Clear Red Water

Welsh Devolution and Socialist Politics

By Nick Davies and Darren Williams

This book is a timely examination of the devolution process and the ambitions of the ‘clear red water’ programme, arguing that it draws on Wales’ rich traditions of radical politics, as well as a resurgent national consciousness. Warning of the dangers posed by the incomplete devolution process and the democratic deficit in Labour politics, the authors call on Welsh Labour to consolidate its initial achievements and follow a consistently socialist path to place Wales in the forefront of the struggle for a just and equitable world order.

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While the Labour party in Westminster moves further from its roots, alienating its traditional supporters by its readiness to follow the United States into disastrous foreign wars, its tolerance of inequality and its commitment to the free market, a Labour-led administration in Wales has pursued a very different programme, underpinned by a sincere commitment to equality and social justice.
In 2002, Welsh first minister, Rhodri Morgan, said that these policies were putting ‘clear red water’ between Wales and Westminster.

This book is a timely examination of the devolution process and the ambitions of the ‘clear red water’ programme, arguing that it draws on Wales’ rich traditions of radical politics, as well as a resurgent national consciousness. Warning of the dangers posed by the incomplete devolution process and the democratic deficit in Labour politics, the authors call on Welsh Labour to consolidate its initial achievements and follow a consistently socialist path to place Wales in the forefront of the struggle for a just and equitable world order.

Future Imperfect: from the blog of Paul Flynn MP

A bracing afternoon of Old Time Socialism was enjoyed in Swansea this afternoon with the launch of Clear Red Water.

All recognised that we are a turning point in history.  The past was an age of extravagance, self-indulgence and the profligate plundering of the planet. The future will be an age of austerity, thrift and reverence for our fragile human habitat.

Nick Davies and Darren Williams spoke eloquently of their conviction that Welsh Labour has established a solid foundation for meeting tomorrow’s challenges. New Labour’s inheritance is pock marked with failing concepts and lost fashionable causes.

There were powerful contributions from the audience who were united in their determination to continue the legacy of Rhodri Morgan. Tomorrow he will set out his plan for the future in his final speech to conference as Leader. He remains unique at a national leader with a 65% approval rating after being 10 years in office.

Wales will value the legacy that our clear red water has delivered. England would benefit by following our example.

http://paulflynnmp.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/04/we-must-talk.html

Paul Flynn MP speaking at the launch of Clear Red Water in Swansea, April 2009

About the authors

Nick Davies and Darren Williams are chair and secretary of Welsh Labour Grassroots.

Nick Davies reflects on the result of the 2010 general election.

6 May was to be the start of a new era in Wales, the post-Labour age. After a decade of bad election results for Labour, culminating in being third place in 2009’s European poll, having to govern in Wales in coalition with Plaid Cymru and with an exhausted and unpopular government in Westminster, meltdown was surely imminent. The sense of impending collapse was heightened by the Tories’ talk of winning a “rugby team” of 15 seats, and the Liberal Democrats’ rhetoric of “new politics”.

However, rumours of Labour’s demise were exaggerated. With 26 seats out of 40 won by Labour, Wales is still largely red. Wiped out in 1997, the Tories, with 8 seats, up from 3, have regained a foothold in the coasts, borders and suburbs. Liberal Democrat targets Swansea West and Newport East held out while Plaid similarly failed in Llanelli and Ynys Môn. However, while the vultures can stop circling for now, Labour’s condition is far from robust; without surgery further deterioration is likely.

Whether this was just another stage in Labour’s long, slow decline in Wales or the start of a revival depends on which end of the telescope we look through. Only in terms of seats can Labour’s results be regarded as any kind of success. Labour’s share of the vote, its lowest in Wales in a general election since 1918, was 36.2 per cent, the previous low point being 38 per cent in 1983. The swing against Labour was generally similar to that in England, about 5 per cent, although in some Valleys constituencies it was much higher, signs of a clear intention to punish Labour, with no single party the beneficiary. Only the huge majorities in many seats cushioned the impact of the swings. However, Labour’s share of the vote was up from the 32.4 per cent in the 2007 Assembly election and a significant recovery from the 20.28 per cent in 2009’s European elections. The average turnout in Wales was 64.9 per cent, below the UK average of 65.1 per cent, an improvement on 2005, but, compared to the turnout of 84.8 per cent for the 1950 general election, for example, very low indeed.

