Jac Larner and Dan Wincott of the Wales Governance Centre examine the Welsh party manifestos.
Unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland, questions of Wales’ constitutional future are rarely salient in politics. While support for devolved institutions has become something like the settled will of the population of Wales, at least until recently there has been relatively little public debate about Welsh independence. As such, it is (mistakenly) often included in political analyses with England as a singular unit. Yet Wales remains political and electorally distinct from the rest of the UK, with Welsh-specific dynamics likely to play a key role in the outcome of the upcoming General Election.
Conservative gains in Wales – particularly in the North East of Wales – are key to Johnson’s route to a majority, while Labour resistance and the success of Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats in Wales will be key to Labour’s hopes of finding support for a minority government.
In this post we outline some of the key manifesto pledges of the parties in Wales.
The manifestos that grab most attention are those issued for the whole of Britain by the parties competing to lead the next UK government. It is not always clear where these manifestos propose policies that only address England or are Britain or UK-wide. With the exception of the Brexit Party’s ‘contract’, each of the Britain-wide manifestos has specific sections on the UK’s devolved nations and jurisdictions. The Brexit Party treat the UK as if it was a unitary state (they do propose constitutionally significant changes, including electoral reform for Westminster). The other parties address Wales-specific issues in different ways and to varying degrees in their Britain-wide manifestos. Labour and the Liberal Democrats also issued distinct manifestos for Wales.
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats pledge to address historic under-funding of public spending in Wales in their manifestos for Britain. Each takes up the recent Thomas Commission on Justice Policy in Wales, albeit with differences of emphasis - the Lib Dems focus on the separation of Wales from England as a distinct legal system, while Labour concentrate on the wider capacity deficit for ‘Justice Policy’ in Wales.
The Conservatives also promise a ‘fair deal’ for funding, albeit with the accent of direct UK Government investments, more than cooperation with the Welsh Government which could bypass the devolved government. They offer a Marches Growth Deal, to strengthen connections across the Anglo-Welsh border. Their discussion of Transport is peculiar. It contains a direct, specific promise to upgrade the A55 and talks of delivering the M4 relief road – apparently countermanding a recent decision of the Labour Government in Wales. On second glance, this commitment seems to depend on the election of a Conservative Government at the devolved, Welsh level – not currently a likely prospect.
Welsh Labour’s manifesto echoes the GB party in most ways, while it notes that many promises made by Corbyn for England have already been delivered in Wales. It does differ in one key respect: Welsh Labour promises to campaign for Remain in any future referendum on Brexit.
Although Plaid Cymru reconfirms its commitment to a ‘final say’ referendum on Brexit – that policy is not at the heart of the party’s manifesto. The define five key priorities – a Green Jobs Revolution, a comprehensive National Health and Social Care Service, investment in childcare and education, action on housing and combatting crime through a new justice system. Plaid commits to Welsh Independence by 2030, with an Independence Commission promised. Before then, Plaid aims further devolution. They also call for wide-ranging reform of Westminster – including a proportional electoral system and replacing the House of Lords with a directly elected territorial chamber.
As well as ‘fair funding for Wales’, wider political reforms might be the price needed for support from Wales for a non-Conservative government after the election. This situation could lead to the devolution of Justice Policy and potentially to a new, distinct legal jurisdiction in Wales, ending the the historic form of the shared ‘England and Wales’ legal jurisdiction.. Wider reforms of the UK state’s London-based institutions might also rise up the political agenda.