Monday, 7 January 2008

End of the Honeymoon?

Interesting debate over at Normal Mouth’s following a rather tongue-in-cheek post about a possible split in Plaid. NM is right, of course, to say that when people use the term ‘progressive’ they are always referring to their own views, and talk of a ‘progressive alliance’ always means ‘come and join us’. After all, has any politician, anywhere, at any time, ever described himself or herself as ‘regressive’? I doubt it - although I’m always open to correction.

In the tongue in cheek form posited by Normal Mouth, I don't think that there is any danger of a Plaid split in 2008. But that is not the same as saying that there is not more tension below the surface than might be apparent, as Valleys Mam has also suggested in her comment.

I have argued before that when nationalists refer to the 'unionist/ nationalist' split within Labour, the analysis owes more to wishful thinking than to reality. The original post from Bethan Jenkins seems, on the surface, to be based on exactly that analysis, effectively labelling the ‘nationalist’ wing of Labour as progressive, and the ‘unionist’ wing as ‘regressive’. Of course there are tensions within Labour, over a whole series of issues, including the constitutional issue, but this analysis is simply far too simplistic.

Plaid also have their internal tensions, but these are not as straightforward as might appear either. Plaid’s membership has a long tradition of extreme loyalty to its leadership, even when members are unhappy about the overall direction, and my prediction for 2008 at least is that that loyalty has some considerable way to run before being seriously challenged.

There are certainly some local difficulties over education in the party’s Gwynedd heartlands, but the party’s leadership is unlikely to be blamed for this situation. The real problems for Plaid will start when the honeymoon period for 'One Wales' finally comes to an end.

There are several issues over which that could happen in due course, but it is likely to require a combination of a number of these before the party really hits trouble. The underlying theme will be a divergence between passionately held views on what policy should be, and the realities of Government actions which run contra to the party’s policies.

If that is so, then the threat to Plaid is not from losing its most ‘regressive’ elements, but that it will lose the enthusiasm and support of its more ‘progressive’ elements. In that sense, the prediction made by Bethan Jenkins may well be more prescient than it appears to be at first sight – or possibly even than was intended.

17 comments:

Ordovicius said...

I have argued before that when nationalists refer to the 'unionist/ nationalist' split within Labour, the analysis owes more to wishful thinking than to reality.

There is quite evidently a split in Welsh Labour over law making powers. That's not wishful thinking at all.

Ceredig said...

Ordo,

Of course there's a split in Labour over the powers of the Assembly - there always has been; and of course it's not wishful thinking to say so. What IS wishful thinking, however, is:

1. To portray this as a 'unionist / nationalist' split within Labour - it isn't, or

2. To argue that Labour will inevitably split along these lines - they won't.

Ordovicius said...

1. To portray this as a 'unionist / nationalist' split within Labour - it isn't, or

2. To argue that Labour will inevitably split along these lines - they won't.


Fair enough, but everybody knows Labour is an unionist party. Most people who refer to a nationalist vs unionist split are in fact refering to the split over devolution, not to the existence of a faction of Labour members who support independence.

Normal Mouth said...

You are right of course that claims to progress are the bread-and-butter of all politicians and politics, but it hasn't always been so.

Until fairly recently Tories would not define themselves by how progressive they were but the staunchness of their defence of tradition, custom and practice.

It took Thatcher to make the Tories radical and they have arguably never really recaptured their former creed. But I sometimes wonder if there is a "market" out there for a bit of conservatism.

When all three UK leaders make such persistent claims to the need for change/reform one has to wonder if it unsettles people; if change is so urgently needed things must be pretty awry is the inevitable conclusion many people will draw.

alanindyfed said...

Politicians always refer to the need for change in order to garner votes.
The fact is that change happens all the time and politicians are not the agents of change, people and events are. The change we see at work today involves the dissatisfaction with policies enacted without due democratic consultation resulting in either apathy or frustration. These conditions exacerbate change and so we have movements which seek to bring about self-rule. The cause of nationhood is also the cause of greater democracy and severance from external controls and influences. These movements, in Wales and Scotland and to a lesser degree in Cornwall, are in my view unstoppable and no exhortations in favour of "Britishness" will have much effect.

Ceredig said...

Ordo,

"everybody knows Labour is an unionist party".

I'm always wary of any statement that begins with the words "everybody knows", but I'll leave that to one side for the moment at least. In the sense that Labour seek to pursue their political goals primarily within a UK rather than a Welsh context, then yes, of course. But only from a nationalist perspective would that be seen as a defining characteristic of what Labour is about. That's a perfectly valid perspective to take, but it's not one to which most of Wales would currently relate - it's not the first thing that most people would think of in response to the word 'Labour'.

It seems to me that what nationalists choose to label as 'unionism' is often more of a default position of support for the status quo than a thought-through political philosophy. Labelling that as an '-ism' not only dignifies it as being more than it is, but can also hinder rational debate.

NM,

Interesting question as to whether the continued references to 'change' are unsettling. The pace of change in society - not just political change in particular, but technical, social, and economic change - has certainly increased over time, and seems to be on an exponential curve. Politicians - all politicians - seem to be hooked on the idea that they have to propose 'change' in order to offer something different to people. I quite like the idea of there being a 'market' for a bit of conservatism - or at least for slowing the pace of change. I'm not sure that any politician who promised that would be able to deliver, but then, hey, when has inability to deliver ever stopped them promising things?

Alan,

On a similar note, it may well be that hankering after a more defined and local identity, partly expressed through nationalism in countries such as Wales, is, in part at least, a reaction to the accelerating pace of change, and to the removal of old certainties, although I've not often heard it expressed in such terms.