These figures and the experiences of Labour canvassers on the doorstep tell us that Labour’s vote reduced but did not collapse. Labour still has a strong and deep-rooted electoral base. However, its core voters, whose loyalty had been tested almost to destruction by the New Labour years of privatisation, Iraq and post office closures, and in conditions of insecurity engendered to a large extent, by New Labour’s addiction to turbo-charged free-market capitalism, were faced, for the first time in thirteen years with the prospect of a Tory government. They did not like what they saw. As an expression of loyalty their vote for Labour was reluctant, grudging even, rather than heartfelt, but nonetheless, it existed. For many Labour voters in Wales, the memories of the 1980s, the mass unemployment, the poverty and the malign neglect by Westminster, were still raw. They remembered life before Welsh devolution and before the minimum wage. Looking at seats rather than votes may be viewing  the election through the prism of the UK’s semi-democratic electoral system, but those huge majorities, often derided by Labour’s opponents as unthinkingly tribal (“a monkey with a red rosette would win here”) really mean something. They have been banked up over the decades in many Welsh communities as a reflection as much of loyalty to Labour as a visceral response to Tory policies of the 1930s, then the 1980s.

The fact also that Labour MPs retained their seats in Llanelli and Ynys Môn, which have Plaid AMs, suggests that voters made a conscious decision to vote Labour this time to try to keep the Tories out. However, there is no denying that overall, Labour’s vote declined.

New Labour was founded on two assumptions. One was that free market capitalism was the only way of organising society. The other was that Labour’s traditional voters, with nowhere else to go, would carry on voting Labour. Both have been proved false. People in Wales, and elsewhere, who have habitually voted Labour have done so for a reason. They wanted protection and provision: health, education, homes, pensions, jobs when they could work and benefits when they could not, and protection in the workplace. They wanted to be shielded from the often brutal insecurities of the free market. They saw themselves as part of a community, rather than as self-interested individuals. When New Labour ceased to provide this protection, at least to the extent that Labour had done so previously, many voters stayed at home. That is why the turnout figures are significant. People vote when they think there is a real choice. The insecurity resulting from unfettered globalisation, the lack of social housing, the lack of manufacturing jobs as a route into employment and the strain on public services resulting from cuts and privatisation, as well as the virtual impossibility of effective trade union activity, all as a result of Tory then New Labour policies, have resulted in feelings of alienation and hopelessness. This has also resulted in a search for scapegoats, for example, in Swansea East (where the turnout was a miserable 54 per cent) there was a four-figure vote for the BNP.

Opposition and a leadership election will be a wasted opportunity if the only result is some repositioning and rewriting of history by New Labour’s leadership. Labour must realise that the policies of the last thirteen years have alienated the coalition of voters which brought it to power. It has to reconnect with that coalition. Policy-making, presently executed on the hoof by ministers (or shadow ministers) to suit the interests of big business must once again be the property of the members.

For policy alternatives Labour need not look very far. Since 2002, Welsh Labour has taken a different path from New Labour in public service provision. Public services are just that, not commodities, while services users are citizens, not consumers. Wales has mostly avoided ruinous Private Finance Initiative schemes (there are far fewer in Wales than in England), and has rejected City Academies and Foundation Hospitals, to which English voters have been told there is no alternative. The Assembly Government is constrained in what it can do by the present limited devolution settlement and financial dependence on Whitehall. The etiquette of devolution has prohibited Welsh Labour from proclaiming this divergence; media indifference, inside and outside Wales, means that many policies pass under the radar. Indeed, Welsh Labour has been punished, as in 2007, for crimes and misdemeanours quite outside its control.  Surely, the present ferment is the time for policies “made in Wales” to become universal.

Nick Davies gives his views of the Labour Euro-election disaster in Wales and reports on the conference ‘Wales and the Ecomomic Crisis’.

