Theatre in Wales

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"More Fractured, Divided and Confusing than at any Time in our Modern History"

A Political Diary

Monarch, MP, Minister & Political Scientist , Politics of Wales , January 31, 2020
A Political Diary by Monarch, MP, Minister & Political Scientist Over the quiet time that is Christmas to New Year I came across George V writing in his diary on 28th June 1919. “Please God, this dear old country will soon settle down and march in unity.”

The most generous comment I heard in the last year was David Lammy. He was on a public platform in October and recounted the nature of public life. "This morning I received a horrendous death threat.” He recalled his staff were upset and then added “I saw terrible loneliness.”

First Minister's Questions on 10th December had an interesting notion as to the very point of the session. “Despite the disunity fostered by his party”- this was in reference to Adam Price- “running down Wales at every opportunity, this is a country that faces the future with a greater sense of confidence and purpose.”

In this view to critique the government- as is the role of the opposition, a constitutional responsibility- is to critique the nation.

January has been a cold winter for the Labour party. The numbers are tough. The gap to regain is 3,697,403, the voter gap behind the Conservatives. What really stings is who they are. Two-thirds of graduates, not in Scotland or Northern Ireland, voted Labour but less than half of those with GCSEs or lower. There is no government ever without getting that group back.

December 12th 2019 was not the first time this has happened. In 1931 and 1935 more working-class electors voted Conservative than Labour. The solution, in the view of historians like Martin Pugh, was simple. The party repositioned itself as a national party, broader than the wing of the organised industrial working class. Foreign policy was unambiguous with the demolition of George Lansbury by Ernest Bevin. The policy, under Atlee, was support for military action against fascist aggression.

Foreign policy has not been overt in the campaign of the last winter. I know as little about the Services as any civilian. But when a group of demonstrators, veterans, were gathered outside Downing Street I used the opportunity to talk. Their views on the Labour leadership were revealing. This was in 2017. The party went on to lose every garrison town.

3,697,403 people to get. One word in the campaigning language that is still being used is “transformation.” This is without any evidence that the lost voters have faith in it or even want it. The few I speak to want the mundane; faster access to GP's, more apprenticeships for their children, less petty crime.

But a second worry about the concept is that it is projected as a fiscal blast from Whitehall. But look at those who describe it as it understood, the science journalist Philip Ball for instance. He makes a distinction: “The two kinds of transformation- phase transitions and non-equilibrium bifurcations- have features in common because they are both fundamentally of the same ilk: they are both collective modes of behaviour arising from the mutual, local interactions of many individual components.” Civil society is at least its part-motor.

Wales has good political scientists, as evidenced in previous dairy entries. I find Richard Wyn Jones writing for “Barn.”

“In international comparative terms, the grip of one-partyism makes Wales a very, very unusual case. Indeed, it’s hard to think of anywhere that is analogous. From which it would be easy to conclude that the people of Wales are unusual homogenous. Yet, by contrast, there would also seem to be broad agreement that Wales is an unusually varied and heterogenous place. There is a long tradition of making a virtue of this heterogeneity – Wales ‘the community of communities’, to use a phrase associated with Saunders Lewis. Another, equally valid way of characterising this is to say that Wales is divided. Divided by class, language, religion (in the past at least), ethnicity and nationality, with divisions between regions and between more rural and more built-up areas further complicating matters.

In very broad and no doubt crude terms, the electoral dominance of Welsh liberalism was founded on the support of a religiously Nonconformist gwerin and working-class who tended to speak Welsh and were Welsh-British in their identity. The social foundations of support for their Tory rivals lay among the Anglican and Anglicised middle class for whom Welsh identity meant less or indeed nothing at all. As numerous historians and other observers have pointed out, Labour’s subsequent dominance was an extension and adaptation of this earlier Liberal forerunner rather than some revolutionary overthrow of it.”

And shifts are underway again.

“All that said, it appears that far-reaching social change combined with substantial demographic shifts is now changing our politics – including our electoral politics – in fundamental ways. Rather than combining to underpin two blocs, the various social cleavages that characterise contemporary Welsh society are now giving rise to a politics that is more fractured, divided and, yes, confusing than at any time in our modern history.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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