It’s the same old story. The London media has always ignored and neglected Wales. The Times is a classic example. It has a Scottish edition but never pays Wales the same attention. So I was not surprised to see the Welsh Senedd elections barely reported – and then badly – in today’s iPad edition of the paper. The Saturday news summary above ignores the fascinating and unexpected Senedd election results.
The story The Times did run (above) repeatedly referred to the Welsh Assembly – an institution that no longer exists. The country’s legislature is the Senedd – the Welsh Parliament.
Yet in its obsession with Hartlepool and Holyrood, the London media (with the honourable exception of the BBC and The Guardian) were missing a really significant story. The incumbent parties in government in Cardiff Bay, Holyrood and Westminster did well. Labour’s Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford has won plaudits across these islands for his calm leadership during the pandemic. The Senedd results showed that voters rewarded Labour for its steady hand on the tiller. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon looks to be close to an SNP majority. And, as the London media keep telling us, Boris Johnson has dealt a blow to Labour’s UK leader Keir Starmer by capturing another traditional Labour parliamentary seat in Hartlepool. But the story is rather more nuanced even in England.
At a UK level, Labour certainly has deep problems. It has to win in England to win a UK general election. So the attention given to the so-called red wall seats in the north of England is merited. How did Labour lose so many (but by no means all) of its traditional heartlands? A decade ago, the party was dominant in Scotland but is now utterly overshadowed by the SNP. It is unlikely but not inconceivable that it may one day face a similar decline in Wales.
Plaid: a missed opportunity
In Wales, there has been a rise in support for independence. The vibrant Yes Cymru independence campaign has seen a surge in members, and recent polls suggest up to a third of Welsh people who expressed a view supported Wales leaving the UK. Yet Plaid Cymru was unable to take advantage of this, losing the Rhondda to Labour, and failing to capture Llanelli. Plaid will have to wait for another chance to make a breakthrough. Adam Price is a passionate leader, but I can’t help thinking the party needs a campaigning and organisational refresh. It is strong in email campaigning and on social, but it misses a few obvious tricks. For example, the leader’s (online) 2020 party conference speech took place on a Friday night well after the early evening news bulletins. Why miss that opportunity to get your message across to a mass audience? Uncommitted voters are more likely to catch your story through TV, radio and online news than through a live stream.
Labour: a tale of three countries
Labour first minister Mark Drakeford says he is going to be more radical now he has won his own mandate. It’s very unlikely that he will be converted to the cause of independence, but he has shown during the Covid crisis that he is willing to set Wales on a different path from England. The notorious 19th century saying For Wales, see England has been finally and completely discredited. Drakeford and his team deserve kudos for that.
In England, Labour’s future is more uncertain. As Philip Collins writes in The New Statesman, Labour is too weak to win but too strong to die. The answer must surely be some kind of alliance with the Lib Dems and Greens. The centre left parties must accept that if they are ever to beat the Tories, they have to bury their tribal rivalries. Otherwise, the Conservatives could well be celebrating 20 years in power in 2030 – an unprecedented achievement that owes much to the failure of their rivals, as well as to the Tory genius for reinvention. Whether there will still be a United Kingdom by then is another question. If there isn’t, the Conservatives may enjoy near perpetual rule in the rump state.
Wales: the medium is the message
The reporting of the Senedd elections shows once again how Wales suffers from the traditional lack of its own national media. The London papers have a greater influence here than in Scotland. Fortunately, there are signs that Wales is developing its own media. Newsquest launched The National on St David’s Day 2021 as an online national media service, and has since added a print edition. Another Welsh news site, Herald.Wales, launched days before. It remains to be seen how much traction these new sites enjoy, but it is good and healthy to see an alternative to the London media, which has shown a stunning indifference to Wales.