The Tories have come first in an election in Wales for the first time since 1859, with 21.21% of the vote. The real story is not a Tory landslide but of Labour’s collapse. Losing an election in Wales for the first time since 1918, Labour’s vote plummeted by 12.2% to 20.28%.

It isn’t difficult to  guess the reasons. A recession, ministers plotting against each other, and, of course, the expenses scandal. What these have in common is that they all the fault of Westminster.  However, Peter Hain has wasted no time in declaring that these results show that Welsh Labour ‘has to change’. This is a scarcely veiled attack on Welsh Labour’s ‘Clear Red Water’ agenda which avoids the market-driven policies that have alienated so many voters in England. The problem is that Welsh Labour observes a form of devolution etiquette by refusing to distance itself from New Labour, trying to achieve a kind of ‘socialism by stealth’. Many of Welsh Labour’s progressive policies are still bedding in, their benefits not yet apparent, and go unreported by the media.

It is therefore all the more important that every socialist in Wales, or anyone interested in Welsh devolution should read Clear Red Water, a timely examination of the strengths and weaknesses of Welsh Labour and the Welsh devolution process.

Morning Star Conference: Wales and the Economic Crisis

A central argument of Clear Red Water is that socialists in Wales must set aside the destructive tribalism by which socialists in the Labour Party and Plaid Cymru, instead of collaborating on where they can agree, barely speak to each other. An important step towards bringing this about was taken on 13 June.  Both the authors of Clear Red water were participants in a Conference: ‘Wales and the Economic Crisis’ organised by the Morning Star. Speakers included Welsh Labour Assembly Members Christine Chapman and John Griffiths and Plaid AMs Bethan Jenkins and Leanne Wood.

The conference looked at the loss of jobs and the resulting insecurity and social dislocation, and at the disaffection with mainstream politics, and especially with Labour, expressed in the European elections. Speakers from the GMB, Community and PCS unions called for more robust employment rights, stronger support for manufacturing and an end to privatisation. Several speakers acknowledged that reconstruction had to follow a more sustainable model than before.

There was greatest consensus about the need for the Assembly to take on stronger powers and for the left to play an active role in securing a ‘yes’ vote in the promised referendum. The people of Wales will be persuaded to support deeper devolution only if it is clear that it will make a real difference to their lives. It is important that the left continues the discussion as to how it can contribute to this objective.

Nick Davies is the chair of Welsh Labour Grassroots and the co-author of Clear Red Water: Welsh Devolution and Socialist Politics.

Listen to a recording of the authors of Clear Red Water at the book’s London launch

Audio missing

Language

Formatpaperback
ISBN9781903427446
Number of pages222
Illustratedno

Reviews

Clear Red Water. Really?

Rhodri Morgan (retired First Minister) takes centre stage in this book. Written by two left-wing Labour activists (that’s a rarity in itself), it is an interesting and passionate analysis of Welsh Labour rule and the Plaid/Labour Coalition which followed. It seeks to explain the implications and importance of Morgan’s “clear red water” speech, showing how radically post-devolution Welsh politics has differed from its New Labour counterpart in Westminster.

The authors acknowledge the achievements of Welsh Labour in the Assembly, giving credit where it hasn’t always been given. The key principle here is “equality of outcome” – universal benefits such as free school breakfasts are cited as examples of success. The stance in much of the book is in fact a campaigning one of the nature suggested; and there are many indications that the authors would like to see more public ownership, for instance in January 2001 when Ron Davies and Plaid Cymru urged the Assembly government to take over the Corus plants which were closing.

However, from the outset, the problem for this book is the word “socialist” on the cover: a word Morgan used in his speech and thereafter, but which was ditched by Blair. If you check in a dictionary, what Morgan meant by “Socialism” was definitely “social democracy”. Not for a moment was he arguing for “control of the means of production, distribution and exchange”. The authors only begin to deal with this contradiction on page 169, when they delineate how far Welsh Labour is removed from genuine Socialism.

Paul Flynn’s foreword isn’t always that helpful either: he covers up Rhodri Morgan’s failure to condemn the war in Iraq by saying that “the Labour Party in Wales had their objections silenced by bureaucratic procedure” – which applied to Conference, but certainly not to their leadership.

