If all else fails, try Wales.

AuthorWilliams, Karel

In the English imaginary it is difficult to take Wales seriously, because Wales is a region for the English (like the West Country or the Lake District), where they go to holiday or experiment with alternative lifestyles. The mordant phrase 'if all else fails, try Wales' was originated by Christopher Logue in the 1970s, and recommended retreat to rural Wales for those disillusioned with London life. Fifty years later the phrase resonates in a different context, because peripheral Wales is pioneering a political reinvention which is relevant beyond Wales, in a period when all across Europe labour and social-democratic parties have been struggling-and mainly failing-to win power in national elections.

Electorates are increasingly volatile, and, though Westminster Labour is, in early 2022, ahead in the opinion polls, that is because the Johnson government is self-harming, and endless stories of Tory sleaze and lockdown parties have finally cut through with voters. There has been no big break-through in thinking from UK Labour.

Against this discouraging background, the November 2021 agreement between the minority Welsh Labour government and its Plaid Cymru opposition marks a significant step towards getting round the central-state impasse. It is worth teasing out the significance of this agreement, which went almost unnoticed, as an inside page, home news, story in the London papers.

In much of Europe, social-democratic parties at central state level are far from winning the solid electoral majorities necessary to deliver a new social settlement. A generation after de-industrialisation, traditional working-class voting loyalties have weakened. Labour is far from power in the UK, and social democracy is marginalised in France and Italy. In Scandinavia and Germany, left-wing parties cling to office by moving rightwards, through granting concessions and forming incoherent coalitions. This is what is happening in the recently formed German traffic-light coalition, where the SDP and the Greens have ceded the finance ministry to the Free Democrats, who will strangle radical spending plans.

In elections for the Welsh Assembly since 1999, the effects of weaker voter loyalties have been reinforced by an electoral system designed to limit the power of Labour as the largest party. In six elections over the past 23 years, Labour has never won a majority of the 60 available Welsh Assembly/Senedd seats, and Welsh Labour has only held on to office through...

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