Left Foot Forward looks at the challenges facing the new Labour in Scotland and Wales, where there will be assembly elections next year.
Once Labour’s new leader has had time to consider the challenges that now await him, his first electoral test will be simple – can he lead Labour back to power in Holyrood and Cardiff Bay? Reaction from the party’s leaders in both Scotland and Wales has been both warm and united in supporting what ed Miliband himself dubbed the “new generation”.
For the Scottish party, leader Iain Gray declared:
“Ed Miliband will be a great asset to not just Labour but the country. Victory in the Scottish elections next year can be the platform for Ed Miliband to be the next Labour prime minister of Britain, and soon.“
Similarly, Welsh first minister, Carwyn Jones, now Labour’s most powerful elected figure in the UK, concluded:
“Ed will be an excellent leader, he’s a bright and energetic figure and I look forward to working with him to help deliver a Labour majority in the next assembly elections.”
However, next year’s devolved elections provide unique challenges for the new leadership.
In Scotland, the lesson of last year’s Glasgow North East by-election victory should be clear – having Iain Gray living and working in the first minister’s official residence of Bute House does not necessarily mean the keys to Downing Street are any closer.
As the most recent polls clearly show, Labour’s main challenge in Scotland continues to be the SNP. Victory over them however should not be seen as a sign that Labour have made a great breakthrough on the road back to power against the coalition; indeed, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have only 12 out of 59 seats in Scotland.
And as Left Foot Forward has previously reported, David Cameron is now looking to cut his Scottish party loose, a sign of his calculation that he can govern without firm foundations in Scotland. As Patrick Diamond has explained, the key for Labour will be to regain disaffected voters who in the General Election deserted Labour across the South.
Likewise, whilst Harriet Harman has concluded that ahead of next May’s Scottish Parliamentary elections, people will “turn away from the Lib Dems, disillusioned, disappointed and dismayed”, Labour cannot afford to expect to mob up disaffected Lib Dem support as a result of their part in the cuts to come in Scotland alone. It will need to provide a positive reason and a vision to attract voters to them as opposed to the SNP.
In Wales, the challenge will be to reverse a decline in Labour support, which in 2009 saw the Conservatives top the poll for the European elections – the first time since 1918 that Labour failed to come first in a Welsh election. Likewise, the general election saw Labour take just 36 per cent of the vote, just 7 per cent more than its UK wide share of the vote in what has traditionally been viewed as the party’s heartland.
As in Scotland, Labour cannot afford to sit back and expect that they will remain in power as a result of protest voting at what even the Welsh Secretary has concluded will be cuts that will hit Wales “disproportionately”. It will need to provide a positive and clear sense of its direction.
As Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones has said:
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“We are ready for a fight. But we need to work hard. We need a manifesto that’s exciting and gives hope to people, something that inspires them to vote Labour again.”