Besides “Socialism”, the other problem throughout the book is that the finest achievements are hardly mentioned, while the cases where Welsh Labour has reneged on promises such as top-up fees tend to be glossed over. Not that the book is not very critical of those in the Labour Party who resisted devolution and those in Wales TUC who prevented a democratic Conference. But the gloss on student fees seems more protective of Jane Davidson, who is given guru status by the authors.

In education especially, the finest achievements have surely been the abolition of SATs and league tables and the refusal to implement New Labour’s specialist schools and Academies. All these are not dealt with, yet they have combined to enhance the Comprehensive system and make schools here in Wales reasonably enjoyable places of learning rather than fanatical test-factories.

The authors instead prefer to laud the Foundation Phase (another of Davidson’s pet projects), a much more dubious reform. While its emphasis on play in early years is laudable, unfortunately Foundation means that many pupils will be taught by assistants. Standards of literacy and numeracy will go down, so this policy will have to be altered: a combination of play and formal learning is needed.

The authors make a powerful case for a much broader Left alliance and recognise that Plaid Cymru has a commitment to “Socialism” (in reality, social democracy) and that the Coalition has furthered these policies. They acknowledge and explain the frustrations of WAG in trying to pass “measures” (laws), and the need for primary law-making powers as soon as possible. I found fascinating their argument that a referendum shouldn’t be needed to do this, as it’s merely an extension of already existing constitutional arrangements.

So, was there really “clear red water” between Wales and Westminster? I was particularly persuaded of this, and Rhodri Morgan’s refusal to use PFI schemes is an indicator. Yet, doubts remain. When it came to policy which proved most unpopular for Blair, the war in Iraq, Welsh Labour failed to take the lead fought for by its Conference.

The maverick Labour MP Paul Flynn has been around Welsh politics since being elected as a councillor in the early 1970’s. In his foreword, he describes “Clear Red Water” as a “delight”, yet admits to being shamed by the extent to which this polemic on Welsh devolution and socialist politics has exposed his own lack of awareness about the real achievements of the Welsh Assembly and Government since 1999.

His ignorance will be multiplied many times over from the perspective of most Scottish readers.  We may be familiar with Welsh politicians like Lloyd George, Nye Bevan and Neil Kinnock who, for better or worse, have all made an impact on the British political stage.  But the politics of Wales itself remain a mystery to most of us.  “Clear Red Water” reminds us of the high cost of our own ignorance.

Scotland’s arguments over home rule have been dominated by the mainstream parties fighting with each other over Royal Commissions, Scotland’s oil, funding formulas, slippery slopes, economic and taxation powers and referendums.  Yet, not one of them has focussed on the role of self government in building a socialist alternative to the free market policies that all of them share across their nationalist – unionist divide.

Nick Davies and Darren Williams’ case for devolution as the road to a democratic and socialist Wales is therefore both a timely and welcome breath of fresh air compared to the stale constitutional stand-off between Scotland’s main nationalist and unionist parties.  Where Salmond and Gray argue over the relative merits of independence and devolution as the means of saving Scottish capitalism, Davis and Williams insist that the real significance of self government is the opportunity it presents to build a specifically Welsh socialist project.

The authors are members of Welsh Labour Grassroots (WLG), a centre-left activists’ network set up five years ago to win the Welsh Labour party back from New Labour.  Describing themselves as “friends of the Welsh Labour leadership” but “irreconcilable opponents” of the New Labour project, the network supports greater devolution for Wales and democratic reform of the Welsh Labour party.

Described in these terms, WLG can hardly claim to be a specifically socialist project and the authors are quick to acknowledge many of the views expressed in the book as “primarily” their own and not “necessarily” those of the network.  It appears that the first rule of working for change inside today’s Labour party is to remember that too much socialism can frighten off a membership used to its party profiting electorally from distancing itself from any taint of socialism.

Yet, socialists with an interest in the national question will find this an entertaining and illuminating read.  The title refers to a speech made in Swansea by Rhodri Morgan, the Welsh First Minister, six months before the Assembly elections of 2003.  In the speech he set out the “clear red water” that divided Welsh Labour from Westminster Labour and, with that phrase, provided the accepted shorthand for a distinctive political agenda for devolved Wales.  “Unashamedly” a socialist, Morgan argued that the Welsh party preferred the “powerful glue of social solidarity” to the limits of Westminster’s market-based policies.

