No voice for working class

Cameron Richards comments on the Welsh situation

All council seats in the 22 unitary authorities of Wales were up for election on May 1. The big story of the night, as elsewhere, was the haemorrhaging of the Labour vote. Labour now has control of only two councils - the same number as the Tories.

Labour lost six authorities, most of them in what had been regarded as rock-solid Labour areas. These included Merthyr, Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen, Newport and Flintshire. Clearly the Tories did well in the elections, especially in more prosperous areas. Yet, this was from an extremely low base and other parties were often the beneficiaries of the anti-Labour vote. The Liberal Democrats made some inroads into the Labour vote in the south and remain the main party in Cardiff.

Plaid Cymru made modest gains across South Wales, but often from a very low base too. In the north, Plaid suffered some losses, including 12 seats to Llais Gwynedd (Voice of Gwynedd) in the mainly rural area - its popularity stemmed from its campaign to save small schools in the face of a closure programme led by Plaid. However, its ranks include former Plaid councillors and its success indicates some discontent with the party amongst Welsh nationalists in the traditional heartlands.

Perhaps of interest was the election for Plaid in Wrexham of Marc Jones, once a leader of the left nationalist Cymru Goch and then enthusiast for the now defunct Forward Wales.

Yet in certain valley areas, independents, often disaffected Labour supporters, benefited. In Blaenau Gwent, for instance, they are now the largest group on the council. The breakaway ‘old Labour’ People’s Voice also won seats for the first time (five). There is now the prospect of a coalition of independents, People’s Voice and Liberal Democrats on a council that was once synonymous with one-party domination.

Of course, the far left parties made no breakthrough. Indeed in some of the small number of wards where they chose to stand they decided to fight each other. Surprise, surprise. On the Socialist Party Wales website, Alec Thraves chose to state that in the Swansea Castle ward the SP came fifth - “in front of the independents, Wales Communist Party and the Left Party”. The votes were 5.5%,3.5% and 3% respectively in this multi-member ward. This order of votes was also the same in Cardiff Butetown: 3.1%, 2.1% and 1.7% respectively. Magnificent, comrades! In the two other wards the SP contested, its vote was 3% and 1.2%.

The only thing to stand out about the SWP/Left List was that it stood as the Left Party. In the Cardiff ward it contested its share of the vote was 2.1%. Let us hope this is the last time and that this rump will choose to disappear in the near future.

The Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain stood eight candidates across five unitary authorities. It averaged 4.85%. Its earlier claim that it had got a councillor elected unopposed needs to be put into perspective. Clive Griffiths, already a Labour councillor who defected to the CPB a couple of years ago, was elected unopposed, but in a tiny community council with virtually no powers and hardly a battleground of party politics. He did stand in a unitary authority this time too (Rhondda) and achieved 3% of the vote. So, do not believe the hype.

Still isolated and with no prospect of principled Marxist unity, the left in Wales remains in utter disarray. There appears not to be any hope of such unity emerging in the near future. Yet until this happens the main left groups will continue to flounder - and will remain a ragtag of sects peddling reformist politics to the working class.