Friday, 11 January 2013

A Federalist party?

“The Labour Party is now a de facto federal party recognised by party leadership across the UK.” so claims Leighton Andrews. He’s to say so in a speech to the Clwyd South Labour Party, tonight. 
His claim. Labour is already a British federal party. To be fair to him he does use the words "a de facto federal party."
His argument is based on the fact that “The leader of the Labour MSPs is formally the Leader of Scottish Labour. In Wales, Carwyn is the only person elected by the whole of the party in Wales, and is recognised as Welsh Labour leader. 
Ed Miliband as a contender for the Labour leadership in 2010 recognised that:
“It is time for London to lighten up and be more mature about our relationship with the Senedd and also the Scottish Parliament”.
There is no disputing the fact that devolution has changed many attitudes within the ranks of Welsh Labour. More and more of the ordinary rank and file members have learnt to live if not necessarily love the Welsh Assembly. 
The outright opposition of many to the institution has certainly declined over the years. The party in Wales is now less Unionist.
But what about the Labour party over Offa's Dyke?
There’s not much evidence that they understand or indeed sympathise with devolution.  And as for it being a Federal Party? Not so, not by a long chalk.
Leighton Andrews is a devoted devolutionist. He’s played a leading part in the last two referendum campaigns and his lecture tonight may well be a start of a new campaign, on his part, to return his party to its “Home Rule” roots. 
Home rule was the party’s policy from the days of Keir Hardy up until the landslide of 1945. Then Clem Attlee and his party turned their back on the commitments to Wales and Scotland and became Britain’s second unionist Party.   
Devolution only really took a hold again as a reaction to Thatcherism. The argument went that the two countries didn't vote for her, so why should they put up with her policies.
Wales and Scotland now have a measure of control over their own affairs. But within the British state, the Westminster Parliament is supreme.  It’s still top dog.  
Andrews is right, Labour does elect from all the constituent wings of the party in Wales its own leader. But that doesn't make it a Federal party. 
Its constitution is still very much based on it being a British party. The party in Wales has no separate status. Its general secretary is appointed  by the party centrally. All candidates for elected office have to be approved by the party’s national executive in London.  
The national executive is responsible for the party. With not one place for Wales on this, the party's ruling body. No, Labour is still very much a party controlled from the centre. And the centre is London, not Cardiff. 
However Leighton Andrews might wish it to be otherwise  the ultimate authority for Wales lies in  the party's national conference. National  in this instance being very much British. For British read English. 
In his speech he draws attention to Carwyn Jones’s plea to David Cameron for a constitutional convention. “The First Minister has rightly called for a UK Constitutional Convention to be set up before the Scottish referendum.”

But David Cameron isn’t going to do anything until after the Scottish referendum. No, nothing. A shame, but there you have it, they are after all 'the Conservative and Unionist party.' The conservative bit dedicated to the status quo and the unionist bit with an outright objection to Federalism.

But what of the de facto Federalist party leader, Miliband? Dear Ed hasn’t shown any marked enthusiasm either.  As Leader of the Opposition in Westminster he’s not harried the PM on the convention idea. Not one question.  His silence on the matter is deafening.  

Andrews”s view is that “a model based on one centre of power at Westminster is, bluntly, bust.”

A Federal constitution for Britain is surely the way forward.  But Ed Miliband and his team have yet to say so. And as for the Labour party’s own structure, it surely ain’t anywhere near being a Federal party yet. 

No. Mr Andrews has a real fight on his hands if he's to change his party's constitution. The gap between wanting  and getting it is very wide indeed. One speech does not a Federation make.


  1. Interesting post. I wonder to what extent the federal/non-federal dimension within the TUC/individuals unions is also of relevance?

  2. Welsh Labour the UK's CSU? The only party that will benefit from this federal nonsense in the long run is the Tory Party I'm afraid.

  3. Some of Labour wants to be a federal party like Catalonia's PSC, but equally many of them won't. Particularly amongst the MPs. Any real federalism will threaten the MPs priveleges.

  4. They are only doing this to save their own skins and votes in the long run

  5. Most people in Wales want a federal or confederal UK. It makes sense for Labour to try and become a federal or confederal party, or for the pro-devolution figures in the party to suggest that they already are. A very different direction to the way the Labour party has acted in Scotland, somewhat unfortunately for Plaid!