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THE election of Adam Price as leader of Plaid Cymru is a setback for the prospect of left unity in Wales and with it a bump in the road to left advance.
One of the more remarkable things about the contest has been the lack of coverage in the media.
An exception was the well-publicised spat about the prospect of future coalition government following the 2021 assembly elections.
Outgoing left leader Leanne Wood accused Price of being ready to do a deal with the Tories. The riposte was hardly helpful as Price ruled out coalition with any party, including Labour too.
And yet a unified left is what is needed in Wales. It was only with the combined strength of the national and the labour movement that the devolution referendum was won and the most progressive era of post-devolution governance remains the One Wales period of coalition between 2007-11, that delivered primary law-making powers to Wales.
A united left in Wales has consistently enhanced our democracy, something which needs to ramp up several notches if we are to address the current challenges we face.
Today, the single biggest obstacle to tackling our country’s problems remains the powerlessness of the people of Wales. Almost all the vital decisions about the Welsh economy are taken in far-away company boardrooms or in offices in Whitehall and Brussels.
An opportunity to develop policy to take power away from these remote actors and place it in the hands of the Welsh people appears to have been missed.
Price’s campaign focused on an assertive independence stance, somewhat undermined by backing of all the leadership candidates for the continued dominance of the European Union and the pro-business dictates of its unelected Commission.
There are, of course, further areas of concern for the left. Price’s “flotilla economy” thesis is steeped in the low-tax race-to-the-bottom approach to private enterprise.
Price has argued that “small is beautiful” and that the major division in the world today is between large “post-colonial” states and smaller nations. The conflict between capital and labour was well understood by Wood and the left within Plaid Cymru, but for Price and his followers the problem with the big business agenda is the word “big.”
The thrust of Price’s leadership then is likely to reorientate Plaid towards its traditional territory as the representatives of the provincial lawyer, accountant and estate agent and landowner.
We may see rhetoric that takes on the monopolies in favour of the small and medium-sized firms, but I can’t help but feel this is merely rearranging the deckchairs. The reality of the race to the bottom is that it is big business that is primed and ready to exploit it.
There is little hope of curtailing the dominance of the transnational in Wales without a more fundamental shift to socialist planning rather than capitalist fiscal policies.
Working people as a whole will only prosper when we have a modern economy that uses the most advanced and environmentally sustainable technology, providing full employment for a high-skilled, high-waged workforce.
Private enterprise has no such overall objective, and there is no reason to believe that either today’s transnational corporations or indeed smaller firms are more likely to produce such an outcome than were the iron and coal monopolies of the past.
All the great initiatives to diversify and modernise the Welsh economy and to overcome mass unemployment have come about as the result of public-sector planning, intervention and investment.
It is in relation to these areas that Price and Plaid more generally have more to offer. Pledges for state investment in infrastructure, public ownership of energy and jobs guarantees are useful contributions to the debate on the left in Wales.
This is why it is so frustrating to hear Price’s sectarian rhetoric, something which can only be overcome by concerted effort lower down the chain.
Plaid’s left wing, and its trade union organisation Undeb, need to maintain their connection with the wider left within Wales. This connection has seen some great collaboration in anti-austerity and peace campaigning on the ground through engagement with the People’s Assembly and other local groups.
Labour, Plaid, communists and others on the left need to preserve and extend unity at the grassroots, even if we do so in what will now undoubtedly be a more hostile environment.
There is much change afoot as we await the results of Labour’s own leadership election. The prospect of simultaneous left leadership of the two larger parties in Wales is off, but the challenge remains.
Left activists in whatever party in Wales could do worse than to draw their inspiration from the Welsh communists’ programme:
• Increase the power of the National Assembly and Welsh government at the expense of the European Union and the British imperialist state
• Increase the power of elected governments over the forces of monopoly capitalism
• Increase the power of workers’ representatives over management in the public and private sectors
• Make public services democratically accountable
• Bilingualism, free education and democratisation of the mass media.
David B Morgan is a member of the Welsh committee of the Communist Party of Britain.
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