A FORMER Labour Deputy Minister has warned his party it will “sleepwalk” to electoral disaster at the next Assembly election in 2011 without major changes.
In an online pamphlet published today, Merthyr and Rhymney AM Huw Lewis writes, “In order to create a party that can win elections over the next generation, we must react to the 2007 result as though it were a heavy defeat. Any other response will not be sufficient, and we will sleepwalk to a very real loss in 2011, where the number of marginal seats we will be contesting will be unprecedented in modern electoral history.
“The only way to successfully combat these challenges is to create a self-sufficient genuinely Welsh Labour Party which can properly shape this next exciting phase of devolution.”
Mr Lewis, right, a former assistant general secretary of Welsh Labour, was the only member of the Labour-only administration to lose his job when the party agreed a coalition with Plaid Cymru last month.
The pamphlet, published today on a new Labour “virtual think tank”, www.wales2020.com, draws attention to what Mr Lewis sees as significant organisational drawbacks.
He says, “Organisationally, Welsh Labour does a miraculous job with what has effectively been reduced to a skeleton staff. The boom-bust approach to staffing which runs from the Westminster election cycle does not give the Welsh party the chance it needs to develop a conversation with voters before an Assembly campaign.
“With only three full-time Welsh organisation staff for the 2007 Assembly elections, the party was always going to be overstretched. This low staffing also leads to an over reliance on well-meaning but under-trained volunteers, who do not necessarily have the required understanding of Labour politics to develop a meaningful strategy.
“A professional campaign requires professional campaigners running teams of volunteers – not the other way round.
“Relationships with other sections of civic society – most notably with partners in the wider Labour movement – are also falling foul of staff/time pressures. The conversation with voters, trade unions and other key organisations is vital to winning elections – it should not be an on-off affair only reignited by the excitement of an election. It must be ongoing and it must be meaningful.
“Finally, there is the role of Welsh Labour MPs and MEPs to consider. At present this wealth of talent is not being properly exploited by the party in Wales – and unless we develop a stronger link between all our elected representatives, Plaid Cymru will succeed in their clear aim of destabilising the relationship to the extent where we become totally divided.”
Turning to the changes he believes are necessary for the party’s renewal, Mr Lewis argues that unions and other affiliated bodies should have a much greater say in how to create the right policies.
He says, “Daily contact with working people across Wales should put trade unions in the box seat as far as policy development is concerned.
“That will require new groundbreaking policy proposals from the unions in return for a guaranteed seat at the decision making table to ensure any such policy could be delivered. In my brief tenure as Deputy Minister for Economic Development, I was shocked to discover the lack of formalised regular liaison that took place between the Welsh Assembly Government and the unions.”
Mr Lewis also advocates the adoption of a 10-year policy programme by the party, saying, “The idea that we have to present surprise policy commitments a few weeks before an election in order to grab the news agenda for the day is unhealthy and as we have already seen can lead to undeliverable commitments and gimmickry.”