Unserious ideas for serious times

It’s a familiar melancholy, seeing Jeremy Corbyn, like Leanne Wood before him, becoming a more radical yet more marginalised voice within his party, post-leadership. Both Corbyn and Wood were deemed to have failed electorally by their internal detractors, but achieved far more than they’ll ever be given credit for by changing the conversation around what their parties should be trying to achieve. There are pressures within both parties now to chase shallow electoralism in place of building a meaningful political movement, but this is wholly inadequate for parties positing themselves as a progressive electoral force in Wales and beyond.

During the election Plaid focused too narrowly and wholeheartedly on nationalism and independence, and have taken their focus off the political projects that would make a Welsh state worthwhile, and worth fighting for. This was always the danger foreshadowed by ousting Leanne Wood, and so it has come to pass. Because for all the handwringing in the party about being too timid on independence, it was more that Wood understood more acutely and perceptively than most in the party what is actually at stake in our present moment, and which political emancipations need to be the driving force — indeed are the driving force whether nationalists like it or not — behind the necessitating of ‘the national question’.

Plaid’s main coherent announcement during the election was the launching of a commission to investigate the efficacy of Welsh independence in the next decade. Wrong question; wrong investigation. I have little interest in what a neoliberal Welsh state needs to do to become ‘independent’ within the current international orthodoxy. The emancipation of Welsh people from that which they are dependent on is a far more pressing question, but not one Plaid have concerned themselves with. ‘Wales needs to be independent from England’ is not a serious position. Demanding that tenants need to be independent from landlords, workers from employers, women from the patriarchy, and so on, should be the materially meaningful political project of our time. If state independence is to be the means of achieving this real independence, fine. But at the moment, that articulation remains elusive.

Welsh Labour too have proven thoroughly incapable of foregrounding useful ideas that would actually benefit people in Wales. Did they do anything during the election campaign to specifically articulate what they could have done — in the Assembly and elsewhere — in the event of a Corbynist victory in Westminster? Mostly, no: only ‘Hard Remain’, anti-socialist posturing that risked a potential wipeout across Wales.

Ultimately, this election was merely a symptom of long-term phenomena in Welsh politics. Namely, devolution has eliminated class analysis from Welsh political discourse: the destitution all around us has been framed in national terms instead of identifying and combating its true causes. This is an obfuscation: the same old neoliberal triangulation and recuperation of progressive ideas. It was a dereliction of duty to frame this election in anything other than class terms: that such an analysis is largely absent in Wales (and long before this election) is thoroughly dispiriting.

All the major possible futures for Wales being posited right now — chained to perpetual Tory rule; Pricean centrist independence; Welsh Labour’s self-destruction — will defer and repress the political agitation we actually need for a long time, possibly for good. There has to be something better. Empty rhetoric is unsustainable. Ideas are beautiful, words are not.