 38.2%).

It was the weighted electoral college system that had swung it for Harris, to the anger and frustration of many. The sections for elected representatives and unions, etc have been so far the least affected by the changes that have come with Corbyn.

Leftwingers are naturally annoyed that their votes were swamped. One particular statistic that is being bitterly repeated by comrades is that the vote of one elected AM or MP is worth the vote of 400 ranks-and-file members.


There is no question that the campaign for Omov – pushed energetically by many CLPs and members in the branches – will have received a boost from this widely discredited election. The notion that our elected representatives should command such a disproportionately huge influence is clearly absurd. By definition, our MPs, MEPs and AMs are the most susceptible to the seductions of power. They are the people who we really need to keep an eye on.

Tactically, it may be correct to support Omov at this stage in the fight in Welsh Labour. It would certainly make short work of the current leadership of Welsh Labour and install a pro-Corbyn team. However, as a general principle we should be against plebiscites in the party – for electoral contests or otherwise. Comrades should remember that the move to Omov for the election of the party leader began with the likes of Neil Kinnock and John Smith, and culminated in Ed Miliband’s Collins review – it was a rightwing ploy to dilute the working class nature of our party. 1)https://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1000/labour-unions-vote-to-be-distanced/

Comrades should bear in mind the farce that was John Lansman’s Momentum coup, cynically wrapped as it was in a veneer of ‘democracy from below’. In fact, this pseudo-inclusive manoeuvre crushed the embryonic democratic structures of the organisation and substituted online voting of the entire, atomised and easily steered membership. Omov in Lansman’s hands was the vehicle for a profoundly undemocratic plot against the interests of the membership – one that stymied Momentum’s potential to be an effective, dynamic left trend in the party.

Moreover – despite our recent negative experience in Wales – it is in general an enormous strength of the Labour Party that it has the affiliation of important unions. It is pleasing that no comrades here seem to have had a ‘Christine Shawcroft moment’2)Specifically, her outburst on Facebook: “It is time to support disaffiliation of the unions from the Labour Party” – questioning Labour’s historic links with these vital working class institutions. In fact, as part of the democracy review that was won at the Llandudno conference (see below), we should include a commitment to a vigorous national campaign to affiliate all unions to Labour – a development that would go a huge way to making the party a genuine united front of the working class.

That would require rank-and-file initiative in the unions; hard campaigning work and persuasive arguments; and – crucially – a thorough-going democratisation of the unions from top to bottom.


Despite the results of this year’s conference, there were positive developments that could open up real opportunities for the left.

Firstly there is Mark Drakeford. He is, of this moment, the bookies’ favourite. Drakeford has a long history on the left in Wales and has been a consistent supporter of Corbyn.

Certainly, he could hardly be more inconsistent than the outgoing Blairite incumbent and supporter of Syrian air strikes, Carwyn Jones. The Jones ‘brand’ was undoubtedly tainted by his and his team’s handling of charges of inappropriate sexual conduct against Carl Sargeant, a Welsh government minister – resulting in the man’s suicide in November last year. But politically, Jones had already lost a great deal of authority, given the nature of the general election campaign that official Welsh Labour had foisted on the membership in June 2017.

This was clearly devised to dramatically distance the party in Wales from the leadership in London – Corbyn and McDonnell in particular. The Cardiff HQ drew up a different election platform, and pictures of Corbyn on official material were rarer than dragon’s eggs. Many rank-and-file members were angry at this sidelining of the leader and made their views known with some energy.

Other encouraging developments for the left came out of this year’s conference:

  • CLPs organised a useful fringe meeting on Omov, convened by the umbrella organisation, Cyfle (‘Opportunity’ in Welsh). By all accounts it was a lively meeting, with a combative resolution on display that the fight for the democratisation of our party would go on and intensify.
  • There was also some success for WLG/Momentum in elections to the SOC and even those lefts who were unsuccessful replicated the general pattern of support that was displayed in the deputy leadership contest. That is, the left won amongst the branch members; they lost out to the voting weight of the affiliate organisations.
  • WLG/Momentum-backed candidates won eight out of the 10 available CLP seats on the leadership.

I have already referenced the democracy review. The motion for this was moved by delegate Sue Hagerty and her call for the initial phase of the process to be completed this summer, ending with a special conference on the leadership election method in advance of the election itself, needs to be vigorously supported by the membership (especially because – while this proposal was very popular with delegates – worryingly, the final decision rests with the incoming Welsh executive).

The motion passed with very few dissenters and so comrades in Wales now have an opportunity to discuss this pivotal issue. Although the remit of the democracy review in Wales only covers issues specifically devolved to the WEC (which, happily, include the election format for leadership and deputy leadership elections), the logic of the discussion must take us far beyond these parameters and towards a permanent, democratic and militant organisation of the rank and file in Wales and beyond.

