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Letter of Resignation from the Labour Party
A little over a year ago, I wrote to you expressing my concerns about the political direction of Welsh Labour. In particular, I questioned the undemocratic nature of the pact with the Liberals and the tone and direction of Labour's attacks on Plaid Cymru. I'm afraid to say that subsequent developments have justified many of my concerns.
More than that, I have a growing sense that the launch of 'Welsh Labour' under your leadership has been largely a rebranding exercise. The same is true of 'New Wales'. The New Wales that I see around me looks all too similar to the old Wales, with some new Assembly labels attached.
At a British level, Tony Blair has shown that New Labour in government is determined to follow strictly neoliberal economic policies. This approach is directly damaging to a peripheral nation like Wales, with its weak economy and consequent over-reliance on the public sector.
What is more, radical political reforms have been gutted of any real content by New Labour ministers. A Welsh Assembly - with wholly inadequate powers; a reformed House of Lords - with appointed peers; a minimum wage - which condones youth poverty; a freedom of information act - bristling with restrictions; proportional representation - but with closed party lists. Blairism is revealed as an ideology of surface radicalism, devoid of any authentically radical content.
I realise that you and other Labour cabinet members are sincere in their efforts to make the best of the Assembly's current powers and finances and to resist the worst excesses of Blairism. Unfortunately, these efforts are conducted in almost complete isolation from both party members and wider Welsh society. Our Assembly is in danger of remaining a rootless body, destined to offer little more than paliatives to the Welsh people. In short, Welsh Labour in government is not radical enough, not socialist enough and not Welsh enough.
This is why I have decided to resign from the Labour Party, after 20 years of membership, and to join Plaid Cymru - the Party of Wales.
No one person or party has solutions for all the problems that we face in Wales. But we certainly won't develop lasting and sustainable policies unless we discuss our problems, and the restrictions preventing us from fully addressing them, in an open and honest way. I am told, for example, that Assembly plans to expand the rail network in Wales are severely restricted by the body's lack of powers over Railtrack. And yet not a single Welsh Labour AM saw fit to support a Plaid Cymru resolution calling, quite correctly, for the Assembly to have such powers and for public control of Railtrack.
This, and many other issues confirm what I have felt for some time, that the debates that took place in Scotland before the establishment of their Parliament will have to take place in Wales after the establishment of our Assembly. I have said this to you and others, many times. Yet your government and your party show no urgency in initiating and encouraging such debates. Still worse, some sections of Welsh Labour are actively involved in 'policing' the subject areas that we are allowed to debate in Wales and in demonising Plaid Cymru. I feel an increasing revulsion towards the petty, opportunist antics of many Welsh Labour politicians. Let me give you a couple of recent examples.
A discussion magazine was launched in December by the left-wing of Plaid Cymru, called Triban Coch. The launch attracted support from both the left and the centre of the party. Your business manager, Andrew Davies, used an Assembly short debate to pour scorn on the new publication and on Plaid's 'internal mess'. I have known Andrew for many years and he has always been a 'practical' politician, of limited vision. Since his election as an AM he has shown himself willing to serve many masters. And yet, despite this, he obviously feels well qualified to make facile comments about the important debates taking place within Plaid Cymru. Here are some edited highlights:
As a further example, consider the New Labour response to comments made by Plaid Cymru's Adam Price on Wales and the euro. Adam has, quite rightly, raised some serious questions about the effect of the single currency, implemented under the rules of the Maastricht Treaty and Stability Pact, on public services in Wales. This is a carefully considered position, shared by many on the left across Europe, which I wholeheartedly support. And yet, how did Chris Bryant, the überBlairite MP for the Rhondda, think it appropriate to respond? By dismissing the substantive points and claiming that Adam had stolen his ideas from Iain Duncan Smith! This, of course, proved once and for all that Plaid Cymru and the Tories were simply one and the same. Poor Chris, he has a lot to learn about Welsh politics, but is this ysgol meithrin logic really the best he could come up with?
These sorry tales illustrate the poverty of what passes for public Labour politics in Wales. They show a complacent party, large sections of which will do anything to avoid a debate. But they also point to deeper historical problems, bigger even than Welsh Labour itself.
Tribalism, parochialism, promotion of mediocrity and anti-Welsh-language Welshness are all the legacies of many centuries of defeat and subordination. I have struggled for many years to understand this aspect of Wales. The most compete description that I have found to date is that given by Raymond Williams in his seminal essay, 'Wales and England', published in 1985.
