Wales: Rhodri criticises lack of ‘Britishness’ in Brown’s policies

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Nov 18 18:27:05 UTC 2008

Rhodri criticises lack of 'Britishness' in Brown's policies
Nov 17 2008 by Martin Shipton, Western Mail

THERE is little evidence to back up Gordon Brown's efforts to champion
"British" virtues of tolerance and decency, Wales' First Minister will
claim in a new book. Rhodri Morgan argues that problems including
criminalisation of the nation's youth and a "fortress-like" attitude
to asylum seekers undermine efforts to define Britishness in the Prime
Minister's terms. Mr Brown has long sought to link himself closely to
the concept of Britishness, starting with a string of speeches on the
issue in the early part of 2006, before he became Prime Minister.

Speaking in January of that year, he urged the public to unite behind
the Union Jack as a positive symbol for the whole country.
He said: "The flag should be a symbol of unity and part of a modern
expression of patriotism too. "All the United Kingdom should honour
it, not ignore it. We should assert that the Union flag by definition
is a flag for tolerance and inclusion." But writing in the forthcoming
book Politics in 21st Century Wales, Mr Morgan claimed there was
little depth to the link between those qualities and the idea of

He writes: "If the values of 'Britishness' are to be promoted
primarily on the grounds of tolerance and decency, then bluntly the
record of bulging prisons, record incarceration of children,
fortress-like asylum policies, and a progressive erosion of the
distinction between 'anti-social' behaviour (where solutions ought to
be sought primarily through social policy) and criminal conduct (which
falls to be dealt with by the criminal justice system) provides an
uncertain background of evidence." Flagship New Labour policies like
the decision to invade Iraq exacerbate the problem further, argues Mr
Morgan. Instead, he suggests, the case for Britishness "rests far more
securely on a set of pragmatic... advantages which come to Wales – and
to England and Scotland – from being part of a whole."

The assault on Mr Brown's view is part of a wide-ranging essay in
which Mr Morgan seeks to redefine the Labour Party's approach to the
Welsh electorate. The party's poor performance at the ballot box in
Wales is recent years is because the party is not seen as sufficiently
Welsh, the Labour leader believes. Considering the results of last
year's Assembly election, Mr Morgan writes: "... it is possible to
divine from the figures an analysis that in Wales, as in Scotland
(where the SNP became the biggest party), Labour were punished not for
being too Welsh but for not being Welsh enough. Plaid was the

"Other than this and the general sense of a Conservative revival, the
most striking pattern to emerge in the 2007 election was the decline
of Labour's fortunes in West Wales, both north and south. "While this
is a worrying development which Labour has to take very seriously, it
is important not to fall into a deterministic sense of pessimism about
our prospects and chances in the west of Wales
"...The reason why I think it is absolutely essential that we turn our
minds again, as a party, to winning in the west (as I am convinced we
can) is the simple recognition that, as far as the Assembly is
concerned at least, without winning in the west, Labour cannot win

Mr Morgan goes on to argue that while the Labour Party has backed a
series of important initiatives in the Valleys – including the
flagship Valleys First project – the emphasis placed on these risks
implying that dealing with problems in the former industrial areas of
South Wales is the single most important task for a Labour-run
Assembly Government. Mr Morgan adds: "If we were to accept that
geographical restriction, then not only do we undermine our
credibility in those other areas, but the Valleys cannot come first
under that scenario either." The First Minister cites Labour's
reaction to calls for a new Welsh Language Act as an example of how
the party appeared to have been outflanked by its opponents.

"In the run up to May 2007, the other parties supported it. Labour did
not. In practical terms this may have been right. "However, it is
possible that this allowed the impression to gain currency that Labour
was hostile to the Welsh language itself, rather than to new
legislation. "The Tory party used to be the party that was regarded as
hostile to the Welsh language. They have decided to reposition
themselves as more pro-Welsh language than Labour... "Rather than
being seen as concentrating on what could be delivered in practical
terms, Labour's approach ran the risk of leaving the party in the camp
of perceived unhelpfulness to the future of the language."

The single greatest challenge for the Labour Party, Mr Morgan argues,
is to recover lost ground, particularly in West Wales.
While Labour has – with a few notable exceptions – retained control of
its Valleys strongholds even in a time of overall national decline, it
has failed to threaten in a series of key West Wales seats in recent
years. In last year's Assembly elections, the party lost control of
both Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire and Preseli Pembrokeshire
to the Conservatives, meaning the party now only holds five seats
outside South Wales, and none at all west of Swansea.

Mr Morgan concludes: "There is a danger for Labour that we appear, too
often, to have adopted the opposite stance in relation to issues which
matter to voters in parts of West Wales. "We simply cannot afford for
'rural' to be a term of abuse inside the Labour Party... No matter how
high we pile up our majorities in Islwyn, Torfaen, Merthyr and so on,
if we cannot win in Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire or the north west,
then Labour will be in a perpetual minority.

"A prerequisite for a Labour majority is that the interests of the
less well-off people in the Valleys, of whom there are many, are seen
as parallel to the interests of the less well-off people in the
western half of Wales, of whom there are also many, even though they
may constitute a smaller proportion of the population."

Mr Morgan also says Labour should consider allowing local authorities
to hold referendums on introducing a proportional representation
system of electing councillors. Such a move could, he suggests, allow
Labour to get a valuable local government base in West Wales.

Mr Morgan's emphasis on the need to rebuild support for Labour in West
Wales was backed by Euro MP Eluned Morgan, who said: "I would
certainly like to endorse Rhodri's analysis of the political
situation. We have been too timid in the past in our support for the
Welsh language.

"I believe there has been a sea change in attitudes to the language in
East Wales too, and backing it now chimes with our core support."

Politics in 21st Century Wales is published by the Institute of Welsh
Affairs and costs £10.
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