Clear Red Water and Sparring Sisters — Ben Gwalchmai

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Love it or loathe it, the phrase Clear Red Water is an integral concept and consideration in Welsh politics. It’s embedded in our history now. Rightly so. It may need updating but — to steal another important parliament-related rhyme — ‘I see no matter why Clear Red Water should ever be forgot’. Here’s why.

Imagine, if you will, that UK Labour wanted to — for example — take away Wales’ ability to operate within an imaginary World’s Largest Free Trade Area [WLFTA]. Bare with me. It wanted to take the whole UK out of the WLFTA in the hopes that it could establish a Socialist Republic of the UK. Free to do whatever it wanted without the nefarious influence of the WLFTA. Now imagine that the Welsh Labour ran Welsh Government’s stated position is that, actually, Wales wants to be a part of the WLFTA.

Stop imagining. This is reality. The reality of where we are — replace WLFTA with the EEA and that is exactly where we are. UK Labour will take us out of the EEA against the wishes of Welsh Labour & the Senedd. There may be a transition period in the UK Labour plans but that won’t soften the blow to Future Generations.

UK Labour’s position is that we will be a Third Country to the EU/EEA with an FTA that includes a customs union and parts of the Single Market. UK Labour needs to, quite simply, grow up. Grow up, be clear, and actually take note of the work done in the only part of the UK where we’re in power. The need for Clear Red Water, or something like it, has never been clearer.

Welsh Labour AMs voted in December 2018 to stay in the Customs Union and Single Market. Not a Customs Union but the Customs Union. UK Labour wants us in a Customs Union. The Trade Unions and Farmers’ Unions know that if we leave the Customs Union then we can kiss goodbye to our steelworking industry and our hill farming, too.

Are we happy to sacrifice Wales’ industries to please UK Labour’s political manoeuvring? We better bloody well not be. I am not — I’ll fight to ensure Welsh Government, Welsh Labour, and Wales stands by the Senedd’s December 2018 vote. No. Matter. What. I was surprised to see the First Minister make a fudge of Welsh Government’s position at the first Senedd EAAL session of 2019 by suggesting Welsh Government now wants a and not the Customs Union. If we follow UK Labour too closely, if our Welsh Labour leader follows their leader too closely, then the Clear Red Water risks becoming a Red River Lethe. If our election-winning machine drinks from it, we’ll be lost in the wilderness.

Though it’s all of our members’ job to remain constructively critical, let me point out that I support our leaders. Both sides of the border. What I know to be true, however, is that Corbyn’s style isn’t always what Wales wants. Corbyn’s style is a quiet wit, a wry lilt, and an eyebrow-up head tilt. He is charming. He is calm. No doubt about it. Mark Drakeford is similar and I had the good fortune to interview him in the leadership contest — I found him considered, funny, generous, smart, and quietly warm. Yet is that what many Welsh voters [our membership notwithstanding] want? It may not be.

What won Wales for us in 2017? What won us 2 seats more than were predicted by the closer, nicer polls? It was Carwyn raging against the closure of the pits. It was a fired up Carwyn, telling the Tory emissaries that Welsh Labour had protected Wales’ people from the worst of their work. Arguably, Wales wants the Fire & Hwyl of old. It certainly needs it now. Corbyn, though the reason for a massive increase in our membership numbers, does not have that hwyl.

Unfortunately, the polls UK-wide echo that. A disappointing UK poll for Corbyn — true to voters’ actual desires or not — means a bevy of media discussion about that poll and there are always polls commissioned to drag a UK Labour leader down when our UK press is owned by a very small number of very rich people. If Welsh Labour aligns itself too closely to that, how will we ever define ourselves in the media landscape as different from the slings and arrows those presses send every month?

There is an updated mode of the Clear Red Water to be articulated.

In order to avoid, as a source said to Kevin Schofield about Scottish Labour, becoming ‘a sub-division of Corbyn’s HQ’ we must be Sparring Sisters — sometimes one leads, sometimes the other, but always they drive on and help one another.

Sisters naturally push to define themselves as different from their siblings. Isn’t it time we became a sister-party in both constitution and in spirit? Then we can enjoy each other’s successes, living apart, knowing that each sister is focusing on themselves, their communities, and doing what they know best.

Including leaving one sister to focus on its entirely different, not SE-England based, not finance-overheated economy. Before Wales is forced to leave the EEA against its own interest.

Ben Gwalchmai is a Welsh Labour member and co-founder of Labour for Indy Wales.

The Fabian Society in Wales