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Rishi Sunak’s secret weapon: a land where UK Labor is already in power

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PEMBROKESHIRE, Wales — If the polls are correct, Britain’s Labor Party is on track to win its first general election since 2005. Fortunately, there is already a corner of Britain where voters can see what that could mean.

Since 1999, Labor has led the proxy government in Wales, a nation of 3 million people that has offered majority support to the Labor Party for the past 101 years – the longest winning streak in the democratic world. Labor leader Keir Starmer last year. called The Cardiff administration is “a model of what the Labor Party could do across the UK”

But with Welsh public services screeching – as they are in other parts of Britain – it will be the Conservatives who will shout the loudest about Labor’s performance in Wales come next year’s election time.

As for the NHS, education and housing, the Conservative campaign headquarters (CCHQ) is already stepping up its attacks on the performance of what it relentlessly calls “Labour-led Wales”. Last week, the CCHQ issued three separate rebuttals to the Labor attacks, all of which focused attention on Cardiff.

Interestingly, the main target of such messages is not Wales itself, but voters across the border in England who are considering ditching the Conservatives and backing Labor for the first time in a generation.

Punishing the Welsh government is a deliberate “playbook” by the Conservatives, confirms Conservative MP Stephen Crabb, who was Secretary of State for Wales under David Cameron (when such attacks were a familiar refrain) and now chairs the Multi-party House of Commons for Welsh affairs. committee.

In fact, he points out, the registry is much more nuanced. “The truth is, it’s good and bad,” she says. “Actually, the story is one of quite positive cooperation.”

But “when we get to the proper commercial end of the campaign, it’s going to be very difficult,” adds Crabb. “Nuanced arguments will go out the window, both from Welsh Labor attacking us and, I’m sure, from the Conservatives responding. We will be fighting in terms of pretty crude arguments.”

Conservative leader Fay Jones, MP for the Brecon and Radnorshire rural Welsh seat, suggests her party’s tone will echo the recent Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, which the Conservatives narrowly won after attacking plans of London Mayor Sadiq Khan to extend a tax on heavy-polluting vehicles known as an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).

Despite having ruled Westminster for 13 years, the Tories portrayed themselves as insurgents fighting an unpopular ruler. They hope to repeat the trick in Wales next year.

“They’ve seen the profile that Sadiq Khan has as a result of ULEZ,” says Jones. “We can amplify that, times 100, from the record of (Labour First Minister of Wales) Mark Drakeford.”

the real goal

Such campaigns are unlikely to be effective in Wales itself, suggests Richard Wyn Jones, a professor of Welsh politics at Cardiff University. He believes that the Conservative approach is “not only doomed to fail, but likely to backfire” in Wales.



For more survey data from across Europe, visit POLITICAL survey of surveys.

Wyn Jones, who ran the Welsh Electoral Study, believes that a negative campaign could help spark a “1997 or 2001 scenario” in which “people with Welsh identity gleefully band together to get rid of the Conservatives.” Wales was left without Conservative MPs after those two elections.

Today, the Conservatives hold 13 seats in Wales, more than double the six in Scotland, which enjoys a higher profile among the Conservatives in Westminster because of endless disputes over independence. But it is the Welsh Conservative bloc of seats that could prove pivotal, tipping the balance between a comfortable Labor majority in Westminster and a fragile, or even non-majority parliament.

The signs are not good. Privately, the Conservatives are “extremely gloomy” in Wales, where YouGov polls put Labor 30 points ahead, says Wyn Jones. A leading Welsh Labor figure said he believed the Conservatives could lose 12 of their 13 Welsh seats to just Montgomeryshire.

The more interesting question, says Wyn Jones, is whether the Tories’ attacks on Welsh Labor could sway voters in England.

The answer, says Wyn Jones, is “less definitive.” The strategy “could well embarrass Labour”, he believes, given that Wales offers rare contemporary data on Labour’s actual performance in power. But he suggests that the general lack of interest of the English public in Wales could make it a “bubble” story that never quite gets off the ground.

‘Storm builds in Westminster and Wales’

Certainly the frustration with the Welsh government is very real when talking to business owners in South Wales.

