Analysis by Mike Hedges
Assembly Member for Swansea East
Labour had a bad election in Wales, and whilst in South Wales we held on to the two 2017 gains (Cardiff North and Gower), 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 holding on to Alyn and Deeside by only 213 votes to avoid complete defeat.
It was billed as the Brexit election and the Conservative Leader kept on repeating “Get Brexit done” which resonated with previous Labour voters who had voted to 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”. Having spoken to people since the election I have continually been told two things — “We voted for Brexit, you tried to stop it so we voted Conservative for the first time to get it done”, and more worryingly “Labour does not listen to us”. By not listening, we stopped them thinking of us as their party. There is a lot of listening to rather than talking at voters to be done to recover that support.
Jeremy Corbyn was unpopular with older — especially male — voters, but popular (although not popular 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 him at the High Court for ‘disastrously’ and falsely linking him to child sex abuse allegations at a Welsh care home, and others who repeated it on social media were made to pay. After the election we saw the prompt action of Emily Thornberry against an ex MP who attacked her.
As with all elections there are local reasons for the result. North Wales is covered by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB), which has been in special measures for over four years. Quoting from the National Assembly Wales Public Accounts Committee report: “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 says: “It is simply unacceptable that BCUHB, as the largest NHS body in Wales, has been in special measures for nearly four years.”
The committee says: “We share the frustrations of the people of North Wales at the pace of change and believe that both patient input and clinical engagement in delivering change has not been as effective as it could be.”
The report also takes aim at BCUHB’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 the health system in North Wales is fundamentally flawed and that BCUHB does not work because of its make up, not because of its management.
Finally, a reminder of how previous leaders were attacked, from Tony Blair with “New Labour New Danger”, Gordon Brown as a “shameless defender of the old elite” and Ed Milliband as “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.
Also remember that in both 2010 (29%) and 2015 (30.4%) we polled less votes than 2019 (32.3%). Unless we get it right, we have a lot further to fall. Unlike others, I am not convinced that a return to 2010 or 2015 type leadership is the answer.
We have just over 12 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 in Wales in 2021.