We’re not even a week after the General Election and already there have been protests against the austerity measures the Conservative government are proposing.
Of course, the debate on austerity is a valid one, with sensible arguments on either side. But regardless of this, few can dispute that it was a remarkable election which saw the SNP pick up 56 out of 59 of the seats available in Scotland, with swings of up to 35%, largely at the expense of the Labour Party.
It was a shockingly poor General Election for Labour, with them losing many more seats across the UK. And yet, to me it’s a mystery that Labour still have such a stronghold in Wales.
The decline in coal mining in the 1980s is very much seen as a Conservative legacy which is why they are not exactly the most welcome of parties in the South Wales Valleys. However, it always surprises me how Labour get off Scot-free (no pun intended)
Yes, the Conservatives were against the vast subsidies afforded to coal mining, an industry which had been in decline since the early part of the 20th century. The announcement of around 20 pit closures in the mid 1980’s led to the worst industrial action in living memory.
Labour were perceived to be on the side of the predominantly working class population of the Valleys. In reality, during the 1980s Labour were suffering an identity crisis as they struggled down the long, slow road to the centre ground of New Labour. During the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike, Neil Kinnock seemed to be more concerned with emulating the outspoken persona adopted by Margaret Thatcher, than to actually speak out in favour of the strikers (he was in fact against the strike action, as it took place without a ballot).
By the time New Labour swept to victory, the party had transformed and the Valleys had all but been forgotten. After all, with such large majorities in each seat, they were always guaranteed to win. This should have been their chance to put right their muddled attitude in the 1980s. The Valleys desperately needed investment, a fresh start. And yet after 13 years of Labour in power, there was little in the way of investment, with the region seeming more desolate than ever.
This is almost exactly the same scenario as in Scotland. However, in Scotland the SNP has taken full advantage of Labour’s complacency. A vote for SNP was not necessarily a vote for independence, it was an anti-Labour vote.
I’m a Conservative voter, so what I’m about to say may be surprising:
I hope that Plaid Cymru become the SNP of Wales over the next few years. Plaid is the only party that had a strategy for the Valleys in its manifesto, and although I don’t agree with much of their politics, I have to concede that Wales could benefit from having a party fight its corner at a UK level.
Unfortunately, Plaid has a reputation for being too far left, and more preoccupied with issues such as the Welsh language and ultimately independence (an unobtainable target in my opinion). They are also anti-austerity and I don’t think the UK can continue spending at the level it is right now. But I think Plaid have a good chance to send a clear message that Wales won’t be taken for granted by Labour or any other political party.
Labour has failed Wales time and time again, and it’s about time they paid the price here just as they have in Scotland.