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Welsh Labour goes tops in UK

Peter Rowlands gets behind Labour's success in the Welsh Assembly elections

These were the fourth set of elections for the Assembly, as they were for the Scottish Parliament, though the contrast between the two results could not have been greater. For Labour the Welsh result was the best of the four, the Scottish the worst.

In Wales, Labour won 30 seats, exactly half of the 60 seats in the Assembly and has decided to govern alone, which it did with exactly the same number of seats after the 2003 election, although this was reduced to 29 in 2005.

Labour's win in Wales reflected the national polls, although both the Tories and the LibDems did somewhat better than these indicated and Labour only as well because of the fall in the Plaid vote. However Labour substantially increased its vote at the expense of the LibDems and Plaid, as did the Tories , to a lesser extent. They retained three seats that Labour had been hoping to take, losing their leader in a regional seat because of this.

Plaid had been in coalition with Labour since shortly after the previous election, something that had been strongly opposed by a substantial minority in Welsh Labour and many Welsh Labour MPs.

Their result reflected Plaid's role as junior partner in the coalition, just as with the LibDems at Westminster, the uninspiring leadership of Ieuan Wyn Jones, ill considered attacks on Labour during the election campaign but perhaps most of all Labour's decision to embrace a coalition with Plaid. This probably had the effect of reassuring a part of the substantial Labour Westminster vote that Welsh Labour was pro devolution and was prepared to co-operate with Plaid . Plaid's vote fell from 22% to 19%, their lowest vote in an Assembly election The logic of this development is that it could reduce Plaid's appeal to a hard core, pro independence, Welsh language, rural grouping. There is much to think about here, for both Labour and Plaid.

Some on Labour's left have called for a continuation of the coalition with Plaid, and governing with only an equality of seats will no doubt prove difficult, as it did in the 2003 to 2007 period, but now is not the time, Plaid will want to reflect on their problems, even if an accommodation with them occurs at some later stage. Any agreement with either of the other two parties is for obvious reasons unthinkable.

Because of Plaid a direct comparison with votes in England cannot be made, but it can with Scotland, with which there could not have been a greater contrast. Here the SNP swept the board, humiliating all other parties. This reflected voter satisfaction with what the SNP had delivered as a minority government in the previous four years, a more developed nationalism than in Wales, and the charisma and talent of its first minister. The strong showing for Labour in last year's general election, by contrast, reflected their strong antipathy to the Tories which only a vote for Labour could do anything about.

So whither Labour in Wales? The capable first minister, Carwyn Jones, a seemingly worthy successor to Rhodri Morgan, has so far guided the Assembly well, particularly during the run-up to the successful referendum on law making powers held in March. He has some very capable people in his cabinet, together they are now the most senior Labour figures in elected office anywhere in the UK. Assuming the continuation of the ‘Clear Red Water' policies developed in the last 12 years, the progress of the Welsh Government over the coming period should be of great interest for the left. This is not only because these policies are right and in the interests of the people of Wales, but also because they can and should act as a practical guide for the development of Labour policies for the UK, particularly in the fields of education and health. For this to happen Labour AMs and the Labour left in Wales should see themselves as ambassadors for policies that are just as relevant to the rest of the UK as they are to Wales. Newly elected AM Mark Drakeford, a key originator of ‘Clear Red Water' will hopefully have a part to play here.

In recent months there have been some rather disturbing signs of Labour retreat in education, where because of apparent failings in some Welsh schools a return to testing and grading is being proposed. This is seen by many on the left in Wales as a knee jerk reaction to poor results, although clearly these must improve if Labour in Wales is going to be able to credibly defend or advance its policies. This will not always be easy, particularly in the present cuts climate, but it is to be hoped that the Welsh Government continues to promote the ‘Clear Red Water' policies it has developed with some success, for the benefit of the people of Wales.

The lessons and experience should aid the development of policies for Labour in the rest of the UK.