While always alive to 'the more substantial and interesting process of certain autonomies hard won within a subordination', Raymond Williams also emphasised the negative consequences of the historical Welsh experience:
He is referring to the 1979 debacle, of course, but his words could equally apply to the dangerously close result in 1999. In both referenda the 'No' campaign appealed precisely to the negative sentiments that Raymond Williams discusses. It is truly saddening that so many New Labour politicians are also happy to appeal to these attitudes in the hope of making short-term gains against Plaid. The long term damage they are causing is considerable.
In my view, a genuinely pan-Welsh approach to politics is urgently needed, based on a commitment to all parts of Wales, without exception. To have any real meaning this must also be an unbreakable commitment to those who are poorest and most marginalised in all communities. Contrary to many political myths, these people live in every part of our class-divided country.
At its most elementary, a pan-Welsh position must mean a refusal to perpetuate, in any form, the tribalism and language-antagonism that so clearly exists. To your credit, you have strenuously avoided doing this. But the same cannot be said for many Labour AMs, MPs and MEPs, to say nothing of Transport House or the Welsh Mirror. The Mirror's 'Plaid voices of hate' campaign was truly despicable. I disagree with many of the things said by Seimon Glyn and other members of Cymuned, but simply labelling them as racist does nothing to clarify the debate or engage with the issue. And far worse than that, the whole campaign has diverted attention away from the real and pressing issue of racism in Wales, that of the racism of white Welsh and English people towards all those of the 'wrong' colour. How 'England' and 'Britain' feed into all this are also taboo subjects under New Labour.3
I can no longer remain a member of a party that uses anti-Welsh-language prejudice to shore up its predominantly English-speaking voting base in the south.
The Welsh language is under threat in many different parts of Wales as a living language, one through which people can largely live their lives. This includes villages like Ynystawe and Brynaman, where I grew up. This is deeply troubling to me as a native Welsh speaker.
Felly, dwi'n gofyn i ti, fel un Cymro i'r llall: a wyt ti'n fodlon gweld tranc yr iaith, fel iaith byw, mewn sawl ardal o Gymru, tra bo ti'n Brif Weinidog ar y wlad? Dyna fydd y canlyniad os wyt ti'n parhau â'r polisi o wneud cyn lleiad a phosib, ac o beidio cydnabod fod yna broblem yn y lle cyntaf.
Rydym mewn peryg o golli agweddau unigryw o'n diwylliant: y safbwyntiau, hanesion a doethineb sydd yn byw ym mhob iaith. Gobeithio dy fod ti, fel fi, yn teimlo'r colled yn bersonnol. Mae hybu dwyieithrwydd naturiol yn dasg sylfaenol i'r Cynulliad. A, gan mae diwedd y gân yw'r geiniog, os oes angen mwy o arian i sicrhau hyn bydd rhaid mynnu bod Lundain yn ei ddarparu.
A resignation letter is of necessity a letter of parting. But I must emphasise that I remain in favour of the widest possible unity on all issues of agreement. Perhaps the most pressing of those is the need to revise the Barnett formula. This need is acknowledged across a broad political spectrum in Wales. What is an essentially arbitrary formula needs to be replaced with a financial settlement based on a social, economic, cultural and linguistic audit of real needs, problems and opportunities. It offers us a chance to form a progressive united-front between Welsh Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Liberals. Such unity would emphasise the fundamental importance of the issue and strengthen the hand of the Government of Wales in negotiations with Downing Street and the Treasury. I do hope that you give this issue the attention it deserves.
I find it important to periodically remind myself why I got involved in socialist politics in the first place. This is particularly apposite on the occasion of leaving one party and joining another. Once again, Raymond Williams has expressed it far better than I can:
These are fine words. To subscribe to them is to be truly ambitious for Wales. I find greater hope that they will be realised by Plaid Cymru than by Welsh Labour. And that, in the end, is why I have to resign.
Dr. D. Ceri Evans
11 February, 2002
1 Andrew Davies, Y Cofnod - The Record, The National Assembly for Wales, Thurs 13 December 2001, Short debate: 'Who is governing Wales?' 11.58 am - 12.35 pm.
2 Raymond Williams, 'Wales and England', in John Osmond (ed.), The National Question Again (Gomer: Llandysul, 1985), p. 28.
4 Raymond Williams, 'You're a Marxist, Aren't You?', in Resources of Hope (Verso: London,) pp. 75-76.
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