Where New Labour targeted the poor with the means test, Welsh Labour put its faith in universal free public services.  Where Westminster government opened up public services to market forces, Welsh government renounced PFI’s and foundation hospitals and schools.  Where Mandelson moralised about the values of free markets and equality of opportunity, Morgan preached the socialist doctrine of government as a force for good guaranteeing equality of outcome and social justice.

However, the authors are also candid about the severe limits of Welsh devolution with its lack of legislative competence or “primary powers”.  An All Wales Convention paving the way towards greater democratic devolution is central to their proposals.

Unsurprisingly, the idea of transferring political power from London to Cardiff has been met with relentless hostility from Peter Hain and the majority of Welsh Labour MPs at Westminster whom the authors variously and entertainingly dismiss as “devolution sceptics” or “drag anchors on devolution”.

They are equally scathing on their party’s bureaucrats dismissed as the “New Labour bunker and its Cardiff satellite”.  The botched attempt by the bunker, backed by the leadership of the big British unions, to impose the Blairite Alun Michael as Labour leader in the Assembly is denounced as bringing the party in Wales into disrepute and demoralising and embittering its membership.  The way forward for progressive politics they conclude is to ensure that those policies are made in Wales.

Given the current row over Diageo’s threat to sack hundreds of workers in Kilmarnock, Scottish readers will be particularly interested in the authors take on how governments should stand up to multinationals threatening to downsize or disinvest.  Debunking the neoliberal argument that governments are powerless in the face of globalisation, they slate governments like Blair and Brown’s New Labour administrations for taking political decisions that created economic environments in which corporate tyranny has flourished.  Different decisions would have created a different environment in which public ownership becomes a logical and feasible choice.  In democracies, they argue, people should control capital, rather than the other way around.

The authors also defend the current One Wales coalition agreement between Labour and Plaid Cymru against the attacks of Labour party patriots who denounce any dealing with the nationalist enemy and argue for “my party right or wrong”.  They are generous in their assessment of Plaid Cymru as a progressive party with a strong socialist wing, a description that few neutral observers would apply to the Labour party.  They also welcome the Greens as a natural partner in the broad cross-party alliance that they identify as necessary for delivering progressive change in Wales.

However, their Labourist understanding of the wider socialist Left leaves much to be desired.  Socialists in Left parties are summarily dismissed as lacking popular support and as being delusional about their “vanguard” role.  Their place in the authors’ progressive alliance is made conditional on their acceptance of the leadership role of those on the centre left who can “command mass support”.   The cynic might remind the authors that self proclaimed centre left leaders such as Blair and Brown used their command of mass support as justification for their ditching of socialist principles.

“Clear Red Water”, however,  provides both a succinct account of Welsh devolution and argues the case for reuniting the historic traditions of self-government and socialism as the basis for building a more progressive and equal country.  It is written from the perspective of Labour Party activists who have resisted the New Labour revolution and who want their party back.  Therein is its major weakness.  Back to the future never has and never will deliver socialist change.  But with the prospect of referendums looming in Scotland and Wales sometime in 2011, this remains a good and worthwhile read for socialists in both countries.

This meticulously researched and impeccably produced volume is the remarkable achievement of Welsh Labour Grassroots, a network of left and centre-left activists in the Wales Labour Party who campaign for democratic renewal and the development of a socialist policy agenda within the Welsh Labour Party. It is not surprising to discover that they regret Labour’s shift to the right under Messrs Blair and Brown. They recoil with distain from the Bush/Blair ‘War on Terror’ in foreign policy, and from the privatisation of public services and the widening gap between rich and poor at home following the American neo-con paradigm. They are strong supporters of Welsh devolution and welcome the ‘clear red water’ that increasingly distinguishes Wales from England in areas like health, education and public services. The celebrated phrase, that gives the book its title, comes from a speech given by Rhodri Morgan at the University of Swansea at the close of 2002 in which he spoke with pride of his commitment to socialism, of the limits of market-based politics and of the crucial importance of social solidarity.

