Wales: Rhodri fears Labour vote collapse

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Jan 12 20:53:26 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
collapsed. 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 Democrats.

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

"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' - page 2

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