Labour’s Welsh election: Brexit, health services and lies about Corbyn

Labour had a bad Welsh election. In south Wales, the party held onto the two 2017 gains – Cardiff North and Gower – but Bridgend, a seat last won by the Conservatives in 1983, was lost. North Wales saw Labour almost wiped out, losing five of the six seats previously held and only avoiding complete defeat by holding on to Alyn and Deeside by just 213 votes.

It was billed as the ‘Brexit election’ and the Conservative leader kept repeating “get Brexit done” – which resonated with previous Labour voters who voted Leave in 2016 and, crucially, those who voted Remain but felt that the democratic decision had to be upheld. Time after time, I was told when talking to voters, “we voted for Brexit and you are trying to stop it – that is not democracy”.

On the Friday morning, Carolyn Harris and I visited a faith and family centre where people told us: “We always vote Labour, but this time we voted Conservative to get Brexit done.” The good news is that by the time of the next election Brexit will be complete. There will also be confusion when people see that we are still negotiating with the EU after January 2020.

Jeremy Corbyn was unpopular with older, especially male, voters, but popular – although not enough to win the election – with younger voters. His complete refusal to use the courts to defend himself against libel emboldened critics who told greater and greater lies about him. The most important thing for the next leader to do is to immediately take legal action against anyone who libels them and crucially to continue that action against those who propagate it on social media.

Remember the prompt action by Lord McAlpine to protect himself against libel: the BBC and ITV formally apologised to Lord McAlpine at the High Court for “disastrously” and falsely linking him to child sex abuse allegations at a Welsh care home. The broadcasters’ solicitors apologised unreservedly for the damage and distress caused. His lawyers confirmed that the agreements involved the payment of £185,000 damages by the BBC and £125,000 from ITV, together with very substantial costs. He pursued others who propagated the story on social media, including comedian Alun Davies and Sally Bercow, and made those with less than 500 followers make a £25 donation to children in need.

As with all elections, there are local reasons for the result. North Wales is covered by the Betsi Cadwaladr university health board (BCUHB), which has been in special measures for over four years. The National Assembly Wales public accounts committee report states: “There is a risk that the special measures status of a north Wales health board ‘may have become a normal state of affairs’.”

The report says Welsh government support has been “insufficient” and that actions “had little practical impact” on changing the health board’s performance. The review paper said: “It is simply unacceptable that BCUHB, as the largest NHS body in Wales, has been in special measures for nearly four years.”

The report also took aim at the health board’s leadership, saying it is “deeply concerned” that it has “failed to grip its financial position” and that recurring deficits are “unsustainable”. It adds that “poor quality savings plans the board has had in place… have been both simplistic and overly ambitious”.

There are those of us, albeit a minority, who believe that the structure of health in north Wales is fundamentally flawed and that the reason for which the Betsi Cadwaladr health board does not work is its make-up, not its management.

Finally, a reminder of how previous leaders were attacked – from Tony Blair as “new Labour new danger”, Gordon Brown being named a “shameless defender of the old elite”, to “red Ed” who could not eat a bacon sandwich. Any Labour leader will be attacked by the Express, Mail and Sun, with the BBC reporting those attacks as news.

We have just over 16 months to the next Welsh Assembly elections, and we need to campaign to keep control in Wales. We need to learn the lessons of the general election and ensure that we do better than on December 12th.

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