Ron Davies warns Labour of Plaid victory

By Martin Shipton
Published February 10th 2003 in The Western Mail

FORMER Welsh Secretary Ron Davies has dropped a bombshell by warning that unless Labour offers the people of Wales a radical manifesto for change, the party could lose May's Assembly election to Plaid Cymru.

In an article for the parliamentary House magazine, Mr Davies argues that Labour needs to remotivate its core vote with "greater clarity about our economic and social objectives", and he warns, "If we fail to inspire that natural constituency of Labour support it will not only be a moral defeat."

Last night, Welsh Labour's policy co-ordinator, Carwyn Jones, the Assembly's business manager, said, "We are very aware that we need to promote a manifesto that will inspire people to vote Labour.

"I think we have a solid record of achievement over the past four years that will convince people to support us and we are confident of securing an overall majority."

But Plaid Cymru president Ieuan Wyn Jones said, "Ron Davies's analysis is spot on in many areas - the lack of any real substantial achievements by the Labour-led government in the Assembly, their poor performance in the economic sphere and the downright scandalous waiting lists have turned the voters away from them in droves."

A senior Labour source said, "If we fail to win an overall majority, Ron would envisage a scenario where Rhodri resigns and he steps in to fill the breach."

Mr Davies is certainly increasing his profile in the run-up to the Assembly elections. In December he called for the replacement of the Barnett Formula that governs how much money the Assembly receives and next Thursday he appears on BBC1's networked Question Time.

His article in the House magazine states, "Given Labour's historic voting strength in Wales and our current hold on 34 of 40 of the Westminster seats, this May's Assembly election should be something of a formality.

The Assembly's proportional representation system and the dynamic introduced into voting patterns by a new, devolved tier of government for the Welsh nation, ensure an outcome, however, which is far from foregone.

"The main challenge to Labour comes not from the other political parties but from apathy. The 50% turnout for the 1997 referendum and 46% turnout for the historic first Assembly elections in 1999 could be seen as very authoritative against what some commentators forecast may be a turnout of 35% this year.

"If we fail to better that, we will have lost. A turnout of that order would mean a vote for Labour by something like one in five or one in six Welsh electors. After four years running the Assembly, we should have a solid record of achievement and a clear and dynamic vision of the future to be sufficient to mobilise our natural and strong base of support to give us a comfortable victory.

"But the vagaries of differential turnout could mean hitherto safe Labour seats falling to the opposition, whose natural core of supporters, either because of innate enthusiasm for their cause or because of the driving force of political opportunism, have a greater propensity to turn out and vote.

"The IDS factor will be sufficient to ensure not more than two, perhaps three seats will be vulnerable to the Tories this time around, but our vulnerable flank is against Plaid."

"Of course issues of administrative competence and public service delivery are important, but there are other influences to come into play - a protest vote against the state government perhaps, more likely the expression of local interests or an assertion of regional or national identity where language, a sense of history or a desire for greater self-determination can be a dominant consideration."

He added, "We have to defend against a potential `double whammy'. On the one hand our natural traditional supporters may consider the Assembly government's performance on health and the economy provide less than compelling reasons to turn out and vote. On health, for example, even though a record amount of money has gone into the NHS, waiting lists have stubbornly refused to respond and an overdue concentration on bureaucratic reform isn't guaranteed to impress the electorate.

"Similarly on the economy, while employment has continued to rise in line with UK trends, the handling of the Objective One programme has been less than impressive and unrealistic targets for closing the GDP gap with the rest of the UK have all the potential for a painful own goal.

"On the other hand, are we saying enough to motivate and inspire the radical, politically aware of the electorate who, being more conscious of national identity and anxious for the Assembly to develop and succeed, are much more likely to vote? We shall have to await the verdict, but a radical manifesto and clear election strategy can do much to sway the jury our way."