Reviewed by Tony Heath in Tribune, 24 April 2009
Oh for the good old days when colour defined political parties by hues recognisable, clear and unambiguous. A certain fading has occurred in recent years, a watering down occasioned not just by a glib whitewash drip from on high but by “events, dear boy, events”. True blue and radical red have both received the loving attentions of politicians groping for power while an increasingly sceptical and disenchanted electorate turns its back.
So it is refreshing to pick up a book which has the merit of pulling few punches. It’s also refreshing to find the “s” word – socialism – speaking its name so clearly. Because Clear Red Water tells of the efforts of the Welsh Assembly to distance Wales from the blight of Tony Blair’s over-spun and under-cleansed New Labour project. The leadership of First Minister Rhodri Morgan has been crucial in promoting advances in, inter alia, health, education and transport. The water might not be exactly the red of the Red Flag but careful mixtures have brought a modicum of hope that real and radical change can be effected.
This book deserves an audience wider than the territory west of Offa’s Dyke. Especially at a time when antics inside the M25 and the dysfunctional Westminster village are threatening to erode the politics of a nation where greed and a fractured morality in high places is in danger of turning voters off even more. Those who live by spin shall die by spin, I suppose. Though even the Easter eggs were curdling at the machinations of Damian McBride and his mates.
Not that spin has been entirely absent from Wales’ tentative steps towards building a society where few, if any, signed up to the Mandelson mantra of admiring the filthy rich. But the siren voices of the practitioners of the dark arts tend mostly to emanate from the eastern end of the M4 where they are deep in denial. “New” Labour’s nadir – the by-election debacle at Blaenau Gwent in 2006 – has yet to be be fully and properly comprehended. Once represented at Westminster by Nye Bevan and Michael Foot, the fifth safest seat in the United Kingdom fell to Dai Davies, a local grassroots democratic socialist. This resounding wake-up call fell on ears waxed solid by the flawed certainties of New Labour’s duckers and weavers. And last year Labour lost control of the council.
Heading for the financial cliff, the citizens of this country are growing restless. And with good cause. They are appalled at the disparities between the rich and poor and between the obscene pensions paid to the architects of financial failure and the miserly state pension of £95.25 (plus 25p for those who have turned 80). The pledge to halve child poverty by 2010 is fading before our eyes. Billions are to be wasted on replacing Trident and millions more on an Orwellian national ID scheme that no one wants. And remember the two million people who took to the streets in protests at the illegal war into which Tony Blair took the nation with a major porky about weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist?
You have to be of a certain age to remember how Clement Attlee’s government revived a nation which had lost much of its youth in the war to defeat Hitler – a just war necessary to preserve liberties that are even now being eroded. The lessons of 1945-51 when democratic socialism healed the wounds of war and rebuilt this country by helping those in need appear to have been forgotten by a generation of market-mad New Labour apparatchiks.
Not in Wales where Rhodri Morgan talked in 2002 of the “clear red water” which divides policy in Wales from policy at Westminster. In this book Nick Davies and Darren Williams, chair and secretary of Welsh Labour Grassroots, explore the “clear red water” programme.
It is a timely work because the Labour Party is haemhorraging support in England, Scotland and Wales with a general election only 12 months away and we have a Labour government which has followed the United States into two disastrous foreign wars, committed itself to a free market which failed and bought into the casino capitalism which broke the banks.
Davies and Williams argue that Labour in Wales has pursued a different agenda with a commitment to equality and social justice that draws on our rich tradition of radical politics as well as a resurgent national consciousness.
Things, they said in 1997, could only get better. But disillusionment has spread like a glass of beer left to go flat as policies inimical to generations of Labour supporters were dreamed up on the Number 10 sofa. Those in and around Downing Street should fork out £7.99 for this book. It would be one expense no one would query.