No big surprises, so far, but what may raise eyebrows, especially for readers beyond Wales, is that the authors’ preferred partner in a coalition government is Plaid Cymru. They note that it is the only other party in the Assembly apart from Welsh Labour to have a commitment to socialism written into its constitution. Their support for the European Union, albeit cautiously expressed, might also be unexpected in some quarters, the authors noting the right-wing nationalist culture of opposition exemplified by UKIP and preferring instead the objective of transforming the economic and political space of Europe through an active participation in the wider European democratic process. A close reading of the book, however, reveals that these twin policy objectives are two sides of the same coin, one that neatly mirrors the Welsh Grassroots campaign for greater democracy and transparency in the Labour Party and for the reversal of the changes implemented over the past generation that have seen power concentrated in the hands of the leadership.

This is all as remarkable as it is welcome. When Plaid was establishing itself as a credible political force following Gwynfor Evans’ by-election victory in Carmarthen on Bastille Day in 1966, Gwynfor himself and the party he single-handedly represented was subject to years of utter vilification from the concerted ranks of Old Labour. We remember Neil Kinnock for his spirited and successful opposition to any idea of Welsh devolution. Welsh Labour Grassroots represents a new space that has opened up between the now largely discredited New Labour on the one hand and what are here called Labour-unionists, not so much Old Labour as dinosauric Labour, on the other. It was, of course, the Thatcher era, and the resultant devastation of the Old Labour Welsh heartlands, that brought about this seismic shift in political allegiances, neatly encapsulated by the celebrated line of graffiti that appeared on a railway bridge in Ron Davies’s Caerffili constituency: ‘We voted Labour – we got Thatcher.’ By 1997, no Tory MPs represented Wales at Westminster and by a wafer-thin majority a Welsh National Assembly had been established, with Plaid Cymru as second party with a greatly increased share of the vote. A left-wing pressure group arguing the case for language impact assessments in Y Fro Gymraeg, which is what we find in these pages, would have been unthinkable a generation ago. How we arrived at this point is brilliantly explained in the opening contextual chapters of this book.

The second half of the book provides detailed analysis of the policy achievements of the Welsh Assembly Government, latterly a Labour/Plaid Cymru coalition founded on the One Wales programme, and sounds a generally positive though not uncritical note on the ways in which policies have diverged from their counterparts in England as controlled by New Labour. Welsh Grassroots is convinced of the desirability of extending the National Assembly’s powers so that the achievements of its first decade can be consolidated and extended. We learn that Wales is one of only three countries in the world with a legally binding duty to promote sustainable development enshrined in its constitution and that Wales is now up there with the Scandinavian countries in having a high proportion of women in the parliamentary body; indeed, albeit briefly, the National Assembly at one point had a female majority in its cabinet. The absence of any discussion on Welsh agricultural policy or mention of Elin Jones, the highly regarded – and female – agriculture minister is therefore a regrettable and uncharacteristic omission in the book, a throwback to the wrong sort of Old Labour.

So, against the grain of the times, this is a hopeful and invigorating book which has the potential to be a platform on which a progressive Welsh political agenda can be delivered for the new century. It remains to be seen whether this splendid book can register as effectively as it deserves to do, given the limited media coverage devoted to the serious discussion of Welsh affairs within Wales, a uniquely disgraceful aspect of the democratic deficit discussed in this volume which any new Cardiff administration should take steps to remedy.

Clear Red Water is a valuable publication, highly recommended for student, politician and activist alike. It is also a political book in the most engaged sense of the term: a mix of history text, policy outline and political polemic. Less an academic manuscript, this is more a resource for reminding, illustrating and educating readers as to what its authors see as the important gains and individual policies of Welsh Labour under Rhodri Morgan in the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) – denoted, shorthand, in the ‘clear red water’ of the title.

Readers outside of Wales should be clear, however, that while Davies and Williams’ described purpose is to ‘make the case for a democratic socialist agenda in Welsh politics today’ (and in so doing, shoring up Morgan’s policy approach in the face of his imminent departure), theirs is a book aimed at those within the party in Wales and without. That also resolutely includes those across the border: spreading the news from Wales to their comrades in the wider British labour movement is clearly an important aim – telling a story, as they see it, of other possibilities, socialist successes and refutations of that favourite New Labour notion that ‘there is no alternative’.

