Last Thursday’s local elections proved once again the strong connection between Welsh Labour and Welsh voters. The party swept aside a Conservative Party in disarray and held Plaid Cymru at bay. Welsh Labour gained 66 councillors and took control of Blaenau Gwent and Bridgend councils, whilst the Tories lost their only council in Wales and a mammoth 86 councillors.
Labour’s gains in Wales therefore closely reflected Tory losses, as Mark Drakeford’s party successfully prevented other smaller parties from benefitting from the Conservative crisis. This is in stark contrast to over the border where Labour has struggled to make any substantial gains, despite a collapse in the Tory vote.
The Tories’ representation in Wales has almost halved – falling from 187 to just 111 councillors – whilst Labour now holds five times as many councillors as them, occupying close to 50% of all council seats across Wales.
Welsh Labour’s gains were spread across the whole of Wales, from Cardiff in the South up to Denbighshire in the North. The party made gains in 15 of 22 local authorities. And it made double digit gains in five of them – including Blaenau Gwent and Bridgend, where the party regained control. Labour also made big gains in Monmouthshire to deprive the Tories of their only Welsh council and also took large numbers of Tory wards in the capital.
There were other authorities with strong gains, including Denbighshire – which Boris Johnson visited during election week – and also in Wrexham. Both of which are seen as part of Wales’ own ‘Red Wall’ seats that the party has set its sights on in order to win the next general election.
At first glance, it looks like all is rosy in the garden of Welsh democracy. That is not the case. Levels of party activity were not where they have been in recent years. And voter turnout remains stubbornly and worrying low as it has been in too many recent local elections. We are facing a crisis in our democracy, with the opposition failing to put up credible candidates across the south Wales valleys.
Faced with this crisis, the Welsh Labour government is not resting on its laurels. It is working to bring democracy closer to the people. It has given 16 and 17-year-olds the vote and is now piloting flexible voting which will allow people to vote in supermarkets and schools.
Whatever the record of good Labour local authorities and the merits of local Labour manifestoes, they often struggle to cut through and engage voters, especially when competing with the drama of national political news. The enduring goodwill towards the UK’s most popular politician Mark Drakeford and his progressive Welsh government has kept Labour’s vote strong. Following last year’s resounding Senedd success and with the progressive policies of the Welsh government still in mind, Welsh voters stuck with Labour to deliver the best local election result for the party in many years.
When people ask what a Labour government would do differently to the Tories, the answer in Wales is easy – from free prescriptions to free school breakfasts to getting rid of PFI. The Welsh government will soon be delivering free school meals to all Welsh primary school pupils. The real living wage is now being delivered for care workers, and there will be a basic income pilot for care-leavers.
Voters can see the benefits of voting Labour because of tangible policies like these, alongside a transformative vision including the establishment of public companies to deliver public services – such as energy and housing construction – and the recommitment to universal provision with plans including a national care service.
That’s the record. That’s the clear red action that has led to clear red water between Labour’s results in Wales and its results in the rest of the UK. That’s the policy agenda that Labour needs to advocate with real conviction across the UK if it is to catch up with Welsh Labour’s results.
As the First Minister said last weekend: “If you take the Senedd elections last year and the elections of yesterday together, we are creating that platform … We’ve demonstrated last year and this year we’re ready to make our contribution to a majority Labour government at the UK level.”
The people of the UK can’t wait around until 2024 for that to happen – they are suffering now. We need to get this rotten Tory government out now. Join me on the streets for the TUC demonstration on June 18th to demand better.
The Socialist Campaign Group, Labour Assembly Against Austerity and Momentum have organised an online policy event at 7pm on June 20th. We will study the achievements and radicalism of the Welsh Labour government and how they can help the wider labour movement win enough support to kick the Tories out of No 10.