Lee Nicholls, 56, an estate agent in former coal mining villages in the Dales, says the rent for a three-bedroom house has risen by £200 in two years, due to factors including, he says, official housing standards higher than are “impossible”. ” to meet, driving out the owners.

Labor MP Chris Bryant, who issued a damning report about rising rents in his seat in Rhondda, he fears that the Welsh government “Standard Quality” for social housing it will mean that housing associations will not be able to buy the hundred-year-old terraces that are coming onto the market. He says: “The storm we have locally was created partly in Westminster and partly in Wales.”

On a hill near the English border, 55-year-old farmer Emma Robinson is fed up with the Welsh government’s farm-financing system. The Sustainable Agriculture Plan, due to come into force in 2025, aims to ensure 10 percent of land is taken up by trees, but Robinson says: “I’m not going to take away good land.” Farmers are discussing whether the hedgerows will count as trees, and the Welsh government is exploring changes to the plan.

Seventeen miles away, 66-year-old Nigel Bowyer is frustrated that England has a badger cull to combat bovine tuberculosis, but Wales, where delegated management insists a cull would have no significant impact, does not.

But both farmers have the same disgust for the Conservative government in Westminster. Bowyer is furious about the post-Brexit trade deal with New Zealand, which opened up access to lamb and beef. “They completely ignored us for what I think were purely ideological reasons,” he snaps. “They have thrown us under a bus.” Both are former Conservative voters, but neither has decided whether he will vote Conservative next year.

West Beach in Pembrokeshire, Wales | Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

Adam McDonnell, director of research at pollster YouGov, says “a lot of voting” in Wales in the last 2019 election focused on UK-wide issues, as the Conservatives had hoped. But with Labor so far ahead in the national polls this time, the Conservatives will try to convince voters of the importance of local issues.

There are likely to be tensions between Starmer and the more left-wing Drakeford. Wales is introducing a default speed limit of 20mph on restricted urban roads from September 17, instead of 30mph, and Starmer is nervous about being portrayed as anti-motorist. Welsh Conservative leader, Andrew RT Davies, has reclaimed the policy will “cost the Welsh economy £4.5bn” and “put lives at risk”.

health of a nation

But the most “resonant” argument in the door, says Crabb, is Labor’s management of the NHS in Wales. Downing Street kicked off a week of health-focused campaigns earlier this month with figures suggesting more than 73,000 people in Wales were waiting more than 77 weeks for treatment, compared with just over 7,000 waiting more than 78 weeks in England.

Tim Gardner, deputy director for policy at the nonpartisan think tank Health Foundation, agrees that Welsh patients “are more likely to experience a very long wait for a routine procedure” than those in England. But “the UK’s four health services are in quite a difficult situation,” he adds.

And the picture changes, Gardner says, depending on which numbers are used. Longer waits for treatment are “only a narrow measure” given England’s NHS has a record 7.6 million people on waiting lists. Wales’ population is also older, more deprived and more affected by COVID-19, she says, factors that “are not always necessarily reflected in funding.”

“The Cardiff government could do more,” says Gardner, but equally its actions are “largely influenced” by the broader spending decisions of the UK government.

“It is burning intergovernmental relations”

In the short term, a lot could still change. Wales is about to undergo sweeping changes to seat boundaries, shrinking from 40 Westminster constituencies to 32. And Drakeford, Wales’s premier since 2018 and a household name since the COVID-19 pandemic, will step down. , probably in 2024. The ramifications remain unclear.

In the long term, hostility between London and Cardiff could paralyze real work on the ground. Milford Haven, in west Wales, was recently declared a free port, but that status was hard-won. Left-wing Welsh politicians were initially concerned that the policy being pushed by the Conservatives was little more than a “tax dodge” before reaching a deal with Westminster, says Tom Sawyer, the port’s chief executive.

Hostility has another, more fundamental consequence. “They are absolutely burning intergovernmental relations,” warns Wyn Jones, “at a time when the latest polls show support for Welsh independence running at 38 per cent.”

And that, for both Labor and Conservatives, would be the real nightmare.

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