Wales: Rhodri fears Labour vote collapse

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Jan 11 14:13:13 UTC 2008

Rhodri fears Labour vote collapse

LABOUR must overcome forces which threaten to divide Wales, First
Minister Rhodri Morgan said yesterday. Today he embarks on a tour of
West Wales to discover why the Labour vote in the region has

At stake is not only the future of Welsh Labour, he argues, but the
cohesion of the nation.

He told the Western Mail, "The things which divide us are greater than
the things which unite us, sadly. The centrifugal forces are stronger
than the centripetal forces but we've got to overcome that.

"Because of Labour's history as the party which has won every seat in
Wales barring Montgomeryshire, it is our job to unite the whole of
Wales and stop this sort-of separating out."

Six months ago Mr Morgan had an emergency heart procedure. He entered
hospital shortly after sealing the One Wales pact which brought Labour
and Plaid Cymru together in government for the first time. Labour had
won 26 of the Assembly's 60 seats. During the post-mortem that
followed, senior figures such as deputy minister Leighton Andrews
identified the poor performance in Welsh-speaking areas and called on
the party to reach beyond its traditional industrial heartlands.
Today, a leaner Mr Morgan says he is enjoying a "second wind" –
politically and physically.Next year he will make way for a successor.
In the meantime, he seeks to restore the "sense of trust" that bonded
the Labour Party to the electorate in so many constituencies
throughout the 20th century.

He said, "It was through Labour that people saw their ambitions and
aspirations being achieved – in the West as well as the East."
The 68-year-old is adamant that Labour is a "whole-of-Wales" party –
though he acknowledges, "The western half of Wales has been a real
problem for Labour, and we've got to correct that." Deputy First
Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones has repeatedly described Plaid as the party
which works for the "whole of Wales". The two parties are now joined
in coalition but engaged in a subtle battle for the centre ground –
the same political space targeted by the Conservatives and the Liberal

Mr Morgan believes Labour has a historic advantage in this contest,
saying, "All the other parties will have large swathes where they've
never in 100 years of trying won a seat." Today and tomorrow he will
visit Carmarthenshire, Aberystwyth, Ynys Môn, Caernarfon and Bangor in
an effort to discover why rival parties have made inroads. He is
troubled that the Cardiff Bay administration is not seen as delivering
for West Wales and contends that Labour is a defender of the Welsh
language and a champion of the region. "We have done the heavy lifting
on the language in the same way we've done the heavy lifting on
devolution and Objective One and now convergence funding – they are
all part of a package," he said. The First Minister argues that
building "sustainable prosperity" is one of the best guarantees for
the language's survival.

While he does not seek a new Welsh Language Act, as has been demanded
by some Plaid activists, he believes the Welsh Language Board should
be empowered to fight quangos and local authorities on behalf of the
"embattled individual". "The Welsh language has stabilised after a
century of decline in terms of numbers and percentage," he said. "The
question is: Where does it go from here?" He gives parents credit for
keeping the language alive in their homes, but admits that persuading
teenagers to speak Welsh is a key challenge. "There are massive forces
which force minority languages to decline and competing with the
English language is more difficult than competing with any other
language," he said.

But Mr Morgan also acknowledges that language policy is one of the
most divisive policies in an already fragmented region. People who did
not speak Welsh, he said, feared both compulsion and exclusion, while
others who were fluent felt like "second-class" citizens.
He asked, "Which party in Wales can actually act as a bridge between
the two?" 'It's a very difficult country to unite'

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