Nation, class unity and political strategy

Despite the ‘no’ vote in the Scottish referendum the national question has not gone away. Roger Freeman argues for self-determination and a federal republic

Unlike the narrow economism that passes for common sense on too much of the left, the LPM does its best to take a Marxist approach to the UK state. As a minimum demand – ie, within the technical limits imposed by the capitalist system – we emphasise, bring to the fore, class (as opposed to sectional) demands that challenge the logic of the market, such as the provision of health, education and benefits based on need. We give no less emphasis to political demands which challenge how we are ruled. Hence we demand the abolition of the monarchy, the secret state and the House of Lords; we demand a people’s militia, disestablishment of the church of England, election of judges, etc.

What about the national question? Once again we take an approach which seeks to forge class unity and challenge how we are ruled. Hence the demand for the abolition of the acts of union, self-determination for Scotland and Wales, and a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales (the initial form we envisage working class rule taking in Britain).

Doubtless, John Major, Tony Blair, Peter Hain, Gerry Adams and Alex Salmond have unwittingly done us a great service here. They have shown that the UK constitution is neither timeless nor natural. It is plastic, a product of historical making and contemporary remaking. What has been rearranged from above can be transformed from below.

While there must be an objective dimension when it comes to assessing what is and what is not a nation – eg, a common territory – that hardly means discounting what people think. The coming into being of a British nation in the 18th century cannot be put before the palpable feelings of masses of people in Scotland and Wales today. Millions sincerely believe they are nationally disadvantaged, held back or even oppressed. A subjective factor that only a hopeless dogmatist would discount and therefore fail to harness by offering positive solutions.

Those who rigidly adhere to third-worldist anti-imperialism cannot possibly bring themselves to countenance self-determination for ‘unworthy’ peoples – the most obvious example being Israeli Jews and the British-Irish in the six counties of Northern Ireland. Given its junior role in founding, administering and exploiting what was a vast British empire, that should logically include Scotland too. After all, historically even “left-of centre”1 Scottish nationalists sought not to end that empire, but demanded, as a “mother nation”, equal rights with England to rob and plunder it.2

Interestingly, though the motivations are transparently different, a similar argument can be heard coming from cosmopolitan liberals. According to the ethical philosopher, Allen Buchanan, self-determination for non-oppressed nations risks endless fragmentation. Unless there has been “a long train of abuses”,3 there ought to be no justification in international law for the “right of self-determination”.4 Only if “serious injustices” have occurred can a case be made for secession as a “remedial right”. Without that safeguard, without that restraint, every region, every community, every street could claim their right to self-determination and thus bring about the complete breakdown of society. Territorial integrity must therefore be upheld.

Marxists are not interested in preserving the unity of capitalist states, but in winning allies and neutralising enemies. After all, the Bolsheviks were prepared to grant self-determination even to the Cossacks. Not, of course, because the Cossacks were deserving, kind and suitably oppressed. No, on the contrary, they were the tsar’s chosen oppressors. A privileged military estate or caste. But that is exactly the point. The Bolsheviks needed to split, if possible win over, the Cossacks. Hence they started to treat them as “an ethnic or national group”.5 Without such a shift the camp of revolution could only but be weakened and the counterrevolution strengthened. In March 1920 Lenin can be found delivering a thoughtful speech on the international situation to the first all-Russia conference of working Cossacks.6

So the demand for self-determination is not some unwarranted sop to petty bourgeois reactionaries, or an unrealisable panacea, a cure-all for capitalism’s national antagonisms. Rather self-determination is one of many weapons in the armoury of Marxists. If properly applied, it advances the interests of the working class.

One can legitimately debate whether or not the Basque country, Kosovo, Quebec, Kurdistan or Scotland tick all the boxes of a classic bourgeois nation. The main point in each and every such case is what people inhabiting each specific territory think. We neither invent nor ignore national movements. We positively deal with problems where they exist, overcome national resentments, conflict and antagonisms by ending involuntarily unity and move towards voluntary unity through the struggle for socialism. That is how the positive dialectic runs, and through winning a wider and wider democracy the majority needed to secure the proletarian revolution is engaged, organised and made ready for decisive action.

Having left no room for doubt that the right to self-determination is fundamentally a political, not a moral question, let us proceed. To state the obvious, when Marxists advocate Scottish self-determination it is not the same as advocating independence.

An oft used metaphor is divorce. Saying a woman should have the legal right to split from her husband is not the same as recommending that contented wives should end their marriages. Of course, as shown by the September 18 referendum, Scotland is far from contented. If Scotland is really ‘better together’ with England why did 45% vote to finish the 300-year union? What was a marriage of convenience has clearly soured.
Scotland, as a matter of principle, ought to have the right to freely decide its own future. That is elementary democracy. However, it does not follow that Marxists are indifferent to how that right is exercised. The unacceptable status quo must be ended. Nowadays it fuels division and disempowers the working class. That is why the various left-loyalist ‘no’ campaigns were so badly mistaken. The marriage has to be renegotiated and renewed on a democratic, socialist basis.