Significantly, while the authors position themselves as ‘critical friends of the Welsh Labour leadership’, in this latter aim they’re seeking to bypass this same, reticent leadership. The muted public acknowledgement by Morgan and his ministers of their policy differences with Labour’s leadership in London and the usual explanations ‘in purely pragmatic terms, related to the distinct culture or geography of Wales’ are noted with disappointment. Welsh Labour’s post-devolution policies are instead presented here as offering a rallying point against what is labelled ‘the increasingly reactionary agenda of Tony Blair’; as ‘a progressive alternative with which one could engage positively’ so as to make ‘the case for a more thoroughgoing socialist agenda’.

On the specific topic of Welsh Labour, Davies and Williams are emphatically nof muted, both in criticism and praise for the Party. Yet there is an inherent tension, recognisable but unformulated, within this book; a tension moreover which exists within Welsh Labour itself. This tension has to do with the very nature of the titular ‘clear red water’ – that key signifier of ideological difference between Labour in Wales and England – and all which it envelopes.

This book arrives as Wales is poised for another battle in the long campaign for substantial devolution of powers from Westminster and Whitehall. It is a particularly refreshing contribution to the debate because it is written from a left of centre, pro-devolution standpoint within the labour movement. Such a perspective still retains some novelty, given the traditional hostility to Welsh national aspirations and even to the Welsh language from most sections of the Bevanite and Trotskyist left in the past.

The book’s title is taken from the Clear Red Water speech in December 2002 of Rhodri Morgan, First Minister of the National Assembly of Wales and currently head of its Labour–Plaid Cymru coalition Government. Morgan was launching his classic Labour alternative to New Labour’s passion for PFI, privatisation, marketisation and the bogus agenda of choice. His muted opposition to Blair’s imperialist war-fighting missions took longer to find its voice.

Morgan is no classic left-winger. Although he described himself as a “socialist” in his Swansea speech, he is in reality a middle of the road, pro-EU social democrat who recognises that “clear pink water” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. New Labour’s abandonment of social democracy has left him where he always stood, insisting on policies which reduce social inequality, improve public services and extend democratic rights.

Nick Davies and Darren Williams understand the contradictions between these aspirations – shared by socialists as well – and neoliberal capitalist globalisation. Their analysis of the limitations – some of them self-imposed – on Welsh Labour’s economic strategy is incisive. They advance alternative economic, social, energy, and environmental policies which challenge the free market interests of the transnational corporations in favour of state intervention, planning, equality and sustainability.

The authors also recognise that primary legislative powers are needed for the National Assembly of Wales to pursue such policies, but they make no substantial proposals to give the Assembly its own fund-raising powers.

This book is full of very useful information about the economy, social structure and policies of Wales. It is weaker on cultural questions including Welsh language rights and the mass media. Nor does the historical chapter deal with the attitude of the labour movement to the national question in Wales during two decisive periods, namely 1918–23 and 1945–51. A more explicitly theoretical approach might have been beneficial, for example when considering the interface between political strategy and the national question.

The clear distinction between the perspective for progressive change, revolution and socialism on the one hand and the democratic case for national self-determination on the other is sometimes blurred. Indeed, the majority of people in Wales consider themselves to belong to “a distinct nation, with a shared history and culture and discrete interests”. That is why they should enjoy national autonomy within the British state, and why Wales has an absolute right to separation should its people desire it. These are the principles opposed at every opportunity by Lord Kinnock of Gravy Train and a gaggle of anti-devolution Welsh Labour MPs.

What should the Welsh people do with that autonomy, and should they seek to exercise their right to separation? For socialists, responses to these questions are bound up with the perspectives for achieving state power and establishing socialism. The authors do not advocate independence for Wales (and still less do they entertain Plaid Cymru-style illusions about “self-government within the European Union”). Nor do they spell out how the struggle for greater Welsh autonomy and its use for progressive purposes could strengthen the fight for political power against British state monopoly capitalism.

