Reviewed by Martin Shipton of the Western Mail in Wales Online 11 April 2009
Party activists urge Labour to keep Plaid Cymru on the team
Welsh Labour should ditch tribalism and forge firmer links with Plaid Cymru and others on the socialist left, two of its leading party activists have said.
In their book, Clear Red Water: Welsh Devolution and Socialist Policies, Nick Davies and Darren Williams provide a detailed critique of the differences between New Labour and Welsh Labour. They propose that Labour and Plaid should extend their coalition deal beyond 2011, forming joint policy groups to develop a long-term socialist programme for Wales.
The two authors are chairman and secretary of the Welsh Labour Grassroots group, which is pro-devolution and favours a left-wing agenda.
The book's title is taken from a speech made by Rhodri Morgan in 2002 in which he set out the differences between his political philosophy and that of former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
In the book, Davies and Williams argue that Welsh Labour is facing a choice - it can either revert to being little more than a branch office of New Labour in London, supporting neo-liberal economic policies, or it can further its drive to forge a more radical path.
But to do that, it needs to work with allies on the political left.
They write: "A ‘red-green' alliance need not be a solution only to electorate stalemate.
"The issues that the One Wales agreement seeks to address will not have been resolved by the conclusion of the present Assembly term and Welsh Labour should therefore consider the possibilities of a longer-term political relationship with Plaid Cymru.
"This need not - and should not - mean ignoring real differences or forswearing electoral competition, but it ought to involve, at a minimum, identifying Plaid as Labour's preferred coalition partner in advance of further Assembly elections, on the basis of the two parties' political common ground.
"It could also, we would suggest, extend to the establishment of bipartisan policy commissions to develop a longer-term governmental programme for Wales, and to encourage rank-and-file members of both parties to work together on issues where they can reach agreement.
"This sort of arrangement could begin to lift Welsh politics above the usual trivial point-scoring, driven by the pursuit of electoral advantage, and pool the intellectual and political resources of the two parties of any size in Wales that claim to stand for socialism and equality."
Such an alliance, the book argues, could yoke together what the authors say are the two principal challenges facing the Welsh left - the need to bring about a more equal, democratic and sustainable society than we have at present, and the need to end Wales' status as a poor and peripheral part of the UK.
Davies and Williams added: "It could reconcile the supposedly irreconcilable interests of urban and rural Wales, North and South Wales and English-speaking and Welsh-speaking Wales.
"It could isolate the Tories for the foreseeable future. In so doing it could set a progressive, left-of-centre agenda in Welsh politics for years to come."
The book also says Welsh Labour needs to revitalise its own democratic processes: "In Wales, the trade union bureaucracy has acted as a consistently conservative force and ‘regional' secretaries have relished their role as ‘fixers', becalming rank-and-file rebellion, delivering conference majorities for leadership-approved policies and generally keeping everything running smoothly.
"This is not to say that there is no discussion - the Welsh Policy Forum process provides ample opportunities, over the four-year cycle between Assembly elections, for party units and affiliates to discuss draft documents and for Forum delegates to suggest modifications.
"The fundamental problem, however - as at the British level - is that when those final documents are presented to conference, there is no opportunity to amend them. Until this changes, there will be no real accountability."