Marxism favours the closest possible voluntary unity of people in general and workers in particular. That means accepting the right of people in Scotland to vote for whatever constitutional arrangement they happen to choose. But at every stage Marxists should resolutely fight for their programme.

Under our specific circumstances the federal republic slogan fits the bill perfectly. It encapsulates the democratic right to self-determination and the radically transformed unity of the working class in Britain against the Cameron-Miliband-Clegg devo-max constitutional monarchy. In addition, the demand for a federal republic encapsulates the unity of the working class in Britain against the divisive nationalism of Salmond, Sauter and Sheridan.


1 . http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Party_of_Scotland.
2 . The policy committee of the National Party of Scotland – one of the forerunners of the SNP – passed the following resolution on November 17 1928: “The party, having regard to the large contribution made by Scotland in building up the British empire, is desirous of increasing the affairs of the empire to the extent her contribution warrants and, as a mother nation, thereby demands complete recognition of her rights as such in the empire … the party cannot, in these circumstances agree to acquiesce in any situation that does not permit of a mother nation excursing her right to independent status and her right in partnership in that empire on terms equal to that enjoyed by England.” In other words, Scottish nationalists wanted a partnership based on the model of Austria-Hungry after 1867 (resolution quoted in C Kidd Unions and unionism: political thought in Scotland 1500-2000 Cambridge 2008, p287).
3 . American declaration of independence 1776.
4 . AE Buchanan Justice, legitimacy, and self-determination Oxford 2003, p331.
5 . P Holquist Making war, forging revolution Harvard Mass 2002, p121.
6 . See VI Lenin CW Vol 30, Moscow 1977, pp380-400.


For a federal republic
Motion proposed by Labour Party Marxists

As declining post-boom British imperialism attacked post-war concessions, in the absence of a viable socialist movement resistance in Scotland and Wales often took a nationalist form, deploying a mythologised past.

We socialists stand for:
● working class internationalism, not cross-class national unity; unity with the world’s working class, not with our ruling class;
● opposition to all forms nationalism, exclusiveness or superiority; in particular, British/English national chauvinism and Scottish or Welsh nationalist narrow-mindedness: these obscure the fundamental antagonism between labour and capital;
● replacing the hierarchy of capitalist states by world socialism – working class rule – in transition to classless, stateless, communist society: socialism cannot survive in one country or continent;
● the voluntary merging of nations; the right of all peoples to fully develop their own culture; a democratic solution to the national question, wherever it arises, through upholding the right to self-determination, including the right to merge, stay together or separate.
As the immediate democratic solution to the national question in the UK, we socialists stand for:
● unconditional support for the right of the people of Ireland to reunite: the struggles for socialism in Britain and national liberation in Ireland are closely linked;
● replacing the existing UK constitutional monarchy, along with its House of Lords, established church and secret state, with a radical federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales, with the right of Scotland and Wales to secede.



The following letter from Bob Davies appeared in the July issue of the Labour Representation Committee’s Labour Briefing (http://labourbriefing1.wordpress.com/):

I was interested to read Vince Mills’ article, ‘Socialists and Scottish Nationalism’ (Labour Briefing, June 2013).

The comrade is absolutely correct to point out the inherent dangers in the arguments of those who pursue independence as a means to counter government austerity. Striving to cement and develop an already fragile unity of the peoples and working-classes of Scotland, England and Wales to resist such attacks is hardly going to be strengthened by political trajectories which enhance the separation of people facing an attack from the same source – the British state – even if we acknowledge that that separation may well be given a radical left political twist and bent.

But let’s not kid ourselves either that a reliance on the ‘Union’ as it’s currently constituted is sufficient enough to provide long term solutions to genuine grievances which the Welsh, Scottish and English experience on a regular basis – grievances which are political, as well as economic in nature. Indeed, why on earth should socialists, in an attempt to counter the divisive political trajectory of nationalism, remain somewhat muted when exposing the weaknesses and failures of a unionism that has curtailed democratic aspirations and goals of Britain’s nationalities over the years?

The (just) furore over issues relating to self-determination since the mid-1990s highlights the need for socialists to take not only the question of self determination seriously but the question of unity too. With this in mind, it is surely incumbent upon socialists operating in whatever country they find themselves in within GB to fight for that country’s, and its neighbours’, right to full self-determination – a parliament with full powers with the right to secede – as well as advancing demands that challenge unionism yet strive to achieve the highest organisational unity of our class? Agitating for a federal republic would fulfil such a political perspective.

In solidarity,

Bob Davies, supporter, Labour Party Marxists, South Wales