I don't recall, by the way, ever reading about your party's desire for "severance from external controls and influences" - which manifesto was that in?

Normal Mouth said...

Quite right about the identification (and self-identification) of Labour. Plaid and Welsh nationalists deserve plaudits for casting much of the debate into Unionism vs Nationalism or British Nationalism vs Welsh Nationalism since it helps their case. It does not however illuminate the discussion to any great extent. You put is more succinctly than I why this should be.

On conservatism, those in the market often get a dose of nostalgia (think back to basics, debates over Europe, education, return of the matron, appeals to bing back hanging, national service, the birch and in other ways go back to The Way Things Were). This is like methadone to a heroin addict; a sickly-sweet and wholly unsatisfactory substitute. The politician or party that can put their/its finger on the human need to have an anchor point or points in a fast changing world will, I think, hit paydirt. The urge to get into government and "do" things has, I think blotted out any chance of that happening.

Ceredig said...

NM,

"since it helps their case".

I'm really not sure that it does. Certainly, it helps polarise opinion within that segment of the electorate who think, or can be persuaded to think, in terms of Welsh vs British, but there is a danger of 'talking to the converted' here.

If you're only appealing to a sub-section of the audience and want to extend your appeal, then you can either (a) try and expand that sub-section, or (b) try and appeal to people outside that sub-section. For Plaid to do (b), in my view, they need to start realising the limitations of such an over-simplistic analysis, and debate on a basis to which that wider audience can relate.

alanindyfed said...

Ceredig -
Severance from external controls and influences may not have entered the manifesto but is a sine qua non of independence in any nation. Independence means that a government can choose which controls are acceptable and which influences are desirable.
Correct?

Martin Eaglestone said...

as I have often said Labour is therefore a good reflection of opinion across wales which goes from nationalist to unionist. The difference being Labour seeks progress on many fronts, and will therefore not see the devolution debate as a be all and end all, as will some in Plaid if 'One Wales' has to go slow on the new powers referendum.

Anonymous said...

as I have often said Labour is therefore a good reflection of opinion across wales which goes from nationalist to unionist.

So you're saying that there is a 'nationalist' faction in Labour , Martin?

Ordovicius said...

I'm always wary of any statement that begins with the words "everybody knows"

You know full well what I mean

But only from a nationalist perspective would that be seen as a defining characteristic of what Labour is about.

Have we forgotten recent events since Brown became PM? Labour itself has gone to some lengths to define itself as a unionist party, in opposition to nationalism.

That's a perfectly valid perspective to take, but it's not one to which most of Wales would currently relate - it's not the first thing that most people would think of in response to the word 'Labour'.

Again, it seems to be the first thing that occurs to Labour itself these days. If that's the message they're giving the public, then I would not presume to guess what the first thing most people think of in response to the word 'Labour' is as a result.

It seems to me that what nationalists choose to label as 'unionism' is often more of a default position of support for the status quo than a thought-through political philosophy.

Unionists support the Union. It's that simple. And it's a 'label' that unionists are happy to use themselves.

Ordovicius said...

That last anon was me by the way ;)

Normal Mouth said...

Sanddef

Yes, Labour is a unionist party. The point is that neither Labour, nor most other people think of its unionism as a defining characteristic - it is just taken for granted as part of their make-up.

It comes back to the discussion we had on the topic of "everyone's a nationalist"; the constitution just isn't that far forward in the consciousness (Brown tub thumping notwithstanding). That's different to Plaid.

Labour are also a democratic party, but neither Labour members nor other people would reach for that tag if they wanted to describe the party to e.g someone from another planet. They would probably do what the Wikipedia introduction tries to do on that Labour page, i.e describe its historic position as a party of the British left and then do a bit on how it has moved into the centre ground/rightwards.*

* delete according to perspective.

alanindyfed said...

People need to accept the inevitability of change. A union of disparate nations does not last forever just as an empire or a civilisation does not last forever. It is necessary to move with the changes and the times we live in. This reality is exemplified by life itself and is a lesson to be learned.
Any attachment (to the union) which is out of touch with reality is vulnerable to being swept aside in the corse of time.

Ceredig said...

Alan,

Choosing where to allow external controls is a rather different position than severing them. All states / nations as far as I am aware cede part of their sovereignty to other bodies, such as the EU (or the UN) when they sign up to international agreements. In that sense, sovereignty in the twenty-first century is an elusive beast. Recognising that fact, all debate about Independence / Devolution is really simply a debate about how much sovereignty lies where.

Ordo,

"Unionists support the Union"

Of course - and I've never argued otherwise. Whether 'unionism' is a defining characteristic of the people labelled 'unionists' or whether it is the uppermost thing in their mind is an entirely different question. For most of the people so labelled, I'm far from convinced that they've really thought the issue through, rather than adopted a default position of support for the status quo. What I am convinced about is that merely applying the label to them hinders rather than helps rational debate about the way forward for Wales.

As things stand today, I'm afraid that it's a fact of political life that the majority of the people of Wales support 'unionist' parties in every election - including elections to our National Assembly. I don't think that those electors would consider themselves to be 'unionists'; nor that the label would mean a lot to them. To have a successful 'yes' vote in the impending referendum requires entering into a debate with people - and I really don't see how labelling them in a way which is clearly intended to have negative connotations helps.

Alan (again),

Yes, change is inevitable, and people need to accept that. But the direction of that change - unless you want to expound the Marxist notion of 'historical inevitability' is far from inevitable. That direction is dependent on convincing people that a particular change or set of changes is the right or the best thing to do. Axiomatic statements are not the best way of doing that.

alanindyfed said...

I will attempt to move from making axiomatic statements to persuasive and seductive ones and see what results. As Glyn Davies notes I will try killing with kindness.