This weakness is related to another: instead of formulating the alliance needed for political advance in terms of class and social forces, they identify actual and potential allies primarily in party political terms. This overstates the significance of the Labour and Plaid Cymru left – vital though both are to progress in Wales – while underestimating the leading role which needs to be played by the organised working class, not least through a more autonomous, powerful and politically advanced Wales TUC. This approach also marginalises other social forces not affiliated to political parties, but whose involvement in political struggle will also be essential.

It was the big unions in Wales which swung Welsh Labour behind a coalition with Plaid Cymru in 2007. They will play a major role in deciding the Party’s leadership after Morgan’s retirement and in shaping the policies of the Welsh labour movement. Their members will probably be decisive in the forthcoming referendum for greater powers for the assembly. They will also need to be won to the red-green alliance of Labour, Plaid, the Greens and non-sectarian left parties which Davies and Williams correctly and courageously identify as a key concept for future advance in Wales.

These criticisms aside, they have produced a valuable guidebook for the prospective members of such an alliance.

Party activists urge Labour to keep Plaid Cymru on the team

Welsh Labour should ditch tribalism and forge firmer links with Plaid Cymru and others on the socialist left, two of its leading party activists have said.

In their book, Clear Red Water: Welsh Devolution and Socialist Policies, Nick Davies and Darren Williams provide a detailed critique of the differences between New Labour and Welsh Labour. They propose that Labour and Plaid should extend their coalition deal beyond 2011, forming joint policy groups to develop a long-term socialist programme for Wales.

The two authors are chairman and secretary of the Welsh Labour Grassroots group, which is pro-devolution and favours a left-wing agenda.

The book’s title is taken from a speech made by Rhodri Morgan in 2002 in which he set out the differences between his political philosophy and that of former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In the book, Davies and Williams argue that Welsh Labour is facing a choice – it can either revert to being little more than a branch office of New Labour in London, supporting neo-liberal economic policies, or it can further its drive to forge a more radical path.

But to do that, it needs to work with allies on the political left.

They write: “A ‘red-green’ alliance need not be a solution only to electorate stalemate.

“The issues that the One Wales agreement seeks to address will not have been resolved by the conclusion of the present Assembly term and Welsh Labour should therefore consider the possibilities of a longer-term political relationship with Plaid Cymru.

“This need not – and should not – mean ignoring real differences or forswearing electoral competition, but it ought to involve, at a minimum, identifying Plaid as Labour’s preferred coalition partner in advance of further Assembly elections, on the basis of the two parties’ political common ground.

“It could also, we would suggest, extend to the establishment of bipartisan policy commissions to develop a longer-term governmental programme for Wales, and to encourage rank-and-file members of both parties to work together on issues where they can reach agreement.

“This sort of arrangement could begin to lift Welsh politics above the usual trivial point-scoring, driven by the pursuit of electoral advantage, and pool the intellectual and political resources of the two parties of any size in Wales that claim to stand for socialism and equality.”

Such an alliance, the book argues, could yoke together what the authors say are the two principal challenges facing the Welsh left – the need to bring about a more equal, democratic and sustainable society than we have at present, and the need to end Wales’ status as a poor and peripheral part of the UK.

Davies and Williams added: “It could reconcile the supposedly irreconcilable interests of urban and rural Wales, North and South Wales and English-speaking and Welsh-speaking Wales.

“It could isolate the Tories for the foreseeable future. In so doing it could set a progressive, left-of-centre agenda in Welsh politics for years to come.”

The book also says Welsh Labour needs to revitalise its own democratic processes: “In Wales, the trade union bureaucracy has acted as a consistently conservative force and ‘regional’ secretaries have relished their role as ‘fixers’, becalming rank-and-file rebellion, delivering conference majorities for leadership-approved policies and generally keeping everything running smoothly.

“This is not to say that there is no discussion – the Welsh Policy Forum process provides ample opportunities, over the four-year cycle between Assembly elections, for party units and affiliates to discuss draft documents and for Forum delegates to suggest modifications.

“The fundamental problem, however – as at the British level – is that when those final documents are presented to conference, there is no opportunity to amend them. Until this changes, there will be no real accountability.”

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.